Tuesday, May 3, 2011


50 Films/50 States Part 5.

I have trouble dissecting the eccentricities of the human mind sometimes. Even though I am a card carrying member of this so-called 'race', I find that many of my fellow man, woman and child things possess a measured degree of character differentiation that sets them at sharp odds to my given perspective. Because of my nerdy predilection for cinema, I often find myself scrapping for clues to the how, what and why of the human mechanism within the confines of the motion picture medium. I got several choice examples of what I'm on about right here, plus it will serve to knock off a few more states in the process.
Take, for handy instance, the irresistible, eye sore of deliberate tragedy that is the life of Jonathon Sharkey. Here is a feller so bent in the direction of wrong that he can justify maintaining a lifestyle mash-up of blood drinking, neo-satanism and all around pagan/goth/macho posturing while fostering such lofty political ambitions as running for the part of Governor of the state of Minnesota! His bold and (some might add) dunder headed attempts at such serve as a sort of spring board for an awkward yet functionally amusing, shot for the bare minimum documentary/case study titled, in all fair taste, Impaler.
Said title hails from Sir. Sharkey's blunt platform of discipline in relation to a wide range of criminals and lowlifes. Sharkey states plainly, early on in the film, that any and all terrorists, drug dealers and baby rapers (for scant example) will be subject to blunt force trial, torture and eventually decapitation and impalement. This warped unit sees himself as a bastion of hope for his beloved America (Sharkey also holds future plans of a Presidential run, something that should fitfully suit another film, likely already in the works) and not some weak kneed failure like George W. Bush (himself a ripe target for Sharkey-esque impalement).

All this rant savvy 'look at me, I'm weird!' type nonsense leads to, really is a patchwork dissertation on the punishing particulars of living under the grip of mental illness. In this instance, the filmmakers (Texas native W. Tray White being the main man) have gleaned acute evidence of this man's suffocating urge to dance in the proverbial spotlight. You see folks, in addition to his proclaimed status as a devil adoring, vampiric lord, Jon claims to have plied his natural genius in such arenas as Nascar, pro-wrestling and Law (for a more expansive rundown on all this, check his IMDB profile- http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2652647/bio- it'll enrich your life! no really!). Of course, all of this grows more and more pathetic as the film strays from in house chats with Sharkey and his school bus driver lady friend in snowbound Princeton, MN to outside parties (ex-spouses, pals and legal officials) who tend to highlight the copious holes in Sharkey's train of logic. Overall, not an unbearable slice of 'you can't make this shit up' style of human interest reportage. Plus, it always does my heart good to see any form of social commentary in relation to that lake and lousy sports team saturated state with the often odd-duck political representatives (Jesse 'The Body' Ventura, Al Franken, Brett Favre) that resides just to the west of us. Impaler can be readily snatched off of netflix...probably about all the effort one needs to expend on it.

A man of equally potent, yet immensely more positive, self design is humble, God fearing, workaholic South Carolina resident Pearl Fryer. The man is a self taught topiary wonderkind and honed local institution who finds himself in front of the camera lens for the quint little feature A Man Named Pearl. Like Impaler, this film serves as a small scale (though more effectively rendered) intro to a genuine American curio at large just off the beaten path. The precise setting is Bishopville (pop. 3,600-ish), located (in Lee county, what's said to be the poorest county in the state) out in the open spaces between the more sizable state populaces of Florance and Columbia. It is here that ol' Mr. Fryer has carved and maintained one of his state's (and most certainly his town's) more esteemed attractions.

Since relocating to Bishopville in the mid 1970s, Pearl has managed to stun and bewilder his mostly simple and set in their ways neighbors by transforming the yard of his domicile into an organic gallery of sprawling art. Pearl toils tirelessly at sculpting, trimming and nurturing the many elaborate designs in his 3+ acre garden that has earned a word of mouth legend that attracts bus loads of tourists to this sleepy little stop off the road that may have otherwise never even registered on most folks' radar. This ongoing life's work now works to solidify this community and keep it healthy. Mr. Pearl lends his knowledge and a shade of his potent work ethic to area (and, sometimes, statewide) children and students, attempting to instill in them a level of self value that can only grow and mature along with them. As a character, Pearl is a gentle, labor worn yet vigorous individual with an even balance of traditional rural morals and free spirit impulse. His thick east-southern drawl and wiry, lanky stance make for one memorable screen figure. Credit to directors Scott Galloway and Brent Pierson for collaborating on a warm and informative piece that always respects this southern gentleman and true artist for every quirky aspect that fuels him. Well shot and economic, A Man Named Pearl never wares out its welcome. Available from the good folks at Docurama, don't believe me? Check here- www.docurama.com/docurama/a-man-named-pearl-dvd-cd-set
A slight bit of pace changing for this next entry in that it is not so much a standard issue feature, per se, but more of an epic and on going small screen offering that breaks down the graphic dramatics of one urban locale yet plays it off as wholly symbolic of many of the other cityscapes in the given region.
Brick City, as the title suggests, is a deep rooted delineation of the largest city (Newark) in what is commonly passed off as the Garden State (New Jersey). Now, I know I could have easily picked this state off of my convoluted 50/50 checklist by virtue of some dispensable dick, tits and fart joke addled Kevin Smith movie or, maybe even something a tad more upscale, say the Louis Malle opus Atlantic City or....hell, there's even a movie called Garden State .
Nah brah, I'm sticking to the real shit. This here Brick City thing is a Sundance Channel backed series (season one covered here, season two recently completed) that covers the modern day quest of positivity obsessed mayor Cory Booker to restore order and integrity to the long impoverished and crime ravaged city he now oversees. Booker and his all star team of do good types and various, assorted low income street citizens work though the tension and turmoil of urban renewal and the challenges of slapping order over top of the kind of embedded chaos that doesn't conveniently subside.

The scope of this subject matter is intricately addressed within the project's 260 minute sprawl. Subplots, asides and effectively placed injections of humor work as second and third tier support systems to the greater central ambitions of community, family, economy and the cancerous detriment that the city's ever present criminal element brings (murder's the word, ya heard?!). At the front of it all is Booker, the bright light of hope or frustrating pain in the metro ass (all depending on which talking head's speechifying one buys into). The mayor and his tireless quest to reverse his city's negative level of notoriety and maintain the sanity of both himself and his loyal crew (gruff Director of Police Garry McCarthy most notably) veers back and forth from the cruel reality of gang related homicide, which is haphazard and unyielding, to a cheerful downtown distraction for the positive like a visiting big ticket circus troupe. Intermixed with Booker's renovation campaign are the immediately related struggles of several reformed gang banger cum social activist types, feuding politicos and even a feisty lawyer pulling to save one key (and very pregnant) young lady out of jail.
This truly is what one might legitimately refer to as 'quality television', the dearth of such stuff on the small screen in recent years (shows like 'Lost' and 'Dexter' not withstanding) makes a rare breakthrough like this one here ever more special. The team of Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin have assembled and finessed a staggering amount of material into a still fat and epic dissertation on the pains of urban discipline and the harsh truths of classism and social/economic imbalance that could well serve as a metaphor for most sizable cities in the state of New Jersey (I've been to Newark and been told by those in the know there various 'ghetto' anecdotes, with all the worst signs pointing to Camden). The show was first aired on the Sundance Channel but can easily be obtained in the ever dependable DVD format with a sprinkling of bonus features including input from executive producer Forest Whitaker (one can also obtain further background nuggets on Cory Booker care a defacto prequel of sorts titled Street Fight and covering Booker's initial trial and error attempts to become the Newark mayor-par excellence). So, without fail, you must get your Jersey learn-on the real way, track the first, five part, season of Brick City at all costs starting with this website; firstrunfeatures.com
Backing away from documentary overkill, it is time now to pay respects to a film I find is one of the best and most complete experiences of recent years. That and it all takes place in and all over my birth state of California. Paul Thomas Anderson's fifth feature, There Will Be Blood (Paramount Vantage) is, for me, a complete beast of a film that executes on such a high and consistent level of sheer film making finesse that reminds me once again what being a film geek is all about.
This is the movie that finally made full and robust usage of that most particular and fascinating of quality modern screen actors, Daniel Day-Lewis, that possessive screen presence that made the most of his place in such otherwise underwhelming A-list affairs as Gangs of New York and In the Name of the Father. Here, Lewis is given no restriction and the picture is his to dominate and he never disappoints, plowing through an epic (158 minute) saga of gusto, greed and the savage means to which the main character, an oil obsessed entrepreneur named Daniel Plainview hell bent on monopolizing the turn of the century California landscape, pursues his meal ticket, no matter the social, moral or spiritual cost. Plainview uses methods of keen manipulation and smooth oratory skills to rest area folk assured that his goals are lofty and genuine enough to prove beneficial toward them and their related communities in the long run. Meanwhile, he proceeds to dig and drill his way toward increasing wealth and a rapidly distancing attitude toward the very nature of mankind. Plainview finds direct conflict in the shape of several pesky, intrusive bodies such as a dodgy, alleged long lost sibling (Kevin J. O'Connor, hailing from, you guessed it- Fond Du Lac!) as well as an equally shifty young vessel for the good lord's word, a preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) who ultimately shares in Plainview's descent to the very bitter end.
What P. T. Anderson has done with this film, by far his best, is fashioned a magnificent, fully realized work of art, not simply dispensable commercialized 'entertainment' as fodder that passes by the eyes well enough without ever entering the brain for any substantial measure of time. He has even surpassed his previous, very good, Robert Altman in the time of Tarantino style fables Boogie Nights and Magnolia in terms of storytelling, strength of character and virtually every facet of technical prowess one can think of. The film looks grand, is cut great and boasts one immaculate sound mix topped, above all, by the eerie/beautiful minimalist score from Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. Yes, my friends, this is, as in the parlance of the drunken youth of this sad modern hell, the shit. Eternal props to Anderson, D. D. Lewis and the rest of the There Will Be Blood commune. This is the perfect mix of light and dark, art and actuality, elegance and cruelty. Probably not the type of graphic banter many will agree upon in the direction of this film but, no matter say I, this is a glorious slab of misanthropic poetry set to separate the deep thinker with the keen sense of cinema from the gaggle of 'bros' in vapid search of the next big Hangover.
Ugh, all out of words. Next month, more movies, more states, more brotherly love for one and all!