Holy Hell (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Buddhafield is a dumb name for a cult.

Quick synopsis: A documentary about the Buddhafield cult which the filmmaker was in for 22 years.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: This cult still exists in Hawaii.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: This cult leader, Michel, had his people under control to the point that he made them build a ballet stage for him to put on shows only for the cult.

My Take: The most interesting aspect of this look into a cult is that you are taken through its evolution by someone who was in the cult but also filmed everything for over 22 years.

Will Allen was the documentarian of Buddhafield starting in the mid to late 1980s. Allen would ultimately stay in the cult for 22 years. He was deeply immersed including his family members being a part of them as well.

The cult leader, Michel, is very creepy as it seems all cult are. He is strange, but he of course is somehow magnetic to the people who end up following him. Like most cults you see on documentaries, it starts off well with people feeling included and valued. However, sooner or later the cult leader begins to use people purely for their own devices. Michel is no different.

This documentary brings many former members in the front of the camera and adds a lot to the old footage. I really enjoyed it.

Verdict: This is a personal film for the creator and can be pretty powerful at certain parts. It does not have the shock value of some other true crime documentaries but it’s very good all the same. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King
  • The Confession Killer
  • Fyre
  • The Inventor
  • Abducted in Plain Sight

The Confession Killer (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: If you can’t trust a murderer, who can you trust?

Quick synopsis: An investigation into the confessions of Henry Lee Lucas, who confessed to over 100 murders.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Lucas told a Japanese documentary director that he may have killed people in Japan. When asked how he got there, he said, “I drove.”

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Any self-respecting law enforcement officer will be horrified about the conditions Lucas lived in while confessing. He was given special privileges, field trips to confess, and even called the officers around him his “friends.”

My Take: Who would admit to a crime they didn’t commit? Henry Lee Lucas, apparently.

Some things are irrefutable. He murdered his mother and even he admits that. After that, it all gets a little more confusing. Lucas most likely killed his girlfriend and his employer. He took authorities to the bodies and it seems pretty clear he did it.

In custody, he suddenly started confessing to a lot of other murders. He confessed to so many that a task force was created solely to identify his victims. This is where the documentary truly takes off as you can see these wheels moving and immediately it seems too good to be true. It is.

Once these confessions start coming under fire, then you start to see law enforcement turning on itself. The whole thing takes on a life of its own and it’s a very interesting watch.

Verdict: It is very infuriating but a very interesting phycological look at cohesion and the mind of someone desperate to please. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • Chernobyl
  • Saints & Strangers
  • John Adams
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (HBO)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I think I could lie my way to a billion dollars. Who’s with me?

Quick synopsis: A documentary focused on Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos. She became the youngest self-made female billionaire in history. She is also a fraud.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Here is a partial list of the people swindled by Holmes: James Mattis, George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Bill Frist, and Sam Nunn.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Holmes even swindled Walgreens. She used the age-old strategy of “FOMO” (fear of missing out, for you old people who aren’t hip). She pushed hard and made the Walgreens executives afraid to lose out to CVS.

My Take: Elizabeth Holmes is an a-hole.

She grew up privileged, a bit shy, maybe bullied, and then went on to create one of the biggest scams American has ever seen. Along the way, she led a man to suicide, ruined countless lives financially, and threatened anyone who got in her way. She even lied about her dog being a wolf. The woman is unhinged.

Apparently, she was magnetic to be around. It is the only way to explain the inexplicable. Numerous men (yup, exclusively it seems) fall for her charms. These masters of industry and politics fell for some of the simplest tricks in the book. Refusing to show the inside of her machine, adjourning tests for lunch and magically having the results afterward and hiding behind trade secrets.

This is just the high-level details. There is much more. The documentary is good but see my verdict for the best way to learn about Theranos. Ultimately, the documentary did not leave me as outraged as the book did. And make no mistake, you should be outraged.

Verdict: This is a good documentary for someone who knows nothing about the subject. However, Bad Blood the book is more comprehensive and gives the reader a much clearer pictures of the damage this woman and her associates did. 

If You Liked This Try:

  • The Confession Killer
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King

Fyre (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: This made me hate Instagram more than I already did. Yes, get off my lawn.

Quick synopsis: Documentary on the Fyre festival. It was supposed to be a concert on a Caribbean island which would last for days. It turned into a legitimate nightmare.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Oh, you are going to like all of this my non-history nerd friends. History lover or not, everyone loves a train wreck. This qualifies.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: We want to believe that we, as a society, have become smarter. That we can spot charlatans a mile away because of the infusion of knowledge into the world via the internet. NOPE!

My Take: Let’s get straight to the point. The villain in this mess is a guy who sold a massive amount of tickets to his event called the Fyre festival. People would fly down to an abandoned Caribbean island where there would be bands and events for days. Basically, take Lollapalooza, move it to the Caribbean, and make everyone live there.

There was one problem. None of it was actually set up. This is a story of someone who absolutely mastered marketing and especially how to use “influencers.”

The documentary doesn’t totally throw everyone under the bus. Ultimately, the real sin in the story was not knowing when to pull the plug and also proper planning. Don’t let that explanation fool you, though. There is a ton of craziness and this is well worth the watch.

Verdict: This is a must watch. (Disclosure: Never saw the Hulu documentary on the same topic so I can’t compare.) 

If You Liked This Try:

  • Abducted in Plain Sight
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Tiger King

Tiger King (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: It’s like white trash did a massive amount of meth and then had a baby. Then the baby did meth. 

Quick synopsis: Chronicles the ups and downs of owning tigers and running a zoo. I am so underplaying this whole thing. It’s so bonkers.  

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: She did it. You don’t know what this means as of yet, but I assure you that you will know what I am talking about as soon as you see it. 

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Joe Exotic won 19% of the vote in the Libertarian primary for Oklahoma Governor! We thought such things only happened in Florida. 

My Take: Joe Exotic owned a zoo. He had tigers. There are other people with tigers. All of these people are certifiably insane. 

One guy is definitely a cult leader with multiple wives. 

There is a woman who says she hates the other guys and wants to save the tigers. I assure you she is not the hero of this story. 

85% of the teeth in this documentary are missing. It’s a rough estimate. 

There is murder. Lots of murder. Also, a presidential campaign.  

I don’t want to ruin anything. Stop reading. Go watch. And don’t start late at night. You won’t be able to stop until you are done. 

Verdict: Just stick it in my veins! Glorious trash! 

If You Liked This Try:  

  • Abducted in Plain Sight 
  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez 
  • Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story 

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Age old story of a beautiful actress who gets bored and invents something. 

Quick synopsis: The life of Hedy Lamarr, actress, producer, and inventor it turns out. 

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: She sued because the name of the woman in Blazing Saddles was named Hedley Lamarr. Mel Brooks said, “she never got the joke.”  

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Hedy was friends with Howard Hughes and they dated. She’d lob ideas at him and would allow her to meet with many of his top scientists. 

My Take: Most people have probably never heard of Hedy Lamarr unless you are over the age of 60 or so. However, she has one of the most interesting lives I have ever seen. Let’s take a look at the highlights: 

  • Won a beauty contest at the age of 12 
  • Started starring in movies and was in a…ahem…explicit one at 18. It isn’t explicit today but things were way different back then 
  • Escaped the Nazis 
  • Came to America, became a film star 
  • Invented a device for frequency hopping that is still used today for things like Bluetooth 
  • Got married 6 times 
  • Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (posthumously) 

The documentary hits all the highlights and doesn’t shy away from the fact that she could also be downright weird and abrasive as well. 

If someone says a beautiful woman can’t also be smart, just show them this. Then punch them. (Disclaimer: Figuratively, not literally. I don’t advocate violence. They are stupid, though.)  

Verdict: A very good documentary. Go watch.  

If You Liked This Try:  

  • Presidents at War 
  • Hitler’s Circle of Evil 

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Well, that was all very unpleasant.

Quick synopsis: The life and death of Aaron Hernandez who was a great football player and multiple murderer. So, he had that going for him.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: It’s really unnerving seeing Hernandez acting normal at press events after he just straight up killed people.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Aaron Hernandez killed people but isn’t technically a convicted murderer. If you die before your appeal is heard, then your conviction is vacated. That’s nice for him.

My Take: Honestly, you just feel bad at the end of this.

You have Aaron Hernandez who killed multiple people. He also was probably in the closet. Probably abused by his father. Enabled in a lot of situations. Probably had head traumas.

You start to feel bad for him and then quickly remember all the people he assaulted and murdered. Or the daughter he left behind. And the numerous other people left in his evil wake.

The 3 episodes are roller coasters. They keep pulling back the layers of the onion and it just gets worse and worse. The most effective is the phone calls made from jail that were recorded. They are unnerving in a lot of ways.

There is one major problem throughout the documentary. Some of the major threads are not quite proven but more explored. They posit Hernandez was gay, but other than a high school boyfriend it is not entirely clear that it’s a fact. The discussion of his brain and CTE is similarly not explored enough for my tastes.

Verdict: This is really interesting and does a lot of digging but lacks focus on what it’s trying to say. Worth the watch.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Abducted in Plain Sight
  • Chernobyl
  • Saints & Strangers
  • John Adams

Abducted in Plain Sight

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: WHAT THE EVERLOVING F—?!

Quick synopsis: Jan Broberg was sexually molested by a family friend. You will meet her and a string of some of the dumbest human beings you have ever seen.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: She was kidnapped more than once. By the same guy.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: “It’s just kid’s stuff.” Yeah, when you get to this part just try not to scream at the TV.

My Take: Oh. My. God.

Here’s a fun game. Try and guess within the first ten minutes who you will want to punch the most other than the disgusting child molester. You will be AMAZED how quickly that list grows.

I audibly cursed at the TV at least 3 times. I did not believe what I was hearing. I legitimately thought this may be some sort of dark spoof of the true crime drama.

It is not. This happened. All of it. And you will want to commit murder. A lot of murder.

Jan Broberg should not be able to even function as a human being with what she went through and how many people let her down (including the two people who never should have let it happen). Instead, she somehow helped write a book and do lectures on this. Oh, and wait until the courtroom scene at the end with her molester. She’s a badass.

Ever hear someone say that being “into” children is just their “thing”? Have fun feeling super gross!

Verdict: Want to rage? Watch this. You will rage.  

If You Liked This Try:

  • Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez
  • Chernobyl
  • Saints & Strangers
  • John Adams

Togo (Disney+)

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: I’m not crying. You’re crying. Shut up.

Quick synopsis: The story of Togo, the most important lead sled dog in the Nome 1925 Serum Run. It became what we know today as the Iditarod.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: You probably heard of the Iditarod and a dog named Balto. Balto ran 55 miles of the journey in awful conditions. Togo ran 260 miles. I’m going to go punch a wall.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: The lowest temperature with windchill during Togo’s leg of the run was -85 degrees. Not a typo, people.

My Take: This movie made me feel many feelings.

First, let’s get the actual history clear. Diphtheria hits Nome, Alaska mostly effecting children. A cure exists. That cure is in Anchorage. If you don’t know the topography of Alaska, then I will tell you this is a major problem. The big thinkers say they can fly there with this somewhat newfangled thing called an airplane. It’s too cold and it will never work. What’s the plan? Mushers and sled dogs. 674 miles in subzero temperatures.

Now, let’s discuss the movie. It’s Willem Dafoe doing a very subdued Willem Dafoe performance which works quite well actually. There is the crisis interspersed with flashbacks to Togo being a gigantic pain in the ass.

As I am a history nerd and this is one of the most amazing stories I had ever read before seeing the movie, I had my eyes peeled for them to go Hollywood all over this thing. Thankfully, they were very respectful of the history and the people (and dogs!) throughout. If you are a parent, don’t actually tell your kids what happened to Togo. You won’t be able to explain it and they will be pissed and upset.

Other than that. It is spot on.

Verdict: If you love dogs, then this is for you. If you don’t love dogs, then you are a serial killer. Move on.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Gay and Laney Salisbury, The Cruelest Miles (read it read it read it read it)
  • Chernobyl (HBO)
  • Saints & Strangers (TV miniseries)

1917

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Holy S—!

Quick synopsis: Two British soldiers in World War I are sent to stop Allied Forces from walking into a trap. Yes, it’s fiction but I don’t care even a little bit.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The entire movie is shot in three continuous shots. The camera just follows the action through some truly insane scenarios.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: All of it. Peak nerdgasm. The detail is ridiculous.

My Take: Normally I don’t review anything fiction. This is too good for me to ignore.

The movie follows two soldiers sent through no man’s land to head off a possible massacre. The first few minutes is just the two of them walking through the trenches. The detail is so rich you don’t have enough time to take everything in. I’m going to see it again soon just to be able to be more observant.

If you are not a history nerd, the story alone is easy to follow and flows really well. You definitely get invested and will learn some things along the way (God forbid!).

As mentioned above, the movie is actually three long shots. The camera just follows as the plot moves along. This should win all of the awards. I actually read the negative reviews of the movie to see what people actually complained about. Their comments were stupid.

And then the end. Big rousing set piece. Quiet character moment. Not a dry eye in the house.

Verdict: See it. Do it now. Go.

If You Liked This Try: They Shall Not Grow old.