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'Beast Wishes' explores couple's love of film

Dec. 26, 2012 |

Josh Radnor and Elizabeth Olsen in "Liberal Arts."
Reminder Publications submitted photo

By G. Michael Dobbs news@thereminder.com Two heart-felt documentaries and a well-intentioned film from a sitcom star are featured in this week's DVD review column.
Beast Wishes: The Fantastic World of Bob and Kathy Burns
What is fascinating to me is where filmmakers come from? What kind of influences mold them and help them determine they want to enter into a highly competitive art form/business? This love letter of a documentary details how one couple's love of movies encouraged a whole generation of people, which include Academy Award winners. Originally, filmmakers often came from the theater. After the WWII, though, with movies now being shown on television and home movie cameras all the rage, the seeds were sown for a new generation of moviemakers — young people who were fans. Bob Burns was a proto "movie kid," dreaming about being in films when growing up in the 1940s and 50s, making his own amateur productions, editing his own magazine and eventually working in films and television, in part as a gorilla actor. His wife Kathy shared his interests. The couple started collecting props from films and, because of their connections, filmmakers started giving them props — many of which are amazing, one of kind artifacts. The couple has the only existing King Kong armature — the movable metal skeleton on which the King Kong model was once formed — a cinematic Holy Grail if there ever was one. They own the original Time Machine from the classic George Pal movie, for goodness sake! But they are not just collectors or movie nerds. These people have shared their love of fantastic film with people such as Oscar winners Rick Baker and Dennis Muran and directors William Malone, John Landis and Joe Dante. Baker maintains that his career would not have happened at all without the support the couple gave him. The couple's love of film also manifested in annual Halloween shows during which their home was transformed into a set and Hollywood professionals donated their time and labor to create amazing free shows for the neighborhood. Directors Frank Dietz and Trish Geiger clearly love their subjects as much as the many people interviewed for this film do. This is a fun, sweet little film that is well worth seeking out on Netflix.
Men in Suits
This thorough documentary examines a performer who has been overlooked by the mainstream movie press: the actor who must convey a characterization when encased in a complete head to toe costume. These are the actors who portrayed gorillas in movies or Godzilla or robots or any one of dozens of characters. Think it would be easy? Think again. Besides trying to act with other cast members, the performer in the suit must deal with the very real physical demands a suit brings with it. The experience is not for the physically weak. It's not for the claustrophobic. It's not for people who are seeking recognition. Acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro, the man behind movies such as the two Hellboy films and "Pan's Labyrinth," explained how he casts suit actors with as much care as he does any other cast member, matching a performer whose strengths are best for the character he is to portray. We learn this approach isn't new. One of the most revered "suit" films, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," had two performers in the suit for different scenes — Ricou Browning doing all the swimming scenes and Ben Chapman as the creature when the monster was above water. Through interviews, director Frank Woodward presents an intimate look at a previously unconsidered type of acting. For people who wish to see an in-depth look at a previously unconsidered aspect of film, this documentary is a must.
Liberal Arts
You may know Josh Radnor as part of the ensemble cast of "How I Met Your Mother" in the role of the unlucky-at-love Ted Mosby. You may also know that Radnor has written and directed two films, the most recent is "Liberal Arts." Radnor seems to be following a career path similar to Zach Braff, the star of the long running sitcom, "Scrubs." Braff wrote and directed a highly regarded indie film, "Garden State," in which he starred in a largely dramatic role. "Liberal Arts" is nowhere like an episode of "How I Met Your Mother." Radnor plays Jesse, a 35 year-old admissions counselor living in New York City and fairly unhappy. After just breaking up with a long-time girlfriend, Jesse is asked to return to his college to participate in the retirement dinner of his favorite professor. There he accidentally meets a 19 year-old student, Zibby, (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and they click. They walk around campus. They talk about books. They start writing letters to each other. Are they in love? Will the admiration of a teenager cure his 30-something angst? Do I care? Therein lies the rub. Radnor's character and his struggle to awake from his misery is the center of the film, but his condition never seems compelling enough. As a director, Radnor has some strong points. He has assembled an able cast and the narrative moves along well. The trouble is that with all of the issues people are facing today, the story about a guy who seemingly can't get beyond college and the promise it holds for students just seems trivial. As an actor, Radnor takes pains to be as un-Ted Mosby as possible. Jesse is so serious and low key to the point of being a few steps away from being a sleepwalker. It's hard to believe a pretty, vibrant teenager would harbor romantic thoughts about him. I think Radnor should be congratulated for wanting to do something beyond a fairly vacuous sitcom and I'm willing to watch his next effort.

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