Bad Vegan (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline:

She’s bad because of the crime, not the veganism. Allegedly.

Quick synopsis:

The story of how vegan restaurateur Sarma Melngailis became a fugitive.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Once again, I need to say this. If someone tells you they are a spy or in some sort of black ops, then they are definitely not any of those things.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Melngalis’ restaurant was taking in $7 million a year at its peak. Yes, $7 million for plants.

My Take:

I feel like a lot of this was left out. Ever finish a documentary and think, “I still have a lot of questions.” This is one of those.

It’s a tale old as time. Very successful vegan restaurant owner falls for fake spy-type dude whose story never makes any sense. He slowly takes over her life with promises of… hell I am not even sure. Is it an afterlife?

Sarma Melngailis is actually in the documentary explaining herself. Except, by the end, she still really hadn’t. She taped calls with her conman husband Anthony Strangis and they make no sense. Melngailis often sounds like she already knows Strangis is full of it and challenges him often, but ultimately still goes on the run. It feels like this was all rushed to get out on the airwaves instead of giving this story the deep dive it needed.

Verdict:

It’s a good binge watch but not the best one out there. Watch it here!

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Downfall: The Case Against Boeing (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Downfall:

Boeing sucks.

Quick synopsis:

The story of how Boeing negligently killed 346 people in two different airplane crashes.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Boeing installed a new system on their aircraft and just…. never told the pilots.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Then Boeing told the pilots what to do and the second plane STILL crashed because the sensors didn’t work right.

My Take on Downfall:

Anyone want to burn down a corporate building? Because I have a suggestion! (Note: Don’t burn down a building.)

Boeing killed 346 people. As the facts above suggest, it was pretty straightforward. They added a new safety feature which ostensibly was supposed to make flying safer. It crashed one plane. Boeing said it was definitely the pilots’ fault. They then finally trained people on the new feature which they didn’t tell anyone about before this. The second plane went down. Boeing still said it was pilot error. Rinse, repeat. However, after the second crash, people started asking questions. Boeing continued to deny, deny and make the bad feelings go away. They were not fully successful, but you also may not feel justice was done, either.

The documentary lays out the story of how Boeing went from a company obsessed with safe, effective products to a money hungry disaster waiting to happen. Then the disaster happened. Twice. This is a very well-done show which will leave you absolutely livid.

Verdict:

Get ready to be angry! The documentary is done well. Unlike Boeing’s quality assurance process. Watch it here!

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The Last Duel (Movie)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Last Duel:

Show up for Damon and Affleck, stay for the historical accuracy and killer duel!

Quick synopsis:

The story of the last trial by combat in France in 1386.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Yes, this is a true story. Yes, people use to fight to the death and whoever won was innocent because God made it that way.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

This is based upon Eric Jager’s book, and it was way more accurate than I expected for Hollywood! This is how you do it, Mel Gibson.

My Take on The Last Duel:

Let me be up front about this. I highly anticipated not liking this movie for a few reasons. First, I read the book way before the movie was even a thing. I am a snob when it comes to the book being better and I will make no apologies for it. Second, I did an email interview with Eric Jager, the author, before the movie came out. (He’s awesome, the proof is here and here.) This meant I would be preprogrammed to viscerally hate anything they did which did not align to Eric’s work.

Well, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, you two did it again. The book deviates in a few ways but nothing major from the historical record. The movie is laid out in a pretty great way considering the subject matter. It is broken up into three parts. Each part aligns to the point of view from the three main characters, Jean de Carrouges, his wife Marguerite, and Jacques Le Gris who was accused of raping Marguerite. This all leads to the eponymous “Last Duel.” I felt telling the story 3 times would get old fast, but I didn’t feel the time at all.

Ben and Matt did it again.

The book was still better, though.

Verdict:

A great movie and much more historically accurate than most. Watch it here!

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The Puppet Master (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Puppet Master:

Spies usually don’t tell you they are spies.

Quick synopsis:

The story of a con man who posed as a British spy and ruins multiple lives in terrible ways.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

If someone tells you they are a spy, they are probably lying.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

One of the people the con man manipulated was a psychologist.

My Take on The Puppet Master:

Robert Hendry-Freegard is very good at brainwashing. There is no other conclusion you can come to by the end of this documentary.

The doc covers multiple stories of how Freegard manipulated numerous people in various situations for long periods of time. In fact, one of his biggest feats is still ongoing as of the time of the doc’s release.

His favorite go-to move is to tell anyone within hearing distance that he is an MI-5 agent and then he takes it from there. He manipulates people into giving him money, clothes, cars, and whatever else that might strike his fancy.

The stories are soul crushingly sad. People literally lose decades of their lives, access to their loved ones, and all of their money to this human trash bag. I hesitate to give away too much as the show is set up to slowly reveal facts which border on unbelievable but are 100% true.

This is a good true crime show but do not expect to feel very good at the end. This is a sad story with a sad ending.

Verdict:

It’s a good watch for true crime lovers. Watch it here!

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The Tinder Swindler (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Tinder Swindler:

Swipe right but trust no one.

Quick synopsis:

The story of a con man who met women through the dating app Tinder and stole a lot of money.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Remember how you watched Tiger King and kept thinking, “there is no way this is real.” Prepare for that feeling again!

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

I was on Tinder before. No, it didn’t go well, but not as bad as it did for the women in this documentary.

My Take on The Tinder Swindler:

Dating is hard. However, it doesn’t mean you need to lose thousands of dollars. Sorry, but that’s on you.

This documentary follows three women as they meet a seemingly amazing (read: rich) guy on the dating app, Tinder. They have a whirlwind romance and then he asks for money. Then head slapping decision making begins.

Let me be clear, victim blaming is a dangerously slippery slope. The scum at the center of this scheme is a bad person who should have bad things happen to him.

That being said, don’t go on a private jet with a guy you just met on a first date to another country. Don’t send him your passport details before even meeting him. Someone ranting about nondescript “enemies” is a huge red flag. Decisions are made which will leave you yelling at the TV. These are bad decisions.

Don’t worry, though. In the end, a hero appears, and she will make you feel better. Fighting fire with fire is an extremely entertaining thing to watch.

Verdict:

I loved every second of this. I bet you will, too. Watch it here!

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Class Action Park (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Class Action Park:

Of course it was in New Jersey.

Quick synopsis:

The story of Action Park in New Jersey and how completely bonkers it was.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

The owner made up a lot of the rides by himself. And then paid unsuspecting teenagers to test them out. Many teeth were lost.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Yeah, if you were an 80s kid in the area, then you definitely went here. All of this is true. I went to primary sources.

My Take on Class Action Park:

Oh, New Jersey. What a perfect microcosm this documentary is. You can just revel in the unmitigated insanity and funny smells.

My review will not contain many rehashing of the stories in this documentary because I don’t want to spoil it and hearing it from people who were actually there is much funnier.

Please bear in mind that it’s mostly fun and games with a few mishaps here and there. It all seems like good fun. You know, until you get to the death stories. Yes, people died at this park. Plural. That’s the sad part.

The rest is pure insanity. Almost zero safety protocols. Drunk teenagers. Ill-planned rides. Pretty much zero supervision from beginning to end. Maybe a few mob ties here and there.

Chris Gethard (real name) deserves an Oscar or something. You’ll see.

Go watch.

Then come back and read more stuff. Or listen to the podcast. How about doing both?

Verdict:

Watch it now. You will not be disappointed even if you are not a Northeast U.S. kid. Watch it here!

If You Liked This Try:

Wework (Hulu)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Wework:

Wework is the most insane basis for a cult ever.

Quick synopsis:

The story of Wework which was a real estate company and…cult?

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

This company reached a value of $47 billion at one point. For renting office space.  

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

The company, at one point, created what I can only call a commune where people lived and were encouraged not to socialize outside the group.

My Take on Wework:

Here is the thing with cult leaders. Often, you can at least see a glimpse of their charisma. If you have no charisma, you just can’t create a cult. People will not follow you.

Or so I thought. Adam Neumann is the co-founder of Wework. The documentary (multiple times) describes him as a strong speaker. I saw zero evidence of that throughout the show. In fact, he very much seemed like that one stoner friend who doesn’t realize he is so high he thinks he’s an alien and he just keeps talking.

People just kept giving him money. He kept throwing parties and talked about changing the world as we know it. Yes, I would like to remind you that his company just rented office space. Yes, they tried to make it more inclusive, but seriously, is there anything more annoying than being bugged while you are working? Now add in the fact that the dude next to you may not even work at your company. This sounds like hell, not heaven, to me.

Then again, I didn’t make a billion dollars. So who’s the idiot?

Verdict:

It is good, but it also feels like something is missing. If you like being enraged, go for it!

If You Liked This Try:

LuLaRich (Amazon)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for the LuLaRich Documentary:

I am told that the clothing isn’t even good.

Quick synopsis:

The story of LulaRoe which is a women’s clothing company and pyra….multi-level marketing company.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

The actual owners of LuLaRoe are on this documentary. I assume they thought they would not come off looking terrible. They were wrong.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

At the height of the company, there were 80,000 distributors in the U.S. That is a lot of ugly pants.

My Take on the LuLaRich Documentary :

I hate multi-level marketing companies. They bleed their people dry and promise money. 99% of people never make money in these endeavors. There, my bias is established.

What a-holes these people are. The founders of LuLaRoe are actively part of the LuLaRich documentary. They talk directly to the camera and tell their story. They are so fake from the beginning. I can’t even describe it in words.

There is also a woman who clearly came on the documentary to try and seem like she is apologetic, but she is 100% not sorry. At least the founders lean into the fact they are basically evil. This woman is just a terrible actress.

Then there are the actual victims. As usual with a pyram….multi-level marketing company, there are always plenty of (usually) women who are doing it to help their financial situations. They end up disillusioned or ruined or both.

If you like train wrecks, hop aboard this one.

Verdict on the LuLaRich Documentary:

Looking for new people to hate? This is a great place to find them! Watch it here!

If You Liked This Try:

This is a Robbery (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for This is a Robbery:

Editor wanted.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum theft in 1990.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

This is the largest art heist in history.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

The thieves stole wisely when they poached a few Rembrandts, Degas, and a Vermeer. However, they skipped Michelangelo. Guess they weren’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans.

My Take on This is a Robbery:

My reaction to episodes 1 and 2 of This is a Robbery: you got me hooked! Episodes 3 and 4: get it over with.

This series needed to be one episode shorter. It also has a problem with tone. Unlike Operation Odessa which firmly highlights the absolute hilarity of the criminals without glossing over their crimes, this series has a tone problem. I felt like sometimes it wanted to be darkly funny, but then the final couple episodes dive deeply into the sheer murderousness of the prime suspects. What started out as a bloodless art heist becomes a total bloodbath.

The entire series takes a huge swerve in the second half of episodes which makes so much of episodes 1 and 2 moot. You feel like you had your time wasted.

Ultimately, the final two episodes drag and if it were shortened to three total, then this would be a much better watch. It’s not bad, it’s just not nearly as good as it could have bee.

Verdict:

This is one episode too long and really drags at the end. It’s worth a watch if nothing else is on. Watch it!

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Crazy Not Insane (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Crazy Not Insane:

Irony: Naming your documentary how it makes the viewer feel.

Quick synopsis:

A documentary about psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow Lewis. Or her theories. Or her thoughts on the death penalty. Honestly, I’m not sure what it was going for.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), or multiple personalities, is an actual diagnosis.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Dr. Lewis thought David Bundy had DID. Probably not, though.

My Take on Crazy Not Insane:

There is a much better documentary which can be made with the same material.

Dr. Lewis could make a compelling case about the fairness of the death penalty because of the very real evidence connecting brain injuries and crime. There is probably 15 minutes on this topic which could make you think.

Unfortunately, there’s over an hour of other stuff. It starts as a biography of Dr. Lewis, then a treatise on DID, then brain injury, back to the biography, and back and forth forever.

Ultimately, I asked myself before it was over, “what does this documentary want me to think about?” I still don’t have the answer.

There is also a complete lack of skepticism which is required for a good documentary. For me to believe Dr. Lewis, I need to hear all of the strongest arguments against her work and have them taken apart. You only hearing passing references to the criticism. In fact, Dr. Lewis at times seems a bit…out there. She basically loses it in a courtroom at one point and the documentary shrugs it off as, “Dorothy doesn’t think linearly, and you have to go with it.”

That’s basically how the documentary is. Oh wait, maybe that was the point.

Verdict:

This is way too all over the place to be very good. Watch it here!

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