Reel Paradise

"Good"

Reel Paradise Review


In June 2005, my friend Mark Frauenfelder moved his family (with wife and two young daughters) from first-world America to third-world Rarotonga, a small island in the South Pacific, for reasons that are best left explained in Mark's copious writings on the subject. By October, they'd moved back to civilization, having experienced rundown accomodations, the perilous difficulty of living virtually off the grid, hungry insects, and a series of debilitating illnesses in a land unprepared to deal with epidemics. I can totally understand why he left.

John Pierson's adventure in Reel Paradise is hauntingly similar, though somewhat more successful. As old-school indie film supporter, producer, and star of IFC's Split Screen, Pierson found himself bored after four years of dragging himself to student film festivals and low-budget junkets, and he struck on the idea of visiting the most remote movie theater in the world. He found it -- or one of them, anyway -- on the Fijian island of Taveuni, a 300-some seat movie theater which he promptly purchased.

Call it a midlife crisis, if you will. Pierson uprooted his family to Taveuni for a year to run the 180 Meridian Cinema, for reasons which aren't entirely clear. It's certainly not a business endeavor: Taveuni is dirt poor, and Pierson exhibited many movies for free. Or call it a social experiment, to see what a mass influx of Hollywood product, from The 3 Stooges to X-Men to Jackass might do to natives that still do their laundry by beating it with a stick.

Documentarian Steve James (best known for Hoop Dreams) captured the last month of Pierson's family's life on Taveuni, with curious results. As you might expect, there's good and bad. When we first see the cinema's audience as they scream in genuine terror and laughter during a Stooges flick, we see exactly why Pierson is doing what he's doing. The natives seem to think that an alligator really will bite off Curly's head, so they shriek in horror. When he later falls into a pot, it's laughter unlike anything I've ever heard in a movie theater. Good thing the dialogue is irrelevant -- this is true joy, exhibited without an iota of self-consciousness. We also get an inkling into the human condition, and we begin to understand why unchallenging films like The Hot Chick -- a staple of Pierson's -- work so well with a broad swath of the population.

On the flipside, James captures a ton of footage of Pierson scraping bottom -- which is unfortunately the 22 hours of the day when he's not showing movies at the theater. He gets robbed. He contracts a serious fever. He's resented as a rich outsider. The local Catholic church slanders him when a fight erupts. He squabbles with 16-year-old daughter Georgia -- who's running with a bad crowd and earning a reputation as the island ho. Wife Janet obviously hates island life, but she puts on a brave face. At least younger son Wyatt is the good kid, filling in for dad when he can't get out of bed.

As a story about culture clashes and one man's strange, Quixotic quest to bring movies to a poor, undeveloped country, Reel Paradise is sometimes thought-provoking and, for brief flashes, fascinating. If nothing else, it will convince you that your dream of retiring to an island to sip mai tais is about as far from the truth as it gets.

What Reel Paradise is desperately lacking is any sense of being cinematic. It's a cheap video production that feels like a TV documentary -- and at 110 minutes, a ridiculously long and repetitive one, at that. Hoop Dreams had an epic sense of scope that spanned four years. Reel Paradise gives us a quick few weeks in the life of one of independent cinema's most influential men. Given that Hoop Dreams was three hours long, equal time would have given Pierson's story five or ten minutes at most. Even at a full half hour, Paradise could have been a great short film.

Happy family.



Reel Paradise

Facts and Figures

Run time: 110 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 1st January 2005

Distributed by: Miramax Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 69%
Fresh: 33 Rotten: 15

IMDB: 6.5 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power Movie Review

It's been a decade since Al Gore's wake-up-call documentary won the Oscar. And here he...

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

The Hitman's Bodyguard Movie Review

It really doesn't matter that this movie is utterly ridiculous, because the central pairing of...

Final Portrait Movie Review

Final Portrait Movie Review

A relaxed, amusing true story about noted Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, this sharply...

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Tom of Finland Movie Review

Finnish artist Tuoko Laaksonen used the name "Tom of Finland" as he drew explicit illustrations...

A Ghost Story Movie Review

A Ghost Story Movie Review

Filmmaker David Lowery reunites the stars from his offbeat Western Ain't Them Bodies Saints for...

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

Atomic Blonde Movie Review

From the co-director of John Wick, this similarly styled action romp puts Charlize Theron front...

Girls Trip Movie Review

Girls Trip Movie Review

This movie's premise basically sounds like The Hangover with added black girl power. But it's...

Advertisement
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Movie Review

There's so much manic energy in this animated action comedy that it can't help but...

The Big Sick Movie Review

The Big Sick Movie Review

It may be rather long for a romantic comedy, but this film has such a...

The Emoji Movie Movie Review

The Emoji Movie Movie Review

There's no reason why this animated comedy adventure needed to be this pointless. Solidly entertaining...

England Is Mine Movie Review

England Is Mine Movie Review

While this is billed as a film about The Smiths' singer-songwriter Morrissey, it's actually an...

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Movie Review

It's been 20 years since French filmmaker Luc Besson shook up the sci-fi genre with...

Dunkirk Movie Review

Dunkirk Movie Review

Britain's epic 1940 evacuation of Dunkirk has been dramatised on film before, but no one...

Killing Ground Movie Review

Killing Ground Movie Review

From Australia, this dark and edgy thriller is skilfully made by writer-director Damien Power to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.