Friday, November 26, 2010

The View From Home 16: New releases on DVD

By John Thomason

Everyone Else‭ (‬Cinema Guild‭)
Release date:‭ ‬Oct.‭ ‬26
SLP:‭ ‬$20.49

If‭ “‬mainstream cinema‭”‬ is shorthand for grounded,‭ ‬explicable,‭ ‬coherent story arcs told with logic and closure,‭ ‬then art cinema‭ ‬– the yin to Hollywood‭’‬s yang‭ ‬– is the terrain of the unknown,‭ ‬the inexplicable,‭ ‬the frustratingly open-ended.‭ ‬Its filmmakers are fully aware that,‭ ‬as in life,‭ ‬they don‭’‬t have all the answers,‭ ‬and their stories do not conclude in tidy,‭ ‬message-filled packages.‭ ‬More likely,‭ ‬the package has been destroyed,‭ ‬the wrapping paper strewn about‭ ‬the floor,‭ ‬the message missing.

Most movies canonized as classics‭ ‬– most of the films that wind up on critics‭’‬ top‭ ‬10‭ ‬lists each year‭ ‬– fall squarely in the middle of these polarizing‭ ‬modi operandi.‭ ‬But I usually have the most respect for‭ ‬movies that compromise nothing to mainstream conventions,‭ ‬that question rather than explain,‭ ‬that observe rather than preach.‭ ‬Everyone Else,‭ ‬the second feature from German director Maren Ade,‭ ‬is one such film.

Movies about relationships have rarely contained this much raw intimacy and uncomfortable insight into human conditions,‭ ‬because most of them seek to manipulate us one way or the other,‭ ‬fitting their characters into prescribed roles:‭ ‬We sympathize with the battered wife or the henpecked husband,‭ ‬and‭ ‬morality usually wins out in the end.‭ ‬Everyone Else,‭ ‬which has its roots in both the authentic,‭ ‬ragged psychodramas of Cassavetes and Bergman,‭ ‬and the lost-in-a-strange-land meanderings of Antonioni,‭ ‬is far more complex in its evocation of a seemingly blissful coupling that may or may not dissipate over a vacation in the Mediterranean.

The central players are Chris‭ (‬Lars Eidinger‭)‬,‭ ‬a struggling architect,‭ ‬and Gitti‭ (‬Birgit Minichmayr‭)‬,‭ ‬a music publicist.‭ ‬For Chris,‭ ‬the couple‭’‬s vacation in Sardinia serves a‭ ‬dual purpose,‭ ‬one that involves the potential reconstruction of a villa.‭ ‬Small battle lines are drawn early in the film:‭ ‬Gitti resents that Chris won‭’‬t compromise any of his architectural ideals even if it means never bringing any of his projects to fruition,‭ ‬while it‭’‬s quite obvious that Chris sometimes finds Gitti‭’‬s behavior offensive and embarrassing.‭ ‬When he and Gitti meet one of Chris‭’‬ colleagues,‭ ‬Hans,‭ ‬and his pregnant wife Sana,‭ ‬for dinner,‭ ‬their relationship begins to fully unravel,‭ ‬one painful tether at a time.‭ ‬A directionless mountain climbing adventure at the film‭’‬s midpoint only serves to reinforce the idea that Chris and Gitti are strangers in a foreign land,‭ ‬stranded in physical and emotional oblivion.

But the more you stick with this patient,‭ ‬perceptive movie,‭ ‬the more Chris‭’‬s casual coldness and hurtful solo excursions begin to look like justifiably erected walls against Gitti‭’‬s increasingly fractious,‭ ‬mentally unstable behavior.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a subtle transformation that happens almost without the viewer realizing it.‭ ‬We don‭’‬t know what to make of an ambiguous scene early on the film,‭ ‬when Gitti teaches hateful admonitions to Chris‭’‬s niece before pantomiming her demise in a pool.‭ ‬By the end,‭ ‬this behavior looks like a warning sign shot from the bow of‭ ‬a disturbed mind.

It‭’‬s important to understand that Ade‭’‬s film is,‭ ‬by its uncertain end,‭ ‬a potent dissection of mental illness‭ ‬--‭ ‬not,‭ ‬per se,‭ ‬a fundamental depiction of male-female gender roles in contemporary courtship.‭ ‬First of all,‭ ‬gender roles are an‭ ‬antiquated notion to Ade,‭ ‬who confuses them early on by having Chris agree to be made up like a woman.‭ ‬Which is why it‭’‬s an offensive notion to read one particular web critic‭’‬s diagnosis of the film as‭ ‬a‭ ‬Men Are‭ ‬from Mars,‭ ‬Women Are from Venus study in gender differentiation.

‭ ‬If that were true,‭ ‬Ade would be saying that all women are irrational,‭ ‬combustible nutcases and that all men are mean,‭ ‬calculating jerks.‭ ‬Gitti and Chris are neither of these‭; ‬in fact,‭ ‬they‭’‬re both so relatable in their peculiarities that you‭’‬ll hope for their happiness as you would a friend in a similar situation‭ ‬– even if said happiness can only be achieved by splitting up.

The Elia Kazan Collection
‭ ‬(20th Century Fox‭)
Release date:‭ ‬Nov.‭ ‬9
SLP:‭ ‬$137.99

The holiday gift set to end them all,‭ ‬The Elia Kazan Collection compiles‭ ‬18‭ ‬movies from the classic Hollywood mainstay,‭ ‬many of which make their American DVD debuts.‭ ‬These include‭ ‬1953‭’‬s‭ ‬Man on a Tightrope,‭ ‬with Frederic March as a member of a Czech circus troupe‭; ‬1960‭’‬s‭ ‬Wild River,‭ ‬a Jim Crow racial potboiler with Montgomery Clift‭; ‬and‭ ‬1963‭’‬s Academy Award-nominated‭ ‬America,‭ ‬America,‭ ‬a drama about a persecuted man in Constantinople that‭ ‬was inspired by‭ ‬the story of‭ ‬Kazan‭’‬s uncle.

Some other long out-of-print titles,‭ ‬such as the‭ ‬1945‭ ‬melodrama‭ ‬A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and‭ ‬1952‭’‬s‭ ‬Viva Zapata,‭ ‬with Marlon Brando as a Mexican revolutionary,‭ ‬are included here as well,‭ ‬along with a couple of punchy noirs‭ (‬Boomerang‭!‬ and‭ ‬Panic in the Streets‭) ‬as well as the director‭’‬s most prestigious titles‭ (‬East of Eden,‭ ‬On the Waterfront,‭ ‬Splendor in the Grass‭)‬.‭ ‬My favorite Kazan title,‭ ‬the Glenn Beck-anticipating media satire‭ ‬Face in the Crowd,‭ ‬is here too.‭ ‬Martin Scorsese‭’‬s name is almost as big as Kazan‭’‬s on the packaging‭; ‬Marty selected the films and produced the first disc in this collection,‭ ‬the new documentary‭ ‬A Letter to Elia.‭ ‬This is mouth-wateringly good.

The Hungry Ghosts‭ (‬Virgil Films‭)
Release date:‭ ‬Nov.‭ ‬2
SLP:‭ ‬$20.49

The idea of lost,‭ ‬troubled souls converging amid the bustle of urban America is to independent film what ostentatious explosions and buff men walking in slow motion are to Jerry Bruckheimer productions.‭ ‬We need more of both like we need more cancer,‭ ‬laugh-tracked sitcoms and vampire novels.‭ ‬The Hungry Ghosts,‭ ‬the writing and directing debut of actor Michael Imperioli,‭ ‬falls wholeheartedly and unceremoniously in the former genre,‭ ‬an inexplicable favorite of film festivals if nowhere else.‭ ‬The specific characters may be different‭ ‬– a hard-living late-night talk show host‭ (‬Steve Schirripa‭) ‬and an alcoholic charmer‭ (‬Nick Sandow‭) ‬attempting to rekindle a relationship with a pretty but aggressive and newly homeless meditation companion‭ (‬Aujanue Ellis‭) ‬– but their loneliness,‭ ‬connected through vice,‭ ‬pain and Eastern religion,‭ ‬is all too familiar.‭ ‬This pointless pity parade collects perverts,‭ ‬drunks,‭ ‬drug addicts,‭ ‬degenerates,‭ ‬deadbeats and other timeless miscreants of the big,‭ ‬nasty city,‭ ‬while claiming on its official box-art description to channel‭ “‬the zeitgeist of our times.‭”‬ Hardly.‭ ‬The film‭’‬s summation,‭ ‬as voiced by Schirripa‭’‬s blowhard,‭ ‬is that‭ “‬the world is a cesspool.‭”‬ A perennial diagnosis,‭ ‬perhaps,‭ ‬but by no means original or zeitgeisty.

Tropic of Cancer‭ (‬Olive Films‭)
Release date:‭ ‬Oct.‭ ‬26
SLP:‭ ‬$18.99

Joseph Strick‭’‬s adaptation of Henry Miller‭’‬s‭ ‬Tropic of Cancer is another reminder that,‭ ‬as with‭ ‬Ulysses and‭ ‬The Bell Jar,‭ ‬great literature does not always make great cinema.‭ ‬Rip Torn plays Miller in a story that transplants the drifting writer/horndog from the book‭’‬s‭ ‬‘30s milieu to modern-day Paris,‭ ‬hoodwinking everyone he meets to satisfy his desires for food,‭ ‬sex and lodging.‭ ‬Technically faithful to the book,‭ ‬the barely coherent nonstory shambles along,‭ ‬jump cut by jump cut,‭ ‬audiovisual mismatch by audiovisual mismatch,‭ ‬until it settles into a languorous groove anchored by frank discussions of sexual organs that earned this once-shocking art-house drivel an NC-17.‭ ‬It‭’‬s boring both despite and because of its artsy quirks,‭ ‬and the acting is wooden and at times laughable.‭ ‬Curious Miller aficionados will likely encompass the movie‭’‬s microscopic demographic,‭ ‬and it‭’‬s no surprise that the most engaging part of Betty Botley‭’‬s screenplay are the passages lifted directly from the source material.

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