Daily Archives: August 3, 2007

Bratz: The Movie

You’ve bought the dolls; now see if you can sit through the movie. Cloe, Jade, Sasha, and Yasmin like to shop and sneer but are mainly dubbed when they sing; they attend Carry Nation High School, but whether this refers to the temperance leader or the rocking multicultural babes in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is anybody’s guess. This atrocious comedy doesn’t have an idea in its head but still screams at the top of its lungs, taking pains to distinguish between its rich heroines and their even richer enemies (including Jon Voight). Sean McNamara directed, but the auteur must be coproducer Steven Paul, who made his debut with Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1982). PG, 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Trials Of Darryl Hunt

Miscarriages of justice involving black men in the south are nothing new, but there seems to be no precedent for the obtuseness of the legal system revealed in this 2005 documentary by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg. In 1984 teenager Darryl Hunt was arrested for the rape and murder of a white woman in Winston-Salem; though convicted with flimsy evidence and later proved innocent by DNA testing, he had to wait 19 years before he was freed and exonerated. The police and judiciary’s unwillingness to acknowledge errors and talent for compounding them evoke the current Bush administration, but the most compelling part of this is Stern and Sundberg’s growing acquaintance with and understanding of Hunt, which ultimately gives their narrative some positive spin. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

Strike

My suspicion that Volker Schlondorff is more a doer of good works than a maker of good work was confirmed by this semifictionalized account of a welder in the Gdansk shipyards who became a Solidarity heroine after inspiring a strike that led to Poland’s first free unions. Effectively played by the diminutive Katharina Thalbach, who previously worked with Schlondorff on The Tin Drum, the character is central to the film’s populist uplift, a semiliterate outcast and single mother who changed history through her anger and determination. This 2006 period drama is likable, but its value is more inspirational than historical. In Polish with subtitles. 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Unobserved Life [KILLER OF SHEEP]

From the August 3, 2007 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

KILLER OF SHEEP ****

DIRECTED AND WRITTEN BY CHARLES BURNETT

WITH HENRY GAYLE SANDERS, KAYCEE MOORE, CHARLES BRACY, EUGENE CHERRY, JACK DRUMMOND, AND ANGELA BURNETT

WHEN Opens Fri 8/3

WHERE Music Box, 3733 N. Southport

INFO 773-871-6604

Thanks to the excellent restoration work of the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the patient heroism of Milestone Films’ Dennis Doros — who has spent years acquiring the music rights for a film largely built around pieces of music — Charles Burnett’s monumental first feature, Killer of Sheep (1977), is finally getting its first commercial release. Shot by Burnett himself in black-and-white 16-millimeter for less than $10,000 — as his master’s thesis at UCLA — this portrait of everyday life in Watts has steadily grown in resonance and reputation over the past 30 years. It’s centered on the melancholy off time of the title hero  – a weary abattoir worker (the wonderful Henry Gayle Sanders) — with his family and friends. The slow burn and slow drip of this off time while he stews in his own juices is essential to the movie’s experience.

We also catch a few glimpses of the hero at his job, but most of what we know about his work and how he feels about it comes from seeing his general alienation and exhaustion when he’s at home: repairing the kitchen sink or laying out linoleum, sluggishly dancing with his wife in the living room, berating his son for addressing her in a “country” fashion as “dear,” refusing to participate in a robbery being planned by a couple of neighbors, or trying to fix a broken down car.… Read more »

Killer of Sheep

The first feature (1977) of the highly talented black filmmaker Charles Burnett, who set most of his early films in Watts (including My Brother’s Wedding and To Sleep With Anger); this one deals episodically with the life of a slaughterhouse worker. Shot on a year’s worth of weekends for under $10,000, this remarkable work is conceivably the single best feature about ghetto life. It was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry as one of the key works in American cinema–ironic and belated recognition of a film that, until this recent restoration, had virtually no distribution. It shouldn’t be missed. With Henry Gayle Sanders. 87 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Music Box. –Jonathan Rosenbaum … Read more »