24 June 2010

The Love Show.

Hole are coming to play Nashville in a few days, and I got to write about it in the Nashville Scene. You can read it here.

The one thing that I find kind of interesting is, well- what if she reads it? Ms. Love is not one to hold back, and I really wouldn't want to be on the shitlist of an artist I may very well be seeing in concert.

Who knows?

At the movies: Please Give.

Nicole Holofcener is one of the finest directors working today, hewing out a fascinating milieu of intelligent characters dealing with real social issues in a way that is never pedantic or dull. She has a gift for incisive writing and getting great performances out of her actors, as well as perennial star/artistic muse/Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener, who makes this film's Kate into one of the most complex and powerfully human characters in all of cinema this year.

Following a triumphant premiere at Sundance earlier this year, Please Give has emerged as a testament to the joy to be found in smart, funny, and empathetic movies about real life, serving as another feather in Holofcener's cap.

Kate works with her husband, running a store which sells furniture salvaged from estates of the recently-deceased. Business is good, thriving even, but so is an innate sense of guilt that threatens her ability to relate to humanity in general.

Adding to this is her next-door neighbor, a foul-tempered old woman whose imminent death will allow Kate and her family to buy her apartment and expand their home. Kate is a moderately prosperous woman who desperately wants to find a way to give back, yet finds herself stymied by her own schizophrenic relationship with money.

Going back almost fifteen years, all the way to the still-sharp Walking and Talking, Holofcener hasn't made a false move yet. Please Give is another triumph for her, giving years' worth of detail and emotional resonance in just ninety minutes.

The supporting cast is superb, and Amanda Peet, an actress I've been previously ambivalent toward, is nothing less than amazing in this film. And something else I'd not expected- I've never had the experience of a film placing you so precisely in a specific sociopolitical universe as this film manages in its staggering opening credits sequence. Without words, without obvious signposts, it grabs you and the only sensible option is to be swept away.

20 June 2010

At the movies: Mother and Child.

So the Nashville Scene ran my review for Mother and Child, and I am linking to it dutifully. I hope you enjoy it.

At the movies: The Secret in their Eyes.

This Argentine import came out of nowhere and shocked a large amount of the viewing public when it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this year, beating out higher-profile nominees like A Prophet and The White Ribbon.

With its bifurcate time period and a willingness to keep scenes languid, the film isn’t exactly a breezy romp. But its combination of enduring mystery and off-kilter love story meshes together well, and audiences who’ve been digging The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (that would be, everyone- that film has legs like a Rockette or a Clydesdale) will find much here to enjoy and contemplate.

Recently retired judge Benjamin Esposito is trying to put his free time to use, writing a novel that springs from a tragic rape/murder case from several decades back in his career. It means going back through legal documentation, revisiting some of his own tragic moments, and reintroducing himself into the life of Irene, the love of his life, now a senior legal official herself.

Can he find the necessary inspiration to delve into the writing of his book? Can he finally crack the case that sat in the back of his mind for decades? And can he finally figure out what his feelings for Irene really are?

The shockingly reactionary politics that drive the film are problematic, especially because the look and feel of the film is spectacular, with a central mystery that tangles in a few unexpected ways. Stopping just short of endorsing violence for reckless eyeballing, this is a film that just wants to deal with how wounded souls deal with the passage of time, and its scenes are often masterfully constructed and pulled off well.

The central performances are great, and the structure, at times, feels like an early 80s giallo- full of meticulous composition and baroque stories. Worth your time, certainly, though you'll find that it's the peripheral glimpses into Argentine jurisprudence that resonate with the deepest mysteries.

At the movies: Exit through the Gift Shop.

The worlds of film and art have both been sideswiped by this movie, racking up a sizable amount of controversy as to just how real the whole thing is- whether or not it is an actual document of one man’s conquering of the art world by being at the right place at the right time or simply a remarkably-researched and executed farce, manufactured by artists to deliver an acid-soaked love letter to their constituency.

Regardless, the film is a delight, stuffed to the gills with drama, pervasive humor, and a remarkable look at the processes by which artists, both real and imagined, create their work.

This is the story of Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeleno who went from selling overpriced vintage clothing to an object-struck public to becoming self-manufactured art superstar “Mr. Brainwash” in a decade, just by constantly filming everything around him and learning exactly the right lessons on how to commodify and sell art. Along the way, he extensively documented the beginnings of street art, befriending and assisting with every artist he could find on an international level.

But when he finally met elusive genius Banksy, everything in his world changed completely, and the end result is as corrosive and fascinating an autocritique of art culture as you’ll see anywhere this year.

The idea of a comprehensive street art documentary is intriguing, but this isn’t it. To start with Shepherd Fairey and not even address Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, RenĂ©, or Cost + Revs seems limited to begin with. But we’re dealing with a very specific place in contemporary art, so let’s put that aside.

Whether you see it as an inside look into the world of street art that mutates into a documentary about evolving with a voracious marketplace, a prankish tweak of the mercurial nature of the art establishment, or a Frankenstein-like cautionary tale about what can happen when one is a bit too supportive, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a breezy, brilliant film with lots of laughs and a remarkable discussion piece for anyone even remotely interested in art, both as a concept and as a business.

I'm still not sure whether the whole thing is real, and I find that my certainties become less so as time passes by.

At the movies: Shrek Forever After.

When animated films reach a certain level of success and they aren’t made by Pixar, they more often than not become self-perpetuating enterprises, with sequels and other ancillaries cranked out to maintain awareness with a fanbase that has proven themselves interested in the brand. It’s a good sign that the makers of the Shrek films have gone in a new direction with this latest film (after the unspeakably awful third film),one that moves in a more contemplative sphere and that addresses issues of family burnout and female empowerment- again, the philosophy seems to be 'design for the kids but write for the adults.' The audience, at this time, is a foregone conclusion.

Frustrated by his increasingly domestic life, the once-feared Shrek longs for a simpler time, when villagers fled from him instead of basking in his fame; before Fiona, and Donkey, and the rest of his friends. Well, he makes the mistake of entering into a pact with the scheming Rumplestilskin and finds himself in a mad universe where he never existed. So it’s an ogre to his own rescue, reencountering all of the elements of the previous films (though the third film is, for the most part, skipped over) in new and weirder ways.

It’s no How To Train Your Dragon, but Shrek Forever After is a definite step in the right direction after the boring third film. The actors know these characters inside and out, and Eddie Murphy’s role as supporting jukebox ends up paying off periodically to great effect. The influx of witches (who live on the outskirts of town in a carriage park) add a new texture to the story, and the villainous Rumpelstilskin has a certain Jack Black/snakemanlike charm.

I am once again annoyed by the determination with which movies seem to value boring family life (their depiction, not my evaluation) above everything else, but Shrek Forever After is a pleasant family entertainment, with at least one line so unexpectedly great that I jostled my glasses off my face from laughing.

Unlike crappy post-processed 3D (Clash of the Titans, this means you), Shrek Forever After was designed and animated for stereoscopic viewing, so you can feel safe spending your 3D moviegoing dollars and not worry about paying a premium for an afterthought.

A sort of update.

I've been away for a bit. I haven't gone anywhere per se, but after the flood and the ongoing oil spill, I've been kind of a mess. I've still been writing, I've still been working, but I haven't made a point of keeping the blog updated, mainly because I've been kind of a downer for the past six or seven weeks.

So I am back, updating this blog and trying to lead a productive electronic life. I hope you enjoy it.