Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bollywood's Bodacious Bash

On Saturday night, Bollywood (or if you prefer, the Hindi-language film industry)'s equivalent of the Oscars took place. Admittedly, the Filmfare Awards and their uninspired choices every year constitute an institution that I rarely can muster excitement about (not only for constantly overlooking independent parallel cinema and favoring commercial fluff, but especially in terms of how votes are accumulated and weighted - half the movie-going public, half a jury composed of five or six industry members), but this year was a very nice surprise. I think history was created in that Black, the film which swept all the major categories (a whopping 10 [EDIT: 11, actually] in total), is a film that features none of the conventions of a mainstream Bollywood flick - no songs and dances, no comic relief, a two-hour running time, and the absence of a romantic track; what's more, the majority of the film is in English! Of course, this isn't much of a surprise; although the film released almost a year ago in February of 2005, it's been a virtual lock for the big four: Best Film, Best Director (Sanjay Leela Bhansali), Best Actor (Amitabh Bachchan) and Best Actress (Rani Mukerji), if not everything else. Hopefully this will push directors and writers to understand that art films can be commercial and critical successes - Black isn't exactly light-hearted fare (a loose re-working of William Gibson's The Miracle Worker) and it still made 20 crores-plus at the Indian box office (roughly $5 million U.S. or thereabouts).

Although I'm a little miffed that Rani Mukerji scooped up her second consecutive Best Actress win (why?), I can't argue with Bachchan and Ayesha Kapoor (Best Supporting Actress) winning in their respective categories. It was also great to see Sanjay Leela Bhansali win Best Director again (his third trophy in the last seven years). If he keeps working on his craft (less melodrama and excess, more trusting his audience), there's no reason why his films can't compete at the international level in the years to come. He certainly has the eye for composition and an ear for dialogue; now he just needs to make the leap from offering visual feasts to developing substantial ideas, themes, etc.

The best moment of the night was Madhuri Dixit's triumphant return to the stage in an abridged dance performance blending together three of her song sequences in Devdas (also directed by Bhansali back in 2002). Dixit (who was reigning queen during the early-to-mid 90s) is an actress whose work has been more interesting post-marriage, when her screen appearances became less frequent. Although the quantity of her output fell, the quality of her acting work skyrocketed; her two supporting performances in Devdas and Lajja were award-worthy IMO (she won Best Supporting Actress for the former). I hope that Dixit is able to grace the silver screen again; producers have lost interest now that she's approaching the dreaded 40 mark (an unfortunate trend in this film world), but if the reaction to her appearance last night is any indication, the audience wants more (as do I). I just hope she's able to find better material than playing elder sisters or spinster aunts, relegated to the background where younger (but talentless) leads steal the limelight. Roles for women are much better now than they were a decade ago, but sexism and marginalization still exist. Maybe she'd do better going the parallel cinema route, banging on the doors of Shyam Benegal, Mani Ratnam, or perhaps SJB can write something great for her. One only needs to look at the career of Shabana Azmi to see that it is possible to have a career in your 40s and 50s; it's just that it may not be in commercial cinema.

Speaking of Shabana Azmi, she looked absolutely terrific while accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award. I can't find an appropriate picture, but believe me when I say that she looked dazzling. What was even more impressive was her succint, articulate speech in which she primarily gave tribute to all those behind the camera - technicians, artists and other talents - that rarely get acknowledgment (indeed, the Filmfare Awards has yet to create competitive categories for Art Direction, Cinematography, etc - they have a separate jury which just votes on a winner).

Otherwise, the night was ho-hum. Abhishek Bachchan (Amitabh's son) picked up another win for Best Supporting Actor (he also won last year for Yuva) for a rather bland piece of work. I was taken aback to see Will Smith there (who presented Best Actress); he's also set to appear on Indian Idol later this week. Paheli, which was submitted as India's official selection to the Oscars, unsurprisingly came out empty-handed (it received very few nominations in the first place). Trailing Black with five trophies was Pradeep Sarkar's Parineeta (Art Direction, R.D. Burman Award for Achievement in Music, Sound Design, Choreography and Female Debut [Vidya Balan]), and then Bunty Aur Babli, which garnered three (Musical Score [Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy], Lyrics [Gulzar] and Female Playback Singer). In something of an upset, the low-key Page 3 won Best Screenplay (I suppose I'll have to see this now).

Best Dressed? Best Actress winner Rani Mukerji (here with her father):

Friday, February 17, 2006

Emmy Voters: For Your Consideration... or else

Warning! This post contains Season Five spoilers... Whenever I need my fix of the late great HBO series Six Feet Under, I pop in a DVD from any given season to visit these great, witty and (most importantly) incredibly fucked-up characters for an episode or two. Of course, what inevitably ends up happening is that I end up watching the entire season (in one sitting) and then moving onto the next set to follow what happens (phht, as if I don't know what happens already). Yes, I've come to realize that I need the Fishers, Chenowiths and Diaz's in my life always; the show has become such a part of who I am (I'm as good as quoting this material as I am with The Simpsons). This past week, I watched all of Season Two and have now forced myself to hide Season Three before I start in on that too; after all, there are other shows to catch up on, such as Grey's Anatomy (for some reason, I didn't like this show when it first aired back in March, but now on DVD, it's actually proving to be a lot of fun. Anyways, anything with Sandra Oh is worth watching).

Six Feet Under recently aired in its fifth - and final - season (*SEASON FIVE SPOILERS FROM HERE*). For some viewers and critics, the farewell was more than welcome (if not overdue by two seasons or so), and for others, it was extremely hard to let go. I myself have my quibbles with the writers' choices over the last few years, I must admit - halfway through Season Three, the gloom and doom started to seriously overpower the humour, and Season Four overall was... well, not a disaster, but definitely disjointed and underwhelming. It's clear that Alan Ball and his writing team wrote themselves into a corner (granted, Lisa wasn't the most likable character, but the manner in which she was offed [and the reasoning behind it] was weak). Still, Season Five more than delivered; it may have been the best work the writers have done since the first batch of episodes. Not only did they have the balls to kill off Nate, but they did so 1) at his most unlikable moment; 2) when there were four more episodes left to air; and 3) when he's (arguably) the lead of the show. Risky! But more than that, the show refused to let us wallow in simple, expected conclusions - Brenda and Nate weren't meant to be together after all (damn!), Maya loses both her parents in her first few years of life, etc. It all affirmed for me why I respect the series so much - while people complained about the pessimism and bleakness of this world, it felt truthful to me. Death, depression, pain and hatred are not given superficial treatment here; Six Feet Under took us to those lows, refusing to let us off the hook easily. We experienced every horrible and heart-wrenching moment in its darkness; just watch the episode of Nate's funeral, and you'll know what I mean.

Which brings me to the point of this entry... although the series has come to an end, I don't have closure - not at all. It may seem immature to say so (and I know awards are popularity contests), but I won't be able to end on good terms with the show until the Emmy nominations are announced and trophies are handed out. Watching these episodes over and over again over the past few years, I've been completely blown away by the quality of the acting. Hard as it is to believe, Six Feet Under, aside from a prize for Patricia Clarkson as Aunt Sarah (Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series - 2002), has not won a single acting trophy. The first year the series premiered, it got nominations across the board for pretty much every prominent actor associated with the series (aside from Matthew St. Patrick and Justina Machado). But year after year, the nominations have subsided (understandable - the series wasn't getting a lot of love after Season Two), and although writing/directing snubs were justified, acting omissions were not. The acting has been stellar since the pilot, and every single performer has made a case for serious award-age. Three actors who definitely should have won an Emmy by now IMHO - Rachel Griffiths (Season One), Peter Krause (Season Three/Four), and especially Frances Conroy (pick any goddamn season! She's perfection in every single episode!!!).

Many of you are probably rolling your eyes and probably asking why the show needs validation from the ridiculous Emmys. Maybe so... but if Patricia Heaton can win Best Actress two years in a row for repeating her whiny, annoying "acting" in Everybody Loves Raymond, why can't Frances Conroy win one single prize for her Oscar-worthy work? It's like the same Hilary Swank argument all over again - why does she have two while Julianne Moore and Patty Clarkson have zero (note - I think Swank deserved her first Academy Award)?

The Golden Globes have been quick to embrace the show (it won Best Drama and Best Supporting Actress [Rachel Griffiths] in 2002, and Best Actress [Frances Conroy] in 2004). It's won two SAG Ensemble Cast prizes (two years in a row) and one Best Actress "Actor" statuette for Conroy. What's with the delay, Emmy voters? Thankfully, you have one more chance to get it right. Please (if this rant somehow reaches you by chance of miracle), please correct your past oversights and give awardage where awardage is due. I'm not asking for a Six Feet Under sweep - maybe just in the acting categories. At the very least, give Frances Conroy the Emmy she's deserved since Season One, Episode One (for her consistently brilliant work in every damn episode, even when the writing wasn't up to par).

Okay, I'm done. Ultimately, if Frances Conroy does not win Best Actress in a Drama this year, you are all warned that I will turn green and grow hundreds of feet and... HULK ANGRY! KILL EMMY VOTERS, SQUISH THEIR BRAINS MUSH THEIR FACES EFWATEW$IT^$3q6943yu ;h54wtwhky/w4ejoy32#@@###%%%%%%%

.... Just to let you know ahead of time.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sure guys... sure

So here is an effort on Heath Ledger's part to explain his bizarre behaviour during that uncomfortable presentation with Jake of the Brokeback Mountain ensemble clip at SAG (scroll down to "Much Ado About... Heath at SAG"). Not that I don't feel the apology isn't genuine (or that the issue is being a little blown out of proportion, even though the delivery made me raise an eyebrow myself), but this whole thing has just affirmed for me how immature the both of them (as well as the media - *cough*Oprah*cough*) have been acting this whole awards season. I am reminded of an excellent Advocate article by Charles Bouley - "It's very brave of them". This piece does a good job of exposing how ridiculous and regressive the reaction has been to Ledger and Gyllenhaal's work, calling them both courageous and incredibly daring (for what? Having to kiss?). Indeed, why is it so "brave" of them? Bouley argues that rather than bravery, he sees fear and homophobia on the part of the press and the film's two leads themselves. He questions the two actors for having to constantly assert their heterosexuality ("The idea that I had to make out with Jake... just wasn't the easiest thing to do" and "These aren’t gay guys, they’re two souls that fall in love." [huh?]), and I rather agree. It's pathetic how Heath and Jake constantly have remind us that they're straight and that playing lovers was oh-so-daunting and took a great leap of faith. Shut up, both of you. You're actors, it's your job to play people not like yourselves. Stop pretending you've done society a favour. Stop worrying that everyone thinks you're gay (we know you're not). Just stop talking.

Here's how the article ends, and they're my sentiments exactly...
Seems Hollywood is full of more cowards than heroes. So yes, kudos to Jake and Heath and Ang. But let’s get to a point where we can talk about the movie itself, not the sexuality of the characters playing the roles, as Jake and Heath have been trying to do. And let’s also get to a point where playing a gay person is not more courageous than playing a child molester or murdering mob boss.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

I need to do some schoolwork now

Mysterious Skin
(Gregg Araki, 05) B [Compassionate, humanly funny and creepily exploitative all at once, this adaptation of Scott Heim's coming-of-age book is an assault on the senses (generally in a good way). Araki pushes the envelope with the disturbing subject matter, going to great lengths to depict harsh, gloomy situations (I am usually not squeamish and try to avoid censoring, but I admittedly had to forward through an excessively graphic rape scene). Yet he achieves just as many moments of tenderness while tracking the stories of two boys who share a history of abuse. Any person who has grown out of their teenage years can surely identify with the bittersweet, dreamy landscape of Araki's world. The usual themes of sexual self-discovery, family dysfunction, moving away and returning home are all present, but they are given a refreshingly novel treatment; these happenings come across as spontaneous and impulsive, as opposed to mechanically plot-driven. Overall, the film soars more often than it stumbles, and the closing moments are some of the most heartfelt I've witnessed in my years as a moviegoer. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is absolutely stunning in the lead; the role of the wayward, destructive hustler has become something of a cliché in recent years, but here Levitt brings a new dimension to the figure, who actually seeks out tricks not for money, but to gain validation and love. Brady Corbet is equally good in his moments as the introspective, stunted Brian, while the rest of the talented cast members (Mary Lynn-Rajskub, Elizabeth Shue, Bill Sage, and Michelle Trachtenberg) make lasting impressions despite minimal screentime.]

Mrs. Henderson Presents (Stephen Frears, 05) C+ [The first half here may be cheeky and irreverent, but that's the pretty much the appeal (and it effectively tickles the funny bone). Dench is at her liveliest in years, every word out of her mouth resembling comic gold (if such a thing exists). Bob Hoskins provides able support, and much fun ensues watching these two dominant personalities (and "ack-tuhs") duke it out for power in running the Windmill theatre. Really, these are the only two worth caring about because the script is otherwise fairly slight on character development (although Christopher Guest is fun as the uptight chancellor). The film continues on this high until Frears decides to get heavy-handed, using the war to inject severity in the on-goings. One supporting character is even pathetically disposed of as a plot device to drive home the realities of WWII (poor Kelly Reilly). But the ultimate offense is Henderson's final speech, which basically underlines the film's subtext (which was obvious enough without having to point it out); it's wholly unconvincing and leaves a bad after-taste (although Dench almost makes it work).]

The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 60) B- [Pointlessly telegraphed from beginning to end, this morality tale is an oppressive, obligatory experience. From the very start, Bergman provides a contrast between the two protagonist sisters: one a bitter, unwed mother (Ingeri) and the other a beaming, spoiled woman-child (Karin), setting up the inevitable act to come ("Only a virgin can ride to church"). Although the revenge sequence planned by Tore (the girls' father, played by Max von Sydow) in the final act provides a chilling angle and introduces some intricacy (as well as Ingeri's disturbing confession about witnessing her sister's grim end), the complacent ending leaves no room for questioning or dissent. The punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime, and Bergman refrains from pointing out the problems with this, Tore's final intentions and the bursting spring itself.]

Munich (Steven Spielberg, 05) B [It's impossible to talk about this murky exploration of terrorism and revenge without looking back on Spielberg's recent work. In that respect, Munich represents a rejuvenating success, which feels like nothing the director has done before (although there are the occasional groan-inducing repetitions - i.e. the innocent children are everywhere!). As well, the grayness of the proceedings (reinforced by the lyrical writing by Tony Kushner) paints the film another layer, elevating it beyond one-note retaliation polemic. It borders on greatness more times than few, and the first two acts represent some of the best work Spielberg and his regulars (Kaminski, Williams, etc) have done in years (A.I. excepted). Taut, suspenseful and complex, the film is riveting until it reaches a creaky third wind where Spielberg resorts to familiar manipulation tactics. I don't think I need to call attention to Spielberg's bizarre juxtaposing of sex and death; enough have mocked it well.]

Transamerica (Duncan Tucker, 05) C [It is indeed heartening to see a message-conscious film like this break into the mainstream (although the pessimist in me suggests that it's more because of Felicity Huffman, the nature of her role and the hideous t.v. show she stars in than anything else), but it's unfortunate that the piece itself as a whole feels so stale, obvious and frustratingly gimmicky. Aside from recycling the clichés of the road-trip movie (they fight over the radio station, their car gets stolen, etc.), Duncan Tucker's screenplay always goes for the easy way out. Either hammering home societal ignorance ("Are you a boy or a girl?") or conveniently opening the door for familial reunion ("I'm going to go live with my dad"), the film is a vanilla, mediocre sitcom. More disturbing is the film's treatment of the peripheral characters; the other transsexual women portrayed are played up for laughs, while Bree's family members are cartoony in their intolerance (making their rushed character arcs all the more jarring). Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman seems to think she is playing an extra-terrestrial rather than a pre-op transsexual (and I'm not being glib - the approach is unintentionally bizarre). Although she is in earnest to bring this character to life (and the portrayal does has its winsome charms here and there), the effort sadly never feels natural. Her performance in the first half hour is appallingly ill-timed and then for the most part utterly see-through. The burden of keeping the film afloat then rests on Kevin Zegers's shoulders as Bree's druggie son, who veers between a hard-edged awareness about life and the raw vulnerability of a lost child looking for love.]

The White Diamond (Werner Herzog, 05) B- [It would be unfair to compare this to Grizzly Man, but it's really hard not to when the proceedings (and Herzog's unhelpful commentary) here mostly fail to stimulate or reach even a fraction of that prior film's genius. The first half here is strangely muted and the efforts to get the project up off the ground (flying an airship over the Guiana rainforest) are unappealing. Herzog's shaky, sloppy aesthetic is even more off-putting. As well, it's a shame that Mark Anthony Rhap (resident Guianan), the documentary's most interesting character, is sidelined to make room for scientist researcher Graham Dorrington's whiny, tedious monologues about his efforts in this project and his guilt about a colleague's death years ago. Yet the final few moments finally register as divinely inspired. Herzog earns points for not showing us the flight above from the perspective of the participants (best left to their privacy), instead inviting us to fly in the air, and immersing us in the natural landscape for ourselves in a stunning, breath-taking finale).]

La Promesse (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 96) A [What I love about the Dardenne Brothers' work is that at the end of the day, there are no simple solutions. No happy endings here, no ways out of the grim realities of death, abuse and poverty. But at the same time, their world view is not cynical in the least; their approach is wholly humanistic, filled with compassion for all their flawed characters (even the ones who perpetuate violence and exploitation). The director-duo often focus on characters on the sidelines of society, bringing into focus stories that are ignored by the dominant media (mainly about those who live with little means).The documentary-style of the frame further adds to the immediacy, urgency and profundity on the happenings. The narrative set-up here is similar to that of their recent L'Enfant; the main conflict is a difficult moral issue, where the categories of right and wrong become ambiguous. Jeremie Rainier plays Igor, an adolescent placed in a most pressing situation, requiring wisdom beyond his years. Yet his big heart and sense of conscience leads him to perform the most extraordinary acts to fulfill the promise he makes to a dying immigrant. As the film goes on, the tension becomes almost unbearable as Igor attempts to hide his actions lest he is found out by his father (and severely punished). Not a shot here is ill-conceived - it's a genuine masterpiece. I simply can't wait to catch up on Rosetta and The Son.]

Friday, February 03, 2006

Something I've never seen before

Today, I went to see Mrs. Henderson Presents, and preceding the screening (during the previews) was a single trailer for... Mrs. Henderson Presents. I believe this is the first time something like this has ever happened in my years of being a moviegoer.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

You're a winner in my eyes, Maria

I really don't know what else to say about the Oscar nominations that were announced in the wee hours of Tuesday morn (ok, it was 8:30am here, but that's criminally early for a deep sleeper like me, k?) - everyone has already picked them apart better than I ever could. Needless to say, the results were fairly underwhelming, but I can't really complain (for the most part; see below) because I had a feeling that they'd be rather conventional this year, no surprises (I said as much in my predix). The biggest letdown was the Directors' category, which matched Picture 5/5 and did not feature any expected surprises like Cronenberg, Meirelles, or Wong. And although I liked Munich (how the hell did it rebound so well?), I was hoping that Spielberg would be snubbed to make room for a newcomer; does he really deserve yet another nomination? If the acknowledgment were for something truly great and transcendent like A.I., that'd be another story altogether.

And I'm just going to bitch about this snub one last time before putting it to rest (although I will forever remain hardened and bitter) - Maria Bello. Oh my dear Maria Bello. This was easily the best female performance of the year (yes, even above Joan Allen) and the Academy is going to look incredibly stupid and ignorant (Snubbed in favor of whom? Baity Frances McDormand??! Are you fucking kidding me?) in the months and years to come. This is worse than Paul Giamatti's snub last year for Sideways (and no, even if he's going to win for Cinderella Man, that doesn't make it all right, damn it!). I'm really buying Nathaniel's reasoning that voters were too intimidated by Bello's sexually dominant and non-submissive wife approach. Explicit sex is only allowed in this category if you're playing a prostitute, nor does she fit the weepy suffering spouse model (a la Jennifer Connelly). And before you point out that stunning dinner table scene at the end, you can read her expression in many ways - tears of defiance, mixed love/hate, disappointment, confusion - but not as a victim. Not only did she deserve to be nominated in this category, but to win it hands down, no contest, end of story, sorry you lose Frances.

I wrote these reviews during an uninspiring lecture today. Forgive me if they're sloppy, which they most probably are. I'm also trying to be more succint with my write-ups, but obviously that's not happening. Oh, and SPOILER WARNINGS for all:

The Constant Gardener (Meirelles, 05) C+ [Caught between wanting to dismiss it as overpreachy and also needing to acknowledge its noble intentions, I honestly can't make a conclusive statement about this so-called "thriller". Tackling the hypocricies and greed that drive the corrupt pharmecutical "relief" industry in Africa, where the (non-white) human body is made a ground for manipulation, this adaptation of John le Carré's novel has several impressive elements/sequences. The eliptical approach by the screenplay allows us to consider characters and situations from a prism-like lens, where several possibilities are offered for consideration (who is protecting whom? can we trust person x?). The film is a success in that the two-hour running time feels half the length - fast-paced and (sometimes choppily) twisty, it keeps the viewer easily engaged. Plus, Meirelles has assembled a fine cast to bring his vision to life; Ralph Fiennes is luminous as always (understated grief is more effective than breakdown city a la Naomi Watts in 21 Grams-o), and (likely Oscar-winner) Rachel Weisz is sensational as the ballsy humanitarian, whose presence is felt throughout the film even though she pretty much fades from the screen about an hour in. But primarily, the idea of a man trying to "find" and discover more about his late wife after she has passed is an incredibly moving one (the final scene between Justin and Tessa is more touching than all of Cameron Crowe's indulgent Elizabethtown, which similarly posited its protagonist as learning about his late father, post-funeral). Gardener may juggle several admirable themes/ideas, but the subtle approach to the love story is what makes us watch and invest in the story. The movie's failings? Foremostly, Meirelles's direction is needlessly overwrought (lookitme!!!) and ridiculously stylized in the worst moments. That leads to his questionable manner of capturing Kenya's native population - every man, woman and child is "seen" and their poverty aestheticized, but ultimately their voices are not heard (which results in a dehumanizing effect). This issue is a mountain unto itself, so I won't touch it right now. Even more exasperating is the film's last twenty minutes, where everything comes too neatly together and even the villains get their (dramatic) comeuppance. Optimistic? Yes. Realistic? Not particularly. It certainly moved me, in spite of my issues with it. So you can perhaps appreciate how I'm very torn here, very torn indeed. Interesting as a comparison piece to Darrell Roodt's 2004 film Yesterday, which tackles the AIDS crisis and overall lack of access to health care in South Africa.]

Ran (Kurosawa, 85) B+/A- [What I love about this director's re-workings of Shakespeare is that he does not worry so much about extracting plot material as he is honoring the core themes of these plays. In this King Lear imagining, Kurosawa envisions a medieval past where a god is absent; in the place of a loving, benevolent deity, only the forces of evil, betrayal and devastating irony are in play. The film is disturbing in its pessimism and bleakness, and although the bright colors of red, blue and yellow are strongly represented, they are dominantly employed in scenes of war, devastation and murder. Ran features some of the most shocking battle scenes ever committed to celluloid. In this respect, Kurosawa has opened up the text and made it a true epic, in every sense of the word (yes, in terms length as well, which I'll certainly address). One of the most satisfying changes from the original work (most notably, the Gloucester subplot is deleted) is how the wives of the Lord Hidetora's sons are given voices, especially Lady Kaede who skillfully exacts revenge on her father-in-law for having murdered her family and appropriating their land. Ran will delight Shakespeare nuts and non-fans alike with its expansive scope and stunning images (Hero's Zhang Yimou owes much to this film), but there are drawbacks. Kurosawa's handling of the Fool figure (a character who is more perceptive and wise than any other person in the play) is problematic, transforming him into an outright clown who throws tantrums when exasperated with Hidetora's descent into madness. The film's unrelenting length (almost three hours) is not justified; the final act falls into repetition more often than you'd believe. But these are small quibbles; Ran overall is a Kurosawa/Shakespare knockout (the masterpeice Throne of Blood is also a must-see).]

Last Days (Van Sant, 05) B+ [What a pleasant surprise. Gus Van Sant's final installment in his unofficial "Death Trilogy" ends the saga on a high note without repeating ideas from its excellent predecessors. Although many have pointed out the somber and depressing elements of this dreamy hypothesizing about Kurt Cobain's (called "Blake" here) final hours on earth, was it wrong that I read Last Days as an (intentionally) uproarious comedy? Rather than sit back in stunned silence (as with Gerry and Elephant), I found myself laughing at every other moment in this film. At first, I was disturbed about my reaction (inappropriate?), but as the movie went on, I figured that Van Sant was taking a tongue-in-cheek approach to both poking fun at as well as giving tribute to Cobain, the grunge movement of the mid-90s, as well as its passionate adherents. Van Sant strides a fine line between revering his subject while at the same time exposing his inner-workings and humanizing him to the point where we just see him as a crazy, smelly, non-sensical human being. But although Michael Pitt's brilliant, amusing performance has its entertaining moments, van Sant is more interested (at least to me) in driving home the vapidity and selfishness of Blake's idiotic band members and groupies, who are perpetually stoned and strung out. Blake is always shown separate from the rest of the group and despite the fact that can never express himself in speech with more than a mumble, there is a suggestion that he is operating on a creative level of consciousness much higher than his fellow "friends". The only way he can fully articulate himself is through his music, and sure enough, this is the only time he is coherent and direct. Also fascinating is a sequence where Blake is composing something that sounds suspiciously like a suicide note and in the background, several church (?) bells begin to ring together in tandem, possibly positing - if not salvation - the release from the pain and disappointment of this world. By the time we reach the end, we feel not sorry for Blake's demise (represented through a hilarious, bizzare effect), but rejoice in the fact that he is moving on to a greater, less demanding world where he can simply create, explore and be... without distraction and social pressure.]