Stuff to Read

Most Xtreme Primates – Better than Winter Sports

Posted by on Feb 26, 2014 in Essays, Movies | 0 comments

Most Xtreme Primates – Better than Winter Sports

It’s Sunday afternoon, the kids are napping, and I’m primed for some exciting Olympic coverage courtesy of NBC. I’m ready to see dangerous aerial stunts, bone-crushing rink action and crumbling Russian hotel rooms. I turn on the TV, and I get cross-country skiing. Really? It looks like a great aerobic exercise, but I want to see some real action. Luckily, Netflix Streaming always has my back. Looking for something to fill my disappointment, I found a little-seen masterpiece that delivers genuine winter mountain thrills. I’m talking about “MXP: Most Xtreme Primate.” Yes, the third installment of the epic, ape-on-snow sports series that began with 2000’s “MVP: Most Valuable Primate.” Trust me when I say you don’t need to have seen the previous films to understand the plot of “MXP.” Jack the chimpanzee (a former hockey star chimp to be exact) is supposed to go to Mexico on a family vacation but sneaks on the wrong plane – he’s off to Colorado! Now he’s ready to shred down the hill on a snowboard! By any traditional means of quality, “MXP” is an awful, straight-to-video kiddie flick. Netflix has hundreds of titles as poorly written and acted as this, all to create the illusion of a deep and plentiful streaming film library. That all being said, this is a movie about a chimp that can snowboard! No CGI trickery or a guy in a monkey suit necessary. I don’t know much, but I know that’s more interesting than cross-country skiing. OK, so I wish Jack would’ve hopped on the snowboard earlier in the movie. It takes a solid 45 minutes before the chimp even hits the hill. We get some good stuff in the second half though, like when a couple of henchman on skis try to capture Jack with a giant net, only to stumble down the hill and turn into a giant rolling snowball. Hilarious. In fact, “MXP” gave me such a high that I immediately went searching for more primate-themed offerings on Netflix. This isn’t an easy task, since the Netflix app on my television can only search by title. Search “Primate.” Not much luck. Search “Monkey.” The only solid entry is “Monkey Business,” starring Harvey Keitel, which you know I’ve already seen dozens of times. Then, thanks to the random recommendation from a friend, I searched the words “Spy” and “Mate.” Jackpot. “Spymate” is an epic action-adventure starring Minky, a retired spy-primate who jumps back into action to rescue his former (human) partner’s daughter (a young Emma Roberts from “We’re the Millers” and the current season of “American Horror Story”). The star wattage doesn’t stop there – the film also stars “Spin City” alums Richard Kind and Barry Bostwick, and, in one of his final roles, “Karate Kid” mentor Pat Morita. Needless to say, “Spymate” is twice the cinematic experience as “MXP,” featuring ape-tastic martial arts battles, lasers, volcanoes and death-defying-escapes-by-gliders. I’m happy to report that NBC’s Olympics coverage the rest of the week has focused on more exciting events. It’s a good thing too, because Netflix had little else in the primate-action-adventure subgenre. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy “Spymate” more than, say, the men’s half-pipe competition.  I prefer happy endings. Get Shaun White to star alongside Jack in an “MXP” sequel,...

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You Don’t Know ‘Mitt’ – Documentary review

Posted by on Jan 31, 2014 in Essays, Movies | 0 comments

You Don’t Know ‘Mitt’ – Documentary review

Not too long ago, a guy named Mitt Romney was the second most talked about guy in America (after Justin Bieber, of course).  Then he lost a Presidential election, and everybody forgot about him The new Netflix documentary, “Mitt,” will not only remind you of the man who almost led the most powerful country in the world, it will make you question whether you ever really knew him in the first place. The documentary provides unprecedented access to Romney, his family and campaign during pivotal moments of both his primary fight against John McCain in 2008 and the presidential clash of 2012. We’re talking about seconds after Romney leaves the stage from pivotal debates, and, in the film’s most fascinating scene, the exact moment when he decides to concede the 2012 election and wonders if anyone in the room has a phone number for President Obama. “Mitt” touches on Romney’s central policy beliefs, but the movie isn’t particularly interested in right-left philosophies. It’s more about the relationships within his inner circle, comprised mostly of his wife and family. Sure, they discuss debate strategy and the perils of the campaign trail with the snappiness and intelligence you’d expect from a solid “West Wing” episode. They also crack jokes about Romney’s image in the media (“Flip-Flopping Mormon”) and question whether the process of a national election is truly worth the associated headaches and heartache. Obviously, this is a family that loves each other, but there’s a warmth to their interactions at even the most disappointing moments of the campaign.  It isn’t necessarily a “softer” side of Mitt Romney, just a side that humanizes him and reaffirms the genuine passion he has for making things better for other people. Director Greg Whiteley ends the film with Romney heading home after the election and saying goodbye to a security team that followed and protected him for months. It’s a quiet but powerful moment, and I wish Whiteley continued to follow the family during their transition to non-political life. How does someone come out from such a spotlight? After seeing the film, I’ve heard other people ask, “Where was THIS Mitt Romney on the campaign trail?” That’s the wrong question. The truth is, he was always there. Our campaign culture, populated by quick sound bites and empty policy slogans, makes it all but impossible for any person to be a human being while running for political office. That’s true of Romney, and that’s still true of  President Obama. Both men really aren’t presented as they should be or how they are as leaders. I didn’t vote for Mitt Romney in 2012, and I don’t think this documentary would have changed my opinion about his proposed policies. But America would have been more than OK with Romney at the helm, and the country needs more people as its representatives rather than the empty vessels we see on television. Because of “Mitt,” I can now look at Romney as someone who could have been a person and not a vacant figurehead for partisan bickering. “Mitt” is now streaming on Netflix Instant for subscribers. Maybe some other folks in Washington could learn something from...

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No love for comedy (ever) at the Oscars

Posted by on Jan 24, 2014 in Essays, Movies | 0 comments

No love for comedy (ever) at the Oscars

There are plenty of absurd trends associated with the Academy Awards, and even casual moviegoers know that, historically, Oscar rarely “gets it right.” Great movies often lose out to industry crowd pleasers, with “Argo” and “The Artist” as the most recent examples of Best Picture winners that won for reasons outside their technical and storytelling merits. I’ve exhausted myself talking about those movies in the past, but a greater problem within the Academy and with the awards-season in general is how comedies and comedic performers are routinely disregarded as inferior to the dramatic counterparts. Even with an expanded Best Picture category (this year’s lineup includes nine films), good comedies rarely earn accolades. Some will skirt the argument by saying movies like “American Hustle,” “Nebraska” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” have comedic elements. They do, but those movies come with weightier issues boiling under the laughs. I’m talking about straight comedy – movies that deliver consistent laughs throughout its running time. Award-contending comedies tend to drop the comedy at some point and jump into issues of love, loss and blah, blah, blah. Sustained comedy is a tough task, and you certainly can’t rely on popular box office success as a guide for which movies succeed in this regard. “The Hangover Part III” and “Grown Ups 2” both made more than $100 million at the domestic box office, and those are just terrible. That being said, there is critical consensus on the year’s most successful comedies, and in the case of “The Heat” and “This is the End,” there are box office numbers to back that consensus. And if you count humor-centric animated films like “Frozen,” “Monsters University” and “Despicable Me 2,” there are plenty of popular and critic-approved movies to go along with more under-the-radar or forgotten entries, like “The World’s End,” “In a World…” and “Enough Said.” Widely regarded as a second-rate awards show, the Golden Globes at least include a “Best Musical or Comedy” category in their slate. This year’s nominees demonstrate the Globes’ faulty logic in selecting films though, counting “Her,” “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” in the comedy category when all (especially “Her”) could contend in the drama category. And better to leave “The Tourist” debacle of 2010 for another conversation. In the case of Best Picture, you can often argue the year’s dramas outweigh the successful comedies when whittling a top contenders list down to just nine or 10 movies. It would be an embarrassment if, say, “The Heat” took the place of “12 Years a Slave” in the category. But what about all the beloved comedic performances ignored throughout the years?  Peter Sellers, Gene Wilder and Bill Murray, just to name a few, were nominated a few times (often for dramatic roles), but their iconic comedic performances have come up Oscar-short. You could point to pages of examples, but I’ll rest my argument on the fact that “Groundhog Day,” one of the best movies of the 1990s, received zero Oscar nominations, not even a bone thrown in the classic “throw-them-a-bone” category of Best Original Screenplay. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for comedies trying to break into the Academy Awards, and the reason dramatic films with elements of comedy have more success, is the very subjectivity of the genre. I’ve been derided...

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Shocking ‘Act of Killing’ unlike any other documentary

Posted by on Jan 17, 2014 in Essays, Movies | 0 comments

Shocking ‘Act of Killing’ unlike any other documentary

This year’s Academy Award nominations produced the typical assortment of surprises and omissions, with “American Hustle,” “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” leading the list of major contenders. While many of the year’s most celebrated films are still screening at local theaters, the lineup of nominated films available for home consumption is pretty slim… except for the lineup of Documentary Feature nominees. Four of the five Documentary nominees are available for streaming on Netflix Instant, including: –       “Cutie and the Boxer” – A Sundance Film Festival winner about the marriage between artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara. –       “Dirty Wars” – An expansion of journalist Jeremy Scahill’s investigation of covert military operations in recent U.S. conflicts. –       “The Square” – Netflix-acquired documentary following six protesters against the backdrop of the Egyptian revolution. –       “The Act of Killing” – Former “gangsters” in an Indonesian death squad recount the ways they tortured and killed dissenters in the 1960s. “The Act of Killing” is widely regarded as the Oscar frontrunner and for good reason. In addition to the disturbing recollections of admitted murderers, the film also invites these men to reenact their mass killing methods onscreen. Most shockingly, the men embrace the opportunity as they recreate death and torture sequences in the style of their favorite movie genres (old gangster films, music and dance routines). Some within the regime eventually admit to their group’s wrongdoing, telling stories of the murders that have haunted them. Others worry that by depicting their victims as innocents, they are undermining the glory of their still-in-power regime. The film’s most fascinating subject, Anwar Congo, shows little remorse for his actions, until he struggles to portray one of his victims being tortured and killed. It is his eventual reaction to the footage that leads “The Act of Killing” into uncharted territory. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, “The Act of Killing” is horrific-but-essential viewing. In its structure and subject matter, there isn’t any documentary quite like it, making it all the more deserving of Oscar gold. The fifth documentary nominee, “20 Feet from Stardom,” is a more lighthearted affair about backup singers to the world’s most popular musical acts. While not available on Netflix Instant, you can rent the film on disc or...

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