Browse Category

by Jeff Shannon


Jeff Shannon 1961-2013

Jeff Shannon, longtime Seattle film critic and a good friend, passed away on Friday, December 20, after a long struggle with pneumonia. Even if you didn’t know Jeff, if you’ve lived in Seattle for any length of time you surely read his reviews in the Seattle Times or, before that, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He was a part of the original Cinemania DVD-ROM, wrote for, and hundreds of his capsule reviews can still be found on Amazon, where he was a long-time freelance critic and, for a few years, an editor in their DVD section.

And in 2008, he teamed up with a few optimistic Seattle film critics to found Parallax View, a project into which he was unfortunately unable to put much time in recent years. You can find his contributions here.

Jeff was also disabled, confined to a wheelchair since an accident in 1979 left him paralyzed from the chest down, with use of arms but no control over his fingers. With the help of glove-like pointers, he wrote thousands of articles and reviews, first on typewriter and then on computer, and with a modified van with hand controls and wheelchair lock in place of a driver’s seat, he had the mobility that the rest of us take for granted. Jeff refused to let his disability limit his options. At least until health issues started taking their toll in the last few years. He didn’t talk about them much, but he was spending more and more time in hospitals, fighting infections and illness.

More than anything, Jeff loved movies. He loved to talk about them, he loved to write about them, and he especially loved to watch them, preferably in the theater but increasingly at home as his health issues worsened. That was tough on him because Jeff loved the big screen experience. He went to get swept away by the movies and could not contain his enthusiasm when they did so.

His brother Kevin took over Jeff’s Facebook page over the last few days and posted this upon Jeff’s passing:

It is with both great sadness and great joy that I report the passing of my little brother Jeff. We will arrange for a memorial service after the New Year. We will also let you all know at that time where any remembrances can be made.

He fought so hard for so long, but put an end to his trials this afternoon at 2:25. He was able to clearly communicate to me his wish to be off the ventilator. The tubes were removed at 2:10 and he died in peace and without pain just 15 minutes later.

My wife and I were with him the whole time, our sister spoke to him over speakerphone, and he faced his death as he faced his life, head on, with focused, solid purpose and reason. He was very much at peace, and at the very end, even appeared happy.

My God, how he loved and appreciated you all. Each of your well wishes and prayers were conveyed to him and he knew to the end the passion and concern and love you had for him.

One of our favorite films as kids was “Little Big Man” and I told him, as Chief Dan George’s character often said in the film, “It is a good day to die.” There was an almost laugh to his response, but with my final words to him, he was gone.

“Fly. Run. Be free.”

Matt Zoller Seitz pays tribute to Jeff Shannon at

In the last few months, Jeff wrote a column for Facing Disability. Those essays can be found here.

TV Review: ‘Bates Motel’

“My mother just gets … impulsive. She has these ideas about things …”

That’s 17-year-old Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) in the premiere episode of “Bates Motel,” explaining to his admiring new teacher, Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), why he’s been bounced around to five different high schools. His mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) has just moved them from Arizona to White Pine Bay, a sleepy coastal Oregon town, following the tragic (accidental?) death of her second husband. Apparently Norma has valid reasons for her impulsive behavior. Either that, or … she just goes a little crazy sometimes.

We’ve heard that line before; it’s from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror/suspense classic “Psycho,” in which motel owner Norman (now in his twenties and played by Anthony Perkins) is revealed to be a homicidal psychopath, driven to murder by an extreme case of split personality.

Continue reading at Roger

Frequently bloody, occasionally disgusting: A Halloween roundup from the fringes of horror

With the exception of “The Woman” (which is still in limited theatrical release), all of the films from “Bloody Disgusting Selects” are currently available on multiple platforms including Netflix, and most VOD providers including Comcast, DirecTV, Amazon, iTunes, CinemaNow, VuDu and Verizon FiOS. Check your VoD provider listings, or go to for more information about the films and where to find them.

On DVD, all of the foreign-language films reviewed here include an optional English-dub dialogue track for viewers with an aversion to subtitles.

Historically and statistically, the most abundant, profitable, and creatively expressive movie genre has always been horror. It has consistently been the most viable proving ground for new talent and a focal point for the most obsessive movie fans on the planet. It’s the most purely cinematic of genres, playing to the strengths of an artistic medium that has shock, surprise, dread, fear, and bloodletting built into every molecule of its DNA. It’s a realm of expression that challenges masters and amateurs alike.

An outgrowth of (billed as “the world’s #1 website for horror fans”), “Bloody Disgusting Selects” was launched earlier this year in partnership with The Collective (“a full-service entertainment, media and content production company”) and AMC theaters. The partnership aims to bring independent horror films to U. S. theaters (mostly given limited releases in major cities) and to world-wide audiences on multiple VOD platforms.

Are the films always worthwhile? Of course not. Is this partnership a great boon for horror fans and filmmakers? Absolutely. Over the past several months, Bloody Disgusting Selects (which boasts an animated company logo of a gruesome skull capped off by a spinning saw blade that becomes a kind of gory halo) has rolled out a half-dozen films (most had brief exposure in AMC theaters) that you might — I repeat, might — want to include in your at-home Halloween fright-fest. Here’s my take on each of them (in alphabetical order by title) accompanied by a brief assessment of their “yuck” factor.

“Atrocious” (2010) (directed by Fernando Barreda Luna, Spain, 75 minutes)
Here’s a genuine curio, and one of my moderate favorites in this horrific half-dozen. At first glance, it’s yet another dreary exercise in “Found Video/POV” horror, seeming to offer little beyond what we’ve already seen in “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” and dozens of copycat thrillers. The set-up is familiar: Spanish police discover 37 hours of video that reveals most of the details surrounding a multiple homicide case at a summer house where an entire family was brutally murdered. The brother and sister team of Cristian and July (Cristian Valencia and Clara Moraleda) have arrived to video-document an urban legend about a little girl who got lost in the nearby forest while looking for her mother and…(wait for it!)… never returned! So of course they venture into the deep, dark forest, with the night-vision function on their video-cams working overtime, and… what happens? Along with the requisite amount of down-time for marginal character development (and respite between shock-jolts), director Barreda takes a low-budget gamble that pays off handsomely: He keeps his characters’ POV cameras running through a seemingly endless maze of trees and shrubbery…and keeps them running aimlessly until we feel the same out-of-control dread that they do.

This goes on seemingly forever — ten minutes or more, in one marathon stretch — until you wonder if Barreda is just wasting precious time in a 75-minute feature that dares to (almost) wear out its welcome. But through a combination of anxiety-inducing sound and dialogue and brief, progressively more revealing glimpses of horror and bloodshed, “Atrocious” shapes up to be a surprisingly effective little chiller that provides just enough ingenuity to compensate for the familiar trappings of the POV sub-genre. Yuck factor: Minimal (bloodshed and murderous aftermath, mostly held until the film’s climax and denoument).

Continue reading at Movies on Demand

The Promised Land Will Be Wheelchair-Accessible

“Lives Worth Living” premieres on the PBS series “Independent Lens” on October 27th at 10:00 p.m. (ET/PT). For more information, visit the film’s PBS website and filmmaker Eric Neudel’s website.

To be disabled in America, in 2011, is to occupy the midpoint of a metaphorical highway, some stretches smooth and evenly paved, others rocky and difficult to navigate. When you look back at the road behind, you feel proud and satisfied that people with disabilities (PWD) have made significant progress since the days when we had no voice, no place in society, no civil rights whatsoever. Looking ahead, you see fewer physical obstacles but other remaining barriers, in terms of backward attitudes and ongoing exclusion, that society is still stubbornly reluctant to remove.

title card-fred fay.jpgLike those of us with disabilities, Eric Neudel’s documentary Lives Worth Living is situated at that halfway point on the rocky road of progress. In just 54 inspiring and informative minutes, Neudel’s exceptional film (airing Oct. 27th at 10pm on the PBS series Independent Lens) provides a concise primer on the history of the disability rights movement in America. The film culminates with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990.

And yet, it’s only half the story. In a perfect world, PBS would immediately finance a sequel so Neudel (who has devoted his career to documenting political and civil rights struggles) could chronicle the first 20 years of the ADA. That history is still unfolding, and the struggle to enforce and fully implement the ADA is just as compelling as the struggle for disability rights throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

Continue reading on Movies On Demand

Pearl Jam at 20: American Masters? Yes.

“Pearl Jam Twenty” is available On Demand (check your satellite or cable listings) and premieres on the PBS series “American Masters” at 9 p. m. (ET/PT), Oct. 21. It will be released on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 25. For additional viewing, the grunge documentary “Hype!” is available on Netflix (DVD only).

Crowe and the Jam

Here in Seattle, we think of Cameron Crowe as an honorary native. When he married Nancy Wilson in 1986, he married into local rock royalty: Nancy and her sister, Ann, are the pioneering queens of rock in Heart, the phenomenally successful and still-touring Seattle-based band that is presently nominated for induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. It wasn’t long before Crowe became a kind of de facto ambassador of Seattle-based rock.

At the time, the rest of the world still knew Crowe as the rock-journalist wunderkind who started writing for Rolling Stone at age 15 (an experience Crowe would later dramatize in “Almost Famous”) and the author-turned-screenwriter of Amy Heckerling’s 1982 high-school classic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” You could reasonably speculate that the seeds of the Crowe/Wilson romance were planted in “Fast Times”: Nancy Wilson makes a cameo appearance in the film as “Beautiful Girl in Car,” catching Judge Reinhold’s character in yet another moment of humiliating embarrassment. One can imagine Crowe thinking “I’m gonna marry that girl.” When he actually did, countless male Heart fans turned green with envy.

Continue reading at Movies on Demand

A Master Emerges: Conrad Hall and “The Outer Limits”

Eyes Wide Open: A Single Artist’s Vision

Ask anyone who’s devoted their life to the study and appreciation of movies and they can probably tell you exactly when they were “bitten by the movie bug,” that moment of personal epiphany that sparked an all-consuming passion for what is arguably the greatest, most powerful medium of artistic expression.

In my case, it was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that literally changed my life. That’s an influential milestone I share with many cinephiles who came of age in the 1950s and ’60s, especially those “movie brats” (among them James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) who were drawn to imaginative visions of the future. Because I’d spent most of my childhood outdoors or casually enjoying Disney films and other kid-friendly fare, I didn’t see Kubrick’s visionary masterpiece until it played a return engagement at Seattle’s glorious Cinerama Theater, in 1971, when I was nine years old.

(With its huge, curved Cinerama screen, the Cinerama is still the only theater in Seattle capable of showing “2001” as Kubrick intended. It exclusively hosted the film’s original 77-week Seattle run beginning in April 1968, and the fully restored 70-millimeter print of “2001” had its world premiere there, appropriately enough, in 2001, two years after the aging cinema was purchased and beautifully renovated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It’s now one of only three theaters in the world — along with the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles and the Pictureville Cinema in Bradford England — equipped to exhibit three-panel Cinerama, requiring three synchronized projectors for the only seven films created in the three-strip Cinerama process, including 1956’s “This Is Cinerama” and 1962’s “How the West Was Won.” Starting this week [Sept. 30th] and running through mid-October, Seattle’s Cinerama is hosting a “70mm Festival” of 15 films, including “2001,” that originally premiered there.)

Continue reading at Movies on Demand

“How to Die in Oregon”: It’s personal

I’ve been encouraged to write autobiographically in this forum, so bear with me, dear reader. We’ve barely been introduced, and this time it’s personal. I’ll be sharing some thoughts about HBO’s extraordinary new documentary How to Die in Oregon, but first, allow me this indulgence:

When my father died four months ago at the age of 79, I sat beside him in my wheelchair as his death drew near. I couldn’t hold his hand and he couldn’t hold mine, so I gently touched the parchment-like skin of dad’s withered right arm while my older brother, standing on the other side of the bed, leaned over and quietly suggested to our father that this was “a good time to go.”

Dad must have agreed, because a few seconds later, he did.

Continue reading on Shannon on Demand

“How to Fold a Flag”: 12 times, for each of a soldier’s virtues

Shannon on Demand is a new column devoted to films available via Video on Demand in all its forms, written by Jeff Shannon for Roger Ebert and the Chicago Sun-Time online. Here is his first feature.

“How to Fold a Flag”
“We Are the Night”

To say that Javorn Drummond, Jon Powers, Michael Goss and Stuart Wilf come from different walks of life is something of an understatement. If they hadn’t served together in Iraq in 2003-04, they never would’ve met. Now they’re back home, separated by geography, uneasy peace and haunting memories of what they saw and did during a war they determined to be pointless. They might meet again someday — or not — but they share a bond of life, death and military service that they’ll take to their graves.

These are the guys we got to know in “Gunner Palace,” the superb 2005 documentary co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein. They defended America as soldiers in the Army’s 2/3 Field Artillery Division, never quite sure what they were killing or dying for. There was a fifth “star” in the film, Ben Colgan, who sacrificed his elite Delta Forces post to join the artillery unit in Baghdad. Then he sacrificed his life to an IED.

Continue reading at Shannon on Demand

Bob, Bing, and the Case of the Traveling Matte

POP QUIZ: In which Powell & Pressburger classic did Bob Hope and Bing Crosby make a cameo appearance?
ANSWER: They didn’t, but The Road to Hong Kong led them (sort of) to the setting of Black Narcissus.

Allow me to explain.

One of the great pleasures of watching older movies is that you can frequently spot how studios recycled their valuable sets, props, costumes and other resources in the interest of stretching their budgets. These days, that hardly ever happens in a way that anyone would notice. For production artists working in the modern digital realm, it’s standard procedure to create images that will never be repeated in any other film. Think of the Star Wars saga and the Lord of the Rings trilogy: George Lucas and Peter Jackson would never allow their production resources to be borrowed by other filmmakers unless they’re sufficiently altered to express an entirely new and different identity. As production techniques grew more sophisticated, it became harder (if not impossible) to spot elements of one film appearing in another. Sometimes the recycling is deliberate, but even in franchise sequels it’s generally avoided.

The final "Road" trip (1962)
The final "Road" trip (1962)

Back in the analog days, the physical resources of studios were constantly recycled. Poverty Row quickies used redressed sets, props and costumes out of absolute necessity. Second-tier studios like RKO were similarly obligated to recycle B-movie materials as often as possible, allowing production designers, set dressers and property masters to hone their ingenuity while making everything old seem new again. Major and minor studios alike have always maintained warehouses and storerooms of reusable materials, and some filmgoers (yours truly included) make armchair sport out of spotting studio materials as they constantly appear and reappear, forming their own behind-the-scenes legacy of film-production history.

A surprisingly conspicuous example of this history presented itself recently as I watched a DVR recording of The Road to Hong Kong (1962). This was the seventh and final “Road” comedy starring Hope and Crosby (released a full decade after The Road to Bali), and I’d recorded it during a “Gift of Hope” retrospective on the MGM-HD channel. I had somehow missed the film over the decades (I was a relative latecomer to the Bob & Bing party), so I was delighted to see it presented in its proper 1.66:1 aspect ratio, with dazzling HD clarity. If you’re going to kill 91 minutes with Bob & Bing, this is the way to do it.

Nobody’s ever going to call The Road to Hong Kong a classic, but with cameo appearances by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, David Niven and others, it’s a perfectly enjoyable lark for Hope & Crosby fans, capitalizing on the early-‘60s popularity of James Bond-ian espionage, the Cold War space race, and hot babes with gravity-defying hairdos. Bob and Bing play Turner & Babcock, a hapless pair of ex-Vaudevillians-turned-fugitive con-artists who get playfully entangled with Joan Collins (youthfully stealing the spotlight from “Road”-movie veteran Dorothy Lamour, who later appears as herself in a contractually obligated cameo required to secure the film’s financing). Joan’s an agent for the Third Echelon, a SPECTRE-like force of villainy led by Robert Morley, doing a roly-poly riff on Dr. No – a full year (according to IMDb release dates) before Dr. No’s U.S. premiere.

Keep Reading

Under the Radar: Brian Cox in “Red” (2008)

This is the first entry in an ongoing series by Parallax View contributor Jeff Shannon, written in appreciation of lesser-known films, performances, film-related achievements or other newsworthy items that haven’t received the attention they deserve.

Don’t get me wrong: Red is a not great movie, or even a very good one. But if you’re looking for a minor gem that won’t waste your time, you might find (as I did) that Red will grab and hold your attention, and that’s a lot more than you can say about the mostly-redundant, higher-profile crap coming out of Hollywood these days.

Tagline: "They Should Have Told the Truth"

More to the point, Red is a worthy showcase for an exceptional actor who’s earned plenty of critical praise but relatively little public appreciation. Brian Cox first came to American critical attention for originating the role of Hannibal Lecter (then spelled “Lecktor”) in Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986), by which time the burly Scot (b. Brian Denis Cox, Dundee, Scotland, June 1, 1946) had been working in U.K. television and movies for over two decades. His career boosted by his cleverly sinister performance as Lecter, Cox has been in demand ever since: Among his 141 acting credits currently listed on IMDb, my personal favorites include his memorably villainous turn in Rob Roy (he also appeared in Braveheart the same year, 1995); his complex and enigmatic portrayal of pederast “Big John” Harrigan in Michael Cuesta’s risky-but-rewarding L.I.E. (2001); and, more recently, his flamboyant yet melancholy turn as traveling showman Jack Langrishe in the third (and sadly final) season of HBO’s Deadwood (2006).

Those were all serious roles, each blessed with the subtle humor that informs many of Cox’s performances. Occasionally that humor is delightfully less than subtle: Cox is one of the better reasons to watch Super Troopers (2001); he scored an Emmy nomination for an appearance on TV’s Frasier (1993); and his line deliveries in The Ringer (2005) are pee-your-pants hilarious.

Now we can add Red to the roster of Cox’s finest work to date; it’s “under the radar” because it’s been little-seen beyond its Sundance premiere in January 2008. (I wouldn’t be writing this if I hadn’t happened upon the film’s one-night preview on HDNet Movies, on the eve of its brief U.S. theatrical release in a handful of east-coast cinemas.)
Keep Reading

Topical Thunder: Why I Love “The Ringer”

I was tempted to title this posting “When the f**k did we get ice cream?” to honor one of the funniest, most surprising lines of dialogue from The Ringer, the underrated, frequently hilarious Johnny Knoxville comedy from 2005. Like many of the best lines in the film (and kudos to screenwriter Ricky Blitt for providing them in abundance), this one’s delivered by a character who is developmentally disabled. It has to be heard in context to appreciate the perfect delivery by mentally challenged actor Geoffrey Arend, but one of the main reasons it earns a big laugh is because it implies a certain degree of fast-thinking wit (and in this case, a gentle hint of oblivious distraction) in the character Arend is playing. Like most of Knoxville’s co-stars, Arend’s character (named Winston) is a competitior in the Special Olympics, and with his fellow athletes he’s a well-chosen foil for Knoxville’s character, Steve, a relatively normal (i.e. not “special”) underachiever who has reluctantly agreed to pass himself off as mentally challenged in order to fix the Special Olympics — the assumption being that Steve’s a guaranteed winner against a roster of “feebs” and “retards,” as the Special Olympians are crudely defined by Steve’s crass and classless uncle Gary (perfectly played by Brian Cox), who concocted the fraudulent scheme to pay off a high-stakes gambling debt.

Knoxville (center) with his highly capoable co-stars in "The Ringer"
Knoxville (front and center) and his very capable co-stars in "The Ringer"

I mention The Ringer, of course, because it’s the antidote to the poisonous “retard” humor in Tropic Thunder, which I wrote about in my previous post. Where the developmentally disabled are concerned, the humor in Tropic Thunder is not intentionally offensive, but anyone who sees the film would have to agree that it’s insensitive and unnecessarily cruel. Oh, sure, I get the joke…it’s just not funny. So why is The Ringer so praiseworthy in comparison? It all has to do with the attitude behind the humor, and the context within which the word “retard” is being used. It’s very easy to laugh at “Simple Jack” and the other (relatively brief) scenes of “retard” humor in Tropic Thunder, but there’s no escaping the fact that the attitude behind that humor is derogatory, dismissive, and damaging. There’s nothing positive or even remotely understanding in the film’s attitude toward the developmentally disabled. Now, you could argue this is Ben Stiller’s right as the film’s co-writer and director — that he’s free to be offensive with no apologies necessary. I’m OK with that, because I despise any form of censorship on the basis of political correctness. But when a popular comedy promotes a destructive attitude, or perpetuates a negative image of a minority group with no apparent consideration for the potential consequences, well…that’s when I start feeling uneasy about the “comedy.”

With regard to understanding, accepting and appreciating the developmentally disabled, The Ringer is everything that Tropic Thunder is not. From start to finish, Ricky Blitt’s screenplay and Barry Blaustein’s direction are based on progressive assumptions consistent with the pro-disability attitudes found in the comedies by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, who co-produced The Ringer. Warm-hearted, open-minded and altogether refreshing in its accurate and sincere embrace of the developmentally disabled, The Ringer presents its central squad of Special Olympians as smarter than we assume them to be; possessing skills and intelligence that defy our expectations (and those of Knoxville’s character); and prone to precisely the same emotions, desires, foibles, and faults of “normal” people. Granted, most the actors chosen to co-star with Knoxville are “high-functioning” (in the parlance of disability experts), so we’re not witnessing the full spectrum of mental retardation, but the movie’s message is clear: Underestimate these fine, respectable people at your peril. Knoxville’s character learns that lesson with appropriate humility, setting up a feel-good ending that’s well-earned and infectiously progressive in its attitude.

Tropic Thunder is never intentionally offensive toward the mentally challenged, but that doesn’t get Stiller & Co. off the hook. Even if its “retard” humor is relatively brief — and even though it’s implicitly understood (by most viewers, I hope) that there’s a “wrongness” about its underlying attitude — it’s still hard to escape the film’s not-so-subtle suggestion that mental retardation is a curse on humanity. That gives Tropic Thunder the stench of bad karma — the polar opposite of the big-hearted acceptance that graces every frame of The Ringer.

Going “The Full Retard”: How Far is Too Far?

"Tropic Thunder" protestors in Middleton, CT
All they want is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T: “Tropic Thunder” protestors in Middleton, CT

Many thanks to Roger Ebert and his website editor Jim Emerson for posting my letter to the editor regarding the protests by some disability advocates over the “retard” humor in Tropic Thunder. As stated in my letter, I think most people will see the film and understand that its target of satire is not the developmentally disabled but rather the silliness of Hollywood, specifically the spoiled-brat nature of pampered stars and the venality of devious agents and greedy producers. As far as it goes, the Hollywood satire in Tropic Thunder is spot-on and, for the most part, hilarious. Ben Stiller really knows what he’s doing here, and clearly this is his most ambitious film to date. Which is to say, I enjoyed the film on its merits and I’m pretty much aligned with Ebert’s 3 ½-star review. And while I have no intention of using this blog as a political forum, it must be stated that these protests — over the frequent use of the word “retard” and the film’s demeaning depiction of developmental disabilities — are worthy of serious mainstream attention. But, as always happens with protests by minority groups that the majority don’t appreciate or understand, the objections over Tropic Thunder have already been swept under the carpet, as far as the public and mainstream media are concerned. It’s obvious (from Stiller’s promotional appearances on “The Daily Show” and elsewhere) that DreamWorks publicists have declared the protests off limits for discussion — either that, or the talk-show hosts have no desire to prod Stiller (and others in the film) with questions about the controversy. One way or the other, discussion of this matter has been effectively squelched by those in charge of the film’s promotion. As a result, it’s not much of a controversy as far as the public is concerned; it’s already risen and faded in the course of the past few days.

Now, I happen to believe that when it comes to humor, nothing is sacred and nothing should be sacred. Everything and everone is fair game, and we (the public) have the luxury of deciding what’s funny and what’s offensive. I’m not easily offended, so most of Tropic Thunder was right down my alley…and really, isn’t it about time someone applied some satirical payback to Willem Dafoe’s Christ-like death in Platoon? One of the joys of watching Tropic Thunder is seeing how Stiller & Co. dismantle the symbolic excess of that scene and Oliver Stone’s heavy-handed direction of it.

So, when Stiller first shows us a clip from “Simple Jack” — this movie’s answer to Sean Penn’s Oscar-baiting performance in I Am Samit seemed clear (to me at least) that the satire was (1) way over the top and devoid of malice, and (2) the target of satire is the fact that Stiller’s character, whose film career is slumping, has made a last-ditch effort at respectability by playing a character who’s mentally retarded, since everybody knows the running joke that playing disabled is a fast-track to an Oscar nomination.

Keep Reading