March 2011

Open Captions

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Open Captions

I love going to the Lincoln Square Cinemas in Bellevue to see movies. It is a new luxurious theater with stadium seating and lots of screens. When I go to movies there I often time it so that we can have dinner and then catch the movie. The other day, we got there around 7 PM and found good seats in the theater. When the movie started, there were subtitles!! I have watched a lot of Netflix movies with subtitles on my TV and have gone to see foreign films with subtitles. I did not mind under those circumstances.  But when there are big white letters of the dialog in English at the bottom of a huge movie screen, it is really distracting.

Johnny Depp in Wonderland

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Johnny Depp in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) wrote Alice in Wonderland from stories he told a young friend named Alice Liddell while boating on the River Thames. The story follows the adventures of a young girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and has strange adventures in a bizarre land populated with many quirky characters. Many film adaptations of the book have been made and most of us are familiar with the Disney animated version released in 1951.

The Arbor: A Ficticious Non-Fiction Film About Brown Babies

What a crazy story and an even crazier way to portray it in something like a non-fiction, storytelling manner.

Andrea Dunbar probably isn’t set to achieve the same sort of general renown as Chekov – there aren’t going to be classes dedicated to her craft. Well, maybe there will be. The truncated career Dunbar led, she died of a brain hemorrhage in 1992 at the age of 29, included only a handful of works, just enough to fill a single volume. It was the woman’s first work, The Arbor, which has remained a controversial and vital work since it was first produced in 1977.

Dunbar’s first work detailed the travails of her relationship with a Pakistani guy and their resultant child. Some of the same problems spurring on the London punk scene contribute to the play’s narrative – there’re pervasive financial difficulties, rampant drug use and a fair deal of racism. This film of the same name, released in 2009 doesn’t exactly follow the play’s narrative, but since the effort seeks to distill Dunbar’s life, there’s a significant overlap. What’s more important than any overlaid material, though, is how the narrative’s related to viewers.

With a handful of television footage dating back to the eighties and depicting Dunbar in her relative prime, the majority of the film includes actors portraying the real life figures in the writer’s plays. They aren’t acting, however. They’re apparent speech is simply matched to archival interviews, making for a sometimes difficult fit. While the sporadic tough-to-watch moments are scarce, the approach also allows for an utter absence of stilted performance. The dialogue’s never wooden.

Revolutionary Problems: The Baader Meinhof Complex

It feels like there were two films, within just a few years of each other, that dealt with the Baader-Meinhoff Gang and its political quandary. For those not tremendously familiar with the group, listen to the Clash for long enough and you’ll figure it out. The band’s off handed reference to the terrorist group won’t assuage sell-out shouters, but still, a radical thing to mention for an ensemble on CBS Records.

Either way, the fictionalized story related in the Baader-Meinhof Komplex was strong enough to warrant a spate of awards nominations during 2008. The film didn’t take home hardware, which might account for the relatively low profile it still deals with. Well, that and all the anti-government stuff.

Going back to the late sixties and early seventies, the film’s plot extends from American involvement in foreign wars and the country’s insistence on engaging with questionable political allies to suite national interests. Kinda messed up that we’re still dealing with that, huh? At the time, though, Western Europe took a more revolutionary approach to protesting. France hosted some upheavals and while May ’69 wasn’t a complete game changer, the riots did serve to impassion a new generation of politically minded folks.

Germany, around the same time the States had pulled out of ‘Nam, but still had a hand in the Middle East, hosted the Shah of Iran and his wife. The Baader-Meinhof Komplex ostensibly uses that visit to bound into radicalism. Ulrike Meinhof, one of the Red Army Faction’s founders, wrote a series of potentially explosive missives taking public figures and the Shah’s wife, specifically, to task. In hindsight, the initial scribblings don’t seem revelatory. But considering he drastically different media landscape, it was. However strongly worded those writings were, though, Meinhof and the rest of the RAF eventually launched into a string of well planned and executed bank robberies, political killings and kidnappings.

Tootsie and Dustin Hoffman's Proclivity for Dresses

It seems like what most people seem to miss about Tootsie – I don’t know why they’re thinking too much about the 1982 film in the first place – is that the story isn’t about love, work and shobiz. It’s about everyone being incredibly self-absorbed and out for themselves. Granted, that’s a part of daily life. It’s the human condition, but Tootsie just tossed in some cross dressing for good measure.

By 1982, Dustin Hoffman, the film’s star, was a huge name and accepted as one of the better actors in Hollywood, or New York, considering the film’s setting. Either way, Hoffman portrays one of those starving actor types named Michael. The character picks up gigs leading workshops, takes roles in Upstate productions and works on difficult plays. He’s a artist in the most concerted manner. And for those same reasons, isn’t well paid or consistently employed. When he figures out most of the casting establishment has preconceived notions about his on-set demeanor, Michael winds up figuring that if he and his friends can’t snag roles, he’d be able to score work pretending to be a women. No idea why that idea was proffered, but it’s the basis for the following ninety minutes of film.

Of course, the situation’s predicated on raising enough money to put on a performance of Michael’s roommate’s new play – Bill Murray doesn’t get enough screen time, just saying. After finding success on a soap opera, though, it becomes difficult for Michael to figure how he’s going to extricate himself from the situation. So, he just carries on as a woman for the entirety of a televised season, sharing dressing rooms and babysitting cast member’s children.

'Gone With the Wind' Voted Best Film? Crazy!

Some people voted "Gone With the Wind," the best American film of all times. Better than "Casablanca"? Better than "The Godfather,"? Better than "Wizard of Oz"? Better than "Citizen Kane"?. Better than "Dumb And Dumber?"

I don't think so.

"Gone With the Wind" is the most over rated American film of all time. It had a great marketing campaign. It has great stars, Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable.

The story is trite. The story is dumb. The story is racist. It is about happy colored people in slavery. The romance is tired.

Morgan Spurlock Doesn't Care Where in the World Osama Bin Laden Is...

It’s a bad sign when you watch a movie, don’t remember doing so and then watch it again. Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden made me do that. Whether the second viewing was worthwhile or not – I can argue no, pretty easily – this previous review seems to have inverted the film’s strengths and weaknesses.

Morgan Spurlock, the film’s director who rose to prominence from eating trash, uses his own life as catalyst for hunting down a terrorist, who pretty much everyone he interviews says, isn’t really that important. But setting up the film around the pregnancy of his wife, as charming as she is, feels like exploitation of the highest degree, surpassing Michael Moore pretty easily.

Documentaries like the ones Spurlock seems engaged with aren’t news and aren’t entertainment. They’re both and come along with preconceived ideologies, which is fine as long as viewers are aware. While Where in the World sports some pretty logical thinking – yeah, we’re all the same and want what’s best for our families – some of its staging gets in the way

The brief cartoon interludes, which can be found in just about any tongue in cheek non-fiction film, serve to make points, if not comedic ones. What folks should take issue with, as Spurlock goes into ridiculously dangerous situations, is that he doesn’t use those oppurtunities to turn up anything new. Sitting on a couch with some family in Egypt, the director jokes about a small child emulate the prayer he hears and sees on a daily basis by saying something about how he could manipulate the moment in order to portray Muslims in a negative light. Good one.

BUtterfield 8: Hookers and Harlots

Well, Elizabeth Taylor’s dead. And people probably still think she was a tramp during the fifties and sixties. She may well have been. But who cares? Either way, the actress’ response to the contractual obligation that was BUtterfield 8 was no more kind than those who chastised her for being desirable. Of course, the fact that the film’s about a woman who gets by on her good looks and curvaceous figure probably bothered its star more than anyone else. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a decent movie, though.

Beginning the morning after Taylor’s Gloria character wakes up in some guy’s house, the film sets about defining its character in the most narrow terms possible. After realizing she’s been left money for the previous evening’s services, she borrows a fur coat seeing as the dress she had on last night was ripped, leaves a nasty note in lipstick on a mirror and splits. It’s a kneejerk reaction, one that proves presumptuous a bit later.

After hitting the road, the harlot, who saw fit to snag a bottle of whiskey as well, heads over to her friend’s apartment – nope, she doesn’t really have a home, just a few places she can always stay. When Gloria arrives, though, Eddie’s in the middle of working up some piano charts and seems bothered by her showing up. It turns out, he doesn’t object to the unannounced, barging in as much as he takes issue with Gloria being a strumpet – and half drunk by ten in the morning.

After hanging around just long enough to figure they’re still friends, Gloria kicks around a bit, but eventually winds up at her mother’s apartment, borrowing money she may or may not need. While there, a friend of her mother’s chastises the way she lives and the mother begins to cry. She should. She raised a whore – but a smart on, at least.

Bad Friends: Fucking with Shampoo

As much as Hal Ashby enjoyed making movies, he enjoyed the idea of fucking. Fucking old ladies, fucking friends, fucking enemies. The act can be turned into enough of a plot to warrant any sort of narrative focus. So, in Shampoo, Ashby along with Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn and a cast of assorted starlets, lays back and takes it.

Beginning in the dark, Beatty’s George character can be heard putting it to some broad when he’s interrupted by a phone call from a nervous women, whom he needs to help. It turns out to be Hawn’s Jill character, but their relationship isn’t properly relayed to George’s earlier conquest. But, he gets up, gets dressed and heads over to see what the problem is. And well, there’s not really a problem beyond the fact that he’s in(to) a wealth of women, almost concurrently.

How does George find all these broads?

Christopher Maclaine's Avant-End

When creative types seek to dispense their assumed knowledge through a wealth of different media types, sometimes the point’s lost or confused enough to be discounted more easily than it should be. Shuttling between poetry and film found Christopher Maclaine ranking as a relatively well thought off beat and visual savant. The relation between his works should be fairly easy to reckon – that’s a guess, seeing as I’ve not been privy to his writings. But judging from his first film, the 1953 San Francisco excursion through The End, the Beat affiliate had a singular bent to whatever he did.

The Fighter: Crack(ed) in the Ring

Mark Wahlberg either saw High on Crack Street or heard enough about the film and the people who were the main figures in it to eventually work towards fictionalizing their story in The Fighter. It’s basically Massachusetts’ Rocky. And if anyone wants to debate that point, go ahead. You’re wrong.

But it’s really interesting that Darren Aronofsky got an executive producer credit on the Academy Award nominated film, which means Pi’s director had a hand in more than one high profile film at the ceremonies. That’s kinda weird. But what’s equally bizarre is that Aronofsky’s directorial proclivities come through in The Fighter without even having worked on it daily.

From the opening shots, the film’s color as well as how that handi-cam is used echoes not just Black Swan, but Aronofsky’s earlier films. Apart from the look and feel of the entire feature, The Fighter’s focus on drug addiction, thanks to a startling performance from Christian Bale, easily recalls moments from Requiem for a Dream. The same sort of euphoria-inducing cinematography isn’t utilized, but there’s a buncha crack smoking.

So, apart from the crack, though, this is still pretty much Rocky – even if Jason Schwartzman’s mom is here replaced by Amy Adams, an ample working-class chick equally adept at slinging beer as she is slinging barbs and the Wahlberg character’s family. Even after watching High on Crack Street the portrayal of some of these folks seems bizarre. There are certainly some people in the fictional film, not represented at all in the documentary – the father, for one. But even the plot’s grand arc got tarted up for Hollywood. There was really no way, The Fighter could end in a loss. That wouldn’t have sold tickets and probably made the film’s general tenor a bit much to take for the average American.

Life During Wartime: Todd Soldonz as Demented

Todd Solondz has purposefully crafted a career sitting just to the left of mainstream tastes. He’s not released a wealth of films, but each one he does issue seems to have at least one or two scenes that are so bizarre, the feature’s released is subsumed by talk of its perversity. Well, maybe perversity’s not the right word, but it’s not the wrong one either.

After Happiness, released in 1998, Solondz must have realized that he invented a creepy world full of half failures and utter weirdoes engaging enough to work up another film. It didn’t arrive immediately. In fact, it took almost a decade’s time to write and film Life During Wartime. The time spent honing its odd characters and finding the right wrong cast paid off.

As with anything Solondz does, the film has a surprising angle. It uses the exact same characters – names and all – for this kinda sequel, but recast each role, going so far as to make Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Allen character a black guy, played by Michael Kenneth Williams. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Williams, probably best known as Omar from The Wire, was figured as a good choice, because he has three names, just like the guy who initially played Allen. I hope so, at least.

Either, Life During Wartime sports a few scenes that appear to be pretty similar to the previous film, including its opening in which Allen gives his girlfriend a present in the exact same mode as Jon Lovitz’ character did in the earlier feature. Of course, since Allen has a problem with making obscene phone calls, the waitress recognizes him and ruins the evening.

Kingpin: More Farrelly Nonsensical Comedy

It’d be pretty difficult to figure 1996’s Kingpin as one of the most enduring comedic films of an era, but it might well be that. What other films from that decade are still getting plaudits from the common man on TBS or whatever station shows old movies repeatedly with no gauge of frequency. Whatever station the flick’s run on, the Farrelly Brother’s feature stands as one of the most absurd and absurdly creative premises ever devised, seriously.

Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

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Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Carribean began as a theme park ride in the Disney theme parks. Then it expaneded into a series of movies, novels, other publications and a massive multiplayer online role playing games. Generally movies that are created from things like toys, videogames and theme park rides tend to fail as movies. The characters are two dimensional, the plots are simple, the acting is poor and the dialog is bad. Fortunately for Disney, Pirates of the Carribean movies have managed to escape this curse.

What If Cannabis Cured Cancer?

What If Cannabis Cured Cancer?

That’s a pretty good question – and one worth a feature length discussion. Unfortunately, stoners aren’t always too good at following through or organization. So, while What If Cannabis Cured Cancer? winds up being a relatively interesting examination, a lot of folks aren’t gonna get the chance to see it. What theaters run forty five minute movies becomes just as a good a question.

Either way, with Peter Coyote, Roseanne as well as Malcolm McDowell lending their voices to the narrative, one might guess that the film had a bit of a chance at being wide spread. I find it on the internet, though. So, maybe not. There’s not even an entry for the film on Allmovie or Wikipedia. Good one stoners.

Cabin Boy: Chris Elliot's a Fancy Boy, Clearly

For whatever reason, Chris Elliot never caught on as a commodity. But as his recent re-emergence on television and a feature over at the A/V Club amply points out, the kitschy backwards gaze has finally caught on. While Elliot’s popularity might still be ironic and littered with mustachioed fans wearing tiny, liberal glasses, Cabin Boy, a film he starred in seventeen years ago, has retained a ridiculous luster regardless of who was paying attention.

After doing time on David Letterman’s writing staff – a person Elliot credits with broadening America’s comedic palette – and starring in an ill fated television show, the actor picked up this gig as a lily white aristocrat who finds himself stuck on a boat with a few unsavory characters. And Bill Murray’s brother.

The 1994 film begins as Elliot’s character, Nathaniel, wonders onto the wrong boat while he’s trying to get back to his father. Pretty bald by this point, despite make-up and hair’s best effort to refute genetic code, Nathaniel seems about a half step away from being dressed in matching sailor suites to some relative of his. Either way, Andy Richter, who plays a dullard named Kenny, lets the guy on the boat. He goes to sleep. And the next day finds himself in the middle of the ocean being cradled by the ship’s captain, who upon waking up immediately utters something about not needing the last drink he had last night.

Hall Pass: Moot

It’s hard to tell if the Farrelly Brothers are comedic geniuses or just the guys who used to stand around outside 7-11, drinking Slushees (or is it Slurpees?), giggling about secret fart jokes and checking out hot moms, occasionally asking another patron to buy them a single serve beer. Maybe it’s both. The scene I just described is ostensibly what Clerks was based on. And not greater thought seems to put into the Farrelly’s movies. It just kind of snowballs from an initial concept – just like the idea behind Hall Pass.

Hot Rod: Poop Jokes

Any movie including the execution of a karate move that makes the recipient of the blow shit himself is worth watching. Any movie including that twice, might be worth watching more than once. Maybe.

Hot Rod, admittedly one of the lesser Saturday Nite Live spin off films, didn’t wind up hugely impacting the culture at large. But the feature’s ability to distil a wealth of films down to a single pastiche is pretty impressive.

There’s nothing about the opening few scenes that shouldn’t make viewers recall Napoleon Dynamite from a decade back. Yeah, it’s been that long and folks are still trying to figure out how to re-make a low budget comedy, or at least ape its tone. Anyway, Andy Samburg, who stars as the film’s focus, is tooling around on some gas-powered bike. I’d hesitate to call it a moped, but that’s pretty much it. A jump’s set up and as the approach comes into focus, it should become clear that there’s not too much chance good ole Rod’s going to make it.

But he keeps trying whenever he gets the chance: he’ll jump just about anything, or at least try. The reason for all of these death-defying failures is that Rod’s dad died when he was a little kid. And since that time, the youngster’s tried to emulate him – he was a stunt man and worked with Evil Kenevil. As much as his lineage, though, Rod’s spurred on by the fact that his step-father thinks the kid’s a joke. Well, he tells Rod that. Whether or not it’s the gospel is another story. The two fight, with the elder winning all the time. Rod’s gonna have success sooner or later accept his step father falls ill and is gonna die if he doesn’t undergoe an costly operation.

The Rutles: Another Doo-Dah Band

There’re more than one or two people of the opinion the Beatles were average, at best. It’s hard to debate any sort of reason accompanying that. Surely, a bunch of other bands kicking around at about the same time were trucking in similar musics. John and Paul wrote good songs – even if George’s were cooler. And that’s kind of undeniable. It lacks an objective coolness, but seriously. Come on.

Anyway, when Eric Idle and Neil Innes were in the middle of performing and writing with one of the most intriguing and innovative sketch comedy troupes in the world – there’s a bit more bias for you – they somehow managed to muster enough creative energy for this: The Rutles. By the mid seventies, with all Beatles still intact, but not performing together, a weird cult arose, even more gregarious regarding the Fab Four’s talents than fans a decade earlier.

Idle and Innes must have been fans, but at the same time saw how ridiculous the entire obsession was. Adherence to the Beatles/Stones dichotomy had reached a fever pitch during the actor and writer’s run in the Pythons and he felt it necessary to deal with it…comedically, of course.

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