LAFF 2007: Lost Girls and Mighty Black Men

One of the ideas the festival is heavily pushing this year is that for every movie you attend that you planned on seeing, you should go to another one you don’t know anything about, or might not be inclined to go to normally.

I tend to do this sometimes when I attend something simply because it’s playing at the right time, and thus found myself in BAJO JUAREZ, a movie with the all-lowercase secondary title of “the city devouring its daughters.” It’s a documentary about Juarez, a Mexican town near the U.S. border with work opportunities aplenty due to the maquiladoras, but also an epidemic of teenage girls being abducted, raped, and killed. At one point we’re told there have been 356 since 1996, which a prosecutor straight-facedly tells us is “not such a scandalous number.”

The best working theory so far suggest that rich and powerful families are having the abductions done on their own behalf, and that the police are complicit, not only in turning a blind eye, but also in torturing innocent men via electric shocks to the ‘nads until they confess and take the rap for the crime. It is suggested that some people very close to Vicente Fox are to blame. This is the real Hostel, apparently -- rich people do kill young girls and cover it up, with little apparent motivation other than because they can, or for thrills.

The film itself is technically not the highest quality, with some footage clearly blown up from TV and home video, and other footage that just looks like it was, but man, what a story.

Back in the Target Red Room, I enjoyed “Target-tinis” -- cosmopolitans with a white apple ring floating in the middle to create the Target logo. Someone in their marketing department was thinking. For some odd reason, there was also an awards ceremony for Spider-Man short films made with toys, and Sam Raimi (looking really haggard, like a war correspondent) and Avi Arad actually showed up to give prizes. I half-heartedly yelled out “Spider-Man 3 sucked!” but wasn’t bold enough to do it at the top of my lungs. I didn’t want to get kicked out with all the free Target-tinis going around.

Besides, Spider-Man 3 only half-sucked. And the gift bags they gave us at the party contained a Hasbro “Titanium” (i.e. diecast metal) action figure of movie Venom, whom they insist on mis-coloring purple.

After a game of air hockey with a comely young lass, it was time for a meeting with THE MAN. Bad movie theater pun alert -- most theaters in Westwood are, of course, owned by the Mann chain. So when I told my friend Gregory Gardner that I was going to The Man, he responded, “But what are you going to see?”

The Man is a 1972 movie originally made for TV but released theatrically, in which the president dies in a collapsing building, as does the house speaker, and the ailing VP refuses the job, so the presidency goes to Senate president pro tempore Douglas Dillman...a black man! It’s based on a ‘60s novel by Irving Wallace, that was made more TV-safe by Rod Serling. Not available on DVD.

Prior to the screening, we were treated to a discussion with director Joseph Sargent, Wallace’s son David, Chris Rock collaborator Ali LeRoi (there because he cowrote Head of State, another black-president movie -- yes, this is all in anticipation of a possible black president next year), and former film critic Elvis Mitchell.

Sargent didn’t know the novel had been toned down; he was just overjoyed that he got to make this kind of statement, though he wished it had aired on TV instead, saying it would have reached more people and shaken things up more. Wallace said he’s still trying to sell the film rights to the novel in its uncensored form, but that at one meeting, studio executives suggested Tom Hanks for the lead role, explaining that, “It isn’t really about him being black,” to which Wallace responded, “Yes, yes, it really is.”

Every time LeRoi would crack a good joke, like one suggesting Gary Coleman would be an acceptable black president in a movie because he’s short and non threatening, Mitchell would give a really dramatic reaction, jumping of the stage, running to the wall, and hitting it a few times while he laughed. I guess anyone named Elvis kinda has to be theatrical like that.

As for the movie...did I mention it stars James Earl Jones? He starts off as an insecure wimp, but by movie’s end has discovered his Darth Vader voice, as he confronts such foes as a Strom Thurmond-type segregationist senator played by Burgess Meredith, who says things like “The White House doesn’t seem near white enough for me tonight!”, and the government of South Africa. It seems quaint to think that the big diplomatic crisis here is South Africa breaking off diplomatic relations, I mean, South frickin’ Africa? Who cares? What are they gonna do? It’s hardly a Soviet threat, or Iranian nukes, or Al Qaeda. But it raises racial issues, which is the point.

Finally, the evening was capped off by a midnight showing of THE WIZARD OF GORE, Jake Kasten’s remake of the Herschell Gordon Lewis film, this time with Crispin Glover as a mad magician who appears to be disemboweling naked tattooed girls on stage (said naked girls being the actual Suicide Girls, which is a good score for Kasten). Glover is great as always, but Kip Pardue is oddly miscast in the lead role, dressed as a ‘50s detective and failing to look like much other than a himbo. The art direction is also problematic -- it looks like the crew rented out some warehouses and downtown LA and sparsely dressed the sets with brand spanking new and clean props. That, plus the digitally saturated colors, all seems like a deliberate choice -- but it makes the world of the film feel very un-lived in.

However, when a director throws this much nudity, blood, and wacky actors at you, it can’t be all bad -- Jeffrey Combs shows up to eat maggots and bite the heads off dead rats, Brad Dourif plays leech-lovin’ Dr. Chong (whose medicine store is called “Herbals in Your Mouth”), and Bijou Phillips plays the non-slutty girl for a change.

Not a great flick, but at least an enjoyably bad one.


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