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Film Capsules

Thinking It Through

Film Capsules

I've watched a lot of good movies lately. Here are some highlights: 

The Black Pirate - Was Douglas Fairbanks a god? 

He certainly seems like one in "The Black Pirate," an action-adventure extravaganza from 1926 that sees the silent film idol bringing an otherworldly grace to swordplay, stunts and romance. Fairbanks plays the sole survivor of a pirate attack who, vowing vengeance, joins the pirate crew and seeks to take them down from the inside. What makes the film special is the exuberance Fairbanks brings to his performance, and the care put into making the stunts as thrilling as possible. 

Also worth watching: The 1922 "Robin Hood," starring Fairbanks, and the 1924 "The Thief of Bagdad," also starring Fairbanks. 

The Intruder - This low-budget 1962 Roger Corman film is one of the more searing cinematic depictions of racism ever captured on celluloid ... which might explain why it isn't especially well known. 

"The Intruder" tells the story of a right-wing operative (a pre-Star Trek William Shatner) who arrives in a small Missouri town on the cusp of integration, intent on stirring up opposition, and trouble. 

Within days, white townspeople are rallying to oppose integration, attacking a black family in the street, standing in front of the school with hateful signs (including on that says "Go back to Africa") and blowing up a church. What makes these scenes so brutal is how realistic, even prescient, they are: "The Intruder" was released in the midst of the civil rights movement, one year before racists blew up a black church in Birmingham, Ala., and killed four little girls. 

"The Intruder" doesn't pull a lot of punches, except maybe at the end. It's a scary work that remains relevant today, and definitely worth seeking out. 

Also worth watching: "In the Heat of the Night" 

Knife + Heart - This kinky 2018 thriller is an homage to giallo - the sleazy Italian horror films of the 1960s and 1970s. And it's great fun - scary and sexy, with style to burn and eye-popping bursts of violence and color. If the plot's a little far-fetched and nonsensical at times, well, so are many of the classic gialli. 

"Knife + Heart" is set in a low-budget adult film studio that specializes in gay porn. The studio director (Vanessa Paradis) and her crew come under siege when a mask-clad killer begins murdering actors. Faced with an indifferent police force, Paradis takes matters into her own hands. By focusing on LGBT characters and making its central character a woman who fights back, "Knife + Heart" subverts a genre often criticized for inflicting violence on female characters. It's witty and smart, if a tad superficial at times. 

Also worth watching: "Amer," another contemporary film that pays tribute to classic gialli.

The Art of Self-Defense - This weird little dark comedy tackles many of the same themes as "Fight Club," with one review even going so far as to say it "feels like an unofficial remake."

What distinguishes "The Art of Self-Defense" from the David Fincher is tone: "The Art of Self-Defense" is quirky and detached, and also tougher to love: Nobody in the film can match the dark charisma Brad Pitt brings to his portrayal of Tyler Durden. That said, "The Art of Self-Defense" is very much worth seeing, and features memorable performances from Jesse Eisenberg, as an office drone who takes up karate after being mugged and left for dead, and Alessandro Nivola, as his mysterious (and misogynistic) sensei. "The Art of Self-Defense" is very funny, but it also makes you wince. 

Also worth watching: Fight Club 

Funny Face - This 1957 musical is a pleasure - pure fun from start to finish. 

If you want to nitpick, you can certainly find things to criticize, but I was too won over by the film's charming stars - Fred Astaire! Audrey Hepburn! Kay Thompson! - Paris locations, Gershwin tunes and stunning taste in fashion to concern myself with "Funny Face's" flaws. One can argue that Astaire is too old for Hepburn, but he dances so well the age difference hardly seems to matter. "Funny Face" put a smile on my face. It's light-hearted feel-good entertainment, and I wouldn't change a thing about it. 

Also worth watching: "Funny Face" director Stanley Donen and Hepburn reteamed for the 1963 romantic thriller "Charade," which also saw a much older man - Cary Grant - cast as Hepburn's love interest. 

Support the Girls - Don't be fooled by the packaging: "Support the Girls" is not a ribald comedy about scantily clad women. Not that it isn't funny - quite often, it is. But it's also serious and melancholy - a dramedy about a day-in-the-life of a Hooters-like restaurant in a Texas strip mall. The insightful film focuses on Lisa, the harried yet caring manager of Double Whammies, and the young women who work for her. 

Similar, in some ways, to the Gen-X classic "Clerks," "Support the Girls" is about work - about the meaning it does or doesn't bring to our lives, the relationships we build with our co-workers, and the indignities of dealing with customers over the course of an eight-hour shift. It's also a subtle yet incisive examination of race, gender and class that turns its scrappy team of restaurant workers into characters worth caring about. 

Also worth watching: "Support the Girls" director Andrew Bujalski was one of the leading lights of the "mumblecore" film movement of the mid-2000s. His debut film "Funny Ha Ha" is also a sympathetic portrait of a woman just struggling to get by. 

Got a comment? Email me at [email protected]