Would you invest in the meaning of life for $9.99? March 8, 2010
By G. Michael Dobbs
A new animated feature film, a historic television performance and an intriguing documentary are all in this week's DVD review column.
I had high hopes for this stop motion animated film from director Tatia Rosenthal, but at the film's conclusion -- it runs an economic 78 minutes -- I thought that even at that running time, it was too long.
This was a premise that could have been an outstanding 20-minute short, but as a feature it seemed to drag.
The film centers on an apartment building and its residents. Young David is searching for the meaning of life and seems to be uplifted by the contents of a book purporting to share that meaning which he bought for only $9.99. David lives with his father, Jim, whose marriage has failed and is in some sort of middle management position, and with his brother, Lenny, who is a repo man.
An elderly and lonely man also lives in the building and is visited by what appears to be an angel.
David tries to share the contents of the book with his father and brother to little success. His brother is obsessed with fulfilling the needs of a supermodel who has moved into the building, while his father is too busy feeling sorry for himself and his failed life.
All of these characters are searching for meaning in their lives and fulfillment through relationships with others. While there is some comedy in the story, it is a fairly serious film.
The set and character design is very good and the animation itself is quite accomplished, but I just couldn't really connect to any of the characters or to the situations. I could admire the accomplishment the film represented, but I wasn't moved by it.
I'd only recommend it for hardcore animation fans such as myself.
Orson Welles: King Lear
In my office at Reminder Headquarters for World Domination sits one of the few autographs I've ever purchased a black and white portrait of actor, writer and director Orson Welles.
Welles is one of the most fascinating people in American arts and, while he has many critics, his career was highlighted by the chances he took. For me, an artist who is willing to go out on a limb should get some credit, even if that branch cracks and breaks.
Even his oddest projects have interest to me and Welles certainly indulged in some fairly esoteric films.
"Omnibus" was a television series in the 1950s sponsored by the Ford Foundation to bring a variety of cultural subjects to television and in 1953 it presented a 78-minute version of Shakespeare's "King Lear" starring Welles.
The Archive of American Television, along with E1 Entertainment, now presents this long unavailable show on DVD. For Shakespeare enthusiasts as well as Welles fans, this is a fascinating production.
Presented live on television, director Peter Brook cut out the sub-plot in the play to just present the story of Lear and his daughters.
Welles dominates the proceedings as Lear. He is barely recognizable under a wig, fake nose, and a huge beard but as soon as he opens mouth, his distinctive voice identifies him.
The visual image of the production is sharp and the sound is clearly audible, despite the fact this show was done before the era of videotape.
Extras include other Shakespeare-related moments from "Omnibus" and a handsome and informative booklet on the presentation.
We Live in Public
I had never heard of Josh Harris, the Internet pioneer and performance artist, until I viewed this compelling documentary that won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Harris was one of the "dot-com kids" who made millions of dollars in the Internet boom of the 1990s. Viewed as a visionary by some, Harris saw himself as a performance artist, even claiming his online broadcasting company www.pseudo.com that spent $25 million of his and investors' funds was "a fake company" that was actually a seven-year-long artwork.
His subsequent projects, in which over 100 people lived under constant electronic scrutiny for 100 days in conditions he set up and his "We Live in Public" Web site which broadcast his life and the life of his then-girlfriend are described by Harris in the film as experiments on how the new technology changes human behavior.
The fascinating thing about the film is that it allows us to determine if Harris is mentally unbalanced, a genius, a visionary or a con man. My own assessment is this guy is more con man than crazy.
Although Harris has some interesting things to say about technology and the Web, I found his message was undermined by his questionable behavior.
The film is well worth watching, though, even if Harris is the kind of person to be avoided.