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Friday, June 1, 2007

The Truman Show Paranoia

Special Film Review

The Truman Show and Paranoia

I've returned, not as a film critic, but as a Media critic. That is, in addition to reviewing movies, I will try to connect them with other media...TV, radio, print...or just with real life. Today, I wish to talk about the wonderful new Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show, and it's cultural impact so far. For those of you who don't know what it's about, let me give you a brief rundown of the plot. Truman Burbank (Carrey) is the star of a TV show that has run for thirty years. Completely surrounded by a specially designed stage (the largest ever produced), Truman doesn't know that he is the popular star of a world-wide phenomenon. He figures that his depressingly sitcom life is how the world truly is. He's watched constantly by thousands of hidden cameras, big and microscopic, which broadcast his life to the real world 24 hours a day. There are people who actually leave the TV on all night, just to see what unexpected thing he'll do next.

But Truman gets bored and restless, and starts to become aware that his surroundings, family and friends seem false. As he gradually learns his world isn't real, he becomes increasingly paranoid of the world around him. So he tries to escape, which Christof (played with cool precision by Ed Harris), the creator of Truman's world tries to thwart. Orwell in his wildest dreams would never have thought up a premise like this. Only in the multimedia era could something this unique and thought-provoking be brought to the screen. Still, it's not entirely original.

Shows like MTV's The Real World and Road Rules have followed real people closely and with the same determination as the control room operators of Truman's world. But are these people "prisoners" of television as Truman is? The answer: Yes and no. They are not watched 24 hours a day, and the cameramen usually shut the cameras off if nothing particully interesting is going on. But these young TV stars are, like most world-famous personalities, under constant scrutiny by the press and the public alike. Just like Truman, the press and public can't wait to see what they do next in their lives, both in private and public.

The Truman Show concept is starting to become more and more realistic, as the internet is beginning to prove. Let's see. We've already had a live birth shown on the internet and soap operas specially created for the net by the same techies who run them. How close are we to a real live Truman show? Closer than you think. Already, young computer whizzes are broadcasting their lives to millions all over the world. The difference is they have control over how their lives are run and the appropriate time for the camera to be turned off, unlike Truman's manufactured and manipulated existence.

These actions are probably going to make people more paranoid than need be, and more phobic of the internet then they should. The internet can be used as a tool by Big Brother, that's for certain. But it can also be used by regular Joes like us to strike back at Big Brother. Hard! The Truman Show might even be a metaphor of the struggle between supporters and detractors of the internet. Or it might be a metaphor of how Big Brother (i.e. big coporations) might be attempting to manipulate our lives with false images. Who knows? My opinion; Paranoia may be on a rise for awhile, but it's a passing fad. Already people are getting sick of Whitewater, Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, or what Monica Lewinsky may or nay not have done with Clinton. What this astounding movie shows in it's climax (which I will not reveal) is that voyeurism is a part of human nature. It also shows that our voyeurism can get boring very quickly and our attention heads for something new. For sure, something more stimulating than watching guys like Truman sleep for eight hours. So fear not. There may be future celebs that are like Jim Carrey's sympathetic hero. But like Truman, they will not enjoy their prison for long, and will try and fly the coop. And you can bet people like you and me will be rooting for them all the way.

The Ventura Era

The Ventura Era

Saturday: November 19, 1998
The Ventura Era

In the past few weeks, America appears both stunned and pleased by the recent election of Jesse "The Body" Ventura to the position of Governor of Minnesota. Stunned because of any of these three reasons:

  1. A third party candidate with very little political experience (save being the mayor of a Minneapolis suburb) could actually rise to such a high office.

  2. A pro wrestler, in a sport that isn't quite a sport (but good entertainment) nicknamed "The Body" (a villain no less) is now a respected elected official.

  3. A third rate actor in movies, like "Predator" and "Batman and Robin", is seen as the great voice of a new and powerful political movement. In Minnesota alone, his election is seen as the second coming of Christ.

And to a certain extent, he is a new Messiah. That's why the country is pleased with his election. He may NOT be an experiance d politician, but hey, who wants guys like those anymore. The usual two party system (Democrats and Republicans) are finally showing us that, for all their prestige and power, they are complete and total amateurs at running the government. That doesn't necessarily mean that the Reform or Libertarian parties are knowledgeable about politics, but that's only because nobody has ever given them the time of day. Until now that is!

Ventura has shown the way for other non-Democrats and non-Republicans, who are fed up with the intrusive force of a bureaucracy that is doing more harm than good. Now I don't agree with every idea that Ventura expounds, but a lot of it does make sense. For instance, he has proposed completely and totally decriminalizing all illegal drugs, allowing them to be regulated more easily. Now at first your gut instinct tells you "He can't be serious! Why, the state of Minnesota will become nothing but a land of drug fiends and dope addicts". At least, that's the kind of malarkey that has been taught to you since you were no bigger than your daddy's knee. But that's not what most people believe anymore. Besides, what has been going on behind the drug wars is not working. Why? There are more shootings with innocent children caught in the crossfire than ever, and a substantially larger increase in violent crimes.

People are just plain sick and tired of the grotesque lies most of the regular politicians spit out nowadays. Most of them do it just to keep their careers safe. I am hoping we are moving towards what I call the Ventura era. In theory, what SHOULD happen (as apposed to what might really happen) is that we must be more open and honest. We can't expect the government to do EVERYTHING for us. We certainly can't expect them to win the so-called "wars" on poverty, drugs, crime and homelessness. They've botched those up already. No more pussyfooting. It is time to start putting our money where our mouths are and do these things ourselves. I could be wrong about Ventura being the voice of a new generation.

I could even be wrong about the Reform Party not becoming the thing they have been campaigning against; An intrusive, lumbering Government. After all, it did happen to a little known party back in 1856. They hired a candidate by the name of John C. Fremont, a popular explorer of that age, to run for president. Fremont was very popular, but not quite powerful enough to win votes and was written off as a country bumpkin, much the same way Ventura was written off. He lost the election, but he got his party to be noticed by the general public. Ross Perot did not win either in the 1992 or 1996 elections, but he did get the Reform Party jumpstarted in the public eye. Ventura's win is somewhat thanks to Perot, just as another "country bumpkin's" win was in 1860, thanks to Fremont.

That country bumpkin was good ole "Honest Abe" Lincoln, and as some of you have guessed already, that "little party" I mentioned earlier was the Republican party. The Republican era lasted nearly fifty years after that, with only one Democratic president in office. Now it's true that during the first Republican presidency, the country was torn by Civil War. I don't think anything that severe would happen under a Ventura governorship or a libertarian Presidency. But people tend to forget that Lincoln not only helped keep the country from crumbling, but also ushered in new voices of freedom and equality that had been rarely heard before then. All that, despite how disreputable the GOP giants are thought of now. The 1860's were as exciting and frightening as the 1990's are at the moment. Maybe our "Ventura" era will bring about even bigger changes than that. The Internet will be a good start. Ending the drug wars will be another. And maybe...just maybe dear readers...that this is the end of politics as we know it and the beginning of something better. If so, thank you Jesse for showing us the entrance.

Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan

March 19, 1999

Steven Spielberg has proven once again what a master storyteller he is. He brings a new kind of grit and realism to the normally patriotic, flagwaving WWII movie. Yet he instills a sense of patriotism and respect for the soldiers of that war, far more than any John Wayne movie ever could. Spielberg's epic tale opens with one of the most shocking and mind-bending battle scene in film history. For 20 plus minutes, the Normandy Invasion and the taking of Omaha Beach are portrayed in acurately pulsating violence; it's not meant to be gratuitous, but is supposed to shock and wake people up to the fact about what fighting a war (even a "just" war like WWII) is really all about. Tom Hanks, (acting like he's never done in a powerful, understated performance) plays Captain Miller, who not long after the fighting at Omaha Beach is over, is given a rather tricky assignment - find a lost young airman by the name of Ryan (Matt Damon), who has already lost three of his brothers in the war and who remains the only surviving son in his family.

Hanks assembles an eight-man unit, full of young men pondering their roles in the madness, who go deep into enemy territory to find young Ryan. Along the way, they have many close encounters (no pun intended) with the enemy and even closer brushes with death. Yet they band together (even though they're on a basically useless mission intended for Army P.R. purposes) to complete the mission, find Ryan and make it back home alive. But they aren't quite prepared for the final battle awaiting them when they find Private Ryan.

Spielberg and Co. have done a brilliant job at both honoring and remembering the war veterens of WWII. A more cynical mind would say he made this to make some big bucks. Whether that's true or not, that is neither here nor there. Spielberg has a story that needs to be told with passion and the appropriate amount of machismo and male bonding. In both respects and many others too countless to mention, he succeeds. Hanks is towering and yet humble as Capt. Miller, with a capable young cast that rarely goes for the cliches that their characters call for. Jeremy Davies is the standout of the supporting ensemble as the rabbit-faced Cpl. Upham, and he should have been nominated for his breakdown scene alone. Thanks should also go to technical adviser Dale Dye, who is certainly one of the better advisers when it comes to getting realistic battle scenes down. He put the cast through it's own hell and they came out acting as if they really were soldiers.

Hyberbole aside, this surely deserves a Best Picture and Best Director for Spielberg, who has brought new life to the war genre. Along with Schindler's List, this is certainly the greatest work he has ever done. And it will be remembered long after most of 1998's dreck (Godzilla, Armageddon and Patch Adams to name a few) are all but forgotten.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

June 27, 1999

Well, it appears that George Lucas' Star Wars saga sweeps the nation again and captures the minds of a new generation. Have I been caught up in it? Yes, I most certainly have. No, I didn't stand in line for over a month or dress up as my favorite character. I wasn't THAT excited. But now that I have seen it, what is my reaction? Like most people, I think that the new episode in the saga is a mixed bag.

I did enjoy it highly for it's action, excitement, scores of alien beings and fantastics visuals. And yes, the lightsaber duel. The Character development does indeed leave something to be desired, but here are three reasons why it didn't bother me:

  1. I don't recall Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill giving great method performances in the previous trilogy, so why expect it of Liam Neeson, Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor? They all play their parts exactly as written. And they do it well I think. Particularly McGregor who captures the esscence of a young Alec Guinness.

  2. Their characters are being set up for what (we hope) to be the better two movies of the prequel trilogy. So it is only to assume that the character development will occur in the later episodes; when the courtship of Anakin and Queen Amidala (Portman) brings about the birth of the twins Leia and Luke; when the falling out occurs between Obi-Wan and Anakin; And when The Emperor turns Anakin into his apprentice, Darth Vader.

  3. Jar-Jar Binks, almost universally reviled as the worst character in the entire series, is not really that bad. Yes, the accent is a little grating. But his movements are astonishing, and his comic slap-shtick is perfect for the little ones. Hell, I even chuckled a bit and heard some adults in the theater chuckle as well.

In short, I'm still amazed by George Lucas' imaginative visuals and epic mythos. The way he borrowed and integrated stories from both film and literature to create his saga, and in turn make it his own. The referances to Arthurian Legend (Obi-Wan Being Merlin and Anakin/Luke being Arthur); Saturday Matinee serials; the Bible (in Menace There are obvious similarities between jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and young Anakin (Jake Lloyd) and John the Baptist and Jesus.); And Kurosawa (look at The Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress to see where Lucas got part of his inspiration for the Jedi). And of course, the all-powerful force, which seems to be a close relative to Zen Bhuddism.

All of these do add up to a triumph of visuals over substance, and I see why some were disappointed. But this movie was clearly made to capture and captivate the child inside us, and I was most certainly not unhappy with the result. The pod race and the double-bladed lightsaber of Darth Maul are enough to make me feel as giddy as a kid of 10. Each movie in the series is different in it's own way and are judged on their own merits, rather than the saga as a whole. Judge this on it's own merits and try to forget the other chapters. You will be better off for it. To paraphrase e.e. Cummings, "It's a hell of a universe. Let's go!"

South Park

South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

July 9, 1999

Who would have thought that the movie that would hit the biggest satirical targets of our time would be a crudely animated, vulgar, sarcastic and bitterly funny R-rated cartoon? In this time of crisis, when we blame movies for problems with our nation's youth (instead of the actual minds of our nations youth), along comes South Park: BLU, a sleeper film version of the Comedy Central cable series. For those of you who don't know what the series is, it's about a quartet of foul-mouthed second graders, who live in a (as one character describes it) "quiet redneck town". Every week, they get involved in one whacked-out adventure after another. Unlike The Simpsons, the comedy takes not-so-subtle (though sometimes hysterical) potshots at popular culture, celebrities, hypocritical politicians and conservative small town life.

The story in the film version involves Stan (the leader), Kyle (the neurotic Jewish boy), Cartman (everyone's favorite little bastard) and Kenny (of "Oh my god! They Killed Kenny", "YOU BASTARDS!!! fame) sneaking into an R-rated movie, staring their favorite Canadian acting team, Terence and Philip. The language, fart jokes and violent behavior that they see, gets them into trouble with the town when they start imitating their heroes. Eventually (through details I'd rather not reveal, because they have to be seen to be believed), a war between the United States and Canada is started; Big Gay Al entertains troops at a USO show; Winona Ryder does an interesting trick with ping-pong balls; Bill Gates gets exactly what you believe he deserves; Saddam Hussein and Satan get down and dirty...uh, don't ask; And yes, Kenny Dies!

This extremely outrageous satire takes digs at our military system, The Baldwin Bros., Ultra right-wingers, Windows 98, Canadian mispronunciation of the word "About", and just about every other thing we humans hold sacred. It's not always funny, because SP creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone throw in more than we want (or need), just to make us laugh. Also, repetitive swearing gets a little boring after awhile, and verbal humor has never really been Parker-Stone's strong points.

Instead, soak up the eye-popping, gut-busting sight gags and enjoy how the filmakers push the boundaries of good taste. Be glad that they have made complete and utter fools out of the MPAA ratings board and self-righteous hypocrites jumping on the "blame violence on the media" bandwagon. And whatever you do, try your very hardest to sneak into this movie. It's a movie that's a breath of fresh air, in a Hollywood that is having their balls handed to them by Washington Nazis. All that is needed is you check that serious, PC side of you at the door, sit back and laugh like hell. Cause man, in these crazy times, we need a good, distasteful gag or two (or a hundred).

Thursday, May 31, 2007


Plot summary

In the year 80 AMM (After Mickey Mouse) on planet X the crime-syndicated Cats try to erase the Mouse-population once and for all. A scientist of the mice, prof. Fushimishi seems to have found the weapon against the threat - so Intermouse calls it's best, but now retired agent - Nick Grabowsky - to get the plans. As a distraction for the Cats, they also send a second agent - Seargent Lazy Dick - for the mission. Written by PoisonBorz

Cast of Macskafogó

Miklós Benedek ... Mr. Fritz Teufel (voice)
Gyula Bodrogi ... Maxipocak (voice)
Ilona Béres ... Pissy (voice)
Péter Haumann ... Safranek (voice)
András Kern ... Buddy (voice)
Ferenc Kállai ... Bob Poljakov (voice)
János Körmendi ... Mr. Gatto (voice)
István Mikó ... Lusta Dick (voice)
Károly Mécs ... Edlington (voice)
Vera Pap ... Chino San (voice)
Zsuzsa Pálos ... Pukie (voice)
László Sinkó ... Grabovszky (voice)
Gyula Szombathy ... Billy (voice)
Maria Bircher ... Candy (voice)
Dean Hagopian ... Mr. D (voice)

Life of Brian

Plot summary

Irreverent satire of Biblical films and religious intolerance focuses on Brian, a Jew in Roman-occupied Judea. After joining up with an anti-Roman political organization, Brian is mistaken for a prophet, and becomes a reluctant Messiah. Written by Scott Renshaw {}

Brian is born in a stable on Christmas, right next to You Know Who. The wise men appear and begin to distribute gifts. The star moves further, so they take it all back and move on. This is how Brian's life goes. The Jews are looking for a release from the Romans, Spiritual and political decay, keep looking for signs and a group decides Brian is the Messiah. He cannot convince them he is not. He joins the Peoples' Front of Judea, one of several dozen separatist groups who actually do nothing, but really hate the Romans. While not about Jesus, it is about those who hadn't time, or interest to listen to his message. Many Political and Social comments. Written by John Vogel {}

The Monty Pyton team tells the life, death and resurrection (?) of Brian from Nazareth, an unwilling prophet who wants to free his land from the oppression of Rome. When Brian covers a huge wall with the writing "ROMANI ITE DOMUM" (Romans go home), a local revolutionary group begins to take him seriously... Written by Flavio Rizzardi {}

Cast of Life of Brian

Graham Chapman ... Wise Man #2/Brian Cohen/Biggus Dickus

John Cleese ... Wise Man #1/Reg/Jewish Official/Centurion/Deadly Dirk/Arthur

Terry Gilliam ... Man Even Further Forward/Revolutionary/Jailer/Blood & Thunder Prophet/Frank/Audience Member/Crucifee

Eric Idle ... Mr. Cheeky/Stan (Loretta)/Harry the Haggler/Culprit Woman/Warris/Intensely Dull Youth/Jailer's Assistant/Otto/Lead Singer Crucifee
Terry Jones ... Mandy Cohen/Colin/Simon the Holy Man/Bob Hoskins/Saintly Passer-by/Alarmed Crucifixion Assistant
Michael Palin ... Wise Man #3/Mr. Big Nose/Francis/Mrs. A/Ex-Leper/Announcer/Ben/Pontius Pilate/Boring Prophet/Eddie/Shoe Follower/Nisus Wettus
Terence Bayler ... Gregory
Carol Cleveland ... Mrs. Gregory
Kenneth Colley ... Jesus
Neil Innes ... A weedy Samaritan
Charles McKeown ... False Prophet/Blind Man/Giggling Guard/Stig
John Young ... Matthias, Son of Deuteronomy of Gath
Gwen Taylor ... Mrs. Big Nose
Sue Jones-Davies ... Judith
Peter Brett

Charme discret de la bourgeoisie, Le

Plot summary

Several bourgeois friends planning to get together for dinner experience a succession of highly unusual occurrences that interfere with their expected dining enjoyment. Written by Ed Cannon {}

A complex, shifting, virtually plotless web of dreams within dreams within dreams, centered around a group of six outwardly respectable upper-middle class members of society and their repeatedly thwarted attempts to have a meal together - the interruptions becoming more and more surreal as the film progresses. Written by Michael Brooke {}

Cast of Charme discret de la bourgeoisie, Le
Fernando Rey ... Don Rafael
Paul Frankeur ... M. Thevenot
Delphine Seyrig ... Mme Thevenot
Bulle Ogier ... Florence
Stéphane Audran ... Alice Senechal (as Stephane Audran)

Jean-Pierre Cassel ... M. Senechal
Julien Bertheau ... Mgr Dufour
Milena Vukotic ... Ines
Maria Gabriella Maione ... Guerilla
Claude Piéplu ... Colonel
Muni ... Peasant
Pierre Maguelon ... Sgt de police
François Maistre ... Delecluze
Michel Piccoli ... Ministre
Ellen Bahl

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