Just for the Ride

dir. Amanda Micheli

The Wildest Show in the South: The Angola Prison Rodeo

dir. Simeon Soffer

Thurs Jan 23-Sun Jan 26 at the Little Theatre.Do you realize what it means to break every bone in your body? Every bone, every damn last one. This is why I never had secret ambitions to be a cowgirl. I rejected that whole Tom Robbins hoo-ha. I fell off a horse when I was eight and, unaware of the old chestnut, never got back on. Jan Youren, in Amanda Micheli's Just for the Ride, rode an entire winning season with her back broken, and has broken every bone in her body, most of them more than once. Youren is certainly tough (she says childbirth is a cakewalk compared to rodeo), but Micheli's film feels sweet and nostalgic, playing more or less right into everything we think we know about cowgirls, weathered hides covered in spangles. The Wildest Show in the South, a short documentary about the Angola Prison Rodeo, is stranger and more provocative, not least because of the contrast between the prisoners' rodeo ambitions (couched in the universal language of self-improvement--taking out aggressions, perseverance, succeeding at goals) and the real violence of the rodeo games. But there's something rolling through this film that redeems the easy morality, something about the fair fight--with a victim that can fight back (and how!)--that keeps The Wildest Show prickly and unsettling. Which it should be; when the rodeo settles comfortably into the realm of metaphor, when breaking every bone in your body is just something you say, then something has definitely been lost. EMILY HALL

Mickey One

dir. Arthur Penn

Wed Jan 29 at EMPA full two years before the pair went on to revolutionize '60s cinema with Bonnie and Clyde, Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty made this inspired, very-difficult-to-find curio that attempted to integrate the fractured style of the French new wave with Hollywood filmmaking. The results are predictably bizarre, considering that in 1965 Warren Beatty was basically a pretty-boy fop in search of a vehicle, and Penn was a TV director with a couple of movies under his belt. Employing a dash of Kafka and more than a modicum of Godard, Penn and Beatty were attempting to make a jazz film about fate, filmed in beautiful black and white. Though the story concerns a two-bit nightclub comic on the run from and--courtesy of some jazzy existentialism--straight into the arms of the mob, the real story here is all about jump cuts, narrative shorthand, and genuinely strange pidgin-Beckett dialogue. Beatty, whose character is tellingly called "The Comic," doesn't know why the gangsters are after him (though it clearly has something to do with a girl), so he runs and runs, adopts the name Mickey One, and becomes an absolute sensation, so popular that his archenemies suddenly want to hire him. This lands him in the spotlight glare of a fairly ridiculous dilemma, and leads to the inevitable self-sacrifice of the existential hero. The film is highly entertaining, particularly for fans of Beatty at his most beautiful, but mainly because it's such a pretentious botch job. Still, it's a pretentious botch job that presaged Performance, the best film of the '60s. So there. SEAN NELSON

Daughter from Danang

dir. Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco

Fri-Thurs Jan 24-31 at the Varsity.Born in 1968 in Danang, Vietnam, Heidi Bub is the result of an affair between a Vietnamese mother and an American serviceman father. Like most Vietnam War babies, Heidi never met her father, who returned to the U.S. before Heidi was born. In 1975, thanks to President Ford's chaotic postwar orphan-rescue mission "Operation Babylift," Heidi--along with thousands of other mixed-race Vietnamese children (many of whom, like Heidi, weren't orphans at all)--was brought to America, where she was adopted by a woman in Pulaski, Tennessee.

Quietly compelling and thoughtful, Daughter from Danang follows Heidi as she finally returns to Vietnam to reconnect with her biological mother and Vietnamese past. Of course there are tears and culture shock, and we see how overwhelmingly different bleak suburban Pulaski (birthplace of the KKK) is compared to the lush colors and palpable energy of Danang. But directors Gail Dolgin and Vicente Franco wisely avoid overly maudlin reunion shtick, and focus instead on Heidi's emotional ambivalence: We follow courteous, fully Americanized Heidi, lilting Southern accent and all, growing more dismayed and offended as her poverty-stricken Vietnamese family starts talking about financial assistance and filial responsibility--the benchmarks of good Asian daughters. MIN LIAO

City of God

dir. Fernando Meirelles and Kátia LundAs with Mathieu Kassovitz's French film La Haine (Hate, 1995), Fernando Meirelles' Cidade de Deus (City of God) draws its energy, visual flourishes, and narrative strategies from two American sources: Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese. This borrowing, or theft, does not, however, make Cidade de Deus an American film (unlike Kassovitz'sThe Crimson Rivers); Cidade de Deus is a Brazilian film. The Americanism structures the story's form rather than its content. Set in hell (a heated Rio de Janeiro ghetto) and narrated by a young newspaper photographer named Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), Cidade de Deus essentially describes the rise and fall of the legendary, psychopathic gangster Li'l Zé (Leandro Firmino da Hora), who, after murdering every obstacle in his way, mercilessly rules the ghetto's turbulent drug trade. During Rocket's '60s boyhood, the film's violence is comical, its criminals romantic and ethical. But as the slum expands and Rocket becomes a young man in the '70s, the violence intensifies. By the film's end in the '80s, the sound of bullets replaces actual dialogue. Though great to watch, Cidade de Deus curiously fails to comment on the reason why most of the people who live and die in the ghetto are brown, beige, and black. CHARLES MUDEDE