Offbeat Streaming Picks – Documentary Edition

I recently posted some Offbeat Streaming Picks for folks running out of things to stream and while that post did have one documentary, I figured there’s room for more. Like last time, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about high-profile stuff like The Last Dance or Tiger King, but there’s lots of stuff floating around the streaming services if you know how to Medusa Touch the Algorithm. So here’s a few documentary picks I’ve streamed recently:

Tread (Netflix) – In 2004, a small town welder fortified a bulldozer and used it to destroy his perceived enemies in the town. Directed by Paul Solet, who’s known more for offbeat horror fare like Grace, this film uses reenactments as well as real footage and audio from a series of tapes left behind by the welder. The tapes reveal a deeply dysfunctional relationship with the town driven by paranoia and rage at perceived wrongs perpetrated by certain families and political structures. That he jumps from there to what he ended up doing is bizarre, but the documentary covers his life and motivations well.

Tread

His grievances with the town seem petty at first, but the righteous anger he feels comes through well enough, and it’s a bit sobering to watch in light of what’s happening in the world right now. It’s hard to describe what he did without sounding impressed (he basically created an unstoppable tank), but that’s not the right tone for this, as he could have easily killed a lot of people. It’s a compelling story and the documentary does a great job covering it.

Class Action Park (HBO) – Action Park was a kinda/sorta urban legend for some of us on the east coast. An amusement park with no real rules where multiple people have died in not-so-freak accidents? I always heard about this place growing up, but it was in North Jersey, so it was never really on the agenda to go there. But for the folks that lived near there, the draw was apparently quite strong. This documentary covers the eccentric owner of the park, his strange strategy for designing the rides (i.e. don’t hire professionals), and eventually the consequences of his shortsighted project. The documentary starts out all fun and games, but it takes some sharp turns in the latter half. Your mileage may vary; this could seem like a movie that’s trying to have its cake and eat it too. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting movie, mostly because of that last half hour. The first half of the movie may undermine the second half a bit and some of the more thought provoking themes are perhaps a stretch, but again, it’s at least an interesting attempt that’s worth checking out.

The Speed Cubers (Netflix) – Radically nice documentary about two rival “Speed Cubers”, people who solve Rubik’s cubes as fast as possible. If Tread is a movie of the times, The Speed Cubers represents a good antidote. Good kids who become friends whilst competing in an unconventional arena. I’m not a parent, but a good portion of the movie involves parenting a child with autism. It is a touching sub-plot, even to this non-parent. It’s only 45 minutes (or so) long, but it packs an emotional punch and is definitely worth watching if the news has got you down.

Spaceship Earth (Hulu) – Back in 1991, a bunch of hippies built a replica of Earth’s ecosystem┬ácalled Biosphere 2. The concept was that this scientific experiment would help us learn about Earth and provide an idea of what would be needed to attempt colonization of other planets. The only problem was that they weren’t really scientists, they didn’t really know what they were doing, and the whole enterprise was basically doomed to failure. That said, their vision was a compelling one, though I’m still not quite sure how they managed to raise $150 million to build such an ill-conceived experiment. I’m being a bit hard on them, but the documentary takes a neutral stance, allowing all involved to tell their story unfettered. It’s actually quite well done.

Operation Odessa (Netflix) – In the early 90s, bolstered by the fall of the Soviet Union, a Russian mobster, a Miami playboy, and a Cuban spy conspire to sell a nuclear submarine to a drug cartel. The story is told in a pretty standard format, but the personalities involved are so colorful and unashamed that it becomes a compelling watch. It’s not tackling important issues and the narrative jumps around a bit, but it does cover the core team’s tales of coke-fueled excess in an entertaining way. It’s perhaps slight when compared to the above, but worth a gander if you’re in the mood for low stakes zaniness.

So there you go, lots of offbeat streaming picks of the documentary kind for the taking. Only two more weeks until The Six Weeks of Halloween starts in earnest. Prepare yourself!

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