The Saint of Fort Washington
I've never been one for politics, nor do I understand the “politics” of many things—especially the politics which apply to motion pictures. So many wonderful films will be lost to the generations that will follow our own. Sometimes a movie's unavailability might be due to music rights, or other business-related issues, and as years pass, there are fewer people who are aware of its existence. To say that The Saint of Fort Washington fits into this category would be a slight exaggeration; the film is accessible on previously owned VHS, Laser Discs and European DVDs, and is now available domestically from Warner Bros. It features early performances by Matt Dillon, Danny Glover, and Ving Rhames—performances which, in my honest opinion, are their best by far. But for some reason, the movie was just swept under the carpet. I've yet to meet another person who saw it in the '90s, and its Box Office figures were laughable; it's safe to say that it never had a fan base. I'll never understand why, but I would guess that it has something to do with its heart-wrenching realism. It is by far one of the most important dramas about homelessness, mental illness, and religion. Everyone who lives in a large city or has something to say about our country's issues with poverty and the homeless should see it.
In it we find Matthew (Matt Dillon), a young schizophrenic man who is made homeless overnight. A slumlord has leveled his building without permits, which means that collecting his government check is impossible because he no longer has an address for them to send it to. He takes to the streets and by nightfall he's directed to the Fort Washington's Shelter for Men. While in line he sees a man nursing a wounded knee. He takes out his camera, the only thing of value that he has, and snaps a picture. The man, Jerry, (Danny Glover), becomes outraged and tries to damage the camera until young Matthew shows him that there's no film inside. Though Jerry is baffled at how someone could be a photographer without film in a camera, the two seem to have an understanding of one another. While in the shelter, Jerry tells him how the place works and what/who to avoid; what the thugs steal first while you're asleep and who, of the hundreds of men you lay your head next to, is a threat. The ringleader in terror at the shelter is Little Leroy (Ving Rhames), a man who'll stop at nothing to oppress everyone in the shelter and kill whoever gets in the way. By morning Jerry, a willful Vietnam veteran, is back on the streets hustling. Young Matthew can't help but shadow him and feed off his wisdom and street smarts.
Leningrad Cowboys Go America
Leningrad Cowboys Go America is a rock 'n' roll road movie that pulls inspiration from various classic Western rock movements while observing forced democracy and musical ambition along the way. A Finnish polka band called The Leningrad Cowboys, sporting winklepicker oxfords, black suits and exaggerated pompadours, are trying to make a name for themselves. In their village they perform for a producer and are told that they have a lot of talent. The producer speaks to their manager, Vladimir (Matti Pellonpaa) and advises the group to take off to America and seek fame. The manager makes some calls and sets up a show in Manhattan, claiming that the band is very good and speaks perfect English, which they don't. One of their bass players has recently passed away and they place him in a bizarre coffin, set on taking his corpse with them to America. Stalking them is Igor, (Kari Vaananen) a village reject who wants to join their band and intends on following their course abroad.
While in the air they brush up on their English and are ordered by Vladimir to stop speaking their native language for the time being. Upon arrival the club owner in New York asks them to play for him before he agrees to let them perform. After hearing the band he informs them that their music is just not what he was looking for. He gives them the address of his cousin in Mexico who needs a band for his wedding. According to him, their 10-piece band and ensemble of instruments would do well there, but not in America, where rock 'n' roll is the music of choice. Without a place to go and only $700 between them, they buy a Cadillac and start a road tour across America with Mexico as their final destination.
It bugs me when I go to see an old film on the big screen and people laugh at what they find to be anachronistic or hokey. Aside from it being disrespectful it also strikes me as an incredibly pretentious thing to do. I remember having a screening of Night of the Hunter completely ruined when a trio of teenage dorks insisted on laughing at every other line of dialogue in the film as if they were so much cooler than everyone on screen. Who in their right mind could think they were cooler than Robert Mitchum?! We assume that we must be somehow more evolved than generations before us but, with few exceptions, evidence to the contrary abounds. It can be amusing to note how filmmakers had to contort their films to fit the narrow confines of acceptability as defined by the Production Code, but to insistently laugh with smug satisfaction at every little thing in an old film that strikes our ears as the least bit foreign is to loudly and desperately proclaim one’s own insecurities. The laughing-at-old-films-to-make-yourself-look-smart phenomenon is so all prevailing that I barely notice it anymore except by its absence. This happened when I saw Brighton Rock at the New Beverly here in L.A. this past weekend. It is one of the funniest, blackest noirs ever and the audience laughed at what was meant to be funny and that was enough. It was revelatory to experience a film from 1947 as it was meant to be seen—at a theater with an audience that was completely seduced into unselfconscious enjoyment by the film’s dark, spiky humor. Brighton Rock was a novel before it was a movie and it remains probably my favorite novel of all time. Graham Greene stuck to a completely English milieu for this early gangster story set in the seaside town of Brighton with its pleasure piers and seedy amusements. A teenage boy with an acne problem and a very bad temper named Pinkie is the leader of a low rent gang of hoods. Pinkie and his middle aged cohorts kill a newspaper man from London who is working in Brighton for the day because of unfinished business related to his nefarious extracurricular activities. The murder scene is different from how it plays out in the book but it’s the rare example of a movie adaptation with inventive visuals that manage to artfully elaborate on the themes of the book even when straying from the book’s plot. Pinkie is evil incarnate. He wears a cheap suit and carries a razor blade as a weapon and only seems happy when terrifying other people. He is a virgin and is repulsed by sex but plagued by self doubt over his lack of life experience. When a young waitress named Rose becomes a potential liability for Pinkie’s gang he sets out to court her with the plan of marrying her so that she can’t testify against him. He seems relieved when he sees a rosary in her purse and his eyes light up as he talks about the certainty of eternal damnation and torment even as he seems more skeptical about the possibility of any alternative.
As previously mentioned, Brighton Rock is one of the great film noir dark comedies and in Pinkie it has one of the great villains of cinema and in Ida Arnold, one of the most absurd protagonists. Ida is a classic British creation—a soft-around-the-edges kind of gal with a hearty laugh. When she’s not working on her "entertainment" career she’s usually found at the pub drinking port and singing sentimental old music hall songs with her randomly assembled group of male friends. Ida met Fred just before he died and she is obsessed with finding out what happened to him. Soon Ida is causing problems for Pinkie as her rambling investigation threatens to ensnare him.Continue Reading
You are probably NOT saying to yourself, "You know what the world needs more of? Zombie stories." I know I wasn’t. The idea behind the British Television mini-series (five episodes all together running just over 140 minutes) called Dead Set is this...what if there’s a world wide zombie outbreak, all hell breaks loose, the apocalypse sets in, and no one lets the attention seeking, shallow idiots of TV’s isolated Big Brother house in on the news? That’s the set-up; sounds like a cheap gimmick, right? Sounds even a little shrill. Guess what? It works. It works great. This is a zombie tale that can take its rightful place along with the handful of good zombie tales of the last fifty years (Night, Dawn, Shawn, the Dawn remake, and 28 Days Later).
The zombie mayhem comes fast in this story - no long-winded, Arthur Hailey like, first act of meeting and falling for the folks about to be thrown into disaster. Nope, ten minutes in and it’s on. Luckily for us. most of the Big Brother house morons are only there to be future zombie chum. The story mostly centers on two radically different characters. Kelly, a PA at the network, manages to survive the attack and when she makes her way, blood soaked onto the Big Brother set, to try to warn the cast, they take her as a ploy to shake things up on their show and assume she is an over-acting new castmate. Also managing to survive the initial outbreak is the show's producer, Patrick. The actor, Andy Nyman, is wonderful, making this obnoxious madman a cross between Entourage’s Ari Gold and Saul Rubinek in True Romance. From what I could figure, much of the cast is made up of real life British reality stars. But don’t let that turn you off, most of the acting is surprisingly well done.Continue Reading
It’s hard to talk about the scariest movie of all time, just like it’s hard to talk about the funniest. Once you claim what it is people will have every other horror movie they’ve ever seen to compare it to and since the title of "scariest" is so subjective it all comes down to each person's experience. So in this case, I must go past personal experience and try to somehow justify why Ghostwatch scared me more than anything.
Over the last couple of years a lot of "found footage" movies have popped up. Some have been great and some have not, but all of them are outdated by Ghostwatch. In 1992 on Halloween, the BBC aired a special program about the most haunted house in England. News reporters were to take you inside and show you what ghostly goings-on were taking place and supposedly, while it was airing, a massive terror spread through England as children and adults alike thought that what they were watching was real. But it was not. It was a totally fictional program about a mother and her two daughters who were haunted by an old tenant that the children call Mr. Pipes (after their mother tells them that the noises they are hearing are just the pipes rattling). But once the media shows up, Mr. Pipes isn’t too happy and decides that if what they want is terror, then that’s what they’ll get.Continue Reading
Ghosts...of the Civil Dead
"You can only push a man so far before he pushes back," proclaims one of the more orderly prisoners in John Hillcoat’s Ghosts…of the Civil Dead. This line is one I’m sure I’ve heard dozens of times in films, but never more fully realized as when the violence and tension in the prison in which the film is set reaches a sort of chaotic resolution. The character in question is one of two prisoners whom the audience meets right at the start of the film, both of whom act as a common man that represent the two paths one is headed for when stuck in such an environment. One leads to murder and the other to suicide. And that’s not to say these are respectable people who don’t deserve their time in jail (we never discover what they are in for), but as the same aggressions and fears begin to show up in the guards' behavior, something clearly needs to change.
Apparently based on real events, Ghosts is an account of the events in a prison that lead to a total lockdown, confining the inmates entirely within their cells, and then to deathly acts of violence. Working as a sort of visual diary, we are taken through a series of seemingly unconnected events that, while not forming a narrative, show a clear route for the derangement that evolves. One such evolution is how physical recreation changes as prisoners continually take advantage of what freedoms are given them. First, the outdoor areas are closed off after a stabbing, restricting exercise to indoors, and then a fence is put up to further constrain them. This literal cage, as several of them point out, only solidifies their belief that they are no better than animals. Obviously prison is just a big cage anyway and the film isn’t trying to humanize clearly deranged people, but if something is clearly broken, it must need fixing. Sure the film doesn’t offer any easy answers but it is most certainly asking hard questions about what potentially is in all of us.Continue Reading