How was your Labor Day weekend? Judging by the box-office returns, you probably didn’t spend it at the movies, but that’s OK. I still have a bunch of movie-related thoughts and links for you as the fall gets underway.
All About Steve is the second movie this summer to be set in Sacramento, the first being The Ugly Truth. Given how crappy those movies turned out, it’s no surprise that this Sacramento native is telling Hollywood to leave his hometown alone. Seriously, though, Sac-town seems like a promising place to set a movie. Its California location renders it a bit more sophisticated than the average mid-sized American city, and a movie’s urban professional characters can be tempted by the prospect of a big-time move to a glamorous job in nearby San Francisco or L.A. The weather is temperate, and a studio can easily shoot either in the city itself or shoot in some of L.A.’s less fashionable quarters and have it pass for Sacramento. Plus, the city has the wackiness of California state politics to juice a story. I’m looking forward to seeing a juicy melodrama set in Sacramento. It’ll probably be better than either of the two movies out now.
Better stuff is available on home video. Sugar just came out on DVD, and I’ve alluded to it before, but it bears repeating that this is one of the year’s better films. It’s about Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a young flamethrowing pitching prospect whom we see early on at a baseball academy in his native Dominican Republic, learning baseball terms in English (though apparently, the players aren’t taught enough to order off a restaurant menu). Sugar gets a contract with a farm team in rural Iowa, and filmmakers Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who did Half Nelson before) make the place seem as surreal as it must seem to Sugar. The Americans around him are friendly enough, but the language barrier means that they can only help him so much in adjusting to his new surroundings.
In a similar vein, I just caught up to the remarkable Goodbye Solo, whose main character is also a black immigrant in America. He’s a Senegalese cabdriver named Souléymane (Souleymane Sy Savané) who ferries passengers in Winston-Salem, N.C. His life changes when he picks up an elderly man named William (Red West) who offers to pay $1000 to be taken to a nearby mountain called the Blowing Rock on a future Saturday morning, and the chatty and cheerful Solo soon realizes that William is going to kill himself there. The film is by the emerging talent Ramin Bahrani, an American of Iranian descent whose previous films have been about Pakistanis (Man Push Cart) and Latinos (Chop Shop). The storyline owes an obvious debt to Abbas Kiarostami’s 1995 Iranian film A Taste of Cherry, which is one of the great masterpieces of our time. Still, this thing more than stands up on its own. Solo is a terrific character who earns his chipper attitude because he comprehends the despair in the world. It’s interesting to see him relate to the other Africans working service jobs around him, as well as the African-Americans in his community. (Cute note: One angry gangsta in this movie is played by an actor named Jeff Prince. He is not the same as the guy blogging on the site.) Most of the movie takes place in cramped spaces: the taxi, the house Solo shares with his Mexican wife and her daughter, and the room that William rents. That’s why it’s so breathtaking when the camera suddenly takes in the natural scenery around Blowing Rock as the film concludes. The movie has the concentrated power of a great short story, but that climax is on a scale that only cinema can provide. If you catch this on DVD, remember the name Ramin Bahrani. I have a feeling he’s going to sweep everything before him at some point.
And check out these gnarly movie posters from Poland that I ran across recently. Some of them look like Francis Bacon studies. My favorite one is this one for Danton: The image of a bloody hand clawing the face of a marble portrait bust is more indelible than anything in Andrzej Wajda’s foursquare French Revolution drama.