The current photography exhibition at the High Museum, “Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley,” is a powerful reminder of the virtue only a photograph can deliver. Misrach’s gigantic photographs of juxtapositions between graveyards, playgrounds, fishermen, and chemical plants in Cancer Alley, an area along the Mississippi river in the deep south where many petrochemical plants are located, are laced with social commentary, irony, satire, realism, and exquisite beauty.
The show opens with a photograph of a humongous structure that looks like a steel dragon towering over a tiny one-floor ranch style home. “Home and Grain Elevator, Destrehan, Louisiana, 1998” immediately confronts the viewer with what could be the moral of the entire exhibition (even more true today then in 1998 when the photo was shot): that we have lost control over our machines and they now rule over us. The message it conveys is not pretty. This theme — death and pollution at the hands of an out-of-control industry dependent on machinery and petrochemicals — is present in every corner of the show. It hits the viewer particularly hard in images like “Holy Rosary Cemetery and Dow Chemical Corporation (Union Carbide Complex), Taft, Louisiana, 1998,” which contrasts a southern graveyard with a Union Carbide Complex seemingly inches apart, framed with a crucifixion from the graveyard in the foreground and an endless tangle of steel belching smoke behind it (by the way this image feels a lot like Walker Evans’ image Bethlehem Graveyard and Steel Mill, November 1935). Even though it feels, perhaps, heavy-handed, this lesson deserves no subtlety. On it on it goes throughout the first room of the exhibition, picture after picture of mankind's factories spewing death in Cancer Alley.
Fortunately the third chapter builds a plot that feels organic to the films’ defining joke, which equates the four-footed heroes with modern-day celebrities. Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller) basked in the attention of adoring crowds as the Central Park Zoo’s star attraction, while Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) also served as privileged New Yorkers. Alex’s jokes about, say, being a Bob Fosse-style dancer in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa always felt imposed on the films’ fish-out-of-water situations.
As a filmmaker, Anderson restricts himself to a narrow visual and emotional palette, perpetually exploring themes of neglectful parental figures in scenes so meticulously designed, they resemble museum displays more than human habitations. In Moonrise Kingdom, like his breakthrough film Rushmore, the twee style dovetails with the point of view and self-perception of Anderson's star-crossed young protagonists, so the layers of nostalgia don't muffle the film's heartbeat.
In the recent whirlwind press junket to plug his upcoming half hour scripted comedy on HBO, "Life's Too Short," every clip of Ricky Gervais' new show that has been previewed has been of Ricky himself - Ricky and Johnny Depp, Ricky and Liam Neeson, Ricky and Helena Bonham Carter. The only problem is … the show is not about Ricky. It's about Warwick Davis, who you may recognize from Willow or as Professor Flitwick from the Harry Potter films (or as a joke that is made throughout the seven-episode series says, "Warwick who?").
In the last few years, Ricky Gervais and his writing partner Stephen Merchant have stepped away from scripted comedies and instead focused jointly on promoting their friend Karl Pilkington, whose grumpy and unique look at the world lead (in the last decade) to multiple and extremely successful batches of podcasts and audiobooks, as well as the travel show "An Idiot Abroad." Though the duo collaborated on the hidden gem of a film Cemetery Junction in 2010, "Life's Too Short" marks their first return to TV since "Extras" as well as a return to the faux-documentary format they popularized, though without Gervais in the lead acting role.
Already at the mention of "documentary," the troubles start. The show has some trappings of a documentary - a camera crew following Warwick Davis in his day to the day life - but, in many scenes, the documentary format is forgotten or ignored (much like "Modern Family," it employs the style and the talking heads without the logic of the why or how). The second issue is the presence of Ricky and Stephen throughout the series. Warwick is playing a fictionalized version of himself, a la "Curb Your Enthusiasm," who finds a pretense to visit the duo in their London office almost every episode. But Ricky and Stephen's comedy overshadows Warwick's performance to such a degree that in many of those scenes Warwick is a forgotten figure entirely (literally being ignored by the string of celebrity guests - and each episode has at least one - who also traipse in and out of the office). As "Life's Too Short" progresses, one cannot help but wish the show followed Ricky and Stephen instead of Warwick, who is limited to a series of cringeworthy scenarios that lack the pathos of David Brent or Andy Millman because the character of Warwick is never shown in a likable or flattering light. He's just portrayed as an incredibly self-absorbed, well, dick who happens to also be a little person. Is that supposed to be controversial? Or subversive? Or is it just a little easy?
Director Steven Soderbergh brings to Haywire’s action scenes the same enthusiasm he applies to genre exercises like Contagion and the Ocean’s movies. He enlists former Mixed Martial Arts fighter Gina Carano as Haywire’s muse, and the novice actor makes an undeniably strong physical impact in her big screen debut. But Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs seem utterly different to the plot of Haywire, and Carano doesn’t have the acting tools to engage the audience without their support.
Even more opportune, The Artist arrives in the wake of two movies about similar subjects. Martin Scorsese evoked the pleasures of silent era cinema with Hugo, while The Muppets paid tribute to the same kind of old Hollywood showmanship that The Artist embraces. After a year of 3-D movies, audiences might even appreciate The Artist’s old-school take on cinematic presentation.
In the penultimate entry in the Twilight film series, Breaking Dawn — Part 1, 18-year-old Bella (Kristen Stewart) and 17-going-on-110-year-old vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) tie the knot in an elaborate, Midsummer Night's Dream-y ceremony before the entire town. Bella, who always seemed more like the eloping type, looks justifiably terrified walking down the aisle as it rains white flower petals all around her. The young couple makes it official in a swirl of vows, the camera spinning around as they promise “to have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for as long as they both shall live.”
It’s a scene Twihards have been dying to see for years now, an official, law-binding moment that somehow would seem to justify the fantasy that painful, possibly lethal love is nonetheless a girl’s most rewarding dream.
Yes, Twilight is painfully misogynistic. Yes, it's full of mixed messages about sex and abuse and purity. But in Breaking Dawn, camp for once trumps earnestness to make this the franchise's most watchable entry yet. In fact, Breaking Dawn achieves hilarious levels of B-movie glory, whether intended or not. It’s a teen romance grindhouse fantasy that pinballs between the kind of angsty dialogue and facial expressions that made The Room so bad it’s good, to special effects that are special in the way Rain Man is special.
Melancholia’s opening shot could summarize von Trier’s bleak aesthetic. We see Kirsten Dunst in close-up, her beauty masked in a kind of sullen desolation, and in the background, dead birds tumble dreamily from the sky. The film continues with a kind of overture of similar shots, slowed down to almost resemble still paintings and accompanied by the familiar strains of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde.” Dunst in a wedding dress trudges through black webbing, Charlotte Gainsbourg carries a boy across a golf course, a horse collapses, a Brueghel painting ignites and another planet dwarfs Earth in the heavens.
Where Terence Malick used cosmology in The Tree of Life to provide a context for human moral evolution, von Trier’s rogue planet — which happens to be named “Melancholia” — serves as a simpler metaphor for both debilitating personal depression and any catastrophe that threatens rich Western complacency. While von Trier can still seem befuddled by or indifferent to credible human behavior, Melancholia crafts such intriguing situations and powerful visuals that it’s impossible to dismiss.
In the ominous, low-budget drama Bellflower, antiheroes Woodrow and Aidan (Evan Glodell and Tyler Dawson) show more optimism about the end of civilization. The underemployed friends want to get ahead of Armageddon, so they devote their spare time to jerry-rigging a flamethrower and converting a muscle car into a reinforced, weaponized vehicle worthy of Mad Max.
With Bellflower, writer/director/star Glodell brings an ugly but original vision to the familiar genre of disaffected young people. Like an amped-up, customized automobile with no muffler, Bellflower makes a powerful, high-volume statement without getting very good mileage. Bumped from Atlanta theatrical release in September, Bellflower comes roaring back on DVD this week.
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Take Shelter harnesses the intensity of some superb actors as well as spine-chilling set pieces for a tense character study about the devastation caused by mental illness. When Nichols takes his material too seriously, Take Shelter loses a little of its compelling momentum, but at its best, it recounts a visceral tale of all-American unease.
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