Weekly Roundup DVD Reviews: “Hungry Hearts” and “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” (6/8-6-12)

This was yet another film much like the “Seven Five” documentary that piqued my interest mainly because of the comparisons in which it compared itself to as read by the poster’s tagline. “Reminiscent of Hitchcock and the earlier works of Roman Polanski”. Which is a bit of a dubious endorsement indeed, but one in which I found myself drawn to. Anyone that knows me well enough knows that I think of both Hitch’s films of the 1960’s – “Psycho” (1960) and “The Birds” (1963) and Polanski’s 1-2 punch of both “Repulsion” (1965) and “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) to be the “birth” of American horror (as was George A Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead”) (1968). So with that in mind I thought if this one lived up to half of the hype that it showed the potential to be, even despite its mostly less than favorable reviews, I almost considered it something just based on that alone to warrant my seeing it.

The film is a “meta-exercise” revolving around Adam Driver’s character falling in love with an actress who I was previously unfamiliar with prior to seeing this film, Alba Rohrwacher, who is really the star of the film even in spite of Driver’s great performance. It’s essentially a piece about mental illness and how the birth of a child’s couple can separate themselves from one another as each seems to have his or her own’s agenda of how it should be raised, in what starts off as a marriage that shows great promise which inevitably unfolds into two people who couldn’t be more different as told through their raising on the child, to a sort of cosmopolitan pseudo-horror film about the natures of inner fears and anxieties that drew a lot of comparisons, at least for me, to the two Polanski films mentioned above. Ti West used a similar structure beautifully in 2009’s “House of the Devil”. And while this film drew many comparisons, particularly to that and especially Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby”, I found it to be unique enough and singular to separate itself from those films. The story and direction by newcomer Italian director Saverio Costanzo should please film buffs and fans of earlier, more psychological horror, more than their contemporary counterparts. It’s greatest strong point (like the early Polanski films) depicting what it’s like to live in a big city (NYC) but one in which a very isolated world or bubble is created in which to protect your children (or in this case child) from. Driver, whom I was mostly unfamiliar despite his work in the past two Noah Baumbach performances puts in a rather performance here as a man on the verge of hysteria as he falls in and out of love with his wife (another great performance by newcomer Rohrwacher), in a film that probably was mostly misunderstood by critics, as it’s a nice companion piece to the psychological family horror films of old. Despite some low production value issues and choppy editing, along with a questionably predictable ending, this is one that’s definitely worth checking out even despite these relatively minor criticisms & somewhat jarring shifts in narrative tone. [soft B]

My second viewing of the week was the highly anticipated “rock-doc” about the life and work of Kurt Cobain – “Montage of Heck”. Admittedly I’ve seen just about every documentary, live concert, or stock interview footage of the late artist up to this point. However, seeing in that it was made and produced by HBO Documentaries and promoted itself as being the quitessential documentary on Cobain. An artist whose work, like legions of fans around the world, I deeply admire. As mentioned in the title of this piece, Kurt Cobain was without question Generation X’s version of John Lennon. Many people don’t realize this but Nirvana was the most successful band in the history of American music. And Cobain was their spokesperson. So to do a comprehensive documentary on an artist of his caliber must have been a daunting task to say the least. Especially considering how the media played such an integral role in how he was viewed and represented in the eyes of the public. So going into it I was a bit apprehensive and skeptical that they could possibly do justice to an artist whose like and work was and has been shrouded in such misrepresentation.

The documentary starts off strong presenting us with Cobain’s childhood in the small town of Aberdeen, Washington. Through a series of interviews we find out quite a bit about his biological mother and father, both of whom I hadn’t really seen speak much of if anything at all about their son Kurt until this film. It does a nice job explaining how his mostly nice upbringing was shattered by his parents’ divorce, and how he never really recuperated from that part of his life. It then quickly skims (one of my critiques of the piece – they show his despair of being a teenager – an outcast if you will, most likely because of family problems, to his jump 5 years later being a guitarist for Nirvana when they were first starting out. I would have liked to have seen more footage from family and close ones who were around for that period about how he even became a musician. Instead of just focusing on the unhappy, rebellious child that the film makes him out to be. It then leaps ahead in its second quarter to show us Nirvana’s giant leap from club act to Geffen signed artists, and the enormous popularity that they earned by their debut album – “Nevermind”. Once we as a viewer understand the international impact that Nirvana had on the scene at the time, which I thought was nicely told, it delves straight into the relationship with Cobain and Courtney Love, lead singer of the rock band Hole. This halfway point basically sums up the rest of the documentary, as the filmmakers place (and understandably so), the impact that Courtney had on Kurt’s life. They were a match made in heaven. Both pissed off artists manifested from the troubles of their youth. Whose goal seemed to be some sort of side show freak show circus act to let the public know how really little of a fuck they thought about them. Becoming slaves to heroin and garnering a lot of negative attention from the press.

It’s about as comprehensive of a documentary as I’ve ever seen into the trails and tribulations of the late Cobain, with a major emphasis on his marriage and child who was born (sadly) addicted to drugs. It also does a great job in depicting Nirvana and Cobain’s rapid rise to fame. While also painting a rather sad, depressing portrait of a man who succumbed to his own personal demons in the end. Which the film takes an unflinching look at while not being afraid to show the dark side of both Kurt and Courtney’s relationship, but also that of Cobain’s tortured soul. Anybody that knows anybody that has an appreciation of music knows how significant Cobain’s contribution was to music. But in the end, despite his undeniable talent, fame, and popularity, really all he was was just another junkie. [B]

Review: ‘Blue Caprice’ 11.10.14

Like I did with “Bastards” 2 reviews ago, I wanted to revisit “Blue Caprice” because like it, it was a film that I really liked and had such a strong reaction to, that I wanted to get a review of it up on the site. Now since it “technically” was released last year and its DVD release date wasn’t until very early on in this, I can’t say that it makes the cut for 2014. So even though considering how amazing I thought it was, I can’t consider it to rank among the films I’ve seen this year since it was clearly a last year release. Which is unfortunate because it certainly would have popped up on one of my 2 end of the year lists.

The film opens with a montage of real footage from the aftermath of the DC Sniper case. A true story that took place in 2002. Cut forward (or backwards) and we are introduced to a young man (played by Tequan Richmond in a brilliant debut performance) who spends his days wandering around the Caribbean island in which he lives in aimlessly who seemingly is lacking any guidance or parental presence in his life. That is until a chance encounter when he meets Isaiah Washington’s character, John, who more or less takes him under his wing and starts to mentor the confused and misguided young man. The young man writes in a diary that’s told in voice over narration where he talks about how enamored he is of his new father type figure. John brings this young boy from the Caribbean with him back to the States. Once there, John schools the young man on his extremely radical doctrine and rhetoric of how he views the world. John introduces him to Ray, played by Tim Blake Nelson, who appears to share similar viewpoints of the world in which John seems to see himself surrounded by and who also teaches the young man how to shoot a rifle. We get a bit more back story on John and why he may have become to align himself with such radical political views on the state of his country. His interactions with the young boy growing steadily from what at first seems like healthy mentor/father figure into a brainwashing extremist. From there their relationship only grows stronger, as does the young boy’s vulnerability and grip that John has on him. Which the story just continues to build and build on from there, resulting in a shocking yet totally believable revelation in its final act.

I guess I didn’t know what I was expecting but the film certainly exceeded whatever that expectation was. It’s a great character study of a true “anarchist” led by the amazingly talented Isaiah Washington in what might be his best performance to date. Also, continuing on the acting thread, is the genuine on-screen relationship between Washington and the young Richmond. It does a great job depicting a man on the brink of insanity, and how and why he eventually winds up going to the lengths that he does. Also, I was equally as impressed by the way in which it was shot as was I with the film’s ominous score. I thought it lended itself perfectly to the images I was being shown on the screen. Which brings me to my next point. There are some images in this film that are so bleak, so incredibly haunting, that they’re difficult to shake after the movie comes to a close. Never has a tracking shot of the mere image of just a car rolling up the highway in slow motion elicited such a threatening emotional response. It’s images like these that were similar to how I felt about the ones in Sean Durkin’s film about cults and buying in to radical beliefs in 2011’s “Martha Marcia May Marlene”. A film that I drew a lot of comparisons to, not only in terms of content, but by which the film made me feel. Along with a great supporting cast of the above mentioned Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Lauren Adams, and a nice cameo by “Kids” (1994) and “The Wire”‘s (2002-2008) Leo Fitzpatrick. This is one highly worth renting and sadly enough one that got overlooked entirely for Washington’s incredible performance in last year’s awards season. This is a gripping, thought-provoking, dark, psychological film based on a true account that will leave you rattled and thinking about for days following. It’s too bad the film got sandwiched right smack in-between 2013 and 2014. Because if it had been released this year I can pretty much guarantee it would be making my Honorable Mentions list, if not for a spot on my coveted top 10 itself.