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Austin Powers International Man of Mystery

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Last night I saw Austin Powers with some other people and I can say that our opinions were mixed; so mixed in fact that I am inviting my counterpart, Kevin, to review this movie with me, because I don’t think one person’s biased opinion will be enough for this Mike Meyers vehicle.

Since it’s my mailing list, however, I will go first.

MIKE MYERS IS AN ATTENTION-STARVED WHINYBOY. That said, I will concede that there were elements of this movie that were enjoyable for me, but not enough to make a feature film. Gags I would have liked went on too long in new SNL style. Funny parts were quickly shunted off in favor of Myers preening and mugging and being so proud of his icky naked body.

The 60’s flavor was pretty accurately captured by the production team, including all the things that made 60’s movies so stupid, like meaningless cutaways to go-go dancers. If this were an episode of the Simpsons, reasoned Kevin, I would have been rolling on the floor. Perhaps; but the Simpsons would have done this as a parody of 60’s spy movies. This is a 90’s spy movie that stars a villian and hero actually from the 60’s, a la the Brady Bunch movies – it’s not a parody, it’s a fish out of water comedy, with a splash of homage to it. And that is why it doesn’t work.

It felt like a recent Mel Brooks movie – all the less funny and more sad because of how funny it *could* have been. Some great cameos helped, and I did generally like Myers’ turn as Dr. Evil – if he had gotten someone funny (or at least not as in love with himself) to play Austin Powers it would have been even better. But Myers love for himself is expressed by looking pleadingly at the camera after every mug and twitch and “yeahhh, baby!” as if to say, ‘That was funny, right, you think I’m funny?” At least Jim Carrey doesn’t care if you are watching him or liking him, he just goes for broke. Even gags of Jim’s that don’t work are less annoying due to their honesty.

Big huge kudos for the production design team – there are some great looking clothes and props and so forth in this mess. But, if you still think SNL is funny, by all means, run out and pay full price. I was given a ticket and I still wish I’d stayed home to watch NewsRadio.

Kevin on the other hand, laughed himself into choking fits. Here’s what he has to say: It’s groovy, baby! Don’t let this square babe lead you astray. Austin Powers is silly, stupid fun. Granted, it helps to be a fan of Mike Myers (especially since he plays two roles and seems to be naked much of the time), but this send-up of the sixties and spy movies hits most of its targets perfectly. Think of it as Laugh-In meets James Bond meets the 1990’s.

Some of the jokes are lame (often intentionally so), some gags go on a bit too long, but I found myself laughing quite loudly throughout this movie, and I’m not ashamed to admit it (even though Karina was threatening to break up with me the whole time). Best of all, despite being a product of a Saturday Night Live alumnus, the whole movie is relatively free of tedious SNL cameos (there’s only one, and he’s actually pretty funny). Check it out, baby! It’s shagadelic!

You be the judge. But don’t blame me if you pay good money for this and hate it!

* My thoughts two years later: Much better on video than in the theatre – the small screen’s turning the pretentious into the cute makes all the difference. I did break up with Kevin, but for more Important Movies. Choose your battles.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/22/1997
Time in minutes 88
Director Jay Roach
Studio New Line Cinema

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The Big One

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Michael Moore, the wicked genius behind Roger and Me and TV Nation, is not at 100% in The Big One. It’s very good and very entertaining – his skill for 2nd unit fill footage to add to the narrative he stumbles upon during principal photography is still sharp as a knife. He was on a book promotion tour and decided just to grab a little footage in the towns he visited and see if he came up with anything. The part that weakens the narrative (in what seemed to me an uncharacteristically self-serving manner) is the clips of him speaking at various points in a more stand-up comic style approach, rather than letting the material speak for itself. His instinctual camera crew has his eye for the big picture and captures a lot of great footage, and I wanted more of it.

He does score a major coup in being granted an interview with Nike’s CEO Brian (?) Knight. This is Moore at his finest, playing every card in his hand for the sake of art and a statement. He gets some sad stories and some happy ones, some amusing pranks and some unwitting self-humiliation on the part of some of his participants. As a recent laid-off person, I could groove on his line of the unfairness of it all, and even as I noted the irony of his commercial success aided by a big, soulless corporation, I could still feel he was on my side. He encourages all people with a jones for change and progress to get out of the basements of the Unitarian churches and to be active. His politics are not right or left so much as human.

If you are not familiar with Michael Moore, rent Roger and Me and then see this one. Whether or not you agree with him that enormously profitable companies should not reward employees by downsizing them, you have to agree with me that he has a special sense of people and images and how one voice over can make another image resonate especially strongly. I think he would have loved Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control. He has a sentimental side and a lot of money and a lot of passion for what he does, and it all goes into his work – be it for pure humor, good-natured revenge (as on his show) or sheer determination in the face of something he believes is wrong. But The Big One is not his opus, it is not his Citizen Kane, it is eminently watchable but somehow replete with unironic self-promotion. But I still liked it. The cojones on that guy!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/10/97
Time in minutes 96
Director Michael Moore
Studio Dog Eat Dog Films

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The Devil's Own

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Two superstars. A lengthy politically charged plot about IRA terrorists and their human side. Two hours of excellent performances and deep character development. If you don’t know anything about the IRA, you won’t learn anything. Harrison Ford looks ready to pass the marquee stud boy mantle along to Brad Pitt, but then he leaps in and is a great hero like he always is.

I took a while deciding what I thought about this movie, because it was interesting, but at the same time, I didn’t walk away with anything. My butt was sore and I needed to go to the bathroom, but I am glad I saw it.

Some of you may have heard press on interstellar tensions on the set between Ford and Pitt, but on screen they have great chemistry. It’s fairly violent, and some of the Irish accents can get pretty deep if you aren’t used to hearing them. Some folks I have talked to (who might know better, I don’t know) said that they head Brad’s accent was in and out. I thought it was very consistent and fit him well.

This is a much shorter review because it’s one of those movies I just don’t know how I feel about. It’s definitely not a waste of time, but if you have to choose between this and something else (like Sling Blade!) maybe you could rent this later. It will not lose anything but noise and power to the small screen, but it does merit a matinee viewing.

It does not suck, it just doesn’t stick. Like Chinese Food.

MPAA Rating R for strong brutal violence, and for language.
Release date 4/8/97
Time in minutes 110
Director Alan J. Pakula
Studio Columbia Tristar

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Grosse Pointe Blank

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This movie was everything I wanted it to be! John Cusack, guns, 80’s music, wacky character issues like, “What do you do for a living?” “I’m a professional killer.”

It’s Martin Blank’s (Cusack) 10 year high school reunion (I know I can relate) and he is a professional killer touching base with his past. Oh, yeah, but there’s also multiple contracts out on multiple heads, unresolved relationship issues with his old girlfriend, played by Minnie Driver, and guns!

It looks like the kindof movie that is done well, is great fun; if done badly, a painful mess like Get Shorty. Guess what? This one is done well! I’ve always been partial to John Cusack and if you were an eighties teen with a crush on him he is reliving a little of that Better Off Dead charm but it’s tempered by his new acting career choices where he plays more of a real grownup – this summer he will be a good-guy badass in ConAir.

Bonus points if you like music like The Violent Femmes. Bring a date or get a bunch of the guys together, it can go both ways. If you are fretting about what you will say at your next high school reunion (or if you skipped yours because you were too embarrassed to say you worked as a phone rep) then you will appreciate our hero’s position.

Pay full price and enjoy a box of Raisinettes.

~~~~~~~~~
Grosse Pointe Blank revisited Still great!

Maybe it’s John Cusack’s special brand of upbeat negativity, but this movie works so well! I saw it again last night with a friend who hadn’t seen it (and who, of course, loved it) and it’s just as much fun the second time around!

*Note: and, at last count, the 18th time around.

MPAA Rating R – language, violence, some sexuality
Release date 4/8/97
Time in minutes 107
Director George Armitage
Studio Hollywood Pictures

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Liar Liar

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This Friday I saw Liar Liar, a Jim Carrey comedy in which a son who misses his father makes a wish that dad (that would be Jim Carrey) can’t lie for one whole day.

The short version: Midway through the movie I already wanted to come back and see it again. Jennifer Tilly says it is “All of Me crossed with Kramer vs. Kramer.” So I hope you liked those movies because they make a great Liar Liar.

The long version: Every time I talk about a Jim Carrey movie I try to remain aware that there are slews of people out there who find him to be sophomoric, over-muggy, and stupid. If the only Carrey movie you have ever seen is the first Ace Ventura, you might have that impression. But if you’re like me and my moviegoing partner (Kevin), you let yourself laugh at Jim Carrey’s antics and curse yourself for falling for it. Each Carreysim that passes it becomes easier and easier to relax and admit I am enjoying the hell out of myself!

So, this preface is merely to say that I am working with the assumption that you already like Jim Carrey. I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of his each film (yes, even Dumb and Dumber surprised some hoots out of me – damn me!). If you are NOT a fan of Jim Carrey, my strong recommendation would be to see Liar Liar and THEN pass judgement on his comic talent and his ability to hold a movie together with something other than his butt cheeks. His character is more mature in this movie, and most (95%) of the time he is not doing the rubberfaced diva act that turns some people off.

I ramble on because Jim Carrey is one of those actors people tend to remain negative about – if they saw something they didn’t like, and when the hype wave makes him more ubiquitous, they just wanna resist more. But to you non-believers out there, this might be the Carrey movie that breaks you. It has truly unrealistic and outlandish moments, sure, but they are fueled by his desperation. The rest of the movie (once you accept the no-lies spell) is extremely real and honest. Oh, and it’s really funny! Did I mention that part?

Whew! Now on with the actual review!

The crux of Liar Liar is that attorney Fletcher (Jim C.) is destroying his relationship with his 5 year old son by being a lying flake. By having to tell the truth all day, he undergoes a transformation – for the better of course. While on paper this sounds awfully hokey, it really works well for the movie, balancing the wacky Carrey moments with real warmth, without being gooey.

I am sure most of you have seen the previews and thought to yourself, well, I know those jokes now, why should I see the movie? I am sick to death of memorizing a gag from a preview and finding out it’s the biggest laugh of the movie, and watching what should have been a peak comic moment flop within the whole context of the film because I have seen the joke a zillion times. Liar Liar does no such injustice. The bits you see in the preview are end pieces stuck together with even funnier stuff between them than they show in the teaser. And there’s plenty more where that came from!

The previews hint at a treacly sub plot of family and an adorable child (the son’s birthday wish, tinkling music, etc.) but this child (Justin Cooper) and Maura Tierney (Audrey/mom – you would recognize her from NewsRadio) and Jim Carrey (dad) have a truly involved relationship. For you Cary Elwes fans out there (all three of you) he plays Audrey’s boyfriend.

T. Fletcher’s conflict with himself (the emotional one – you’ll have to see the movie to see the physical one!) is extremely genuine and I even misted up at points. Carrey is actually a very gifted actor whose audience doesn’t want to see him be serious. His TV movie Doing Time On Maple Drive should be rereleased so he has a chance at more opportunities than playing a guy who can…well I don’t want to give anything away, but when he goes into the courthouse bathroom, watch out for funny! No, it has nothing to do with body functions.

I tend to grow impatient with kids in movies, either because they are Hollywood style precocious or act10 years older than they should be. Fletcher’s son Max was very real, very sweet, and best of all, not trying to be as funny as the lead. It’s great watching these two together – and the more I feel for the “serious” part of the film, the more hilarious becomes Fletchers battle with himself. He isn’t *told* that he cannot tell a lie for a day – it just sort of happens. It’s as if a cosmic ventriloquist is physically manipulating his vocal cords to say “YES” even as his mouth and brain and demeanor are trying to say “NO.” (Boy it’s tempting to give something away) – the examples they give in the preview sound mean spirited rather than just sounding like enforced honesty – but he is terribly embarrassed by the words that spew out of his mouth. We like his kid as much as he does, so we feel his pain that his truth-telling contortions are causing him. Bust a gut funny is this!

The supporting players are funny (even Oscar nominee Jennifer Tilly!) and the Carrey machinations are funny, it’s all funny. The director, Tom Shadyac, used to be a stand-up comedian himself and he knows how to use the rhythm and tempo of Jim’s performance to propel the movie rather than to drag it down, SNL-style.

My vote: Full Price Feature (need a sound cue right here – how about cha-ching!)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Author note: This was my very first review, and it started me on the path to where I am now. I just wanted Jim Carrey detractors to give him a chance, and so I emailed this to a bunch of my friends, who essentially said, “keep doing it.” Thanks, guys. And thanks, Mr. Carrey.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 3/25/1997
Time in minutes 87
Director Tom Shadyac
Studio Universal

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Orgazmo / Cannibal the Musical

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Orgazmo is not an NC17 movie. I actually saw this at a test screening in June or July and signed a paper saying I was not a reviewer and that I would not tell anyone what I thought. Well the freakin movie is released now, all bets are off. The friend I saw the movie with agreed with me that there was nothing NC17 about the movie, but it was likely the church would picket it. Well, it is certainly, from a religious right standpoint, more worthy of picketing than The Last Temptation of Christ, but it’s not very harmful. I could be wrong, coming from my background, but I also don’t picket movie theatres – I tell you what to spend and then I let you make the choice.

It is a silly, funny, pleasant movie about a Mormon (Trey Parker) who accidentally becomes a porn star, Orgazmo. It has no real nudity at all but LOTS of very graphic talk the likes of which I had forgotten since my college days. It is very very very sarcastic in its representation of religion in general and more specifically, the church of Jesus Christ and his Latter Day Saints, aka The Mormons. To Trey Parker (yes, that Trey Parker, the cute one)’s credit, Mormons are not depicted as evil, like many church bashing comedies tend to do, but they are depicted as hopelessly out of touch with their bodies and therefore with reality or fun. However you will take that, do, but Orgazmo is still no NC 17 movie by a long shot. There is more skin on Melrose Place and more graphic talk…well, OK, nowhere else. But it’s just talk. It’s also a great parody of the silly fringe genre porno movies, the ones that turn out material like Edward Penishands, and Grosse Pointe Spankings.

The concept of the film, a Mormon “accidentally” becoming a porn star, is quite silly, and there are no boners, er bones about that. It is very silly, and quite funny and quite uplifting, too, in it’s hell-in-a-handbasket way. If you don’t know what a choda is (and our test audience almost universally did not, despite the star’s sidekick being named ChodaBoy), it’s the perineum, aka the ’tain’t. Look it up. I am alarmed to admit that I recognized some genuine porn actors in the movie with cameos and one even with the coveted role of the Sperminator or some such bad guy. Well, I do have a male roommate! Porn happens. Knowing that these people were actual porn stars, however, lent the film a cachet I am certain it did not intend – that of pretender to the Boogie Nights throne, a gentle movie about the rigors of the porn industry. I dug it overall, it’s just not all that good. Better than your average Troma film, that is certain.

Re-released only a month or so earlier, Cannibal the Musical (another Trey Parker and Matt Stone venture from a few years back) is another example of simple comedy turned merely amusing. It’s silly and definitely low rent, just for laughs, but also kind of endearing. An 1883 band of explorers vanishes and only one man survives, and he tells his tale of woe from jail, largely in song and flashback, as would be expected. Parker has a nice singing voice, actually, and it’s hard to imagine Mr. Garrison being much of a singer. Unlike what I heard about Baseketball, Cannibal and Orgazmo are only using the lads’ fame to get bankrolled, not suck in audience hoping to hear a Cartman impression. I predict Orgazmo and Cannibal will eventually get some play on cable and then win their following, as the silly, enjoyable but still probably pretty offensive future cult favorites they seem destined to become.

Orgazmo
MPAA Rating BC-17-language, drug use, crude sexual humor, blasphemy, what else?
Release date 10/23/98
Time in minutes 90
Director Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Studio October Films

Cannibal the Musical
MPAA Rating R-violence, drug use, brief nudity I think too
Release date 1996
Time in minutes 92
Director Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Studio October Films

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Waiting for Guffman

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Now, before I get started, I want to point out to those who are thinking, “Isn’t she a little biased to be writing this review?” that, yes, I am. I had the privilege of 2 weeks on the set of this film, which is why I waited until I saw it again last night before I wrote a review. Knowing stuff they cut out, I was disappointed and frustrated with the released version, but on a more objective viewing, I feel I can safely say that this movie will appeal to people who
find humor in the following venues:

Small towns
Community Theatre
Bad Theatre
Mock Documentaries
Improvisation
Musicals
Dry, deadpan humor

If this stuff is not your cup of tea, the 82 minutes selected for your viewing pleasure (from 60+ hours of footage!) will probably just float on by. If you are like me, however, you will find it very funny – there are understanding smiles kind of humor, and laugh out loud kind of humor.

It’s a mock documentary, in the tradition of Spinal Tap and Smile, of a small town, Blaine, in Missouri putting on a musical for it’s 150th birthday. Christopher Guest stars and directs, and with Eugene Levy (of SCTV fame) wrote the outline around which the actors improvised all their lines (except those in the actual musical). Levy is in it as well, as a not-funny dentist-cum-actor, as are Parker Posey (an indie film favorite), Fred Willard (Spinal Tap, anything Martin Mull has ever done), Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice, SCTV, The Home Alone movies), and many more faces you will recognize from film and TV. You can see me, too!

Anyway -Corky St. Clair (Chris Guest) hopes to attract the eye of a Broadway producer, and they mount this ridiculous show, which chronicles high points in Blaine’s history. Blaine has been visited by a UFO, been the Footstool manufacturing captial of the world, among home to some great characters, improvised by everyone. The songs in the show were written by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer of Spinal Tap fame. It’s gently amusing and not at all mean spirited. I myself recommend it highly! It’s had great reviews too and a great web page – http://www.guffman.com. I can’t quite say full price feature because it’s not quite the pure genius of Spinal Tap or Living in Oblivion.
But there is the bonus of looking for me! :) I counted last night – I am in four scenes but there are 7 shots. One is a stretch but the first person who can name all seven shots will win….something!*

*prize may vary due to geographical location of the winner
Note: as of August 2010 this prize has yet to be collected.

MPAA Rating R – language
Release date 1/31/97
Time in minutes 84
Director Christopher Guest
Studio Columbia Pictures

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Scream

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I grew up watching horror films. I saw them too young and too many – and Michael Myers still scares the crap out me even when the film has nothing but crap left in itself. Writer Kevin Williamson clearly shares the same nervous fondness for the genre as myself (and clearly, many others) do – he has managed to make a movie that is both genuine scary movie and arch parody of scary movies. It’s the film’s very self-awareness that makes it different from all the rest. Instead of following the time-honored horror rules that it so carefully details, it leads them – the virgin is immune from death, we are told, but what if she gives it up! oh heavens that wasn’t supposed to happen!

The movie begins with Drew Barrymore and goes somewhere totally different – and by the end you are so amazed that they took you there so adroitly, so smoothly, and yet with so many geniune yuks, you want to see it again! At least, that’s how it was for me. The characters mock the very archetypes they end up playing – and they weave in and out of Red-Herringville with smooth abandon. A groovy cameo by the Fonz himself (as the high school principal) is a nice nod to we who have grown up freaking out that Freddy will come in our sleep. Watch for funny horror cameos and winks here and there.

My favorite moment involves parallel action between the characters’ viewing habits and the reality all around them. I don’t want to give anything away but it involves a van, Jamie Kennedy, and Jamie Lee Curtis. It sums up what I love about Scream. It’s smart, but it’s not too smart – it hands you some information and hides other information – it dances around, pointing you in the direction it wants, but upon repeat viewing it doesn’t suffer like movies like The Game do.

Grab some friends, a big bowl of popcorn, check all the locks in your house…and obey all the rules! This movie makes ’em and breaks ’em! Woo hoo!

MPAA Rating R -graphic horror violence/gore, and language
Release date 12/20/96
Time in minutes 111
Director Wes Craven
Studio Dimension Films

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That Thing You Do

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Dismissed as fluff by critics and audiences alike, That Thing You Do is perched delicately on the pop culture crest of rock and roll as fad and lifestyle, jazz as high art and street art, and the first wave of the one hit wonders. First time feature film writer/director Tom Hanks does not make the Woody Allen mistake of casting himself as the lead in a role he was so clearly meant to play. Instead he casts new(ish) face Tom Everett Scott as the Tom Hanks guy, a good hearted, artistic, sensitive guy who is also sensible and gentlemanly. The catchy title song was played a thousand times a day on the radio in 1996 and maybe that kept everyone away. If so, it is their loss.

It’s not just good because it’s an exuberant breath of fresh air and has great production design. It’s good because it takes a tale of naïve ambition and incredible good fortune and turns it into a perfect time capsule parable of its time, with fleshy characters and themes of success versus fame versus art, and the marriage of jazz and rock and roll.

Hanks’ unerring eye cast then-obscure and now-desirable stars as Ethan Embry, Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott, and Jonathan Schaech, who fulfill the boy band credo of four different types to appeal to all different folks, with easy, natural chemistry. And then he taught them to play their instruments over 5 weeks. Liv Tyler’s groupie girlfriend, in those innocent pre-Rolling Stone days, adds poignancy. Hanks makes this big splashy colorful movie feel like an intimate indie film.

It’s a story that was lived out hundreds of times in the 1964 in which it was set (with impeccable detail), and again in the mid-eighties after the next major rock musical innovation. Instead of jazz, the 1980’s had electronica scoop every one hit wonder out of the bars and bowling alleys of America and England.

Sheer, pure teenage joy is difficult to sum up in words, let alone successfully recreate with a team of 200 union artists. The scene that brings That Thing You Do home for me is the scene where their song gets its first radio airing. I won’t tell you any more, in case you haven’t seen it, but it is a sequence like that which brings us to the movie theatres.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 10/4/96

Time in minutes 108

Director Tom Hanks

Studio 20th Century Fox

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Forgotten Silver

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(with the short, “Signing Off”) www.firstrunfeatures.com
The short, Signing Off, was a wonderful New Zealander farce about a DJ going to extraordinary lengths to honor a request. It’s definitely not realistic but it is really clever and funny. And even poignant – the NZers, like their British cousins, have managed to hold on to the art of keeping characters sympathetic while making them funny, a skill all but lost to Hollywood.

Anyway, Colin McKenzie directs and I swear I will see everything else he does based on this short. Bruce Lynch’s music was very exciting as well. It’s nutty and funny – a DJ’s last show after over 20 yrs, and his one remaining listener makes a request – he will do anything to honor it – including dive into a rat infested sewer and…well, it’s great chucks, mate.

Forgotten Silver is a mockumentary shot entirely in the realm of artifice (not conceding to reality as Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman and When God Spoke do) and in the style of A&E’s Biography. It’s absolutely true to the bowing and scraping homages we Americans produce – but it too is New Zealander. One of the co-directors/writers is the venerable Peter Jackson, better known for Meet the Deedles, Heavenly Creatures, and Dead Alive. The other is Costa Botes.

I took shamefully few notes but Forgotten Silver details the prodigious life of a “lost” filmmaker and his incredible advances that were lost to history…until now. Production Designer John Girdlestone had a daunting task to create “historical” equipment and stagings for the archive photographs of the film genius XXX. This supergenius filmmaker, posthumously inducted into the pantheon of cinema greats such as D.W. Griffith, Orson Welles, and more, created the first talking picture in 1908, the first color film in 1911, but madness and poverty and the usual tolls drove him into obscurity.

I think my companions and I were the only ones who either knew enough about basic film history to get the anachronisms, or the only ones who knew it was a joke. Without a hint of irony the credits thank the widow of XXX and make no attempt to destroy the illusion. Lost cities built by hand over a decade for an epic film slashed into pieces by Miramax? Indeed. My companions and I were laughing uproariously, for the first half. The second half slowed down some but was still very interesting and beautifully executed.

It will surely be as elusive to find in the video stores as any of the late genius’ work, but if you can see it, do see it.

*Note: There is a DVD of Forgotten Silver available via Amazon.com. Check Hollywood Video.