Monday, March 4, 2013

Four Documentaries - and "Stoker"

Caesar Must Die
Genius On Hold

A Place at the Table


"Caesar Must Die" is part documentary, part theatrical staging. In it, lifers and other hard-timers in the high-security wing of Rome's Rebibbia Prison audition for and enact Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." There are some powerful moments, and a wistfully sad closing in which one con, led back to his cell after the troupe's triumphant performance, notes that he never felt imprisoned until he discovered art. Unfortunately, even at 76 minutes, I had trouble keeping my eyelids up.

"Genius On Hold" is a piece of garbage that turns the fascinating life stories of Walter Shaw, who invented call forwarding, conference calling, the speakerphone and more before dying penniless, and his son, who became one of America's most wanted jewel thieves, into a totally toothless and ridiculous rant about corporatism and greed. Director Gregory Marquette has slapped this film together like an undergrad writing his senior thesis in one night - using and reusing animations showing Shaw's patents at inapposite points and setting intense interviews about life-changing moments to laughably inapt soft jazz. Frank Langella should be mortified to have lent his voice to the egregious narration, with more shifting tenses than Carter took little liver pills and a heavy-handedness that's nothing short of an insult to the audience's intelligence.

The late New York City mayor Ed Koch hovers over the winding documentary "Koch," lifting it up on the strength of his personality, humor and joie de vivre. It would have benefited from a clearer chronology, but the larger-than-life Koch makes delightful company.

Best of this week's bunch is the hunger documentary "A Place at the Table," a solid piece of infotainment that cogently elucidates, through the use of relevant case studies and knowledgeable experts, how hunger and obesity can coexist within communities, families, even the same person. The modern hunger emergency is one not of food shortage but of poverty, with even two-earner households forced to stretch the dollar by purchasing processed foods heavy on sugar and calories and light on nutritional value. 85% of the USDA's subsidies go to corn, soy, and processed wheat; fresh fruits and vegetables remain, for many, an unaffordable luxury.

I went with two friends to see "Stoker" yesterday. The first turned to me after one plot twist and said, "So stupid." The other asked, "How could Nicole Kidman make a movie like this?" I'm sorry, but I don't agree with them. I couldn't turn my head away from "Stoker," a tone poem of fetishistic psychosexuality that holds its steely gaze - and one of the most beautiful pictures I've seen in a year's time. Several images linger in the mind a day later: hatbox-sized red and yellow ice cream containers that wouldn't have looked out of place in "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg"; the strands of Kidman's hair as Mia Wasikowska brushes them (in a bedroom that seems to be half jungle) and they evanesce into stalks of grain; the sight of Matthew Goode (Colin Firth's lover in "A Single Man") pulling off his belt, loop by erotic loop; Wasikowska in the shower, bringing herself to climax at the precise moment of a remembered strangulation. "Stoker" is fucked up and gorgeous and silly and entrancing and one thing's for sure, you haven't seen it before.

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