Archive | February, 2013

Koko: A Talking Gorilla (1978)

24 Feb
Koko and Penny back in the day

Koko and Penny back in the day

Yes, this might stray from my typical taste in controversial and artistic documentaries, but I came across this documentary after stumbling through a maze of YouTube videos on Koko the gorilla spurned by this video that wimp.com posted earlier this month. I started to watch the documentary, which is posted in its entirety on YouTube, thinking that I would grow tired of it before long, but I didn’t.

What really kept me engaged throughout a documentary on a gorilla that knows sign language was not the title character at all. It was actually Penny Patterson, Koko’s researcher and caretaker, who caught my interest. Penny plays a major role in this documentary without being the focus. She is treated as

A more recent photo of Koko and Penny

A more recent photo of Koko and Penny

an auxiliary character, someone the documentary may have left out had Koko truly been able to speak to the cameras for herself. But quick snippets about Penny made me interested in her life -or lack thereof. It seemed to me that she has made many personal sacrifices in order to dedicate her life to Koko. It seemed sad to me because I live a life that thrives on human relationships; interestingly enough, Penny does not seem to feel that she is missing out on anything.

Koko: A Talking Gorilla is not a mind-blowing documentary that exposes dark truths, but there are still some underlying messages and unanswered questions that arise after watching it. While these cater more to an animal rights message, there is still a secret human interest piece present. It makes me want to watch more documentaries from the 60’s and 70’s to see if they are all so much different from modern-day docs. It definitely seems more polished and candy-coated than the ones I am privy to. If you have any suggestions of older documentaries that you have enjoyed, I would love to have your input. The only one that comes to mind is Grey Gardens, which I should be writing a review about sometime soon.

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Biutiful (2010)

22 Feb

BiutifulOne of Alejandro Gonzáles Iñarritu’s newer films, Biutiful is not for beginners of his work. I recommend starting with Babel and working your way through to 21 Grams and Amores Perros to decide if you like his style. Like these other movies, Biutiful delves into the dark and unpleasant corners of humanity by focusing on themes like death, clashing cultures, and the gritty realities of life.

In this film, Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a single father,  (’cause Mom’s cray),who makes his living through black market dealings and illegal immigrant labor. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Uxbal spends most of the movie confronting his wrong-doings and getting his affairs in order so that his children will be taken care after he is gone. While slow-moving at parts, this film really picks up momentum as it goes, much like an impending countdown to one’s own death.

An interesting dynamic comes through as it is revealed at the beginning that Uxbal is also a medium who can communicate with the recently deceased. It led to some incredibly haunting scenes that had I couldn’t shake, even long after the movie was over.

Witness to Jonestown (2008)

17 Feb

Witness to JonestownEven if you are not familiar with the story of the Jonestown Massacre, it is probable that you have heard of the metaphor, “Drinking the Kool Aid.” This metaphor refers to people blindly following a belief or philosophy, and like most metaphors, comes from a very literal event that once took place. While some contribute this saying to the Ken Kesey & the Merry Pranksters Acid Tests of the 1960’s, its more sinister referent is the Jonestown Massacre, during which 900+ people in a group known as the People’s Temple drank a lethal concoction of Kool Aid and cyanide led by their religious leader, Rev. Jim Jones. (Not to be confused with Brian Jonestown Massacre or this guy).

I believe in Jim Jones

Rev. Jim Jones founded the People’s Temple on a message of brother- and sisterhood that spanned all races and creeds.

While the story itself is unsettling and confusing, this movie adds to that feeling. It is easy to disassociate from the horror that is 900 people allegedly committing group suicide. I have always dismissed it as a cult full of mentally unstable people who made a decision that no rational-minded human being would make: to end their own lives and the lives of their family members at the behest of a maniac. But it becomes all too real when you hear the testimonials of the few members of People’s Temple who survived, witness the tense conditions at their commune in the jungle leading up to the moment that the Kool Aid was pushed upon the members of People’s Temple, and see the footage of the aftermath where piles of corpses include babies and children.

jonestown victims

A fraction of the more than 900 people who ended their lives in Jonestown, Guyana, some willingly and some forcibly.

This isn’t even the first documentary I have seen on the subject of the People’s Temple and the Jonestown Massacre, but it is the best one that I have seen. I assume that because it is an NBC made for TV movie, it contains exclusive footage that could not be found elsewhere, including some of the last moments of Jim Jones’ drug-addled mental unravelling at the People’s Temple compound in Guyana, and audio footage of the actual mass “suicide,” which still haunts me.

I still can’t imagine finding myself in the situation in which members of the People’s Temple found themselves, but hearing the surviving members speak of their experiences sheds a beam of light on the murky history of Jonestown and the People’s Temple. What is more disturbing and even less clear coming out of the movie are the motivations Jim Jones’ disturbed desire to exercise such lethal control over nearly one thousand people who loved and trusted him.

Klown (2010)

15 Feb

klown coverI wasn’t a huge fan of Klown for several reasons, but I think that it’s because this is more of a dude’s movie. If you know me at all, you know I thrive on awkward, uncomfortable movies with weird sexual undertones or that break social taboos. This does all of that, but in a way that even makes me uncomfortable. I know! I thought it was impossible, too! But at least it is a comedy, and as such it comically exaggerates uncomfortable situations in a way that make me laugh half of the time, and cringe half of the time. The “pearl necklace” scene? Uncomfortably hilarious. The alleged rape references, uncomfortably upsetting.

But if you are not sensitive to hyper-masculine conversations, and you enjoy crass, awkward humor that is much akin to British humor, this movie will be right up your alley. The story mainly revolves around friends Frank and Casper who plan a “Tour de Pussy” canoe trip with the ultimate goal of spending an evening at a famous and exclusive brothel. Right before they leave, Frank finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant, and she is having doubts about Frank’s fatherhood potential. In order to prove he can be a good father, Frank drags his nephew (Bo) along for the trip, which severely pisses off the main proponent of the Pussy part of Tour de Pussy, Casper.

So ladies, despite this pink movie poster, it’s not as much a movie for us. Let the menfolk have their private sexist male bonding. I didn’t hate it, but it just wasn’t for me. And dudes, take note: this movie contains very informative instruction regarding “man flirting.”

The Queen of Versailles (2012)

10 Feb

Welcome to the first edition of Documentary Sundays. For me, Sundays have always been good for sleeping in, eating brunch, enjoying mimosas and bloody marys (bloody maries?), and curling up on the couch to watch some of the myriad of documentaries in my netflix queue. Unfortunately, work obligations have cut into my early morning mimosas, but Sunday evening documentaries are still a time-honored tradition in my house. Won’t you join me?

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David and Jackie Siegel. And their taxidermied dog draped over the piano in the background. Yep. That classy.

This week’s DS doc is a guilty pleasure view of mine, The Queen of Versailles. It is basically one of those reality shows I always talk shit about, but as a whole movie, I somehow accept it. It’s one of those train wrecks that you can’t look away from. So please, take this recommendation with a grain of salt, and don’t expect to really learn anything from this documentary.

The Queen of Versailles has been called a “rags-to-riches-to-rags” story by critics, and I can’t think of a better or more clever way to explain it in a snappy tagline, so there you have it. This movie explores the rise and fall of David Siegel, the Father of the Timeshare. And when I say “fall,” the fall itself is still a work in progress. Siegel hasn’t quite hit rock bottom, but you may surmise that he isn’t quite done falling at the end of the documentary. You will most certainly look up his status in the business and financial world after you watch the movie.

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“Help. What do I do with this?”

You may be asking yourself, “if this movie is about David Siegel, why is it called the Queen of Versailles?” I wish I could tell you that in an attempt to save his failing business, Siegel throws the biggest French-themed drag show the world has ever seen. The truth is, in a nutshell, this title refers to Siegel’s wife, Jackie, and they are building a multi-million dollar mansion that is a replica of the palace at Versailles. Jackie is smart enough to get a computer engineering degree from MIT, but ditzy enough to do, well, all of the other things she does in this documentary. She has a gigantic litter of children that she doesn’t know what to do with, and clearly she and her husband both continue to pine for the days that she was Miss America. Jackie continues to feed her shopping addiction while David’s various resorts go belly-up and their bank account runs dry.

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Virginia Nebab, the Siegels’ nanny, stands in front of her “house,” on the property. And you’ll never believe what it used to be. Actually, you probably will.

So, a little something you might not know about me, I have my Master’s in International Studies. It may be for this reason that the most poignant element of this documentary is the storyline which follows the housekeepers and nannies of the Siegel household. I thought this documentary was going to be a huge joke, but the stories of these women who have lived thousands of miles away from home for decades to raise someone else’s children was just heartbreaking. It is not the ideal job, by any stretch of the imagination, but these women don’t complain. They just tell their stories point blank. I got anxiety listening to their sad stories just thinking about how David Siegel would probably fire them once he saw the documentary for making him look bad.

And even with all of that commentary, I haven’t even scratched the surface of The Queen of Versailles. So no worries, you have a lot to get out of watching this documentary. Just be sure to stock up on plenty of champagne and orange juice, because you’re going to need them it to dull the sting that is 21st century American capitalism, incarnate.

Adrift- À Deriva (2009)

8 Feb

Welcome to my new feature: Foreign Film Friday! I had been having a lot of trouble getting into foreign films as of late. I’m often multi-tasking while watching, which means I miss crucial bits of dialogue all of the time when I look away from the screen. Even in Spanish movies a couple of lines slip by me, which is unacceptable because I am a Spanish teacher.

So, I got an elliptical trainer a couple of months ago, and got it all set up in front of the TV. I started twerkin’ that ish after throwing on Brick when I realized I couldn’t hear anything over the whir of my badass workout. (It’s an old, rickety elliptical machine I got off Craigslist). Then it hit me. This is the perfect environment to start chipping away at all of those foreign films in my Netflix queue!

So far I have ellipticized my way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Biutiful, Whores’ Glory, and The Red Balloon, but it wasn’t until I watched Adrift (À Deriva) that I thought I should use this as new routine as fodder for a new feature. And thus, Foreign Film Friday was born!

With that long-winded explanation of the genesis of FFF, I don’t have much breath left to write about Adrift, (and I’m sure your patience is running thin as well).
I’ll make it snappy…

adriftAdrift is a beautiful film set in a beachy Brazilian paradise. Perhaps the combination of a welcoming summer atmosphere, the nostalgic ’80s feel and the melodic sounds of Portuguese are what got me smitten on this film. I have to assume that all of the allusions to photography in the film are not by accident, as the cinematography often takes on an etherial, Poloroid, spilling-out-of-the-frame quality. And maybe they’re overdoing it with the amount of times they played it in the background, but I love this song.

You might like this movie if you: love Portuguese, beautiful Brazilian people and/or seascapes; were ever a 14 year old girl (as is the main character); enjoy movies that showcase the effects of infidelity; or would like looking at Vincent Cassel in a Speedo from time to time.

Oh, and, by the way… If you decide to watch Adrift, and no one is speaking Portuguese in the film you put on, it’s probably Open Water 2: Adrift, and definitely not the movie you should be watching, under any circumstances or at any time, I can assume.

Also, there are no subtitles in the trailer, so you can just stop here if you’re not up for that type of thing.