|KEX'S AMAZING WORLD|
|Nine times out of ten, in the arts as in life, there is actually no truth to be discovered; there is only an error to be exposed. -- H.L. Menken|
But I'm A Cheerleader
This Week: But I'm A Cheerleader :
I know; I can't believe I saw this movie either. But after summarizing the very short list of new releases available this week, a painful realization dropped heavily upon me. I suddenly realized that after 14 months of doing these reviews, I hadn't reviewed a single film about a teenage lesbian cheerleader. That was an oversight which simply could not be allowed to stand, so it became necessary to bolt down the anticipation I had built over the past several weeks for the new Eddie Murphy movie, and check out this one instead.
Okay, perhaps I'm being a little heavy with the sarcasm. I didn't want to see the Murphy movie at all, and I don't think the court of gentle readers will be unsympathetic. Afterall, the world needs a sequel to a remake of a 60's Jerry Lewis movie about as badly as we need Madonna to start rerecording 20 year old Don McClane Songs. Er, okay, that is a bad example: shit happens.
However, Eddie Murphy movies are a gamble when he is only playing one character. Dump him in a situation where he is playing half a dozen, and that is just more Murphy than I can stand in a couple of hours. Heck, the whole situation sounds a little like buying an unlimited ride pass at Disneyland and shooting the whole day on Its A Small World.
In any event, I think that the male readership of this page is going to be fully with me in the analysis of this choice. What I was looking at here was an R rated movie with teenage lesbian cheerleaders. Most males look at that and go well beyond thinking about just seeing the movie. The thought processes have already ballooned on to "The IMAX Experience!"
Unfortunately, sometimes what appears to be an appealing draw can get awfully bogged down in the details of plot requirement. Good heavens, did this film bog down! I can summarize the plot of this movie without making stuff up and it still sounds incredibly lame. This is, quite simply, one of the worst movies ever made.
The nightmare of the experience began at the ticket window. I actually had to look another human being in the eye and say, "I would like to see But I'm A Cheerleader." It wasn't so bad at the time, but in retrospect the situation was retroactively horrifying enough that it may take me three days to be cured of hives. If I can make the gentle readers any guarantees in this life, know this one: That sentence will never, ever, come out of my mouth again.
The movie opens with our heroine, Meggan (Natasha Lyonne) practising her cheerleading on the eve of the big playoff game. She meets with her boyfriend after practice to do some necking. His kissing technique involves sticking out his tongue and shoving it in her mouth. We quickly realize what her problem is. As she kisses him, she is fantasizing about watching the other cheerleaders going through their paces. Then again, so were we.
Meggan's parents are devout christians, and they are concerned about her behaviors. Ditto her friends, who notice that she has pictures of women instead of men in her locker. So her parents and friends arrange to send her to a gay rehabilitation camp called True Directions (I promise, I'm not making any of this up).
At True Directions, all the boys wear blue and the girls wear pink. All the decor is blue and pink. The boys are directed by camp councilor Mike (RuPaul Charles, who appears not in drag the entire film) who teaches them manly pursuits like football and wood splitting. Meanwhile, the girls are guided by a Cruella Deville like director (Cathy Moriarity) who teaches them cooking, cleaning and other female type pursuits.
The ultimate purpose is to direct them to graduation, which follows a crucial final test: The men wear tights and a fig leaf over the genital area, while the women wear a similar getup with fig leaf over breasts and genitals. Then they pair off for simulated sex (Yes, I WISH I were making this up).
Prior to graduation, Meggan and Graham(female) (Clea Duvall) fall in love and spend an evening together in blissful female passion. But one of the other inmates catch them together, and Meggan is kicked out of camp. She flees to another sort of halfway house that exists to help young lesbians and gay males pursue their true identities (You don't even know how much I wish I were making this up.) It is run by lovers Lloyd and Larry (Wesley Mann and Richard Moll, yes the guy that used to be Bull on nightcourt). Meggan plots with another escaped True Directions camper to steal away their lovers at graduation.
Meggan raids the graduation in her cheerleader outfit, and does a cheer for her lover Graham. Naturally, Graham is overcome with love, and the two run off to live a life of lesbian bliss, I guess. None of the movie is played either very seriously or tastefully, leading me to wonder what the whole point was.
Over the years, there have been several attempts, almost uniformly bad, to stretch 5 minute Saturday Night Live sketches into full length movies. This was perhaps the first ever cinematic attempt to turn a full length movie into a Saturday Night Live sketch without appreciably shortening it. As with most SNL sketches in recent years, it was not funny, so I guess the effort was successful. But at least we came away with a very certain understanding why no major distributors picked up on this film. The art house movies fall into too categories: They are either too cerebral for general audiences, or they are simply amateurish crappola. This one fits unambigously into the latter category.
Many of the K.A.W. readers probably haven't heard of this movie, and since it is one of those art-house type films, a lot of you will likely be spared much opportunity to be subjected to it. But just in case you happen to stumble upon it at Blockbuster a year from now, you might want to copy off this review and store it in a safe place, in case it has already vanished from the Kexian archive. By the way, while the film is rated "R" there is no nudity or particularly strong language. I suspect the makers had to practically beg to get it rated stronger than PG-13. If it had received that rating, probably almost no one would have been suckered into seeing it.
Also Last Week: Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back:
And now its my turn.
For most people, the transition from comic book creator to filmmaker would seem to be a major step up in the realms of artistic expression. Apparently not so in the case of former comic book creator turned script writer/director/actor Kevin Smith (Silent Bob). Smith's filmography previous to this mess is Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma. This is a list not likely to make the regular play rotation on AMC a couple of decades from now.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is Smith's star vehicle for two of his recurring characters, Jay and Silent Bob. For the uniniated, Jay (Jason Mewes) is a long haired dope peddler with the ever present inexplicable stocking cap that constitutes some sort of positive fashion statement among generation y. Smith writes the character by dragging the dreaded "F" word out of Jay's mouth so frequently we wonder if he knows another one. It crashes out of his mouth no less than two dozen times in the first 10 minutes of the film.
Comedians began sprinkling the word in question into their work for comic shock value 30 years ago. It stopped being funny 29 years, 11 months and 28 days ago. Maybe Smith is too young to remember, but what stopped being funny in sparse use 3 decades ago isn't going to be uproarious in abundant use now.
Meanwhile, Silent Bob's comic schtick is just what his name suggests: He rarely speaks. Its pretty much what Harpo Marx was doing with a lot more energy 60 years ago, so there is nothing at all really fresh here. Why this duo has become such a rage among the 12 to 30 crowd escapes me.
If the "f" word barrage from Jay in the initial moments of the film doesn't send you running for the exits in a fit of offended angst, you will be "treated" to watching our protagonists peddle pot to children. Yup, this pair is really a set of heros for a new millenium. Then you will also be treated to the spectacle of watching them beat up computer literate children in the film's closing sequences. I'm figuring our society is merely days away now from tossing people to the lions in the name of entertainment. But at least I can still indulge myself with the hopeful fantasies that maybe Mewes and Smith will be near the front of the line.
The plot of this film centers around the efforts of Jay and Silent Bob to travel to California to prevent a movie from being made. A studio has bought the rights to a comic book that features two characters based on them. I'm not sure why anyone would either pen or buy a comic book based on the lives of two nearly brainless pot peddlers, but perhaps I'm getting old and out of touch. Initially Jay and Silent Bob are miffed because they haven't been cut in on the finances, but they are outraged when they learn that the characters, and themselves by association are being trashed on internet message boards.
Their odyssey includes being transported by a group of 4 sex kitten jewel thieves, who are possing as animal rights activists. Their plot is to set up Jay and Silent Bob by having them steal animals from an experimental lab in order to create a diversion for their jewel heist. The plot point seems to have been mostly added in so that the film's creators could suit up the actresses in tight low cut black leather outfits to stimulate the film's young male audience.
Jay and Silent Bob steal an orangutan from the lab, which was essentially an unnecessary device to employ a great ape into the film. We've commented about the use of apes in films before, and this provides another reason not to see the movie. The orang develops a close relationship with Silent Bob, leading to the summer's second case of an unnatural attraction between a great ape and a human. Things are really sinking in Hollywood these days.
Along the way, the duo also encounter most of the characters that have ever appeared in a previous Kevin Smith film. George Carlin does a cameo appearance in a role so degrading we wish the man would retire so we can enjoy the luxury of simply recalling the talent he once was. Seann William Scott also has a minor role. I think Scott has great potential as a comic actor, but after being subjected to 3rd billing in American Pie II and the pathetic role he stumbled through in this crapfest, he really needs to fire his agent right after the thorough horse whipping. If this young man doesn't get some better representation, his next movie job will be sweeping up popcorn.
Incidentally Seann, a bit of career advice: The 3 first names are cute, but pick two. Its too long for a feature billing on top of a movie ad.
Finding myself back in the single life, some may wonder why I went to see this movie at all. I knew it was going to be among the summer's top box office attractions, and the other primary choices on my hit list were The Others and John Carpenter's Ghosts Of Mars. According to my sources in the field, the former is a very near rip-off of The Sixth Sense but it may yet be targeted on this page. As for the latter, I've been torched often enough now by films with the director's name in the title. Its as if Hollywood can no longer sell a film on its own strengths, relying instead on hoping we'll go see it on the director's reputation. Gee, John Carpenter's work is going to get me to shell out 8 bucks.
In closing here, I'm going to try to get back on a regular schedule with the reviews, so look for another one within a few days.
Last Week: K-19 The Widowmaker:
A lot of movies have been made over the years about submarines. This is probably the first one which was produced and directed by a woman. The obvious question that arises is why a woman would take a shot at directing a movie which ventures into the realm of a very male dominated world, like submarining.
I think the answer to that one is actually rather obvious. Think about what we are discussing here: A long, seamen filled tube venturing into the wet, unknown depths. I'm guessing that the last sentence probably got the attention of a lot of my female readers.
Beyond that, we think of a group of men packed closely together in peril of being suddenly crushed by the pressures of the ocean depths, or dying slow painful deaths from radiation sickness after a breech in the ship's nuclear reactor. Around PMS time, I'm thinking that those kind of ideas have a certain appeal to a lot of women as well. So its probably not all that weird that a female director might be attracted to a story of this nature.
Before we get into a lot more depth (pardon the pun) regarding this movie, I want to provide the readers with some important translations of Hollywood jargon which might help all of you to understand this film a little more precisely. Below are some phrases, along with honest interpretations of what they actually mean in terms of the story you are about to see.
Let's assume for a moment that you are watching a story, like this one, about a Soviet nuclear submarine that suffers a serious malfunction with its reactor. Here is how things really shakedown:
A True Story: The story portrays an accurate recounting of events, in which the actors faithfully recreate the actions and dialogue of the historic characters. Some creative license may be used for dramatic purposes, but by in large, the film is a reasonably honest historic record. This type of movie almost never gets made in fact. In other words, if you see the phrase "A True Story" at the beginning of a film with this particular plot, you know you are watching an accurately expressed account of a Soviet nuclear submarine that suffered a serious reactor malfunction.
Based On A True Story: Some of the characters portray people who actually lived. The story itself is significantly altered for dramatic effect. In other words, in our example, we will see a story about an actual Soviet sub, with actors portraying people that actually served on it with some degree of accuracy, but the story of the nuclear mishap will probably be exaggerated if not fictional.
Based On Actual Events: The Soviet Union actually had submarines. One of them might have had the same name as the one in the movie. Actors portray characters with the same name. But while a nuclear mishap might be remotely possible, there is no evidence that such an event ever occured in fact.
K-19 The Widowmaker claims to be "based on actual events." But we become a little dubious of Hollywood's research early on. In taglines early in the film, its established that the action occurs in 1961, and the story "could not be told" for 38 years. Since its now 2002, and only now is Hollywood getting around to telling it, I am wondering where the other 3 years went. To the best of my knowledge, there is no book which served as the source for this film.
Further, the claim is made that in 1961, The U.S. had enough nuclear firepower to "destroy the world" 10 times over, while the U.S.S.R. had enough nuclear weapons to "destroy the world" twice over. The phrase in parentheses is never defined, and badly overstated. While both superpowers had some formidable nuclear firepower by the early 60's, and were capable of inflicting some very signficant damage upon each other, its doubtful at that point that either could have completely destroyed the other, let alone the world. Further, the U.S. did not enjoy a level of strategic firepower that excessive, as both Kennedy and Nixon were quick to point out in the 1960 debates.
But enough picking nit. Harrison Ford portrays a nuclear sub captain, who's name was Captain Sneezy, or something like that. I had more difficulty remembering the names in this film than Ford had with his strained attempt at a Russian accent, and that is speaking volumes. Liam Neeson portray's Ford's X.O., Captain Dopey, who should have been the boat's captain, but is relieved of command when the Soviet admiralty develops concerns over his ability to successfully command the sub. Neeson doesn't bother to attempt a Russian accent. That doesn't damage the film, although it does lead to the impression that in the early 60's, the Soviets were importing submarine captains from the British Isles.
Naturally this leads to a conflict between the two, which is aggrevated by the loyalties of the crew to Captain Dopey. But the situation gets even worse as the result of Captain Sneezy's constant drilling of the crew, his demanding desire to test the boat to its limits, and the inevitable malfunction of the nuclear reactor.
I won't spoil the plot here completely, but let it be said that this movie climaxes with a typically female plot fantasy: It turns out that A good looking guy like Captain Sneezy can be redeemed for the better with a little care and understanding. Right, and if skunks didn't have those stink glands and a penchant for carrying rabbies, they'd be kittens. I don't know if the world needs any more submarine movies, but on the off chance I do have to sit through another one, can we find a guy to direct it?
Last Week: American Wedding:
Two summers have passed since we last visited, or had our sensibilities assaulted by, our old friends from the American Pie series. After the second film in the installment, I brilliantly predicted that we had sampled our last piece of pie. I guess that was little more than wishful thinking, and I really should have known better.
My reasoning was sound enough. I knew that the principle cast was contractually bound to do a sequel after the enormous, but relatively unexpected success of the first installment. As a consequence, most of the cast members had to do it regardless of the devastating impact they must of know it would have on their careers. So America got American Pie 2 and I turned out to be right in a way I never expected.
I rather figured that the exposure of two successful box office bonanzas like the previous 2 American Pies would make the cast way too expensive to reunite, regardless of how distasteful they might have been. What I didn't count on was the fashion in which this license would torpedo the careers of everyone involved. Almost nobody in the group has really found any meaningful work, so getting them back together proved easier than anyone could have anticipated.
The bad news, if you happen to be a castmember of this cinematic shipwreck is that even the producers seem disinterested in any further efforts. Consequently if you happen to be any one of the regulars, the future has to be looking pretty bleak. In fact, my recommendation to the group would be to start memorizing lines like, "Would you like fries with that?" or "Welcome to Taco Bell!"
We saw them as high school kids obsessed with getting laid before graduation. Then we saw them as college kids obsessed with milking another paycheck out of an unexpectedly popular summer throwaway comedy. This time, we reunite the cast to celebrate the nuptials of two of the principles.
Jim (Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) are going to tie the knot. As usual, Jim is plagued by embarassing misadventures along the way to his nuptials. Some of them involve the still overzealous Stiffler (Seann William Scott, who still hasn't taken my advice and chosen two). Neither the bride or groom want Stiffler at the wedding, but Jim issues the invitation in exchange for dance lessons. Apparently Jimmy has never heard of Arthur Murray, and he can't find anyone else to teach him how to dance.
Naturally Stiffler wants to throw an ultimately blowout of a bachelor party, with the aid of old gang. Strippers and lots of booze are naturally involved, but the affair nearly goes wildly bad when Jim shows up unannounced with his future in-laws. With the help of Stiffler and company, a terribly embarrasing situation is narrowly averted.
Meanwhile, Michelle's virginal younger sister Cadence (January Jones) arrives in town, and Stiffler immediately starts to make his move. But his efforts are complicated by Finch (Eddie Kay Thomas, who also needs to drop one, preferably the "kay"), who also has designs on a romp with Cadence. Their mutual competition for the affections of Cadence lead to numerous situations capable of derailing the impending wedding. Somehow, disaster is narrowly averted in every case.
Alas, the same can't really be said of the movie. Nothing really original emerges from American Wedding, and clearly this is a series that has long since run out of creative gas. There isn't even any unintentional humor resulting from beer cups mysteriously changing color, or the kind of out-of-control hijinks that rolled through the previous two efforts. This time, the writers seemed to be looking for a soft place to land.
There are a few good laughs in this film, although most of them involve situations not appropriate to discussion on this page. Fans of the previous two won't be entirely disappointed, but I don't think anyone is going to be begging for more now that the series has ostensibly come to a close. I exclude, of course, the cast members, who might be only too willing to reunite a couple of summers from now, after discovering how uncomfortable those Walmart smocks probably are. I guess there is always some possibility for the filming of American Divorce, and I sure won't bet against it at this point.
Last Week: Open Water:
I blame The Blair Witch Project. A couple of years ago, a few college students somehow appropriated some cheap camera equpiment and managed to make one of the year's biggest profit films with their weekly lunch allowance as a budget. Now the floodgates of hell have been opened upon us.
Suddenly any schmoe that can borrow his brother-in-law's video camera has delusions of grandeur, or at least a sick fantasy of transforming himself into Steven Spielberg. Of course, there are two principle differences between films like Open Water and Jaws or Schindler's List.
For one thing, Spielberg has devoted a lifetime to filmmaking, and he as actually demonstrated a legitimate aptitude for it. He has a series of successful movies to his credit, Oscars on his shelf, and a reputation for a Midas touch in Hollywood. His work has instant credibility, since his only truly bad movie was the wildly forgetable 1942. Outside of that, he hasn't produced anything close to being as terrible as this film.
For another thing, Spielberg typically has a hundred million dollar budget and all the technology Hollywood can bring to bear on a project. The people who made this film had a cheap video camera, a leaky boat and lunch money for a couple of extras. My parents made better looking home movies with a super-8 camera 30 years ago.
I'm going to warn all of my readers right now that if you have some stupid idea that you would like to see this film, you might want to stop reading right here. I'm going to reveal pretty much everything that happens in this film. I can do that in about two sentences, so somehow or another, I'm going to have to flesh it out a bit.
The movie opens with a really annoying, anal retentive, clean cut soon to be married couple who are about to go on a diving vacation in the Caribbean or someplace. These two are so grim that they actually talk to each other on cell phones from 20 feet away. Right away, we pretty much lose interest in any problems they may encounter in the future. These are exactly the kind of Bozos that I have to scold every time I go to a movie for leaving their damned cell phones on.
In fact, these two are so annoying that they are probably the type that call each other on their cell phones when they are sitting next to each other. We have some real communication issues here in the 21st century. People can't even talk face to face. It either has to be on a cell phone or via email.
So, Daniel and Susan go off on their vacation. It starts off pretty boring, other than the fact that we get to see Susan naked. But she is all stressed out from her job and tired, so they don't even rub groins. Things like that are generally why people take vacations, but clearly, these two would take work with them to their retirement party.
After watching some more really exciting stuff like Susan and Daniel eating breakfast, and Daniel swatting flies, they finally board the boat for their big diving adventure. The guys who run the diving service are about as competent as Gilligan and the Skipper, so right away we know that nothing good can come of this voyage. Not that we particularly give a flying crap.
In fact, the boat crew is too inept to even get and accurate count of how many people they have on the boat, which leads to all of the problems. You'd think that they would have a somewhat more sophisticated method of keeping track of passengers than a tally on a legal pad. Something really advanced like, oh, say, selling tickets and creating a passenger list?
So, they all go diving, and Susan and Daniel end up getting left behind because Daniel is a moron who can't keep track of time. And since they are on a boat run by Skipper and Gilligan, and a host of equally moronic passengers who somehow don't even notice they are missing, they get left behind in the middle of the ocean.
Immediately, the two had the opportunity to save their asses. There were about 6 other boats around them, and they easily could have swam to one of them. But Daniel was such a lame shit that he figured that they should wait for their boat to come pick them up. Naturally, it never does, and all the other boats leave. So they are stranded by themselves in the middle of the ocean.
From this point on, we spend the rest of the movie watching them bob around in the ocean, talk about peeing and barfing, and get nipped at by sharks. We also get to spend an hour listening to them whine and bitch about their situation. Okay, sure, getting stranded in the ocean with sharks circling and little/no prospect of rescue is a pretty sucky predicament to find yourself in, but its not like we really give a crap about what happens to these two.
Eventually, Daniel cracks and shouts how awful it is that they actually had to pay to find themselves in this situation. Simultaneously, and in chorus, I cracked and screamed how awful it was that I paid to watch them in this situation. But things finally got better. Daniel got bit by a shark and died. Susan, seeing that she would be next within minutes decided to drown herself. It was the feel good ending of the summer, and I left the theater feeling that it hadn't been a total waste of my time.
Supposedly this movie is based on true events. I suppose to the extent that people actually do take diving vacations and go out on boats, it is. However the closing credits contain a disclaimer that all of the characters are ficticious, and any resemblance to actual people or events is coincidental. So the based on true events thing sounds like bullshit to me.
Last Week: Grizzly Man:
I live in Colorado, a place where encountering bears isn't terribly unusual. Not only do hikers occasionally come across them while recreating in the nearby Rocky Mountains, but black bears sometimes wander into the western suburubs of the metro Denver area and other cities in search of food. The problem has intensified over the past decade with the explosive population growth along the Front Range, combined with several years of drought.
Since human-bear encounters are becoming somewhat common events, a great deal of effort is expended on educating the public on how to handle a chance meeting with a bear . For example, if you are being chased by a bear, and you want to know if its a black bear or a grizzly, you are advised to climb a tree. If its a black bear, it will climb up after you. If its a grizzly, it'll knock the tree over, then eat you.
People who hike in bear country are usuall advised to wear small bells on their clothing so that bears can more easily hear you coming. If you are out hiking, and you come across bear droppings, its easy to tell whether the leavings are from a black bear or a grizzly. Black bear leavings will tend to be loaded with remanents of fruit seeds, leaves and fruit skins. Grizzly bear droppings will be laced with animal fur and little bells from former hikers.
Now that I've done some cheap bear jokes, its time to dive seriously into an important movie. Warner Herzog's documentary Grizzly Man explores the life, and some uncompiled films of Tim Treadwell, who spent 12 summers in Katmai National Park along the Alaskan penninsula studying, filming and living among native bears. On the evening of October 5, 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard were attacked and killed by a bear.
I've seen a lot of commentary on this film describing Treadwell in various terms, mostly derogatory; nutcase, moron, idiot et al. A lot of people who don't see this film, and even a few who do without attempting to consider it with much depth, will probably shake their heads in agreement. After all, grizzly's are extremely dangerous animals, and anyone with half a brain ought to be aware that if you spend too much time in close proximity to them, tragedy is probably more a question of when, than if.
But the kind of negative handles I've seen attached to Treadwell, while possibly accurate to a degree, are also way too simple. This documentary, while leaving out some critical pieces of the puzzle, exposes a complex but self-deluded man who loved the bears, the land they lived in, his opportunites to observe and try to protect them, and nature itself.
Simply writing Treadwell off as a nutcase who probably got what he had coming is to overlook a critical insight that unearth's Treadwell's most unfortunate failure of insight. In fact, its the ultimate definition of a flavor of insanity that he appears to have unwittingly slipped into. Treadwell moved lost between two worlds. On the one hand, there was the world of civilization in which he was emotionally unequipped to succeed, or perhaps even survive. On the other hand, there was the harsh natural world of the grizzly's, which he loved, but didn't really understand.
Treadwell idolized the grizzlys, and mistakenly idealized their natural world in an entirely unrealistic fashion. He saw their world as orderly and just. In reality, the natural world, especially that of the grizzly, is violent, chaotic, driven by instinct and hunger and completely alien to the understanding of civilized humanity. Ultimately it was this misunderstanding that led to the tragic death of Treadwell just as surely as the bears themselves.
Parts of this film are difficult to watch. Herzog includes an interview with the coroner and the bush pilot that found Treadwell and Huguenard's remains. The descriptions are sufficiently graphic to be stomach turning. But, some details of the horrifying story are probably necessary.
More to Herzog's credit is what was not included in the film. On the night of the fatal attack, Treadwell turned on his video camera during the attack. He did not have time to remove the lenscap, but a six minute sound recording of the couple's last moments was created. The coroner described the contents of the tape, and Herzog is shown listening to it at the home of a close friend of Treadwell, who now has possession of it. She has never listened to it, and Herzog encourages her on film to destroy it, advising that no one really needs to listen to it, ever. I admire that. A filmmaker of less integrity probably would have made every effort to include either it, or some gross reenactment of it.
In a year of remarkable documentaries, this one stands among the best. I really expected to see more about the bears, but the insights into the life of a intriguing man who lived with them for a time are sometimes baffling, occasionally heartbreaking, and always fascinating. Since this film is playing mostly art house theaters, its not going to be easy to come across it, at least until it comes out on video rental. But it is definitely worth the effort either way.
ADDENDUM: While it doesn't really affect the contents of the film much, it probably should be noted that the bears Treadwell was "studying" in Alaska were not grizzlys, but rather Alaskan coastal brown bears.
Last Week: Man of the Year:
Or Dog of the week?
One of the saddest things imaginable is a movie that can't decide what it wants to be. Man of the Year is just about the most identity crisis inflicted messes I've run across since I've been doing these reviews.
As you might guess, the movie starts off wanting to be a comedy. It stars Robin Williams who plays, of all things, a comedian named Tom Dobbs. He has a David Letterman style talk show, and delivers politically charged monologues to kick off each new show.
The sad and puzzling thing is that there is nothing particularly topical or original in any of the jokes Williams delivers early on. In fact, they all seem to have come out of joke books that even the most washed up comedians on the planet buried somewhere in the desert a few decades ago. Maybe the people who made this movie figured the primary audience would consist of teens who had never heard them before.
Dobbs decides to run for president, for some lame reason nobody can figure out. But instead of trying to win support by being irreverant, he actually tries to campaign on the issues. Curiously, Dobbs trying to be serious isn't any less funny than he was trying to be funny earlier in the film. But his friends try to convince him that he will get more attention by being himself.
Probably somewhere around the time the script writers reached this point in the story, they figured out that this wasn't going to end up being a very funny movie, and they were right. But rather than taking the high road and just wadding up the disaster they were penning and throwing it away, they took the worst possible approach. They tried to take a hard right turn and transform a bad comedy into a thriller.
The problem is, the thriller wasn't very thrilling either. Eleanor Green (Laura Linney) works for a large electronics firm in Silicon Valley realizes that the voting machines her company has created contain a software flaw that will lead to inaccurate election returns. But naturally, her profit minded bosses don't want word of the flaw to become public, so they attempt to silence her.
Meanwhile, the flaw in the voting system causes Dobbs to be an upset winner in the election. So Eleanor finds a way to meet Dobbs, but initially wusses out and doesn't tell thim that he won the election fraudently. Naturally, Dobbs falls madly in love with her, probably because she is at least 30 years younger.
Dobbs wants to get back in touch with her after their inital meeting, so he calls the company where she formerly worked. But they try to destroy her crediblity by telling him that she is a recovering drug addict who refused their efforts to get her into detox.
The remainder of the movie collapses under the weight of the drama of Eleanor trying to overcome her personal reservations and tell Dobbs the truth, while avoiding the consequences of undermining her powerful former employer. What could have been a pointed comedy about the ills of our political system instead become a dud of an action thriller.
Every once and awhile, the film did rise above its own limited scope and present grains of truth. For example, Dobbs at once point observes how our government tries to distract the citizenry from focusing on important issues like education by distracting us with irrevelant, but potentially emotion charged non-issues like flag burning. Unfortunately, the film can't keep itself focused, let alone effectively throw any well targeted darts at the political system.
I went into this film hoping for a few laughs, and maybe a thoughtful expose on the ills of political system through the eyes of a man like Williams, who has been known to find the target a time or two in the past. Alas, Williams may be out of rehab, but a few more films like this and I may have to check myself in.
Previously: First Saturday in May:
It is still early in the year by movie standards, but we may already have an early favorite for the year's best documentary. If you love horses, you need to see this movie. If you are a fan of sports, you need to see this movie. If you enjoy horse racing, you need to see this movie. If you don't fall into any of the categories above, you probably still need to see this movie, because by the time it's over, you'll probably be in one of the aforementioned categories, and you'll have learned some interesting things about horse racing to boot.
Chances are you haven't heard of this movie. It hasn't received a great deal of promotion as yet, and the trailer hasn't been widely shown.It is currently only playing in a few select cities. But early attendance appears promising, so this film should be opening soon in art house theaters around the country. If there isn't an arthouse theater, or university near you likely to show it, take note of it and rent it at first opportunity when it comes out on DVD.
There are two extremely good reasons for seeing this film. First of all, as mentioned, you will learning a lot about horse racing, and particularly the difficult road to the Kentucky Derby from behind the scenes. Something on the order of 35,000 thoroughbred horses are born and registered every year in the U.S. Only 20 of them will make the celebrated run for the roses at Churchill Downs. It is the biggest and most famous race of any kind in the world.
The second reason to see this film is that 25% of all proceeds from the opening week are going to be donated to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation which supports equine health research. This film was centered on the events leading up to the 2006 Kentucky Derby, ultimately won by Barbaro. As we all remember, Barbaro won the race by the largest margin in Derby history, but two weeks later pulled up lame early in the Preakness Stakes. After a lengthy and brave battle, Barbaro ultimately had to be put down.
We don't give a lot of unqualified recommendations to films here at K.A.W., particularly films that might appear to have limited audiences. But I don't think anyone will walk away from this film not feeling entertained and a bit more knowledgable. Perhaps no higher praise can be given to a documentary.
So while we are on the general subject of documentaries, another one was released this week. By stark contrasts, it deserves absolutely no audience support whatsoever, although sadly, it will probably get a lot.
Ben Stein's "documentary" Expelled is a right wing, Bible thumping piece of propoganda scolding some imaginary institution he refers to as "big science" for. among other things, refusing to give "Intelligent design" equal consideration with one of the most powerfully demonstrated principles in science, evolution.
Only one problem with your treatise, Ben. Scientists do not give "intelligent design" any credence because it is not a scientific idea by definition. Ignoring the rather obvious observation that humans aren't particularly intelligently designed, the idea of "intelligent design" fails the test of scientific consideration on several fronts, most notably the simple concept of falsifyability.
Let me explain that to you, Ben. Evidently someone needs to explain a lot of things to you. But, we'll start with that one. Suppose you come to me and claim that a Triceratops lives in your basement. In science, it is generally considered impossible to prove a universally negative hypothesis. I can't prove that a Triceratops doesn't live in your basement. So if you make the claim, the burden of proof lies with you.
Now, the claim is easily scientifically testable. I can simply round up a few other credible observers, some cameras, maybe other equipment and go look in your basement. Finding a Triceratops there would validate your claim. Failing to find one would cast serious doubt upon it. In other words, the claim is falsifyable by experiment, observation or failure to meet an obvious prediction.
However, suppose we fail to see your dinosaur, but you say, "The reason you can't see him is because he is invisible." "No problem," replies I. We'll pour some powder of the floor and look for tracks when he walks." Again you object, "Won't work, he floats in the air!" Now we are getting a bit incredulous, but the problem is still approachable.
At this point, I suggest that we take some spray paint guns and shoot their contents all over the room. Some will surely stick to the skin of your Triceratops. But again you object, claiming that the dino is incorporeal. Finally I offer that we can place some plants around and watch for him to eat. Again you object that he never has to eat.
We began with the testable claim that you have a dinosaur living in your basement; a fully scientifically testable and falsifyable claim. Now we have an incorporeal, invisible Triceratops that floats in the air and never eats. That is an unfalsifyable, therefore non-scientific claim. you can't prove it, I can't disprove it, although I wonder how an invisible, incorporeal Triceratops who floats in the air and never eats differs in any significant way from a completely imaginary Triceratops.
Similarly, "intelligent design" isn't a scientifically testable hypothesis. It is a theologically based claim, entirely non-falsifyable. That is why it isn't given scientific credence. That is why it isn't and shouldn't be taught in science classes. That is why you, Ben, have nothing to say.
In the trailer for this film, a presumed college professor makes some general claim about the evolution of life, and Ben stands up and says, "Well, where did that life come from in the first place, DUDE?" There in lies the entire problem with the debate between evolution and "intelligent design." There are competing scientific hypotheses, most of which would take considerably longer than the running time of this film to explain. An oversimplified question takes a matter of seconds. Further, in science, "I don't know" remains an acceptable answer. How much better off might we all be if politics and religion would adopt a similar stance of humility. In any event, the lack of a prosaic answer does not, by default, suggest a supernatural one.
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