This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lakota Woman: Siege at Wounded Knee (1994)

"After 73 days, the siege at Wounded Knee was over. Once we put down our guns and the television and the news reporters went home, the arrests began. They could say anything they wanted. Whatever we said was gone on a cold Pine Ridge wind. Here, where I found my life, my center, my people - where I found my first-born - nearly everything is gone now. The government tried to extinguish all signs that Indians once made their stand here. It will do them no good, because the world saw, the world heard. Even though, in time, Annie Mae Aquash and Pedro Bissionte were murdered by GOONS. Even though once again the government lied and betrayed us. Even though some of our leaders are still in jail, in the end it, will do them no good at all to try to hide it, because it happened. Today is still not ours but tomorrow might be because of that long moment those short years ago at Wounded Knee where we reached out and touched our history. I was there. I saw it. It happened to me. So that our people may live. So that our people may live."
-Mary Crow Dog.

Just before she endeared herself to children everywhere as the voice of Disney's Pocahantas(1995), Irene Bedard earned a Golden Globe nomination for her work as Mary Crow Dog in this film, which depicts the events leading to the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
The title location was also the site of the massacre of hundreds of Sioux in 1890 when the U.S. government broke the treaty it had established with the tribe by announcing that gold was in the area and, subsequently, sent in forces led by General Custer to remove any Sioux.
Mary's part of the story begins with her at boarding school during the 1960s. She later obtains and promotes literature telling how tribes were horribly treated as white men pioneered America. This leads to Mary being expelled.
But she later meets people who are affiliated with the American Indian Movement, led by Russell Means (Lawrence Bayne) and Dennis Banks (Michael Horse). With AIM, Mary becomes a fierce advocate of Native American rights, which culminates with the title standoff that began Feb. 27 and lasted over two months. Over 200 AIM supporters were surrounded by the U.S. military.
During that time, many (Indians and otherwise) were drawn into the plight of AIM, whose supporters demanded the re-opening of treaty negotiations with the government.
The entire cast is excellent, but Bedard truly carries the movie with her transformation into someone who embraces who she is and will do all she can to keep her heritage alive. The real Mary, who wrote the book this film was based on, also makes an appearance. She died in 2013.
I must also mention Peter Weller's nice cameo as a Colonel who advises the military about the stupidity of another massacre at Wounded Knee.
The standoff ended with Banks and Means being arrested and brought to Washington, although the charges against them were later dismissed.
This event would also be mentioned when Marlon Brando famously refused to accept his Oscar for his work in The Godfather (1972).
This film reminded me somewhat of In the Name of the Father (1993) in that it has a protagonist who is both incarcerated and goes through great loss at the hands of a government but emerges from the ordeal more determined than ever.
In recent years, Bedard's career has been sidetracked by (this is the short version) personal issues, but films like this show that she can and should be regarded as a great artist.

Monday, November 11, 2013

I Will Fight No More Forever (1975)

"You have had your revenge. Now the whites will have theirs!"
-Chief Joseph.

Once The Lone Ranger (2013) bombed big time, I heard some say that it may be quite a while before we see westerns on the big screen again. I certainly hope that the wait won't be long, but both Ranger's quality & Johnny Depp's hilarious assertion that it was film critics which kept the film from being successful make the stance that westerns are box office poison again somewhat understandable.
One of the criticisms against Ranger was Depp's portrayal of Tonto (I must confess, my first thought upon seeing stills of Depp in the film was that they overdid the war paint, but that turned out to be the least of the movie's problems). Some said it was no less racist that other Native American portrayals in previous westerns.
There are other films, though, have portrayed them in a more noble light, and one of the best examples of that is this TV movie which depicts the efforts of the Nez Perce tribe to avoid forced relocation in 1877. President Grant ordered Gen. Oliver Howard (James Whitmore) to force the tribe from its home on the Idaho-Oregon border and onto a reservation in what is now Oklahoma. Despite the non-violent pleas of Howard and his right hand Capt. Wood (Sam Elliott), tension increases between their soldiers and some of the Nez Perce. The resulting bloodshed leads to the tribe's Chief Joseph (Ned Romero) to head for Canada with his tribe.
Joseph surrendered after a 108-day journey of over 1,700 miles, giving his speech:
"from where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
This episode led to admiration for the tribe and Joseph from many white people as word of Joseph's eloquent, non-violent surrender spread.
This movie, which would earn Emmy nominations for its writing and editing, makes it easy for us to side with the Nez Perce, with Romero perfect casting as Joseph. But Whitmore and Elliott are equally good because they are not the bloodthirsty, anti-Indian white men you might expect. Howard is already acquainted with Joseph when the movie begins and he tells Joseph that he does not wish to use force to relocate them. He also tells Wood that it is indeed wrong to relocate the tribe, but Howard does his duty because he knows that Grant will simply assign the unenviable task to another General if Howard does not comply. Wood, likewise, does his duty but is not unsympathetic to the Nez Perce either. One could say that they become as helpless as Joseph.
Hence, this story illustrates how people are forced into conflict but can still treat each other honorably.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Company (2003)

"Thinking about the movement is not becoming the movement."
-Alberto Antonelli.

Movies that are termed 'passion projects' often carry a greater risk of landing with a thud than being embraced as a timeless classic. For instance, Battlefield Earth (2000) is rightfully regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. Yet, I do feel a bit of sympathy for that film's star John Travolta because he fought & fought for years to get the film (based on the book of the same name by L. Ron Hubbard) green-lit. Perhaps it was this obsession to bring this film to the screen which blinded him to the fact that its focus on Scientology may not have given the story the across-the-board appeal that Star Wars (1977) generated.
But one passion project which turned out better is The Company, which focuses on the members of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet.
This movie was a long-time passion project for its star Neve Campbell, who plays company member Loretta "Ry" Ryan. Campbell, who began her career as a ballet dancer before making her mark as an actress, also co-produced and co-wrote this movie with Barbara Turner. Her success in the Scream films and Wild Things (1998) gave Campbell the clout needed to bring this story to the screen. She then achieved quite the coup by convincing the late, great Robert Altman to direct the film.
The movie itself is really a collection of scenes involving the company's various players (many of whom are appropriately played by real-life company members), including Ry, as they prepare for their show, under the guidance of company director Alberto Antonelli (Malcolm McDowell).
Ry later begins a romance with Josh Williams (James Franco), who is not a dancer himself but is supportive of Ry, especially when an injury forces her to back out of a performance. Franco also gets the film's sweetest moment at the end, when he brings flowers to Ry backstage while quickly going to his knees as the dancers onstage bow to the applause of the audience.
I've heard many people say that people who have never been waiters will gain a whole new level of appreciation for them if they spent just one day in that field. It didn't take me long to agree with that sentiment because I worked a few years in the restaurant industry myself.
On that same note, I'd like to think that this film will show people that ballet dancing is certainly more complex than it may appear to some. This film's Wikipedia page probably said it best when it says that this movie shows how ballet dancers put hardship and dedication into their art, even though doing so may not necessarily make them rich and famous.