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SCREENING ROOM

Media Distortion Targeted in Short Films

November 21, 1994|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Filmforum's "Mediated Dreams" (tonight at 8 at Hollywood Moguls, 1650 Schrader St. (formerly Hudson) offers a program of short films attacking the media for its myriad distortions and misrepresentations.

By far the most provocative offering is Joel Katz's "Corporation With a Movie Camera," a succinct survey of how major corporations, from the silent era onward, have used the industrial film to project a false rosy future for those foreign countries where American companies have traditionally exploited cheap labor and natural sources; one of Katz's key targets, not surprisingly, is the United Fruit Company, creator of "banana republics."

Igor Vamos, in "Barbie Liberation Organization," has lots of fun sending up the excesses of TV news in the case of the recent incidents in which the voice boxes of the Barbie and G.I. Joe dolls were switched; unfortunately, Vamos, at nearly 30 minutes, indulges in serious overkill. Far more effective is Phil Patiris' sharp and ingenious "The Iraqi Campaign," a corrosive satire of the ways in which TV news exploited the Gulf War as show biz, whipping up jingoistic sentiment and trivializing the entire catastrophe.

Information: (213) 466-4143.

Urban Struggle: The UCLA Film Archive's "New Italian Cinema" series continues Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in UCLA's Melnitz Theater with Gianluca Maria Tavarelli's reflective, low-key "Take Me Away," which offers an exceedingly bleak view of contemporary urban life--at least as it is lived in Turin by people struggling to make ends meet--but one that gradually draws you into it.

Sergio Troiano and Michele Di Mauro are wonderful as ordinary-looking 35-year-old guys, unlucky in love and stuck in low-paying dead-end jobs. They are modern-day Martys who in the course of one of their endless, fruitless rounds of the discos cross paths with a pair of expensive, stunning-looking prostitutes (Stefania Orsolu Garello and France Demoulin, also impressive) they cannot afford.

At this point "Take Me Away" commences dividing its time between the two men and the two women. As we watch the men being ground down by their daily lives, we witness even worse in the case of the women, who are part of the countless numbers of Eastern European women flooding Western Europe and turning to prostitution for survival. As illegal immigrants, they truly are at the mercy of their extremely brutal pimps. The second encounter of these four people provides "Take Me Away" with a startling and effective finish.

Information: (310) 206-FILM.

Cravings in Iran: Mohsen Makhmalbaf's "The Actor" (opening Wednesday at the Monica 4-Plex) offers an implicit criticism of the status of women in contemporary Iran, but it tends to get lost amid the wearying ranting between a famous roly-poly comedian (Akbar Abdi, playing a character of the same name) and his wife Simin (Fatemah Motamed-Aria). He longs for serious acclaim and artistic challenge but accepts strictly commercial assignments to pay for his wife's materialistic cravings; she in turn longs for a child obsessively, perceiving no other way of self-fulfillment.

In desperation she pays a young deaf-mute Gypsy (Mahaya Petrossian) to move in her home and become a surrogate mother. Unlike many Iranian films, this one, although subtitled in English, is likely to appeal only to Farsi-speaking audiences.

Information: (310) 394-9741.

Getting Even: The title of Richard Elfman's "Shrunken Heads" (Fridays and Saturdays at midnight), a limp horror comedy, refers to three New York neighborhood boys gunned down by a gang. The kindly local tobacconist (veteran actor Julius Harris, in an amusing portrayal) turns out to be a Haitian voodoo witch doctor. She restores life to the boys' heads and shrinks them, whereupon they become electrically charged mini-whirling dervishes, whizzing over Manhattan and capable of exacting terrible revenge.

The special effects are good, Richard Band's witty score even better, but that's about it.

Information: (213) 848-3500.

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