John Sayles

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therewillbeblus
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Re: John Sayles on DVD

#26 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Dec 19, 2020 3:48 am

Lianna is a terrific early Sayles, essentially a take on Fassbinder with less of a cynical absolute-alienation focus and more time on the empathy/harsh realism balancing act. Lianna's confession may be naive but she's tuned to her conscience and this makes her fallibility more forgivable. I love the early scene when she confronts her husband in a manner that all melodramas have formed a rule against such outspokenness, just as the husband's explanation to the kids later is done with a compassion out-of-step with how we've seen the character- which has been at his worst, around a wife in a loveless marriage. Sayles finds ways to complicate characters, show their deficits and strengths in subtle and humble expressions, without wholly redeeming them in concrete terms. The film has a sociopolitical edge and commentary, but they're secondary to the interest in how self-expression and unapologetically moving against the norm opens as many doors for conversations and growth as the acts disrupt social security; as well as how competence and comprehension are the problem of the beholder, not the marginalized person projected upon. Sayles' character, for example, plays the funny flirt, the problematic toxic male, and the objective defender of no-judgment. He doesn't so much 'develop' as a character, but Sayles sees human beings as having many shades, and he exemplifies a few sides of one, just as he shows jealousy and confidence wavering in Lianna. Only in an invisible no-budget indie film can an 80s woman be this self-actualized in so much of her behavior against the tides, convey nervousness around universal affection outside of sexuality, and also celebrate selfishness.

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The Narrator Returns
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Re: John Sayles on DVD

#27 Post by The Narrator Returns » Thu Apr 01, 2021 7:31 pm

I've been running through the Sayles filmography for the last half-year or so, and he's quickly become one of my favorite directors ever. The only bad one I've seen so far is Silver City, though I'm not a huge fan of Return of the Secaucus 7, which felt so first-movie clumsy that I'm surprised it has the rep of being a classic in his filmography. On the other end, after hearing only the most tepid things about Casa de los Babys, I was shocked to find that it's one of Sayles' very best. For the complaints I see here and elsewhere about Sayles getting too didactic in later projects (I also love Sunshine State so I think I'm just out on that perspective entirely), it's such a subtle work in how it lets its finely-written hangout scenes dictate the tone while its variety of social issues swirl in the background and only come to the forefront on reflection. It's also one of the best collection of performances in the Sayles oeuvre, even Marcia Gay Harden as the asshole is never anything but nuanced and fascinating.

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deathbird
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Re: John Sayles on DVD

#28 Post by deathbird » Thu Apr 01, 2021 8:44 pm

Sure do wish someone would release Limbo and Lone Star on Blu. Such smart, moving, truly adult films.

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Re: John Sayles on DVD

#29 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Apr 01, 2021 10:54 pm

The Roan Inish DVD wasn't very good, so I keep hoping and hoping -- but these days, who knows, maybe the Bluray will look worse....

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Re: John Sayles on DVD

#30 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Apr 02, 2021 12:06 am

I've been planning the same (coincidentally I just moved my kevyip Sayles folder onto my computer this morning with a plan to exacerbate the viewings shortly), and was also disappointed by Return of the Secaucus 7, especially after hearing it compared to one of my personal favorites, The Big Chill. It's just not very good or memorable at all, and very clearly an amateur work.

I finally watched City of Hope tonight, one I've been saving for years after hearing nothing but praise, and it's a flat-out masterpiece. The film is a vision of America's urban kaleidoscopic contents, corrosive morals and cultural contexts combatting with power and inherently egocentric perspectives. It's raw, angry, loud, humbly realist, sensitive to the disempowered and the lonely searching for connection, projecting pain, or recoiling into self-interest; it's all of these overwhelming and incompatible salad bowl ingredients laid bare, without fully surrendering to defeat. It's Sayles' Do the Right Thing, introducing elements effortlessly to detail a lived-in, if disjointed, community in just two hours, but with The Wire's gritty ethos.

This is a film full of cynical romance, where a man in love professes his own ambitions into the void as the woman he loves is caring for her child before his feet- each person ignoring, yet desperately and authentically yearning for, the other- but without the tools to bridge an honest and intimate union. It's a film where social politics are fatalistically compromised yet their consequences nonetheless carry a vacuumed rationality we can understand, uncomfortably, against the friction of our souls. Joe Morton's righteous late-act speech following a tragic sacrifice of principles is as grey a portrait as anything David Simon has produced, and that is the highest compliment I could possibly give a film tackling these subjects.

The meticulously choreographed long takes containing countless character interactions are nothing short of awe-inspiring, like the famous one everyone talks about from Goodfellas the year before strung throughout an entire film (why isn't this film talked about like that one?). There's no better way to express the fluidity and suffocation of civil pressure than this kind of thematic formalism, a neverending ensemble of overlapping dialogue and noise echoing a streetsmart Altman in every way, from persistently inquisitive technique to seasoned meditations on the various flavors of Americana that inevitably yield a bitter aftertaste. The ending is terminally noxious, with the hopelessness of being heard literally silencing any delusions of control we ever thought we had. The precise execution of the final shot made me feel more alone than any film has ever done.

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Re: John Sayles

#31 Post by DarkImbecile » Fri Apr 02, 2021 12:54 am

Just a heads up that this thread has been moved to its rightful home in the Filmmakers forum with a proper header post

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Re: John Sayles

#32 Post by The Narrator Returns » Fri Apr 02, 2021 4:41 am

I also watched City of Hope this week and it instantly became my favorite Sayles, as well as one of the greatest movies I've ever seen. I don't know why it's not considered canonical in the same way Lone Star is, other than that that movie is all about quiet reflection while this is a primal scream about societal rot. And yes, the ending is just shattering.
SpoilerShow
I figured that Strathairn's part would be to come back at the end and give us the Moral Of The Piece, much like the similar Smiley in Do the Right Thing, which made his actual deployment as a final dead-end all the more brutal.

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Thu Apr 01, 2021 10:54 pm
The Roan Inish DVD wasn't very good, so I keep hoping and hoping -- but these days, who knows, maybe the Bluray will look worse....
The new restoration is on Amazon Prime and I thought it looked absolutely gorgeous, though it was my first viewing so I wasn't comparing it to past releases. If the rumors of a forthcoming Criterion are true I'll happily buy it, it's only below City of Hope in my Sayles ranking.

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Re: John Sayles

#33 Post by therewillbeblus » Fri Apr 02, 2021 9:37 am

The Narrator Returns wrote:
Fri Apr 02, 2021 4:41 am
I also watched City of Hope this week and it instantly became my favorite Sayles, as well as one of the greatest movies I've ever seen. I don't know why it's not considered canonical in the same way Lone Star is, other than that that movie is all about quiet reflection while this is a primal scream about societal rot. And yes, the ending is just shattering.
SpoilerShow
I figured that Strathairn's part would be to come back at the end and give us the Moral Of The Piece, much like the similar Smiley in Do the Right Thing, which made his actual deployment as a final dead-end all the more brutal.
I agree on all accounts. My first reaction was that this is one of the greatest films I've ever seen- certainly one of the best about "America."

Even though its primary tone might be a "primal scream about societal rot," I was pleased to find an ironic sense of karmic logic close several storylines with a sense of meaning, to counter this presentation of disorder stemming from moral cavity seemingly pointed toward further disarray.
SpoilerShow
Morton's politician rebounding from compromise with an increased ferocity to his convictions and the obsessive crooked cop getting shafted by the powers-that-be are two cathartic examples, but the reconciliation between the teacher and one of the boys who accused him of solicitation was a welcome surprise. Normally this side plot would threaten to ruin the movie, positioned solely to provoke the audience's reptilian instincts -and perhaps even harmfully reinforcing reactions against certain populations via exploiting our fears with the American nightmare of undeserved consequences from seeking justice.

However Sayles doesn't have any interest in sending us down a rabbit hole of despairing viewer-shock, and instead allows one of the boys to take responsibility privately and the teacher to open his mind and heart to rehabilitation and the ethos of his profession at once, which is only possible because both acknowledge and respect that public accountability and rigid rules of Right are sacrificed ideals fated to be left in the past. It's a beautiful moment of two people from different backgrounds recognizing deep-rooted macro and fresh micro history, and their respective and shared constraints from systemic powers, and in accepting their limits of control, finding the opportunities in the peripheries to join where they can and move forward with compassion. It's an optimistic reminder of the limitless possibilities we can actualize once we surrender to our locus of control, whilst not ignoring the fundamental variables influencing their social contexts.

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Re: John Sayles

#34 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Apr 03, 2021 10:47 pm

Go For Sisters is a movie destined to fail in anyone else's hands, yet Sayles' determination to examine organic ethical compromise and artificial systemic restraints that bend or fasten around lawless compassion make for a terrific study of the micro implicitly responding to the macro. I loved how Sayles comes at this film from two angles, without pitting them against each other as usurping enemies but instead as mutually exclusive truths. The first perspective is in empathizing with the parolee/recovering addict who is labeled a criminal as her identity by society and has the chips stacked against her, expected to stay afloat without supports and within her triggering social context. The second is her parole officer, who is rigidly moral yet condescendingly dispassionate from cynical burnout common in human services professions, and thus presents as anti-humanistic towards her clients, but still understandably caring to those she knows. Sayles approaches the material with unconditional sensitivity for all contexts, from the branded-Deviant to the aloof social worker who embodies the "me and mine" default of hierarchal sensibility. In one sense, the officer who holds the power uses her old friend, compromising her wellbeing, which could have been exploited in a lesser film as the central conceit, but because it's for a reason so close to her heart (honoring the realistic "me and mine" prioritization) we can hold her hypocrisy and problematic positioning and also validate without judgment.

The film is about power imbalances and fatalism found on the corner of any urban street, but it's also about deep-rooted female friendship and history that can subjectively and spiritually transcend some of these barriers with tenderhearted warmth which can be actualized into tangible activity, though Sayles isn't idealistic and never presents this as an either/or situation. The issues will continue to persist, but that doesn't mean that moments don't also exist where we can dissolve these fences for a little while, and that has invaluable meaning (see: the boy joining the teacher on the run at the end of City of Hope) with potentially lasting consequences depending on our own development towards peripheral vision born from forgiveness and empathy. This is a profoundly humanistic film to, apparently, serve as the final chapter to a profoundly humanistic filmmaker's career.

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Re: John Sayles on DVD

#35 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sat Apr 03, 2021 11:10 pm

LavaLamp wrote:
Wed Dec 11, 2013 3:35 pm
Alfre Woodward also did an amazing job as the patient nurse.
She was my classmate in high school. I had the honor of directing her in a class project for my Honors English class (we had to do an audio version of Shaw's Arms and the Man). Of course, I never actually had to give her any direction at all....

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Re: John Sayles

#36 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Apr 04, 2021 1:33 am

Sunshine State is reminiscent of Sayles' Altmanesque conglomerate City of Hope with a decadesworth more maturity under his belt, transitioning away from impassioned anger and towards a more ethereal, meditative acceptance, the kind he half-wanted some of his characters to find in the earlier masterpiece. Shots like Falco looking at her three-o’clock from the barstool are pulsing with humanity even if only held for a split second, and characters show a reserved internalized compassion in conversation that might appear superficial but are honest blends between unbridled intimacy and the austere desensitization that comes packaged with life experience. This is how most adult conversations go, hardened souls accustomed to Sisyphean banality and accepted cynicism, defending their hearts against the world while creatively flaunting compromises of idealistic romance and self-driven evidence of faith, emotion, and morality under a coat of weighty realism. Even the bond between a man and a child doesn’t contain any observable sentimentality but plants a seed of affection and respect that speaks volumes in elisions. Anyways, this may be my favorite Sayles, and Ebert explained why far better than I could. It certainly examines the intersectionality of relationships and their understated depths better than most of these overlapping narrative ensemble pieces- hell, maybe any of them. The final shot can be read as both a scathingly hilarious piece of irony and an optimistic affirmation of our capacity for resilience. If these privileged guys can effortlessly adapt, so can we; or if they're too ignorant of their peripheries to care, we can be grateful of our sobriety to our convictions.

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Re: John Sayles

#37 Post by therewillbeblus » Sun Apr 04, 2021 1:50 pm

Perhaps not a popular opinion, but I thought Silver City was a smart, funny political satire that also initially mirrors as an involving mystery, until the narrative threads become loose and apathetic towards the 'What' while the detective begins to only care about honoring the humanity of the 'Who.' Somehow Sayles balances a breezy, yielding temperament with an acidic twist of intentionality, a bit like Soderbergh’s brand of playful self-consciousness transmitted through intense enthusiasm. Cooper’s Bush impersonation is laid on as thick as Sayles’ agenda, but he’s never shied away from his themes, even if he usually tackles them with a bit more shade and restraint. This is an inverted version of Sunshine State, but it’s very aware of that, and so Sayles fans will need to surrender a thick clutch on his subtlety to acclimate to this wavelength (if Sunshine State was Sayles' Nashville, this is his HealtH); but like Mamet’s State and Main, this is an outlier in his filmography that merges micro-screwball antics into macro-scorn, though Sayles is far softer and less deliberate about capturing the screwball influences. This is especially apparent in the austerity emanating from Huston’s presence contrasting the absurdity around him, which is so dry it can pass as sincerity on the part of the director. However this fits with Sayles’ grey presentation of eclectic responses to any topic, even if it may be more frustrating to audiences who tend to look for enhanced clarity in comedy that they might be more flexible against demanding in drama. This is a soup of broad humor in a loose narrative skeleton, but it's a welcome dose of calm relaxation between some stormier works.

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Re: John Sayles

#38 Post by beamish14 » Mon Apr 05, 2021 1:56 pm

What really sets Sayles apart from other contemporary American filmmakers is that he's very concerned with issues of economic injustice and how money is used as a tool of oppression. From the single mother who is punished through having her means of financial support disconnected in Lianna and the struggle of unionization in Matewan to communities being outright sold in Sunshine State, he truly understands the disconnect between the American idealization of freedom and the reality of uncontrolled capitalism being a wedge that creates alienation and disillusionment. I definitely see shades of the late Martin Ritt in some of his films, and I think they have some of the same concerns. Sayles always explores how people try to survive under oppressive conditions, and I love Limbo partially because he explores that in a more metaphysical way by the time we reach its conclusion. It's interesting how Sayles employs the idea of artifacts from the past as a comment on the need for collective self-reflexivity in American culture in both Lone Star and Sunshine State as well.

Secaucus Seven is endlessly compared to The Big Chill, but I think a clear distinction between Sayles and Lawrence Kasdan's sensibilities can be made with City of Hope and Grand Canyon, which both came out in 1991. The latter is insulting in its superficiality and timidness in its response to racial issues, and its heavy-handed symbolism illustrates that Kasdan is fearful of the things Sayles has the courage and conviction to actually tackle.

Is anyone here a fan of his literary output? He really is a great novelist, but it's his short stories that I think really shine.

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Re: John Sayles

#39 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Apr 05, 2021 2:12 pm

There's definitely an explicit thread of economic and social justice sewn into his work, but many filmmakers have done this, and what sets him apart in my eyes is that he doesn't make didactic claims to simplify a 1:1 versus scenario. He may squeeze his own beliefs into his films at times, but his best works transcend such ideas. Your reading of Sunshine State, for example, is too pat- which is why I linked Ebert's excellent analysis above: It's not a film about capitalism creating this alienation, although that's certainly where it begins deceptively; but rather it's about the dissonance in perspective and values and goals between people within or across multiple intersections of social contexts, from economic to cultural to generational, etc.

When accepting a context as-is, some of the capitalist oppression is repurposed as opportunities of rescue for certain characters to escape the chained lives of small-business owners, and I think it's implied that the black population fighting for their community to stay the same is overall wealthy and prosperous and want to keep their land for validated selfish gains as well as historical preservation. However Sayles finds unconditional empathy for those accepting or rejecting markers of these contexts, which are never done uniformly and always have an individualized relationship to personal and collective history, and the relationship between those as well, and so on and so forth. In the wake of all this complexity of non-answers, there is a deeply spiritual component to his work. Sunshine State is about finding your own meaning, letting go of it to swim with the tide, and still persisting with compromise when necessary. It's about resilience, but not necessarily in the face of one thing or in the way we often define it, where defeat can be reframed as strength too.

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Re: John Sayles

#40 Post by beamish14 » Mon Apr 05, 2021 2:41 pm

therewillbeblus wrote:
Mon Apr 05, 2021 2:12 pm
Sunshine State is about finding your own meaning, letting go of it to swim with the tide, and still persisting with compromise when necessary. It's about resilience, but not necessarily in the face of one thing or in the way we often define it, where defeat can be reframed as strength too.
That's very true. I think a similar thread can be found in Michael Dorris' amazing novel A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, which Sayles had adapted and intended to direct during the early 90's. His script for it can be easily found online.

I'm surprised that only one other person in the thread thus far has discussed the amazing Men With Guns, his sole feature in his second language, Spanish (in addition to various indigenous languages). Most of his works being with Sony gives me hope that a box set can eventually materialize, and retain his wonderfully informative commentaries. The Kino Lorber Insider said that the home video rights to the films MGM released on DVD appear to now be with his own company, Anarchists' Convention.

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Re: John Sayles

#41 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Apr 05, 2021 2:49 pm

I revisited Men With Guns the other day (I went on a kick of Sayles' work close to ten years ago, maybe longer, so that one wasn't so fresh) and I agree that it's a good and interesting film, though one I don't have a ton to say about. It's like an inverted Heart of Darkness, where the end result is finding spiritual development through a novel kind of catharsis, via affinity to space and culture embedded in realism, so very fitting for Sayles' themes. The ending, particularly the final shot, is also one of his very best.

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Re: John Sayles

#42 Post by therewillbeblus » Mon Apr 05, 2021 10:10 pm

Finished off Sayles' filmography this weekend, with two more strong films. Baby It's You breaks free from the narrative constraints of many coming-of-age films, by taking unexpected twists and turns that remove us from the initial milieu into new physical spaces and through multiple stages of the formative developmental years. Framing the arc outside of a typical framework and into the messy nonlinear structure of a romantic relationship is honest to that experience, and reflects those key years where our identities change rapidly long before we reach the self-actualized deceleration to comprehend what we want and why. This is a practice run for Limbo's more jarring departure from expectations, and bitterly portrays the cancerous self-esteem and elusive desire inherent in partnerships, emerging adulthood, and swayed by issues of class, gender, and culture, without allowing any one thing to explain everything, or anything, clearly. It's a film about feeling, and that's all it needs to be, because even though these two escape their Peyton Place community, they cannot escape the fatalism of change that leads to jaded maturation.

The Secret of Roan Inish is a moving childhood tale where magical realism enchants with prudence, and folklore is not only subjectively meaningful but synonymous with objective history. Sayles respects that Fiona’s perspective is truth, and so this is more of a sincere drama of discovery than a swooping fantasy, honoring a child’s agency and meriting her worldview by connecting it to the adults’ in town. This isn’t a delusional trick either, it’s an attempt to level these relationships with a spiritual essence that everyone can access, regardless of age, and might even be gesturing that a child can perceive truth that adults no longer can- which is fitting to Sayles’ career-long study of adults who have made sacrifices intrinsically through their time-spanning evolution and sobriety to the pain of the world, often disintegrating their peripheral vision to the sublime in the process.

The allegorical tragedy of these adults feeling split between the sea as their souls and the land of pragmatism is fitting to Sayles’ own ethos of organic compromise, and thus he pits Fiona as the innocent who can bypass their self-made barriers for them, and bridge these divided elements together in harmony. Sayles has made a career out of this theme, recognizing both a harsh world and an invisible spiritual sense that doesn’t play by the rules and can be discovered by people who dare to pause from social, historical, and political mores and tap into their hearts to find a hidden truth. He's expressed this in the surrendering optimism of the final jog in City of Hope, the intimate bond in Go For Sisters, the final words of Lone Star, and countless other instances. Here is a film about that mystical connective tissue in the form of a child and her willingness to engage with the world on its terms- meaning both spiritual and corporeal, in equal measure. It’s the perfect film of Sayles to watch last, deceptively his biggest departure yet actually his thesis for life incarnated with flesh and blood.

Since I've also revisited everything that wasn't fresh in memory from the last year or so, might as well do this:

Sunshine State
City of Hope
Lone Star
The Brother From Another Planet
The Secret of Roan Inish
Matewan
Passion Fish

Lianna
Baby It's You
Go For Sisters
Limbo
Casa de los Babys
Silver City
Men With Guns

Eight Men Out
Amigo
Honeydripper

Return of the Secaucus 7

[Note: the only film of his I’m indifferent to is his first, and everything in the purple section is great and could be rearranged from scratch tomorrow]

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Re: John Sayles

#43 Post by beamish14 » Tue Apr 06, 2021 12:17 pm

I like your ranking of his features. It's really amazing how much Sayles evolved in a visual sense across his early films. Despite jumping from 16mm to 35mm for Lianna, I think it looks even rougher than Secaucus (and I've seen both from restorations made by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, which has the negatives for Secaucus, Lianna, and Brother From Another Planet, so it's the best they'll ever look), and fortunately he moved on to other DP's. When I saw Sayles, he had a funny anecdote about collaborating again with Haskell Wexler on Silver City. Sayles recalled asking Wexler if he was familiar with the Super 16mm format, to which Wexler informed him that he was part of the team that helped invent it during the 1960's.

Regarding his writer-only credits, Breaking In is absolutely fantastic. Bill Forsyth realizing Sayles' writing was truly a brilliant marriage, and both Casey Siemaszko (who also has a supporting role in Limbo) and Burt Reynolds are wonderful in it.

The John Frankenheimer-directed The Challenge is pretty insane, and had a notably chaotic production, but its final, reel-long fight sequence, which involves samurai swords slicing into photocopiers, is really something to behold. I believe Sayles has positive things to say about the Dolph Lundgren action vehicle Men of War, but I haven't seen it yet.

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Re: John Sayles

#44 Post by The Narrator Returns » Fri May 07, 2021 11:23 pm

I finally found a copy of Amigo and thus have concluded all of Sayles' directorial efforts. Alas, it was not a very good one to end on, since it lives down to the usually unfair (or completely off-base) complaints Sayles gets about making "political" movies more than creating satisfying or visually engaging stories. Sayles' last three movies to date really see him giving up as a stylist even relative to the unobtrusive visuals of some of his best movies (though I don't think it's a coincidence that my two favorites, City of Hope and Roan Inish, are two of the most visually inventive movies I've seen). Go For Sisters has a strong enough script to overcome that, and Honeydripper has a lot of fun performances to compensate, but Amigo has neither, so it's just flatly-lit shots of two-dimensional characters executed with the weakest acting in his filmography since his debut. Thankfully, despite the rocky ending, this was an immensely rewarding project to undertake, since Sayles is the exact kind of filmmaker I love and wish there were more of at the moment; someone making layered, compassionate character studies with a clear political conscience. In sensibility (if not diversity of genre), he reminds me a lot of another artist I adore, Jonathan Demme, and if Demme is no longer alive to make these kinds of movies, I hope Sayles can come back to pick up the slack.

While I'm here I'll also throw my hat into the rankings game. Everything below Roan Inish in the top tier is equally fantastic, you could rearrange them in any order and it would seem right.

City of Hope
The Secret of Roan Inish
Lone Star
Baby It's You
Casa de los Babys
Sunshine State
Matewan
Lianna

Passion Fish
Limbo
Eight Men Out
The Brother From Another Planet
Men With Guns
Go For Sisters

Honeydripper
Return of the Secaucus 7
Amigo

Silver City

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Re: John Sayles

#45 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat May 08, 2021 2:54 am

I believe Amigo was born from Sayles' growing interest in that specific political epoch in the Philippines since he was writing a novel at the time covering similar terrain, so that's likely what contributed to its austerity bloating the attention away from his typical warmth

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