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The University of Hartford

By Culture Dog Kevin O'Toole

Summer can be tough for a would-be cinema lover. Daytrips… the beach… a dayjob… damn it, there’s just too many distractions! None the less, Sam and I have done all we could to park out tuchuses (tuchi?) in theater seats throughout the Hartford area to give us things to discuss.

So, you might ask, “Kevin, what did I miss this summer in the cinema while I was out having a life?”

Well, in case you were out living in a cave, or terminally tuned in to Fox News Channel, this was the summer of the documentary. No kidding this time. This wasn’t just a nice showing at the box office for a few weeks of “Capturing the Friedmans” at Real Art Ways or Trinity. At this writing, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9-11” has surpassed the $100 million mark, spinning it’s way to the top of the all-time documentary box-office numbers, beyond even the “qualifications” of “non-IMAX/ large screen,” “non-music doumentary” or “non-nature documentary”.

And now, some guy had the bright idea to do an answer movie (rather than the habitual Republican whine about “liberal media”). The title? “Michael Moore Hates America.”

And, yep, Sam and I will probably watch it. Just don’t ask us to pay.

Here are a few thoughts about the best and worst summer films:
Truth is, however, this was a really decent summer at the movies. You will find, when 2004 closes, I think, that the bottom of my year long list will be littered with many more releases from, say, January, March or September.
That said, though, here are a few that raced right to the bottom:

3. The Stepford Wives
Before seeing this, I actually bumped into a few people with a deep fondness for the feminist dystopian message of the 1973 original film. I can therefore only imagine how profoundly disappointing this Frank Oz misfire was to such people, as I was hoping at minimum for some not too stupid campy fun, and this film couldn’t even sustain that. Are the replacement wives robots? Brainwashed? This point of logic is among many that are ignored in favor of cutesy jokes and a dopey ending that ignores all that preceded it. Too bad for the halfway decent work of Bette Midler, Glenn Close and Christopher Walken that this stinker won’t even be worth a rental fee.

2. The Chronicles of Riddick
Vin Diesel is okay here, but that’s far from what’s needed to save this lump of pompous sci-fi/ fnatasy speechifying, and hacked together cliches. Colm Feore is among the pompous baddies, swaggering in oversize helmets through this dopey film, which wastes the talents of Karl Urban (the Lord of the Rings alum, with the worst hair-do of the year, who made up for it as a (shaved headed) enemy assassin in The Bourne Supremacy) and poor, poor Judi Dench (who might as well have been cast in Cave Dwellers for all she’s given to do as an elemental witch). Vin, you should have gone for that XXX franchise instead. Tsk, tsk…

1.Soul Plane
Yeah, this is it, the film that makes Scary Movie 3 look like Citizen Kane. See, okay, here’s the joke here: a black man nearly gets sucked down an airplane’s toilet (which claims his dog, in one of many frustratyingly unfunny scenes). And when he sues, he, naturally, gets enough money to launch his own airline (which he names “NWA” in one of the few jokes in the film that actually elicits an honest chuckle). This is the second time this year that Method Man has been involved in a bad film (please avoid seeing My Baby’s Daddy), which is one of the many reasons I’m glad I was out at the movies so often this summer and missed his Fox sitcom, Method and Red. Method. Please. Rap. THAT’S ALL. Believe me, the less time spent in films with Tom Arnold in a major role, the better.

3. Shaolin Soccer
Sam and jonsed for this moment since we enthusiastically reviewed this film last year. That’s right people. WE HAD A YEAR LEAD TIME ON THIS ONE. In the meantime, Miramax messed with a wonderfully wacky comic classic on the level of Airplane, by having it dubbed (which would have done away with the hilarious Shaolin lounge act scene), reshot, cut to pieces, subtitled (with a preview still hanging out there from the dubbed version) and finally released it in a tiny select cities release this spring, thus resulting in its’ arrival in Hartford (at Trinity Cinestudio) this summer. This wacky, lovable tale of distaff followers of Shaolin reborn as underdog soccer players (going up against, no kidding “Team Evil”) is a hilarious, heartwarming, tongue in cheek parody of martial arts films, sports films, the Matrix and so much more.

2. Napoleon Dynamite

Husband and wife Jared and Jerusha Hess developed the nerdy Preston, Idaho character first seen in their 2003 short “Peluca,” with Jon Heder (one of a pair of identical twins and star of the original short as “Seth”) and a cast of largely unknowns in this hilarious ode to high school loserdom. Napoleon lives with his grandma (Sandy Martin) and brother Kip (Aaron Ruell, equally hilarious) and leads a directionless life full of arcane interests in mythical creatures like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the “Liger” (half-lion, half-tiger). He is (rather aggressively) an outcast at school (and is frequently bullied for it, which never deters him). His brother, long out of high school and equally directionless, spends his time looking for love on internet chat rooms. When his grandma takes a spill, his uncle Rico (Jon Gries) comes to babysit the pair, though he is equally adrift in life, living out of an old Dodge van and making “sweet” videos of his football passing technique (sans receiver). At school, Napoleon finds friends in the new kid, Pedro Sanchez (Efren Ramirez) and door-to-door glamour shot entrepreneur, Deb (Tina Majorino). Eventually Napoleon’s brother is roped into Rico’s door-to-door plasticware sales business, and Pedro ends up running against popular girl Summer (Haylie Duff, sister of Hilary) for class president. And this is just some of what goes on in this fall down in spasms funny film. The Hesses and Jon Heder have put together a comedy at once sharper, funnier and more heartfelt than similar products from Wes Anderson (think Bottle Rocket or Rushmore with more concentration on the funny). Bravo!

1. Fahrenheit 9/11

Is it a documentary? Is it a satire? Is it propaganda? Is it possible that this film can forego all the labels to triumph critically with over $100 million in domestic box office? YES! Michael Moore opens the floodgates of suspicions surrounding the suspiciously appointed Bush administration: suspicions of connections to big oil, big black ops, big voter fraud and big terrorism. It’s not a timeless movie; it’s a film that’s right on time. The award winning Bowling for Columbine was a more balanced work, it’s true, but Moore has a vast and irresistible web to weave, or at least to reveal, in the Bush administrations’ war mongering, oil hoarding shenanigans. It’s passionate and it’s about time.
In our continuing quest to give you less excuses to miss a possibly enlightening group cinema experience, we Culture Dogs present for you an array of possibilities in local non-profit cinema. ALL present opportunities for you to get out to see either: a) alternative cinema or b) cinema in different environments, with different people. Here is a list! Share a filmic experience with someone today!

56 Arbor Street, Hartford CT
Real Art Ways has been a force in the art world for over a quarter of a century, from right here in the heart of Connecticut! It started regular theatrical film screenings in the 1990’s in their latest location on Arbor Street
REAL ART WAYS is a local non-profit cinema house, performance and art space. Phone 860-232-1006 or visit www.realartways.org for directions and showtimes.

Trinity Campus, 300 Summit Street, Hartford
This theater space began life as a lecture hall (Faneuil Hall, I believe), but you’ll scarcely believe it when you see the way Cinestudio (in its’ 34th season) has recreated the ambience of a classic movie house of old, minus the jujubees on the floor (no food please!) and plus one of the best theater sound systems you will find in Connecticut, and top-notch visuals, too! And tell James Hanley we sent you, after thanking him and his staff profusely.
TRINITY CINESTUDIO is a local non-profit cinema house. Phone 860.297. 2463 or visit www.cinestudio.org for directions and showtimes.

600 Main Street, Hartford, CT
Wadsworth Atheneum is, of course, a historic museum with a wide array of art in its’ collections, and a number of featured shows every week. This summer, they also featured an outdoor cinema series in their Gengras Court and they often screen films in their AETNA THEATER.
Phone (860) 278-2670 or visit www.wadsworthatheneum.org for showtimes for their films and directions.

Also of note in Connecticut, out on the edge of our listening area in New Haven, is the 9TH ANNUAL FILM FEST NEW HAVEN arriving September 16th thru September 19th at four New Haven film venues: the York Square Cinemas (a Graphics from www.filmfest.org. Copyright 2004 Film Fest New Haven commercial multi-screen art cinema), the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale, the Yale Center for British Art (designed by architect Louis Kahn, subject of the sleeper hit documentary, My Architect) and the Little Theatre. Find out more at their website at www.filmfest.org.

Make sure and listen to Culture Dogs every Sunday night, your weekly video and movie news and review program from eight to nine on UH Radio for the latest on what’s playing at your favorite local non-profit movie theaters, and at the big commercial joints! Oh, and Sam Hatch will also keep you abreast of the latest on video! See you on the radio!

Copyright©WWUH: September/October Program Guide, 2004

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