Video Vault: Hairspray, Inland Empire, Wild Hogs, Hacking Democracy and more Hairspray

Today we’re going to talk about a handful of films, all of which are at least interesting and all of which are not for all tastes.

The films on our plate: “Hairspray” in its original and current remake, “Inland Empire,” “Wild Hogs” and the HBO documentary, “Hacking Democracy.”

“Hairspray,” in schlockmeister John Waters’ original 1988 version, is not substantially different from the newer, more polished, summer musical. But one has to love Waters’ provocative, sometimes horrific bad taste.

Here, Waters asks a simple question and one Vault has always wondered about: Why can’t a fat chick, or for that matter, even an average looking woman, be a romantic lead? In 1988, he cast Ricki Lake as the heavy but hip Tracy Turnblad as the cheery voice of social consciousness. Tracy teaches 1962 Baltimore a thing or two about integration when she lands a spot on a local teen-hop show.

Waters’ message is that bigotry is the same in all its forms, be it racial or as it applies to our own cultural idea of beauty. For this, along with a pretty good cast, “Hairspray” succeeds in both incarnations. The 1988 cast, featuring Lake, Divine, Sonny Bono, Deborah Harry, Jerry Stiller, Ric Ocasek and Pia Zadora fall a bit more on the campy side than does its star-studded (Travolta, Pfeiffer, Walken, Latifah, Efron and many others) reincarnation.

Both are recommended (Vault Rating of at least 7) for different reasons. The original works because it really is an original idea executed far better than most Waters projects and because it is a bit of a curiosity. The second succeeds because it pours the brainless musical format over good, campy, source material with good star-power and without taking itself too seriously.

That said, some people may hate both of them.

Next in our shotgun approach to worthwhile video, we observe another star-powered bit of fluff called “Wild Hogs.”

Hogs is a story that skewers middle-aged men by observing John Travolta, Tim Allen, William H. Macy and Martin Lawrence as they take their fancy Harley-Davidsons on a cross-country road trip of discovery.

Vault was pleasantly surprised by the film as we usually haven’t much to do with light and fluffy comedy. But, as one reader succinctly put it, “We’re at the right age to appreciate it the right way.”

Indeed. It is a friendly movie in the way of a live-action Disney film. It’s central villain is a cardboard cutout of a “real biker” and there is a cameo appearance at the film’s climax that just floored us. The film is recommended and would be a decent movie to watch with a few friends, but “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” it ain’t.

Next up, when it comes to David Lynch, one has to go lightly over his savage terrain. His new-to-DVD film, “Inland Empire,” is, as New York Times critic Manohla Dargis said, “art.”

Art, beware. For Vault, the film was another opaque trip into Lynch’s psycho-sexual world where one sees a lot of things, feels a lot of feelings, and yet emerges not knowing what in the hell it was that you saw.

The style of the film is unmistakably Lynchesque. Like in a good horror film, it sets us at unease as the romantic leads in a cursed film dissolve in and out of reality.

On the surface, it has much to do with the fidelity of Hollywood starlet Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) where it concerns her murderously jealous husband and her co-star, the enormously renowned ladies’ man, Devon Berk (Justin Theroux).

Underneath it all, though, — and Lynch is always going beneath the surface — I think Lynch is delving into Nikki’s mind or her feelings with regard to her pending tryst. What you are effectively seeing is a dreamscape. In this way, Lynch is fooling with Fellini and maybe doing him one better.

That is a compliment. For, in what can be taken as the central love scene, we are observing almost hellish nightmare images; dark, with faces taking on devil-like grotesquery in shades of midnight blue.

Give Lynch ample credit for throwing paint at the canvass. Give Lynch credit for making his film a dreamworld hinged only loosely to reality. But do not enter in looking for an easy film. If you’re going to enjoy it, you’re going to have to work for it.

Hell, Vault spent weeks on this damn thing and still cannot be sure about the bunnies. Don’t ask. The most we can glean is that these scenes represent a cold domestic reality. Set on a theatric stage in a color scheme that reminds of Ms. Dern’s character, the bunnies deliver non-sequiturs touching on no emotion at all. Nikki’s life, then, is but a facade which avoids emotional truths.

See, by reading this review, you’re already going, “What the …”

OK. Another way to approach such an obvious art house job is by starting with the title. What is the meaning of the title, “Inland Empire?” Simply put, Vault says it refers to the emotional landscape of the main character …

That said, if you want to spend that much time inside the head of a Hollywood actress, well … be our guest.

Lastly, we consider the HBO documentary, “Hacking Democracy,” which seriously calls into question the legitimacy of elections since the advent of electronic voting machines.

Vault strongly recommends this film to our good friends who run local elections and to county commissioners and the like.

The point of the film is simply that it is likely that the last two presidential elections have been rigged. The film points out that the CEO of Diebold, maker of the very voting machines in question, guaranteed the state of Ohio’s electoral votes would go for George W. Bush in 2004. We find it disturbing that the same company contributed heavily to that campaign and yet is allowed to produce the voting machines our democracy depends upon.

The film also proves how easily such machines, absent a verifiable paper trail, can be compromised. Chilling really.

Vault has always wondered how a company that makes ATM machines capable of keeping track of myriad world-wide bank accounts to the penny can also produce a voting machine that produces flawed results. Every ATM gives you a paper trail. Every time you order food at Sheetz, you get a copy of the order as does the nice lady behind the counter and, at the same time, Steve Sheetz knows exactly how many hot dogs, buns and condiments to reorder. To the penny, dude.

The question of “Hacking Democracy” stands: Why should a voting machine produce no verifiable hard copy of the evidence of voting unless someone is cheating?

The answer that this important film leads us to — and Vault believes it is utterly true — is that our votes don’t really count and democracy in America died quietly with the new millennium.

Cheery thought, that. So … Until the next vote that doesn’t matter … Enjoy!

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