Monday, February 28, 2011

Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS                                                        B                     
USA   (87 mi)  2011  d:  Miguel Arteta 

The title is a little misleading, as despite the supposed Iowa location, most of the characters come from other Midwest states like Wisconsin, Minnesota and even Nebraska, while the film itself was shot entirely in the state of Michigan.  While it’s not easy to wrap yourself around the semi-comatose happenings of a small town insurance convention, probably no place on earth one would rather not be, yet for all its attention to Midwestern detail, this film starts extremely slow but eventually finds a tailwind of crude comedy that’s actually pretty funny.  Ed Helms is perfectly cast as the ultra ordinary and socially awkward Tim Lippe, a conservative and near invisible mid 30’s insurance man covering the farm towns of Brown Valley, Wisconsin, a place where the world changes at a glacial pace, and where Tim’s once-a-week “pre-engagement” girlfriend is none other than his 7th grade science teacher (Sigourney Weaver).  After the strange death of their leading sales rep, the boss sends Tim to win the company’s coveted 2-Diamond Award, which they’ve won three years running, though Tim is strangely apprehensive, thinking the world is suddenly moving too fast.  His boss has confidence in him, but places extra pressure on him as he expects results.  Honestly, there’s nothing at this point to suggest it’d be a good idea to remain in the theater unless perhaps you’re Amish and you skipped school to see it.  But it’d be worth your patience.        

With little fanfare, Tim boards a plane for the first time in his life and heads for a thriving big city metropolis where he immediately lands in insurance convention nirvana, a place he describes as Barbados once he sees his first indoor swimming pool.  In order to save costs, he’s got two roommates, one is probably the first black man he’s even seen, Isiah Whitlock Jr. as Ronald, a polished, smooth talker whose voice alone has the calming assurance of a radio host, and finally, in a stroke of excessively bad taste, John C. Reilly as “Deanzie” Ziegler is the most obnoxious man on the planet and a man his boss specifically warned him to avoid, a guy who guzzles free booze like it’s candy and unleashes a barrage of crude, sexually offensive remarks that you can’t believe you just heard, turning everything into sexual innuendo, as if he’s an older and less successful version of one of Saturday Night Live’s “wild and crazy” guys, Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd as the world’s worst pickup artists on the loose.  And in perhaps her best role ever is Anne Heche, nearly unrecognizable as Joan, an outgoing girl, her married inhibitions unleashed as she’s out of town, who just wants to be one of the guys, except she’s flirtatious as hell.  Once the players have been introduced, they start drinking and loosening up (and did I mention there’s a scavenger hunt?), where little by little their inner souls, locked in a vice grip of their own hard corps conventionality, struggle to become liberated.  Major conflicts ensue. 

After leading the audience exactly where they think this is going, writer Phil Johnston sends them on an express train veering out of control, where Reilly’s humor actually becomes hysterical and the straight-laced Ed Helms becomes the bon vivant man about town, where his heartfelt earnestness turns him into a chick magnet, which all but knocks playboy Ziegler off his feet in admiration, immediately declaring him a best friend for life, even if he just got to know him.  The zaniness is crude, but appealing, as by the end of this picture, despite a series of setbacks and moments of extreme anguish and despair, a man constantly challenged by unforeseen forces, the perennially uptight Helms will try just about anything, as he’s at the end of his rope, yet his inner self is basically so admirable that the fun is seeing him get mixed up on a road journey with lowlifes and swindlers, all thinking he’s easy pickings, as he has to somehow navigate his way through this moral purgatory of lost souls.  It’s no less than a WIZARD OF OZ (1939) journey, as our everyman hero, with the help of his friends, is forced through his adventures, which include a rollicking ride with a friendly convention prostitute (Alia Shawkat), to re-evaluate what really matters in his own life and damn if there’s not a surge of Capra-esque emotion by the end of this picture—remarkable that something that started so predictably lame became so irreverently enjoyable by the end, continuing the bad jokes even over the end credits. 

Friday, February 25, 2011


ZENITH                                  D                    
USA  (93 mi)  2010  d:  Vladan Nikolic   

This, unfortunately, is a candidate for one of the worst films of the year, as it feels like a jumbled mess, a film that wants to be something complicated, but isn’t.  Apparently the director is a fan of puzzle films, where there’s a dark mystery underlying the order of the universe as we know it.  And in the hands of good directors, those films work because of the inventive worlds created that come alive onscreen, but placed here in the wrong writer/director’s hands, this film generates little interest or enthusiasm and represents a hopeless indulgence on the part of the director.  While it attempts to be a futuristic, sci-fi drama, made for a little more than $100,000 dollars, there is no visual conception whatsoever of the future, as there’s nothing remotely different except they’ve eliminated a good deal of their vocabulary, so our existential hero, known as Dumb Jack (Peter Scanavino), memorizes lost and forgotten words that express dread, depression, or malaise, as otherwise the world’s a happy place with no use for those words anymore.  But of course, we see scant evidence of this Happyville, instead the film is shot in vacant lots and graffiti-filled back alleys that look pretty much like today.  Even worse, the film is narrated throughout by Jack, who couldn’t be more dull and disinterested, continuously speaking in the same monotonous tone.

Apparently due to chronic epilepsy, Jack retains a natural connection to misery and pain, allowing him to see through the phony new order, developing a kind of underground status.  Trained as a doctor, Jack has become a pharmaceutical expert making his living selling drugs while visiting prostitutes on the side, yet continually whines about how bleak the world has become in the year 2044.  A second storyline develops when Jack is visited by an old friend of his father’s (Jason Robards III as Ed), a man who chased wacko conspiracy theories and lost faith in God but continued to work as a minister, becoming disillusioned and more and more disheveled until he allegedly went insane and disappeared without a trace, but left some old videotapes behind for Jack.  Jack’s world in the future is shown simultaneously with his father’s in the past, seen through the videotapes, where both are grasping to make some sense in the world. 

Ed’s world changes during a confession when a man reveals he knows about a small elite group of men who have developed plans to take over the world using a “fountain of youth” idea they call Zenith, which is outlined in a book, which in the future is no longer in existence, while Jack runs into a surprisingly literate prostitute (Ana Asensio) who uses many of the forgotten words, which he finds intriguing.  But even more intriguing is waking up in her upscale glass house on the lake where we discover her father is a hundred years old but through genetic alterations looks like he’s in his thirties.  But Jack doesn't do the math and hardly notices or pays attention until it’s too late.  The whole world is a dump and one guy lives in a palatial estate, with an intelligent and beautiful daughter, yet he never stops to take interest?  Instead, the film bogs down into unnecessary and superfluous details as he becomes fascinated by his own father’s revelations in the past, where both are digging endlessly through clues, interview after interview, uncovering one eccentric after another, plodding along while he continuously gets the shit kicked out of him, where he’s also busy tracking down yet more copies of missing tapes, eventually trying to accumulate the entire collection.

It appears his father was onto the idea that would change the world before it happened.  As clues unravel, the world of the father and son converge, where they’re each faced with surprisingly similar choices.  But both the father and son unwisely face the future alone despite having allowed themselves to become too disconnected and too far removed from the world around them to have any real impact.  Their disinterest translates into a mind numbing dullness onscreen, as they’re seen as sulking impotent outsiders rather than men of initiative or strike force capability.  Once we get to the finale, for a split second a world of possibilities does seem to open up, where a low budget film like PRIMER (2004) showed how editing alone could scramble the timeline and intensify the suspense.  But here it all feels so generic and inevitable, as the acting and the production values are so poor that there never is any underlying tension or suspense, instead an overriding mood of hopeless detachment prevails throughout this entire picture.     

Thursday, February 24, 2011


KABOOM                                         B+                  
USA  France  (86 mi)  2010  ‘Scope  d:  Gregg Araki 

Queer film fantasia at its finest, actually shot in ‘Scope, a first for Araki who returns to his filmmaking roots where he is constantly having a blast with this candy-colored material where he imagines being 18 again, set from the perspective of the New Order (not “the seminal band of the 80’s”) in the universe, where strange is the new normal.  The entire story revolves around a single character, Smith (Thomas Dekker), a bisexually curious college student whose dreams, everyday gay fantasies and thoughts are embellished onscreen with little left to the imagination, where constant blasts of lurid sexual imagery bombard the voyeuristic impulses from the audience and pretty much typifies how college life is portrayed.  It’s all about getting laid.  While most students may imagine this kind of lurid sensuality, most remain alienated and alone, isolated from the rest of the world in the worst way, even as they hang around in groups as a cover so that they at least entertain the possibility that they are social creatures.  Araki does wonders by turning that common perception upside down.  Smith has a best friend, the constantly-at-his-side lesbian companion Stella (Haley Bennett), the acid-tongued, highly sarcastic art student that invites him to a party where he immediately sees two women he’s never met before, but seen in a constantly recurring dream.  One, the voluptuously beautiful Lorelei (Roxanne Mesquida, from Catherine Breillat films), immediately goes home with Stella while Smith, who sees the other dreamgirl only instantly, the mysterious Red-haired girl (newcomer Nicole LaLiberte), is grabbed by London (yes she’s British, Juno Temple, daughter of documentary filmmaker Julien Temple), where both have near surreal sexual adventures, where Lorelei amusingly has supernatural powers where she casts a spell on her sexual partner to prolong the bliss in bed while London is simply every guy’s dream, as she won’t stop until her partner is completely satisfied.  This little montage of sexual satisfaction is hilarious, as at 18, that’s never the way it actually turns out, as kids are still way too self-conscious and end up blitzed on drugs or alcohol and can barely even remember what happened other than having to lie about it afterwards.    

Adding to the intrigue is Smith’s roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), seen in an opening dream montage, a blond surfer dude with marbles in his head for brains, exactly as Smith likes them, he fantasizes, but Thor insists he’s straight, while an amusing theme recurs throughout the film where this declaration is constantly in doubt.  Out of nowhere, Smith imagines he was attacked late one night along with the Red-haired girl by strange men in masks, where she might have been bludgeoned—cut to bright red jam in a scene at breakfast where Stella finds no evidence of any crime, but according to London, the Red-haired girl was in one of her classes and she has disappeared.  This musical chairs of missing persons, men in masks, hallucinations of perceived violence, all add to a creeping sense of paranoia that begins to spread like wildfires.  When cryptic messages are received, not to mention stealth computer sites that disappear in the night, Smith examines the source of these clues much like Aaron Katz uses a similar Sherlock Holmes subtext in search of a missing girl in his recent indie film COLD WEATHER (2010), both examining a different social strata.  Araki embellishes the gay world with bright colors and perfect physiques, with kids that are willing to hop into bed with one another, and a movie storyline that literally takes off on its own exaggerated sense of playfulness, where bad things continue to plague the world of these otherwise adorable teenagers who mysteriously continue to take an interest in one another.  Again, unlike the stagnant social lives of most teens who appear glum, moody, and continually down in the dumps, in this portrayal, someone’s always knocking on Smith’s door followed by an incessant barrage of cell phone calls of people constantly interested in seeing him.      

Smith’s investigations reveal cult-like symptoms in what is perceived as normal society, where an interesting family secret escalates to grotesque behavior, where the world is run by an L. Ron Hubbard style guru who seeks world domination, yet makes dire, apocalyptic proclamations that the end is near.  Poking fun at the acceptance of Scientology among the well-to-do in Hollywood circles, a movement known for its condemnation and abhorrence of homosexuality, yet accepted by a society where cult status becomes accepted as the norm, Araki uses this prevalent theme of a world falling off its axis.  While the story grows ever more ridiculous, reaching comic book proportions of conspiracy theory absurdity, this insanity is seen as a looming threat that is constantly menacing Smith and the world he knows, where men in masks run a secret campaign to round up innocent victims and make them disappear, much like the Ku Klux Klan once did, reigning terror against their intended victims, a lawless sect using fear tactics and violence that spread beyond the reach of the law, seen as a totalitarian threat intent upon annihilating gays, perhaps even willing to use the New Testament as a sign to fanatically bring about ultimate doom to the entire world, literally carrying out the wishes of a new Revelations.  Perhaps only in this manner can gays be eradicated from the earth.  But much like DOCTOR STRANGELOVE (1964), the director relishes each and every misstep, where there are more twists and turns in this film, all shown in humorous good fun, where the finale plays like the staging of a burlesque review, where the mad romp into the ever wackier world of the absurd is an irreverent dash to the finish line.  This is an insanely appealing film filled with clever twists and beautifully written dialogue that is so outrageously over the top that one can’t help but stand back and admire afterwards what a rollicking good time this was, and, like a Sirk film, that through the veneer of a film soaked in sarcasm and bright artificiality there is a glimpse of something serious lurking underneath.     

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


UNKNOWN                          C+
USA  Great Britain  Germany  France  Canada  Japan  (113 mi)  2011  ‘Scope  d:  Jaume Collet-Serra

The film opens with a rush of energy that surprisingly gets you into the thick of the action right away, where Liam Neeson gets separated from his wife at a posh Berlin hotel once he realizes he left an important briefcase behind at the airport, heading back in a taxi without even letting her know.  Out of cell phone range and in a traffic jam, an impatient Neeson urges the driver to take alternative methods, sending a jolt of energy through the audience when the taxi spins out of control and heads over a bridge into the icy waters of the River Spree, where the driver (Diane Kruger) ingeniously manages to free herself and rescue her unconscious passenger before disappearing anonymously into the crowded city streets.  4 days later, Neeson awakes from a coma in a hospital, still forgetful of details but desperately needing to find his wife (January Jones), though she’s left no word that she’s looking for him.  When he bolts from the hospital to attend an international pharmaceutical convention at the upscale hotel where he was expected to deliver a speech, his wife doesn’t recognize him and another man (Aidan Quinn) has assumed his identity as her husband.  Leaving him the odd man out, none of this makes sense, yet he has no way of explaining who he is with little money and no identification, and even Google searches for his name and position have been replaced by photos of Quinn.  Who is this guy, and why all of a sudden does he suspect men are following him? 

This relatively young Spanish director does have an energetic flourish with speed and pace, accentuating the desperate straits of a man who has had his identity stolen from him, yet still has the smarts to pursue all the missing angles he can find, where a nurse at the hospital slips him the name of an underground former East German Stasi figure (Bruno Ganz) who has a way of finding people.  Ganz is terrific in the role and is easily the man of interest in this movie, as his home is lined with old Army photos and a wall filled with commendations.  He adds a well needed coherent literacy to the script about a man who is living in a muddled state of confusion.  When Neeson tracks down the taxi driver, who reluctantly agrees to help despite being an illegal Serbian worker who relentlessly avoids the cops, the paranoid mood escalates when two contract killers arrive unexpectedly at her doorstep which leads to a thrilling sequence where Neeson and the girl have to fight their way out of certain death.  At this point, the two are linked, where despite not knowing why they’ve been targeted, they are in the thick of it, followed immediately by a hair-raising car chase sequence right through the middle of Berlin’s crowded downtown streets, past historical relics such as the Victory Column and the Brandenberg Gate that leaves nothing but panic and destruction in their wake. 

Like Jason Bourne from THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002 – 2007) trilogy, Neeson continually has flashbacks, which are the only clues to his previous existence, reminders of a life he once knew, and the film is thrilling while Neeson attempts to make sense out of who he is, as Ganz pushes unorthodox secret buttons behind the scenes, but becomes all too predictable once he figures it out, where it’s literally handed to him on a platter of belated clues and explanations that really undermine the whole fun of the picture.  When it eventually comes down to just good guys against bad guys, that’s a whole lot less interesting than a throwback to the Cold War era style film presented in shattered pieces with fragmented images and delusional thoughts about a missing identity, where Neeson is constantly besieged by threats against his life while also trying to put together the missing mosaic of his apparently stolen life.  By the time Frank Langella arrives on the scene, the ending is deflated and all too contrived, like letting the air out of a balloon, but there’s plenty of fun while Neeson’s life is in turmoil, also excellent use of shots in the snow as well as ice flowing in the river.  Perhaps the thrill factor for the audience might never have diminished had the character been left “unknown” and in the dark, which also leaves open the possibility of a sequel, a concept the director has already embraced. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rachel, Rachel

RACHEL, RACHEL                                        B+                  
USA  (101 mi)  1968  d:  Paul Newman

One of the hard to find missing gems of the 60’s, a film that shows great insight into America’s greatest thespian marriage, where at the peak of his popularity, after making HUD (1963), HARPER (1966), HOMBRE (1967) and COOL HAND LUKE (1967), Paul Newman went behind the camera to direct his first film, a showpiece for his wife, easily the better half of the marriage on stage, Joanne Woodward, who simply nails this role as a lonely spinster in a small Southern town.  Adapted from a Canadian novel set in Manitoba outside Winnipeg, Margaret Laurence’s A Jest of God, the film has the meticulous detail and feel of a short story set in the American South, where Rachel has done all the right things dedicating her life for others, teaching second graders, taking care of her elderly mother, and is seen as a model citizen, but for the life of her can’t find happiness.  Nothing changes in her rural environment, where the rhythm of life is pretty much the same as when she was a child, seen in flashbacks, played by the Newman’s own blond-haired daughter, Nell Potts, where by middle age it appears life is passing her by, looking after her invalid mother (Kate Harrington), realizing she’s not the person she imagines herself to be and feels inadequate in every way.  When a childhood friend wanders back into town, Nick (James Olson), the son of a farmer who never much cared for cows, he asks her out on a date which has reverberations, as we suspect it’s the first in perhaps decades.  All she’s had is best friend Calla, Estelle Parsons, a fellow teacher, an actress who just a year earlier won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), and who perfectly matches Woodward in every frame.  Parsons is not over the top hysterical in this film, but bravely offers Woodward a kiss in a private moment, which speaks more to the acute loneliness of the individual than any sexual interest.  Be that as it may, it’s an astounding moment having profound impact into their friendship, which is perhaps the most carefully nuanced relationship in the film, as they are alike, like sisters. 

Much is made of the date sequence, where one’s first impression is to think of Nick as a cad, a callous hipster who simply plays it as it lays, never realizing until the moment at hand that she’s a virgin, and then, since the entire film is seen through her perspective, her inner narration, her flashbacks, he’s continually pulling back from anything more serious.  Her intensity is overwhelming, where her view of herself is undergoing a complete transformation, but he’s barely interested and tries to remove himself from the situation as much as possible.  After all, he barely knows her.  In hindsight, however, he doesn’t come across so poorly, as he’s just a guy that was passing through town and never had any intentions of staying or taking root.  She, on the other hand, can’t wait for the opportunity to seek more out of life and feels driven to demand more out of herself than to continue to accept the monotonous rhythm that has been her routine.  Woodward is brilliant as a woman in a state of flux, who is no surer of herself than she is of what matters in life.  All her life she’s lived in fear, fear of her father, mother, authority, God, where she’s continually sacrificed her own choices for the betterment of others.  Interestingly, her father was a mortician who ran a funeral home on the premises, but his work area was off limits, forbidden, keeping him emotionally off limits both as a child but continuing into adulthood, never allowing herself to express how she feels.  All bottled up inside, it’s like she’s led the life of a stranger who barely knows the world around her, even her own environment or her own body. 

A small slice of life film that today would be called an indie film, shot for $700,000 dollars, as the focus is on tiny details and the exquisite performances, one of Woodward’s best in her entire career, nominated for an Academy Award, but losing out to Barbra Streisand (FUNNY GIRL) and Katharine Hepburn (THE LION IN WINTER) in a tie for Best Actress.  Newman directs a quiet and introspective film, recognized as a 60’s film from his use of flashbacks, as they dominate the interior landscape, which was a quite trendy trademark of the times, especially prevalent in European films.  What’s unique is the shortness and lack of development of the flashback sequences, which always interrupt the present like a brief daydream, whimsical, colorful, following the actions of a curious and precocious young girl, leaving the audience wondering about that earlier childhood, which at times feels more interesting than her present life.  While we might like to learn more, the details are etched in the present, where to the sound of a ticking clock, we hear Rachel whispering to herself as her mother sits transfixed by the front window:  “She watches the street like a captain watches the sea, praying for a funeral to come by to cheer her up.”  Much of the dialogue is witty and quite literary, which gives the film a timeless feel.  Newman’s style is to continually enhance the interior state of mind, so that by the end, the ambiguity of the compliant past mixing with the stifling suffocation of the present becomes synonymous with the possibilities of her own future, where the final images, supposedly shot in Connecticut, but bearing a startling resemblance to Mendocino, California, offer a hauntingly poetic mirror reflection. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Inspector Bellamy

Chabrol (left) on the set with Depardieu
Nick and Nora (William Powell and Myrna Loy)
Chabrol still showing his natural grace with Clovis Cornillac

INSPECTOR BELLAMY                                           B
France  (110 mi)  2009  d:  Claude Chabrol

In this his final film, as the director recently passed away at the age of 80, Chabrol finally teams up with French legend Gérard Depardieu who plays a charmingly personable Police Inspector, the kind of guy who would just as soon hear your life story than the specific facts at hand, which more likely bore him, as he’s spent a career investigating police work and it’s other things now that interest him in this latter stage of his life.  Depardieu as Inspector Bellamy is something of a settled, but never quite comfortable middle-aged man in a bourgeois marriage with his still sexy wife Françoise (Marie Bunel), who always appears calmer and a step ahead of her husband.  But he’s the one on duty, though you’d never know it, as each of his calls are a “personal visit” instead of an official police questioning, where it feels more like Bellamy is simply trying to get a grasp on the lay of the land, offering bits of kindness where he can.  Interesting from the opening shot, a real puzzler as the camera curiously pans out of a cemetery out onto a stretch of beach where a demolished burnt-out car lies at the bottom of a cliff, with a charred body and a severed head sitting upright laying right next to it.  Need one say more?  What’s more interesting is that the Inspector and his wife are on holiday in the south of France at their country home in Nîmes, but like indigestion, the man won’t let it rest, and his curiosity gets the better of him.  This husband and wife team is so conventionally close that they’re a toss between the straight-laced yet comical McMillan & Wife (1971–1977) and the suave sophistication of THE THIN MAN (1934).  

And did I mention that Depardieu is gi-normous, a man who looks like a beached whale when he sits upon the edge of the bed with his wife in little skimpy outfits?  It had to have been an in joke on the set, as the man gives Brando a run for his money as the world’s most bloated up human being, but his acting is impeccable.  In no way does his size interfere except as an occasional aside joke.  Instead, Bellamy visits all the known suspects, never once raising his hand or fist as a threat, or a gun, or a warrant.  Instead, he relies on the pleasantries of old-fashioned conversation.  This non-threatening manner in investigating a hideous crime also describes the pacing of the film, where age really does enter into it, as this film has no target audience in mind, but ambles along in its own manner, veering here and there, occasionally seeming off course, but all in good time seems to be the director’s aim.  This healthy dose of maturity adds to the charm of the picture, as it uses old-fashioned methods to lure the audience into a somewhat unconventional crime, insurance fraud that resurrects the use of a dead body double to steer interested parties away from the real mastermind who’s behind this swindle, where we can imagine this exact same scenario in the 1940’s and Bellamy would be a hard drinking, skirt chasing, and decidedly younger version of  himself. 

Here, despite his size, he’s still a skirt chaser, and, blasphemous in France, he’s given up drinking altogether, that is, until his wayward and long lost brother Jacques (Clovis Cornillac) arrives on the scene, a gambler, a thief, but mostly a drunkard flirting with his wife every chance he gets while drinking every last bottle on the premises, a hard-drinking ex-con who is belittled and constantly criticized by his bullying elder brother throughout the rest of the picture.  The only time they have a moment’s peace is when they have a little drink together and share a few laughs, as otherwise they’re at each other’s throats.  Bellamy never cuts him a break, which makes Jacques all the more devious, a complete fuck up and damaged soul who seems incapable of doing anything right.  In his own way, he’s the perfect side attraction to Bellamy’s continuing conversation with the girl friend of the dead body double (Adrienne Pauly), the friend of a homeless man who ends up dead, while the real mystery man, cleverly maneuvering his way through three roles, one following the alterations of plastic surgery, is Jacques Gamblin, a man who rarely sees his dutiful wife anymore (Marie Matheron), as he wants to abscond with his mistress (Vahina Giocante) and the money.  Bellamy, however, unscrambles the clues, which, you’d never know as he’s too busy fuming about his own brother’s various indiscretions, railing against the incompetence of the local police detective (who’s never seen onscreen), while amiably following the drifting thoughts of the town.  There’s an uncommon ease about this picture which makes it easy to like, and a final shot that exquisitely offers a poetic transcendence for the director himself, a renowned gourmet and self mocking bon vivant who loved life, and unlike many of the other more tortured New Wavers, wasn’t afraid to show us a good time.     

Waste Land

WASTE LAND                             B+
Brazil  Great Britain  (99 mi)  2010  d:  Lucy Walker  co-directors:  Karen Haley and João Jardim

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror

And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body
with her mind

Suzanne, (Third verse), Leonard Cohen, 1966

WASTE LAND is another film that asks the question just what is art?  But in this case, the person asking is already an established commercial artist, Vik Muniz, a Brazilian-born visual artist living in New York, claiming his works are the highest selling art coming out of Brazil.  What’s unique about his methods is incorporating natural, everyday items onto the canvas, such as thread, wire, string, paper, peanut butter and jelly, or sugar, where his theory is that if your vantage point is up close, it looks like a jumbled mess, becoming beautiful from a distance, where it becomes something unimaginable.  He describes his hometown of Sao Paolo in the same manner, as the impoverished streets can be harsh and cruel, but if seen from a great distance, such as the aerial view from an incoming airplane or seen from a high vista, it has a breathtaking beauty.  Initially he gets the idea to visit the Jardim Gramacho dump, which is the world’s largest landfill, a vast stretch of undeveloped land that accepts 70 % of Rio de Janeiro’s garbage, adding all of the neighboring suburbs.  Until you get up close, you have no idea just how immense this is, as it is a community in itself due to the steady stream of some three thousand workers, known as catadores, many of whom live in a shanty village onsite, who pick through the garbage for reusable, recycled products which they can sell, eking out a barest minimum of a living.  Muniz brings his camera and introduces himself to dozens of the workers, starting at first by taking their picture and then narrowing his focus to a half a dozen subjects that interest him.    

First and foremost is Tiaõ, an ambitious young man who aspires to build a coalition of workers to help improve their living conditions while also becoming the point man leading demonstrations against the mayor and the city for dragging their feet and refusing to implement a citywide recycling program, as promised.  Suelem is an attractive 18-year old with a strikingly good looking face, but she has two children living with her sister away from the dump that she misses, so she periodically leaves the dump shantytown to visit them in a different dilapidated shack nearby that looks just the same, except they’re wired for a TV.  Isis is another attractive young woman with man problems, while Magna (truly the most interesting to me) is more mature, with a world weary expression on her face, as if she’s somehow capable of surviving some of the worst battles, while Irmã is the eldest and the woman who’s probably worked there the longest.  All live on the premises and are slowly brought into Vik’s world, as he has a large studio nearby where he takes the photographs, enlarges them to huge, places them on the ground, and then embellishes them with products found in the landfill, a tedious process that includes the involvement of the catadores themselves, who get a personalized taste of the high end art world, all startled by how it looks from a proper distance.  What’s interesting is the discussion about what happens next, as Vik’s wife comes to visit and she’s quite demonstrative about how taking responsibility for their lives is beyond any concept of art, as they’re being introduced unto a brand new world with no instructions on how to navigate their way through, claiming they are all fragile and vulnerable.  But Vik is not interested in negativity and in no short order rejects his wife’s ideas completely, claiming even if just for a moment if they could live outside the landfill for a few precious weeks and see how the rest of the world operates, that in itself would be a life altering experience equivalent to the transforming power of art. 

Next thing you know, Tiaõ is whisked off to London where his photograph will be the first one auctioned in a high end art exhibit, right next to works of Andy Warhol.  This is where the unique power of the film becomes evident, as this is truly a transforming experience, as never in his wildest dreams did Tiaõ ever imagine himself in this position, as the photograph sold for $50,000.  When the rest of the crew gets all dressed up walking out of their shanty huts, it’s like they’re going to a wedding, but instead it’s to the opening night of Vik’s gallery opening in Rio de Janeiro featuring photographs of them, where they are the living subjects of the art hanging on the walls.  Clearly they are moved by the power of the moment, which goes beyond proud or surprised, or even humbled.  They are in shock at the sheer audacity of the idea itself, how something they could never conceive was being valued and appreciated by others.  Their emotional lives are simply shattered and overwhelmed by it all, where the exhibit itself is like a personal gift and tribute to them.  While it’s evident Vik identifies with them all, something that probably took him by surprise, as he could easily have slid into this same kind of demoralizing poverty as a young kid.  Still, the story about the artworks themselves is nothing new, as art is constantly used to taking on new faces and reaching out into unthinkable horizons.  What’s clearly unique, surprising even the artist himself, is the notion of living art, something like living theater, where the subjects themselves interact with the artist and the audience in unanticipated ways, where there’s a personal investment in each one, initially thought of only in dollars and cents, but it ends up being the collaborative shared emotional life altering transformation the artist and filmmaker were searching for all along.    

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Honeymoon Killers

Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck

THE HONEYMOON KILLERS                                                    B+
aka:  The Lonely Hearts Killers
USA  (108 mi)  1969   d:  Leonard Kastle     co-director:  Donald Volkman and Martin Scorsese (uncredited)

You’re a little on the heavy side, but you’re not an old bag, you know.    
—Bunny (Doris Roberts)

One of the true underrated classics of American cinema, shot on a B-movie budget of about $150,000, initially directed by none other than film novice Martin Scorsese who had the distinction of being fired after only ten days on this picture for working too slowly, yet he supposedly shot the two set-ups for the opening hospital scene, a long hallway pan and a follow-up shot in the hospital room where the nurse tartly scolds the staff for personal indiscretions, also the lakeside scene near the end that was actually shot first, a scene where Stoler nearly drowns, which apparently was quite legitimate.  After a brief  replacement by Donald Volkman, it was writer Leonard Kastle that assumed full-time directing duties, his one and only movie, but one that holds up well over time.  French director François Truffaut claimed this was his favorite American picture, now a cult classic that is rarely screened.  Everything about this picture stands out, from the opening bombastic music, ultra dramatic staccato bass strings from the opening Allegro movement of Mahler’s 6th “Tragic” Symphony, to the trashy premise that it’s based upon, targeting the lonely hearts personal ads as a get rich quick scheme.  While it has a similar premise to Chaplin’s MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947), another delicious black comedy about marrying and murdering rich women for their money, this one is actually a love story starring the always abrasive, overweight wonder Shirley Stoler as Martha Beck, the predecessor to John Water’s Divine, and her “Latin from Manhattan” playboy flirt of a boyfriend, Tony LoBianco as Ray Fernandez. 

The wrenching melodrama is fast and furious, as is some deliciously campy dialogue as the couple falls in love through a flurry of over-heated letters, where Ray seals the deal by dancing a sexy Rumba in front of Martha and her mother where his gyrating backside glides past the camera, which leads Martha to sedate her mother, a pattern she continues using throughout the film, as she’s a jealously protective nurse who stocks up on pharmaceuticals.  After ditching her mother in an Old Folk’s Home, she goes on a crime spree with her new beau, pretending to be his sister as he fleeces elderly spinsters as prospective brides out of their money, slyly encouraging them to convert all their assets to cash in order to start a new life together.  But Martha’s all consuming jealousy becomes something of a liability, as rather than sneak out with the cash in the dead of night, as is Ray’s modus operandi, Martha is angrily confrontational with these women when they show interest in Ray, usually stirring up the hornet’s nest at the most inappropriate times.  Initially, they simply make a getaway, but their methods grow more unsavory over time.  Of interest, their targets are ordinary women, people we would easily recognize at the supermarket, yet the fact that they have money to throw around really irks Martha, creating an underlying level of hatred and contempt on top of the manic jealousy she feels from the excessive attention these frivolous women are paying Ray, all of which adds to an intolerable situation for an overbearing woman who wishes to totally and exclusively possess her man.  Ray is driven by greed, pure and simple, but Martha’s actions, which lead to a kind of banality of violence, is based on simple jealousy.  She simply can’t share her man with anyone.      

Based on a real life couple that was sent to the electric chair in San Quintin in 1951, it’s interesting that no attempt was made to create a 50’s era look, like for instance Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS (1973), instead it has a timeless feel because the viewers become so intimately involved with the couple’s increasing level of antagonism towards the rest of the human race, becoming morally detached, off in their own universe where they are all that matters.  Unusually seedy, photographed in a dimly lit black and white, the character’s actions are darkly disturbing, yet mysteriously, the audience is actually pulling for them to get away with it, so they have a perversely strange magnetic appeal.  The violence shown is never gratuitous or exploitive, but instead reveals a near impossible level of desperation this couple reaches in order to protect themselves, becoming crudely realistic, where one of their victims is hit in the head with a hammer not once but twice, yet still she lingers for over a minute in screen time instead of dying instantly like they do on TV.  Despite the extended melodrama, the film can be starkly realistic, especially in its portrayal of human motivations.  Martha is one of the more provocative characters seen in awhile at the movies, as her size literally engulfs much of the screen, as does her shadow that adds even greater dimension, but her emotional realm is ferocious, as she can angrily show her disgust, express herself in a rage of discontent, or succumb to an equally outrageous moment of melodramatic hysteria, where she feigns suicide several times in order to attract the attention she needs.  It’s fitting that in real life it was her final request to be allowed to sit in Fernandez's lap in the electric chair.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Breath (Soom)

BREATH (Soom)                                       C                    
South Korea  (84 mi)  2007  d:  Kim Ki-duk 

Apparently the Kim Ki-duk controversy is still brewing, as one of the scathing accusations made by film critic Tony Rayns in the November/December 2004 issue of Film Comment is that Kim “shamelessly plagiarizes,” calling Kim’s 3-IRON (2004) a rip-off of Tsai Ming-liang’s VIVE L’AMOUR (1994).  Now nearly four years after the film opened in Korea and at Cannes, and three years after it premiered at the U.S. Palm Springs  and Portland film festivals, this movie is finally getting a release in Chicago, and the film also has the Tsai Ming-liang imprint (for Christ’s sake, the message here is that Tsai Ming-liang’s films are starkly original), namely THE HOLE (1998) or again in THE WAYWARD CLOUD (2005), where Tsai inexplicably makes a quick exit from the monotonous, dreary reality depicted onscreen with a jolt of color and musical extravaganza, breaking out into the nostalgia-tinged artifice of song, which is a complete shock to the system.  Also doing a riff on one of his own themes, namely the changing seasons, Kim mixes the two together in what initially feels like a satire on Korean cheerfulness, where that ever present artificial smile is ingrained into the culture.  But he goes nowhere with this idea, so by the end of the film it really does feel like he simply stole the idea.  This film is structured around a loveless and near wordless marriage (only the husband speaks), set inside a spaciously modernized apartment that probably didn’t come cheap, where artistically inclined Yeon (Park Ji-a) creates sculpture objects while her boring, completely unimaginative yet overbearing husband, Ha Jung-woo, barks out orders and commands that she simply ignores.  His authority is passively undermined by her mute response.  Instead, she’s fascinated by the TV news reports about a convict on death row that has attempted suicide twice by jabbing a sharp object into his throat, but has recovered each time, effectively extending his date of execution.  The husband callously turns off the TV and tells her to find something better to do.         

Yeon finds herself inexplicably grabbing a taxi cab heading for the prison asking to visit the condemned killer Jin Jang, none other than Chang Chen, or 14-year old Xiao Si’r from Edward Yang’s autobiographical A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY (1991), now seen some twenty years later sitting on death row, also playing a mute character due to the throat injury (evidently the Taiwanese actor speaks no Korean).  While she has no business whatsoever getting in, after an initial rejection, the warden, played by the director sitting in an enclosed booth with cameras following her every move, mysteriously allows the visit, including every known violation of prison security, where she speaks plainly and openly to this prisoner, recounting a personal story of her youth, returning home to her husband afterwards who is stunned and perplexed, thinking all along that his wife never left the house.  But she gets a taste for it, buying herself a bright yellow spring dress and hops back in a cab for the prison, this time plastering the walls with a colorful décor, adding flowers and turning the room into a spring paradise, placing a boom box on the table and sings some karaoke style ode to spring, which couldn’t be more preposterous, as she has a terrible voice.  After another frank discussion where she reveals some more deeply personal thoughts, she leaves a picture of herself as a little girl for the prisoner, which of course the other prisoners fight over once he’s back in his cell, which he shares with 3 others, none of them ever uttering a single word.    

At some point, the artifice of the musical number joins the script as well, becoming blatantly absurd with only rare moments of humor.  You’d think the film was heading somewhere, as the song’s artificial cheerfulness does seem to be a statement about the nation’s identity, as this is how Koreans continually express themselves, this is the face they show even during troublesome times, and both Yeon and the condemned man actually share a life of drudgery, yet both remain mute on the subject.  There’s no evidence however that this is what Kim had in mind, as Yeon develops a blasé attitude about her family and casually returns for summer karaoke, where the summer beach décor is especially outrageous, especially when the prisoner puts on the giant-sized plastic dark glasses, but by now the storyline is following an all too predictable pattern, as she returns for fall, and yes even winter – no surprise.  What gets ridiculous is the empty-headed idea that somehow this kind of bone-headed therapy is actually helpful to Yeon’s marriage.  In other words, the director starts taking this outlandish idea seriously.  Well all one can say is thud, as there goes all interest and plausibility, as all that’s left is watching the director lose his grip over his own material.  What makes Tsai Ming-liang’s material work so well is his complete lack of pretentiousness, even in scenes that are plastered in highly decorative artifice or absurd humor, as there’s an authenticity underneath that simply doesn’t allow pretense.  His films express genuine human concerns, where the drama can take any number of directions, but there’s a universality that’s unmistakable.  Not so here, as Kim’s storyline plods on, growing predictably repetitive and ever more pretentious, losing every ounce of credibility earned by the originality of that first musical sequence.  What was initially amusing and clever, perhaps still holding up the second time, but repeated four times, as if a marriage can be saved by the spin cycle, couldn’t be more ludicrous.  Chang Chen and Park Ji-a are both excellent, and their unusual performances are to be admired, but there isn’t an ounce of believability here, as the director simply became enamored with his own idea and undermines it, leaving behind a movie that’s pretty to look at, but not much use to anyone.   

Thursday, February 10, 2011


BIUTIFUL                                 C-
Mexico  Spain  (147 mi)  2010  d:  Alejandro González Iñárritu

Not sure who would actually enjoy sitting through such a grim and depressing movie like this, where from start to finish the film is drenched in wretched miserablism, becoming so enamored with its own wearying morbidity that it just feels pathetic.  Gone is former screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga and gone is the criss-crossing narrative style, often crossing back and forth in time until meeting mysteriously at some designated point.  This time the director wrote the screenplay along with Armando Bo and Nicolás Giacabone, but there are still multiple storylines all connected together by a single character, Uxbal (Javier Bardem), who is seen in nearly every shot of this film.  Set exclusively in the seediest neighborhoods in Barcelona, the only side we’re allowed to see, you can almost feel the sweat and grime as you watch this film, which is not afraid to show him pissing blood, perhaps the image of the film, shown repeatedly as we soon learn he’s dying of prostrate cancer and has only a few months to live.  Yet he’s tenuously connected to two young children who have problems of their own but need him desperately, as their parents are separated with a mother (Maricel Álvarez) who is bipolar and refuses to take her medication, so she’s completely irresponsible, hasn’t a clue how to be a parent, as she frequently leaves them alone to pursue her own prurient interests.  So Uxbal has custody of the kids, but he’s also responsible for running several operations involving illegal workers, a Chinese sweatshop that actually locks the workers into the factory at night, while during the day men are sent to a construction site, though they know nothing about construction, while Uxbal also pays off the cops so illegal African street vendors (selling the goods made by the Chinese) won’t get hassled.  So, like BABEL (2006), there’s still a multilingual storyline, with different color subtitles to reflect which culture (Spanish – white, Chinese – blue, African – yellow). 

One immediately thinks of the Dardenne brothers LA PROMESSE (1996), using the same gritty style, also fond of the use of hand held cameras, but they approach the subject with near documentary precision, exploring the social strata of the world of illegals who work in exchange for a place to stay.  González is less interested in exposing the plight of illegals, but simply uses it as a device to make Uxbal’s world more harrowing, as in his demanding life he has to constantly be answering to dozens of different people all at the same time, all suffering in emergency crisis mode, where he has to immediately fix the problems and placate the owners and the police.  He has to be all things to all people, and in this way, reiterate the director’s theme of global interconnectedness, which is present in every one of his films.  Here, however, the focus is on what happens when one of those connections is about to die and disconnect, continually stressing how this reverberates backwards, making everyone else’s life more difficult.  González then shamelessly piles on the difficulties, one after the other, where Uxbal is running around like a man possessed, but running out of steam, where after awhile, the problems are so insurmountable he can’t even answer his cell phone anymore, as he hasn’t the human ability to be everywhere at once.  And did we mention, Uxbal also has the ability to commune with the dead, who he sees sitting in chairs next to their recently deceased bodies, or sometimes hanging from the ceiling staring at him, while moths or butterflies are also collecting in the corner ceiling above Uxbal’s bed, a reminder of his own impending demise.   

If Hollywood has to continually increase the volume and up the frantic pace of nonstop demolitions to keep the fanboys happy, art films in turn must wrestle with the idea that the only unexplored territory is uncovering yet more layers of human misery.  Remember the off-beat film DESPERATE CHARACTERS (1971) – well worth seeing if only to see a different side of actress Shirley MacLaine?  The film was a realistic portrait of unhappy people trying to hang onto their lives with a quiet dignity, yet when it came out critics hated the film, calling it “relentless misery,” and that film only explored the internal dead zones of a dried up marriage.  Imagine what they would have had to say for a movie as relentlessly downbeat as BIUTIFUL?  Javier Bardem won a Best Actor nod at Cannes for his performance here, which feels a bit like Ryan Gosling in BLUE VALENTINE (2010), as both give huge performances in poorly made films that struggle for plausibility.  The problem here is that this doesn’t feel any different than the director’s previous films, like he keeps making the same film over and over again, though here the presence of death is more pronounced, heard in an eerie sound design that becomes jarring at times, where Uxbal is on the precipice between the living and the dead, and there are surrealist dreamlike touches that are used to portray the world of the dead.  More importantly though, despite the dire gloom, it’s hard to make sense of the pervading confusion in Uxbal’s life as he’s living it, spreading himself so thin, always getting his hands dirty, crawling around in the muck where his best efforts to carry the world on his shoulders are continually thwarted, as if by divine hand, where all he has to show for himself is a man with good intentions drowning in a sea of utter futility. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Mechanic (2011)

THE MECHANIC                                          C
USA  (93 mi)  2011  'Scope  d:  Simon West

You know, I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles Bronson, a guy with a tough looking face who always had a gentle side that usually covered up his ferocious behavior, noted for his break out role as a Bohemian beach bum with a thing for Elizabeth Taylor in THE SANDPIPER (1965), and for his superb performances as a mysterious stranger in Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), as a U.S. Army special investigator who travels to France in search of a rapist, developing an attachment with a beautiful young woman in the romantic psychological thriller RIDER ON THE RAIN (1970), and as a charming but mythical outlaw in an underrated western with a startlingly original storyline in FROM NOON TILL THREE (1976).  Bronson, however, was prone to type, and with his tough guy image ended up being type cast to death, all but ruining his career, as he repeated the exact same role over and over again, such as the lone vigilante Paul Kersey in five DEATH WISH movies over a span of 20 years.  But the early 70’s were some of Bronson’s best years, as he exuded confidence and a seasoned maturity, no more so than as a highly specialized mob hit man in THE MECHANIC (1972).  In the role of Arthur Bishop, he takes an apprentice under his wing, Jan-Michael Vincent, who appears eager to learn the skills of the trade, but in the end there is an obligatory double cross.  Nearly thirty years later, the film is being remade, using the same title, but with Jason Stratham in the Bronson role of Arthur Bishop, the cool, consummate professional whose operations are so meticulously planned out, no one even knows he was there, as evidenced by an opening sequence where a drug kingpin is killed while swimming in his own pool undetected by watchful security guards, as all the action takes place underneath while the surface shows nothing drawing anyone’s attention.  When Bishop gets back to his remote glass house somewhere in the bayou of Louisiana, for relaxation he pulls out a record of the highly distinctive Schubert Piano Trio Andante movement made famous in Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON (1975).   

Donald Sutherland in a wheelchair makes a brief appearance as Bishop’s friend and longtime superior, before himself becoming the subject of the next hit, something about a plan going awry in South Africa where several highly trained men ended up dead.  Enter Ben Foster as Sutherland’s volatile, hot-tempered son vowing revenge, a younger kid who seems to screw up everything he touches, so Bishop takes him under his wing and attempts to teach him to channel those emotions rather than be driven by them.  While Foster immediately picks up on the adrenaline of the action, and is a rush of energy himself, his scenes careen out of control because he can’t follow the plan and instead creates a bloody catastrophe with every hit.  The two end up in Chicago where we see them scale high rise buildings and leap from dangerous rooftops, making it all look easy, though we never see any training for this kind of operation.  In the Bronson film, there would be word interplay between the two characters, as Bronson always has a screen personality, but these two have little to say to one another and speak through action scenes where they have to develop a trust with one another.  The film does move with a brisk pace, and the Hollywood action sequences are well designed and deliver the necessary tension, however, as predicted, due to Foster’s presence, their work starts to look very messy, making business look bad, drawing the attention of the superiors, as this is certainly the exact opposite of the victims never knowing a hit man was there.  What follows is Foster gets a hint that Bishop may have been involved in his father’s killing, while at the same time Bishop gets a hint that Sutherland was used as a fall guy and never deserved to be killed.  With this kind of toxic information flying through the air, none of it communicated to one another, the stage is set for a final climax sequence which is highly charged and explosive, but differs quite substantially from the original, which was much more daring than the ending here, which actually has a MAD MAX (1979) feel to it, as if the world out there is nothing but a wasteland.      

Monday, February 7, 2011


SOMEWHERE         B+                  
USA  (97 mi)  2010  d:  Sofia Coppola      Somewhere Movie Trailer Official (HD)

Feeling very much like an autobiographical work, this quirky expressionistic portrait of aimless characters drifting through the superficiality and ennui of the ultra rich resonates with the director, whose millionaire parents had separation issues during the middle of her childhood sending her into an emotional free for all.  From being cast as Candy Darling in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996), Stephen Dorff shows up here as Johnny Marco, a man who supposedly has everything money can buy, but hasn’t a clue how to find love.  Instead he lives in an upscale luxury hotel, Chateau Marmont of West Hollywood, and pays pole dancers to entertain him whenever he’s bored, or drops into the rooms of seductive single women who give him that look of availability and interest.  Driving a late model Ferrari, he is accustomed to getting what he wants.  When we get a glimpse behind the veneer, however, we discover his life is really empty and rather pathetic. 

When his 11-year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning) drops by, they play video games together or sit around the pool while the soundtrack plays The Strokes - I'll Try Anything Once (3:18) that includes an underwater sequence where they pretend to have a tea party, or swim in the pool in their own private suite, but he barely knows her, not even realizing she’s been taking ice-skating lessons for the past three years, seen skating beautifully to Gwen Stefani’s “Cool,” becoming a graceful and attractive young woman.  This reminded me of the opening of John Cassavetes’ Love Streams (1984), where Cassavetes was sleeping with an entire household of call girls while regularly drinking multiple bottles of champagne every day, leading a life of alcoholism and debauchery, taking responsibility for no one, not even himself, none of which brings him anywhere close to being in love.  For the most part, this is the theme of the film, as Johnny is a self-indulgent movie star who lives the part of a playboy with women throwing themselves at him, and these short term flings constitute his life.  While not exactly flamboyant, it’s indulgent as hell, leaving gaping holes where his reality should be.    

Cleo, however, is adorable the way she skips from room to room, fixes him breakfast in the mornings, twirls around performing ballet swirls, and is generally a smart, well adjusted girl who’s also used to having everything handed to her and getting whatever she wants.  She’s sweet natured and fun to be around, but she falls apart when her mom inexplicably dumps her on Johnny’s doorstep and never indicates when or if she’s coming back.  So he takes her to Italy with him for a press junket promoting a movie, where they fly first class and get transported by a police escorted stretch limousine while receiving luxury accommodations in the finest hotels.  You’d think this would be the life, any kid’s dream, but this so much resembles the sheltered life that she’s used to that it quickly gets tiring, almost immediately retreating back home.  When Johnny takes her in a helicopter ride after a night playing craps in Las Vegas where they meet a waiting taxicab to take her to summer camp, it borders on the ridiculous.  Some kids just have all the advantages. 

Largely a plotless melancholic mood piece that is a breakout role for Elle Fanning, it’s like her coming out party, as her fresh energy really carries the film.  While many will call this a trifle, not really about anything, reality light, or we should have such problems, but Coppola has a deft hand interspersing small moments of realism with her own sense of experimentation and pitch perfect Indie music that really does feel unique, as her use of music is simply outstanding.  The film is pretty much what we see in the two-minute trailer sequence, which is remarkably inventive and features the best songs from the film.  The ensemble acting is genuine, with Chris Pontius as Johnny’s lifelong friend really standing out, feeling very much like improvised scenes, while the measured camerawork by Harris Savides creates an intimate warmth with each character, but the icing on the cake remains the exquisitely chosen musical selections and the original music by Phoenix, where over the end credits we hear Love like a sunset part II by Phoenix Music Video (1:57) and smoke gets in your eyes,bryan ferry (3:04), unique takes on familiar themes.