“Best” Questions from 2013 BIFF Q/A

safe

I recently went to the 2013 Busan International Film Festival in South Korea. I saw several features and shorts, none of which I feel particularly compelled to write about at length. I will undoubtedly mention them in my next installment of “Last Few Movies.” More than the films, however, I was struck by the questions following a short film showcase of five international movies. These questions struck me as, well, rather stupid.

1. “There was an extra in the background in that one scene where the old men are talking. She had white hair and looked very old. Who was she?” (Question asked after the screening of the Chinese film, Three Light Bulbs.)

This was a pointless question [the identity of a single extra in a given scene], however, the filmmaker, Min Ding, did make good use of her time to answer extremely well and provide excellent information. That particular old woman, (in a scene full of old people) who had nothing to do with the story, was not special—nearly the entire cast was made up of non-actors such as herself. Good info. Dumb question.

johnny loves dolores

2. “When the lady sends money to her daughter . . . is it really a front to pay the blackmail of a “coyote” who helped her across the border?” (Question asked for Filipino/American production Johnny Loves Dolores.)

I take this question to be a moment where a cinema novice attempted to use a newly learned term [“coyote”: apparently someone who helps people cross the border, usually from Mexico into the United States]. In any event, crossing the border, I think, is more of a Mexican thing. People moving from the Philippines generally have to arrive via airplane or boat. Either the question-asker was not aware of this or they thought the characters were all Mexican rather than Filipino. Another reason this question is stupid is because I doubt a “coyote” could blackmail anybody—much less a nice middle-aged cleaning lady with no money. And what exactly can a “coyote” blackmail with? “If you don’t pay me more money for helping you then I’ll tell the cops you’re here illegally.” “Okay, but when they ask who you are and how you know that, don’t you think your illegal activities of bringing illegal immigrants into the country and blackmailing them might come to light?” Ridiculous. This question is more absurd when you consider that this film is not about illegal immigrants at all and the fact that the woman sending money home to her daughter is so minor that it is an almost innocuous plot point. It reveals her character and situation, yes, but there are no clues given to assume that she is lying. Filmmaker, Clarissa de los Reyes, took the time to diffuse the question by saying that in all the times she’s screened the movie that this was the first time she ever heard such a peculiar interpretation.

“Look at me! Look at me! I know the term ‘coyote’!”

kilimanjaro

3. “Why were the characters old?” and “Why did they have to work in a factory?” (Questions asked of the Swedish film, Kilimanjaro.)

There were several random detail questions like this concerning many of the films. These were the ones I remembered the most. This movie was a playful comedy-drama about life and death and the main character happened to be an old man working in a factory. That is almost exactly what director, Nima Yousefi, said in response to these questions. It just happens to be about that. No secret meaning necessarily. “Why is Lassie a dog?” “Because that’s the story I wanted to tell.” I will admit the film would be tonally quite different if it was dealing with younger, healthier people and many of the jokes regarding the monotony of repetition might have been lost had the characters not been working on an assembly line. “Why is Gandalf a wizard and Frodo a hobbit?” “Because that’s the story I was telling and I felt that the themes I was trying to convey could be best served by these choices.” I found these questions weird because they kept cropping up and many times the audience would not accept the flippant answers. “No, no. There has to be some deep, specific reason why you made those choices.” “You’re right. There may be. But now that I’ve made it, it’s your job to figure out why.”

three light bulbs

5. “Why was it a relationship between a daughter and father and not a son and father or a son and mother or a daughter and mother or perhaps a close uncle?” (Another question in response to Three Light Bulbs.)

This is an amalgam of several questions asked by different members of the audience. Again, it deals with specifics that the artist (in my opinion) has no business answering. Art is meant to be interactive. The artist creates and the audience interprets (and everyone interprets differently, making every piece of art as variable and personal as can be). The other presumption in these questions might hint that people felt the story might have been serviced better had the genders been different, when that really isn’t the point. This particular drama is about these particular people and they happen to be these genders. Granted, the relationship might look different if it was not a father and daughter, but this story happened to be about a father and daughter. Deal with it. Many people seemed to demand that every single decision made by the filmmakers be extremely intentional and have deep meaning that they could share directly (as if the movie itself was not explanatory enough). Perhaps, most baffling of all was that the director had explained early on that the story was somewhat autobiographical of her relationship with her own father, yet these questions persisted.

desperation

5. “I really liked all the symbolism and powerful imagery and I understood what you were getting at, but could you just explain what it all meant?” (Asked of many of the films. The South Korean Safe, the Filipino/French Prologue to the Great Desaparecido, as well as the others mentioned).

This is another question that was not precisely asked, however, it was expressed many times through various actual questions. Again, my objection comes from an audience demanding their personal experience be validated or corrected and explained by the artists. I wanted to tell them they were all watching movies wrong. I can understand asking some questions like this, but not down to every detail. If you have to probe as deeply as this then, odds are, you probably didn’t get what they were getting at. These questions might make more sense if we were watching the films of Bela Tarr, Alejandro Jodorowsky, or David Lynch…but even then, I don’t want them to spell it all out for me. Art is a co-production. The seer adds as much narrative and context as the sayer. Great films require some work. Great films require immense amounts of chewing. They are not pablum to be swallowed without thought or flavor. None of these five films were terribly obtuse or difficult to grasp and much of the symbolism was simple or open, but this audience was dissecting every nuance like the Holy Grail was hidden away in each second of film.

There were several intelligent questions, but I was far more struck by the abundance of bizarre ignorance. I must credit the filmmakers themselves for taking the time to answer the idiotic questions in such a way that they added information that was both interesting and not even exactly asked for. Kudos.

rocky horror picture show2

BONUS: Rocky Horror Picture Show live performance synopsis fail: For Halloween I attended a live show of the classic cult musical—film shown on a big screen, actors performing in front, and a rowdy decked-out crowd shouting things at the screen. There was a man behind me who knew nothing about the movie, the show, or the midnight performance tradition. I overheard a woman (we’ll call her “Dumb Lady”) delightedly explaining it like this:

Dumb Lady: [paraphrased from memory] “Well, this is one of the shittiest movies ever made and when it first came out people threw tomatoes at the screen it was so bad. Then it became a tradition to watch the movie and make fun of it. I’ve done this like ten times. It’s so much fun to put this old, shitty movie in its place. The acting and everything is just so old and bad. It really is just a bad movie.

Hello, Face. Meet Palm. You know how I said that art is all subjective and the individual assigns the meaning? I almost take it back in light of this striking ignorance. Some people don’t understand comedy or camp.

Originally published for “The Alternative Chronicle” Nov. 21st 2013.

The Disney Sidekick Countdown

Forget which movies were the best, which sidekicks were the best?

This list is limited to Disney cel-animated films from 1937 to 2009. I have not seen all of Home On the Range, A Goofy Movie, or Treasure Planet. Sorry. I’m also skipping shorter and more fractured/anthology films like Saludos Amigos, Fantasia, and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Sorry again.

Also…spoilers.

gurgi

37. Gurgi from The Black Cauldron (1985). Gurgi is the Jar Jar Binks of Disney sidekicks. I was actually happy when he died at the end…but then he comes back to life so scratch that. There are other forgettable sidekicks: a clairvoyant pig, Hen Wen; an old bard, Fflewddur Fflam; some bosom-y witches; a goblin bad guy sidekick (evil Gurgi, I call him): and a grouchy fairy named Doli. . Doli is the most interesting character, but his negativity is almost too much for this already depressing adventure and he literally just disappears after awhile.

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36. Genie from Duckt Tales: The Movie – Treasure of the Lost Lamp (1990). Russ Taylor’s is the most obnoxious voice ever to come out of a magic lamp. The only reason it’s not worse than Gurgi is because I kind of like Merlock’s sidekick, Dijon (voiced by Richard Libertini).

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35. Terk and Tantor from Tarzan (1999). They all but completely ruin what could have been an actually very good adapation of the Burroughs novel. Rosie O’Donnell’s abrasive Brooklyn brogue does not belong to a gorilla in the African jungle and Wayne Knight’s nervous elephant hypochondriac is an odd character choice. The film is actually smart and mature and humorous enough on its own. They’re not worse than Gurgi (who only added to an already disappointing film) because they have one song that is pretty good.

 

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34. Jaq and Gusgus from Cinderella (1950). These guys and all the mice are pretty annoying and make Cinderella look more like a paranoid schizophrenic. Why are the mice in this universe the only animals that wear clothes? I do like the King and the Duke a lot though—their scenes are priceless.

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33. Dinky and Boomer from The Fox and the Hound (1981). Perhaps one of the more forgettable entries, this tale of unnatuaral friendships features a shabby comic relief duo: a high strung sparrow and a dopey woodpecker. Again, the owl (Big Mama) wasn’t bad.

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32. Ignacio Alonzo Julio Federico de Tito (and company) from Oliver & Company (1988). Billy Joel songs aside, there’s not much point or reason to watch this pet version of “Oliver Twist.” Tito (voiced by Cheech Marin) is the most memorable in the long list of doggy sidekicks, but they’re all too broad and largely forgettable.

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31. Little John and Hiss in Robin Hood (1973). Recycled Jungle Book animation aside, the villain is too stupid to be menacing and the heroes aren’t particularly engaging. Little John (Phil Harris) is sort of a boring counterpart to Robin Hood. Hiss (Terry-Thomas) is an occasionally interesting sycophant to the wicked Prince John—largely because he’s smarter than the Prince. The rooster narrator, for me, is the best character.

thumper

30. Thumper from Bambi (1942). He’s not cute. He’s nauseating. He’s got one or two cute lines, I’ll give him that. And after puberty he’s kinda creepy and even less appealing. Flower, the gender confused skunk, is even worse. “Twitterpainted” is code for forest orgy. The owl wasn’t bad.

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29. Phil from Hercules (1997). The movie is a pop-culture onslaught set against a classic Greek myth backdrop so maybe I shouldn’t be mad that Danny DeVito is the Yoda-like satyr that trains Hercules. The problem is his voice is too recognizable and he’s even drawn to resemble Danny. It becomes more than a little distracting. Sorry, Danny, I love ya, but James Woods as Hades is the star of this flick. And Pegasus is a superior sidekick. Yeah, and Pain and Panic are kind of obnoxious too.

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28. Major Dr. David Q. Dawson from The Great Mouse Detective (1986). I don’t dislike this movie or the characters. In fact, there’s a lot of really cool things in it, but it suffers from the old Sherlock Holmes adaptation quirk of making Watson into a clumsy simpleton. Dawson’s not bad, just nothing special. Fidget, the crippled bat henchman of Ratigan is annoying, but interesting in his own little way.

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27. Mr. Pleakly from Lilo & Stitch (2002). It’s weird. Almost all the characters are really interesting but Mr. Pleakly might be the weakest. Not that he’s a bad character. He’s a functional plot device: keep Russian-sounding evil scientist alien from causing a ruckus while apprehending 626. He’s got some funny business, but not the most memorable character in the bunch sadly. ds v h l

26. Victor, Hugo, and Laverne from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Like Terk and Tantor for Tarzan, the wise-cracking gargoyles almost ruin this movie. Hunchback is intelligent, complex, dramatic and also humorous by itself. The addition of Quasimodo’s ambiguous hallucinations is unnecessary (and Jason Alexander’s voice is, again, a tad distracting). They do have some good lines and one decent song. Not terrible, but they greatly diminish the power of this very well done Disney-fied adaptation of Victor Hugo.

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25. Georges Hautecourt and Uncle Waldo and Scat Cat from The AristoCats (1970). It’s not a great movie and there really are no consistent sidekicks, but there’s some fairly interesting side characters nevertheless. Georges (voiced by the ubiquitous Charles Lane) is a senile attorney, but he’s barely in the movie. Uncle Waldo is a drunk goose who just escaped a restaurant. He’s fun, but only gets one scene (and that’s really all he needs). Scat Cat (Scatman Crothers) is the only other sidekick worth mentioning (and there are others), largely because he leads the song “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.” Sorry, Roquefort.

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24. MeekoFlit, and Percy from Pocahontis (1995). All silent, but all fun, funny, and engaging characters. A mischievous raccoon, a feisty hummingbird, and a prissy pug may not exactly fit into a true story about racism, genocide, and environmentalism, but I think they work because they don’t talk. If you already are past the rape of American history, some cute animals shouldn’t offend you.

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23. Archimedes in The Sword in the Stone (1963). Junius Matthews voices the grouchy owl sidekick to the wizard, Merlin. Something about the combination of how cranky but powerless and easily manipulated he is I find endearing. He does appear to have a sturdy sense of ethics, despite being ornery much of the time, which makes him more lovable.

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22. Rutt and Tuke from Brother Bear (2003). I don’t care about the movie, but c’mon! Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas doing their Bob & Doug McKenzie schtick again as cartoon Canadian moose decades after Strange Brew? That’s actually already funnier in concept than the actual Bob & Doug McKenzie.

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21. Ray from The Princess and the Frog (2009). Yes, more than the jazzy alligator. He’s dumb, but optimistic and I am actually deeply sad when he gets killed (that never happens in Disney! They wouldn’t even kill Gurgi right!). He’s a firefly who’s in love with a star and he’s devoted to his friends. The song he sings is also pretty sweet. I think Disney was finally thanking Jim Cummings for voicing thousands of bit parts over the years.

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20. The Dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). There are seven of them and somehow they are all uniquely defined (if not all totally memorable). Dopey is an animated Harpo Marx and everyone remembers Grumpy for his sour-puss attitude, but he does have a heart when it matters. Sleepy’s my favorite.

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18. Vincenzo “Vinny” Santorini from Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001). It’s a shame this movie wasn’t better. Cool steampunk gadgets and a multinational bunch of characters with big name voices and yet the only thing anyone remembers is Vinny. Don Novello puts his famous Father Guido Sarducci voice to good work as an Italian demolitions expert.

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17. Wilbur from The Rescuers Down Under (1990). We love Bernard and Bianca, but their mode of transportation is just as memorable. John Candy voices the painfully American albatross who finds himself in his own plot amidst the main action—trying to escape an army of adorable nurse mice and their menagerie of surgical torture devices.

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16.  Tinkerbell from Peter Pan (1953). Another silent sidekick, but Tinkerbell is different in that she doesn’t know her role in the story being told. She is feisty, jealous, petulant, and not afraid to negotiate with Captain Hook to get rid of Wendy. She makes mistakes but she tries to make them right. ds timothy

15. Timothy Q. Mouse from Dumbo (1941). I like Dumbo a lot. Timothy is a good example of how a good sidekick can help the main character—in this case, help the audience too, because the main character is mute. He’s imperfect himself, though he might never admit it, and applies his own confidence into helping his elephant friend.

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14. Evinrude from The Rescuers (1977). While this is kind of a weak movie—from the annoying girl to the revoltingly unappealing villains—it does have one or two decent things going for it. Evinrude is the oft-overlooked, longsuffering dragonfly who tries to help Bernard and Bianca (as long as he can survive being chased by killer bats or drinking the hillbilly moonshine). He’s silent, endearing and he knows his duty.

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13. Tigger from The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). Paul Winchell voices Tigger: the bouncy, trouncy, infantile, hyperactive tiger of the Hundred Acre Wood. He’s fun and memorable and has a great introduction…which leads into one of the best songs (“Heffalumps and Woozles”).

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12. Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland (1951). He’s not exactly a sidekick and he’s not exactly consistently helpful. He’s more like a stoner buddy; laid back, happy, moving in almost slow-motion, in his own world, and willing to instigate disaster just to see what happens (with little regard for the consequences that might befall Alice). He’s the closest thing to a boon and a comfort anyone can find in this cock-eyed acid trip. He’s voiced by Sterling Holloway.

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11. Mushu and Cri-kee from Mulan (1998). Mulan has several sidekicks, but the most memorable were Eddie Murphy as the incompetent dragon guardian, Mushu, desperate to find glory for himself, but ends up really trying to help Mulan, and Cri-kee, the little lucky bug who comes along for the ride. The two complement each other well and add some profoundly western sensibilities to this Chinese epic.

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10. Kronk Pepikrankenitz from The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). So technically the bad guy’s sidekick, the hapless lug, Kronk (voiced by Patrick Warburton), is just too good not mention. He speaks squirrel, his shoulder angels and demons are as dumb as he is, and he is a navigational genius. He’s genuinely a nice guy, he just maybe got mixed up with the wrong people.

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9. Sargeant Tibs and The Colonel from 101 Dalmations (1961). I like sidekicks that are useful and get involved in the action. Sgt. Tibs is a very minor sidekick in a film crammed with well over 100 characters. He’s a dedicated British soldier cat and does his job with seriousness, despite the blustering of his less competant superior, an old English sheepdog named the Colonel. These guys are just doing their job…for England and dogdom. The Captain (the horse) is also pretty good. They function like a well oiled machine, each knowing their roles and rank.

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8. Timon, Pumbaa, and the Hyenas from The Lion King (1994). Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumbaa (Ernie Sabella) are a carefree gay couple who, unable to have children, decide to adopt Simba the lion. Right? The meerkat and warthog duo are nicely drawn and very funny as a team and get to kick some butt too. The hyena trio (Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, and Jim Cummings) are just as good, if not better, as Scar’s henchman. Without Ed, however, they are nothing.

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7. Sebastian from The Little Mermaid (1989). Flounder is boring and annoying. Sorry. Scuttle (Buddy Hackett) is annoying, but it’s on purpose and funny and he redeems himself at the end. Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) is a good, level-headed crab who has to help Ariel fall in love with Eric, keep Scuttle and the others under control, be loyal to the King, and try to stay alive on land without losing his mind.

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6. Lumiere and Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast (1991). These guys (voiced by Jerry Orbach and David Ogden Stiers) are trying to make the Beast and the castle more appealing to Belle so she can fall in love, lift the curse, and they can all be human again. Although they are part of a bigger narrative, and contribute to it greatly, it is their own little relationship that is more interesting. These two royal servants (?) have been together for a long time and, even as household appliances, still can’t always get along. Their friendship is real and fun and it’s enjoyable to see its ups and downs.

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5. Genie from Aladdin (1992). So yeah, there’s a mess of sidekicks in this one too. Abu is cute and fun, Iago is funny and abrasive, Raja is boring as sin, and carpet is tacit, loyal, and awesome, but Robin Williams as the Genie kind of steals the show.  Genie shows up late into the film but his manic energy soon takes control (in a good way). This movie sort of started the craze of wild pop culture references running anachronicistically amok in children’s entertainment. He’s bound by certain genie rules, but he still would like to make friends with whoever he meets. It’s pretty much what Robin Williams would have been like if he were magic.

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4. Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio (1940). He may seem stale and boring after some of the more contemporary entries, but he is sort of the archetype for all Disney sidekicks. Jiminy Cricket (Edward Cliff) is Pinocchio’s conscience…who keeps getting ignored. But like all good consciences, he never truly goes away and will follow Pinocchio anywhere. He’s loyal and dedicated even when it doesn’t serve his own best interests.

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3. Baloo and Bagheera from The Jungle Book (1967). Like Lumiere and Cogsworth, they work because they are at odds with one another. Baloo (Phil Harris) is almost the main character, but I still qualify him as Mowgli’s sidekick. He and Bagheera (Sebastian Cabot) make for another special family unit team in the spirit of Timon and Pumbaa…but with more marked distinctions between them. This version of The Jungle Book is really about different parenting styles, and every animal in the jungle has a different idea about what’s best for the man-cub, but it’s mostly the pragmatic panther arguing with the insouciant bear. Mowgli needed Baloo for adventure and personal growth, but Bagheera knows what the boy needs to survive and succeed in life. It has to be Baloo who risks it all to fight the tiger at the end because he has to face the music that he was reckless with Mowgli. That they can disagree so much, find the resolutions they do, and be best of friends by the end—because they really did want the same things all along—is a testament to their enduring roles as great sidekicks.

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2. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty (1959). Voiced by Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Barbara Luddy, these three good fairies are the bedrock of this movie. Princess Aurora is sort of simple, Prince Philip is slightly more interesting, but who is there really to root for against the wicked Maleficent? Three plump, bickering, middle-aged fairyfolk who give up their magic powers for 16 years to protect Aurora, that’s who. They each have strongly defined personalities, have funny and relatable dynamics between each other, and can kick butt when they need to…before quietly fading into the background to let the young lovers take the spotlight. Some say Prince Philip was the only Disney prince who ever did anything, but he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the fairies’ help. Merryweather is still one of my favorite characters.

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1. Jock and Trusty from Lady and the Tramp (1955). I feel like these guys get forgotten. A senile bloodhound who has lost his smell and repeats himself (Trusty, voiced by Bill Baucom) and an aging, overly cautious and possessive Scottish terrier (Jock, voiced by Bill Thompson) might be an unlikely spot for number one, but hear me out. They’re old, conservative, and rusty at their old tricks, but they love their neighbor, Lady, and when they at last realize they’ve misjudged the reckless Tramp they spring into action. When the Tramp is taken by the pound (undoubtedly to be euthanized), Trusty insists they stop have to stop the wagon. Both our heroes are separated and down for the count, it’s up to the bit players to fix everything—even at the cost of their own safety. Through mud and rain, Trusty battles to remember his long lost sense of smell. When Jock finally tries to discourage Trusty and says “We both know you’ve lost your sense of smell,” there’s a look they exchange that speaks years of subtext. When the courageous but feeble old dogs finally do stop the wagon and save the Tramp, and we see the toll their selflessness has taken on them, it is incredibly moving. These characters, despite having very little screen time, are just very well realized and compelling in their simplicity and have deeply satisfying character arcs.

Disagree? Come at me, bro.

disney.wikia.com

Originally published for The Alternative Chronicle on October 17th, 2013.

The Nitty Gritty Mitty Committee

I know. I know.

I know. I know.

So what’s with this trailer for the new movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)? I feel like more people need to see this. The trailer. I have no idea if the movie’s any good. All we know is it’s been in development for a long time. Folks like Ron Howard and Steven Spielberg and Jim Carrey and Sacha Baron Coen and Johnny Depp were originally attached. Now all has changed again.

Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig star in the story of a pencil pushing daydreamer who escapes from reality with his fanciful imagination where he’s always the hero who gets the girl. The imdb synopsis hints that there is a real life adventure in the mix too as he races around the world to save his job and the job of the woman he loves.

Taste the indie.

Taste the indie.

All of this is immaterial. The trailer is what I’m talking about. Silent, artfully photographed, ambiguous—leaving much of the plot a vague mystery—and set to the soulful tune of “Dirty Paws” by Of Monsters and Men. Seriously, the song is awesome and mournful and magical. It is a bit of an indie-gasm, but it’s sweet and pensive and it dominates the atmosphere of the entire taciturn trailer. My point is, it seems like a weird choice.

It’s a ballsy move. I’m glad they did it. I just can’t help but wonder if the film itself will have a remotely comparable tone to that of the song. It reminded me of the trailer for ParaNorman (2012) that featured no dialogue or plot explanations and instead just showed silent images from the film while Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” plays. To me, it was bold and one of the most memorable trailers of recent memory. Is Mitty pulling a similar stunt?

Ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa...

Ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa…

I’m actually a big fan of the 1947 version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty starring Danny Kaye. The Court Jester (1955) is funnier, but there’s a weird surreal energy to Walter Mitty that I actually appreciate more. Mitty meets the girl who haunts his dreams and gets mixed up in a murder plot involving hidden WWII treasure and a group of killers (including Boris Karloff) led by a mysterious man named “The Boot.” In this film, Mitty’s phobias and fantasies are used against him as his foes, in an effort to hide their crimes he has witnessed, manipulate him into thinking he’s really suffering from a mental breakdown. Soon Mitty questions what is real and must weigh having a normal life with a boring wife and terrible mother-in-law or waking up to the real fantasy and save the day for the girl of his dreams. It’s actually a great little movie and most of the dream sequences are charming and brilliantly plugged into the main action. Kaye gives a fine performance as well.

Since James Thurber’s original 1939 short story focuses on the character and leaves out any complicated plot, any film adaptation is free to go in almost any direction as long as Mitty is a timid milquetoast daydreamer who imagines he can be more important than he really is. Thurber apparently hated the 1947 version.

A little more grim and surreal this time around.

A little more grim and surreal this time around.

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) has even been labeled a stretched adaptation of Thurber’s short story. The protagonist (Jonathan Pryce) is a socially impotent bureaucrat who goes on wild flights of fantasy to escape his stifling reality. He also meets the girl of his dreams and gets mixed up in a bigger narrative, like the Danny Kaye movie. Gilliam’s film is decidedly darker and more warped, but the basic structure is there.

All this makes the new Secret Life of Walter Mitty feel like it would have been more in the vein of A Night at the Museum or some crap rather than the moody and brooding Where the Wild Things Are. When I heard Hollywood was remaking it, that’s what I assumed anyway. Then I saw this weird trailer. This trailer would definitely turn off movie-goers looking for simple, broad comedy and by-the-numbers guy-gets-girl plot. Is it a gag or bad miscalculated marketing?

Where does this road lie.

Where does this road lie?

Then I saw that Ben Stiller was directing the movie too. Even the ‘dumb’ comedies he directed are smart. Consider the sharpness and satirical edges of The Cable GuyZoolander, or Tropic Thunder. Maybe this will be a more interesting film after all. The screenwriter, Steve Conrad, is also known for more nuanced than broad comedy (The Weather ManThe Promotion. . . Pursuit of Happyness isn’t a comedy, but he wrote that script too).

I’m not sure what to think anymore. All I know is this: that gutsy trailer with the fantastic—if perhaps ill-placed—song has actually got me interested. If I never hear another word of dialogue from the movie I’ll probably see it.

Sean Penn?!

Sean Penn?!

Originally published for The Alternative Chronicle Sept. 14th, 2013.

The Best Dwarf Movies That Aren’t Willow

Please listen to the Randy Newman song, “Short People,” before you read this article. It will make me seem far less insensitive.

Come with me...and you'll be...in a world of slave-dwarf manipulation...

Come with me…and you’ll be…in a world of slave-dwarf manipulation…

10. A nostalgic favorite, loved by many: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). People may bicker amongst themselves at social gatherings and brouhahas regarding which Dahl adaptation is better, but the intelligent ones among us already know it’s the psychedelic, charmingly dated Gene Wilder one. The Oompa Loompas (played by a large grouping of thespian little people) were a huge part of the film and were what made it so memorable. If there was no Wilder or awesome Grandpa Joe, you’d still be seeing orange faces with green pompadours singing in your sleep.

Adorable.

Adorable.

9. The Terror of Tiny Town (1938) is a typical 30’s cowboy musical melodrama. The twist is that the entire cast is comprised of (mostly German) dwarfs. What might have been a forgettable genre romp becomes a kooky, fun, possibly offensive, western adventure that’s difficult to forget. Whether it’s Shetland ponies thundering through the sagebrush or pint-sized bar fights, it’s hard not to appreciate this diminutive curio. It may have been made as an exploitative novelty, but I actually really like the movie.

Throw me a freakin' bone here!

Throw me a freakin’ bone here!

8. Mike Myers made a pretty solid sequel—despite Heather Graham—with Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999). Austin Powers and Dr. Evil are still funny, but it is the added character of Mini-Me (playe by Verne Troyer) that might be the most memorable part. Every scene between Dr. Evil and Mini-Me is sick and hilarious.

I think Dorothy takes the transition from black&white Kansas to this rather gracefully.

I think Dorothy takes the transition from black&white Kansas to this rather gracefully.

7. The Wizard of Oz (1939) is a Hollywood classic and a great musical fantasy, but all the technicolor in the world could not eclipse the Munchkins’ big scene when Dorothy first arrives in Oz, and then the terror of the flying monkeys piercing through the night sky only to savagely disembowel the Scarecrow. I don’t think this film gets enough credit for how surreal it is. Many of these little actors were in Tiny Town as well.

I know. I know. Only six dwarfs. Deal with it. They're all matadors.

I know. I know. Only six dwarfs. Deal with it. They’re all matadors.

6. This next movie only solidifies the stereotype that all Spaniards are matadors. Blancanieves (2012) is a Spanish retelling of Snow White as a 1920s silent movie. . . also, all the characters are matadors. The dwarfs (who are matadors too) don’t show up until about halfway into this bizarre film, but they add much heart and soul to the tragic yarn.

Welcome to Fantasy Island!

Welcome to Fantasy Island!

5. If you love the 80’s, chances are you like Oingo Boingo. This cock-eyed band produced a wild, acid-trip of a film to simulate the experience of their concerts. The Forbidden Zone (1982) is one crazy, hyperactive, super-surreal, mushroom-binge musical comedy about the Hercules family getting lost in the sixth dimension. And it’s way more weird and demented than it sounds.  Little man Hervé Villechaize (Fantasy Island) plays the horny King Fausto, ruler of the eponymous realm.

Badassery is afoot.

Badassery be afoot.

4. Werner Herzog might be one of the more interesting directors working today. Most famous for Grizzly ManFitzcarraldo, and Aguirre: The Wrath of God, this German weirdo also made movies where the entire cast was acting under hypnosis as well as a non-narrative collage of images attempting to conjure desert mirages. No wonder one of his earliest films was a black & white allegory about psychos escaping from an asylum only to imprison the warden, set fire to potted plants, tease blind people, and crucify monkeys. As the title might hint, Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) is an entirely little person cast. And it’s nuts.

It's the "Citizen Kane" of movies.

It’s the “Citizen Kane” of movies.

3. How many Filipino 007-knockoff midgetsploitation flicks are out there? Counting For Y’ur Height Only (1980) there’s at least one. Weng Weng stars as a dwarf James Bond in this extremely low-budget action spoof that is a must-see for cult and schlock fans alike. Jet-packs, kung-fu, umbrella parachutes, copious amounts of shooting people, x-ray t-shades, and jammin’ discotheque rendezvous are here in spades. It’s grainy, awkward, and nonstop fun.

Make it a Browning/Earles double feature.

Make it a Browning/Earles double feature.

2. Tie! I really couldn’t decide and Harry Earles (Wizard of Oz) is featured prominently in both films. Freaks (1932) is Tod Browning’s controversial opus that stars actual circus sideshow performers. It’s a horror melodrama surrounding the plot of a rich dwarf (Earles) who is conned out of his money by a wicked trapeze artist who seduces him. It’s a breezy build-up to a genuinely disturbing revenge-filled third act. Earles stars again alongside Lon Chaney, Sr. in another Browning masterpiece, The Unholy Three (1925). It’s a crime melodrama about three circus renegades who embark on a life of crime. Chaney pretends to be an old woman and Earles pretends to be a baby. Throw in an mad ape rampage in the finale and you got yourself a deranged bit of pulp.

Bonus info: I'm actually only lukewarm about "Willow."

Bonus info: I’m actually only lukewarm about “Willow.”

1. Finally, the best dwarf movie that is not Willow is Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981). A young British boy is shanghaied by six time-traveling dwarfs on the run from the Supreme Being (Sir Ralph Richardson). They have a map of all the holes in the universe and use it to rob the greatest characters in history. . . until Satan (David Warner) screws up their plans. Despite Sean Connery, John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, Michael Palin, Ian Holm, and other guest stars, it is the Time Bandits themselves that make the film. Some were formerly Ewoks and Oompa Loompas, but now they get to show their faces and engage in a real twisted fantasy adventure. Kenny Baker (a.k.a. R2-D2) is even one of the main characters. It’s awesome, funny, very imaginative, and is my number one pick.

Honorable Mentions:

El Topo (1970). Alejandro Jodorowsky’s (Santa Sangre) most famous work has its share of dwarfs, amputees, and hyper-violent spiritual symbolism, but the dwarf woman he marries in the film doesn’t play large enough a role.

The Station Agent (2003). Peter Dinklage (Death at a Funeral) stars in this quiet drama, but there’s no monsters or dragons in this movie so it does not make the list.

Life’s Too Short (2011). Warwick Davis (Willow) stars in this amazing and hilarious series from Ricky Gervais. Alas, it’s not a movie so cannot make the list, but it is worth seeing.

Originally posted on net.sideBar on August 21, 2013.

Update: The Future!

Most of my older posts, which were reposted from The Alternative Chronicle, have been the victim of a tragedy. With the switchover I have lost all the movie stills in those articles. So if you click through the old reviews you might find some of them missing images. BUT I will be going back and adding new, exciting pictures that will hopefully make you want to see the movies even more!

Ya caught me.

Ya caught me.

I have also returned to the writing staff of The Alternative Chronicle. The Chronicle has been retooled and has new authors writing on new movies, old movies, independent movies, food, alcohol, videogames, pop culture, and more. I believe Secret Keys will also return to The Chronicle as well, in addition to other fresh, funny cartoons.

I will still post new articles, but don’t forget to enjoy and explore new, improved The Alternative Chronicle‘s on its new site. And don’t forget to follow my cartoons and travels abroad at The Big Insane Happy.

Fat Star Wars. It never ceases to amaze me that the simplest ideas are the ones that prove the most popular.

Fat Star Wars. It never ceases to amaze me that the simplest ideas are the ones that prove the most popular.

biginsanehappy.com

thealternativechronicle.com

“L.A. Streetfighters” DVD Quiz Game

Weirdly, this craptastic film has a mini quiz you can play after the movie. Sort of like a comprehension test. The movie is horrible, but the multiple choice quiz almost makes it worth it.

Hello, schlock consumer. Are you ready to play a game?

Gotta love the screenshot.

Hurray! You got the answer, but do you feel anything?

This one makes me mad, because it was the wrong answer. Only three brain-stumping questions and the DVD can’t even get them all correct. Lack of quality, plain and simple.

I mentioned this earlier.

The 2012 Busan International Film Festival

We hailed a taxi in Yongin at around 5 in the morning. The buses don’t start running until near 6 in Korea. The taxi deposited us at Suwon station where we boarded the train to Busan. The five hour ride across the quiet and foggy Korean countryside was pleasant and uneventful. Upon arriving in Busan we met our final companion and proceeded to penetrate deep into the world of cinema.

The first film we saw was probably quite fitting for us. It was a South Korean film about a western woman visiting a small Korean town. It was aptly titled In Another Country (2012). The simple story of a French lady going to a small Korean town might have been entertaining on its own, but director Sang-soo Hong knows how to add layers and interest. It is told three times, with actress Isabelle Huppert (I Heart Huckabees) becoming a slightly different character (all named Anne, however) each time  the film stops and tells a different story—all with the same locations, supporting characters, and loose tie-ins to the other plots. The story is also vaguely hooded within the context of a girl writing script ideas on a legal pad to cope with her ambiguous home anxiety. And so our elliptical wheel turns. It’s a quiet, modest, nonlinear film whose structural cunning and obscurity compensate for whatever some might deem a low budget. In Another Country reminded me of a sort of cross between Certified Copy (2010) and Run Lola Run (1998)…but I liked it better than those particular films. Among its many charms is Yoo Jun-sang as the mildly awkward but unflappably gregarious lifeguard whom Anne repeatedly has run-ins with. The lifeguard character effortlessly steals every scene he is in. Another shout out goes to the monk dude. I admit my bias when discussing this film as many of the smaller scenarios endured by the central character resemble many of my own since moving to Korea, but I think the average movie goer will probably enjoy this strange little beast all by themselves.

After the film we wandered down to the beach and ate some spicy Korean octopus.

Fly with the Crane (2012) was to be the next film we would view. Directed by Rui Jun Li, this somber and earthy Chinese movie feels more like a dramatization of a National Geographic article than a cinematic fiction. This is not Crouching Tiger, this is a gorgeous, meticulous, and authentic feeling movie about the subtly shifting winds of change. Old Lao Ma (Xing Chun Ma)  is a 73 year old retired coffin maker living in rural China with his adult children. His role as a figure to be respected is gone and he is viewed more as a cumbersome relic clinging spitefully to traditional ways. When burials become outlawed in his province in favor of cheaper and faster cremations, the dying wishes of Ma and all the town’s elderly is in crisis. Tradition demands they be buried in the earth so that the white crane can carry them to heaven. Nobody wants to end up as smoke. When the government even begins to dig up Ma’s friends who have had secret burials things become more upsetting. The world around Ma is changing, even if it still seems very under-developed and simple to some, and with the coming of change so perishes the traditions of the old. Fly with the Crane is slow and simple but rich in its humanity. For a movie about a tragic figure trying to plan his own funeral it’s not without some moments of gentle humor and simple humanity. Although it is shot in largely very long takes (Bela Tarr fans will be fine) that let you just steep in the environment, the pace never drags and the music (although its use is sparse) is wonderful and well-placed. I cannot reveal the ending, but let’s just say I don’t know that I was mentally prepared for the final scene.

Following a fitful night’s sleep on a solid wood floor we were up again at 6 to wait in the ticket line. We managed to obtain precisely the tickets we were looking for.

Film three was the only movie I had been aware of back in the states. I had wanted to see it but was afraid I’d be in the wrong country at the time of its release. Ha! Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) is an American film directed by Benh Zeitlin and based on a play by Lucy Alibar. While the film unfolds as an immensely gritty American fable and allegory for the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina, it proves to be also a hardy story about resilience, home, stubbornness, and maybe even the desire for one’s existence to be validated and remembered. Beasts combines elements of the real world but punctuated by an exaggerated logic and a poet’s sensibilities. The cast is great but it is the lead role of Hushpuppy played by six year old Quvenzhané Wallis that makes it all work. As the film itself quips, “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted.” A child actor can make or break a film, and little Quvenzhané really makes it. The story follows the tough little girl, Hushpuppy, as she deals with living in uneducated squalor with her erratic and volatile father on the wrong side of the levy in a dilapidated bayou community called the Bathtub. Things go from bad to worse when the Storm comes and floods their world and then the ice caps melt releasing prehistoric bloodthirsty aurochs that rampage their way to the Bathtub. It is an edifying experience for the imagination and a welcome emotional letter for the soul. Much is dealt with and all from a child’s eye view. Between the amazing score that stirs your very core, the almost Herzogian use of animals, the sumptuous photography, and powerful pint-sized performance this proves to be a special movie indeed. The innovative auroch special effects were done by Death to the Tinman and MGMT music video director, Ray Tintori.

And then ate Vietnamese food alfresco.

So three solid movies in a row. We were doomed for a stinker, right? No so.

The last film we were able to catch before our train was The Pirogue (2012), a Senegalese production directed by Moussa Touré. I had no idea what a “pirogue” was before watching this movie. Apparently it’s not at all like those Polish ravioli things [pirogi]. The story concerns 30 Africans who are attempting to illegally immigrate to Europe via Spain. The trouble is they must face long uncertain days on the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean in a glorified canoe-type boat called a pirogue. This is a very even-handed drama that does not feel manipulative. Every character is a person with individual hopes and dreams and everyone’s will is eventually tested on their doomed sojourn. Storms at sea are bad, but when your craft is as exposed and vulnerable as theirs it becomes devastating. Soon desperation sets in and they begin to wonder how long their journey will go on. I do not wish to give away too much because the less you know going in, the more powerful the drama will be. This film was inspired by the thousands of Africans who have made similar journeys to Europe and the thousands who perished attempting it. This is not Hitchcock’s Lifeboat (1944). Much like Fly with the Crane, The Pirogue feels very authentic, which makes each moment that much more believable and heart-breaking. Arizona law-makers should watch this movie. We, in America, think we’re the only ones with an immigration problem, but it is a cross-cultural occurrence that challenges many nations, and all of those nations might benefit from viewing the phenomenon from the other’s point-of-view. The cast is powerful and despite the bulk of the drama unfolding in one space (a rather crowded boat) it holds your attention because you’re never sure what will happen next.

All in all I’d say we were blessed to see the diverse and amazing films we did. My big regret was that we only got to see four movies. There were so many other ones we wanted to see, but it was just too difficult and we only had two days. The International Busan Film Festival was an absolute delight and I highly recommend all the magnificent movies I saw.

The following day I was back at work and watched a film of a much different nature. It was a PSA about sexual harassment at work, but it was all in Korean so I’m not sure what I was meant to learn. Is spanking my coworkers a bad thing?