By Derek Jenkins and Lindsey Millar
Killer of Sheep (1977),
dir. Charles Burnett
Driven more by a succession of starkly beautiful black and white images than any real plot, the true subject of “Killer of Sheep” is community, as filtered through the feverish consciousness of an insomniac butcher. No American film charts black experience with such lyrical and intangible exactness. Already ghostly and ethereal, Charles Burnett’s debut feature has haunted all discussions of ’70s American cinema for years: The victim of legal squabbles that shared no sense of the film’s urgency and transcendental power, the film was not distributed in theaters. Until very recently, movie lovers have been forced to take lucky critics at their word. In years hence, Burnett’s hardscrabble, here-and-there career will stand as the most nagging of missed opportunities. Do not miss your opportunity to see this powerful film on the big screen.
10 Items or Less (2006),
dir. Brad Silberling
Morgan Freeman lends gravity like a library lends books. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing him play wise, infallible monuments. And he’s in such high demand for his voiceover work because of the cushiony pleasantness and ingrained authority of his inflections. Mark my words: One day he will play George Washington in a racially adventurous biopic. And so to witness an actor of his talents strip all that away and construct a character unlike anything we’ve seen before is conversely thrilling. In Brad Silberling’s “10 Items or Less,” Freeman gives one of his most compelling performances since playing Fast Black in “Street Smart.” As an out-of-his-element actor shuffling through L.A.’s immigrant community with ingratiating ineptitude, he redeems a small film that sometimes tries too hard but makes up for it in spades by being so generously watchable.
Dog Soldiers (2002),
dir. Neil Marshall
Probably the best film of last year was only sort of about scary cave monsters. In an intellectual bait-and-switch familiar to fans of Romero and Cronenberg, Neil Marshall’s “The Descent” was less concerned with fetus-like bat-men than something altogether more serious — the social and personal resonance of deep grief. But it was still damn frightening. And it was so good that people began to get curious about where this guy Marshall came from, and his directing debut quickly attained cult status. Skillfully exploring group dynamics in crisis, “Dog Soldiers” follows British soldiers on a mundane training exercise in the Scottish countryside, and then takes a turn for the decidedly un-mundane when local werewolves start eating folks. Produced by Arkansas native David Allen (who’ll participate in a Q&A following the screening), it’s both an effective fright vehicle and a sturdy character study, awash in non-CGI special effects that recall Neil Jordan’s “The Company of Wolves.” If John Huston ever made a horror film, it surely would have looked something like this.
Bodies & Souls (2006),
dir. Christie Herring
Nestled among the documentary shorts program, you’ll find a small gem about Catholic nuns in rural Mississippi. Sister Manette Durand runs the only health center in Jonestown. Attending to the town’s many low-income families — many of them uninsured — Durand guides us through the day-to-day operations and numbing bureaucracy of social work, and in the process redefines the concept of worship: “There’s a tradition among sisters that you go to church every day if you can. ... I could go to church every day if I really put my mind to it, but the beauty of the people that I work with and the people that I serve, they show me the hand of God.” Some people live lives of quiet dedication.