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Renovation or insensitivity?

June 19, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Among the standout films screening in the final weekend of the Los Angeles Film Festival is the disturbing and provocative "Flag Wars," from filmmakers Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras. The documentary follows, over a four-year period, a gentrifying movement in a Columbus, Ohio, black neighborhood, where gays and lesbians -- recognizing the potential in the area's run-down homes -- begin renovating the large, handsome turn-of-the-century residences.

As these fine homes become restored one by one to their original elegance, African Americans -- many of them elderly and impoverished -- find it difficult to meet newly enforced zoning and code requirements.

Bryant and Poitras discover many decent people in both the gay and African American communities but give the impression that collectively the gays seem more concerned with refinishing woodwork and repairing gingerbread than in community outreach. It is dismaying that one historically oppressed group would be so insensitive to the rights and needs of another. But "Flag Wars" is not entirely convincing: The filmmakers do not reveal definitively if there are any gays making a wholehearted attempt to be good neighbors. The film leaves one wondering just how fair it has been to the gay community.

Even so, "Flag Wars" is thought-provoking. It introduces us to a 39-year-old woman dying of cirrhosis of the liver who refuses to give up the dilapidated brick Queen Anne Victorian she can no longer afford to maintain. We also meet a canny black intellectual and spiritual and artistic community leader whose hand-carved name-and-address sign has become the center of a breathtakingly petty feud.

The filmmakers also take a larger perspective, chronicling both a Ku Klux Klan demonstration against blacks and an equally virulent anti-gay demonstration. But the filmmakers have said that they discovered what their film is really about is capitalism, and that rising property values are finally all that matter.

The American Cinematheque's fifth annual Japanese Outlaw Masters series, composed of films that push boundaries of sex and violence or are otherwise bizarre and outrageous, runs tonight through Sunday at the Egyptian. Screening tonight is "Graveyard of Honor," Takashi Miike's new version of the story -- based on the life of an actual gangster, a raving sociopath -- that was first filmed by the late Kinji Fukasaku in 1976. Miike, like Fukasaku before him, is the very definition of an "outlaw master."

"Graveyard of Honor" charts the rise and fall of a young, violent yakuza (Goro Kishitani) whose undoing is caused by a lie told to him by older colleagues fed up with his savage and unpredictable behavior. He has come to see his godfather for a 10-million-yen loan only to be told he has left for a hot springs holiday; in reality the godfather is off to see his dentist and is gone no more than two hours. But the hothead yakuza goes off on a self-destructive tailspin. Filmmaker Miike is as dynamic and violent as ever.

Masato Harada's "Bounce Ko Gals" is one of the most unusual films in the series, not lurid enough to quite fit despite the fact that "ko gals" is slang for call girls. The film is about high school girls who go to Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district to shop and to participate in the area's thriving sex industry in order to pay their bills. It is set in a 24-hour period during which a group of girls is prepared to do anything to raise money for another girl, Lisa (Yukiko Okamoto), robbed hours before she is to board a plane for New York. "Bounce Ko Girls" is notably short on sex and violence.

Nonjudgmental, Harada calls attention to the vast, complex underground sex industry in Shibuya through the adventures of the girls who are unabashed materialists but who are touching in their loyalty to one another. Given the seaminess of circumstances in which the girls have placed themselves, Harada has managed to come up with a light and breezy movie -- until it lurches to an old-fashioned sentimental finish.



What: "Flag Wars"

Where: Tonight, 7 p.m., Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; Friday, 9:30 p.m., Directors Guild of America, 7920 Sunset Blvd., L.A.

Info: (866) FILMFEST or (866) 245-6337

What: "Graveyard of Honor," tonight, 9:15 p.m.; "Bounce Ko Gals," Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: American Cinematheque, Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre at the Egyptian, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Info: (323) 466-FILM

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