Kalamazoo Film Society

Reviews of our coming features

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20,00 DAYS ON EARTH

Reviewed by Rob Nelson in Variety

An aptly intense and innovative study of pioneering rock poet Nick Cave, “20,000 Days on Earth” playfully disguises itself as fiction while more than fulfilling the requirements of a biographical documentary. As if that weren’t ambitious enough, co-directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who wrote the movie with Cave, add ornately detailed production design and gorgeous widescreen images to the mix, defying the rough-edged, caught-on-the-fly feel of most rock docus. Cave fans will flip for the music-filled pic, which won two jury awards at Sundance, while inevitably strong reviews and word of mouth will lure a larger crowd.

At times, “20,000 Days on Earth” comes on like a modern film noir, with the black-clad Cave as a brooding antihero spouting hardboiled narration. “Songwriting is about counterpoint,” he says in an early voiceover, “like letting a child into the same room as a Mongolian psychopath or something.” Scenes of Cave driving his car through cold and rainy Brighton on the south coast of the U.K. suggest interior fantasies, with people from his past — actor Ray Winstone, singer Kylie Minogue, former bandmate Blixa Bargeld — suddenly materializing for dramatic conversations about life and art.

In place of the standard interviewer, the film has a therapist (Darian Leader), an idea so perfect it seems obvious in hindsight. The shrink’s questions — about Cave’s late father, his former status as a junkie and his earliest memory of the female body — enable the documentary to attain a psychological dimension in the purest possible manner. So, too, Cave’s visit to his archive, stuffed with old photos and notebooks, allows for the Australian artist’s 40-year history to emerge in a way that feels fresh rather than formulaic.

Among the archive’s artifacts is Cave’s comic last will and testament, in which he requests that all his money be given to the “Nick Cave Memorial Museum.” Surely some viewers will be put off by the alt-rock legend’s seemingly endless self-regard, although the film’s climactic concert footage of Cave and the Bad Seeds performing explosive renditions of “Higgs Boson Blues,” “Jubilee Street” and “Stagger Lee” at the Sydney Opera House is well timed to allow for catharsis after so much formal control and highbrow talk.

The pic’s tech package is simply astounding, with Erik Wilson’s cinematography and Jonathan Amos’ editing both razor-sharp. Joakim Sundstrom’s sound mix is as dynamic as Cave’s fiery music deserves.

Till Real Estate Do You Part

Reviewed by A.O. Scott in New York Times

From the first moments we see them together — waking, washing and dressing in the Manhattan apartment they have shared for decades — it is clear that Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a walking illustration of the phrase “old married couple.” They know each other so well and have adapted, graciously and sometimes a little fractiously, to each other’s peculiarities. State law, at long last, has caught up with the reality of their relationship: The first scenes in Ira Sachs’s “Love Is Strange” take place on the morning of George and Ben’s marriage, which is solemnized in an alfresco ceremony followed by a relaxed and lively party at home.

But the couple’s bliss is disrupted by bigotry that is at once unexpected and sadly unsurprising. George loses his job teaching music at a Roman Catholic school because his marriage amounts to a public avowal of his sexuality and is thus a violation of the terms of his contract. The loss of his income — Ben is retired — means they can no longer afford their mortgage, and so must sell their co-op and rely on the hospitality of some of the people we know from the wedding, who are all eager to help.

This being New York, nobody has enough space for both of them. The one relative who might has a big house in Poughkeepsie, which is out of the question for these nondriving Manhattanites. Mr. Sachs may be fudging reality a bit to get his story moving, but it would be gauche to object too strenuously. And so Ben moves to the airy Brooklyn apartment where his nephew, Elliot (Darren Burrows), lives with his wife, Kate (Marisa Tomei), and their teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). George accepts a spot on the living room couch of his former neighbors Ted (Cheyenne Jackson) and Roberto (Manny Perez), who are both New York City police officers.

Various forms of awkwardness ensue. George, whose tastes run to Chopin and quiet evenings with a book, finds himself adrift in a household prone to impromptu parties and loud Dungeons & Dragons sessions. His hosts are unfailingly kind (and he appreciates being introduced to the pleasures of “Game of Thrones”), but also a bit clueless about the extent of his loneliness and his need for peace.

Ben’s situation is more complicated and is really at the heart of this sensitive, acutely observed, resolutely nonmelodramatic film. Though he tries to be courteous and considerate, his presence starts to annoy Joey, who sleeps on the bunk below, and Kate, a novelist whose daily writing routine is disrupted by Ben’s chatty, needy presence.

Ben tries to mind his own business, but latent tensions and fissures in the household seem to pop into relief when he is around, and impertinent questions start to percolate in the viewer’s mind. What’s going on with Joey and his friend Vlad (Eric Tabach)? And for that matter, what’s going on with Kate and Elliot, whose interactions seem increasingly strained and chilly?

One of the strengths of this wise and lovely film is that it declines fully to answer these and other questions. The story of George and Ben seems to have been plucked from a meadow of narrative possibilities; an interesting movie could have been made about everybody in this one. “Love Is Strange” is Mr. Sachs’s fifth feature as a director, and its title would suit almost all of them. The strangeness here may have less to do with the affection that binds the central couple than with the ties of kinship and friendship between them and the rest of the characters.

But Mr. Sachs is an especially careful student of the odd rhythms and quiet intensities of couplehood, both gay and straight. (“Married Life,” his 2008 comedy noir, also has a title that could cover a lot of his oeuvre.) Mr. Lithgow and Mr. Molina, seasoned and subtle actors, beautifully capture the small pleasures and petty irritations Ben and George live through, and also their pride at having survived, together, for so long.

Mr. Sachs, who wrote the script with Mauricio Zacharias, casts an occasional discreet glance backward at the post-Stonewall history of gay men in New York, a complicated chronicle of tragedy, resilience, struggle and fun. But that history nonetheless feels implicit in every frame, infusing what might otherwise be a touching anecdote about real estate troubles and houseguest etiquette with gravity and grace.

The impact of the final scenes — tears are highly probable — comes from the curious, cumulative sense of intimacy. By the time the movie is over, you feel as if the people in it were friends you know well enough to tire of, and to miss terribly when they go away.

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KFS contact information

Kalamazoo Film Society
PO Box 51655
Kalamazoo MI 49005
USA

E-mail:
info@kalfilmsociety.net

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