Author Archives: J Caleb Mozzocco

Film Review: The Devil Came On Horseback

In the U.S., the majority of the major media discussion revolving around the crisis in Darfur had to do with whether or not anyone in the Bush administration would use the G-word when discussing it, and if and when they would step in and curb the genocide there, or if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would keep us out of intervention.

It also occurred during President Bush’s first term which, at this point, was years ago.

As has increasingly become the case, documentary filmmakers have taken it upon themselves to talk about what the TV and print media can’t or won’t, and co-directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (whose previous collaboration was The Trials of Darryl Hunt, about a wrongly convicted man), have found themselves about as perfect as a protagonist as one could hope for in their Darfur documentary, The Devil Came on Horseback.

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Film Review: No Country For Old Men

In Oprah-approved author Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel No Country For Old Men, an aging small town Texas sheriff ruminates about the scary new world he finds himself living in, complete with new crimes committed by new breeds of criminals he’s unsure if he’s able to face.

Meanwhile, good old boy Llewelyn Moss finds a satchel full of millions of dollars in the midst of a cross-the-border drug deal-turned-Mexican standoff gone very wrong, and takes it—a move sure to sic the money’s rightful owners on him.

What follows is a three-way chase, with Llewelyn on the run with the money, a mysterious, unstoppable killer on trail, and the law pursuing them both. It’s a pretty simple, even shallow story, but McCarthy’s a subtle talent, and he fills seemingly negative story space with implied meaning and dramatic import in a way that gradually catches up with the reader.

The author’s trademark spare storytelling and hands-off approach to visuals and world-building—character descriptions never go any farther than maybe hair or eye color in this particular book, and almost everything but the dialogue and plot are left to the readers’ imagination—provides a perfect vacuum for filmmakers to fill, particularly when the filmmakers have the sort of quirky talents that have made the Coen Brothers’ body of work so distinctive.

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Film Review: For The Bible Tells Me So

I had somewhat mixed feelings while watching this new documentary, which cuts to the heart of anti-gay sentiment in the United States by zeroing in on the alleged source of so much of it—what the Bible has to say on the subject of the morality of homosexuality.

It’s a powerful piece of filmmaking by director and co-writer Daniel G. Karslake, who has sit-down interviews with a half-dozen different religious families, starting with the straight parents and telling their story before even introducing their gay or lesbian child. Each of these story arcs is compelling enough to support a documentary of its own. Built atop these are interviews with theologians and at least one celebrity member of the clergy (Hey look, it’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu!); plenty of painstakingly gathered, archival footage; man on the street-type interviews with passersby; and an educational cartoon sequence about the current state of the science of homosexuality.

Karslake’s film will alternately amuse, infuriate and inspire, when it’s not breaking your heart or demolishing religious arguments against homosexuality that claim to be supported by the Bible, most of which you’ve (hopefully) heard before. In the entire book, there’s only about a half-dozen mentions of homosexuality all together, Jesus never once mentions it, there was no word for homosexuality in the modern sense in the original languages the books of the Bible were written in, the same book that calls men lying with men “an abomination” also calls eating shrimp “an abomination,” and so on.

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Film Review: The Darjeeling Limited

The Darjeeling Limited is the new Wes Anderson movie, and any review beyond that simple statement seems a little superfluous.

At this point, if you’ve seen any of Anderson’s films, then, in a sense, you’ve seen them all. At the very least, you know what to expect going in: brilliantly designed if over-precious curio cabinet-style set design, a great soundtrack that does a lot of the storytelling by itself, at least one Wilson brother, a wry sense of humor, funny names for places and characters, and a drifting tale of rich, talented people struggling with their own ennui and their place in the world.

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Film Review: Elizabeth: The Golden Age


Cate Blanchett and director Shekhar Kapur return to the scene of their greatest triumph, 1998’s Elizabeth, for a rather tardy sequel, this one covering some of the most dramatic elements of the sixteenth-century monarch’s reign and, come to think of it, English history in general.

There’s something a little sad about the film’s very existence, as if Kapur hasn’t found anything better to do in the last decade (His only film between the two was the two hundreth adaptation of The Four Feathers), and while Blanchett’s gone on to great success after her career-making turn, it seems a little unnatural for her to make this film now.

They’re rejoined by Geoffery Rush as Elizabeth’s advisor Sir Francis Walsingham, and writer Michael Hirst, who gets an assist this time out from William Nicholson, whose past historical dramas haven’t exactly been celebrated for their veracity (Gladiator, First Knight). Whether it’s Hirst’s influence, or the influence of the out-sized historical events being covered or the simple adherence to the sequel formula of bigger and more of everything, this Elizabeth is almost hysterical in its overwrought symbolism, over-written scenes, and explosively acted characters.

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Film Review: Michael Clayton


The best example of how well made a film Michael Clayton is may just be that it’s great in spite of a pretty generic and conventional plot. Here’s the pitch: George Clooney plays a lawyer caught in the middle of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit leveled against an Evil Corporation by innocent farmers claiming their product has slowly poisoned them, and he gets his hands on explosive evidence that the Evil Corporation, being evil, will stop at nothing to suppress.

It sounds like Erin Brokovich minus the cleavage, or like the work of John Grisham or one of his many imitators. But longtime screenwriter Tony Gilroy, making his directorial debut here (apparently on the strength of the success of his Bourne screenplays), fleshes that skeletal synopsis out in interesting ways, giving it nuance and character, and he tells the story in such a way that it’s remarkably gripping. Not to mention quite beautiful. It was such an immersive experience, that it wasn’t until I sat down to start sorting out my thoughts on it that I began to realize how generic it actually is.

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Film Review: Fido


This engaging little zombie flick showed up in Columbus twice already this year, screening at last spring’s Ohio Science Fiction Marathon and then again at the Deep Focus Film Fest, and now it’s finally shambling back for a longer stay at the Drexel…but not much longer, apparently.

The city’s art-house mini-chain announced to critics and media that Fido would be opening in Columbus tomorrow for a split-run at the Drexel Grandview. As of Thursday afternoon, however, the Drexel’s website has just two showings listed for Fido—Friday and Saturday, October 12 and 13, at midnight at The Gateway. According to second hand info, those are the only screenings the Drexel intends at this point, but we haven’t gotten any formal update.

But longer engagement seems unlikely, as the movie should be available on DVD October 23, and it’s hard to ask people to pay admission to see a movie on a big screen that they can rent, borrow or buy for a fraction of the cost.

It’s too bad, because it really is a pretty great movie, with the sorts of visuals that really should be seen on a big screen.

Let me tell you about it…*

Directed by Andrew Currie from a script by Currie, Robert Chomiak and Dennis Heaton, Fido has an interesting—and decidedly retro—spin on the zombipocalypse story, taking its cues from old-school family television.

A brisk newsreel-meets-Night of the Living Dead classroom filmstrip tells the tale of the long-past zombie wars, during which a cloud of radioactivity from space began reanimating the dead. The living ultimately won out, thanks to benevolent corporation Zomcon’s timely invention of a special collar that makes zombies helpful domestic servants. Kind of like slavery.

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Film Review: A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory


Filmmakers’ fascination with the sixties New York City art scene, particularly the elements of it that orbited around Andy Warhol, continues to yield more and more films, but Esther Robinson’s A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory has a very unusual, very personal hook to it.

The ostensible subject, Danny Williams, was a somewhat minor figure in the scene (By most accounts; the influence individuals exerted and the credit they deserved is something parties are still jockeying for 40 years later, as the film demonstrates).

He met a spectacular, mysterious and romantic end, having simply disappeared one night, never to be heard from again (Death or suicide seems likely, but no body was ever found).

And he happens to be the director’s uncle.

Robinson never met her uncle, but certainly his disappearance must have informed elements of her family life, and been particularly fascinating to her, doubly so once she pursued filmmaking (But I’m just guessing, you’ll have to ask her yourself; she’ll be at the Wex to introduce the film herself).

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Film Review: Caveman: V.T. Hamlin & Alley Oop


The influence that some of the most popular comic strips have had on American culture is readily apparent to just about everybody, both in the effects of that influence, and the awareness of their source.

The most obvious example is Peanuts, which has probably had the most cultural impact and is still one of the more widely published strips (even if it’s in permanent repeats). But think too of Dick Tracy, Dennis the Menace and Popeye, which may have been eclipsed in the mainstream imagination by their adaptations into other media, but the line between their strip origins and the fingerprints they’ve left on our culture is wide, straight and brightly drawn.

V. T. Hamlin’s Alley Oop though? Everyone’s heard the golden oldie song of the same name, and, sportscasters still refer to slam-dunks or long passes as an “alley oop,” but how clear is it where the song came from, or what inspired the sports term?

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Film Review: Strange Culture


In one respect, the court of public opinion works just like a real U.S. courtroom: The defendant just has to prove, or at least cast a degree of reasonable doubt, that he didn’t do what he’s being accused of. It’s up to prosecutors to make the specific case.

And in the court of public opinion, documentary Strange Culture acts a bit like a defense lawyer for its protagonist Steve Kurtz, the college professor and artist who the federal government pursued as a bioterrorist in 2004, when Petri dishes were discovered in his home by first responders answering a 911 call. Kurtz called them himself because his wife of 27 years, Hope Kurtz, had died in her sleep of heart failure, despite no history of health problems.

This documentary film by Lynn Hershman suggests that the government is coming down so hard on Kurtz for one of two reasons.

One reason could be that the Department of Justice’s first impulse was to accuse him of bioterrorism, and they were then reluctant to back off the charges to save face and avoid looking foolish, and because of the immense political pressure they were under to make a bust in the conviction-less “War on Terror.”

Another could be that the Kurtzes and their art collective, “The Critical Art Ensemble,” were in the process of putting together a show designed to educate the public on the evils of agribusiness’ genetically modified foods, which, in the U.S., doesn’t need to be labeled, and which the government is therefore complicit in.
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