Wednesday, August 20, 2008

DVD Slight Return




Remember the Graham Nash song “Chicago” with the potent lyrics “So your brother’s bound and gagged and they’ve chained him to a chair?” Since this is the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Democratic Convention of 1968, a city Walter Cronkite described on the CBS News as “a police state,” it’s even more important that people don’t forget the mistakes of the past. The documentary Chicago 10 fleshes out this pivotal moment in history by focusing on the trial of the eight defendants accused of masterminding the Chicago riots. Although their convictions were overturned they were incarcerated, along with their two lawyers, and thus the Chicago 10. All the dialogue from the trial comes from court transcripts. Supplementing this is archival footage of the actual riots, bloody heads and all.
Filmmaker Brett Morgan uses animation that evokes the Waking Life style of motion to re-enact the trial with scenes involving the defendants and witnesses and judge. Voice talent includes Roy Scheider, Nick Nolte, Hank Azaria, and Mark Ruffalo, and Jeffrey Wright among others. This footage is seamlessly mixed with news clips and documentary footage from August 1968 to give Chicago 10 a day-by-day account of the events structure.
Morgan previously co-directed The Kid Stays in the Picture with Nannette Burnstein. Here’s what’s perplexing about that. Burnstein made a film called American Teen that absolutely sucks (although on a suckage scale it doesn’t suck as much as Death Race) and Teen’s gotten a significant theatrical release whereas Chicago 10 goes straight to DVD (August 26 street date) after making the film festival rounds.
Teen studies plastic people living their fairy tale lives in a dry homage to reality television while 10 unreels history that’s so important to the present state of affairs it absolutely demands to be seen. You know which one is the easy lay.
Here are some other DVDs that didn’t get the love they deserve the first time around, or maybe there was no first time around.
• The Disinformation Company has some of the best agitprop around. Their most effective salvos come from Robert Greenwald whose Outfoxed has been redone as Fox Attacks Special Edition, and contains an hour of added material. Greenwald also assembled The Real McCain. Not so much a movie as a chapter-by-chapter (oil, war, jobs, Iran) talking points response to various McCain clips from speeches and newscasts. It’s not exactly fair and balanced but that’s kind of the point.
• Hiya Kids! Contains over nine hours of 1950s Saturday morning children’s programming on four DVDs. Each disc unspools a typical three-hour’s worth of brain candy. How many times did you get up before your parents and sack out in front of the tube for hours? Pay special attention to shows like Rootie Kazootie and Winky Dink. Nothing you’ve seen in your life can prepare you for the surreal sight of puppets behaving badly. Other shows include Sky King, Lassie, Howdy Doody, and Captain Z-RO, many others.
• Son of Rambow got a brief release in May and deserves cult status. British set 80s era comedy unites two young outcasts with father issues to make a camcorder version of Rambo. The endearing ending brings up images of Cinema Paridiso in its tribute to cinema while the rest evokes another recent comedy about guerilla filmmakers, Be Kind Rewind.
• Southland Tales goes straight to DVD while unstable celluloid burns millions in ad revenue, think House Bunny. ST is the sophomore film from Donnie Darko helmer Richard Kelly. The film was made a few years ago, played at Cannes, got booed, got booted by the studio that made it and ended up with a distributor that released it in a handful of cities. Houston was not one of them. The cast includes Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar and a slew of others. Although there’s a post apocalyptic vibe the then future setting is 2008 L.A. I’m not putting ST in the same boat as Donnie Darko but there’s enough black humor and slick design to warrant attention.
• Flakes completes an imaginary trilogy of unrelated films about cereal. I would include the unmade Cereal Heroes where Snap, Crackle and Pop take on Count Chockula, The Road to Wellville (Anthony Hopkins as John Harvey Kellogg), and now Flakes. Zooey Deschanel and Aaron Stanford topline as slackers in New Orleans who work at a breakfast cereal store. Think of a cool one-of-a-kind coffee shop and replace the caffeine with cereal flakes. There’s navel gazing, rock music songwriting, every cereal box you ever dreamt of having the munchies for, and a legal showdown when Flakes store owner Christopher Lloyd sues to protect his intellectual property against corporate malfeasance. This film deserves a queue on your Greencine list and it’s the best work by Michael Lehman since his debut with Heathers.



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