Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010): United States/United Kingdom – directed by Banksy

Rated R by the MPAA – contains a little strong language

I’m not sure any of Exit Through the Gift Shop is real.  There’s a very good chance it occupies a strange place between the obvious prankery of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and the self-purported veracity of films like Paranormal Activity [review here].  It at first presents itself as an entirely possible documentary about a strange obsessive person, but then blossoms into something so much more that it is likely to be a mixture of performance art and hoax.  If you would rather know nothing about the film, please stop reading, as I will discuss much of it in detail.  The film is worth seeing, as it is one of the most intriguing films of 2010.

Thierry Guetta (if there is such a person), is an obsessive videographer.  After an early childhood trauma he began to videotape every aspect of his life, documenting every minor detail.  He is married, with children, and runs a boutique clothing store in Los Angeles.  He buys bales of clothing with odd designer’s names on them, for $50, then sells each article for $400.  He is able to make $50,000 off of one bale.  This is entirely plausible, particularly in L.A.

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The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech (2010): United Kingdom – directed by Tom Hooper

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some profanity used in a therapeutic context

The story may not be well-known to many Americans; it certainly wasn’t to me.  But it is a fascinating story, and, in some ways, a highly significant one.  A king, without power but beloved by his people, must deliver a stirring address as the nation approaches a war with a neighboring state.  But there is a catch, and a not-inconsequential one: he stammers.

The Duke of York, also known as Bertie (Colin Firth), is the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon).  His elder brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), is a philanderer, albeit an eloquent one.  The Great War is fresh in European memories, and a cad named Hitler is threatening trouble in Easter Europe.  King George V is ailing, and soon a successor must rally Great Britain around the government, lending them the support they will need to wage such a conflict.  But this blasted stammer.

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127 Hours

127 Hours (2010): United States – directed by Danny Boyle

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, some sexual content, one of the single most brutal moments in cinema history

Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) story is fascinating on its own.  Much like Conviction [review here], it might be easy for a filmmaker to coast through the story, but 127 Hours manages to become something much more than just the story of a man forced to undergo extreme hardship to save his life.  It becomes one of the most life-affirming films of the year.

That’s not to say it’s a feel-good movie, or an easy watch.  On the contrary, the joy of life is so profound because of the pain and intense suffering that it takes to get there.  This is the same principle many horror fans cite in defense of the genre.  And 127 Hours, while not a standard horror flick, contains one of the single most graphic, brutal sequences in cinema history.  Worse than the curb stomp in American History X, more painful than the eye slice in Un Chien Andalou, more realistic and visceral than most anything in Cannibal Holocaust.  The only scene I can think of that might come close is a spine tingling stabbing in the Australian horror film Wolf Creek.

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True Grit (2010)

True Grit (2010): United States – directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some violence, including a graphic moment, some language, intense thematic material

True Grit begins in a West that’s on the verge of not being so wild, and climaxes in something much less visceral, almost spiritual.  One might not be able to ever peg down a genre that the Coen Brothers can claim, but it sure is easy to tell if a film belongs to them or not.  True Grit most certainly does.

The material sounds dirty and dark, a remake (or adaptation) of the same source material used by the 1969 film that guilted the Academy into finally giving John Wayne an Oscar.  One might expect this 2010 update to be more in line with No Country for Old Men than Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? [review here], but the opposite is actually true.  True Grit is funny, downright enjoyable, and chock full of the same bizarre characters that makes Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? so memorable.  While perhaps lacking in some of the depth and darkness that characterizes their best films, it is more audience friendly and easier to enjoy.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010): United Kingdom – directed by David Yates

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some scary sequences, some violence and disturbing material, some sensuality

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 picks up in exactly the same manner as the seventh book in the Harry Potter series, dropping the audience into the middle of the action without any digressive exposition.  The Death Eaters are gaining power, the Order of the Phoenix continues their underground struggle to combat Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), and Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) are in constant danger.  Or at least Harry is, being the most wanted man in the magical world, and Hermione and Ron are stuck with him.

Viewers not familiar with the book series, and those who haven’t seen the films recently, may be confused.  The film suggests enough for viewers to be reminded of past events and characters.  And, as the first of two movies chronicling the final book, it primarily serves to set up all that will transpire in the final chapter.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its charm or excitement.

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Black Swan

Black Swan (2010): United States – directed by Darren Aronofsky

Rated R by the MPAA – contains sexual content, some language, disturbing material

With Black Swan Darran Aronofsky again proves why he is one of the most interesting directors of this generation.  His string of films is perhaps only rivaled by Christopher Nolan’s.  From the low budget mathematics thriller Pi to the most powerful film of the past ten(ish) years, Requiem for a Dream [thoughts here], and through The Fountain [review here] and The Wrestler he’s proved he can handle intense dramatic material with a special flair of style and resonance.  With Black Swan he turns his attention to a new sub-genre.

Black Swan is a psychological drama horror/thriller.  Think Mulholland Dr. meets All About Eve [review here], with a dash of Suspiria [review here] and Persona thrown in.  It’s an intense portrait of obsession that would make Hitchcock proud, and is held together by an incredible performance from Natalie Portman.  She stars as Nina, an aging ballet dancer in a reputable company in a large city.

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Tangled (2010): United States – directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some action

The story might be familiar, but there’s never been a fairy tale told quite like this before.  In a fashion reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction [review here], directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard have taken bits and pieces of a wide assortment of popular media and assembled them into something contemporary and exciting. Granted, some of the tinkering smacks of Disney’s familiar marketing team, but the results are still fabulously entertaining.

The film opens with some back story, as it’s described how a king and queen have a princess with the help of a magical flower.  The flower blossomed from a spot of ground where a drop of sunlight had alit centuries ago.  The flower holds magical properties, as Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) well knows.  She’s used it for years to maintain her youth.

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Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole (2010): United States – directed by John Cameron Mitchell

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some language, mature thematic material, some drug content

This is difficult material, stuff that often ends up in Hallmark-style packaging, dripping in cheese.  Or it’s so terribly depressing that no audience wants to even continue living.  Somehow, director John Cameron Mitchell and David Lindsay-Abaire (adapting from his own play) have made it work, in one of the year’s most honest films.

The story is laid out gently, softly.  There is no overt exposition, and only one brief, restrained, and beautifully placed flashback.  Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) have experienced a terrible loss.  Gentle revelations occur as the story unfolds, but some of the details are clear from the beginning.  They had a four year old son named Danny.

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Back in the country

I’ve recently safely returned from a wonderful trip to Pakistan and India.  Many perspectives were changed, priorities reset.  More updates will follow with a few details, I’m sure.  In the meantime, it will take me a short while to recommence posting reviews.  Please bear with me in these lean times.

The Prowler

The Prowler (1981): United States – directed by Joseph Zito

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, sex, nudity, language

Note: As I will be out of the country for a period of time, I have decided to inflict upon anyone who reads these reviews a sampling of my earlier work.  These will be shorter, less formal, poorly written, and generally crappy.  They will lack stills and links, and I will apologize in advance for their poor quality.  They have received minor edits to (very slightly) improve readability.  Some might not be appropriate for all audiences.  Enjoy.

(review originally published 11/9/08)

This film  revolves around a young GI, who, coming home from WWII gets mad or something because his girl couldn’t wait, so stabs her and her new beau with a pitchfork. At the same time. While they’re making out. Fast forward 35 years, and the college is putting on another graduation dance, which they banned since that last one. So, of course, something bad happens and a dude dressed up like a Nazi stormtrooper goes around pitchforking and slicing people.

Tom Savini did the makeup, and that’s the best compliment the film can get. It’s not really that bad, it’s just that nothing stands out as noteworthy other than his gore effects. There’s the double pitchforking mentioned above, as well as a chick in the shower pitchforked and stuck up.

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