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TODAY

Saturday, July 20

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Airbags

Hey everyone. I've been traveling a lot in the last week, so I've missed more screenings than I can count, and I've essentially lost Week Two of the brilliant European Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center (but you should not). Over a five-day weekend last week, I attended the SXSW Film Festival, and managed to catch about 15 films in my short stay. As I write this I'm in Las Vegas for work and fun, with a tiny stop at ShoWest, which just happens to be taking place while I'm out here. If you want to read about my practically impromptu adventures in Vegas and my brief conversations with Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr., take a look on Ain't It Cool News.

Paranoid Park

The recent films of writer-director Gus Van Sant have been quiet masterpieces. His award-winning meditation on school violence, Elephant, is one of my favorite films in the last 10 years. Last Days, his stark and haunting speculation on the final hours of Kurt Cobain's life, has problems, but it still managed to truly move me when all was said and done. These newer works contrast and complement earlier works like Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho. I'm sure much more famous names would line up to work with Van Sant, but that doesn't interest him now. He seems to believe the in order to convey a sense of realism, he needs to work with relatively or totally unknown actor and non-actors. The results have been remarkable.

Paranoid Park is another examination of teen violence, but this time he's taken the action outside of schools and placed it in the streets. Setting his loose, nonlinear tale in the skater-punk community, Van Sant spotlights one particular quiet kid named Alex (Gabe Nevins), who may or may not have been involved in the brutal murder of a railyard security guard. Scenes of the police questioning various skater kids at Alex's school are intercut with Alex and his friends going to the skater park known as Paranoid Park, where he watches the more experienced skaters do their thing. He's not that good on his board, and his admiration for these older, more skilled riders shines through.

Cinematographer Christopher Doyle (who works primarily on Hong Kong films, including those by Wong Kar Wai) mixes up the stunning 35mm look of the film with more amateur-looking Super 8 footage of skaters doing their thing. If its nothing else, Paranoid Park is lovely to look at. Nevins in an interesting actor. He mumbles a lot, but it's never impossible to tell exactly what he's saying and thinking. His tentative puppy love with a girl from his school is as sweet as his role in the guard's murder is unsetting. In the end, the murder and even Alex's story doesn't seem nearly as interesting to Van Sant as the outcasts at the skate park. This family environment keeps many of these kids alive and functional, even as drug and alcohol and misbehavior tend to rule the day. The tone of the film reminded me of Larry Clark's Wassup Rockers, also a movie about skating kids forming their own wandering version of a family. Paranoid Park is a better film that Clark's because Van Sant infuses his characters with a fatalistic sense of the tragic. This is a beautiful, melancholy effort that leaves you hopeful if for no other reason than the film got made in the first place, and these long disregarded characters get a voice for one of the few times in their lives.

Married Life

To talk too much about the plot of director/co-writer Ira (Forty Shades of Blue) Sachs' latest work is to take all the fun out of these pulpy tale set in the late 1940s about an ordinary — some might say boring — businessman (the remarkable Chris Cooper), who decides one day that he must kill his wife (Patricia Clarkson) rather than leave him for his mistress (Rachel McAdams). Makes sense, right?

Our storyteller through this strange and wonderful American fable is the husband's best friend (Pierce Brosnan), who plays a major role in the fates of all of these characters and ultimately might have the best perspective on the complexities of these happenings than anyone. Unlike typical stories about middle-aged men and their mistresses, Harry (Cooper) is in love with Kay (McAdams) because she is more like a companion than a passionate lover (despite her bleached blonde hair and stunning curves). Harry's wife Pat (Clarkson) is still a sexual being that Harry knows he can't completely satisfy or match in terms of her desires, so he retreats to Kay for the simpler things in life. However, Harry is convinced that Pat could not live without him if he left her, so he decides that killing her would be more merciful, and the film gets more bizarre and fun from there. It's thrilling to see these four fantastic actors just do their thing. Brosnan, in particular, really impressed me with his tempered performance. He discovers something about Pat in the film and has no idea what to do with the information. The tension and discomfort in the scene is unbearable and quite hilarious. Cooper (Adaptation, The Bourne Identity, American Beauty) is equally great in a rare lead role, playing a buttoned-up dweeb convinced he's in control of the situation but utterly flummoxed when it comes to carrying out the actual murder.

Married Life is one of those rare movies that can be examined and analyzed on several levels, as a look and reaction to the changing sex roles in American society in the era, a commentary on marriage, or a play on what could have easily been turned into a film noir-type story. Sachs balances the film's twisting plot with a impressive skill and dexterity. There's a lot going on here, most of it below the surface, but there's never a moment where we don't know exactly what everyone is thinking. And in the end, everyone gets exactly what they deserve. How's that for suspense? I admired the heck out of this gem of a film, which opens today at Pipers Alley.

Let's Get Lost

Just a quick note about a devastating reissue opening today at the Music Box Theatre, 1989's Let's Get Lost is probably one of my top five favorite music documentaries of all time. Directed by fashion photographer Bruce Weber, the black-and-white film profiles jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker, one of the most photogenic players of all time, and one music's most tragic life stories. Weber braids archival footage of Baker in his prime with interviews from admirers, fellow players, and friends. But the most startling aspect of Let's Get Lost are the interviews conducted with Baker himself, hopelessly wrecked by a heroin addiction, which ultimately took his life right around the time of the film's release. The music is simply gorgeous in this Oscar-nominated documentary, and the story is a spectacular disaster. I have no idea why the film has been restored right now or why it's being reintroduced on the art house circuit, but consider yourself lucky that it is. See this stunning work on the big screen.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to steve@steveatthemovies.com.

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