Monday, October 06, 2008


The first two films of my Sunday were directed by Wayne Wang (I'd seen his JOY LUCK CLUB and CENTER OF THE WORLD, but nothing else that I knew of). They kicked off at 11am as part of the Brattle's Sunday "Eye Opener" series. Both films are beautiful in different ways. The stories deal with strangers in a strange land, Chinese characters—one a teenage girl, the other an aged father—as immigrants to the United States. The first, in PRINCESS OF NEBRASKA, is someone with whom it can be very difficult to sympathize at times, while the second, in A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS, is a most charming and lovable lead. I enjoyed both movies greatly, highly recommend them for beautifully crafted intimate moments, and they impressed me so much that I actually hit the Harvard Book Store after the screenings to pick up the collection of short stories that includes the two tales from which these films were adapted—A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS, by Yiyun Li.

A teenage girl faced with an adult decision...
Sasha arrives in San Francisco with an important decision to make. We're not told what it is, but over the next 48 hours or so, as she reconnects with old friends from Beijing and connects with new playmates in Chinatown's nightlife, such as it is, we piece together her situation—she's four months pregnant—but to be honest, do not learn very much about her.

She wears and sheds several personas, depending on where she is and who she's spending time with—a brief reunion with an old girlfriend, at home and at a dinner party with her pseudo-guardian, an Orientalist intellectual type, or getting a taste of the nightlife with her new "party girl" girlfriend—but details of her true character remain hidden. The most I can say about her with confidence is that she is very much a teenage girl, evident in her solo shopping habits, the contents and appearance of her scrapbook diary, her fixation on txt msging and her camera phone, and her petulant behavior.

Ivy explained that this movie is set to be distributed exclusively via youtube, which, given the beautiful widescreen picture and intimate, close-up, close-quarters cinematography, seems like a crime.

A sweet and lonely father-daughter relationship...
In a Seattle suburb, a young Chinese woman welcomes her father to her apartment home. He's arrived from China to visit with her and travel across America. He's never been a father who connected with and confided in his daughter. Apparently, that was more the mother's role. However, now widowed, he attempts to bridge the emotional chasm between them, but as we watch him explore his new surroundings, we see that he finds it easier to approach and interact with complete strangers than with his one and only child. Every attempt, with daughter, neighbor, or stranger, however, successful or not-so-much, is charming and sweet. In the end the two generations reach a kind of understanding, and along the way, both discover the truths behind misconceptions each had about the other.

Kickass western buddy cop flick!
trailer | website
I love just about every part of this new wave old west buddy cop film except for the casting of Renee Z as the provocative romantic interest who threatens to wreck their dozen-year-old partnership. I get her character, but I don't buy her as that character. She does the giddy bit nicely, and there are hints at her weaknesses, but chemistry-wise, it seems like the guys have to build that bridge almost completely from their sides to sell it.

Ed Harris and Viggo Mortenson make for kickass lawmen for hire, masters of their craft whose economy with words is matched by their parsimony with ammunition. Frankly, their chemistry, as friends who trust one another with their lives, is hotter than any between Renee and either of them individually, each always ready with the backhanded (or simply handed) compliment for the other, and in conversation, one regularly, literally, finishes the sentences of the other. Brilliant dialogue throughout, and quick but satisfying bursts of gunplay.

A couple of things I want to remember...

After one eruption, Harris delivers a gem of a one-line observation that I shan't ruin here.

There are also some interesting touches of what I felt was bluesy music that, greedy me, I wanted to hear more of, but honestly, perhaps the touches were all that were needed. I mean, they were memorable, right?

When sentenced to cutting cane, Sugar raises it instead!
movie clip | Brattle listing
When Sugar is framed up for a drug charge, she's given the choice between jail or a work camp, cutting cane. Hey, her name is Sugar and she's gonna cut cane! What a coincidence! Well, once she gets there, she finds that the warden of this weird camp is a doctor who's devoted to ethnopharmacology, the study of the medicines of primitive cultures. He takes "volunteers" from the prisoners to use as test subjects in his fried, senseless experiments, sometimes dosing them with the herbs, and other times, locking them up with animals who have been dosed (see this kee-razy clip).

The plot is way thin (the doctor and his minions abuse their workers, Sugar uses her wiles to engineer a revolution and escape w her friends), and the movie kind of plays like HOGAN'S HEROES meets HEE-HAW with canefields instead of cornfields, about the same level of humor, worse music, a more diverse cast (but still sporting Daisy Dukes and cinched up tops), and some ridiculous fight scenes. Also, throw in some voodoo mojo that hints at demonic possession.

It was nice seeing the impressive figure of Phyllis Davis, who plays Sugar, on the big screen again. I remember her as the fashion designer and Sapphic recruiter from BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. =)

Linda Blair leads a women's prison revolution...
trailer | Brattle listing
I'd never seen this film before and I feel lucky to have caught it on the big screen and not compromising the experience by giving in to a video rental or happening upon an edited-for-TV version on Spike or something. It must be an archetypal 80s Women In Prison flick.

Found guilty of manslaughter, Linda Blair is sent to serve her time at a women's prison facility. The corrupt warden (Dean Wormer) is in cahootz (and competition, altho he doesn't know it) with his staff, and a faction of the prisoners themselves in running drugs, pornography, and prostitution both inside and outside the walls of the prison. When the competition for the illegal biz comes to a head, the prison population finds itself paying the price in violence, rape, and ultimately, murder. When one of her friends dies as a result, new fish Linda Blair takes it personally. She concocts a plan to launch a riot and raid the warden's office for blackmail leverage, to use on the warden and his goons to win the inmates fair treatment and safety. For her plan to succeed, she'll need to get the rival leaders of the prison gangs to work together. Wacky fun ensues.

Keep on keepin on~

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