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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jack Kerouac King of Beats – Beatnik Documentary

On The Road, Dharma Bums, Visions of Cody, etc Jack Kerouac wrote books that helped to not only define the Beat Generation in the post World War Two 1950’s but he helped establish an entirely new form of spontaneous writing.

Jack Kerouac’s life is intriguing not just for his success as an author but also for his soul searching adventures and the fascinating Beat Generation authors and artists he surrounded himself with.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Knuckle – Bare Fisted Fighting Irish Gypsy Documentary

“Knuckle” is a 2011 documentary about modern-day gypsy clans (aka “Travelers”) feuding in Ireland. Director Ian Palmer spends 12 years filming the Quinn McDonagh clan and their violent feud with the Joyce clan.

The feud is fuelled by a never ending cycle of insults and infrequent gang violence. The real and most common fighting between the clans occurs when each clan delivers one man to fight one on one, bare knuckle style. The fights are refereed and continue until one man is knocked out, quits or if the combatants agree to a draw via a handshake.

Fights are solicited via insulting videos sent between the clans. They contain a lot of yelling, swearing, personal insults and explanations of easily they will beat the other side up. The videos remind me so much of professional wrestling interviews that I had to chuckle at a few. That said, unlike pro wrestling, these threats and ensuing brawls are very real.

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Week With Marilyn – Monroe’s Fling with Clark

“My Week With Marylyn” is based on a true story about a young 23 year old man, Colin Clark, who is tasked with escorting Marilyn Monroe while filming the movie “The Prince and The Show Girl”

The film is based on Colin Clark’s actual memoirs “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me”

Clark has just graduated from Harvard and is looking for a job. He wants to work in film and is desperate to do so. He applies several times to work on a movie set. After being repeated rejections he convinces the director of “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me” , Sir Laurence Olivier , to hire him. He is assigned a no-pay, go-for type menial job attending to Olivier’s petty needs. As Olivier becomes increasingly frustrated with Monroe’s erratic behavior, he assigns Clark to keep tabs on her to ensure she continues to show up for work every day. It is during this time that Colin Clark wins the trust of Monroe.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Magic Trip Bus Ride With Ken Kesey and Neil Cassady

The year is 1964. Ken Kesey, author of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' decides to take a group of friends he calls "The Merry Pranksters" on a cross country trip to the New York State fair. Buying an old school bus the group paints the vehicle in a wild collage of colors. They name the bus "Furthur", pack it full of illegal substances and proceed to have a drug fueled LSD romp across the United States. All this was shot in 16 mm film (that feels a like a home movie by today’s standards) and produced into a documentary called "Magic Trip"

Neal Cassady, made famous as a character Jack Kerouac's book 'On The Road', fittingly drives the bus most of the time. He is fun, hyperactive, and never seems to really be paying attention to the road. He, along with some others, completely embraces the trip and enjoys each moment. Others are not so thrilled and reluctantly accept the monotony of the drive and the crazy antics that surround them.

Moneyball – Pitt Hill Hoffman Sabremetrics Baseball

The duties of a general manager of a Major League Baseball team negotiates all the player contracts, makes the trades and ensures the best available players are playing for his ball club. What does a big league general manager do when his team cannot afford to hire any quality players?

In “Moneyball”, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics or the A’s as they are called, are a good ball team but exist in a small baseball market where there is little money to spend for big money baseball players. To compete with wealthy teams like the New York Yankees, Beane decides to hire ball players that have talents that are undervalued by the rest of major league baseball. He avoids players that have high RBI’s and great base stealing ability which are attributes that can cost a team millions of dollars. Instead, Beane strictly looks at a player’s ability to get on base. On base percentage and walks rule in Beane’s thinking. The more guys that get to first base, the more runs will eventually score. Sounds easy enough but few in his organization agree.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Commune An Alternative Lifestyle Community Documentary

In 1968 the Black Bear Ranch was founded in the remote woods of Northern California. Largely funded by celebrity donations, the 80 acres of land was completely paid for allowing people to live on the land for free. The timing was perfect, this was 1968 when throngs of people (hippies I suppose)wanted to escape societal norms established in the cities and suburbs and create a more utopian society. The Black Bear Ranch provided this through communal living, few rules and lots of free love.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Arcade Video Game Champion Movie – Chasing Ghosts Beyond The Arcade

I was a video arcade game fanatic when I was a little kid. Growing up in the 1970’s and 1980’s I begged my parents for their spare change so that I could slug their hard earned quarters into games like Pac Man, Tempest, Defender, Dig Dug, Joust, Asteroids, etc

In the early 80’s a group of teenagers with the help of the earnest, somewhat aloof, charismatic video game referee, Walter Day, were declared video game champions of each of their respective games. For a brief period of time they gained a degree of fame which saw an appearance on the 80’s show “That’s Incredible” and led them to an ill-fated national video gaming tour. They were featured in a Life Magazine photo.

“Chasing Ghosts: Beyond The Arcade” is about their Life Magazine photo reunion in 2005. During the film they discuss their rise to success, what their current life is like and their still-simmering desire to be considered the best.

King of Kong – Donkey Kong Champion Documentary

If you grew up playing in the video arcades of the eighties you surely remember Donkey Kong. When you play Donkey Kong you control a man trying to climb a switchback trail to save a woman in distress. On top of the trail stands a giant gorilla throwing barrels down at the man in order to prevent the rescue. If you never played Donkey Kong you should know that it was once considered the most popular video game of all time.

“King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” is about an intense rivalry over who is the best Donkey Kong player in the world. Bill Mitchell is arguably the greatest player of Donkey Kong of all time. He has set numerous Donkey Kong records. Steve Wiebe, during a layoff stint, decides that he is going to break the Donkey Kong record. He practices and studies Donkey Kong night and day until he becomes a master in his own right.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Restless Movie Review - Mia Wasikowska Henry Hopper

A teenage boy, Enoch (Henry Hopper, who is the son of Dennis Hopper), is obsessed with attending funerals. It is at a funeral that he meets another teen, Annabel (Mia Wasikowska). Annabel is dying from cancer.

Enoch and Annabel are an unlikely couple but I suppose as relationships go, they are perfectly matched. They watch funerals together, they sneak into a morgue, at times pretend to be dead, plan their own deaths and pretty much revolve their entire relationship around their obsession with dying.

Death is the overwhelming thematic element in “Restless.” The Oregon sky always seems cloudy and the ground is perpetually wet. Enoch broods over the loss of his parents years ago in a car accident. Annabel is aware that she only has a few months to live.

Enoch lives with his aunt, who he unfairly blames for his parents passing. They live in huge home that seems to resemble the Adam’s Family haunted mansion (for those who remember that TV show). The home is big, woody, ornate and never, ever seems to get enough light inside. You sense death in that home.

The characters in Restless all have lives revolving around the dead or dying. They are funeral workers, morgue attendants, doctors, nurses and people about to lose loved ones forever.

When Enoch and Annabel go out trick or treating together during Halloween, I realized that his film is absolutely and unapologetically saturated with death.

Before you fall into severe depression, rest assured that within the gloomy themes there is a very light hearted love story going on between Enoch and Annabel. The activities they enjoy together are morbid but they seem to love every minute of it. Their relationship is more a celebration of life rather than one that is coming to a doomed ending.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Pit - New York Futures Traders Documentary Review

It seems being a trader in the pit of a commodities exchange is sort of like being a dinosaur in the middle of an extinction event.  Technology is the ice age set to wipe out guys who trade by call out bidding forever.

"The Pit" is a documentary that focuses on a number of hard nosed coffee traders on the New York Board of Trade.  These traders essentially bet huge sums of money on what the value of coffee will be months from now. If they guess the price will go up or down correctly, they stand to make huge sums of money. If they are wrong, the loses could ruin them forever. These are high risk guys living high risk lifestyles. These guys are tough, edgy and a little crazy. They scream and muscle each other into different commodities transactions every day. The days of hollering may be over though. Computers are now making the screaming, or "call out" bidding, obsolete and traders now have to adapt or find new careers.

"The Pit" does a nice job of explaining how futures work. Breaking down how futures are traded is not easy. It is pretty technical stuff that can lose audience members in an instant. To the film's credit, they find a wonderfully colorful trader who breaks down the process in such simple terms it would make a finance teacher proud.