Since it's September the eleventh, WTC day, I figured that it would be appropriate to start with a film by the cinematic equivelent of Osama bin Laden, Lars Van Trier, who's got two films here this year:
Written and Directed
by Lars von Trier
Fear and hatred of what you don't understand is a common enough story. That's what starts wars on occasion. They make movies about it too, and this is one of them, for you see, Lars Von Trier doesn't understand America and therefore he fears and hates it.
I'm not saying this lightly. Von Trier's hatred of America has shown brightly in his films “Dancer in the Dark” and much more in “Dogville,” shows the USA to be a bleak land inhabited by monsters, and irredeemable mess which should rightly be destroyed. His idea of the country is a cartoon based on the most violent of American movies and biased news reports [you think Fox is bad…hoo!]
The fear and loathing from the “Axis of Envy” drives Von Trier, and this is why his four [including the upcoming 'USA-Land of Opportunities', which comes out next year] latest films obsess on the subject. When he says “I'm not anti-American” He's lying. No doubt about it.
When we last left Grace(Bryce Dallas Howard), her father (Willem Dafoe) and his army of gansters, they'd just left the smoldering remains of the teensy village of Dogville, and were on their way to Denver, Colorado, where Dad was the local godfather. Someone else got the job in the week or so in the meantime, and the gang, Grace in tow, heads for greener pastures, and so they head south, to Alabama, where while stopping for some unknown reason, a black woman bursts forth from a gate and announces that Timothy(Isaach de Bankole), one of the slaves is getting whipped, and could she help.
Now when I first heard of this scene when “Dogville” first came out, I was appalled. How could Van Trier even think that slavery was still going on in the 1930s American south, even with all the injustices that were going on there at the time? Well, he wasn't as dumb as all that, and Grace decides to borrow some of her dad's gangster underlings and “invade” the Manderlay plantation in order to bring democracy and the like…her father thinks better of it but agrees. He predicts that the former slaves will be forced to sign contracts endenturing them for life and they'll be indebted to a company store forever. When this indeed happens, Grace starts a revolution from above.
The owner of the place(Lauren Bacall) is on her deathbed, and informs our heroine of how the plantation works, she's appalled of course and imposes a new regime based on socialist and democratic principles, also she forces the remaining whites
(Jeremy Davies, Chloë Sevigny and some others) to indenture themselves to her until such times until they “learn their lesson.”
The plantation undergoes it's ups and downs, Grace and others make some awful mistakes, and in the end everyone seems better off, or do they? In the penultimate scene, Wilhelm(Danny Glover), the elder negro, explains why slavery was better.
This is clearly an allegory of the War in Iraq, pining for the days of Saddam or maybe even Hitler is what seems to be going on here.
The fact that it's so well done makes it even worse. Evil, evil film.!
Free Zone (Israel)
Written and Directed
by Amos Gitai
Just west of the border with Iraq is the area of Jordan known as the “Free Zone.” This piece of desert is sparcely inhabited and is tax free, hence the name. The special status is thus perfect to sell used cars for use all over the middle east.
Rebecca(Nathalie Portman) has just left her husband and grabs a taxi for the airport. She wants to leave Israel in order to forget the wreck of her marriage, but she gets into the wrong cab, for Hanna(Hanna Laslo), has a mission. To cross from Israel to the Free Zone and get thirty grand from “the American” who's her husband's business partner.
So Hanna offers to take Rebecca with her, why we don't know. First there's a slight amount of trouble at the Israeli/Jordanian border, then they get lost, but this is a good place for some interesting flashback action where we see the two protagonist's back-stories. While the relationship between Rebecca and her husband(Markram Khoury) doesn't ring exactly true, the one between Hanna and her husband Moshe(Uri Klauzner) most certainly does and is quite moving.
Finally getting to where they're going, quite late, in fact, the pair meets up with
Leila(Hiam Abbass), who's supposed to be the American's assistant. She and Hanna argue about the money owed, and finally she agrees to take them to see the American.
What happens next is unexpected and actually quite interesting. This is not a geat film, but an extremely good one and the whole thing is quite moving in parts.
Why Portman is brilliant in everything she does except “Star Wars” isn't exactly a mystery. I blame George Lucas. In the meantime, check this out if it ever gets to America.
The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada (USA)
Tommy Lee Jones
Guillermo Arriaga, who penned the screenplays for “Amores Perros” and “24 Grams” is a Mexican who doesn't like the US border patrol. In fact, he thinks the idea that the US has a right to defend it's own borders is offensive, and he wrote a script about it. Then he gave it to Tommy Lee Jones who's starring and directing.
Melquiades Estrada(Julio César Cedillo) is an illegal immigrant who works on a cattle ranch in Southwest Texas. He's made friends with his boss, Pete Perkins(Tommy Lee Jones), a bit of a nutcase who likes to commit adultery with some of the local married ladies, mostly Rachel(Melissa Leo), who 's a waitress at the local bistro.
Into this area come Mike(Barry Pepper) and Lou Ann Norton(January Jones), a young couple who's moving there involuntarily. He's with the border patrol and has to go catch illegal aliens trying to run the border. He's good at his job, and that makes some of his coworkers mad, them being Hispanic and all. We then start going back and forth in time between the time Mike and Lu Ann arrive and the time Malquiades' body is found, and we learn in the meantime that Mike had accidentally done it. After all, he had no choice, Malquiades was shooting at coyotes in his direction. Pete wants justice, but since there's no real evidence to convict or even indict Mike, Sheriff Belmont(Dwight Yoakam) says there's nothing to be done, so he buries the body in a local cemetery and that, it seems is that…but no.
Pete decided to kidnap Mike, tie up Lou Ann, and force Mike to dig the body up and accompany him to Mexico, to the place where Malquiedes asked to be put in the ground.
This is a nasty film. One of the most brutal I've seen this year, and we've had some real buisers. The body is shown in an advanced state of decay, Mike gets bitten by a rattle snake and gets the crap beat out of him, and the whole thing goes overlong on the quest through the exotic western desert.
This, despite the brutality and diversions [two of the most boring sex scenes this year], this is well worth a look. It seems that Mr. Jones knows how to direct himself.
Do we need another version of “Oliver Twist?” This is a question that needs some answering, as according to the good old IMDB, there are at least 27 versions of the Charles Dickens novel, and while that isn't nearly as many as say, “A Christmas Carol” or “Dracula” it's still a bit too much.
Not to say that there's anything particularly WRONG with this version. Far from it. Ronald Harwood's script is actually a rather good adaptation, and its directed by Roman Polanski, for crissakes, Still, this has been done to death and there's nothing remarkably different about it.
Oliver Twist(Barney Clark), the angelic little orphan with all that bad luck, loses the draw and goes to ask for more gruel at the workhouse, and is sold off by that evil beadle Mr. Bumble(Jeremy Swift) to an undertaker(Michael Heath) and his shrewish wife(Gillian Hanna), then runs off to London, where starving and exhausted, is taken under the wing of the Artful Dodger(Harry Eden) and is then employed by that beloved villain, Fagan(Ben Kingsley), who was the stereotypical Jew all the way past the Second World War.
Of course he gets rescued by the kindly Mr. Brownlow(Edward Hardwicke), then gets counter-rescued by Nancy(Leanne Rowe) and the despicable Bill Sykes(Jamie Foreman) and then there's the robbery, murder and all that 19th century sociology that Dickens was famous for. He was paid by the WORD y'know, and the original novel was serialized, sort of like a TV miniseries except that…no, for it's time, the 1840s, it WAS a TV miniseries, and clocking in at two hours and ten minutes, one's arse begins to get antsy about three quarters the way through.
Is it worth taking your kids on a Saturday afternoon? Maybe. Renting the video sometime in the spring so the little darlings can cheat on their book report? Actually, that might work as it's unusually faithful to the original source.