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

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Whitney: Can I Be Me Movie Review

Notorious British filmmaker Nick Broomfield teams up with Austrian music documentary producer Rudi Dolezal to...

The Mummy Movie Review

The Mummy Movie Review

To launch their new Dark Universe franchise, Universal has taken an approach that mixes murky...

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

My Cousin Rachel Movie Review

Daphne du Maurier's 1951 mystery-romance novel has been adapted for theatre, radio, TV and film,...

Advertisement
Wilson Movie Review

Wilson Movie Review

It's never helpful when a comedy becomes a bit too smug about its own quirkiness....

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

Interlude in Prague Movie Review

A fictionalised story from the life of Wolfgang Mozart, this lavishly produced period drama is...

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

The Hippopotamus Movie Review

This British satirical comedy may be a bit of a mess, but since it's based...

Detour Movie Review

Detour Movie Review

This may look like a rather typical American indie thriller, but British filmmaker Christopher Smith...

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Wonder Woman Movie Review

Boldly optimistic, this action-packed adventure breathes fresh life into the DC universe with a welcome...

Baywatch Movie Review

Baywatch Movie Review

Clearly, it's a risky proposition adapting a cheesy vintage TV series for the big screen:...

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Subtitled Salazar's Revenge in the UK, this fifth film in the long-running series never quite...

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.