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Friday Film


Review: Grizzly Man


Majestic and chilling, Werner Herzog’s latest documentary would be a
must-see no matter when it opened, but it happens to be arriving at a
particularly auspicious moment — smack in the middle of March of the Penguins‘ determined waddle into the upper reaches of the box-office top ten. It’s not hard to understand why audiences are responding to that Antarctic “love story,” which anthropomorphizes animals as strenuously as any Disney cartoon and promotes the reassuring notion that nature is strange and wonderful, if somewhat forbidding. Grizzly Man, a film of greater artistry and (alas) much more limited appeal, functions as a grim, respectful rejoinder to such coziness, telling the cautionary tale of a man who went into the wilderness seeking friends and wound up serving as dinner.

    Timothy Treadwell was an amateur conservationist and aspiring TV personality who spent thirteen consecutive summers camped in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, communing with the grizzlies (or so he imagined) and confessing his hopes, fears and frustrations to an imaginary audience by way of his video camera. With his boyish face, blond locks and surfer-hippie demeanor, he comes across in these recordings as endearingly naive, although a few troubling outbursts flirt with dementia. One inadvertently prescient shot finds him rhapsodizing about a favorite bear, employing cutesy nicknames and breathless baby talk, even as the animal creeps up steathily behind him like Norman Bates approaching the motel shower. In the summer of 2003, Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Hugenard, were killed and partially devoured by one of the grizzlies he’d sworn to protect.

    Treadwell’s self-dramatizing, often spectacular footage is inherently compelling; virtually anyone could have fashioned a worthwhile movie from it. Herzog does much more. In his hands, Grizzly Man becomes an equivocal tug-of-war between a director’s admiration for his subject’s quixotic adventures (“I have seen this kind of madness before on a movie set,” Herzog wryly intones at one point) and a staunch pragmatist’s disdain for the blinkered, gullible worldview of the born idealist. With great respect, appropriate awe and not an ounce of cynicism, Herzog rejects Treadwell’s concept of other fauna as welcoming and benign; looking at bears called “Mr. Chocolate” and “Aunt Melissa,” he sees not companions but aliens, creatures with minds as remote and inaccessible as the mountains they live beneath. He’s taken potentially sensationalistic material and transformed it into a potent, disquieting meditation on the nature of nature itself. If that sounds too heady, hey, the penguins are awful cute. — Mike D’Angelo

Review: 2046
A Wong Kar-Wai film is the cinematic equivalent of an ice-cream binge for the heartbroken. In Happy Together, his lovers are trapped in a romantic clinch, pacing out a tragic tango, unable to start over, unable to let go. Other couples burn to forget each other in Ashes of Time; mark their memories in indelible minutes in Days of Being Wild; look for love without an expiration date in Chungking Express. Love in his films is often failed or unfulfilled, but gorgeously so — perfect viewing for those who fancy themselves artistic and heartsick.

    The Hong Kong filmmaker’s latest, 2046, is no exception. Middle-aged Mr. Chow (Tony Leung), who advertises his caddishness by means of a Rhett Butler mustache, scratches out two different works over the course of the film. One is a smutty drawing about his numerous sexual dalliances; the other a science-fiction novel about the year 2046, an unchanging realm where people try to reclaim the past, but from which there may be no escape. If love has become a hell of other people, Chow seems to discover, perhaps it is best to imagine oneself alone. — Noy Thrupkaew
Review: PTU
How come most directors who compose lovely images can’t tell a story to save their lives? Take the Hong Kong action director Johnnie To. His eye-catching visual style, on fine display in his crime flick PTU, is so stark, so vivid, so arresting . . . we might not even notice that most of the time we have no idea what’s actually happening on screen. PTU tells the story of a chubby, seemingly incompetent Hong Kong police sergeant whose search for his missing revolver puts him in the middle of an impending gang war; his situation is complicated even further by the presence of warring police factions. (The plot is vaguely reminiscent of the Akira Kurosawa classic Stray Dog.) All the pieces seem to be in place for a crackerjack crime thriller.

    And what’s on screen, at least visually speaking, is often truly epic. To is to the Hong Kong crime thriller what Sergio Leone was to the Western: His style alternates between grandiose long shots and intense close-ups, and he has a great eye for mythic gestures. But he appears to have little understanding of character or plot. PTU lacks the connective tissue needed to hold its elaborately staged sequences together — it’s a virtual compendium of irrational actions and annoyingly brusque dialogue, held together by a flimsy series of occurrences that ultimately can’t hold the film together. But boy, does it look great. — Bilge Ebiri
Date DVD #45: The Astaire and Rogers Collection
Peacocks shake their tailfeathers to attract a mate. We shake ours for the same reason, as you can clearly see in the new box sets out this week. There’s poppin’ and lockin’ a’plenty in The Breakin’ Collection (yes, there was a Breakin’ 2), and some of film’s most famous dance sequences in The Astaire and Rogers Collection: Volume One.

    The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers set collects five new-to-DVD remasters of the pair’s most legendary musicals. The set collects four of their mid-1930’s films: Top Hat, Swing Time, Follow the Fleet, and Shall We Dance, and caps it off with their final film together, 1949’s The Barkleys of Broadway. Start with 1935’s Top Hat, in which Astaire breaks out into a classic dance number in his hotel room (dancing with myself, as Billy Idol sang) when suddenly a woman appears at his door, frowning. Ginger Rogers was trying to sleep in the room downstairs. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Astaire says. “I didn’t realize I was disturbing you. You see, every once in a while I suddenly find myself dancing.” “I suppose it’s some kind of an affliction,” Rogers says coolly.

    And, of course, they’re shortly in love, twirling through the fleet-footed “Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails” routine and prancing along to the sweet “Lovely Day” in London’s Hyde Park. You’ll instantly recognize the classic “Cheek to Cheek,” in which Astaire dons his tux and Ginger Rogers twirls in an outrageous ostrich-feather gown. In fact, the dress was so over-the-top that there were on-set fights and Rogers stalked off the set when asked to change into something sensible (the incident earned her the nickname “Feathers”). So watch Astaire and Rogers closely to pick up some smooth moves, but learn from Rogers’ off-screen tantrum: don’t get carried away preening. — Logan Hill

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