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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with CESAR CHAVEZ and JODOROWSKY'S DUNE!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

The one thing that the biopic on the influential activist Cesar Chavez is not lacking is heart. The film CESAR CHAVEZ is overflowing with passion and good intentions, as well as a handful of exceedingly strong performances. What it doesn't feature is balance. This is a film that spends its entire running time preaching to the choir. Not that there's a downside to treating farm workers fairly and allowing them to bring some degree of dignity to their backbreaking work, but the lines here are so distinctly drawn and the "villains" in the film are so cut-and-dry evil (thank you John Malkovich, playing the greedy industrial farmer Bogdanovich) that you don't feel like you're even being given a choice but to hate them all with all your might.

It may sound like too much of a good thing to some, but I guess I'm one of those people who likes to make up my own mind about a situation and not be told what to think about a person or a company. CESAR CHAVEZ's saving grace is a spell-binding performance by Michael Peña (END OF WATCH, CRASH) as the titular character, who walks into every situation and conflict with such a clear eye and serene disposition that people can't help but listen and agree with him and his idea about organizing. Chavez rarely raises his voice, except when speaking to large groups and never in anger. He was a fierce proponent of non-violence, and had a clear and simple idea about justice and equality. He also knew the power of the people he spoke on behalf of.

CESAR CHAVEZ was directed by the great actor Diego Luna (Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, ELYSIUM, MILK) and he clearly has a way of inspiring impassioned performances from the likes of America Ferrera as Chavez's wife, Rosario Dawson as Dolores Huerta, and Gabriel Mann as Malkovich's son, who is clearly moved by Chavez's pleas on behalf of the farm workers and asks his father to consider listening as well. The closest Luna comes to showing the downside to Chavez's life is making it clear that his wife and children often were forced to the back of his life so that he could lead and inspire tens of thousand of workers. But even that realization is glossed over a little too easily.

Sadly, CESAR CHAVEZ is a classic example of placing a cultural hero on a pedestal and never letting him down. It's blanket hero worship without showing us the human behind the praise. Better films have been made about both human rights activists and tough times in the labor movement. What Chavez did for vineyard workers in the 1960s is undeniable. Unfortunately, this film is mostly empty words without substance or soul on the screen. Certainly, those who made the film had their hearts in the right place, but it's a missed opportunity not to place those hearts in the characters.

Perhaps the great unmade film of all time, certainly one of the best known, the version of Frank Herbert's DUNE that director Alejandro Jodorowsky would have made in the mid-1970s would have rivaled the greatest science fiction films of all time, with its inspired take on the material and even more mind-blowing casting (Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Orson Welles, Salvador Dali) and music (one planet's soundtrack was to be composed by Pink Floyd) choices. Alas, accountants and less visionary studio heads shut the project down after so much of the pre-production had already been put in place, including storyboards by Jean "Moebius" Giraud and technology designs by an unknown (to Hollywood) artist named H.R. Giger, who went on to revolutionize science-fiction vehicles and creatures in ALIEN.

With all of this raw talent on display, you'd figure someone would green-light this sucker, and eventually someone did, only they gave the film to David Lynch, and it isn't especially well regarded my most. Director Frank Pavich has done something remarkable with JODOROWSKY'S DUNE: he's gotten Jodorowsky to open up his DUNE production notebook (apparently, only two exist and Jodo has one of them) and tells all the stories about the work done to bring DUNE to the big screen. What we soon discover is that elements of these designs have never stopped appearing in science fiction films since the 1970s.

But barring the tributes and blatant rip-offs of Jodorowsky's team over the years, JODOROWSKY'S DUNE is worth watching just for the stories, the mad vision on display, to listen to the passionate director talk about his thought process and ideas, and let your mind run free without thoughts of a world in which this film actually got made. (Jodorwosky did release a version of his JODOROWSKY'S DUNE in comic book form years later.) There isn't a second of this film that won't captivate true cinephiles, including Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn, who was one of the lucky few to have been invited by Jodorowsky to page through the book of DUNE in Jodo's house after dinner one night. His account of that event opens the film and will fry your brain; if it doesn't, you don't love movies enough. There are more reasons to see this movie than whatever you were planning on seeing this weekend.

-- Steve Prokopy
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