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Video > Couch Trip

Couch Trip

Huston does O'Connor, Castro when he was cocky, and the haberdasher who dressed the Rat Pack

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Published 5/27/2009

Wise Blood
Criterion

There are two kinds of inscrutable films: The pretentious drek that isn't worth your brainpower and the enigmatic visions that demand multiple viewings to draw your conclusions. Wise Blood is the latter. Deciphering John Huston's bizarre adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's Deep South fable is such an enjoyable, stimulating task that I'd cherish the opportunity to strand myself on a proverbial desert island with it. Brad Dourif stars as returning veteran Hazel Motes, a slow-witted, atheistic evangelist who forms the first Church of Truth Without Jesus Christ in the backwoods town of Taulkinham. He clashes with a blind preacher (Harry Dean Stanton), his flower-wearing nymph of a daughter (Amy Wright), a guitar-playing religious huckster (Ned Beatty) and a local who sees God in a mummy at a history museum (Dan Shor). It all adds up to a profound religious satire. Or maybe a God-fearing conversion story. Or an ethnographic screwball comedy. I'm not sure yet. Extras include newly recorded interviews with Dourif and screenwriters Benedict and Michael Fitzgerald, all of whom wax reverently about the inimitable O'Connor. The real gem of the supplements, though, is a 1982 episode of Creativity with Bill Moyers in which the journalist shadows and interviews the reclusive Huston. —John Thomason


Fidel!
Microcinema

To cut right to the chase, Fidel! is a fantastic documentary. Made in 1969 by director Saul Landau, the filmmakers had unprecedented — and unseen again — access to Fidel Castro, just a decade after the Cuban Revolution, during a period when the bloom was still on Cuba's socialist rose. Castro, expansively articulate, ruthlessly cocky and youthfully handsome, had yet to turn into the toothless, aging agitator most Americans now know, and the film shows him in a variety of personal and professional settings, rounding out the one-dimensional caricature he's so often cast as. Landau captured the man at the height of his powers, when the privation of the American embargo was countered by a robust trade with the Soviet Union and the dream of a communal Caribbean paradise seemed tantalizingly close to fruition. At least that's what the charismatic leader wanted Landau and his crew to believe. Instead, the fruited plains and productive factories that Castro boasts of so proudly are contrasted with breadlines and scenes of devastating poverty. It's truly amazing that Castro and his propaganda team allowed such images to leave the island, but by balancing the truth with Fidel's engaging fantasies, Landau's doc manages to be more accurate than a film on either of those things would have been on its own. —Jason Ferguson


Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills
Indiepix

A film about a suitmaker wouldn't generally promise the most engaging cinema. But when a suitmaker has the irascible personality and unmatched history of Jack Taylor, one is not only engaged, but also bemoaning the end of the bespoke era which Taylor represents. Taylor has been operating a tailor's shop in Los Angeles for the last half-century, and in that time has provided the clothing that defined the style of everyone from the Rat Pack to Jackie Gleason and Cary Grant. Despite a lifetime dealing with customers who are used to not just being right, but also having their egos indulged, Taylor — even after more than 60 years behind the counter — brooks no bullshit when it comes to fitting egos into suits. Wisely, director Cecile Leroy Beaulieu steps out of the film's subject and history and allows the man himself to tell his story, with the backdrop of his iconic haberdashery providing a perfect setting for his reminiscing. While the tales Taylor spins out are deeply fascinating, it's his character that makes this documentary exceptional. —Jason Ferguson

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