A Scanner Darkly (Richard Linklater, 2006). I’m teaching this right now, so I gave it another look, this time with the commentary track turned on. It was a decent commentary, too, with a nice variety of people, Linklater and Keanu and Dick’s daughter among them. It’s an odd way to watch a movie, of course, and I don’t usually do it, but I’ve seen Scanner a few times and thought it would be useful in an educational sense. Nothing I saw or heard changed my opinion that this is the best Philip K. Dick adaptation yet. I even decided to bump its rating a bit: 9/10.
City of Life and Death (Lu Chuan, 2009). Tells the horrific story of the Nanjing Massacre of 1937, when Japanese soldiers murdered hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians and raped tens of thousands of women. The film is unbearable to watch; you find yourself thankful that it is in black-and-white. Lu offers up the overused trick of contrasting the overall story with the lives of several individuals, but in this case, it mostly works. The characters he singles out illuminate different aspects of the story, and unlike a more typical blockbuster where John Wayne does a cameo as a battle commander, Lu makes us care about his characters. The entire movie is excruciating, and it’s accompanied by the realization that there will be no happy ending for most of the people of Nanjing. 9/10.
Stones in Exile (Stephen Kijak, 2010). I worked as a busboy in the cafeteria of my junior college back in 1972 when Exile on Main St. came out. The juke box had a few special “extended play” choices, one of which was the first of the four sides of Exile. I heard it played so many times, I can be forgiven for thinking the album was actually a five-song EP. This documentary about the making of the album manages to work a lot into its brief running time. I don’t know that there are any revelations, exactly, but some of the participants are quite enjoyable in their looking-back voiceovers. Bobby Keys sounds like a fun-loving good old boy, and Anita Pallenberg sounds like she just stepped off the set of Performance (and Lord was she beautiful back in the day). But for me, the most surprising was Jake Weber, who was 8 years old during the making of the album. He’s a cherubic presence in the old footage, as he describes his primary job at the time being Chief Joint Roller. I had to look on the Internet to find that this is the Jake Weber who is one of those “hey, it’s that guy” actors on various movies and TV shows. As for the movie, it will make you want to listen to Exile again, or at least to watch Cocksucker Blues (from which a couple of excerpts are used). 8/10.
The Kid from Borneo (Robert F. McGowan, 1933). One of the Our Gang comedies that was removed from television syndication because of its racial content. The Rascals spend most of the short running away from “The Wild Man of Borneo,” who likes candy and who growls “Yum yum, eat ‘em up!” whenever he sees food. As with most of the televised Little Rascals shorts, I saw this many times as a kid (I’m so old, they hadn’t yet removed it from the package). I remembered very little about it, outside of its most lasting aspect … I imagine many Americans who grew up when I did recall “Yum yum, eat ‘em up!” In fact, the phrase is included in the Urban Dictionary. The film itself isn’t much, and it is indeed more racist than usual … regular black characters like Stymie were allowed to have distinct characters just like the other kids, but the Wild Man is reduced to his exotic savagery. John Lester Johnson, who played the Wild Man, was a former boxer who once broke the ribs of future champ Jack Dempsey. 6/10.