On DVD: “Times and Winds,” “Chop Shop”

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07142008_timesandwinds.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

It’s amazing to contemplate, but world cinema didn’t really make serious feature films about children until after WWII; Vittorio De Sica’s “Shoeshine” (1946) might’ve been the first. (You could stretch and consider Hal Roach’s vivid and roughhewn “Our Gang” shorts as qualifying, and I wouldn’t argue.) After the New Waves got rolling, of course, juveniles proliferated like rabbits on screen, but prior to that nearly the first half of cinema history had little or nothing to say about the bedeviled, often neglected, wide-eyed life of the pre-adult. Did cinema change with the war, or did we? Two new movies to DVD, Reha Erdem’s “Times and Winds” (2006) and Ramin Bahrani’s “Chop Shop” (2007), make their individual cases that little outside of the movie dynamic has changed at all, and that life as a 12-year-old in any corner of the globe is still subject to the grinding, merciless self-involvement of the adult world.

Erdem’s movie is a native Turkish art film, more elliptical and allusively observant even than the recent films of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. The setting is a remote Pontic Mountain village, the time is unspecified, the cultural climate is post-medieval and Muslim (the hamlet has little, but possesses its own minaret), the characters are two preteen boys who live out their lives in a state of embittered, anticipatory stasis. They watch animals copulate, they steal cigarettes, they work, but they also hate their parents: the sickly imam’s son relentlessly plots all manner of surreptitious patricide, while his friend, entranced by a crush on their young and serene schoolteacher, is revolted to find his righteous father spying on her. Other fathers beat and humiliate other sons and daughters and orphans; “shithead” is the label passed down from each generation to the next. But the action of Erdem’s film belongs to the quotidian, to the relationship between moon and clouds, to the unrolling of each day (and its prayer cycle) and of the seasonal process. Sure, there’s a coming-of-age primal scene, but the girl in question retreats to her bed and weeps after seeing her parents in flagrante. Aching with the Górecki-like symphonic throbs of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, the film suggests a version of Victor Erice’s “The Spirit of the Beehive” for the new millennium, even if its poetry outpaces Erice’s — Erdem punctuates his semi-narrative with surreal tableaux of his cast of children slumbering (or dead?) buried in pine needles, covered with the debris of a demolished house, in leaves, nearly subsumed by undergrowth, etc. You’re never sure what’s going on in these enigmatic images, or, really, between them (the characters do not express themselves openly), you’re just sure you’ve never quite seen this particular brand of mysterious poetry before.

07142008_chopshop.jpgBahrani’s “Chop Shop” takes place in the unmistakable present, but its setting exudes sociopolitical commentary without anyone saying a word: it’s the hunk of Flushing, Queens known as Willets Point, a resident-free neighborhood that floods routinely and is comprised entirely of auto repair shops, junk dealers and the titular stolen-car-processing outfits. Seen from the orphaned 12-year-old hero’s perspective, it’s a lawless frontier of make-it-on-your-own American Dreamism; for us, it’s the asshole of the global economy, a squalid proto-slum that’s indistinguishable from unremarkable slices of Bombay or Rio, thriving on manufactured leftovers and cannibalized industry. But there’s Shea Stadium looming in the near distance, and there are the airliners flying out of LaGuardia overhead — this is an America we don’t see in movies, and Bahrani, whose “Man Push Cart” (2005) had a similar torque to it, knows how to make his semi-doc ultra-realism jump out at you as neo-Kafka-esque metaphor.

We’re in the tradition of Satyajit Ray and Ken Loach, but we’re in New York, and for that overdue transplantation, we should be thankful. It’s unfortunate, then, that Alejandro (Alejandro Polanco) is a relatively simple character — bullet-headed and ambitious, but still only a kid, wrestling with his love and shame for his older sister (Isamar Gonzales), who moonlights blowjobbing at night, and becoming obsessive about his own get-rich schemes. (We never learn what became of their parents.) How could Alejandro’s dreams, and his coffee can of cash, end up except in anti-climactic disappointment? Chin-deep in convincing texture, Bahrani never takes the daring next step for which his symbolic realism cries out — into a realm (epic, absurdist, satiric, visionary, what have you) where the broader meaning of his narratives overtakes his oppressive everyday details. When he does, he might make a masterpiece.

[Photo: “Times and Winds,” Kino, 2007; “Chop Shop,” Koch Lorber, 2007]

“Times and Winds” (Kino Video) and “Chop Shop” (Koch Lorber Films) are now available on DVD.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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