Monday, May 09, 2011

Seen in April 

Neve Campbell is the bee's knees in Altman's The Company and does all her own stunts. Still dull though. Image via Reverse Shot

It was a mixed month of concert and dance films. After watching Black Swan and The Company, I planned on watching the ultimate dance flick, The Red Shoes but… dance films are daunting, because they are very dull. I understand how people who don't enjoy sports feel if forced to watch a game they don't care about (I can't stand golf or NASCAR) and that's how these movies feel to me. Sure there are some amazing sequences that look almost like stunts but dance films remind me of what I don't like about "Dance" as an art form. It's just too self-important. I can watch the final of the world cup and think, "that was fun, but really it's just a game." Whereas for people who love dance, a pas de deux is never just people dancing. Black Swan and The Company are populated by those who would give anything "for their art", even if their art isn't that interesting.

Why are they so dour anyway? Shouldn't dancing around in very little clothing be fun? On that point, dance films are also full of extremely fit people (though I think the sexiness of a woman with 5% body fat is debatable). Maybe I just need to see some Fred & Ginger action.

It was also a month of watching movies in new ways (DVD, illegal download, Netflix streaming and an iTunes rental), which it turns out are all just new ways to be disappointed.

The Last Waltz
I was inspired to watch this after a really great tribute performance on the Junos (I know, weird right?) The remarkable and epic concert of The Band was filmed on a 1976 Thanksgiving weekend in San Francisco. The all-star guests combine to create "the" concert film and highlight The Band as the proto-rock band. In many ways it would have been nice if they could all just have ridden off into the sunset — the closing crane shot by Scorsese suggests as much, rather than stuttering along into old age with partial reunions, infighting, losing members to a suicide and drug-use weakened bodies but that's not the way the story is written. In the end, the surviving members continue to work (both Helm and Robertson have released well regarded albums recently and Hudson has collaborated with younger artists) and their influence can still be heard.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
What seemed at first as a straight up documentary about the phenomenon of street art becoming part of the art establishment spirals into what seems like an elaborate hoax. Or is it? Ostensibly, an inept filmmaker with great footage of street and graffiti artists doing their thing has given his video to British street artist extraordinaire Banksy who has re-edited the footage into something useful while the original filmmaker,Terry, a Frenchman living in LA re-invents himself into a street artist. Terry's art is crap, mere knock-offs of more accomplished artists, but is actually successful. The rumor is that Bansky himself created Terry and the junk knock-offs (or he and some friends; there's just too many pieces for one person to have made) for the film, making the statement that the art world is full of gullible idiots who can't tell their arse from their elbow. Right or wrong, real or fake, Banksy gets his cake and eats it too as the film gives exposure to the varied underground world of street art while poking fun at the establishment of galleries and auction houses who speculate and profit from a form of art that is meant to exist outside of galleries (really "outside").

Black Swan
Fight Club for chicks.
It's been said you either love or hate this film. I can't say I hated it but just not for me. I think I laughed in all the wrong places and I don't think they were any places for laughing. Too melodramatic and there was no subtext - the metaphors weren't metaphoric, they just happen. I did have a strange craving for wings afterward.

The Last Three Days
Tautly written and directed thriller from Paul Haggis starring Russell Crowe who plays a desperate husband whose wife, played by Elizabeth Banks, is serving 20 years for a murder she didn't commit (at least that's what John, Crowe's character, has to believe). John, a community college instructor by day, becomes an impromptu prison escape planner by night when the last of his wife's appeals is rejected. A few salient points: John finds a famous escapee/author played by Liam Neeson, who tells him all he needs to know; breaking out isn't the hard part — staying out is harder; you'll need money and lots of it; you'll need fake passports and ID; an escape plan that gets you out of the state in 35 minutes; always fly out of the country from an out of state airport. This essentially becomes the blueprint for the film. What makes the story believable is Crowe as a guy who is as smart as he is naive and who screws up only slightly less often than he succeeds.

The Spirit
This stunning Frank Miller adaptation… ugh I can't do it — it sucked. Looked great in still images but damn it was duller than watching a computer render simulated paint drying. You'd think a sexy action pic based on a beloved comic book full of buxom babes like Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansen and Paz Vega would at the very least keep you awake. You might think that but you'd be wrong.

The Company
After seeing Black Swan I thought I'd fill up the dance card and check out some more dance flicks like this one directed by Robert Altman starring Neve Campbell, James Franco and Malcolm Macdowell. Only problem, it is barely a movie and more like a concert film with no real focus. Altman's overlapping narratives and naturalism do give it an almost documentary film but the movie can't be saved from some terrible music and overall boredom. One interesting scene has Campbell dancing a pas de deux during an Autumnal storm on Chicago's outdoor stage in what is now a Frank Gehry designed Pritzker Park. Not even the filling every frame with beautiful dancer bodies could save this sleeper.

Terribly Happy
Sort of like a modern day Danish version of White Ribbon. Which I guess means the title is sarcastic. A Copenhagen cop is sent to a small rural Danish town as punishment for his past misdeeds but instead of quietly passing the time he becomes embroiled in the small town drama with tragic results. That's right, it's a bummer. Also it appears as if that ye olde Norse tradition of throwing things or people you don't care for into the bog is alive and well. It's nice to see traditions being carried on.

Animal Kingdom
Joshua is a 17-year-old who is orphaned when his mother O.D.'s on heroin. He turns to his grandmother and uncles who, it turns out, are a gang of criminals, wanted for a string of armed robberies. The eldest uncle, Pope, is a menacing force of stupidity, thuggery and violence over the family. Guy Pearce plays a detective who tries to save Joshua from his family but can't even trust his own officers. This Australian crime film is all about finding your place in the natural order as well as that time in a boy's life when his conviction and courage begin to match his changing physique.

The King's Speech
Guy Pearce appears as the abdicating King Edward in a roll so different from Animal Kingdom that you might forget it's the same actor. The abdication is his brother's worst fear come to life. Played by Colin Firth, Bertie, as he was known to family, must overcome his life long stammer and fear of public speaking to become King George VI. This highly regarded Oscar winning film is good and enjoyable in all the right places but has just a smidge too much sentiment and melodrama for my taste. Geoffrey Rush is predictably reliable as Lionel Loque, the innovative speech therapist and Helena Bonham-Carter is perfect as the Queen Mum and gives some lightness to what could have been a stiff portrayal.

Californication Season 1
It's hard to believe this much debauchery could happen anywhere never mind in L.A. I'm not sure if I want to be Hank Moody, played to perfect distraction by David Duchovny, or kill him for being an incredible douchebag. I guess that's the dichotomy and tension of the show and why I'll keep watching (for now).

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