90 Movies in 90 Days: Killer of Sheep (1978)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Killer of Sheep
Release Date: November 14, 1978
Director: Charles Burnett
Production Company: Third World Newsreel
Summary/Review:

This slice-of-life drama set in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts depicts the everyday lives of working class Black Americans.  The central character Stan (Henry G. Sanders) works in a slaughterhouse – hence the film’s title – but the movie is mostly vignettes around Stan’s household and in the neighborhood.  In fact, there are large portions of the film where he is absent, especially the extended sequences of children playing.

Killer of Sheep adopts the Italian neorealist style with a cast of largely nonprofessional actors to great effect.  It also has some excellent needle drops of classic jazz and soul tracks.  In fact, gaining clearance for the soundtracks was an obstacle to the movie getting a wider release for a long time. I definitely want to check out more of Charles Burnett’s work now that I’ve watched this one.

Rating: ****

90 Days in 90 Movies: Slavery by Another Name (2012)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Slavery by Another Name
Release Date: February 13, 2012
Director: Sam Pollard
Production Company: TPT National Productions
Summary/Review:

This documentary explores a dark period in American history from the collapse of Reconstruction in 1874 until World War II when the southern states contrived ways for force labor from Black Americans.  I suspect many Americans know of the horrors of Jim Crow segregation, lynching, and even the exploitative nature of sharecropping.  But most of us probably assume that actual enslavement ended with the passage of the 13th Amendment.

And yet the 13th Amendment contained the seeds of what happened next by allowing slave labor by prisoners.  Governments in the southern states began giving harsh penalties to Black people for minor crimes (as well as convictions of people falsely accused of crimes) and then profiting by renting out the prisoners to coal mines, factories, and farms.  Later the state used the convict labor directly on chain gangs for public works projects such as building roads.  It’s an irony that the South modernized and industrialized on such barbaric practices.

Another form of extracting labor in the South is through debt peonage.  Black people who owed a debt to white people were forced to work off those debts.  Again, sometimes these debts were wholly fictional and people were held in peonage long past when their debt should’ve been paid off.  In a shameful incident, the federal government under Theodore Roosevelt killed an investigation into peonage due to the need to retain political support of Southern white leaders.

Like many documentaries Slavery by Another Name features interviews with experts.  But they also focus on a few individual cases of Black people enslaved by convict leasing and peonage and feature dramatic readings of letters and court testimony.  Reenactments can be cheezy in documentaries but I think they’re well done and effective here.  They also interview descendants of the enslaved people and the white people who enslaved them.  All and all, a very informative historical documentary.

Rating: ****

90 Movies in 90 Days: Daisies (1966)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Daisies
Release Date: December 30, 1966
Director: Věra Chytilová
Production Company: Ústřední Půjčovna Filmů | Kouzlo Films Společnost
Summary/Review:

In this cornerstone film of the Czech New Wave, two waifish young women – Marie (Ivana Karbanová) and Marie (Jitka Cerhová) – determine that the world is spoiled so they will be spoiled too.  What follows is a series of vignettes in which the Maries cause mayhem while fulfilling their hedonistic desires.  This includes A LOT of eating.  Their episodes are intercut with found footage and collages as well as switches from color to black & white and various tints and filters.

This style of film should feel familiar to anyone familiar with music videos, but must have been shocking to audiences in the 1960s.  Like a lot of performance art there’s a message in all of this nonsense that’s not readily apparent to me, but it is clear that they are undermining the notion of femininity. Apart from that, the movie is very funny.  Karbanová and Cerhová have fits of malicious laughter that is just hilarious.  So find your good friend with whom you get into good trouble and watch this together!

Rating: ****

#FridayFictioneers – A Wonderland


PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

“Are you sure this is it?”

“Of course, this is the playground of my childhood. Our wonderland.”

“Josh, it’s kind of a dump!”

“Oh Ellen, use your imagination! The walls made it a perfect fort. You wouldn’t believe what we got up to when it snowed. And on hot days we ran a hose up to that window and let it spray the whole courtyard! This was a perfect place to be a kid. My happy place!”

“I guess…”

“So that’s why I brought you here today to ask … um … will you marry me?”


Friday Fictioneers is a weekly photo prompt flash fiction challenge on
Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Addicted to Purple blog.  See additional stories byt other writers here!

90 Movies in 90 Days: The Unbelievable Truth (1989)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: The Unbelievable Truth
Release Date: May 15, 1989
Director: Hal Hartley
Production Company: Possible Films | Action Features
Summary/Review:

Audry Hugo (Adrienne Shelly) is a high school senior in the Long Island suburbs who has embraced a fatalistic viewpoint that the world will soon be destroyed by nuclear annihilation.  Josh Hutton (Robert Burke) is a car mechanic (often mistaken for a priest) who returns to his home town after serving time in prison for manslaughter who finds work in the garage owned by Audry’s chauvinistic father Vic (Christopher Cooke).  Can Audry and Josh find love?

That’s the putative plot of the movie, but director Hal Hartley seems less interested in plot and more in slice of life vignettes of everyday people in sometimes improbable situation.  The world melodrama may sound like a dig, but the stiff acting and inconsistent characterization seem to be a feature rather than a bug of this movie. The style of this movie feels oddly like Twin Peaks without a supernatural element (but this came out before Twin Peaks, so maybe it’s like Blue Velvet without the gruesome violence?).  At any rate, this is a fun, definitively 80s take on the art house flick.

Rating: ***

50 Years, 50 Albums (2000): Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor


 I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to listen to and review one album from each year of my life, 1973 to 2022, randomly selected..  The only qualification is that it has to be an album I’ve not reviewed previously.

NOTE: My next review on February 2, 2023 will focus on the year 1983.  Help me pick which album from 1983 I will review by voting in the poll at the end of this post!

2000

Top Grossing Albums of 2000:

  • No Strings Attached – NSYNC
  • The Marshall Mathers LP – Eminem
  • Oops!… I Did It Again – Britney Spears
  • Human Clay – Creed
  • Supernatural – Santana

Grammy Award for Album of the Year of 2000:

Other Albums I’ve Reviewed from 2000:

Album: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
Artist: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Release Date: October 9, 2000
Label:Constellation | Kranky
Favorite Tracks:

  • Storm
  • Static
  • Sleep
  • Like Antennas to Heaven…

Thoughts:

Back in the 2000s I had a younger co-worker, who in retrospect wasn’t all that much younger since he was in his early 20s when I was in my late 20s.  He listened to a lot of great music and recommended this album to me.  Despite liking it I hadn’t listened to Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven in quite some time, which is a shame, because it’s better than I remember it.

Of course, it’s not an album one listens to casually.  There are four pieces ranging from 18 to 23 minutes each that have their own movements like mini-symphonies.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor is classified as a post-rock band and this album is a good example of ambient music and sound collage.  It’s probably not the most accessible music, but I find it really beautiful and entrancing.

Rating: ****1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: Alice (1988)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Alice
Release Date: 3 August 1988
Director: Jan Švankmajer
Production Company: Film Four International | Condor Films
Summary/Review:

As a fan of Lewis Carroll’s  classic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I’ve never been quite satisfied with film adaptations.  This Czech film adheres to the spirit of the original’s surreal, dreamlike quality through a child’s point of view. It is after all, a film made for children.  Perhaps.

The only actor to appear in the movie is the exceptionally young-looking Kristýna Kohoutová (I haven’t been able to confirm her age at the time of filming) as Alice.  In the English-language version I watched, all of the dialogue is narrated by Camilla Power.  Everything else in this film is created by animating taxidermy animals, dolls, and household objects.  The herky-jerky nature of the stop-motion lends an uncanny valley quality to the animation.

The whole production teeters on the line between whimsical charm and nightmare fodder.  I’m sure this movie would’ve terrified me as a young child.  But it fascinates me now both as an adaptation of a great book and as it’s own weird and wonderful thing.

Rating: ****1/2

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Book Reviews: Black Water Sister by Zen Cho


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Malaysia

Author: Zen Cho
Title: Black Water Sister
Narrator: Catherine Ho
Publication Info: [Prince Frederick] : Recorded Books Incorporated, 2021.
Summary/Review:

Jessamyn Teoh, a recent college graduate who grew up in the United States after her family emigrated there from Malaysia during her early childhood, faces an uncertain future.  She is moving back to Malaysia with her parents where she has to adjust to an unfamiliar culture, find work, and maintain a long-distance relationship with her girlfriend while hiding that she’s lesbian from her parents.  Things grow more complicated when Jess begins hearing the voice of her deceased grandmother Ah Ma.  Soon Jess finds herself plunged into an adventure featuring a powerful real estate developer, gangsters, and gods.  To put things right, and to find justice for Ah Ma, Jess must become a medium for a vengeful goddess known as Black Water Sister.

Black Water Sister is a unique novel that blends elements of fantasy, mystery, and fish out of water story to tell a story of contemporary Malaysia.  Facets of Malaysian culture such as tradition, religion, and family are woven into the narrative.  Unfortunately for Jess (and others like her), homophobia is also a part of the Malaysian culture.  It’s an interesting and well-written story that I enjoyed.
 
Recommended books:

Rating: ****

90 Movies in 90 Days: Adoption (1975)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Adoption
Release Date: 25 September 1975
Director: Márta Mészáros
Production Company:  Hungarofilm | Hunnia Filmstúdió
Summary/Review:

My only prior experience with Hungarian cinema was Sátántangó, so I entered into watching this movie with some trepidation. Fortunately, Adoption is not such a chore to watch. It’s a simple story really.  Kata (Katalin Berek) is a 43-year-old widowed factory worker.  She wants to have a baby and proposes the idea to her lover, a married man, who immediately shoots her down.  Concurrently, Kata forms an acquaintance with Anna (Gyöngyvér Vigh), a troubled teen who lives in a nearby children’s home.

Kata and Anna bond with Kata helping Anna become emancipated from her parents so she can marry her boyfriend.  Meanwhile, Kata is inspired to adopt a baby from the same children’s home.  The film is meditative in style, focusing on details and the sense of found family.  But it also features an ominous ending that suggests that neither of these women are going to get the future they hoped for.

Rating: ***

50 Years, 50 Movies (1987): Where Is the Friend’s House?


I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.  If you have any suggestions for movies from the past 50 years, please drop them in the comments!

1987

Top Grossing Movies:

  1. Beverly Hills Cop II
  2. Platoon
  3. Fatal Attraction
  4. The Untouchables
  5. Three Men and a Baby

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winner:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed:

Title: Where Is the Friend’s House?
Release Date: February 1, 1987
Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Production Company: Kanun parvaresh fekri | Farabi Cinema Foundation
Summary/Review:

In first grade, I was goofing around with a friend, taking turns rolling out our bottom lips and laughing at it.  We got caught by our teacher who said we were sticking out our tongues.  Our class had a rule against sticking out tongues, and I denied it since I had in fact been rolling out my bottom lip.  Then my teacher got really angry for lying.  Now in the teacher’s eyes, a bottom lip could be easily mistaken for a tongue and she probably felt that any gestures with the mouth were disruptive to the class. But I was hurt that she insisted that I did something I would not do.  The spirit of the law against sticking out tongues is that it was mean.  And I was not being mean.  My friend and I were having fun.

I bring this up, because in the first five minutes of Where Is the Friend’s House? we see a teacher bring a 8-year-old child to tears.  This sets the theme of the movie in which adults exercise the arbitrary authority of children, refuse to listen to children, and threaten children. It is completely infuriating!

The main plot involves Ahmad (Babak Ahmadpour), a grade school boy, who accidentally takes home his friend’s notebook.  Knowing his friend will get in trouble if he doesn’t complete his homework in the notebook.  Ahmad’s parents and grandfather are not at all sympathetic, so he takes it upon himself to run to the nearby village where his friend lives.  Of course, Ahmad does not know where his friend’s house is located and the adults of the village are absolutely no help.

The movie captures the helplessness of being a child and the way that kids are simply invisible to adults.   I suppose the movie could be seen as a metaphor for living under an authoritarian government in Iran told in a way that wouldn’t get centered.  But the mistreatment of children transcends borders, political ideologies, and religious beliefs, so the story works well on face value. It’s honestly a surprise how kind and conscientious Ahmad is when he lives among such rotten people. The ending holds out hope for him and his friend.

Rating: ****