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Review: William Eggleston in the Real World

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Though he’s never had any real breakout, Michael Almereyda (Nadja, Hamlet) is considered by some to be one of the finest American directors alive. Some of us, however, find his filmmaking just a bit too obtuse for its own good. But the director has found his ideal subject in legendary photographer William Eggleston, a shy man of few words who often seems as irritated by Almereyda’s camera as Almereyda is enamored of Eggleston’s.

    The photographer, now a giant, was a controversial figure at the time of his first one-man show at MoMA in 1976  — Ansel Adams actually penned a furious letter to the museum decrying the show. But his haunting color shots — empty rooms, broken signs, odd reflections, off-balance fragments — did for the inanimate detritus of American life what Walker Evans did for the working people of the Depression, bringing them center-stage as a vital aspect of our culture.

    The danger here is that, given Eggleston’s own reticence, and Almereyda’s cinematic instincts, the film will be a vague glance at an elusive figure. But Almereyda pulls it off: His film alternates between rough footage of Eggleston at work and at rest, and expository information about his career. The information isn’t detailed, nor is the documentary footage particularly insightful; and when the director sits his subject down for an interview, the man is frustratingly cagey. But the portrait that emerges is surprisingly complete — an evocative, haunting film about a quiet man who makes evocative, haunting pictures. — Bilge Ebiri

Date DVD #48: Ong Bak: Thai Warrior
Comedians like Jackie Chan and Stephen Chow aside, hardcore martial-arts stars are either the film’s most potent sex symbols or its most repulsive losers. On the one hand, you have Bruce Lee, a ripped icon so powerful that designer Eric So has designed a high-end line of "Fashion Show" action figures devoted entirely to recreating Bruce’s most famous outfits and haircuts. On the other, there is the goofy, feather-haired kickboxing champ Jean-Claude Van Damme, whose costumes, God save us, will never be recreated. Luckily, for every Steven "Fabio" Seagal, there is a Tony Jaa. A next-big-thing muay thai boxer, Jaa is slathered in oil for most of his breakout debut, and the young figher is lethally charismatic. With rough rope wrapped around his fists of fury, Jaa is a fast-paced fighting dervish who does all of his own vicious stunts. On a quest to retrieve holy relics stolen from his village, he slugs it out on screen with punches and smacks you can practically feel. But, of course, he knows he’s awful cute too, so he carries an innocent grin above his punches that makes him lovable — almost sweet — even as he’s pulverizing enemies. — Logan Hill



 
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