Thursday, January 17, 2008

A John Sayles movie in Macon? Bring it on!

It seems like forever since I've bothered to review a movie in this space, and there are valid reasons (beyond the most obvious one - sloth.)

Mainly, still not being paid to do any of this, I don't bother to see movies that I know, even before the credits start to roll, I'm going to hate. That usually makes January a very bleak month for me, but this weekend there are actually three that at least slightly peak my interest in Macon, and I'm gonna review them all in this space, starting Saturday (with a day off Monday, probably, for Oscar predictions.)

First up is "Atonement," based on the simply fantastic novel by Ian McEwan. If you haven't read this, I can't recommend it highly enough. Even if, as the always reliable DC Movie Girl says, there is a bit of remoteness to the love story at the movie's core, I'm still confident I'm just gonna fall in love with this one.

Second, but the one I'm least looking forward to, is "Cloverfield." This feels like more of an obligation than anything else, and here's why: With apologies to my friend Chris Stanford, who rather excitedly dragged me to see "The Blair Witch Project" way back when in D.C., I simply hated that movie to its core (and didn't really make that clear immediately, so as to not ruin Mr. Stanford's day.) I could be wrong here, but from everything I've read so far, "Cloverfield" sounds like the same kind of animal: A gimmicky "monster" movie with tons of hype and very little payoff. Here's hoping I'm somehow wrong.

And third, in a real surprise, we're getting a John Sayles movie here in Macon this weekend, at the Regal Rivergate 14. How is this possible? Well, I have a strong feeling that some enterprising students at Clark Atlanta, Florida A&M and other traditionally black colleges are to thank for this. In a "Business of Film" seminar last fall, these lucky students had as their main project to come up with a marketing scheme for Sayles' movie "Honeydripper," which thankfully involves getting it into Southern markets like my little corner of the world. A hearty huzzah to them!

As for the movie itself, well, I passed on seeing it in New York because it looks more than a bit like a Disneyfied view of the South, and specifically the advent of electric blues. Even with those fears in mind, a great, mostly all black cast and the Sayles brand are enough to guarantee I'll turn out for this one now in Macon, most likely Sunday afternoon.

I've always had more than a little soft spot for Sayles because he always seems to do exactly whatever he wants to and because his movies, even when flawed, just have an earnestness to them that is sorely lacking in most of our big-screen fare. Also, his funky and fun "Brother From Another Planet" came along at just the right time in my life to show me there were all kinds of movies out there, if you bother to look hard enough, and for that I'm eternally grateful.

So, in honor of "Honeydripper" and the man himself, here are my seven favorite John Sayles-directed movies (he's actually helmed, written or starred in a lot more than these, including directing at least three music videos for Bruce Springsteen: "Born in the U.S.A.", "I'm on Fire" and "Glory Days".) And, for once, this list is indeed in order of how much I like the movies, but they're all well worth a rental, if you can find them. Here goes:

1. Passion Fish
On the surface, the plot for this one makes it sound like the worst kind of Hallmark tripe, but it's actually one of my all-time favorite Southern movies and a moving look at an odd relationship (everything, in short, that "Driving Miss Daisy" wanted to be but clearly wasn't.) In it, Mary McDonnell plays a former soap opera star who finds herself confined to a wheelchair after an accident, and Alfre Woodard is the only nurse she can stand to have around her back home in the Bayou. David Strathairn even turns up in this 1992 flick to pitch a little woo (if you haven't seen this one, you'll just have to believe me that it's much better than I'm making it sound here.)

2. The Secret of Roan Inish
This odd little "children's" movie actually showed for about a month ago for two weeks at the Cox Capitol Theatre in downtown Macon, and it was just as good as I remembered it being. The Irish fairy tale, based on the Rosalie K. Fry book "The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry," about the magical seal island is just one of my favorite tributes to the power of imagination.

3. Lone Star
Directors just seem to love the task of juggling multiple story lines. Many (Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino and Alejandro González Iñárritu among them) have succeeded but at least as many (Stephen Gaghan ["Syriana"] comes to mind, at least in my estimation) have failed. Sayles pulls it off with style in "Lone Star," which weaves the stories of many people, played by Kris Kristofferson, Matthew McConnaughey, Elizabeth Pena, Chris Cooper, Joe Morton and many others, into one intriguing piece that sets you right square in the heart of Texas.

4. Sunshine State
This is one of Sayles' angriest and yet also funniest movies, and while its probably more than a little too preachy for its own good, it hit me at just the right time. I had just been to visit my brother in south Florida, where he was toiling for an alternative weekly in Fort Lauderdale, so I could attest that everything Sayles has to say here about real estate developers none-too-slowly killing the state of Florida is dead-on.

5. Brother from Another Planet
Like I said earlier, this one came along at just the right time to show me there were many movies beyond my local multiplex, and despite its clearly low-budget look, a recent reviewing showed that, for me at least, it's sly commentary on immigration stands up well over time. I still smile every time I see Joe Morton's name appear in movie credits, and when I was 15 years old or so I thought that scene where he pulls out his eyeball to spy on the bad guys was just about the coolest thing I had ever seen.

6. Matewan
Chris Cooper may not have gotten mainstream acclaim until his turn as Marine Col. Frank Fitts in "American Beauty," but he's yet to ever put in a better performance than he did as the union organizer Joe Kenehan in this flick about a coal mine-workers' strike and attempt to unionize in 1920 in West Virginia (just Cooper's second big-screen acting credit.) The labor movie is now just about a dead concept in America, but if you ever want to see just how powerful they once could be, you could do a whole lot worse than this Sayles flick.

7. Eight Men Out
Without taking a hard look at the figures I'd have to assume this 1988 flick about the 1919 Black Sox scandal is probably the Sayles movie that's made the most money. It works so well because it's not only a solid historical document, but also shows that Sayles, like me, has an undying love for baseball, even with its many clear problems.

And there you have it. Feel free to check back starting Saturday for reviews of, probably in this order, "Atonement," "Cloverfield" and "Honeydripper." Peace out.


jeremy said...

Blair Witch showed why actors shouldn't be given cameras--no coverage! But can't you give it a few points for concept even if everything elsein the film sucked?

As for Sayles, I still REALLY like the one with David Strathairn and Mary Elizabeth Masterantonio. What was the name? Limbo? Or Oblivion or something?

Oh, to add to your netflix queue-- Man Push Cart.

Ryan Christopher said...

of these sayles movies in your top 7, Matewan is my favorite.

Reel Fanatic said...

The concept was the only possible thing I can give Blair Witch credit for, Jeremy, but my hatred of its execution (or lack thereof) is so strong that any points it gets for concept are just overridden .. And Man Push Cart is in the queue now!

Chalupa said...

RF - have you thought of integrating google adsense to get some ad revenue? I assume you get a decent amount of traffic every day. Maybe that could help offset some of your movie tickets.

Eric said...

Hold out hope for Cloverfield. The review I read in the times this AM (By a guy who I generally trust and agree with) gave it 3 stars and claimed it to be better then the hype as opposed to Snakes on a plane.

I know I am looking forward to it.

Really Liked Matewan. Saw it late at night on HBO or something years ago.
I remember how the Immegrants and locals managed to get over their mutual mistrust against the real evil.

And this was the first time I saw Keven Tighe (From Emergancy) as a truely nasty character.

Reel Fanatic said...

I have considered, Chalupa, but thus far, at least, have decided it wasn't worth the relatively little revenue it would bring in ... I did consider going with a company called Blog ads, which I believe would carry actual movie ads, but my traffic isn't quite what they were asking for

And I am indeed going to try to remain as hopeful going into Cloverfield, Eric ... It's often when my expectations are lowest that I find the most pleasant surprises

Sachin G. said...

Hey Keith, I will still go see Cloverfield. But my hopes are not that high after I saw that the film is only 84 minute long. Now, there is nothing wrong with a short running time but in this case, going by the trailer, I do have a problem with that because we might see nothing and never know who does the damage.

For Blair Witch, it was an interesting experience for a few of us. We all got advance free passes and the only reason we went was because of the free tickets. We had heard nothing about it and came out rather surprized. I was not bowled over by it but I do think the idea was great.

Although I am hoping that Cloverfield is not just an update of that idea.

Reel Fanatic said...

You've highlighted exactly why I'm worried that "Cloverfield" might be a loser, Sachin .. From everything I've heard you don't get to see the monster much if at all, which I think will just about drive me nuts

Mercurie said...

I actually think The Secret of Roan Inish is my favourite Sayles film, although I haven't seen Passion Fish.

Reel Fanatic said...

They're extremely close in my book, Mercurie, though they're obviously very different films .. you can probably still find Passion Fish on DVD, and it's well worth seeking out

J. Marquis said...

I've seen horror movies that thrilled me, horror movies that grossed me out and horror movies that surprised me. But I'd have to say The Blair Witch Project (imperfect as it was)was my all-time winner when it came to creating a climate of dread.

kat said...

"Lone Star" is pretty much my favorite movie, period, let alone my favorite John Sayles movie. Pretty much everything he's done has been golden for me---I noticed missing from your list was "Men With Guns." Have you seen that one?

I agree with you completely about The Blair Witch project. Awful. Made worse by people who got so caught up in it. There were people in the theatre, so enraptured (and yet so seasick from the camera movement) that were throwing up all over themselves rather than just getting up, stepping out and getting some fresh air. "Cloverfield" is going to be a wait for the DVD release movie for me, if that.

Despite the melodrama, I really liked "Atonement." Cinematography is amazing. You'll recognize the scene when you see it.

renee said...

Color me jealous - although I still have some hope that Honeydripper may be the Talk Cinema choice this weekend. I'm a huge Sayles fan myself. I'd have to put Limbo near the top of my list, too. Nearly a perfect movie, to me.

Sachin G. said...

Hey Keith,

Well the new trailers shown on Thu night tv showed the cause of destruction in Cloverfield. Any interest I had went away :) I am amazed that they spent months keeping things under wraps and with one day to go, they give it away. Desperation? Or yet another case of marketing giving away too much in trailers? Sort of like what they did with What Line Beneath.

Reel Fanatic said...

That's high praise, indeed, Kat, but I'd be hard-pressed to quibble with it .. I own Lone Star on DVD and have probably watched it at least five times, so it's certainly on my list of favorite flicks too ... And I'm ashamed to say, Renee, that though I clearly consider myself a big Sayles fan, I had never heard of Limbo and had to look it up on the IMDB to find out what it was ... It's definitely on my viewing list now ... Luckily, I guess, I missed those trailers, Sachin, and I'm gonna avoid them to make sure any possibly magic from the movie isn't just sucked away

DCMovieGirl said...

Aww, shucks. :)

Thanks for the compliment. As for Cloverfield. It's been getting good buzz.

Should be a nice little Summer distraction, in the middle of all the winter award hopefuls.

As for Sayles, I'm embarrassed to admit I missed a screening to his Honeydipper, this week, because I didn't want to deal with the inclement weather.

And HE was there.

Yes, shoot me now.

Reel Fanatic said...

I have to admit I passed on a chance to attend an evening with him too, DC Movie Girl, when he presented Honeydripper at the Savannah Film Festival .. My reasoning was it would have meant about a four-hour round-trip drive or springing for a hotel room with money I didn't have, but looking back on it now I think I probably should have just gone anyway

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