Tuesday, May 04, 2010

April Movies Basically

Latest movie roundup: a long stretch of time, as this covers a mini-vacation...

Exit Through the Gift Shop: 12/15 - A Banksy film, whatever that means - and an absolutely wonderful documentary about - something. Street art? Contemporary art? itself? Something... Starts with a man named Thierry Guetta, a strange frenchman who runs a vintage clothing store (where he buys junk in bulk and marks it up as "designer" clothes - a hint of things to come) - and obsessively films everything he can. Well - Guetta has a cousin, who happens to be a street artists called "invader" - putting up space invader mosaics in various places. He films Invader - and this leads him to other artists, in Paris, LA, who Guetta films as well - most notably, Shepherd Fairey. And after a few years of this, Guetta meets Banksy himself (maybe)... though not much is coming of any of this. Guetta films, and puts the tapes in boxes - lots and lots of boxes.... But as Banksy starts making money, he tells Guetta to make the film he's been promising - which (according to the story) goes very badly... so Bansky starts editing the film, and Guetta invents a character for himself (Mr. Brainwash) and puts on a hell of a big art show (called "Life is Beautiful") - that consists of some of the most inanely derivative pop and street art knockoffs ever. But despite its complete paucity of ideas and the fact that it is all put together on the fly at the last possible second - it is a huge success, and makes a mint.

All this seems a bit too good to be true, and critics (Roger Ebert for example) are given to speculate on its veracity... Apparently, Mr. Brainwash exists, and makes art and sells it - and it is as silly as it looks in this film... and that Wikipedia article isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of authenticity... Though exactly what "authenticity" might refer to there is anyone's guess. And as for the art - is it Guetta seeing a chance to market art like fake designer clothes? is it Banksy taking the piss? something else? Whatever it is, it is hilarious - the art almost as funny as the movie. As an artist, Mr. Brainwash isn't doing much more than a million LOLcatters with photoshop are doing - it's all just altered art - but it is relarkably funny, both in itself and conceptually - the idea of passing this stuff off as art is hilarious. And it even looks good (though that's probably because it's all swiped from real art...)

But the film - is something special. The best film about contemporary art I can think of. It takes the art seriously, while taking the piss - the documentary footage in particular is wonderful, exhilarating, liberating... And that art (the street art) often looks great - especially Banksy's art, which really is on another level from the rest of the artists here. And the film itself is quite well made - well structured, thoughtful, smart about it - about the way things like this are jokes and deadly serious, hard work and a form of play, all at once. Details like the way Guetta's clothing store anticipates his art show - show how well put together it is. It's great stuff.

Vincere: 10/15 - Marco Bellochio's latest, about Mussolini's rise - or really, a love affair - he meets a woman, in either 1907, 1914 or both, and starts an affair. In 1914 he supports the war, which causes the socialists to throw him out - by then the woman is his, body and soul, and she sells all to buy him a newspaper, and bears him a son. They are happy, but it can't last - he has another woman, more children, and when he goes to war he married #2 and abandons #1. After the war, he continues to shun her, but she won't let go - and this leads to her doom, madness, or at least madhouses, and the misery and eventual doom of her son... The performances are spectacular - Giovanna Mezzogiorno plays Ida magnificently, Filippo Timi plays Mussolini, father and son, and is superb as both. It's also a directorial tour de force - jumping around in time, integrating reality and fantasy, films, etc. - making great use of cinemas, the crowds interacting with the movies, brawling, kids jumping up and down along with what's on screen, Ida integrated into Chaplin's The Kid - a very fine film.

House: 11/15 - Not exactly new, I know, but getting a kind of release at last... Great fun - very strange haunted house film, with a bunch of schoolgirls going to visit one of the girl's aunt. There's a bit of backstory there - the girl ("Gorgeous") has a rich father who has a villa, but he has also acquired a fiancee (whose part seems to have been spliced in from a perfume commercial), and Gorgeous is jealous - thus, off to see mom's sister. SHe and her pals arrive at the aunt's house - an isolated old fashioned house on a hill, guarded (you could say) by a goofy guy selling watermelons) - at the house they meet the aunt, a sweet old lady in a wheelchair, with a white cat (who seems more or less omnipresent) - everything seems nice enough, but you know how it goes. The fat girl disappears - the high strung girl finds her head in the well - or does she? The girls start to worry - the aunt starts walking - then things get strange. Futons attack one girl, a piano eats another - Gorgeous, puts on her aunt's makeup and becomes a kind of monster bride - and then it gets stranger still. In the end, the girl's teacher arrives in his dune buggy, but turns into a bunch of bananas; then the finacee and her perfume commercial arrive, and Gorgeous greets her, but you can see the cat is still hungry... I can't do justice to it all - it is so far over the top it comes up from below - really cool stuff.

The Good, The Bad and the Weird: 9/15 -A certain kind of high ambition, that doesn't come off - a Leone knock off sort of, with buried treasure, a vicious crook, a mostly amoral bounty hunter, a goofy thief, swirling factions with political overtones around them. The thief steals a treasure map from some Japanese, that the Bad was supposed to have retrieved - the Good is hanging around - they all set off on a long chase across Manchuria, the three of them plus a couple gangs of bandits (with an inexhaustible supply of thugs) and the Japanese army. Lots of action, some comedy, but not much logic follows, and truth is, even the action is a bit flat - there are some nice set pieces, but they don't quite come off... It's watchable, I suppose, though a bit of a slog, never quite delivering on its premise - all that genre mashup ought to be more fun. The great Song Kang-so has the Wallach part and makes a meal of it, almost saving the thing... But overall, it's a film that made a spectacular trailer, but not much of a movie.


Kingdom of Heaven: 8/15 - Orlando Bloom stars as a blacksmith plucked from his forge by a wandering crusader (we are set in the 1180s) who proves to be dear old dad. Young Balian the blacksmith does not wish to go, but he is mocked by a priest and promptly dispatches him, and finds it best to scarper for the holy land. Dad dies en route and our man washes up on the shores of Palestine a baron. He goes to Jeruselem and the film sets up its central conflict - the idealistic leper king Baldwin and his supporters (Balian, Jeremy Irons with a fake scar) vs. mad templars and Frenchmen. The latter provoke Saladin and his armies, but as long as Baldwin lives, he maintains the peace - but when he dies, it's war! All this has the makings of something awful, but actually isn't half bad. It's a long movie, 2 1/2 hours (and there's an even longer director's cut that I haven't seen), but moves along fairly briskly. There's not much point to it, I suppose, but it's distracting enough. Ridley Scott mostly maintains a modernized classicism, if that makes any sense - it feels like an old fashioned Hollywood epic, though without the conventional racism - Saladin and company are noble and heroic and victorious... Still - it's morality is extremely simplistic - there are good guys, there are bad guys, and there is no overlap between them. The bad guys are the templars, looking for WAR! - everyone else is a good guy, trying to keep peace, but forced to fight one another thanks to the folly of the warmongers. It is fascinating to compare this to Warlords - the Chinese film is infinitely more complex, morally. The three main heroes are forced constantly to choose - to do evil things to accomplish greater ideals, or prevent worse evils - they have to compromise, and their compromises not only lead them to do bad things, but undermine the ideals they claim to support. They have no way to win, really - act honorably and lose to the villains; act harshly and become the villains. Kingdom of Heaven has almost nothing of this - there is one moment, where poor Balian is offered the kingdom of Jerusalem (and the woman he loves) if he will agree to have her husband (the presumptive heir) murdered - he refuses - and no one really presses the issue. Here - villains lose, honorable and decent people win - or at least get out alive. It's very heartwarming but notably childish.

All that doesn't quite address the film itself. As I said - it is surprisingly watchable, even at its excessive length. It could do with a better hero - Orlando Bloom is not useless, but he is mostly pretty - and pretty much disappears among the Easter dinner's worth of hams around him. Fortunately, the leading lady, Eva Green, is as pretty and boring as he is, so you aren't really led to wonder why she wouldn't run off with Jeremy Irons instead...

Mysterious Object at Noon: 12/15 - I will need to digest this some before saying much - though as always, Apitchapong Weerasethakul delivers a beautiful, amusing, clever, challenging work...

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