For fans of independent filmmaking, the weekend of July 23 marks an oasis of thought-provoking cinema in the desert of dumb that has been the 2010 summer movie season. Your options include a funny and moving family drama with a decidedly modern twist; a period piece about two of the most famous lovers of the early 20th century; a documentary that aims to track down the "angriest RV salesman in the world"; and a visually stunning Italian love story.
Or you can go see Salt, which Kevin Hopp will be reviewing this week at dailyloafblog.com. Whichever you choose, we won't judge you. Much.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Yes, the youngsters are doing just fine in this funny-yet-wrenching family drama from director Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon), but someone should check on the adults.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as middle-aged lesbians whose lives are thrown into chaos after their teenage kids (well played by Josh Hutcherson and Alice In Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska) track down their sperm-donor daddy (Mark Ruffalo). He's a rugged restaurateur who grows his own veggies, rides a rad motorcycle and knocks all the ladies dead. As a bad boy he's irresistible, but as a father figure he's got as much growing up to do as his long-lost offspring.
Kids hits many of the same notes as past family dramas, but it does so with a sharp attention to the nuances of family dynamics. This is a movie that not only considers why we hurt the ones we love the most, but also how we find the will to forgive. Strip out the details that are sending conservative critics into a homophobic tizzy (They're gay and have kids! There's drug use! Is that a dildo?!!?), and what's left is a movie that will connect with anyone who's ever been in a family. (That means you.)
There is a temptation to discuss Kids strictly in terms of the culture wars, but that would be to completely miss the movie. This is a very funny, entertaining and gripping film, mostly due to the actors. I could rave about all five principals, but let me single out Bening; the actress takes an unforgiving, difficult role and plays it honestly, in the process creating a wonderful, human character who earns our admiration. Bening has been one of the best actresses in Hollywood for a long while (anyone remember The Grifters?), and her performance here stands as one of her best.
The Kids Are All Right is destined for a short run at the box office, so see it soon or be left out of all those "best movie of the year" conversations come December.
The Beach Theatre wades into geek culture to bring us the hilarious documentary Winnebago Man. The strange tale of Jack Rebney, now known as "the angriest RV salesman in the world," Winnebago Man delves deep into our fascination with viral video.
Rebney's fame stems from a series of outtakes from an industrial film he worked on for Winnebago, Inc. in 1989. The film was originally traded on VHS cassette all through the '90s until finally ending up on YouTube last decade. In the clips, Rebney is seen cursing up a storm, gesticulating wildly and coining a small mountain of geek catchphrases ("Can I get a kindness?" "I don't want anymore bullshit from anyone, and that includes me!"). After becoming obsessed with the videos, filmmaker Ben Steinbauer decided to track Rebney down, only to find that the guy basically fell off the planet after 1989.
Steinbauer finally finds Rebney living like a hermit in northern California, and in their first meeting (completely captured on tape, of course) Rebney comes across as a sweet old man, tempered by experience and living a gentle life amongst nature. It's a little disappointing. Then a few weeks later Rebney calls the filmmaker to tell him he was putting on an act, the desperate attempt by an old man to alter his legacy from one of raging anger to one of sensitivity. Only problem: The real Jack Rebney is one angry fucker.
I won't say what happens next, except that at some point Winnebago Man crosses the line between good clean fun and exploitation. Filmmaker Steinbauer keeps pushing Rebney to engage with his "audience," but the more he tries to force the oldster into interacting with the public, the more I saw the filmmaker as a leech trying to generate his own juicy marketing opportunity. It all ends well, though, so maybe I'm being dramatic. And man, those videos of Rebney are hysterical.
Now, if you'll excuse me, "I have to read this again because my mind is just a piece of shit this morning ..."
I AM LOVE
Tilda Swinton's appearance in a film tends to carry a connotation: The woman likes her films on the dark and uneasy side. So it's less than surprising when the opening credits of I Am Love fade away to winter and a massive Milanese household in the process of preparing a banquet.
The Rucci family is immediately alienating, and it's not because of their excessive wealth or family secrets. As a whole, these people and their problems are fairly run-of-the-mill. Instead, the film keeps us at a distance that makes us feel detached from the Ruccis -- and I'm not sure that's intentional.
After all, we are often admitted into the interior life of Emma Rucci (Swinton), who fantasizes in shocks of swirling imagery and quick flashes of voices from her childhood. We see many of our characters at their most naked and vulnerable, and yet there is still a sense that they are holding back. The only exception is Eva (Diane Fleri), the eldest son's fiancée. Eva is just as isolated by the Ruccis as the audience is, and is often ignored at times when she should be the center of attention. She may be the only character the audience can understand, yet we see the least of her.
The primary focus of the film is Emma's extra-marital affair with her son's best friend, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini). However, it's unclear whether this is in character for Emma, what it means to her marriage, and even what drew these two together in the first place. There's the overpowering sensation that if we could ever get a coherent sense of what the hell is going on in Emma's head, we would be enraptured.
All that said, it's impossible to look away from the screen. A masterwork of cinematography, I Am Love (directed by Luca Guadagnino) frames every shot as if it were the most important in the film. The color and composition is stunning, especially with Swinton so keenly aware of how to move and position her body as a visual centerpiece. --Shannon Bennett
COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY
Light on dialogue yet rich in atmosphere, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky starkly details a brief period of time when the famous clothing designer and brilliant composer entered each other's lives. After the disastrous debut of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," Mademoiselle Chanel invites the composer and his tubercular wife and children to stay at her glorious home. Chanel becomes infatuated with him, and he soon reciprocates.
Once the affair between Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) and Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) has commenced, a sexual encounter tells you all you need to know about the relationship: The camera is poised directly above two lovers becoming one, a thick, black band on the bedsheets creating the illusion of symmetry. Once the lust fades, the camera pans down to the foot of the bed, revealing two separate people, a dark line in the sheets now leading to a checkerboard pattern on the wall. For a few brief moments the pair is one, but soon the truth of their deception leads to complications: the people and the lives these two are destroying.
The film portrays Chanel as a collector, and for a brief time the object she covets is Igor Stravinsky. At one point the designer slyly remarks to Mrs. Stravinsky that she hopes some home renovations "don't disrupt their lives very much." And as her cold eyes meet those of her guest, she offers a gift: The very first vial of Chanel No. 5, a scent that must have haunted Mrs. Stravinsky for the rest of her life. --Rabid Nick Refer