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Friday, February 2, 2007

This Weekend at the Movies

posted by on February 2 at 14:25 PM

In On Screen this week: Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, of Kool-Aid fame.


California Historical Society

This documentary, by the MacArthur Genius Stanley Nelson (The Murder of Emmett Till), will be broadcast on PBS in April, but I recommend seeing it now in fearsome, larger-than-life color. Making almost shocking use of archival materials (even the first moments of the Kool-Aid suicide/massacre were recorded on film), Jonestown doesn’t waste time psychoanalyzing the charisma-ridden sadist Jim Jones. It does, however, get deep inside his congregation, incorporating sympathetic interviews with those true believers (including his black adopted son) who managed to survive. I totally think this doc got robbed of an Academy Award nomination.

Less impressive is God Grew Tired of Us, an uncomfortably upbeat doc about the Lost Boys of Sudan. If you see it, go tonight at 7:30 pm at the Uptown: Santino Lual, of Pacific Northwest Magazine fame, will be answering questions about what life was like for those Lost Boys who were resettled in the Seattle area.

Anything beside docs? We also review The Italian (not good, says Charles Mudede), Half-Cocked (in which Ian Svenonius fulfills all your Chattanooga indie rock dreams)… and yet another doc: Darkon, about people who hit each other with fake swords in grassy parks in the DC metro area (Bradley Steinbacher uses the word “charming”).

And mark your calendars: Iraq in Fragments is indeed coming back to Seattle, with a new week-long run at the Varsity beginning Friday February 9th. See it, see it, see it!


Elsewhere: Noel Murray and Scott Tobias argue pointlessly about theater vs. DVDs. I find these debates far too general and vague. Iraq in Fragments was shot in DV and transferred to 35: Its powerful colors and expressive close-ups should absolutely be seen on the big screen. With the very-digital looking Caché, which did a lot to extend the possibilities of digital aesthetics, I could go either way. The rewind trick near the beginning would be more exciting and disruptive on your TV screen; the plot twist is more gripping in a packed theater. (Maybe it will eventually be seen as a movie that successfully straddled the two delivery systems.) Sadie Benning’s shorts should be seen on video, preferably in your bedroom. Tyler Perry movies should only be seen with a mostly black audience who will talk back to the screen. (Via The IFC Blog.)

Also, a must-read piece on the theme “Robert Altman was a great pothead” (an affectionate tribute from the screenwriter for The Player). Complete with a discussion of the meaning of “white jazz.” (Via Green Cine Daily.)

Film Shorts can be found at Get Out!, The Stranger’s comprehensive search widget.

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No lie --- I went to high school with a bunch of those Darkon guys and one of them was my true and only love for a handful of months (and a deliciously kinky lay - which I didn't really know until I really started sleeping around and realized that not everyone liked to ... well, do that stuff). I can see one of them in the background in the trailer. Freaked me out for a sec. We were drama club together, go fig. Now they all vote republican except the one diehard high-school conservative -- he's in the Peace Corps.

Posted by PG-rated | February 2, 2007 3:04 PM

I know I'm a little late on this, but I just saw 'Children of Men' and thought it was the best sci-fi movie since 'Dawn of the Dead'. So, so great, and raises the bar on the genre to a level it hasn't seen since Kubrick was stalking this territory.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | February 2, 2007 3:32 PM

Children of Men had GC written all over it GC.

Posted by Josh Feit | February 2, 2007 3:42 PM

Children of Men is good, but I've said it before and I'll say it again. Not sci-fi. Dystopian fantasy.

Posted by annie | February 2, 2007 3:56 PM

The brand of dye-colored drink used during the massacre actually was not Kool-Aid!

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | February 2, 2007 4:10 PM

It was Flavor Aid. Similar to Kool-Aid, sure.. but the more popular latter product got attached as this facet of cult stereotypes regardless.

Posted by matthew fisher wilder | February 2, 2007 4:15 PM

read the review, mfw. i got there first:

Maybe I've been reading too much Michael Pollan lately, but it's occurred to me that the idiom "to drink the Kool-Aid" might be one of the most perfect products of the 20th century. Of course it's reductive and insensitive to the families of the over 900 people who were coerced into committing suicide by their leader Jim Jones in 1978. Still, there's something fascinating—even repulsively representative—about a countercultural movement born of '60s idealism that ended in sadistic mind control and mass-produced sugar water. (Naysayers like to point out that the powdered drink used in Jonestown was technically Flavor Aid, but one of the great moments in this documentary is archival footage in which Jones shows off his colony's store of "Kool-Aid." Brand names cut both ways.)
Posted by annie | February 2, 2007 4:26 PM

Yo, El Topo at the Grand Illusion this weekend. Psyche!

Posted by opalescent arcs | February 3, 2007 12:02 AM

I reviewed IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS based on a DVD screener, and thought it was one of the best movies I saw last year. So why must it "absolutely be seen on the big screen"? Would you tell everyone who missed it in theaters that they may as well forget about ever seeing it?

I understand that you're not definitively coming out in favor of the big screen versus the small screen, but our debate wasn't completely about that anyway. It was more about the debate itself, and how it leads to cocky, small-town-film-buff-defeating comments like, "This *has* to be seen in a theater."

Most movies are better on the big screen (if the conditions are right), but I refuse to believe there's really that many movies that "just won't work" on DVD. Avant-garde cinema aside, If the viewing experience significantly effects the way a movie is received, then that may be a flaw in the movie.

Posted by Noel Murray | February 4, 2007 4:52 AM

Well, I'm saying "absolutely must" because IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS is getting another theatrical run in Seattle starting February 9. Nobody in this area has an excuse for missing it. If you, like our Seattle readers (who, admittedly, may or may not be a majority of our Slog readers), had the choice between seeing the movie soon in a theater or later on DVD, I would passionately advocate the former. But of course I would never discourage people from seeing it on DVD if that's the only choice. In any case, I think it's condescending to assume that readers who don't have a way to see the film in the theater would take my phrase literally.

Posted by annie | February 4, 2007 11:29 AM

Not my intention to be condescending, but I would argue that when film buffs use phrases like "absolutely must be seen on the big screen" -- literally intended or not -- the result often is that people decide not to see the movie at all. All I'm asking is that we cinephiles put a lid on those kind of blanket statements, and stop making people feel like bums for watching movies at home rather than going out. The differences are, much of the time, negligible. Like I said, I've seen IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS -- twice now -- on DVD. And while I too would urge your readers to see it in a theater, I'd also let them know that it looks great at home too.

I really don't think this debate is pointless. I think the future of movie fandom is at stake. Either we cluck our tongues and act like scolds as people migrate from theaters to living rooms, or we embrace the enthusiasm of people who live in the middle of nowhere yet can still see a Tsai Ming-Liang film thanks to Netflix.

Again, I realize that according to your post you're largely ecumenical on the subject. But I'm assuming you've never had the experience I've had of my film-nut friends -- most of them NY-based -- shaking their heads sadly when I say that I'm looking forward to SATANTANGO coming out on DVD, so that my Arkansas-bound ass can finally see it. As far as they're concerned, even once I watch it on my new 42" plasma HDTV on my upconverting DVD player, I still won't have "seen SATANTANGO." It's pretty infuriating.

Posted by Noel Murray | February 4, 2007 6:00 PM


Why would someone decide not to see a film based on the phrase "absolutely must be seen on the big screen"? It makes you feel like a bum because your colleagues give you shit for being a home video devotee, I guess. But when the Average Joe hears it I suspect it's a positive. If it bothers you that's one thing. Let's be clear.


Posted by Brian | February 19, 2007 1:28 PM

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