Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who Is Harry Nilsson? And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him? (2010)

Documentary from John Scheinfeld about the best male singer of the rock and roll era. Lots of talking heads, lots of saucer-eyed burn-outs (Brian Wilson babbles one or two things, and is not seen again) and, fortunately, lots of Harry's songs. He never performed live, so it was a shock to see clips of him on "Playboy After Dark" (hearing him sing live and off the cuff is startling, his voice effortlessly perfect). Harry, of course, ruined his voice by partying and for a while became better known for his drug and alcohol-fueled exploits than his musical output. He intentionally destroyed his voice, screaming until he was coughing up blood. It's a senseless and completely self-destructive act, enough to make any fan almost angry. I am a huge fan, so is this film interesting to someone who isn't? Only if you want to hear some of the most distinctive songs sung by the most astounding voice of the last half of the twentieth century.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Antichrist (2010)

Another sensitive portrayal of a woman from unrelenting misogynist Lars Von Trier. Married couple Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe are grieving the death of their infant child (the child's death is shown in a brilliant and heartbreaking opening sequence) and retreat to their cabin in the woods to work it out. Things quickly go to shit, and as guilt and resentments come to the surface, supernatural things start to happen all around them. This is similar to Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973) in many ways (death of a child, graphic sex, fear of the supernatural) yet far more beautiful and repulsive. Once again, Von Trier puts his actors, particularly Gainsbourg (and the audience) through the wringer. There are moments of breathtaking beauty (a sequence in which Gainsbourg approaches the cabin is almost primeval and completely mesmerizing) However, Von Trier's visual skills seem more and more like cold display. Beautifully made bullshit.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter's Bone (2010)

"Hillbilly Noir" from director Debra Granik. Stars Jennifer Lawrence as a dirt poor Missouri teenager in danger of losing her shit shack of a house because her dad used the home as collateral for bail (he was arrested for manufacturing meth). She looks for him, going from shack to shack, each one with more washers, dryers, and abandoned cars in the front yard than the last, to make sure he shows up for court. After a while, she realizes he was in deeper shit than with the law and starts to wonder if he is even alive. Every year or so, there seems to be another one of these "shit-kicker gothic" offerings aimed at the art house crowd. These are characters and situations the audience (mostly urbanites, I assume) are not familiar with. I suppose if they were ever interested in the middle part of this country, they certainly wouldn't be after seeing this. I know I never want to go to Missouri now (well, truth be told, I had no desire to begin with). Jennifer Lawrence is excellent, as is John Hawkes as her uncle and Dale Dickey as a female henchman. Interesting, but not tremendously so. It's all so ...glum I guess is the word. Actors with greasy hair and dirt smudges on their faces, bare trees, gray photography. It's a bit much.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Countdown To Zero (2010)

By-the-numbers yet occasionally chilling documentary from director Lucy Walker about the likelihood of someone, either a government or a terrorist, detonating a nuclear bomb. Guess what? It's highly likely. The most alarming passage tells of a time in 1995 when we were almost, and I mean very nearly, wiped off the face of the earth. An event that makes the Cuban missile crisis look like child's play. It only didn't occur because Boris Yeltsin, against protocol and direct orders, for some unknown reason, didn't push the button that was sitting right in front of him. This film, like many other documentaries (The Cove, An Inconvenient Truth) lead me to believe that we are doomed. I was terrified for a while, stirring up fears of nuclear annihilation that I haven't experienced since elementary school. But then I figured, it might not happen, but probably will, fuck it. I want to have sex with Andrew.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Woman's Face (1941)

Joan Crawford plays a cold-hearted Swedish blackmailer (why on earth did this story have to take place in Sweden?) with a horribly disfigured face in this M-G-M melodrama. She falls in love with Conrad Veidt (one of my heroes) who convinces her to murder his cousin so he'll inherit his family's estate. Oh, the cousin is four years old, by the way. She gets a job as the child's governess on Veidt's recommendation but, surprise, she gets cold feet. Veidt then decides to take matters into his own hands. Director George Cukor seems to be battling the nonsense here, and he doesn't always succeed. It might have been more enjoyable with a less intelligent director. Something this silly can't be played straight.

Hachi: A Dog's Tale (2010)

A pox on the studio executives who foolishly decided to dump this wonderful film straight onto video! Luckily, it didn't go unnoticed. Other critics have been singing it's praises, and scratching their heads as to why this didn't get a proper release. It stars Richard Gere who takes in a stray Akita puppy wearing a Japanese tag around it's neck. Soon the dog is walking to the nearby train station to greet Gere as he returns home on the evening train. A year or so later, Gere has a fatal stroke at work. The dog then proceeds to return to the station every day at five to wait for his master...for the next ten years. I cried like a baby, UGLY cry. Oh, and did I mention this is a true story! Directed with a gentle hand by Lasse Hallstrom, this is a rarity: A weepie with brains, and a G rated film that isn't necessarily for kids. I know you may be thinking "dog" and "G rating" and "straight to video" and rolling your eyes. Trust me. This reminded me a little of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" (another movie that made me lose it at the end) in it's depiction of pure devotion.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

Documentary about Thierry Guetta, a French dimwit obsessed with street art, who starts following around the artists with his video camera filming their every move. His "white whale" is Banksy, the most prominent and elusive of street artists. After a chance encounter, he becomes part of Banksy's inner circle and soon Guetta goes from being merely a hanger on to overnight art sensation and charlatan. Whether or not this whole film is an elaborate stunt concocted by Banksy only adds to it's fascination. I actually hope this whole movie is a lie, because it would mean I'm witnessing the birth of a new genre: the fictional documentary. It seems in step with what Banksy is doing with his art. His fame now means that when he defaces a wall, it is usually taken down brick by brick and auctioned off at Christie's for a million bucks. Absurd yet understandable, because his art is pretty incredible. The kind of art that wakes you up, he comes along just when you thought everything in art has been done before. Exciting and hilarious, this is the best documentary of the year. There is a Banksy not four blocks from my house. I'm gonna mosey over there with my jackhammer, I have student loans to pay.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I Am Love (2010)

I am bewitched. The kind of movie Andrew and I were still thinking about when we rose this morning. Starring Tilda Swinton, someone I usually find more striking than beautiful, however, she is delectable here. She plays the Russian wife of an Italian industrialist (speaking fluent Italian and Russian throughout!) who's held up in a sprawling Milanese villa, throwing sumptuous dinner parties and running the household. Her three grown children have left the house and her husband is constantly away on business. Her eldest son (Flavio Parenti) decides to invest in a restaurant and starts bringing around his new chef friend (Alberto Gabriellinni) to meet the family. Shortly thereafter, Swinton finds out her teenage daughter is in love with another woman, and her daughter's courage to follow her heart prompts Swinton to pursue an affair with the chef (Gabriellinni's relationship with her son is never fully explained, there are homosexual undertones in their scenes, and later the son is seen sobbing, the reason for which is never revealed) Monumentally and unashamedly romantic, this film is so sumptuous it can make your head swim. From the 1950's style opening credits to the Fendi costumes to the lavish, fascist architecture of the villa, you know you're in store for an assault on the senses. In one scene, Swinton and Gabriellinni fuck in a sunny pasture, birds chirping, bees's one of the most rapturous lovemaking scenes ever. What's this about? It's about the sublimation of self, the loss of identity, the prison of family, and freedom. Written and directed with eyes and heart wide open by Luca Guadagnino. The luscious cinematography is by Yorick Le Saux, and the striking music score is by John Adams. The film is aptly titled.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

October Country (2009)

Documentary from directors Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri about Mosher's own family. Simultaneously repellent and absorbing, this film is for every person who gets the dreaded weekly call from back home and thinks "what now?". All the family members (mainly the female) have aimless lives and are stuck in patterns of abuse and bad (or, more accurately, moronic) decisions. The subjects are understandably at ease in front of Mosher's camera and are remarkably candid, many of the confessionals taking place over a cup of coffee (or Mountain Dew) at the kitchen table. Plus, the director spent a good deal of his adolescence with other family members in another state, so he has enough proper critical distance to show the ugliness, yet is close enough to be kind in his depiction. The sometimes fancy camerawork and ambient music score were a little much and smack of trying to "gussy up" the material, something that's totally unnecessary. Many will recognize shades of their own families, while others will be grateful for their good luck in ending up with the family they have. I can't help but think that Mosher made this film just to hold a mirror up to his own family in the hope that they'd get their shit together.