Sunday, May 7, 2017

Batman and Bill

Batman and Bill is a documentary that is currently on Hulu. Without giving to much away, it is a story behind the creation of Batman. A story that ironically is inspired by Batman himself. We find ourselves immersed into a world of intrigue uncovered by Marc Tyler Nobleman. He is a self-created hero of sorts. He discovers a mystery that Bob Kane, who we have credited for the creation of Batman had a very large secret. He lied until his death about the creation of Batman.

Next, we enter a world of corporate maneuvering because Marc discovers that another family is heir to the Batman throne. This has huge implications for Warner Brothers and the entire franchise. While not stated clearly, there really isn't any heir to the throne when Bob Kane passes. In a sense, the discovery of an heir means the franchise has to share the wealth.

While disjointed at times, the documentary clearly shows the underbelly of comics. It is a huge franchise and makes billions for corporations. This movie quickly becomes a David v. Goliath scenario. What helps right the wrongs of the pass is the victim, Bill Finger. His life is one of darkness and sadness that impacts his family. I could not help but wonder if there is a connection to his life and the future generations struggling to come to terms with their father and grandfather's lack of credibility.

There are many hidden stories within the documentary that make it interesting. The subplots include people in Hollywood that give us hope that we can right the wrongs of the past. Kevin Smith from Comic Book Men is an example of right versus might. The truth will come out in the end and you will notice future Batman projects will have evidence of this documentary that will last a lifetime.

(Authors Note: As I researched the documentary, I noticed Warner Brothers released the documentary. Keep that in mind as you watch.)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Duck Soup

I recently watched Duck Soup which is one of the best pictures the Marx Brothers made in 1933. As most films that I admire in the 1930s, this movie reflects a time of nationalism and economic decline. The impending doom of war can be seen many years prior to World War II. This movie captures what somehow the history books fails to acknowledge. That is, war is a creation of men with wildly nationalistic tendencies.
The movie was honest and reflected a political environment that was hostile to critical thinking. For this reason, it was a failure at the box office at the time. People were insulted by their humor. In fact Italy banned the movie under their fascist leader Mussolini. Groucho famously says, "And remember while you're out there risking life and limb through shot and shell, we'll be in here thinking what a sucker you are." which was a direct shot at Hitler and Mussolini. It seems the comical genius of the Marx Brothers was a reflection of the truth that lie ahead.

I could not help but reflect upon our current political atmosphere. What's old is new again. The satire of global events in the 1930s is hauntingly similar to today's current events. The cynicism of geopolitical events back then are the same as today. It would seem that the Marx Brothers tapped into themes that reoccur throughout history. When there are economic inequalities, dictatorships thrive on the false premise of restoring glory and order for the masses.

From an entertainment point of view, this is a very funny movie. Fast moving dialog, site gags that were ahead of their time, and insults galore. Groucho was the Mel Brooks and Dave Chappelle of his generation. He uses the fine line of social commentary as humor. The double entendres are cleverly masked so that the censors miss what is truly being said. This is the magic of the Marx Brothers. When you put into context the restraints they had back then, they cleverly work around censorship.  

The bottom line is that Duck Soup is a movie that captures the 1930s and reminds us that history lessons are for the taking when we watch movies from our past with a critical lens. This is why Duck Soup belongs in a short list of movies during this time that examined the world with honesty, and irreverent humor. And, if you have not seen the movie, be sure to watch it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Dave Chappelle Netflix/Dave Chappelle Show

In my opinion, Dave Chappelle provides that unique combination of comedy and social commentary in his productions. His work is important on many fronts. He touches upon taboos that scare whites from affluent backgrounds while reaching those that foster beliefs of social justice. Some may consider his humor to be inappropriate when it comes to some issues regarding social justice, however that is to the contrary. Those that mislabel his work fail to connect to the irony provided as a backdrop to his humor.
His television show on Comedy Central broke many television stereotypes of African Americans. At the time his show premiered, Cosby had cleaned up negative self images of African-Americans. Chappelle, reversed the Cosby effect by challenging conventional wisdom regarding African American stereotypes. His show allowed an African-American to reflect honestly about race and inequality while using humor as a backdrop. So many characters reflected negative stereotypes instead of sweeping them under the carpet like Cosby had tried to do.

The show reached huge numbers, and then Dave disappeared for 10 years. While many speculated why he left his craft, he never felt the need to explain to anyone his reasons for taking time for himself. I truly respect that his absence remained a mystery. Dave has been slowly reintroducing himself to the millennials. His most recent work is 2 episodes on Netflix. The shows are live comedy shows. There are no comedy sketches like his previous television show. We just get Dave with a live audience. However his humor is just as irreverent as the TV show.

In the first episode, he discusses a wide range of issues. His fame seems to be a backdrop for some of the skits. My favorite comedy bit is O.J. Simpson. He splits up O.J. into 2 eras. He draws some comedic analogies with O.J. that are introspective and funny. Within this episode he also jokes about another African-American legend, Bill Cosby. He has an ability to reflect that their guilt is inconsequential to their body of work. In a sense, they are the first African-Americans to benefit from wealth and status when it comes to our nation's criminal justice system. Such a subtle play on history. I thought it was genius. The second episode is filmed in Austin Texas. Again, Dave uses humor to discuss topics that many simply would avoid.  He can cross cultural lines that many comedians do not have the ability to do in their performances. He can talk and joke about sexuality, misogynist behavior, race and culture using analogies that are honest and funny. They also make some uncomfortable and cause them to reflect upon their own values. This is why Chappelle matters. His humor uses high level thinking to get across viewpoints using low brow humor. Simply put, Chappelle's humor makes us think about our thoughts and actions, which is why I recommend his body of work.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mr. Church

Mr. Church is a hidden gem from 2016 starring Eddie Murphy. (My take on Eddie Murphy is that I have always felt he has a wide range as an actor that has gone untapped. I think this movie allows him to stretch a bit from what we are use to seeing him do on the big screen, and he was excellent in this movie.)

Mr. Church is a movie about an individual (Church) that takes on a short term assignment to help a single parent family. The family is small consisting of a mom and daughter. The mom has breast cancer and she is uncertain how long she has to live. You immediately get immersed into the story because we are not sure what motivates Mr. Church to help this family. This is what makes the movie work throughout the entire film. The main character appears without explanation, leaving us to guess what is intrinsically motivating this man to help the family.

This movie reminded me of a quote from my mom I would learn as a child,  "everybody has a story." It was a lesson on how to understand empathy. Stories about people's past are how we learn about ourselves. The human conditions we encounter can be complex, surreal,  and often complicated. People have many layers, especially with complicated pasts. We can learn from their stories if we take the time to get to know them. This is a core theme in this movie.  If you enjoy learning what makes a person "tick", than Mr. Church is gong to be a great film for you to experience.

We learn about Mr. Church, by his examples of generosity. Yet his generosity causes us to have doubts, because we are taught to doubt the context of human kindness through imperfections. We can mistrust someone for having generous thoughts and actions by looking for imperfections, and this is why I absolutely love the simplicity of this movie. I found myself second guessing, and looking for subplots based on my life experiences when I tried to figure out why Mr. Church is so generous to this family.

The movie is simple. We follow Mr. Church through the eyes of Charlie. (The daughter as she grows up) The ending is poetic. Simple yet complex. I truly believe we learn about Mr. Church, and his life can explain some scenarios in our nation that we can not understand. Mr. Church was guarded about his personal life for many reasons. The scenarios running through my mind throughout this movie were not even close to the ending. The ending was a reminder for me that human relationships can be impacted by factors that are hidden and personal. Yet those experiences can bring out the best of us. This is what makes Mr. Church a cerebral viewing experience.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Minimalism - A Documentary On The Important Things

To start the new year, I found a gem on Netflix that truly grasps the idea that our reality is created for us by government, media, and especially consumerism. A well researched and directed documentary about the post modernist world that we live in regarding consumerism. The movie suggests that our choices that we make for consumer spending are manipulated for us by corporations.
The movie's premise is simple, we from an early age are taught that life is based on owning stuff. So much stuff, that we want more stuff. The first thing that came to my mind while watching this is the IPhone. Sure enough the IPhone was one of the examples of how users are controlled and manipulated to buy new phones through clever marketing. Each new phone has about a dozen improvements, and advertising and clever marketing is employed by Apple to get you to stand in line for the next IPhone.
The movie explores every aspect of consumerism in our post modern world. From birth, our decisions are impacted by media and advertising. In fact, children are saturated with consumerism. Companies spent 100 million on children's advertising in the 80s. Today they spend 17 billion. Maximum saturation to ensure kids want more stuff. Gaming systems operate on a life cycle of 2-3 years.
The movie offers solutions to remove ourselves from the reality. From smaller homes to examining our choices, we can change. We will be seen as odd or weird for downsizing. Yet, it would reshape the world we live in if change were sustaining. We fight wars for profit. A world of minimalists would reduce the need for war when you ponder the possibilities.
I could not help but wonder if minimalism has a place in our educational system. We could teach it in our health classes. Surely happiness can be impacted by these practices. Learning how the brain is hardwired to react to consumerism could help our children grow into adults that understand needs v. wants. This fight flight reaction to consumerism is why we lose sight of ourselves if not careful. Do we need all the extra stuff? Probably not.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States

Truth be know, I am not a big fan of Oliver Stone's movies. I always have felt he takes the same liberties at rewriting history as the same people he often criticizes. Often times, he uses his excuse as a film director as the reason for taking such liberties. JFK for example was ripe with assumptions. This demonstrates he allows bias to touch upon his filmography.

On the other hand, if I was given the role of director, I would probably do the same. I can not fault Stone for a behavior that is based on his passions that history has been somehow wronged by misinterpretation, as I also feel the same way. Stone wants people to understand that perceptions guide our realities, not facts. I had to acknowledge this as I watched and reviewed his series on American History.

Stone's efforts were better than I had thought. As an avid reader of Howard Zinn and someone who reads alternative history sources and watches independent films, I was thinking what could Stone offer that was new? Stone does follow the Howard Zinn script. As in, what do the textbooks exclude from our history. He also editorializes new material which is to be expected with his own take on history. I will always struggle with this approach. I prefer a layout of information and allowing the viewers to decide what is real versus fiction. However, this is Oliver Stone, and we can not expect him to leave well enough alone, and he has to editorialize as his fans have come to expect.

With all this being said, it is an excellent series for adolescents and adults to watch that choose to accept the modern course of history. The series clearly can provide historical narratives that cause us the viewer to question what we have learned in our social studies classes. It also provides insightful examinations into motive for our foreign policy. This is the best part of the series. Economics rules the day. So important for people to understand the connection between profit and war.

The series in my opinion borrows from the movie Why We Fight. It's focus is the 20th century war machine. The warnings unheeded that the post military industrial complex is a dangerous precedent in our society. This is an important connection for all Americans to understand. The motives behind the policies are solidly behind profiteering. The textbooks stray from critically thinking about wars and profit in public education. For this reason, series like this help counter American Exceptionality that is the purpose for compulsory education.

The bottom line is, if you have a friend that is conservative in thought when it comes to American History, this is the series to get a discussion started. It may not change their opinions, however it does open the door to critical thinking of one's own thought patterns. And that's what cerebral cinema is all about!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Viva Amiga

I recently found a documentary that validated one of the strangest obsessions of my childhood. That obsession was the Commodore family of computers. First, let me take a step back and explain computers during the 1980s.

You basically had a few choices. Commodore, Apple and IBM. IBM was a business machine and was primarily a green background that crunches numbers. Apple was a black and white machine that was limited. And then, there was the Commodore Amiga. The immortal machine that could do so much more than the rest.

Commodore had been inventive with their last computer the Commodore 64. Their follow up the 128 was a bust, so they bought the rights to the Amiga. This machine was so advanced. It was released in 1989, and truly had revolutionary concepts that today's computers owe a debt of gratitude.

Try telling that to your kids. Amiga has long since been gone. Most of my friends that debated the worthiness of the line are also gone. I shelved the whole experience. Then came the documentary, Viva Amiga. Oh my, it was like being a kid again. I watched it with my own children, and quite honestly, they loved the story. The documentary captured the history of this little known machine. Fresh and compelling, it really made the Amiga into a great story.

Anyone who computed back then will go down memory lane. Especially former Amiga users. We knew at the time that this machine was way ahead of it's time. We all were loyal fans. I am sure that most owners will remember the stories. Even if you never owned an Amiga, the movie is truly fun to watch.