Thursday, June 24, 2010

Papa Was a Rolling Stone in Daddy Longlegs

DADDY LONGLEGS / Go Get Some Rosemary
(Benny and Josh Safdie, US, 35mm, 98 mins)

Wherever he laid his hat was his home.
--The Temptations

Some people grow up with dads who are, well, dads. It isn't that their fathers don't have other interests or play other roles--husband, son, employee, etc.--it's that "dad" always comes first (at least in the minds of their children). Other people grow up with dads who are characters, with personalities so strong they subsume every other role they play, which doesn't mean they don't try to be good fathers. Just that it's a lot harder.

The character at the center of Daddy Longlegs, the first feature from Benny and Josh Safdie, is that kind of guy (on his own, Josh directed 2008's The Pleasure of Being Robbed.) In fact, that's what bystanders probably say when they see him coming, "Hey! It's that guy." Meet him once, and you'll never forget him. The thing is, you might not want to meet him again. He's like Vincent Gallo's whiny ex-con in Buffalo 66: funny from a distance, but far less so within close proximity.

Played by Frownland director Ronald Bronstein, he's a jittery, loud-mouthed perpetual motion-machine, filled with a combination of crippling insecurity and unbridled bravado. In other words, he's a New Yorker. A projectionist by trade, comic collector by proclivity, he's also a divorced dad with two rambunctious boys, nine-year-old Sage and seven-year-old Frey (played by Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo's sons...Sage and Frey).

The film covers two weeks during which his ex-wife grudgingly hands them over to him. Lenny loves his sons, his sons love him. What could go wrong? As it turns out: everything. But Daddy Longlegs isn't a Judd Apatow comedy where viewers are expected to laugh at his desperate attempts to feed his kids and hang on to his job.

Which isn't to suggest that the film lacks humor (hence the comparison to Buffalo 66, which otherwise follows a different path), but that a sense of unease permeates the proceedings, building to a feeling of dread before ending in a flourish of surrealism.

He may sound like a loner, but Lenny has a girlfriend, which isn't such a bad thing (his ex is also remarried to a man played by Ranaldo). She even likes his kids, but that doesn't mean she's ready to settle down. Nor is Lenny. The minute he gets a break from her and them, he picks up a woman and spends the night with her.

Click here for the trailer

Instead of taking off the next day, he invites himself to join her on a trip upstate. Just as he neglects to explain his domestic situation, she's equally neglectful, resulting in a funny, surprising, and rather lovely adventure. But as in all sequences: disaster lurks around every corner (keep an eye out for Abel Ferrara as "Robber").

And so it goes until the situation becomes almost unbearable. This is the point at which the tone shifts from the anxious arena of Husbands to the nightmarish environs of Eraserhead, to the extent that I had a dream days later in which the David Lynch and Safdie films bled into one and came to life--and I was the freaked-out parental figure (though I should mention that it wasn't my first Eraserhead-inspired dream).
At the press screening, a local critic--who has two kids--arrived late and left early. He didn't miss much more than the credits, but the film clearly rubbed him the wrong way (and he might not have wanted to be there in the first place). He's just one example, but I can imagine others who won't want to spend 98 minutes with a self-defeating character who never stops talking, never stops moving, and trails disaster in his wake like Pigpen trailed clouds of dust (the Safdies say they looked to their own father for inspiration). And yet, the more I think about it, the more I like it.

That Lenny's dilemma invaded my dreams, even though I don't have any kids, indicates the extent to which it got under my skin, making Daddy Longlegs the opposite of escapist entertainment. But if your father, like mine, was a character first, a dad second, you'll probably relate. And maybe you'll even feel a little less alone.

Daddy Longlegs plays the Northwest Film Forum 6/25-7/1 (7 and 9pm). Directors in attendance Fri.-Sun. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. between Pike and Pine. For more information, please call 206-829-7863 or click here. Images from OutNow!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Death Takes a Holiday

GET LOW [***1/2]
(Aaron Schneider, US, 2010, 100 mins.)

One thing about Chicago, people know how to die.
People are dying in bunches, but not around here.

-- Frank Quinn (Bill Murray)

Comedies about death aren't exactly a novel proposition, but Get Low, which draws from a real incident, leaves the gallows humor behind for a lighter touch. After losing his sweetheart 40 years before, Felix (Robert Duvall) has lived like a hermit ever since. With guilt weighing him down, the "crazy ol' nutter" decides to throw a party. As he tells funeral director Frank (Bill Murray in top form), "Time for me to get low."

Frank and his assistant, Buddy (Duvall's Sling Blade co-star Lucas Black), find the re-
quest bizarre--since Felix plans to attend--but they can't afford to turn him down, so they fix him for a suit and post invitations up around Caleb County. Before he leaves this mortal coil, Felix longs to hear the tall tales the town folk have been spreading about him. While preparing for the big day, he reconnects with Mattie (Sissy Spacek), an old flame recently returned to Tennessee. Their encounters, which have a gentle sweetness, encourage him to share the truth he's kept bottled up inside for decad-
es. After that big build-up, his confession feels anti-climactic, but cinematograph-
er-turned-director Schneider's affection for his characters always shines through.

Show time: 6/13, 6:30pm, Cinerema (opens on 7/30).

Endnote: For more information, please visit the
official website. Image from Video Detective.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Soviet Swing Kids


Russia, 2008,
125 mins.)

Everyone has seen a hipster, but no one is one.
-- Douglas Wolk, 2010 EMP Pop Conference

Don't let the title scare you away. Hipsters has nothing to do with
the black-clad indie-rockers who roam around the clubs and bars
of Capitol Hill and Williamsburg, but a group of colorfully-dressed
kids giving the finger to the aesthetic dogma of 1950s-era USSR.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

New dates and times: Hipsters is now playing at the Egyptian Theater
(801 E Pine St.) at 4:05, 7, and 9:45pm through 12/8 (and 1pm on 12/4).

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Our guide into this eye-popping world--think plaid and floral prints in
chartreuse and fuschia--is Mels (Anton Shagin), a Moscow lad who lives
like a good little communist until he meets pretty Polly (Lilya 4-Ever's
Oksana Akinshina), after which he poufs his hair into a sky-scraping
pompadour, secures a garish suit, and turns into Mel. Soon, he's hitting
the town with Polly and her pals, like Fred (standout Maksim Matveev),
who thrill to the illicit sounds of Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker.

Since this is a
musical com-
edy, not a doc-
udrama, Mel
learns to play
the saxophone
in a matter of
minutes, thus
securing his
position as a
part of this
Russian rat
pack. As the
elusive Polly starts to yield to his overtures, Mel's old comrades plot to destroy the hipster community once and for all, but bigger forces are at play.

If the scenario sounds political, director Valery Todorovsky (The Land
of the Deaf
) elevates fashion, dance moves, and romantic entanglements
over any larger statements about the Soviet regime. Sure, it was repres-
sive, but so were the hypocritical worlds depicted in Rebel Without a
and Grease, the sort of touchstones his us-against-them story
suggests, along with Hairspray, Swingers, and Leningrad Cowboys
Go America
. Hipsters doesn't dig as deep as it could--and probably
should--but it's frequently quite spectacular. Definitely recommended.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Original SIFF '11 show times: 6/10, 6:30pm, Egyptian Theat-
er, and 6/12, 2:30pm, Pacific Place. Director in attendance.

Endnote: Todorovsky will also be at the 6/12 screening of The
Land of the Deaf
(12pm, Pacific Place). As always, dates and tim-
es are subject to change. Please visit the official website for more
information. Images from Stockholm International Film Festival.