Eve’s Bayou (TubiTV)
Speaking of great African-American movies, this directorial debut by actress Kasi Lemmons (best known as Jodie Foster’s roommate in The Silence of the Lambs) is notable for telling a story about spirituality and voodoo in Louisiana instead of gangsters on the city streets. Eve’s Bayou (1997) is a beautiful, powerful movie about a family said to be descended of a French aristocrat and a black voodoo priestess. Living in a huge mansion beside a mysterious swamp, 10-year-old Eve (Jurnee Smollett) accidentally catches her father (Samuel L. Jackson), a philandering doctor, in a compromising position. But did she really see it, or was it just a corrupted memory?
Eve spends time over the summer with her Aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan), a fortune teller, and learns that she, Eve, has a special gift as well. Meanwhile, all kinds of family chaos erupts around Eve’s older sister Cisely (Meagan Good) and her mother Roz (Lynn Whitfield). Working from her own, astounding original screenplay, Lemmons and cinematographer Amy Vincent create a powerful blue mood piece, using mysticism and memory to uproot any normal narrative structure and focus on feelings, ranging from passionate to violent. Film critic Roger Ebert selected it as the best movie of its year, and it won Best Debut Feature from the Independent Spirit Awards and the National Board of Review.
The Shooting (FilmStruck)
It’s springtime, and though many of us can’t get outdoors as often as we’d like, sometimes a great movie set in the outdoors, like a good Western, can suffice. Monte Hellman’s The Shooting (1966) is one of my all-time favorites of the genre. Made on the cheap for producer Roger Corman (who did not take credit), it’s said to be an “existential” Western, but that’s mainly because of its weird, mind-bending ending. Miner Willett Gashade (Warren Oates) and his slow-witted partner Coley (Will Hutchins) are approached by a pretty, but hard, woman (Millie Perkins); she hires them to take her to the next town, but refuses to tell them anything else.
Before long, they are joined by a mean, black-gloved gunslinger called Billy Spear (Jack Nicholson). As horses begin to crumble under the strain of the journey across the hardscrabble landscape and water runs out, the travelers are forced to face the truth about themselves. Written by Carole Eastman under the pseudonym “Adrien Joyce,” the movie has a scrappy, pugnacious B-movie feel while still remaining thoughtful and mature. It was shot back-to-back with another Western, Ride in the Whirlwind (equally good, and also starring Nicholson and Perkins). Americans didn’t know what to make of the two movies, but they were quite popular in France, and they have since become cult classics.
For his third time out as director, Denzel Washington takes on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play by August Wilson. Audiences responded, the movie turned a profit, as well as received four Oscar nominations. Washington stars as garbage collector Troy, living in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. After work, he walks home with his friend Bono (Stephen Henderson), returning to his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and their son Cory (Jovan Adepo). In his life he sees mainly regret and duty, mourning the loss of his baseball career, trying to get a promotion to driver, and taking care of his shell-shocked brother Gabriel Maxson (Mykelti Williamson). He can’t even muster any affection for his son, and forbids him to play football. Then, his only outlet, an unseen dalliance with another woman, becomes yet another problem.
Regardless of who adapted the play to the screen, Wilson—who died in 2005—gets sole screenwriting credit, and a heavy layer of prestige hovers over the entire production. Nevertheless, Washington creates a strong, vivid interior world for his character, and uses a simple but evocative set design—uneven cobblestones in the backyard, a baseball tied to a tree, and the ever-growing title fence—to further flesh out the story. The performances are on the large side, but they’re of an extremely high quality, and emotionally rending. Of course, Ms. Davis won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Fences was part of a 10-play cycle by Wilson, and Washington has expressed his desire to film all 10 of them.
Phantasm: Ravager (Shudder)
There’s nothing quite like a good-bad B-movie to lift the spirits, and Phantasm: Ravager (2016) is as good/bad as any; it’s a Shudder exclusive. It’s the fifth in the Phantasm horror series, begun back in 1979 by filmmaker Don Coscarelli, who this time handed the reins over to animator David Hartman (who has everything from Godzilla to Winnie-the-Pooh on his resume). I’m not exactly sure what or who the “ravager” is here, but I suspect it’s the stalwart Reggie (Reggie Bannister), the one-time ice cream man, part-time musician, and full-time cool dude that has been a staple of all five movies. He’s like a balding, ponytailed Bruce Willis here, occasionally saying cool things while brandishing firearms, but mostly just trying to get through it all.
We last left Reggie in Phantasm IV in 1998, and now find him wandering the desert, and re-obtaining his beloved 1971 Plymouth ‘Cuda (from an unwise thief), before he starts flashing back and forth between several realities. He meets a beautiful woman Dawn (Dawn Cody), and the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm, in his final performance before passing away in 2016) tries to make a deal with him. Or is he really in a hospital, suffering from dementia? Or is he in a post-apocalyptic future? The movie more or less rolls along with all this, always simply enjoying its own creation, never bothering to explain or unpack anything too deeply. The attitude is playful, loopy fun, with not-too-expensive but totally worthy visual effects as a finishing touch. For die-hard fans, Shudder also offers three of the other films in the Phantasm series (all except Part II).