Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)

Eponymous Melquiades (no relation to Erik) slips across the border into the American Southwest to befriend rancher Pete Perkins, the film's moral anchor and former roommate of Al Gore. Perkins hires Melquiades for some honest ranch hand type work, the kind most Americans won't stoop to anymore, too busy skimming stockholders of big energy companies to be bothered. Melquiades thereby makes a passable living herding goats, 'til one day a twitchy border patrol officer named Norton, graduate of the MAGA Sharpshooting Academy, "accidentally" takes him out. Local law enforcement in the form of Dwight Yoakam settles in to do nothing -- nothing, that is, until Perkins enacts his own justice, crisscrossing the border with a complaining Norton in tow, aiming to deliver the body of Melquiades back to family and country, to oversee a proper burial for an improper death. Magnetic performance by Tommy Lee Jones was but a warm-up for his turn in No Country for Old Men (2007).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The World's Fastest Indian (2006)

Anthony Hopkins, looking for all the world like 1980s-era Ray Bradbury, plays Burt Munro, a Kiwi with a one-lane mind. His quest: to break the world motorcycle land-speed record at Bonneville with his custom 1920 Indian Scout. To that end, Munro is your favorite nutty uncle: living a stripped-down life, mechanically inclined, viewing the world through the prism of his obsession, blind to most else. Hopkins' portrayal is note-perfect, exuding a sublime, only occasionally corny charm as Munro explores a world that at first seems a few steps ahead of his naivete, but eventually gravitates to his gentle but inflexible grace, an application of the same patient, meticulous approach by which he modified his precious "motor-sickle" for that odds-defying run across the salt flats. Indian is based on "one hell of a true story" according to the poster, making it a kind of high-octane version of David Lynch's The Straight Story (1999), and certainly the best character-study film this side of The Apostle (1997). Great cameos from Diane Ladd and Paul Rodriguez.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Good Doctor arrives at the village fair displaying a wondrous zombie-in-the-box named Cesare, a somnambulist oracle. Actually, puppet-like Cesare is no oracle, he's only following Caligari's diabolical directions, which include night errands of serial murder. A wax dummy kept in the box doesn't fool authorities for long, and Caligari is traced back to his lair by a friend of one of the victims, and the evil conspiracy uncloaked. But there's one more twist awaiting those who would seek justice... Caligari remains a weird and disorienting experience for the modern viewer; aside from bookending moments set in a serene garden, all events transpire in a cramped, off-kilter dreamworld of oddly striped geometric patterns -- a landscape that has inspired visual designers ever since, from Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) to the Batman (1966-68) TV series to the entire career of Tim Burton. Because it is secondary to the design, the story moves in compartmentalized moments, and sometimes not at all; what a modern viewer would consider the "plot" occurs in the final ten minutes. Undoubtedly an influence on H.P. Lovecraft's tale of psycho-spiritual transference, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, written just seven years later.

[Seen at the Capri Theatre in Montgomery AL with live musical accompaniment by Devil Music Ensemble.]