I did see a couple of movies at the M-SPIFF on Friday night. First was a documentary:
This is a documentary co-directed by Steve James, who directed Hoop Dreams and Stevie and it's an incredibly powerful film. If you've seen either of those earlier films, you know James' documentary style - he illustrates a larger issue by getting intimately involved in the life of someone dealing with that issue. In this case, it's the death penalty and the main subject of the film is Carroll Pickett, a man who served as the prison chaplain at the state prison in Huntsville, TX. While Pastor Pickett was working at the prison, the death penalty was re-instated and as you may know, Texas has been doing a booming business in executions ever since. Death Row inmates are transferred to Huntsville on the day of their execution and Pastor Pickett counseled and ministered to 95 prisoners on the day of their executions, including being present for the execution. The film really focuses on Pastor Pickett as a man - fully human, with weaknesses and strengths, like us all. Interspersed with Pastor Pickett's story is the story of one of the men he counseled, Carlos Deluna. Mr. Deluna was executed in 1989 and there is a great deal of evidence which demonstrates that he was an innocent man. This is an amazing film that everyone should see, whether they are in favor, opposed or not sure about the death penalty. It will be shown on the IFC channel on 5/29 and will be released on DVD. Mr. James was present for the screening at M-SPIFF and talked a little bit about some of the special features they will include on the DVD. Pastor Pickett made a tape recording of his thoughts following every execution. We hear some of those tapes in the film, but there will be even more of those recordings on the DVD. I would highly recommend this film to anyone.
The second film I saw wasn't quite as affecting:
This was an Irish film, directed by John Boorman ("Deliverance", "The General", "The Last Tailor of Panama") and starring Brendan Gleeson as a successful Dublin land developer who suddenly is being stalked by a man who looks exactly like him. The title is a reference to the term "The Celtic Tiger" which was the name given to the period of the 90s when Ireland had a huge economic growth. Ireland went from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the wealthiest by the end of the 90s. As a result of that, there'a a wide gap between the haves and the have nots and there's also been a huge increase in alcoholism and drug abuse. Gleeson's character gives a speech in the film where he warns to be careful when you have a tiger by the tail, because it can bite you in the arse. The political message of the film was pretty heavy handed - from that speech by the Gleeson character to the large number of people in the streets vomiting and getting high and the ongoing debate between the main character and his son, a Marxist, about the evils of capitalism. There was a section in the middle where I grew very annoyed with the film because the events occuring because of the mistaken identity between the main character and his double could have been easily solved with a few phone calls. I hate it in movies when conflict is created by people behaving as no real people really would. I liked how the film ended up, though, so by the end I had a little more fondness for the film. I liked Gleeson in both roles and I loved Ciaran Hinds in a small part as the main character's childhood friend who is now a priest. Kim Cattrall plays Gleeson's wife. She does a fairly good job, though her Irish accent comes and goes. I can't really say I'd recommend this film, but if you're interested in Irish film or have a particular fondness for Dublin, it may be worth a rental.