Nuts!


Does this man look completely nuts to you?

Does this man look completely nuts to you?

(2016) Documentary (mTuckman) Gene Tognacci, Andy Boswell, John Causby, Kelly Mizell, Jeff Pillars, Thom Stylinski, Fran Taylor, Pope Brok, Gene Fowler, Dr. James Reardon, Megan Seaholm, Dr. John R. Brinkley, John R. Brinkley, Jr. Directed by Penny Lane

 

Our need to believe can sometimes push us beyond the bounds of reason. We often feed our own belief systems with that which makes no logical sense, but because it jives with what we want to believe, we accept it as fact. That’s nothing new, as the story of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley will attest.

John R. Brinkley arose from the tiny town of Milford, Kansas (a town which ironically no longer exists as it sits at the bottom of a reservoir today) when a local farmer complained that his sexuality was something of a “flat tire.” Brinkley suggested that he, as the town’s local doctor, transplant goat testicles into the farmer and voila! Nine months later the formerly flat tire was, as they say, fully inflated and no longer shooting blanks.

The good doctor quickly became a wealthy man as people from all over the country began to flock to his Milford hospital for the transplantation of their own. Results were, to say the least, startling. Dr. Brinkley also became one of the first to use mass media to his advantage, establishing a 5,000 watt radio station in Milford which not only broadcast the doctor’s health-related screeds but also became the first station in the country to broadcast country music.

Brinkley had it all back then, in the 1910s and 1920s; wealth, a wife who adored him, a bright-eyed son he called Johnny-Boy, a palatial manor, private airplanes and yachts and as the 1930s rolled in, the attention of a crusading journalist for the Journal of the American Medical Association. Morris Fishbein went after Brinkley with a vengeance, claiming that the good doctor was a quack. He would see to it that Brinkley’s license to practice medicine was revoked as well as his license to operate a radio station.

Undeterred, the gadfly of a doctor ran for the governor of Kansas and might have won but for ballots that had been voided under shady circumstances. Eventually, Dr. Brinkley discovered a pharmaceutical solution to impotence and men were once again lining up to recapture the virility they once had. It was Viagra before Viagra was Viagra. And not content with reaching a portion of the country, Dr. Brinkley constructed a million watt radio station in Mexico that would beam his message to the entire country. Once again, Dr. Brinkley was riding high…and we all know what happens to people who ride high.

Director Penny Lane, who previously gave us Our Nixon, a look at the former president through the home videos of those around him, has done a masterful job here. In a short 79 minutes she deftly weaves the tale of Dr. Brinkley through archival footage, animated recreations and a very limited use of talking heads. However, she makes the most of the interview footage as she uses historians with specific specialties – James Reardon for the history of Kansas, Megan Seaholm for the history of medicine and the AMA and Gene Fowler for the history of radio. All contribute important background for the story.

The animation is done by several different studios and starts out in black and white as the early days of Brinkley’s rise are illustrated and gradually shifts to color as we enter the 1930s and beyond. The graphics are generally simple and sometimes crudely drawn but they suit the subject nicely and are a welcome addition to the narrative, although some of the animations are occasionally not as powerful in illustrating the story as they might be.

The interesting thing here is that Lane credits the self-aggrandizing biography of Brinkley written by Clement Wood in 1934 and commissioned by Brinkley himself. In that sense, we see Brinkley through Brinkley’s own eyes and there’s a peculiar fascination there; it really is in car wreck territory in a lot of ways. And we eventually learn that we are not hearing the absolute truth from Brinkley and as the story unravels, our perceptions are forced to change radically, showing Lane to be a masterful storyteller and illustrating vividly that the need to believe rests in us as well.

The tone of the film has a bit of a cornpone edge to it and those documentary purists who want their true stories set to a serious tone, this might be a bit vulgar. Believers in alternative medicine may shudder at some of the things that are illustrated here and might take offense if they choose to believe that the film is an indictment of alternative medicine in general (it’s not).

This is a story as American as apple pie and while it was big news back in the day, it is barely a blip on our historical radar. Few today remember Brinkley and if they do, it’s more for his pioneering use of radio than for his various treatments of impotence. His is also a cautionary tale; as the narrative changes and we realize what is really going on, we are given graphic evidence of how easily manipulated we all are. In an age where anyone can say anything on the Internet and present it as fact and be believed by millions, we are far more vulnerable to the John R. Brinkleys of the world than we were even back then and that’s a frightening thought.

REASONS TO GO: An American tale in every sense of the word. A pervasive sense of humor that is almost subversive. The change in tone near the end is unexpected and welcome.
REASONS TO STAY: Might be a little too goofy for purists. Alternative medicine practitioners may cringe a little. Some of the images are ineffective.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual dialogue and suggestive material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Won the special jury award at Sundance for documentary editing.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/8/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Informant (2012)
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: X-Men: Apocalypse

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Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

The mine train ride from hell.

(1984) Adventure (Paramount) Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw, Ke Huy Quan, Amrish Puri, Rushan Seth, Philip Stone, Roy Chiao, David Yip, Ric Young, Chua Kah Joo, Rex Ngui, Philip Tann, Dan Aykroyd, Raj Singh, D.R. Nanayakkara, Stany De Silva. Directed by Steven Spielberg

 

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom can only be kindly called a miscalculation. With Lucas wanting to go with a darker mood, which served him successfully in the Star Wars trilogy, writers Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz were brought in (Raiders of the Lost Ark screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was unavailable) and came up with a dreadful mishmash that is set prior to Raiders (of course if Lucas had been thinking properly, he might have remembered that The Empire Strikes Back was the weakest entry in the original trilogy). Yes, there were some dark moments in Raiders, but nobody was ripping anybody’s heart out, and in fact because of this movie the MPAA created the PG-13 rating as a stopgap between PG and R ratings which this movie clearly fell between.

As Temple of Doom opens, Indy is in China, trying to sell the remains of the first emperor of China to Lao Che, a Chinese gangster (Chiao). When the gangster tries to kill Indy, the hero escapes, using unwilling accomplice (and nightclub singer) Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) as a shield, and a kid, Short Round (Quan, who also appeared in The Goonies) as a driver. Indy’s agent at the airport (Aykroyd in a cameo) books Indy, Shorty and Willie on a cargo plane which turns out to be owned by Lao Che.

The pilot and co-pilot bail out over the Himalayas, causing the plane to crash in India. After a thrilling bail-out and a ride down a mountain in an inflatable raft, Indy, Willie and Short Round reach an impoverished village where the children have been stolen — along with a sacred stone — by the local maharaja (Singh). Indy takes his team to a palace to try to retrieve the stone, and uncover a hideous Thuggee cult, led by Mola Ram (Puri, one of India’s top actors) which is using children as slave labor to uncover the remaining two Sankhara stones, to become tremendously powerful. Indy is briefly drugged and becomes a slave of Mola Ram, but Short Round saves him and the trio escapes, only to find themselves trapped by Mola Ram’s troops while on a rickety suspension bridge over a crocodile-infested gorge.

This movie never feels quite right.  For one thing, instead of retrieving the Lost Ark of the Covenant, he’s basically after three rocks that have some power that is never really defined. There were other problems with the story; it was evident that without the support system of Brody and Sallah, Indy seemed a trifle lost. Also, having the precocious kid save the hero’s bacon again and again also smacked of cliché. I think all in all that it wasn’t able to capture the feel of the old time serials the way Raiders did.

Capshaw’s character whines so much that she’s become truly despised by many fans of the trilogy. Capshaw is a fine actress who performed better in other films (although she basically left acting behind her after marrying Spielberg whom she met and fell in love with during filming of Temple of Doom) and her chemistry with Ford never really meshes.

While Puri makes a terrific villain (maybe the best in the series in many ways), the way he is dispatched at the end of the film is far too easy and convenient. In fact, the movie’s last reel is a real howler, with Ford telling a village elder “I understand the power of the stones now,” which makes one of us. As MacGuffins go, the stones are pretty weak; both the Lost Ark and the Holy Grail at least have some specific uses. Of course, Hitchcock might have said that it really doesn’t matter what a MacGuffin does as long as everybody is after it.

 That’s not to say there aren’t things to recommend in the movie. The mine train chase scene is frankly amazing (although the special effects are a little bit dated) and there’s a riff on the famous swordfighter scene in Raiders. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shows off Sri Lanka’s natural beauty (standing in for India, where government officials refused to give the production permission to film because of objections to portrayals of Indian culture) to great effect. Although this isn’t his best work of the series, it’s still Harrison Ford (and yes, he takes his shirt off here and he looks pretty good) and while it’s arguable whether this will be the role he’s most remembered for (some will say Han Solo is and I can’t bring myself to disagree) it certainly is in the top two.  

This was clearly the weakest entry in the series (at least before the most recent one). With the participation of Short Round, the writers kind of made Indy a bit emasculated; one wonders if they wanted to make the second film more kid-friendly. If so, why have scenes in which human sacrifices are performed where a heart is torn out of a person’s chest still beating and then have the victim lowered still alive into a lava flow? Not exactly Disney now is it?

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s Indy; great action scenes and Harrison Ford shirtless which wasn’t a bad thing back in the day.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too much kid saving the day. Dark tone clashes with attempts to make it more kid-friendly than the first. Capshaw whines far too much. Fails to capture the serial spirit of the first film.

FAMILY MATTERS: There are some scenes of intense torture and violence; could be nightmare inducing for wee ones.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was the first sequel that Spielberg ever filmed, although technically it was a prequel since it took place the year before Raiders of the Lost Ark was set.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: All of the special features on the DVD are on the fourth disc of the four-disc collection and include a massive Making of the Trilogy featurette that is more than two hours long and includes much behind the scenes footage. There are also featurettes on the stunt work, the music, the special effects and Ben Burtt’s amazing sound work. There is also a promo for the new (at the time) Indiana Jones video game.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $333.1M on a $58M production budget; the movie was an international blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Lucky One