All films from U.S.A. unless otherwise specified.

([v] video piece; [s] short, under 30 minutes; [m] medium length, 30-69 min; * grade changed upon repeat viewing)




The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)

[Note: This is a slightly longer version of my contribution to the Cinema Scope roundtable on The Tree of Life, which you can find here. Each and every entry is well worth your time.]


More Than Two Ways: To begin discussing The Tree of Life, which in itself is a treacherous proposition, it seems worthwhile to make certain choices from the outset. Malick’s film, quite brazen in its philosophical if not cosmological aspirations, poses a fundamental dichotomy, one that organizes not only our world and our perception of it, but God and any other transcendental reality. “There is the way of Grace,” whispers Malick’s maternal voiceover, “and there is the way of Nature.” There is no question that Tree is a dense work, and that dichotomies are useful heuristics for finding our way through a complex aesthetic array such as this. But we are under no obligation to adopt this strategy. Or, if we do, we can and probably should do so with the understanding that, as the history of ideas has taught us, any purported opposites are in fact shot through with traces of one another. The Tree of Life is a work that is built upon oppositions, far deeper ones than those it blatantly announces. Some of these, I’ll admit, threw me at first, making for a frustrating viewing experience. At times I found Malick’s film, and his vision, overreaching and grandiose, if not bombastic. I needed convincing.


In particular, the articulation of the first major movement, from the fiery intergalactic cataclysm to the extinction of the dinosaurs, with the second, family-melodrama movement, struck me as frustrating and unsatisfactory. Malick began the O’Brien family segment with some of the most balletic, preternatural editing and camera movement I have ever seen in a narrative film. The prologue, with its birth segments, infant discoveries of the senses, the synesthetic communing with the natural world and with pure light, and even a startling iteration of the Mirror Stage, contained elements that struck me as vernacular expressions of Malick’s deep engagement with the avant-garde vocabulary – particularly Brakhage, Dorksy, and Beavers. After this, Tree became “rooted” in storytelling values, and although it served as a fine example of them, I had trouble understanding this shift.


What I found, on the other side, is that the inability to make a satisfactory connection, or to articulate the cosmic and the personal / individual, is one of the actual deep-structural dichotomies that organizes The Tree of Life. If the O’Briens’ lives were intended to be adequate to the task of depicting the infinite, they would have to be archetypal, which to some extent, in the mind of young Jack (Hunter McCracken) they are. Father (Brad Pitt) is harsh and distant, but loving in his hard, socially defined manner. Mother (Jessica Chastain) virtually defines the all-encompassing, limitless fount of natural love, unconditional and illogical. But the film is largely about breaking through these archetypes. All children organize their worlds through simple categories. Adults learn to complicate those young interpretations, and see human life as a series of hopes, choices, accidents and mistakes. We all come into this world as its center, and spend the rest of our lives, hopefully, becoming successfully decentered, learning that we are not the reason that everything before us has come to pass. We are small.

One of the other major choices a viewer has to make when addressing The Tree of Life, and one that I think has given pause to many of its early responders, if whether to perceive it as a “Christian film,” and, upon making that evaluation, whether or not it is a work of art that can be reconciled with an atheistic viewpoint. That is, do we even want to enter into The Tree of Life taking the question as Malick has posed it – Grace vs. Nature? This seems like a fundamental issue. Can Malick’s categories be accepted, even so far as to allow for deconstruction, or should his vision of human insignificance (with or without a deity) be understood as mere ideology? While as an atheist I have no inherent trouble adopting a provisional Christian mindset in order to comprehend an artwork’s basic tenets (e.g., Ordet; Diary of a Country Priest), I do believe that Malick is not wrong to engage in large-scale questions of human belief within a Christian framework. Many leftists (myself among them) would prefer to live in a world without Christian ideology (or religion of any kind), but this is unrealistic. It is wiser to explore human belief in earnest, from a progressive standpoint.


Does The Tree of Life accomplish this? Inasmuch as Grace and Nature remain understood as opposing forces in the universe, probably not.But again, I think the major proposition undergirding The Tree of Life as an aesthetic entity is that the structural oppositions that organize our cosmology, comforting though they may be, can be sublated, not only in the afterlife or by the Heavenly Father, but through human understanding, and possibly even within Nature itself. Much has been made of Malick’s prehistoric sequence, when, in what truly is the most surprising sequence in a film filled with sensual wonders, a large dinosaur steps on the head of a small one, looks it in the eye, then lets it go. Is this “anthropomorphism”? Do we have every right to expect, following our understanding of Darwin and the predatory structure of the natural world, that the strong lizard will crush the weak? Of course. But Malick uses cinema, and the human imagination, to pose a challenge. First, why can’t we simply use art to generate a different story, one potentially more useful for the present? (I was reminded of Judith Butler’s attempt to replace Oedipus with Antigone as a foundational Western myth.) What if we envision mercy as the crux of raw life? But secondly, and more radically, Malick is implicitly answering those Christians for whom God’s Grace is the sole province of humankind (and who exercise dominion accordingly). Instead, what if Grace is an all-or-nothing proposition? Again, we are trained (as is Jack, as was young Malick) to think in Manichean terms, but The Tree of Life, among other feats, attempts to return nature itself to a state of grace.




28.IV.81 (Descending Figures) (Christopher Harris) [s]

[This review is an excerpt from my longer essay on Harris, and three other filmmakers, written for Cinema Scope. It can be found here.]


Several years ago, in the midst of a slew of unimpressive entries I was charged with reviewing for an experimental film program at a film festival, I had the good fortune to see Christopher Harris's Reckless Eyeballing, and although I wasn't sure if I'd have the opportunity to see anything else by this talented maker, I filed his name away in the back of my mind. That film was characterized by an impressive, if not yet fully realized, desire to wed materialist exploration with a direct engagement with the raced and gendered politics of the cinematic gaze. By contrast, Harris’ recent work has displayed a much more deliberate formal flair, a desire to grapple with the tactility of the celluloid image. His two most recent works are part of a series collectively called 28.IV.81, and although the pieces are rather different, both display a concern with textures of light as well as the capacity of the human imagination to will celestial entities out of the relatively impoverished materials at hand. (Call them The Potted Plant of Life.) 28.IV.81 (Bedouin Spark) (2009) is a lovely miniature edited in-camera, in which Harris manipulates light around a child’s mobile so that a hanging nightlight with plastic silver stars becomes a glinting ersatz sky. His most recent work, 28.IV.81 (Descending Figures) (2011) is Harris’ first double-screen projection and, depending on how warped your sense of humour is, his first comedy. It’s also probably Harris’ richest film to date in terms of competing layers of representation and perception.


28.IV.81 (Descending Figures) is comprised of footage Harris shot at a performance of Christ’s Passion, staged as an attraction at a Florida amusement park. We see a well coiffed, Christian-metal Jesus getting scourged by costume-shop Romans with headset mics, while zaftig women in tennis shoes weep and wail. Meanwhile, the audience penetrates the diegesis quite often—an arm with a camera pops in, or we see the crowd standing around in the heat looking bored. But more significantly, Harris’ use of dual-screen and end flares result in mutual image competition. Jesus gets whipped while yellows and reds ping-pong back and forth across the display. The Romans move through fogs of zipping white projector light. The images themselves operate contrapuntally (close-ups and medium shots, mismatched reaction shots, etc.), but Harris’ use of the pure filmic light continually disrupts these faux-holy scenarios from coming into being. This flimsy display of devotion is shown up by something genuinely overpowering, or at least recognizably real. In a way, this seems to sum up Harris’ practice. Filmic images are things with actual impact in the world, and as such they have an unavoidable ethical dimension. If you’ve got some eyeballing to do, go hard or go home.

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Marie Losier, U.S. / Germany / U.K. / The Netherlands / Belgium / France)

"Well, okay. This seems, on the face of it, a rather strange choice for Losier's debut as a feature filmmaker, at least for those of us familiar with the short films she's been making over the past decade. She's been doing short funky little portraits of George and Mike Kuchar, Guy Maddin, Tony Conrad, and before that she produced her own strange riffs on film history. So what drew her to industrial music pioneer Genesis P-Orridge (of Throbbing Gristle / Psychic TV fame) and his lover / collaborator / co-muse Lady Jaye? Actually, Conrad did work with P-Orridge, so there's a direct connection there, but still, looked at as a broad trajectory, it still seems a bit odd, especially in light of the fact that, meanwhile, someone else (less qualified, I might add) was making a feature-length Kuchar doc."


I should note that, in the micro-paragraph above, I essentially transcribed the qualms that I had going in -- not "cold," but somewhat lukewarm -- to Losier's Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. And the film won me over, primarily by the force of its creativity, and the slow building emotional interest value of its two very unique subjects. I was vaguely aware of P-Orridge and Jaye's "pandrogyny" project (basically, that through surgeries, implants, and outward modification, the two of them would attempt to look as much like one another as possible, and "meet in the middle" between maleness and femaleness). But what I didn't realize was that P-Orridge was, to a large extent, a sub to Jaye's dom (this is implied but never stated), and that his "art," past a certain point, was one of relinquishing his own identity, even his selfhood, to someone whose apparent talents were but a fraction of his own. (Again, this is never stated, because, of course, P-Orridge never stops believing that Lady Jaye hung the moon.) Through hours of home movie footage, rehearsal scenes, fragments of domestic life and flickers of the innermost moments of the love affair, the image we get, again and again, of Lady Jaye is one of a standoffish, self-possessed image, an icy blonde scenester, Sheree Rose to P-Orridge's Bob Flannigan. And then, suddenly, she dies. P-Orridge's industrial music, in a sense, had been but one facet of a total artistic identity that found its expression not only in padrogyny but in self-effacement, the almost Deleuzian act of radical non-Being. The beautiful tragedy that Losier documents, simply through her gentle, unobtrusive presence with P-Orridge, is the even more radical gap left behind when a (wo)man loses the mirror into which he'd been throwing all of himself. By the end, we are witnessing the start of a necessary rebuilding of an identity that its owner thought could be forever thrown away.


On Tour (Mathieu Amalric, France)

Can I just take a moment here to admit to being a little bit mystified? Everyone who follows film festival culture knows that there are certain, shall we say, "quirks" that persistently define, if not bedevil, the Official Competition slate at Cannes. One of them, of course, is the automatic quota of French films. Fremaux & Co. know that they owe the domestic industry somewhere around four Comp slots each year, regardless of the relative quality of French art-film output, thereby explaining why you'll see Who's That?s like Xavier Giannoli and Rachid Bouchareb going head to head with the Who's Who. But another, less frequently noted phenomenon that means little to the larger film world, but is often to jerk the knees of the Cannes committee, is When Actors Direct. Why they get so into this, I have no idea. It can't just be the star wattage; it's not exactly difficult to get celebrities to come walk the red carpet on the Croisette. So perhaps it's a genuine desire not to overlook the chance to nurture the next Jerry Lewis or Clint Eastwood. So, misbegotten films de Johnny Depp and John Turturro have gotten their day in Cannes, along with less egregious (but not exactly distinguished) efforts by Jodie Foster, Nicole Garcia, Gary Sinise, and Tommy Lee Jones. Most recently, model / actress Maïwenn was in the mix, with her third (!) feature film, Polisse. Won an award, too.


So with Cannes' biases in mind, I suppose I could understand why post-Croisette programmers at virtually every major festival, not to mention U.S. distributors large and small, would look upon Amalric's film (also his third) with some suspicion. It falls neatly into both categories, and therefore has every likelihood to have popped up in the Official Competition as a shiny, two-sided token. But didn't anyone actually see what a fine film On Tour actually is? Granted, Amalric's film is a tad bit strange, since from a certain point of view it promises to be funkier and more outright populist than it turns out to be. It's not exactly The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, but the fact that Amalric does call Cassavetes' masterpiece to mind at a few specific moments should tell you that On Tour has its anxious, melancholic side, not what we're immediately cued to expect (or what film promoters want, I suppose) from "a movie about strippers."


But that's precisely the point, on two counts. It's not a movie about "strippers." Amalric is showcasing the New Burlesque movement, which (as the performers actually tell an interviewer at one point in the film) is a bastard child ("bitch child"?) of sex-positive third-wave feminism, the highbrow and/or academic revalidation of erotica, and the popularization of performance art in its intersections with stand-up comedy and baudy song. Based around San Francisco, L.A. and (to a lesser extent) New York, this work has nurtured its own circuit and represents a pop avant-garde unto itself, with connections to neo-cabaret and other consciously retro entertainment styles. Clearly, over time, New Burlesque has established its artistic legitimacy, even if (like any loose affiliation that becomes, for practical purposes, a "movement") the artists themselves are of varying talent and originality. So in some sense, On Tour is both Amalric's cinematic love letter and (if I may use a term I normally apply to the avant-garde) a "container film," since it foregoes certain plot strictures, or even non-narrative formalist development, in order to showcase or "hold" the performance styles of the artists involved. So, we see Suzanne Ramsey as Kitten on the Keys, with her comedic naivety and outsized musicianship; Roky Roulette as a tongue-in-cheek queer cowboy, sort of neo-Joe D'Alessandro unafraid to smile; Julie Atlas Muz doing the bubble act that made her famous, which is also just made for the big screen; Linda Marraccini as Dirty Martini, whose neo-traditional burlesque, in the film's context, is joined with a kind of den-mother affect which may or may not be an accurate depiction of her organizational / support role in the larger scene; Evie Lovelle, who barely receives any screen time but comes off as shy and hesitant, which appears to be in keeping with her teasing, Rita Hayworth persona; and then, last but certainly not least, Miranda Colclasure, aka Mimi Le Meaux, who by film's end has become a semi-love-interest for Amalric's manager character. Her work is probably the most versatile and least bound to a specific persona. Le Meaux can do traditional, but she also has an innate sense of theatricality that, clearly, Amalric recognized as suited to the film's largest female role. If anything characterizes Le Meaux across all of her pieces, it's her tattooed-badass holding of the stage, which she can tone down but never abandon.


But then, that pesky second count. In some very real ways, On Tour isn't "a movie about" the women. They don't get nearly as much screen time as you'd expect, and in the midst of their arguments with their shoddy, down-and-out manager Joachim Zand (Amalric), they have to articulate, twice, that they are in charge of their acts and their bodies, not him. This could, of course, be read as a bit of fourth-wall breaking, and as with certain container films, On Tour has an extremely permeable sense of diegetic closure, one bordering at times on laziness. In fact, what we're seeing is Amalric both playing and embodying an old showbiz ham, taking the seat-of-the-pants ethic -- "let's put on a show, goddamnit" -- and carrying it through both levels of representation, the fictional and the "accidental" (but fully intentional) home-movie aspect that is On Tour's own making. The strange part of all of this is, Amalric the writer-director assigns to himself (some might say arrogates) more than a lion's share of the running time, trying to spin genuine cinema from Joachim's attempted comeback (he was a prominent TV impresario back in the 70s, who pissed it all away with drink and belligerence), his struggle to be something a bit more than a deadbeat dad (the business lunch at KFC is both sad and amusing), and his harried, "surrounded by clucking chickens" routine. Oddly, it works, for the most part. Amalric is said to have concocted Zand from a combination of Truffaut-feud era Godard, a hard luck period for Paolo Branco (originally slated to play the role), and the late Humbert Balsan. Still, Amalric's love letter to The Scrappy Producer tends to undermine the feminist initiative that's ostensibly the raison d'être of New Burlesque. This could make On Tour seem like a missed opportunity run aground due to unexamined sexism, but, oddly, it doesn't, since Amalric and the ladies are fully aware of the dilemma, and squabble about it throughout the course of the film. The ideological problem of the film, for once, is the chief conflict between its protagonists. And by film's end, when Zand and Le Meaux (who really, by this point, is Colclasure, all tassels down), are alone and confronting one another with a temporary rapprochement of tentative amorousness, On Tour seems to be offering a hypothesis about how the (hetero)sexes might begin to put up with each other. When the rest of the Burlesquistas (and Roky) disturb their repose, arriving by boat like an invasion, it's like life rushing back in, to demand that Mimi take her proper side, and Joachim consider the Cash Value of Being as Asshole.




The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry)

It's just been a ridiculous, inexcusable oversight that it's taken me so long (about six months) to cross-post my interview with Alex here. Aside from my introductory comments in the Cinema Scope piece, there are a few things I'd like to say specifically about The Color Wheel which, although they may not quite coagulate into a proper 'review' or even a 'capsule,' certainly seem important enough to address. I find myself in a position that some might find unusual but actually strikes me as quite natural, given my own aesthetic predilections as well as the rather bracing character of Alex's cinema -- Impolex and well as The Color Wheel. I consider myself to be an unambiguous, unwavering champion of Perry's films, even though I have major problems with them and, if I were isolated for hours in a room with a single upright chair and hanging bulb, interrogated endlessly by the hypothetical "bad cop," I might have to admit to not "liking" them very much. Thing is, Alex's films are designed to be hard to like. They are about people and scenarios and environments that are deeply offputting, about humor-in-inverted-commas that makes you feel a bit unclean. Part of what I find deeply intriguing about The Color Wheel is that for so much of the first half of the film, I want to get away from it. I find its comedy and tone jejune (the "who farted" t-shirt; the broadly conceived Christian innkeeper; the excruciating but somehow offhand black jokes). But Alex Perry is sneaky -- we could call him Agent P. He's not only toying with the idea of an audience's sympathies and basic filmic identification. (Colin and J.R. are neurotic schlemiels at best, solipsistic boors at worst. But the people around them are even more horrid!) He is building up layers of thick filmic skin, making us more and more callous as the movie progresses. So the finale, whether it seems foreshadowed, shocking, silly, or even profoundly miscalculated, will by no means feel. sick or wrong. Only human, and far less alien than all that came before.


Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, Canada /France)

"It's a big ol' capital-A Art Film." That's how a friend described Incendies over lunch a few weeks back. (For the record, he liked it.) Given both the space limitations and the fact that I hadn't seen the film in quite some time, I did my best to articulate what I saw / see as the major flaws of this film, the manner in which, conceptually speaking, its eyes are bigger than its stomach. I must say I am very happy that MoMA is going to give a one-week commercial run to Villeneuve's previous film, Polytechnique, which is superior in every way, although not nearly as flashy or pleased with itself. The fact that this very talented director can shift his stylistic foci on a dime has me a bit worried he may be on track to become the Quebecois answer to Michael Winterbottom -- i.e., an exceedingly proficient technician without much of an artistic viewpoint. How the breakthrough success of Incendies will affect Villeneuve's trajectory is something we'll just have to wait and see. At any rate, here's my review (my first!) for the Kansas City Pitch.


Lesser Apes (Emily Vey Duke & Cooper Battersby, Canada) [v/s]

I keep returning to Duke & Battersby, in the hopes that I will better understand, in time, exactly what they're on about. That sounds sarcastic and I don't really mean it to be. But I've seen four of their videos at this point (although I haven't yet viewed their much-admired Beauty Plus Pity), and while they are all well-written and keenly crafted, I still don't know that I have a sense of their aims or worldview as artists. Case in point: Lesser Apes entails a particular animation style (sort of a clunky Chris Ware-like Flash) that I find deeply offputting, even half-assed. In fact, it resembles the Kota Ezawa mode, which again I think is supposed to look childlike, or like a hazy scrim of nonart. I don't know. But then, alongside this frustration, there's a narrative that I found genuinely moving, even as it provoked an almost physical recoil in its direct challenge of my personal moral values. It's the rare work that can take me to places that I am unwilling to go, from a sexual ethics standpoint. But Lesser Apes, whether in sincerity or as an intellectual provocation, instigates an inquiry into what it means to be a "pervert," one that actually has troubling stakes. Well, at least I was troubled. (You see, what this video is is an experimental faux-documentary about an ape researcher who has a lesbian relationship with a bonobo.)


Space is the Place (Eriko Sonoda, Japan) [v/s]*

[This review is an excerpt from my longer essay on Sonoda, and three other filmmakers, written for Cinema Scope. It can be found here.]


It took me awhile to "get" Sonoda's videos. Even the piece of hers which, I think, is pretty demonstrably her strongest, Garden/ing, took a bit of time to grow on me. This is by no means a criticism in and of itself; a lot of strong and highly original experimental work has fallen into this category for me, taking some time for understanding. I think what tended to throw me off (and what, I admit, still throws me off at first, when encountering her pieces on first viewing) is that they can feel somewhat static, like time-based works that are not making adequate use of that crucial fourth dimension. Instead, they can feel as though they are promulgating a single idea over and over. However, I have kind of changed my mind about this, and even though I still have some initial reservations with the pieces (including this one), I have become a Sonoda believer. And I think it's because now, I think of them as something other (or even "Other") that videos.


Sonoda’s work (much like Michael Snow’s) is not multimedia but mixed media, bringing photography, digital video, and even drawing into the purview of a single piece. In fact, her latest piece uses video to add a specific time dimension to what is essentially a work of minimalist installation. Once again shooting a gallery space, this time at the corner, Sonoda covers most of the white walls with moving pieces of white paper, travelling across the space in a left-to-right grid pattern. Interrupting this expanse, mostly along the bottom but occasionally peeking out from the top, are images of beige hardwood gallery flooring (with a slightly lighter finish than the gallery floor itself), forming triangles that bob up and down from the base of the wall like toy sailboats in a bathtub. In time, these triangles rotate, invert, and even break apart into kaleidoscopic geometrical static. Sonoda’s work is still resolutely “in” video, but is more directly connected to artwork that engages with the gallery/museum space as its own subject (the Asher/Lewitt/Smithson line).




The Beaver (Jodie Foster)

Holy cow, I didn't expect so many com-boxers to come to the defense of Mel Gibson. Funny thing is, I felt pretty ambivalent about writing this review, and my reaction to the film as a whole, since (as I thought the readers would observe) I am not only praising his performance, but arguing that it most likely emerged from some of Mel's darkest corners. Therefore, if I follow this logic to its conclusion, Gibson is the "tortured artist" (a favorite Western trope, no?) who creates with more depth and passion the worse he fucks up his own life and that of those around him. This, then, is a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the injunction to "separate the man from the art," since (by the specious ideology I could be mistaken as promoting) the more Mel slaps Oksana around, the greater the gifts bestowed upon the silver screen. I doubt anyone believes sexist nonsense like that. Nevertheless, it is hard to look at The Beaver and not see the plight of Walter Black as a kind of downcast cinematic confession, a struggle to belittle and eventually sever the id that actually dams up more than it lets flow. At any rate, here's my review for the Nashville Scene.




All Your Dead Ones (Carlos Moreno, Colombia)

Despite some pretty rotten reviews (notably from Variety by my Cinema Scope homie Bob Koehler), I wanted to give Dead Ones a chance. Colombia is a nation that, um, has more than its fair share of exports, but doesn't produce all that many films, and so my general interest in burgeoning international cinemas won out over any semblance of forewarned / forearmed common sense. Having said this, I must say that Dead Ones exhibited considerable promise for the first twenty to thirty minutes, and for reasons that I'd wager turned Bob off almost immediately. I have not seen Moreno's (reputedly worse) debut feature Dog Eat Dog, but based on the evidence here, he is the exact opposite of the standard-issue "festival director," with the long takes and the patient camera and the penetrating semi-ethnographic naturalism. He's a mannerist in the Jiang Wen / Paolo Sorrentino / Fernando Meirelles vein, which is an approach that too often gets lambasted straight out of the gate. Using the plastic properties of the medium to warp reality; to describe space not as a process but as an anxious vector; coaxing performances from actors that emphasize their comic tactility and onscreen otherness rather than their shared humanity -- these are all perfectly legitimate aesthetic choices that have not just fallen out of fashion. They have been sullied by their most noxious instances, the worst of Jeunet and Kusturica and Zhang Yimou. (Those god-awful fisheye lenses!) The problem wasn't Moreno's use of mannerism, which, at the start, was actually intriguing for being oddly spare. Protagonist Salvador (Alvaro Rodriguez), a farmer on the outskirts of town, is shown having vigorous sex with his common-law wife (Martha Marquez) beneath a mosquito tent. After this, he gets ready and heads back into his fields to discover a massive pile of dead bodies. He tells his wife and child to get inside and stay put while he goes into town to seek assistance. It's here that Moreno's stylization turns merely goofy, a useless stunt. Salvador's complaint in town (it's the day of the mayoral election) is shunted back and forth, the man frequently given the bum's rush and treated like a filthy pest. Meanwhile, the current mayor (Jorge Herrera) goes down to the farm with some officers to try to dispose of the bodies (who at one point "come to life" in Brechtian glory). Thing is, Dead Ones banks on its absurdity conveying both bureaucratic futility and the hopeless corruption of Colombian politics (!!!) but all it does is display the paucity of Moreno's lone idea: the big crop circle full of 'wasted youth.' There is nothing here -- another cheap riff on Kafka, Beckett, Terry Gilliam, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, and all the others. Nobody listens to the poor. Corrupt officials pass the buck, when they're not putting their enemies permanently into the past tense. Next.


Hobo With a Shotgun (Jason Eisener, Canada / U.S.)

Here's a film that finds itself stranded between risibility and self-importance, and just winds up being crappy. The fact that Hobo found itself being taken even halfway seriously in any quarter of the cinematic world (yes, even the Canadian quarter) indicates just how badly we'd like to see a well-crafted neo-exploitation film on the scene. But this ain't it. Rutger Hauer does his level best to infuse not only the title role with the requisite dignity, but the entirety of the picture. But Eisener can't direct. The problem is a fundamental lack of comprehension with respect to scale and available means. Hobo doesn't try to make things look aggressively cheap and trashy, nor does Eisener push the nightmarish / Expressionist angle, nor does he really try for an 80s exploitation-era period approach. (I don't think that last choice -- making a po-mo carbon copy of a Cannon Films entry or a Death Wish cheapie -- would have helped, but at least it would have been a move.) Instead, we get some of the less savory bits of Toronto [oops! It's greater Halifax. I was confused because of a reference to Dartmouth, which is also a riding in Metro Toronto. Thanks to Don Marks for the correction.] , with extra swirling garbage, and a lot of extras in really shabby clothes, looking pitiful and drugged out, sort of. As for Hauer's nemesis, Brian Downey's The Drake (what is he, a hotel?) is a strange idea of an urban super-thug, sort of a toupeed hockey team owner with his numbnuts sons. Not much splatter, but that's probably all to the good. Just an all-around failure.