Dirty Recommendations and Warnings for Your Life

Just two articles posted this week: A review of Dan in Real Life and a discussion of the The Altered Charlie Chaplin Problem.I don’t have many recommendations or warnings this week–at least following my new rules. So I’m altering the rules and listing movies that are continuing to play, or are in wide release. But only if I want to.

And don’t forget all the festivals this week. There’s a lot of them. I’ll list those, as well.

Dirty Country, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Friday. Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher of Found Footage Fame (or Found Footage obscurity) built this documentary around Larry Pierce, a small-town factory worker with a side job writing and recording joyfully obscene country western songs. He infuses his songs–with titles like “You Make My Peter Stand Up” and “I Like to Fuck”–with catchy tunes, clever rhymes, a real joy of sex, and what’s clearly a deep and romantic love for his wife. The movie takes him through bad times (he lost his job while the documentary was in production) and good ones (his first real concert), and introduces us to other singers specializing in dirty music. I rarely wish a film was longer, but Dirty Country could really have used more concert footage. Good, clean, dirty fun.

Dr. Zhivago, Cerrito, Saturday, 4:45, Sunday, 3:45. David Lean’s follow-up to Lawrence of Arabia lacks that masterpiece’s depth, and Omar Shariff is horribly miscast, but it’s still a spectacular epic. On the other hand, I’ve never seen it on the big screen, so it might be a better film than I recall.

Lust, Caution, various theaters, ongoing. Ang Lee doesn’t alter the conventions of the Hitchcockian thriller much in Lust, Caution, but he deepens those conventions, turning the thriller into a study of a young woman (newcomer Wei Tang as Wang Jiazhi) who must turn herself into someone she is not in order to seduce a man and set him up for assassination. Her target (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) is a monster–a fascist collaborator who never appears to regret his actions. But he’s a human monster, and there’s a sense that his work is taking a psychic toll. He’s cold, remote, and emotionally cut off from those around him. No wonder he falls for the beautiful young woman who comes into his life. Yes, its rated NC-17 for graphic sex scenes, and yes, those scenes enhance the plot. but if you go to Lust, Caution looking for arousal, you’re going to be disappointed. Go looking for a compelling story, insightful characters, and masterful filmmaking. Click here for my full review.

Dan in Real Life, various theaters, ongoing. Director/co-writer Peter Hedges put a major comedy star (Steve Carell) into a conventional comic plot (widower with adorable kids falls in love with his brother’s girlfriend), then plays it for real emotions without worrying much about laughs. Instead of a comedy, he’s made a wistful slice of life’s joys and pains, filled with people who remind you of your own friends and family. He doesn’t take the easy way out. When a character does something surprising, it’s an interesting complication, not a convenient plot device. The brother’s a nice guy, not a jerk. In fact, the whole family may be the nicest, most supportive, and least dysfunctional family in an American comedy since Mickey Rooney stopped playing Andy Hardy. And yet, on those not-so-rare occasions when Dan in Real Life chooses to make you laugh, it’s unforced, natural, and comes from a place deep within yourself. Click here for my full review.

How to Cook Your Life, various theaters, ongoing. Cooking and Buddhism make a tasty combination in Doris Dörrie’s documentary. And in the world view of its subject, Edward Espe Brown–Zen master, gourmet chef, and author of The Tassajara Bread Book. The camera does little more than follow Brown as he gives cooking classes, discusses the importance of thinking about what you eat, and drops pearls of wisdom like “If you have a little bit of shit on your nose, everything smells bad.” At 100 minutes, How to Cook Your Life runs a bit long. Near the end, I found myself checking my watch in a far-from-Zen mindset. But when I left the theater, I wanted to renounce junk food and spend the rest of my life eating only wholesome foods made from scratch. Click here for my full review.

And keep these festivals in mind: