Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rich Hill, Dinosaur 13, A Master Builder

Rich Hill
A Master Builder

Dinosaur 13

A few capsule reviews on worthwhile choices from the art house:

Andrew Droz Palermo's and Tracy Droz Tragos' documentary "Rich Hill" tracks three adolescent boys growing up in poverty in small town Missouri. There's Appachey West, an old-before-his-time, cigarette-smoking seventh grader who can't make it through a school day without getting into a fight; learning-disabled Harley Hood, on a pharmacy's worth of medications, whose mother sits in prison for attempting to kill the man who raped him as a boy. The heart of the movie belongs to Andrew Jewell, a good, smart kid, capable of mature and insightful observations, who rattles off the dozens of places his family (bedridden mom and can't-keep-a-steady-job dad) has moved. Palermo and Tragos offer nothing in the way of comment or perspective; it's strictly slices of life. But you'll find yourself increasingly caught up with these young men and concerned for their welfare…In the documentary "Dinosaur 13," director Todd Miller sets out the sprawling saga of "Sue," the nearly intact Tyrannosaurus rex now (rightly or wrongly) on exhibit at Chicago's Field Museum. The story has more twists than Highway 1 to Big Sur, from the exhilaration of her original discovery (by eponym Susan Hendrickson), to the painstaking process of extraction and preservation by Hendrickson's employer, Black Hills Institute, led by paleontologist Peter Larson, to the government's seizure of Sue under claim of improper removal from tribal land (thereby ripping the heart out of tiny Hill City, South Dakota), to the scurrilous half-breed who sold Sue to Larson for five grand and then said he didn't (and walked off with the almost $8 million in Sotheby's auction proceeds), to a grossly overcharged criminal prosecution of Larson and Black Hills that ended with Larson getting two years (in the same prison as Timothy McVeigh) for a customs violation (failing to list on an incoming declaration the cash he had disclosed outbound). "Come over here, look at this," one guard said to another. "Failure to fill out forms? You must have pissed somebody off real good." Miller adverts to some questions (such as possible juror misconduct) without resolving them, but the story's too compelling to miss…As Rex Reed might say, I surprised myself by liking Jonathan Demme's "A Master Builder," an accessible and thought-provoking Ibsen adaptation based on the stage production by AndrĂ© Gregory, who takes a small early part here as Knut Brovik, the architect who mentored and soon found himself eclipsed by Master Builder Halvard Solness (Wallace Shawn). Brovik's son Ragnar (Jeff Biehl) has trained with Solness for years and wants to step out of his shadow, but Solness uses every tool at his disposal to keep Ragnar, his own lassitudinous wife (Julie Hagerty), and his secretary/mistress, Kaya (Emily Cass McDonnell) - who happens to be Ragnar's longtime girlfriend - in line. The effect of Gregory's uniquely time-consuming rehearsal method is anything but naturalism; some of the line readings, especially by Hagerty, are seemingly intentionally stilted. I've never been the president of the Wally Shawn fan club, despite his appearance in one of my all-time faves, "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills" (I hark back to the inimitable critic John Simon heckling Shawn from the podium of an awards dinner: "Shut up, you fool!"), but he commits himself fully to the role and finds layers of meaning. Lisa Joyce impresses as Hilde Vangel, the young woman whose brief encounter with Solness brings her to his sick bed a decade later, causing discomfort to all. Here's recommended fare for those remaining few who still seek more from the cinema than mere escapism.

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