Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Cutie and the Boxer (2013)

Cutie and the Boxer is a bittersweet examination of the artist's life: quirky and determined, with a sad backstory and an uncertain future. But the show goes on, the Boxer still treks his way halfway around the world, from NYC to his home country, Japan, just to make a couple thousand dollars, an old man hauling sunsplash canvasses of boxing-glove paint-flowers and wacky fantasy choppers—while his wife, a real Cutie in many ways, turns her bulgy-charming autobiographical comic-book drawings into wild wallpaper that surrounds her beginning to end, from her past to the anxious future.

It's quite a situation for these two, avant-garde holdovers from the heyday of power Pop Art, still plugging away. Ushio is aptly the Boxer—"Bullie" in his wife's drawings—who dons paint-soaked spongy gloves and jabs his way across the canvas. Noriko has transformed their life together into an ongoing, lifelong graphic novel, in which her surrogate, Cutie, tries mightily with Ushio/Bullie to be, as Noriko puts it, "two flowers in one pot." It is sometimes almost embarrassing to watch; I feel I'm intruding, their relationship is so intimate—and intimately bound with their troubled past, the Boxer lost in alcoholism, Cutie trying to be both a mother and an artist, both of them cramped in a small space—even their grown son, also an artist, a bit trapped, his own drinking problem stumbling around the little apartment with them.

But in the end, as much as your heart aches, a great triumph emerges: They continue, they still do art, as old and tired as they can get, groaning with the effort to turn their passion into a few dollars, just enough to pay the rent and have something tasty to eat and keep working—and in the process grow young again, their eyes sparkling. The film has the sad air of a fruitless endeavor, but one that revels in the opportunity to try anyway, for love—and, as silly as it sounds (and sorry for you if it feels that way), art.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Super Troopers

Generally, if you want to kill a movie, pass it through the Basic Cable Heavy Rotation machine a few times. Just ask The Shawshank Redemption, Cast Away, or The Lord of the Rings. And while TNT may be movie hit man #1, Comedy Central also is pretty good at wearing a film down to the nub. Fortunately, perhaps because of its solid R-ratedness, Super Troopers has survived every effort to erode the value of a movie in which a traffic stop punctuated by meows counts as an iconic moment in cinema history.

Super Troopers was the second feature film of Broken Lizard, a comedy-troupe-turned-production-team that went on to produce, for better or worse, Club Dread and Beerfest. I'm not here to defend those pictures (although they are defensible, more or less) but to assure the uninitiated that Super Troopers is an amiable sorta-cop, sorta-buddy movie that feels like a really good version of pre-Animal House '70s comedies—with an amiably ironic wink at the need for plot and coherence. That's because the movie works like sketch comedy, and it works most of the time. I'm not going to lay out a string of memorable moments—I want to, but I'd rather you find them yourself—however, I have the distinct feeling that, even if the goofy cruelty of Reno 911! or the fearless foolishness of Pineapple Express isn't paying homage to Super Troopers, they should.

If you decide to watch it, and you begin to think, "This isn't funny, it's just stupid," please remember: "These boys get that syrup in 'em, they get all antsy in their pantsy."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cropsey (2009)

I'm not sure whether Cropsey is entirely successful as a documentary—but as an evocation of some of the most striking features of post-Blair Witch Project horror, it manages to settle into one's consciousness like X-Files Black Oil. That's not to say that its basic "documentary" premise isn't compelling: Staten Island filmmakers/residents explore an urban legend from their childhood involving accounts of child disappearances and the potential link to a local home for developmentally disabled children. The disappearances occurred, the hospital was a snakepit—Geraldo Rivera earned his place in TV journalism history by exposing it back in the early 1970s—and an appropriately creepy suspect was apprehended and convicted; and the film does a good job of exploring the uneasy intersection between the anxious desire to uncover mysteries and the flights of imagination needed to try.

However, what stays with me most are the ghostly, straight-to-tape visuals (Rivera's foremost, his cameraman's bright lights smearing across the darkened frame to catch glimpses of the hospital's miserable inmates cowering under lavatory sinks, huddled in corners) and the overall mood of a dream remembered—as both dream and memory wander, circle closer, then end in uncertainty. Again, while the film explores an idea—the limits of understanding—it does so by evoking the shaky-cam grainy aesthetic of "found-footage" horror films. I'm not sure if the filmmakers deliver an entirely ethical film, but it's invaluable as a confrontation with our desire to see horror at odds with our dread of feeling terror. The former entertains, in a sudden-drop-dizzy kind of way, but the latter—ah, that's Edmund Burke territory, the most sublime feeling, the one that tosses us back a few dozen millennia and lets us peer into the cave where we're not the only ones hiding in the corner: Something's in there with us. And it's Something that we may have made, but it lives on its own now, and little movies like Cropsey swing the light bar and give us a glimpse of what it might be.

It is with some hesitation that I provide a link to Geraldo Rivera's 1972 Eyewitness News piece: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbiYJkiX-Dg