The Hands of Bresson

Sundry observations on the art of cinema and world film culture

Wrapping Up, Part 1

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The press office this morning is as silent as a mortuary. Most professional festivalgoers have left already, or are on their way to the airport. If yesterday was any indication, then standing in the wait line for tickets today will be a cinch. My flight doesn’t depart until midnight, so I still have a full day of movies to immerse myself in, before the house lights come down on my first year at Sundance, which has been in every way the gloriously delirious experience I’d hoped it would be. In the interest of wrapping things up, I thought I’d provide a thumbnail review of some of the films I’ve gotten to see in the past couple of days.

Baghead—You either loved or hated Mark and Jay Duplass’s first feature film, The Puffy Chair, a keystone of the so-called mumblecore movement. (If Cassavetes had spawned a pair of prankster children, the Duplass brothers would be their film-world avatars.) The set-up for Baghead is simple: Four wanna-be actor friends from L.A. hole up in a cabin for the weekend, trying to write a script they intend to cast themselves in. Alcohol consumption triggers some hilarious cross-couple flirtation, and jealousies mount. When one of them dreams about a creepy figure wearing a paper bag over his head, they incorporate the character into their screenplay. Then the real fun begins. Baghead is a spoof of film-festival culture, and a comedy about sex and friendship that brilliantly flirts with the horned-up-youth-vacationing-in-the-woods subgenre of ’80s slasher flicks. I loved it, and am looking forward to seeing the Duplass brothers’ forthcoming studio projects.

An American Soldier (The Recruiter)—Edet Belzberg fashions a heart-piercing, home-front doc on the Iraq War in this portrayal of Sergeant First Class Clay Usie, one of the Army’s most successful recruiters, and the four teens who enter basic training under his tutelage before shipping off to “the sand.” Working the hallways at the local high school in Houma, Louisiana, Usie is a supremely self-confident, highly decorated Army Ranger with a genuine passion for military service. He befriends, coaches, cajoles, and inspires these kids on the cusp of adulthood, each of whom has chosen to enlist to escape a dead-end life, often over the objections of their parents. Belzberg refrains from adopting an adversarial political position, but the consequences of Usie’s sales efforts become agonizingly clear once his wards reach boot camp in South Carolina. Every politician in America should be required to see this film.

Hamlet 2—Steve Coogan lets it all hang out in Andy Fleming’s outrageous, irreverent comedy about an apeshit-crazy failed actor–turned–high school drama instructor trying to mount a production of his own blasphemous musical sequel to Shakespeare’s tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. Need I say more?

Anywhere USA—When it comes to quirk, you’d be hard pressed to best Miranda July, whose too precious Me, You and Everyone We Know thrilled some and nauseated others (including me) a couple of years back. With his debut feature film, North Carolina–based writer-director Chusy Haney-Jardine adds a madman’s touch to the twee autobiographical drama, apparently on track to become a genre of its own. Casting local nonprofessional actors in roles that roughly correspond to various personas and attitudes he’s adopted or encountered in his own life (so he says), Haney-Jardine tells a willfully odd story of America in three parts, concerning a redneck anti-terror squad, a grieving 8-year-old girl who believes the Tooth Fairy is a guy named Jonathan Lucas, and a middle-aged investment banker who longs to meet black people. Audacious in its whisker-obsessed sideways storytelling and quasi-Godardian use of text and music, Anywhere USA is certainly not for everyone. But I found its eccentricities fun and daring, rather than forced and irritating. Certainly, you are free to disagree.

On my way now to check out Man on Wire, a doc I’ve been hearing good things about.

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Written by eyemaster

January 31, 2009 at 3:24 pm

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