Films from my trip to San Francisco

Here is what I saw during my recent visit to my great aunt Merkie in San Francisco:

Criminal Code B+
Fascinating early Depression jailhouse drama heavily invested in a lost emotional world of empathy for the reprobate. The incestuous shades in the relationship between the warden (the former DA who put most of the men in the joint, played by Walter Huston) and his devoted daughter makes one think Robert Towne might have seen this small Howard Hawks B-feature before ginning up his part for Huston’s son in Chinatown.

Night World A-
A wonderful, very short, pre-code masterpiece.1 Superb direction makes one forget that this gem is set entirely within a single New York nightclub. Rarely has pure classical B-movie formula looked so assured and provided escapist pleasure so effortlessly. And the best thing about this 1931 jewel is that it features a slew of peripheral African American characters (including one with a serious minor part) and yet it is not painful or embarrassing to watch.

Turn Left At The End Of The World B
Israel’s Negev desert circa 1969 where immigrants (drawn to the wasteland by unfulfilled promises) endure mindless industrial work (until they strike), an utterly desolate environment, and the vicious intrigues and transgressions of a too-small community. The vision of [English-speaking] Indian and [French-speaking] Moroccan Jews forced to merge their very different styles of propriety, as seen through the eyes of two teenaged young women who become fast friends, lends this film its interest (along with a Cricket sub-plot, which never fails with me).

An Inconvenient Truth B+
Al Gore’s Keynote presentation works surprisingly well as a movie. My criticism would be with the slide show itself, which is chillingly effective, yet flattens its dramatic arc more than one might expect. The narrative is one of mounting evidence more than compelling emotional setup and payoff. In fact, this is remarkably unpropagandistic, abjuring so many of the 20th century’s refined techniques of audience manipulation in favor of a style more like Current TV than Leni Riefenstahl.

The Proposition B+
Nick Cave’s “Vegemite Western”2 set in a very desolate Outback Australia. Compelling performances amidst a dark and dusty frontier universe of betrayal and violence between stiff British Empire lawmen who look like they stepped over from Jackie Chan’s Project A and ruthless criminals straight out of Sergio Leone. You know that born-again Cave has written the script when you look around and realize that you can’t find any unambiguous Christian redemption for anyone in this moral universe.


  1. It lasts only an hour, although there is far more here than in most 2½ hour Hollywood Summer fx commodities. []
  2. Greg and I collaboratively came up with this one. []

5 Responses to “Films from my trip to San Francisco”

  1. Greg Says:

    I hate to play the credit hound, but I think it might have been my two cents that got you to Vegemite Western. . .

  2. Jem Says:

    1 – Ah, intellectual propriety! I assume your share of our conversation the other day at Merkie\’s house was Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5… I have made the attribution correction above – my apologies! (I\’d hate to be a test case on damages on an implied CC Attribution license.)

  3. Will Says:

    God bless you, Jem, for publishing your capsule movie reviews on here, for now I won’t feel quite so much like El Dorko Supreme when I do likewise. I’m glad to know I’m not the only amateur critic who actually puts his thoughts into writing (I’ve been penning capsule reviews since ninth grade; don’t tell any girls; just kidding; no I’m not). Though I’ve always preferred the classic “star” rating system à la Roger Ebert to the EW letter grades.

    Also, I’m not typically inclined (well, not anymore) to correct people’s spelling and grammar, but I know YOU’VE delighted in said practice from time to time, so I feel justified doing it here: to the best of my knowledge, propAgandistic is the spelling you’re looking for (caps for effect), and abjure is a transitive verb (i.e. you ought to remove the preposition “from” that follows in the interest of syntax). Please note: this is pure deep-seated boiling anal-retentiveness at work here and not even remotely a criticism of your writing, which I continue to enjoy fervently.

    I look forward to my imminent initiation into the pers.piciacio.us fam-o.

  4. Jem Says:

    3 – Will, you’re right on both grammatical points! I thought the abjure() function in English worked like abstain(), but instead it works like renounce(). I grade with letters because that normalizes my random cultural thoughts to my serious professional life as a teacher… Thanks for the compliments and I look forward to welcoming your aboard in your own venue!

  5. Spango Dips » Blog Archive » Actually Using This Thing Says:

    […] • I’m at a point where teaching drum lessons full time is profitable enough that I no longer need to supplement my income with the emasculating nightmare-generator that is a minimum-wage job. Yahoo. • Things being as they gloriously are, I’m quitting Movie Madness in two weeks. • I will be celebrating this emancipation with a trip to LA, to commence virtually the moment I clock out of my last shift. I’ll be there from August 31 to September 12. • I’m writing a lot of songs. At Dusk is on a brief vacation, what with Cary in MontefreakingNegro and all, and I’m meanwhile getting a good stack of acoustic tunes together on my own, and also rekindling the 2delicious fires with my friend and engineer extraordinaire Chris Anderson. 2delicious, for those of you not in the know, is a hip-hop/dance fusion project that Chris and got moving on about a year ago, and then had to abandon entirely in order to focus on energies on You Can Know Danger, and Chris’s other major time-abyss of 2005/06/04, the Strength album (which, for my money, is the best album of 2006 so far, and by dint of greatness has retroactively nullified all of the grief that I gave those guys about their perfectionism during the Hundred Years Recording Process that it seemed to require). I like making music, on a computer, that is purpose-engineered to move butts, at the very least because it’s such a far cry from how I normally operate in terms of priorities. • A little off-topic, but: Chris and I refer to 2delicious as 2del, just for private shorthand, and… well, check out what http://www.2del.com currently is. I guess we won’t be able to register that domain after all. • I’ve seen many movies recently. I’m back up to an average that approaches the voluminous input I was enjoying back in the Video West days. I think I might follow Jem’s lead and do a capsule review post soon, but I’m comfortable revealing now that the best of them was, uh… either The Wicker Man (which was totally captivating though I only really watched it in the first place because I’m going to need to substantiate all the animadversion I’ll be directing at the remake even though I probably won’t see it), or The Wages of Fear. • I am still reading a very, very long book. […]

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