Ten recent views (unedited - don't read if you don't like it long)

Diary of the Dead -
Romero's latest is a fine film indeed. Less ambitious than Land of the Dead and perhaps more successful as a consequence, since it hits its targets more fully. Then again, an explanation of the organizational principles of communism via a zombie film has to be a harder thing to put across than a satire on modern mass media. But compare to Redacted (which I liked, don't get me wrong) shows only that it's not so easy to do after all, and both Romero and DePalma have taken a semi-post-modern approach, deconstructing their topic while reveling in it (and Romero taking it a step further to even self-criticize, rather than a broad, blandly liberal condemnation).

Johnny Guitar -
Let me get this straight - a Western from the 50's where women are the primary power holders and movers of all the action? Wow. Color me impressed. And a minimal amount of the requisite gunplay - again mostly attributed to the women involved. Great story, great acting, very progressive film, as deeply feminist as any of Sirk's 50's classics. Crawford's character transcends the male-dominted society around her McCambridge's is bound to their power structure and vilified by both Crawford and the film. Gender studies film classes ought to have this in regular rotation.

Touch the Sound -
Documentary about Evelyn Glennie with Fred Frith often performing in tow (gotta pick up that record they're making throughout the film). Interesting look at her life and her philosophies of music-making. I like seeing how she works her way into other people's music and makes it work, as when she's not totally in synch with the Japanese performers at first but finds a way into their music. It's cool to see (and hear), but I'd still rather hear her music, see her live, etc. The doc on Goldsworthy is more valuable because I can't buy records of his works that do any justice to the deal thing. But this one's still fun.

Charulata -
Satyajit Ray marketed as Bollywood, which ridiculous (the menu screen offers songs as a choice (there's only 1 in the film)) but at least it's getting his films available in the west, so who cares? And this one's a good - maybe great - one in which a man who's been inattentive to his wife in favor of his work senses that he's losing her and makes the dual tragic mistakes of first inviting a (charming and younger) distant cousin to come visit and then asking another friend to take over his business so he can devote time to her. Anyone who's seen the Apu trilogy knows that Ray's work with interpersonal relationships is unparalleled in most of cinema and this is no exception.

Hi, Mom! -
Early Brian DePalma, back when he was known as a filmmaker with radical impulses, and if you've ever doubted it here's where you can learn that people who talk about the underlying subversive tensions of his later films (like me) aren't feeding you a line of bullshit. Bascially, Robert DeNiro plays an amateur filmmaker who thinks he can create a film of some merit based on viewing people's windows and behaviors out of his Greenwich Village apartment and seeks financing from an adult filmmaker. When he fails to produce the right level of prurient interest in his films, he begins working with a radical black arts group staging a play called "Be Black Baby" that aims to expose a middle class white audience to "the experience of being black." Trust me, the idea is taken about as far as you can push it on screen and weaves itself tightly into the themes of watching and voyeurism that pervade DePalma's work. It's almost like this plus Night of the Living Dead form a discussion between DePalma and Romero about race in America (with each offering up other ideas), and Redacted and Diary of the Dead offer up a dialogue about modern media overload. You think dePalma just does Hitchcock ripoffs and bad gangster films? You got a lot to learn, baby.

Melvin and Howard -
Charming Jonathan Demme trifle tells the story of Melvin Dummar, who gives a lift to an injured (and sick?) Howard Hughes and is later remembered in his will to the tune of 156 million dollars. It's nice the way Demme gets inside the actuality of lower-middle class life without seeming like he's slumming and the way Dummar is portrayed (presumably based on Demme's interaction with the real man, who appears in a walk-on). Lemat nails the red-blooded numbskull type perfectly, Robards is a great eccentric Hughes, Mary Steenbergen is great as Dummar's frequently-leaving wife. Overall, a nice little picture, of the kind that gave indie cinema a good name because it had a strange little story it wanted to tell, not because it thought it was so much smarter than mainstream cinema like too much of indie cinema today (and yes, I know Universal released it, but take a guess at what its budget probably was compared to major releases on 1980).

One, Two, Three -
Billy Wilder's strange little 1961 Cold War comedy in which Jimmy Cagney's Coca-Cola man in West Berlin is making inroads into East Berlin and the potential Communist market for his potential promotion to head of European operations. This is of course put into jeopardy by the company man's outrageous 17-year old daughter, a stalwart party member she connects with, and his own marital troubles (such as his ongoing language lessons with his bombshell secretary). A weird mix of patriotic display and cutting comments on consumer society that's kept moving at a quick clip by the kind of writing that makes Hollywood's Golden Age so golden (though this falls outside that era). Basically, it's a perfect little capsule of a moment that keep tongue firmly planted in cheek, doesn't really take sides even when it seem to, and doesn't mind making fun of itself, its stars, or anything else that crosses it (in 1961, jokes about missiles in Cuba were probably funny). Anyway, highly recommended.

Battle Royale -
Talked up so much to me that it was inevitably a disappointment. Onscreen violence ranked high, but as an idea, this didn't hold as much weight as it could - or should - have, which made the psychic violence - the ideas fucking with my head more than the gore I saw - pretty low overall. Tough to get a handle quickly on 42 kids and who you cared about. And even as it moved toward the ending which I felt in my gut was inevitable but thought in my head wouldn't happen (psychic violence woulda been higher if the game had played out as it was supposed to), I found that I didn't really know them or care much who lived or died since it was clearly presented as an outrageous fantasy that neither gave you much cause to side with the adults who made the hideous decision to make these games, or the youth who had to endure them. It's an interesting premise let down by ambition. And I guess if it had been delivered with fewer kids, or more readily focused on fewer of them, or even put across with a bit more flair, I would've liked it more. Or maybe I just didn't get past the hype.

Elephant -
Possibly Van Sant's best film. I wish I'd watched this and then Battle Royale - that film would've made much more sense after viewing this one, which hit me really hard and was what made me come up with the corny "psychic violence" idea because this one would rate about a 10 on that scale and really made me think of how much more a film hits you when it's got something of an ideology behind it rather than just a premise. I don't think it brings much to the discussion of Coumbine-styled violence except Van Sant's own theories about youth, but he's clearly in sympathy with all the kids portrayed here, not just some heroes who helped people, or the killers who gunned down their cruel tormentors. He's pretty in tune with what youth are like, due in large part, probably, to hiring a lot of non-professional actors and letting them improvise along his basic plot. A real heavy one and the best I've seen from him since Drugstore Cowboy.

The Dark Wind -
Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris goes for the very interesting subject of a murder committed on land that used to be jointly shared between the navajo and Hopi people, but is now split, and the case keeps taking Officer Jim Chee (played by Lou Diamond Phillips) back and forth between his own Navajo people, the Hopi, and white FBI agents (and others) who have some part to play in the case, which gets exponentially more complicated as it progresses. Maybe too complicated for a first-time narrative director who's a master of visual form in his own style which allows him a much greater structural control over how a story is told than a dense narrative like this that needs a certain amount of telling onscreen. The problems of this interesting but flawed film might also have something to do with Morris's decision to leave the film due to artistic differences with producer Robert Redford. Or maybe it was that boom mike hanging way down in the frame in a crucial scene late in the film? Anyway, I watched it, I liked a lot of it, but it's got issues.

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