I saw Ghost Dog first, then I saw a double feature with Dead Man followed by Ghost Dog. I cannot for the life of me decide which is more brilliant. The former is a fantastic satirization of innercity America -- a post-gangster movie with an excitingly eccentric cast of characters, each with their own bizarre personalities, woven together in a mesh of night shots of a decaying urban hell, animated cartoons, purposely nauseating occasionally insightful Samurai ethic, and messenger pigeons that relay the absurdity of the whole experience to the characters in the movie, and to the audience. The movie matures upon each viewing and lingers indefinitely in the mind. The tip of each character's iceberg is sufficiently placed to make one wonder forever about what lies underneath. Viewed after Dead Man it positively boggles the mind and rearranges your neurons: both movies almost identical in theme, mood and tone, but could never be more different on the face of it. I don't have the nergy or articulation to convey this: just go see them. This man is up there with Sayles, Truffaut and Greenaway: he makes movies that spawn generations. 10/10
East Is East (1999)Not scathing enough
3 June 2000
When you try to make a movie about one of the world's more bigoted, conflicted and emotionally unstable communities, you will inevitably be accused of being the same. Om Puri plays a psychotic Pakistani immigrant to Manchester trying to hold on to a culture which he thinks he has left behind, but which he has actually created himself for need of security and continuity in his life. His seven children and long-suffering white wife unfortunately have to bear the brunt of this crisis. He might not represent all Pakistani males in Pakistan (although the situation will soon be as such), he might not even represent all Pakistani males in England (a particularly provincial lot -- they were among the greatest supporters of the Rushdie fatwa), but he is representative of a cultural trend. If anything, the film is overly generous to this "culture" - the son who prays is depicted as being the most self-sacrificing, considerate and genuine; the father is depicted as eventually being soft on the inside. Its an OK film which doesnt quite get to the root of the problem; but the subsequent customer reviews on this site accusing it of being "racist" and "offensive" are the true event.
My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)Kureishi at his best
12 May 2000
Johnny and Omar live in a world of multiple cogenerating, coexisting, modifying, negating, enforcing and enhancing forms of discrimination -- racism, sexism, groupism, homophobia, cultural elitism, snobbery, reverse colonialism, neocolonialism and fascism -- which they successfully grapple and topple in the form of their launderette with the power of economic enterprise. These squabbling goblins are left to each others excesses as economic success lifts them up and out of these, but many questions remain: will they remain; would others succeed; what does luck have to do with it? Kureshi has pissed off all groups who find themselves part of this smashing satire, prime among them the identity conscious confused second/third generation Subcontinental British kids, the same contingency that staunchly supported the Rushdie fatwa. Brilliant and stupendously enjoyable.
American Gigolo (1980)Death of LA in the 80s
11 May 2000
It's hard to precisely depict the impact of the smoky undertow of 1980s LA mores on the emotional and cultural landscape of the city, but Richard Gere's subversive topsy-turvy solo show comes close. Weird, well-shot and intriguing. The queasy feeling it leaves is hard to remove even days later. A/A-
Henry Fool (1997)90s in action
17 April 2000
The central theme of what is possibly the best film made in America in the '90s ABOUT America in the '90s -- that the transition from the mainstream to the original is plagued and diverted by cultural roadblocks that auto-translate the original into the mainstream, in effect creating a society that caricutarizes itself at every step -- is ironically and tragically played out in the viewer comments to this film. It is apparently impossible for an American audience to distinguish the mentality or temperament of a character or an event from that of a film itself as a structural entity. It is furthermore difficult for this population to distinguish the "intellectual" from the "pretentious". The brilliantly created web of major, minor and medium characters -- from the fad-driven publisher who is loathe to "digitalize" books to a mother and sister who laugh hysterically at the idea of Simon becoming a poet -- fit perfectly and organically into a society where the internet can instantly make something that personifies "fringe" (this doesn't mean that is good -- we are never given a glimpse of the poem)into readily accessible and, eventually, mainstream. I'm not sure, and I'm not sure I'm supposed to be positive whether this is good or bad. It is a slippery slope either way, and the ambiguity of whether Henry is running to or from the plane to get the Nobel Prize at the end made me want this almost two hour movie to last at least another couple. I am consoled by the fact that this is only my first Hal Hartley.