For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
It would have been understandable had “We Were Here” veered into the
maudlin. The documentary, which recounts how San Francisco’s gay
community united in the 1980s to combat the AIDS epidemic, has its share
of gut-wrenching stories. But the film is admirably no-frills.
Screening Wednesday, Nov. 30, at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, “We Were Here” is spare, somber and unsentimental.
It is also thoroughly inspiring. Directors David Weissman and Bill Weber illustrate AIDS’ devastating impact on San Francisco by narrowing the focus to a handful of interview subjects.
The interviewees — gay-rights activist Paul Boneberg, florist Guy Clark, nurse Eileen Glutzer, artist Daniel Goldstein and counselor Ed Wolf — depict how the city spiraled from a beacon of sexual freedom to a community mired in death.
Wolf recalls first learning about AIDS when he saw photographs posted on a drugstore window. The pictures showed a man wasting away and covered in mysterious lesions.
“Watch out, guys,” read a caption under the photos. “There’s something out there.”
But “We Were Here” is not a tale of defeat. With roughly half of San Francisco’s gay population impacted by AIDS, the tight-knit community joined forces and did what needed to be done for those infected. With minimal use of archival footage or photos, the documentary gives its interviewees room to bear witness.
Their stories are undeniably heartbreaking, but also reveal strength and — at the risk of invoking what might be the overused word of this decade — resilience.