Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Current Cinema 15.5

The Tribe

Eastern European miserablism strikes again in Miroslav Slaboshpitsky's "The Tribe", except this time its long-take gaze interrupts the lives of deaf teenagers in a derelict boarding school acting out their base intentions with little repercussions or explanation. Adding to the extremism is the fact the film disregards subtitles and allows the story to be carried out through its characters use of sign language. In between the sobering depictions of hierarchical violence, prostitution, and an especially abrasive scene that rivals the unquestionably tough abortion moment in Cristain Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", the film's subtle power comes from its silence. Emotions are expressed through small emissions of sound or the rapidly expressionistic thumping of hands and fingers as words are conveyed through the air. It's an especially unique narrative twist. That gimmick aside though, "The Tribe's" hall of terror these kids go through- partly out of economic strife and basic emotional indifference- doesn't quite rank with the indescribable, sad observations of Mungiu or Cristi Puiu because they're simply empty ciphers beyond their physical disability....or more specifically, they're pointed metaphors for the troubled situation of the Ukraine itself. "The Tribe" puts one through the ringer, but it lacks the residual effect of the sadness achieved in similar efforts simply because Slaboshpitsky wants to attack rather than delineate actual people caught up in the margins.


Like "The Tribe", Claudia Llosa's "Aloft" belongs squarely within the framework of a particularly listless style of filmmaking.... that being the heavy handed 'indie', complete with redemptive story arch, metaphorical allusions (Cillian Murphy's character trains falcons but can't control or return to his own lost childhood) and a nervous handheld camera. Remarkably, "Aloft" overcomes all these redundancies thanks in part to three strong performances by Murphy, Jennifer Connelly and Melanie Laurent plus a committed sense of time and place. Tracking two separate timelines in the life of Ivan (Murphy)- the first dealing with the tragedies facing his ten year old self and complicated matters of mother Connelly and the second jumping ahead in time thirty years when French woman Laurent comes searching for answers connected to the mysterious aura of his family- "Aloft" deflates some of its power through the awkward hand of writer-director Llosa as if she were trying to incorporate every gesture and feeling before someone woke up and tugged the slight Hollywood rug out from underneath her. Regardless, she aligns herself supremely capable of capturing immense pain in the faces of her three actors and what emerges is a moving and fierce confrontation between mother and son that kind of bowled me over unexpectedly.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Having not seen "The Fault In Our Stars", I can't attest to the oncoming rise of teen sickness weepies, but if that film is half as moving or sincere as Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", then I'm really missing out. As the "dying girl", Olivia Cook is all bright eyes and a bundle of pixie love, so its easy to see why Greg (Thomas Mann) and his movie-drunk partner Earl (RJ Cyler) slowly gravitate towards her atmosphere. Not only does her sickness encourage the pair to create one of their gleefully anarchaic and no budget movies to her, but the film we watch is endlessly name dropping and half camera shot stealing within itself. Based on a script and novel by Jesse Andrews, "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" penetrates the clouds of twee that often circulate the films of fellow homage crafters like Richard Aoyade or Michel Gondry by creating a generous core of attachment between its three central characters. Even as the finale wound to its conclusion, I had prepared my defenses, believing the film hadn't quite burrowed into my head, and then there's a moment between Rachel and Greg as images roll across their faces that not only establishes the grace and humility we all deserve to experience with someone in our lives but also emphasizes the unexplainable power of moving images and the thunderous sway they often hold over us.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Genius Sounds: Love and Mercy

Bill Pohlad's "Love and Mercy" gets two things right. First, it reveals the fractured genius of singer-songwriter Brian Wilson in two distinct times of his life without losing momentum in either section. Too often, the balance and dynamic force is weighed distinctly towards one portion of the film or the other, but in "Love and Mercy", they coalesce and compliment each other beautifully. Secondly, it exalts and analyzes the frustrated, creative mindset of a musical icon while he's still alive and kicking on this mortal coil- which makes the film that much more respectful. We can seek out, experience and savor the man's artistry without resorting to testimonials of his marginalized existence while the actual artistry was being created. Beyond that, "Love and Mercy" is an actor's movie that digs deep and allows the masterly performances of its principals (Paul Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth banks) to convey the complicated, scatter shot emotions involved.

Picking up well into the Beach Boys' mid 60's success, "Love and Mercy" hones in on the increasing uncomfortable pause exuded by Brian Wilson (Dano) as their fame grows and a Japanese tour looms. Convincing his brothers to tour without him, Wilson shutters himself off in the studio to work out the now revolutionary melange of sound that would eventually bracket their album "Pet Sounds". Considered a flop in its day, pressured by other band members to resort back to their hit-making standards and emotionally stunted by his abusive and overbearing father (Bill Camp), Wilson's fragile and active psyche begins to fissure under the stress.

While simultaneously telling this story, "Love and Mercy" jumps ahead in time to 1985 where middle aged Brian Wilson (Cusack) is just as stunted as ever, both creatively by the monstrous hand of Dr. Eugene Lundy (Paul Giamatti, who can do this type of role in his sleep) and emotionally, such as when upon first meeting who would be his ultimate savior in life, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), he cordons himself off in a car with her and zigzags through a conversation that is both creepy and achingly lonely. Their relationship is the heart of the film. It doesn't overshadow the strong formations of mental sickness exhibited by young Wilson and Dano in an equally memorable performance, but it strikes at something more human and restless.

By blending both portions of Wilson's tortured life together as if they're happening at the same time, filmmaker Pohlad and screenwriter Oren Moverman elicit a fully formed and wide-eyed portrait of a cliched subject with fresh acuity. There may be a bit of armchair philosophizing involved, but no scene is as incisive as the first date between Melinda and Brian.... while opening up about his father, the camera holds on Elizabeth Bank's range of expressive reactions, followed up with a wry, half-hurt uneasy dismissal of "well, shit!" Lots of films have focused on the conflicted nature of creative personas well ahead of their time, but "Love and Mercy" shows us that paradigm and then allows something beautiful, besides the art, to flourish from it.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

The Last Few Films I've Seen: Soggy Texas edition

1. Tomorrowland (2015)- Take a spoonful of "The Matrix's" well-tread ideas of a 'chosen one', cartoon action sequences and George Clooney doing his best Disney-dad superhero figure, and one gets Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland". It's a good film, just ordinary and non adventurous fun for the whole family. If that's your thing....

2. Aloha (2015)- Filmmaker Cameron Crowe has some genuine things to say about the messy and intricate crashes of affection between people, they just can't be found here. Reviewed at Dallas Film Now.

3. Police Python 357 (1976)- Doesn't quite rise above its implausible French 'policier' instincts, but filmmaker Alaine Corneau manages to shroud most of the film in his dour, harsh vision, such as the central murder scene and cop Yves Montand disfiguring himself.

4. Two In the Wave (2010)- Hum drum documentary about the budding relationship and career trajectories of Godard and Truffaut. The problem is, it never tells us anything new about the duo or their circumstances that hasn't already been written about or discussed at length over the past two decades. Or at least for us nouvelle vague affecionados.

5. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)- Holy hell, what a ride. I'm usually highly averse to the split second style of cutting in modern action films, but director Miller not only manages to create a cohesive vision of amplified violence and insane creativity, but the continuity of the action is splendid. See a body being thrown from a rolling vehicle one shot and there's the body falling in the background of the next. One of the great pleasures of the year so far.

6. Maggie (2015)- Slow burn and contemplative, and a film whose intimate drama is just as compelling as the melee on "The Walking Dead". Full review at Dallas Film Now.

7. On the Edge (1985)- Bruce Dern as a banned athlete bucking the system and running in a California race anyway. Director Rob Nilsson may be a far left-wing nut in his beliefs, but the few films of his I've seen respectfully and dutifully evoke a very specific time and place (Northern California) like the best indie filmmakers.

8. The Seventh Companion (1968)- Finally tracking down the first film of Alexie German's career (and completing my retrospective of him here and also here), I have to admit disappointment with his debut. The oblique nationalist references are there, but it plods along without the same caustic energy of his later efforts.

9. Kid Blue (1973)- Another long time track down, James Frawley's western starring Dennis Hopper as the title character easily takes the prize for most hippie western ever. Sure, lots of filmmakers "claim" to have made a hippie western (Monte Hellman and any number of z-grade Italians) but this one-featuring "The Man" constantly trying to halt Kid Blue's reformed status and a possible "free love" relationship between Hopper, buddy warren Oates and his wife Lee Purcell, sidesteps the veiled references and settles into 'hippiedom' pretty readily.

10. We Are What We Are (2013)- Devastating. Director Jim Mickle is the absolute best guy working the horror genre today. Not only is this remake better than the original film it's based upon, but it's a unique, measured pressure-cooker of a film that would be remarkable even without its gory accentuates.