Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Current Cinema 15.10


I said it last year after seeing his complete oeuvre, but Paolo Sorrentino is the finest European director working today and with his latest film, "Youth", that definitive statement still rings true. It's starting off point is the mundane relaxation stay of two life long friends Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, but Sorrentino's penchant for specks of life and perfectly coiffed image making soon become a visual poem all to itself. As if the men were trapped in a haunting purgatory full of ghosts past and present, "Youth" is certainly not an ironic title. It's a film that understands life and art sometimes should be messy and beautifully unkempt. And its dedicated to the great Francesco Rosi. How beautiful is that?

The Danish Girl

I have nothing against Eddie Redmayne. Seriously, I don't. It's just his last two films (this one and "The Theory of Everything" which garnered him an Oscar) feel like real acting from someone who knows he's really acting. Plus the fact "The Danish Girl" deals with themes of transgender identity that are front and center in both the cultural and political arena these days, and it all feels a bit much. Every smirk or canvased grin he flashes feels premeditated and actually dishonest. The best moments, such as when the film focuses on the intimate struggle for identity between Redmayne and wife Alicia Vikander, are overshadowed by the need to check mark every big drama plot point. External prejudice in the form of gay bashing? Got it. Weepy sentimentalism in the final reel? Check. Cloistered period piece atmosphere? Yep. "The Danish Girl" is a film that understands its weighty significance and then hammers the point home every chance it gets.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

A documentary that focuses on the curator rather than the creator. Full review here.


While not all of Spike Lee's latest film, "Chi-Raq" is successful, one can't deny the very angry and potent place it derives from. The opening- with the lyrics of its self titled song sprayed across the screen in bright red letters followed by a foghorn warning of "this is an emergency" - certainly places one in the uncomfortable framework of a conscientious filmmaker trying to change something... anything... in this fucked up society. By grafting a Greek tragedy, poetry dialogue and all, onto the shoulders of a gang war in modern day Chicago, it takes some getting used to at first, but the lead performance of Teyonah Parris soon commands attention as she tries to lead her fellow women in a sex strike until the bloodshed ends. Social satire, Lee's continual breaking of the fourth wall and straight up comedy blend into a fascinating mess that signals Lee hasn't quite given up on utilizing his cinema for more than entertainment.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Regional Review: Jackelope

Any film that features several fleeting shots of landmarks and buildings that stood just a few hundred yards from my childhood home is bound to enamor itself to my heart, which is exactly what Kenneth Harrison's 1976 documentary "Jackelope" has done. Those images- captured while one of the film's subjects is making a pilgrimage down I-35 from Dallas to Austin- only last a second or two, but they serve as a monochrome reminder that no matter what happens to those structures later in life (one of which now has been torn down), they'll be preserved in the cinematic ether for a brief instant... somewhere. Beyond that tangential personal connection, the film also excels because it's an eccentric time capsule of early 1970's Texas through the visionary work of three diverse artists who mold, cut, paint or fabricate their "outsider" folk art. Rarely does a documentary so neatly blend interesting people with the atmospheric poise of the times.

Originally prepared and shown on Dallas' public access channel, KERA, in 1976, "Jackelope" recently received a restoration and became one of the many great entries presented at the 2015 Dallas VideoFest. I wrote in the primer to the festival about "Jackelope", calling it aimless, entrancing and fascinating and a film that highlights the against-the-grain philosophy of the snooty art world paradigms. Patting myself on the back, that's about as apt a description one can muster for it.

Opening on artist James Surls as he scavenges and ultimately finds the perfect tree within an overgrown field on one of those obviously blistering hot summer days we're known for here in Texas, "Jackelope" follows a certain procession of creativity. In Surls' portion, more attention is given with the actual sawing down of the tree and its eventual shape through his endless whittling of the wood into a tall figurine. We're shown the birth of his art from idealized vision to tactile representation. The second portion of "Jackelope" picks up with painter George Green in his Houston studio as he hobknobs with friends and reflects on his past. Glimpses of his art are shown, but the focus in this middle portion lies within the comfortable surroundings of an artist content and at peace with his lot in his life. The third and most rambunctious portion of the film follows sculpture Bob Wade as he roadtrips to Austin, making a pit-stop in Waco, Texas to enjoy a friendly round of shotgun mayhem and car explosions. Just like his art (which has graced so many Central Texas institutions and businesses over the years, including my college grounds), Wade is a colorful and country-funky-steampunk figure who gives "Jackelope" a boundless energy. In this third and final portion, its as if director Harrison is saying that art- come full circle- is an experience that doesn't need to be constipated or retained for a certain percentile of people. It can be wild, joyous and a completely passionate expression of someone who lives life the same way.

An obvious crowd favorite at the festival, my only regret was not hooking up with director Harrison for a chat about his work and the film. I'm sure his memories of crafting such a loving documentary are just as infectious as the buoyant personalities shown on-screen.