RISE AGAIN: TULSA AND THE RED SUMMER (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s inexplicable how so much hate-based violence was ignored by the mainstream media for so long. Documentarian Dawn Porter is here to correct some of that. The film opens as a backhoe breaks ground in search of a mass grave site in Tulsa. If you watch or read the news, you have seen the current day reporting of the 100 year old massacre that occurred in 1921 in Greenwood, the “Black Wall Street” area of Tulsa. Over two days, an angry white mob killed hundreds of blacks, destroyed buildings and homes, looted valuables, and displaced thousands.

Details of the Tulsa massacre have finally been brought to light, but Ms. Porter, working in conjunction with “Washington Post” reporter DeNeen Brown, also pulls back the cloak of secrecy on how the Red Summer actually began in 1919 with tragic and violent events that led up to Tulsa. These events occurred in East St Louis, Omaha, Washington DC, and Chicago. We learn that Elaine, Arkansas still refuses to search for what might be one of the largest mass grave sites in U.S. history. Of course, the connection to the modern era is easily traced to the 1992 Los Angeles riots and too many other events to list here.

The film is well-researched and well-documented. Reporter Brown acknowledges picking up the torch left by Ida B Wells, whose courageous reporting and research were instrumental in leading to these stories getting published – even if it’s decades later than it should have been. Historians and academic leaders are given a platform to discuss how the media previously ignored these stories, and the 1990s interviews with survivors of the Tulsa massacre are especially poignant.

Tulsa’s mayor, GT Bynum, and Reverend Dr Robert Turner, are both working in their own way to find justice for those impacted. Bynum’s directive for mass graves is: location, excavation, and identification, so that names will be known. Turner is pushing for reparations as the main form of justice. The talk of reparations and the importance of the Black Press are provided substantial emphasis in the film, and the inclusion of D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, allows for familiar and distinctive visuals to reinforce the points being made. The old saying is that there are two sides to every story, but in this case, the hatred on one side deserves no attention, while the stifling of the victims’ stories has gone on for too long. Dawn Porter’s film ensures the story doesn’t remain buried.

Premieres on NatGeo and Hulu on June 18, 2021

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THE SPARKS BROTHERS (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Over the past 5 decades, the number of bands that have broken up is, well, almost all of them. For two brothers to write songs and perform together over that span, and still be at it in their 70’s is remarkable. Sparks is made up of Ron Mael and younger brother Russell. They’ve published 25 albums with 300 songs, and performed thousands of concerts. Somehow they still like each other, respect each other, and work well together. As unusual as their music is and as strange as their stage show can be, it seems only fitting that their cinematic profile would be directed by Edgar Wright, who is best known for SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2002) and BABY DRIVER (2017). This is his first documentary.

Mr. Wright establishes the necessary unconventional start by having Sparks perform the opening credits. Not a song to open the film, but rather they actually perform the opening credits. We are then introduced to Ron and Russell, and we get some childhood family photos and an explanation about how their artist father taking them to the movies would later influence their work. And other than learning that Ron has a massive snow globe collection, that’s the end of the insight into their personal lives. Normally that would be a mistake, but there is nothing normal about Sparks.

Instead of personal profiles, director Wright opts for a chronological discography – a walk through the band’s timeline of recordings. Each step is punctuated with insight from fellow musicians or celebrities, and clips of the band performing their music from each era. The interviews are filmed in black & white so that the color of the stage performances really pop on screen. Some of those interviewed include producer Todd Rundgren, Jane Wiedlin (The Go-Go’s), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Pamela Des Barres (a musician and, umm, certain other skills), and other musicians who played with Sparks over the years.

Often thought of as a novelty act, Sparks music and shows are filled with humor, but are not a joke. The two brothers have stayed committed to the music and the performances. To cover an extended gap in their career, director Wright utilizes 6 years of “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve”, but more impactful is finding out that they worked on the music every day during those 6 years. The Mael brothers define persistence. The brothers’ desire to break into film music fizzled a couple of times due to Jacques Tati and Tim Burton, but they do appear in the 1977 thriller ROLLERCOASTER.

Songwriter Ron is the brother with the Hitler/Chaplin mustache, while singer Russell was the matinee idol in the early years. They are referred to as the “Best British group to come out of America”, and their musical influence can be traced to many more popular bands. A collaboration with Franz Ferdinand pushed their creativity, but it’s an outlandish 21 shows in a row, each featuring a different album performed live that may best define their love of music and performance (and stamina). So while Mr. Wright offers zip in regards to their personal lives, the abundance of live performance clips and the quite funny Sparks “Facts” over the closing credits make this a documentary worth watching (even with its 140 minute run time).

In theaters June 18, 2021

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MY NAME IS BULGER (2021, doc)

June 17, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Even those of us who aren’t “Southies” know the name James “Whitey” Bulger. Johnny Depp portrayed him in BLACK MASS (2015) and Jack Nicholson’s character was inspired by him in THE DEPARTED (2006). Of course, that’s just cinema taking the legend and running with it. In the real world, we recall seeing the televised clips of the FBI capturing Bulger in California in 2011, after 16 years on the lam and being a fixture on the FBI’s Most Wanted list … and then seeing the reports of his being beaten to death at age 89 in a West Virginia prison mere hours after his transfer. Very suspicious – but who weeps for the mobster? Well, documentarian Brendan J Byrne offers some insight. It turns out, even mobsters have brothers and sisters and kin folk.

It’s the family … one brother in particular … that is the focus of this documentary. Whitey’s younger brother Bill, was the President of the Massachusetts Senate for 18 years, after which he became President of the University of Massachusetts. To hear multiple people, including two former Governors describe Bill Bulger as principled and smart is a bit disconcerting. Is it possible for one family to have a brother so devoted to public service and another brother who is a criminal mastermind that murders people? It’s beyond debate that Bill Bulger was an enormously popular politician. However, the question remains – and will likely never be answered – is whether Bill was able to keep his political decisions separate from his brother.

The film begins with a family photo and we learn the faces and names of the Bulger clan, some who are interviewed in this film. When family loyalty is discussed, one says it shouldn’t be tossed aside because one falters. Most of us would likely consider Whitey’s criminal record as more extreme than a misstep or faltering, but the point is one to which most of us can relate.

Bill Bulger, now 87 years old, and his wife Mary have been married for more than 60 years. They have 9 children and 33 grandchildren. Many of the kids participated in the film hoping to salvage the family legacy created by Bill as opposed to the more headline-grabbing exploits of Whitey, described as “just another Uncle”. In addition to family members, interviews are conducted with Catherine Greig, Whitey’s longtime partner (she was captured with him in California, and served her own prison sentence), a juror from Whitey’s trial, a journalist and author – where the difference between Bill and Whitey is described as visible versus invisible, and former Massachusetts Governors Michael Dukakis and Bill Weld, both of whom had their own candidacies for President of the United States. These two men speak highly of Bill’s character and political astuteness, despite his ongoing rivalry with “The Boston Globe”.

Bill is now retired and living a quiet life. There are still those in the family who claim his brother Whitey is “not the monster he was made out to be”, although Bill’s public statements seem to infer otherwise. Whitey’s former Winter Hill Gang members were shocked at allegations that he had been an FBI informant, and the “Where’s Whitey” manhunt is one that will likely be studied for years to come. Filmmaker Byrne does seem to have success in making the case that South Boston loyalty can co-exist with a family split by the polarized work of two members – brothers Bill and Whitey. It’s quite fascinating to see how these contrasting elements fit together.

Exclusively on Discover+ beginning June 17, 2021

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LADY BOSS: THE JACKIE COLLINS STORY (2021, doc)

June 11, 2021

Tribeca Film Festival 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. What’s it like to grow up in the shadow of a successful older sibling? What if that sibling is the famous actress Joan Collins? Documentarian Laura Fairrie profiles Joan’s younger sister, Jackie, who overcame challenges to become one of the few novelists to sell more than 500 million books, with 32 New York Times best-sellers. But Jackie’s impact isn’t limited to book sales, as her work empowered women in society and in the bedroom.

Jackie wasn’t always known for her big hair and leopard prints and risqué writing. In fact, she wasn’t known at all before she visited Los Angeles for the first time in 1956, during which she was referred to as Joan’s little sister. Ms. Fairrie spends some time with Jackie’s childhood and family life, and then takes us through both of her marriages, the career, and her illness. Much of the source work is provided from Jackie’s lifelong habit of writing in her diaries, and although much of what is read doesn’t dig too deeply into Jackie’s psyche, we do get the gist of her focus on observing people and turning those observations into stories that millions loved to read.

In addition to the diaries, there are interviews with Jackie’s daughters, her brother, her long time literary agent, her business manager, her personal assistant, and her sister Joan. Some of her (“best”) friends also offer insight, including Barbara Davis, widow of oil man and former owner of 20th Century Fox, Marvin Davis. Some segments feature these folks reading passages directly from Jackie’s books, but it’s their personal recollections that come closest to adding substance.

Therein lies the biggest hurdle with the film. It succeeds in tracking Jackie’s rise to the top as an author, but it doesn’t go deep enough into her books’ influence on society, and we get even less about Jackie’s personal makeup. She was a woman succeeding in a man’s world, and she carefully crafted and cultivated a public image that included plastic surgery, so that what they read is what they see. One of her daughters states there were “two sides to this mom”, but even that doesn’t result in the breakthrough we hope for.

Husband number 2, Oscar Lerman, encouraged Jackie to write her first book, “The World is Full of Married Men”, and that was the start of an incredible writing career. Sister Joan’s interviews are in line with the rest of the film in never going too deep, but she does make the comparison of “a marriage” to her relationship with Jackie, and maybe the best insight is the difference in how Joan describes their father to how Jackie’s diary entries do. By assembling the bits and pieces we do understand Jackie had significant insecurities behind her public façade.

Clearly there were times a sisterly rivalry was in play, and that’s somewhat offset by the fact that Joan starred in two movies based on books written by sister Jackie (“The Stud” and “The Bitch”). In the 1980’s Joan’s career got a huge boost playing Alexis in “Dynasty”, while at the same time, Jackie was enjoying the success of one of her biggest sellers, “Hollywood Wives”. As a ground-breaking author, Jackie Collins deserves this documentary profile, and towards the conclusion, there is a segment where she faces a live audience in a televised talk show sometime in the 1990’s. The audience is vicious in their attacks on Jackie’s writing, but she remains strong in the face of adversity … a trait that was every bit as important as her book sales.

The film had its World Premiere at Tribeca Film Festival and will air on CNN Films in late June and on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer later this year.

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UPHEAVAL: THE JOURNEY OF MENACHEM BEGIN (2021, doc)

June 9, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. In the United States, we now fully understand what it means to have a controversial leader; however, a four year Presidential term pales in comparison to a lifetime commitment to a cause, which describes Menachem Begin’s devotion to the Jewish people. Documentarian Jonathan Gruber paints a comprehensive portrait of a born leader – one who is often misunderstood – and his place in history. With the recent rise in violence between Hamas and Israel, this history lesson is especially timely.

The roots of Zionism (a Jewish state) date back more than a century, and it was that cause that resulted in Begin being imprisoned and tortured in a Soviet gulag in Siberia during WWII. During the war, Begin’s father was in a group of Jews executed by Nazis, while his mother and brother were also victims of the Holocaust. This is described as a driving force for Begin during the rest of his life.

Gruber includes many excellent and in-depth interviews, including the Israel Ambassador, Begin’s biographer, one of Begin’s friends, a historian, and Begin’s personal secretary. The insights are fascinating and personal. Also included are some amazing videos and photographs … each offering yet more historical perspective into Begin’s life.

We learn Begin spent 29 years with the opposition (yes, he was a rebel) before being elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1977. Americans likely best remember Begin for his Camp David Peace accord with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (assassinated in 1981), arranged by President Jimmy Carter. It was further proof of Begin’s preference for peaceful settlements, though he used military force when necessary. “The Begin Doctrine” is defined simply as ‘preemptive action”.

Eliza, Begin’s beloved and trusted wife, died in 1982 and it had a devastating impact on him. He would resign as Prime Minister in 1983 and live out his life mostly in seclusion before passing in 1992. Gruber’s documentary is well crafted and required viewing for anyone who wants to better understand one of the world’s iconic leaders, as well as a part of the world that often confuses many of us.

Worldwide Virtual Live Premiere on June 7, 2021 and

Nationwide Watch Now @ Home Cinema Release on June 9, 2021

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FINAL ACCOUNT (2021, doc)

May 20, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Relatively late in life, director Luke Holland discovered his Jewish roots and the history of his grandparents being murdered in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Mr. Holland passed away in 2020, but not before he finished the documentary he started in 2008: interviewing surviving Germans from Hitler’s Third Reich era. This seems like a miserable project to undertake, and an uncomfortable film to watch, but what we see on screen is a case study in human psychology and insight into how these folks live with their memories and past actions.

Holland interviewed “regular” German citizens, not just those who became soldiers and officers. To set the stage, the film opens with the quote from Primo Levi:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous.

More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe

and to act without asking questions.”        Primo Levi

The point being, why did so many Germans go along with the atrocities, either by participating or looking the other way? Why did more not speak up or take action? The obvious and presumptive answer is that they feared for their own lives. But what we hear directly from these people doesn’t always fit the obvious.

Holland is running the camera and asking the questions, and he has each interviewee go back to the beginning – how they got started. We hear stories and see clips of young German kids happily playing. We learn they are then transitioned to Hitler Youth at age 14 – this was parodied in Taika Waititi’s brilliant JOJO RABBIT (2019). These kids were in uniforms all hours of every day. So the mandatory brainwashing started at an early age, and then some were transitioned to the Waffen SS, which one of the members boasts was the elite corps and “had the best tanks”. This is the snapshot of the Nazi machine – start them early and then train them to kill for the cause.

Some of those interviewed were soldiers, some worked at concentration camps, others held regular jobs, while some had no history of service. What they have in common is that they all lived in Germany during a time when the world veered towards a moral abyss. To Holland’s credit, he lets the answers stand on their own – there is no agenda or propaganda behind the film. He leaves it to viewers to process what is said, and whether anyone wants to find symmetry with today’s world.

“I don’t know. I didn’t participate.” Of course, denial and memory block has been a coping device for many of these folks. Some express the burden of guilt, while others rationalize inaction due to fear. Only one states matter-of-factly, “I have no regrets.” There is even mention that Hitler had “the right idea”, but a different strategy would have been the better approach. Holland instigates discussion about being complicit and perpetuating an evil … this makes for spirited conversation. Holland was not a Psychologist, but his film is a remarkable character study, and in the words of one of those interviewed, “Today, you wonder how that could happen.”

Opens in theaters May 21, 2021

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BECOMING ICONIC: JONATHAN BAKER (2021, doc)

May 20, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Certainly I’ve never thought “Dude, just shut up!” more frequently during a movie than while watching this documentary from Neal Thibedeau. That recurring thought had nothing to do with anyone else in the theater (I was watching alone at home), but instead was aimed at the subject of the film, Jonathan Baker. His interminable narcissistic chatter, especially during the first 20 minutes, not only highlights the level of ego we are dealing with, but also tests the patience of any and every viewer.

The premise of the project has definite merit: A first time feature film director documents his process and the industry challenges faced, while also sharing the insider tips and advice he garnered from some of the top names in the profession. Directors appearing on camera and recalling their first films include: Oscar winner Taylor Hackford (RAY, 2004; AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, 1982), Oscar winner Jodie Foster (LITTLE MAN TATE, 1991), John Badham (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, 1977; THE BINGO LONG ALL-STARS & TRAVELING MOTOR KINGS, 1973), and Adrian Lyne (FATAL ATTRACTION, 1987; FLASHDANCE, 1983). The segments with these successful directors are enlightening as these professionals are particularly forthcoming in their honest assessment of their own first efforts and the industry in which they work.

The second half of the film focuses more on Baker’s struggles to get his first film made. INCONCEIVABLE (2017) starring Oscar winner Nicolas Cage, Oscar winner Faye Dunaway, and Gina Gershon provides Baker with all the obstacles he was told to expect, plus a few more. The Hollywood money machine isn’t fond of turning millions over to a first time director; while actors, costumes, sets, locations, and kids all bring hiccups that require managing, manipulation, and negotiation.

Interviews with these directors and a behind-the-scenes look at the hurdles in getting a film made create some terrific moments that we wouldn’t ordinarily be privy to. However, almost every sequence is tainted by Jonathan Baker puffing up about his “vision” (which we never learn) and the ‘fact’ that he was born to be a director, and what he really wants is to be rich and famous … to reach the “iconic” status of the title and of those kind enough to offer him the benefit of their own struggles. Instead, Baker seems to thrive on dropping Warren Beatty’s name countless times … both as his “mentor” and the seller of the house that Baker bought. Of course, this mentor only ‘appears’ in Baker’s ramblings, and never actually on camera. The film certainly would have benefitted from another pass at editing to remove some of the duplication, as well as some of Baker’s personal ramblings. There is enough here for any wannabe director, and the patience required can only help.

Being released on Digital and VOD on May 21, 2021

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CITIZEN PENN (2021, doc)

May 6, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. As a two-time Oscar winner for MILK (2008) and MYSTIC RIVER (2003), Sean Penn is unquestionably one of the finest actors of his generation. He’s also an accomplished writer, director, and producer, and has been in two high-profile marriages/divorces: once to pop superstar Madonna, and then to actress Robin Wright. Over the years, Penn has been labeled Hollywood’s bad boy, anti-American, an opportunist, an activist, a philanthropist, and a humanitarian. Documentarian Don Hardy sets the stage by acknowledging all of that, and then focuses on Sean Penn’s work with his relief organization J/P HRO (now CORE).

Director Hardy interviews Penn in what appears to be his living room. Penn rarely stops smoking and does an admirable job of taking us through how he became more than just a celebrity seeking a photo op. It was 2010 when Haiti was hit by a massive 7.0 earthquake that killed 250,000, injured 300,000, and displaced 1.5 million from their home. Penn’s personal life was at a fork, and he viewed this as a way to do the right thing and help those in need. So he made some calls and along with other volunteers, headed to Haiti. Penn describes this as “building the airplane after takeoff”. Stunned by the devastation, Penn used his connections to garner medical supplies and other items.

Despite facing cynicism from many, Penn mostly avoided cameras, except when he granted interviews to Anderson Cooper on CNN in hopes of raising awareness and funds for relief efforts. Penn spent several months in Haiti and his team evolved from emergency relief (medical support, food, clean water) to temporary housing, to the removal of tons of debris and rubble, and finally to new development. One of the camps that housed 60,000 people began as a tent city and is today a new city of its own.

Director Hardy weaves in some terrific video footage that corresponds to Penn’s recollections, and there are especially tension-filled moments involving diphtheria, cholera, and an emergency birth. To Penn’s credit, he doesn’t harp on the political unrest within Haiti, and spends his time and energy on helping the citizens and his JP/HRO team as best he can. We also see clips of the organization’s annual gala and witness Penn’s growing frustration at the number of wealthy individuals who partake in the food, party, and music, yet don’t crack open a checkbook. He shows gratitude to those who are generous, but can’t hide his distaste for the others – proving that his passion goes much deeper than good PR.

Penn recruited Ann Lee from her work at the U.N. to head the newly named CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort), and the relief work from this organization has carried on through Hurricane Matthew in 2016, as well as the COVID-19 Pandemic, as they distributed tests to underserved areas. You may be the kind that volunteers for everything. Or you may be the kind that critiques others while lounging on your sofa. But even if your political views don’t align with Penn’s, the film will surely have you respecting his sacrifices for those in needs. His are real actions … nothing for “show”.

Premiering on Discovery+ on May 6, 2021

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THE HUMAN FACTOR (2021, doc)

May 6, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. It’s truly (and sadly) the never-ending story. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, or Jews and Arabs, has a history of more than one hundred years. Documentarian Dror Moreh was Oscar nominated for his 2012 film THE GATEKEEPERS, which told the story from the Israeli security perspective, and this time he focuses on the U.S. negotiators’ viewpoint. He covers a 30 year time period, but a substantial portion is dedicated to the Clinton administration.

The list of familiar names from Israel includes: Yitzhak Shamir, Ytizhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Bibi Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak. From the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), there is the ever-present Yasser Arafat. And from the United States, we see Jim Baker, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright. But beyond the names and faces we know, Moreh interviews negotiators such as Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Daniel Kurtzer, Robert Malley, and diplomat Galal Hamel for their distinct insight into the years of meetings and attempts at agreement. These interviews blended with the extraordinary archival footage provide more information than an endless stream of newscasts over the last thirty years.

Elections, assassinations, wars, and culture clashes have combined to bring constant shifts to negotiations. We are told that even the language differences creates problems, as each side defines “history” and “future” in their own way. One of the most fascinating segments revolves around the infamous/iconic handshake at the 1993 Oslo Accords. The importance of the handshake was relayed to Rabin, and he was adamant that Arafat not be in uniform, not carry a gun, and that there be no cheek-kisses, which Arafat was known for. So the negotiators came up with “Safari suit” as a description, and the handshake occurred. 

Numerous moments like this are discussed by the negotiators, and we realize that posturing and power plays have been the main reason nothing has really changed (hence, the film’s title). Peace seemed within grasp in 1995 … right up until Rabin was assassinated. And the Clinton segment around the failed last gasp of the 2000 Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David is exceptional with its photographs and insight from the interviews.

Moreh has delivered the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at one of the most frustrating global situations, and the negotiators offer insight into the process – and the role played by manipulation, credibility, trust, and empathy. Mostly, we are left with what might have been, and are told “peace” is not even the right word when no solution exists.

Opens in theaters May 7, 2021

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THE SONS OF SAM: A DESCENT INTO DARKNESS (2021, docuseries)

May 5, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Obsession can take many forms, and a few are on display in this latest Netflix docuseries from filmmaker Joshua Zeman. For those alive in 1977, you likely remember the reign of terror in New York City due to the “.44 Killer”, later known as “Son of Sam”. Fear was pervasive, and the shootings that actually started in the summer of 1976 but not connected until months later, mostly seemed random, which added to the public panic. Despite the title, Zeman’s docuseries is not so much about the murders, but about one man’s obsession with proving the ‘Son of Sam’ was really more than one person, and that the relief felt by citizens after the arrest of David Berkowitz, was misplaced.

Maury Terry was an IBM employee with an exceedingly inquisitive mind. His interest in the Son of Sam case pushed him to slowly evolve into an investigative journalist ultimately convinced that the NYPD had closed the case too soon, and not approached his own level of in-depth research and detail. Terry’s work is presented here after being delivered to Zeman in three boxes after Terry’s death. Paul Giamatti reads Terry’s own notes and book passages, and Zeman fills the four episodes with archival news clips, Terry’s own videos, shots of newspaper clippings, and interviews (past and present) from family members, cops, journalists, and even surviving victims. There is a recounting of columnist Jimmy Breslin’s time as a conduit to Berkowitz, a clip of Berkowitz’s father’s press conference after the arrest, and a fascinating tale of Maury Terry’s first date with his ex-wife … anyone looking for a good dating tip should ignore this segment.

Towards the end of the first episode, we see the iconic video of David Berkowitz smiling at the camera as police take him into custody. Since a (at the time) rare .44 caliber pistol was found with him, and Berkowitz confessed to the murders during his interrogation, the NYPD was quick to go on TV and announce to a relieved citizenry that the streets of New York were again safe, and Son of Sam was behind bars.

However, for Maury Terry, the case and the evidence just didn’t add up. He was intrigued by many bits and pieces. Berkowitz stated that his actions had been guided by a 1000 year old demon through his neighbor Sam’s dog. Additionally, the variances in police sketches drawn from eyewitnesses over the year simply didn’t add up to being the same guy. As to Berkowitz himself, the personality of the Yonkers postal worker didn’t fit cleanly into the police profile either. The more skeptical Terry became, the more doubt his research created. The final 3 episodes really focus on the case work he performed over decades … especially his belief that the murders traced back to a satanic cult.

The show is well crafted as it connects us visually with Terry’s writings and findings (including his 1987 book “The Ultimate Evil”). We see ‘The Devil’s Cave’ and get a nice overview of the neighborhood where Terry spent much of his time investigating. We also head to Minot, North Dakota and Stanford University to gain intel on how those two sites tie-in to the case. Additionally, there’s a possible connection to the Charles Manson family. The show is elevated by real life occurrences such as the letter Berkowitz wrote to Terry, and how seemingly unrelated murders might have a connection. In fact, by the end of episode four, we can’t help but take note of the chain of dead bodies beyond those of the Son of Sam victims. Could it all be coincidence, or possibly the result of Maury Terry stretching too hard to make his case?

Crime shows are big TV ratings business these days, and this one blends the best of that with a notorious real life event. Having the retired Police Captain Borelli defend the work of the police somehow doesn’t make us feel more satisfied with their findings, and by the end, we are just as skeptical of Terry’s beliefs as we are of the department’s proclamation that Berkowitz acted alone. Of course, the highlight of the show are the videos of Terry interviewing Berkowitz in person at Attica. This was influential for Netflix’s brilliant series “Mindhunter” where Oliver Cooper played Berkowitz. We are tuned in to the body language of a guy who has been in prison for years. Even more than 40 years later, the events prove traumatic to revisit, and are only made creepier by Terry’s theories. Were his theories on the right path or was he a lunatic conspiracy theorist, as many described? It’s only now that we can question the accuracy of Berkowitz’s first letter to Terry when he told him, “The public will never truly believe you.” Whether accurate or not, there is no questioning Maury Terry’s obsession with the Son of Sam case. Zeman’s docuseries will tax your armchair detective skills and leave you wondering what’s real.

***NOTE: the opening credits of each episode feature a rocking version of “Season of the Witch” performed by Joan Jett. It’s certainly not the chilling version by Lana Del Rey or the psychedelic version from Donovan, but it’s the perfect fit for this docuseries.

***NOTE: David Berkowitz turns 68 years old in June 2021, and is currently housed at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in upstate New York

Releasing on Netflix May 5, 2021

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