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For many people, some of their most beloved memories are of amusement parks and the rides available there. Whether we’re talking about Disney World or the local carnival or anything in between, there’s a joy that comes from the combination of fun and fear that springs from a well-made ride.

But if the ride ISN’T well-made? Well, that’s where legends are born.

“Class Action Park,” a documentary by Chris Charles Scott and Seth Porges currently streaming on HBO Max, tells the story of Action Park, a notoriously wild and unsafe amusement park that operated in New Jersey from the late 1970s into the mid-90s. The film explores the park’s origins and the unsupervised dangers that turned it into both THE summer destination for New Jersey teens and the subject of numerous lawsuits for injuries and even death.

Combining (frankly terrifying) archival footage with interviews with those who worked at and/or enjoyed Action Park during its heyday, the film – narrated by John Hodgman – paints a vivid and occasionally shocking portrait of what happens when you allow hordes of teenagers to run rampant on a collection of poorly-engineered rides with inexperienced employees and zero accountability.

Published in Adventure

The American immigrant experience has been a subject of some truly great art over the years. Incredible books and films have spring from the exploration of what it means for people to come to this country in pursuit of a better life, as well as what happens in the course of that pursuit.

But to my knowledge, none have ever told that story through the lens of accidental pickle preservation. Until now.

“An American Pickle,” currently streaming on HBO Max, is a comedy that brings the early 20th century immigrant experience into the present day … by dropping someone into a pickle barrel for a hundred years. Yes, it’s as absurd as it sounds, broad and weird and a lot of fun.

Starring Seth Rogen as both a turn-of-the-century immigrant and a modern-day Brooklyn app developer, the film mines big laughs out of its bizarre premise (though it perhaps doesn’t dig as it deep as it could). It’s a twist on the classic fish out of water trope, giving us a look at our current world through the eyes of the past.

Published in Movies

Every four years, the world watches as its greatest athletes compete on the global stage. Elite performers from all over converge on a single place in an effort to excel in the name of Olympic gold.

But what happens to these athletes after the cheering stops? Is the price paid to reach the pinnacle too high?

That’s the fundamental question behind “The Weight of Gold,” a new documentary from HBO Sports. In it, filmmaker Brett Rapkin speaks to a number of American Olympians – both Summer and Winter – about the toll their respective quests for excellence took on them. Even the most successful among them had their share of struggles … and for too many, the tale took a tragic turn.

The film – narrated by legendary swimmer Michael Phelps (a featured interviewee and an executive producer on the project as well) – brings together new interviews and archival footage to offer a look into the sacrifices these athletes make to reach the top and the aftermath through which they must navigate after the spotlight fades.

Published in Sports

There are a multitude of content providers out there vying for our attention. So many services are producing original movies and TV series for our consumption that it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. It’s a young man’s game in many respects, but don’t sleep on the OGs. There are some outlets whose histories far predate the current streaming boom and that are creating incredible content of their own.

Take HBO, for instance. While the cable giant’s most prominent original content trends toward episodic work, they are more than capable of putting forward feature efforts that are more than a match for the best of the streaming cinema.

Their latest original film is “Bad Education,” based on the real-life embezzlement scandal that rocked a Long Island school district in the early 2000s. Directed by Cory Finley from a screenplay by Mike Makowsky (adapted from a 2004 New York Magazine article titled “The Bad Superintendent”), it’s a well-crafted and exceptionally performed film, one that offers a look at one of the largest public school scandals in American history – a scandal that was first uncovered by a student journalist.

With an outstanding performance from Hugh Jackman at its heart and propelled by the so-incredible-it-must-be-true nature of its story, “Bad Education” is a wonderfully dark and absurd look at the depths to which even the most high-minded public servants can sink when faced with the temptations that can come from unreserved trust.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 01 October 2019 15:48

New to view 2019: A fall TV preview

Fall TV premiere season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of new material hit the airwaves in the autumn.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and you’d better believe we’ve got HBO. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say?

Let’s have a look at a few of 2019’s fall TV premieres.

Published in Cover Story

How do you tell the true story of a man who seemingly sprang forth from the mists of myth? How do you ground in reality a man whose life seemed in many ways like fantasy?

How do you do justice to a giant?

That was the daunting task laid before director Jason Hehir when he agreed to make “Andre the Giant,” the very first documentary project springing from the partnership between Bill Simmons’s The Ringer and HBO. And through well-curated archival footage and a host of interviews with people who both knew and cared deeply for the world-famous wrestler, Hehir executed that task to perfection.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 13:24

New to view – 18 new shows for 2018

Remember when the fall television lineups were all that mattered?

It wasn't so long ago that that autumn offerings were the be-all and end-all of new TV. Shows that made their debuts in January were considered little more than filler, with the term “midseason replacement” taking on a derogatory tone.

However, as the ways in which we consume television have changed, so too have our attitudes regarding when shows join their respective lineups. Instead of an afterthought, this second season has become a viable entity in its own right, with loads of interesting programming arriving on your screens of choice.

Broadcast networks, premium and basic cable outlets, streaming services - everybody has something for the viewer looking for something new to consume this winter. If nothing else, it seems likely that all tastes - highbrow, lowbrow and everything in-between - will be addressed.

Have a look at some of the intriguing options that are en route.

Published in Cover Story

Brothers Mark and Jay Duplass (“Togetherness,” “The One I Love”) are back with a new HBO series which offers a twist on the anthology TV format. 

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 26 July 2017 12:21

Steve Guttenberg goes bad

Actor talks his villainous turn on HBO’s “Ballers”

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 18 January 2017 12:33

New to view in 2017 - A TV preview

Some upcoming television debut offerings

Published in Cover Story
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