DVD Releases: The Kids Are All Right, The Ghost Writer, Exit Through The Gift Shop
The Kids Are All Right (on DVD now): Usually at least one film that picks up awards buzz leaves me scratching my head. This year, that award goes to The Kids Are All Right, Lisa Chodolenko’s comedy that teaches us lesbian families are the same as regular families: an obvious comment that would be good to see in a film for a change… if it weren’t for the one-dimensional characters and sitcom-style wackiness sprinkled throughout the script. Why do people think this is funny? Every set-up is false, the timing is all off, and Bening and Moore make their characters unlikable versions of every other character they’ve played in the last decade. I submit to the Academy: rewarding a movie for depicting a lesbian relationship doesn’t mean it’s a good movie, nor does it mean it’s a positive depiction of lesbians.
The performances are one-note. Bening is given a couple of “Oscar moments,” but the character is so unlikably written and hollow, the moments seem like Bening showing off rather than a character having an organic revelation. Ruffalo plays the same laid-back dude he always plays, but at least he’s charming– still, he gets Academy buzz for this? The writing is especially bad: The son and his friend discover the parents have gay porn, so they watch it, and then a long running gag where the parents think their son is gay occurs. Ha ha? Even more horrifying is the obvious subplot where one of the moms sleeps with Ruffalo. I realize that sexuality isn’t something that can be clearly defined, but I feel like I know a few lesbians who would be insulted by the implication that any lesbian would switch sides for a well-hung suitor. In the end, the film is boring, unfunny, badly written, and worst of all, insulting. The Academy buzz for Best Picture is another case of the Academy feeling good about themselves for promoting a movie about a hot-button topic. I Love You Phillip Morris is a thousand times smarter, better performed, funnier, and a more honest depiction of a gay relationship. See it instead.
The Ghost Writer (on DVD now): Judge his past all you want, Roman Polanski knows how to make a movie. At age 77 (a decade older than Scorsese and fifteen years older than Spielberg), he’s still making films that are better than anyone else’s. The Ghost Writer, his newest film, ranks among his finest. It’s less disorienting than your usual Polanski thriller: this feels more like an emulation of Hitchcock, a comparison I don’t take lightly. Anyone can take a basic film noir plot and put it on film. Polanski has two distinct advantages: he knows how to make a film better than most, and he knows how to get good performances out of actors. Ewan MacGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Olivia Williams all give terrific performances, less showy than the usual Oscar fare but just as strong.
It’s surprisingly layered and personal for a thriller. Brosnan’s former prime minister with allegiances to American interests is obviously modeled on Tony Blair, making the film feel culturally relevant and adding to the suspense. Even the shock ending is mostly shocking because of how realistic it is. Also, Brosnan is a man in exile from his home country because of accusations made on him about crimes that an international court wants to hold him accountable for– it’s nearly impossible to watch this film without thinking of Polanski’s situation. He doesn’t shy away from it; there’s obvious deeply rooted sadness in these characters who can’t go home, which shows the director using experience with personal adversity to make the characters more fully realized. Ebert said about this film, “This is a Well-Made Film.” There’s no better way of putting it. It takes its time, it makes its chases work, and in an era when editing and explosions are used in vain attempts to thrill, Polanski uses fleshed-out characters who we care about, a creepy score, and flawless camera work to put you literally on the edge of your seat. It’s perhaps the best film noir in a decade.
Exit Through The Gift Shop (on DVD Dec. 14): This documentary by Banksy, the world’s most famous street artist, is at once revealing and shrouded in mystery. It gives you a previously unseen vision into the world of street art, both showing its artistic value and begging you to question what art collectors define as art in the first place. Much of the art in the movie is striking, especially those pieces by Banksy, yet other pieces make you scratch your head and say “this is art?” The main character, MBW, has an entire warehouse of people who create his ideas and execute them for him– is he still the artist? Is it even art, or is it mass-produced product at this point? If street art’s intentions are to be subversive, isn’t making the endeavor corporate counter-intuitive? Or is that the ultimate spit-in-the-face of those who define art, and he who sells the most art laughs best? The very nature of the art world is so mercurial and susceptible to a little hype that it seems hollow and pointless at times.
The personalities in the film are vivid, but some of the major characters, including the director, have unclear motivation, which keeps the film from having a full pulse at times yet causes it to lodge deeply in your brain. I’ve been thinking about the movie nonstop since watching it. The plot revolves around a filmmaker following street artists including Banksy, and when the filmmaker’s documentary turns out badly, Banksy encourages him to do his own art show as he tries editing the documentary himself. The filmmaker becomes the aforementioned MBW, and in creating a score of works that are eerily similar to Banksy knockoffs, he becomes a millionaire. Yet nowhere in the film is MBW creating this art, and since Banksy is all about subversive art, and the plot carries all the trimmings of an elaborate hoax… no, it couldn’t be… or could it? Regardless of whether it’s a hoax, the art world buys MBW’s obviously less-inspired work for twice as much as they do Banksy’s. So much of the film’s truth, such as Banksy’s identity and past, MBW’s inspiration and artistic ability, and what motivates the discerning eye of the art critics and buyers of the world, remains a mystery. Still, this documentary is a fascinating peek into the street art world, and if it is in fact a hoax, it’s potentially the biggest and most elaborate hoax ever pulled.