For the past several weeks, America has been held captive by two incredible and unpredictable forces: coronavirus and "Tiger King."
The Netflix mini-series – focused on the exploits of cat sanctuary king Joe Exotic and a big cat zoo world so wild that it makes the actual wild animals seem tame – has become a monster hit for the Big Red Streaming Monolith, so much so an additional installment is en route for Sunday, April 12, reuniting with several of the cast members to find out what's all happened since the original filming and since the doc had its debut. (Prediction: I bet Jeff Lowe lies a lot.)
Need more oddball individuals and unpredictable twists and turns to get you through this quarantine? Here are nine more documentaries – plus one narrative fiction film that's basically a documentary on horrifying workplace conditions and reckless pet policies – you can stream right now featuring characters and stories that are truly stranger than fiction.
1. "Finders Keepers"
Available to stream on: Amazon Prime, Hoopla and YouTube Free
You thought the story of "Tiger King" was crazy? Wait until you pop on "Finders Keepers," another strange saga of redneck legal battles – this time about two North Carolina men who become rivals after one accidentally buys the other's mummified severed foot in an auction and becomes an oddball local tourist attraction in the process. Yes, his actual mummified severed foot. It's the definition of stranger than fiction – but directors Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel dig deeper than expected and don't stop at the mere goofball spectacle of it all, instead finding the humanity in both of its protagonists. It's easily the most oddly moving story you'll ever see involving two men fighting over a severed limb.
2. "The Amazing Johnathan Documentary"
Available to stream on: Hulu
When documentarian Ben Berman arrived at The Amazing Johnathan's mansion, he thought he had a great story: The once-famous magician and comedian was fighting for his life, trying to still perform while battling a critical heart condition. But Berman left with a far different story than he expected – one involving several unexpected rivals, concerned calls to lawyers about the legal ramifications of smoking meth on camera and a subject who, as you might expect from a magician, isn't exactly what meets the eye. It's a hilarious true (OR IS IT!?) tale that also asks a fascinating question: Who truly owns one's story? And also: Is it legal to smoke meth on camera if offered?
3. "Evil Genius"
Available to stream on: Netflix
The subtitle for this four-part true-crime doc series on the Big Red Streaming Monolith calls it "America's most diabolical bank heist" – and honestly, they're not overselling it. In 2003, a man with a bomb locked to his neck walking into a bank, demanding money. Hours later, he would be dead after a standoff with the police. But how did that bomb end up on this unfortunate man? And who was actually behind this bizarre crime? The case only gets more and more unsettling and unnerving as investigator and narrator Trey Borzillieri gets closer to the main players in the case and as "Evil Genius" unfolds its strange web of lies, deceit and greed. For those looking for their next unpredictable Netflix binge, "Evil Genius" might just be diabolically good.
4. "Exit Through the Gift Shop"
Available to stream on: Sundance Now and Amazon with Sundance Now
The prankster artist Banksy is most famous for his unique protest street art – but perhaps his finest work came on the big screen with this wild and thrilling 2010 documentary. What starts as merely an adventure behind the scenes of the illegal street art universe, with some of its most famous creators and innovators, becomes the strange story of Mr. Brainwash, a cameraman who goes from filming these artists to trying to become one himself. But is Mr. Brainwash's hacky, increasingly photocopied and sold for top dollar work actually art? And is he even a real person, or just another incisive Banksy prank? Whether it's fact or fiction, there's no debating that "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is an exhilarating, funny and though-provoking doc.
5. "The Imposter"
Available to stream on: Amazon Prime
In the mid-'90s, a 13-year-old Texas boy disappeared without a trace from his neighborhood. Three years later, he returned ... or did he? If you read the title of the movie, you'll probably be able to answer that question – but there's so much more to "The Imposter" than meets the eye, as Bart Layton's truth-bending documentary brings you into the seductive world of its mysterious French liar with cinematic recreations, fascinating interviews and a twisty true story that makes you the viewer his latest con. It's a documentary that plays like a pitch-perfect thriller. (If you enjoy this, check out Layton's follow-up: "American Animals," another true-crime story that blends fiction and reality, star-studded retellings with real-life interviews.)
6. "Abducted in Plain Sight"
Available to stream on: Netflix and Kanopy
Been a while since you've yelled at your television screen and thrown things at it in a disbelieving rage? Well, since we don't have sports to provided that experience right now, might I recommend "Abducted in Plain Sight," one of the most wildly enraging documentaries you may ever watch. On its face, it's a seemingly very standard "Dateline"-esque story: A young girl is kidnapped by a family friend in the '70s. But it's the details that'll have you lose your mind in this stranger-than-fiction story, as you discover how this family friend weaseled his way into this family's trust and how he managed to keep the truth away from everyone. It's a grim and tragic story that have you baffled and, at least on two occasions, yelling at the screen and apologizing to horror movie characters for saying that they were too "unrealistically dim."
7. "Cold Case Hammarskjöld"
Available to stream on: Hulu
Filmmaker Mads Brügger is known as a bit of a prankster, going undercover and inserting himself into his real-life gonzo investigations. But in "Cold Case Hammarskjöld," what begins as a somewhat jokey lark investigating a seemingly ridiculous conspiracy theory about the plane crash death of former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld becomes all too real as he uncovers incognito mercenary organizations, all-too-convenient connections, hidden informers and some truly horrific secrets involving the entire globe. It's the most fun you'll have digging into some potentially earth-shattering and haunting conspiracy theories.
8. "The King of Kong"
Available to stream on: Starz, DirecTV and Amazon with Starz
It may sound like a documentary destined for ESPN8: The Ocho, but this arcade game duel documentary about the fight for the high score on "Donkey Kong" is major league quality. In one corner is Steve Wiebe, a pleasant and soft-spoken engineer who manages to become a celebrity after nabbing the high score on the classic '80s arcade game. In the other corner is Billy Mitchell, the world-famous prior record-holder with a massive ego, an even bigger mullet and no limit to how he'll reclaim his former title. If you like your documentaries with fascinating heroes and villains in oddball worlds even stranger than the Mario Bros. saga, put in two quarters and press play on this charming and unexpectedly intense real-life arcade adventure – plus maybe you'll learn some tricks on how to pump up your own "Donkey Kong" score.
Available to stream on: Hulu and Hoopla
Filmmaker and journalist David Farrier (Netflix's "Dark Tourist") discovers an underground internet tickling competition, shipping in young handsome men from across the globe, tying its participants down and then tickling them for as long as they can endure it. And somehow, that's when "Tickled" is normal. As Farrier dives deeper into the world of this online tickling society, looking for answers, he meets increasing resistance, leading him to wonder if this tickling competition is even stranger than it seems. It's a bizarre and unpredictable story that even has a sequel, the short doc "The Tickle King," that goes even further beyond the borders of the film.
Available to rent on: Vimeo starting on April 15
Sure, "Roar" isn't a documentary – but why not follow up "Tiger King" with one of the most infamous tiger-centric movies ever made?
This 1981 thriller follows a family (including "The Birds" star Tippi Hedren and real-life daughter Melanie Griffith) living amongst nature that bites off more than they can chew when their house winds up invaded by dozens of wild and ravenous jungle cats – all played by real, unrestricted jungle cats. Unsurprisingly, the movie itself bit off more than it could chew as well as more than half the film crew came away seriously injured. Director Noel Marshall was bitten over a dozen times, eventually contracting gangrene from all of the wounds. Griffith needed facial reconstruction after a lioness attack, and Hedren was bitten in the head as well as hurt by an elephant on the fritz. When people in the movie look scared and in pain from an animal mauling, it's because the actors are actually scared and actually in pain from a mauling. So, in that way, maybe "Roar" is a documentary – one somehow even more insane, unpredictable and dangerous than "Tiger King" thanks to its four-legged co-stars.
The movie never got a wide release in the United States at the time, probably because people thought it sounded like a snuff film (and if practically is one), but thanks to Alamo Drafthouse, the infamous nature movie is coming to streaming for $10 starting on Wednesday, April 15 – with ten percent of the profits going toward the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation’s Pioneers Assistance Fund, which is supporting theater workers unemployed during this pandemic. So finally some good is coming out of this iconically bad idea.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.