Maggie Renzi

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Honeydripper Review


Grim
Somewhere right about the time that blues great Keb' Mo' shows up as a blind guitarist named Possum who loves nothing more than to pick at his instrument and dispense homespun wisdom with a wry chuckle, it becomes clear that Honeydripper is not going to be anything close to the film that it should be. For sure, it would be near impossible, and probably not even advisable, for a filmmaker to totally eschew cliché when placing a film in as weighted a setting as John Sayles has done here. A small town in Alabama named Harmony, circa 1950, with a mean white sheriff, a lot of dirt-poor black folk, a bucolic landscape of thick green forests and insect-buzzed cotton fields, and plenty of porches to watch life go by from -- the blues is in the air. It's all the characters can do not to burst into choreographed song and dance.

As usual with Sayles, there's a hard knot of a good story here. The film is named for the town's Honeydripper Lounge, a ramshackle affair that serves up a good fried chicken affair but whose old blues singer can't compete with the jukebox R&B getting blasted by the competition down the street. Danny Glover plays the owner, Pine Top Purvis, a piano player with a violent past who's in debt to everyone in town and about out of chances. His last one is a New Orleans hot shot named Guitar Sam who's got a radio hit and is booked to play the Honeydripper on Saturday; only problem is, when the train shows up, Guitar Sam is nowhere to be found, even though Purvis has plastered the town with ads. The whole thing is a scramble, with Purvis frantically (well, not frantically, maybe busily; it is the old South, after all, and things take time) working every last hustle he can to stay ahead of the creditors and the corrupt sheriff (Stacy Keach, playing it more for laid-back humor than menace) who will shut him down if he can't find somebody who looks and plays like Guitar Sam to show up on Saturday. Maybe that handsome fella who just hopped off the train and is chatting up Purvis' daughter could do the trick...

Continue reading: Honeydripper Review

Limbo (1999) Review


Unbearable
Hurt. Used. Betrayed. Angry. Abused.

These are words that could be used to describe the emotions of John Sayles' characters in his latest, Limbo. But no, I use them to describe myself after sitting through his latest little exercise in indie egomania.

Continue reading: Limbo (1999) Review

Lone Star Review


OK
Lone Star can be simply described as an incredible mess.

John Sayles, darling of the indie film movement, has created this picture, an epic study of racial tension in mythical Frontera, Texas, a border town in the Rio Grande Valley. (The film was actually shot in Eagle Pass, quite a ways upriver from the Valley.) Set against the backdrop of a son investigating his father's involvement in the murder of a sheriff some 40 years earlier, Sayles wanders, Short Cuts-like, through the lives of 15 or so major characters.

Continue reading: Lone Star Review

Men with Guns Review


Excellent
I've never been a huge fan of the work of John "Mr. Pretentious" Sayles, and Men with Guns is hardly short on pretension, but this is truly one of his best films. It's also one of his least-seen movies, and it's no wonder why: The story is told almost wholly in Spanish and concerns an urban, Mexican professor who chooses to travel into the jungle to find out what has become of his students -- all bound for rural destinations where they have pledged to help the poor populace. The professor's journey is hardly one of nostalgia, as one by one he finds they are dead or vanished, victims of the cruel army (aka "the men with guns") that have been ravaging the countryside. Chilling and gripping, despite the typical overwroughtness of Sayles. Federico Luppi, as the professor, looks like a Mexican Bob Barker. Surprisingly, this doesn't detract from the rest of the picture.

Sunshine State Review


Good
One prominent theme has run through the recent work of maverick filmmaker John Sayles: the search for identity. A need to belong. A desire to know one's place in the world. Within Sayles's trademark ensemble pieces, characters try to define themselves, with many at a crossroads in their lives... whether they know it or not. Most of the beauty and irony with which Sayles tells their tales is present in Sunshine State, but Sayles's narrative is a bit short in comparison to his previous opuses.

The brilliance of Sayles's stories is that he places these people within a much bigger parallel -- a geographical or cultural landscape that's changing as much as its inhabitants are. In City of Hope, it was an unnamed New Jersey city with political problems. In Lone Star -- in my opinion, Sayles's true masterpiece -- it was an evolving Texas border town. In Sunshine State, it's the fictional town of Delrona Beach, a sleepy Florida locale whose land and people are in the process of being overrun by shrewd real estate developers.

Continue reading: Sunshine State Review

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