For all the art-house and foreign fare the Wilma brings to town, and for all the Hollywood hype (good and bad) served up by the Carmike 10 and Village 6, Missoula misses a lot of good movies. With winter break sliding into the post-holiday doldrums, it’s time to dig deeper at the local rental store and feed your creative needs with the best recently released DVDs of films that never came to a local big screen, but still deserve your local attention.
The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Just listening to a Daniel Johnston CD it’s easy to not get it—those childishly whiney vocals, out-of-tune everything, lyrics about Casper the Friendly Ghost. But watch this documentary about the cult singer-songwriter—he had his moment in the late ’80s and early ’90s, riding the fandom of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, and saw a resurgence of interest last year—and his songs begin to resonate in a creepily intimate and poignant way.
Johnston was a budding artist from an early age and therefore documented everything in his life, recording audio diaries, home videos and fights with his evangelical parents. All of which paints a thick backdrop for his future semi-stardom—and, even more so, a disturbing spiral into mental illness. To watch the trajectory play out in alarming detail goes beyond voyeuristic. It would almost be exploitive if it weren’t done so well. (SB)
Hope this summary doesn’t spoil the movie for you, because it was a real pleasure to go into Brick knowing almost nothing about it. I’m sitting there thinking, man, even in the whacked-out world of the teen movie there’s something fishy about this one. Then it dawned on me that it was a satire of hard-boiled ’30s and ’40s noir, faithful down to the last flinty scrap of dialogue: a kind of Miller’s Crossing set in a contemporary suburban California high school with an antihero protagonist, a gorgeous femme fatale, a shadowy underworld kingpin and a missing package of tainted heroin. Former child star Joseph Gordon-Levitt (of TV’s “Third Rock from the Sun”) commands the lead, and a stellar supporting cast of thuggish henchmen, crooked soshes and surly punks rounds things out nicely. The soundtrack, much of it performed on different kinds of glass, is pretty cool, too. Finally: an intelligent, worthy successor to Bugsy Malone! (AS)
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
Tommy Lee Jones directs and stars in this patient character study/subtle social commentary written by Guillermo Arriaga (Babel, 21 Grams). Set in a high desert border town somewhere in West Texas, Pete Perkins (Jones) is faced with righting the apparent wrong of his Mexican ranch hand’s suspicious death. When he figures out it was the doing of an overzealous border patrolman (Barry Pepper), Perkins digs up the body, kidnaps the patrolman and takes off on a journey to Mexico and a proper burial for his friend. There’s no mystery to the proceedings, but there is some rich social introspection, spectacular acting and a story that unfolds with the depth of a well-written novel. There’s also a killer cameo by The Band’s Levon Helm as a lonely blind man waiting around to die that’s almost worth the rental fee alone. (SB)
On the face of it, kind of a fun movie: a teenage L.A. version of Martin Scorsese’s underrated After Hours, in which a posse of seven Latino skaters from South Central spends the day hitting curbs and ramps in a tony Beverly Hills inhabited exclusively by uptight cops, easy white girls, flaming homosexuals throwing fatuous poolside theme parties and trigger-happy Charlton Heston stand-ins. The sticker is that Kids director Larry Clark also has a point to make in Wassup Rockers, and it’s a very clumsy one. These seven dudes purportedly defy stereotypes (“We just wanna skate”), while everyone else in the movie is portrayed as a grotesquerie of base stereotypes. As mentioned, though, it’s fun to watch the Rockers fall afoul of jealous boyfriends and flustered cops between ollies and ramp-slides, and the soundtrack is wall-to-wall amateur teenage hardcore. Wonderfully acted, kinda silly, nowhere near as shocking as Kids, and positively incandescent with youthful exuberance: Ignore the hamfisted moralizing and you’ve still got entertainment. (AS)
This French action flick written by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) is like his other high-testosterone work, The Transporter, except instead of one of the heroes utilizing tweaked-out sports cars to escape the bad guys, he uses his own impossibly acrobatic self. Leito (David Belle) is part breakdancer, part human Super Ball, part Jackie Chan and part Neo from The Matrix (although without, it seems, any CGI assistance) as he leaps from building tops, scales walls and rappels off balconies all urban-Tarzan-like. The storyline is pretty secondary—thugs with drugs, basically, battling in the scummiest ghettos of Paris’ not-so-distant future—but for pure action with a gymnastic twist, District B13 provides a hyper-stylized sugar rush. (SB)
A comedy about boredom, Duck Season starts off with perhaps the slowest, dullest opening credit sequence ever and doesn’t pick up much speed from there. Moko and Flama are 14-year-old best friends in Mexico City, reveling in a quiet Sunday of eating pizza and playing video games while Flama’s mom is out—until the power goes out too, and they haven’t the foggiest idea what to do with themselves. Their teenage neighbor drops by to bake herself a birthday cake, the pizza man stages a sit-in when the boys refuse to pay him because he’s 11 seconds late, the cake turns out to be laced with cannabis and they all sit around goofing on the drippy faucet and a painting of migrating ducks. The subtle charm of Duck Season, like the charm of the duck painting, is in the details: loneliness, sexual awakening, improvised fun and strangers getting to know each other in a vacuum of activity practically absent from the big screen since The Breakfast Club. Sluggish at times, but an intriguing feature debut from Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke. (AS)
Bruno, the petty thief at the center of L’Enfant, is at once the most disarming criminal you’ll see in a movie this year and one of the scariest. Charming because he’s an overgrown kid who schemes most of his jobs with a bunch of 14-year-olds, and scary because he’s one of those people who doesn’t seem to experience any of the typical human emotions. At the beginning of the movie, his teenage girlfriend Sonia, fresh out of the maternity ward, is tracking him down to show him their new baby. She finds him simultaneously spare-changing at an intersection and acting as lookout in a robbery in progress; he’s about as interested in the baby as he is in getting a telemarketing or fast-food job. So far as he even cares what Sonia thinks, Bruno figures she’ll approve of the money when he sells their baby on the black market. Weird delinquent scenes abound. New parents will be shocked by the smoking that goes on around this enfant, and the apparent lack of car-seat laws in France. (AS)