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David Gordon Green (#110 of 16)

SXSW 2015: Manglehorn and Fresno

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SXSW 2015: Manglehorn and Fresno
SXSW 2015: Manglehorn and Fresno

In David Gordon Green’s Manglehorn, Al Pacino turns in his third performance of the last year as a man in the grips of a post-midlife crisis. This time he’s Angelo Manglehorn, a locksmith whose obsession with a lost love is preventing him from fully inhabiting his own life. Dreamily kind for the most part, but given to fits of furniture-hurling rage and truth-telling so blunt it borders on sadism, Manglehorn drifts through his own life, observing the often quirky people around him as if from a great, sad distance. In one emblematic scene, he happens upon a multiple-car pileup and strides down the line of automobiles as the slow-motion, blurred sound, and the bright red watermelon guts strewn over the cars (one of the vehicles was carrying a load of melons) give the whole thing a surrealistic vibe. His house looks depressed too: dimly lit and all dark, metallic colors, even the wood paneling tinted a faint, sickly green. His only hope of connection with another living being, aside from his beloved cat, appears to be Dawn (Holly Hunter), a demure bank teller with whom he plays out a painfully awkward, lurching courtship.

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 St. Vincent and Manglehorn

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Toronto International Film Festival 2014: St. Vincent and Manglehorn
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: St. Vincent and Manglehorn

Theodore Melfi’s debut feature, St. Vincent, is a heartwarmer that never insults—exactly the opposite of what its protagonist, Vincent (Bill Murray), is supposed to be: a disgruntled drunk who nobody likes. Trading in the quiet, aloof, melancholic persona of his Lost in Translation and Broken Flowers characters, Murray at first seems to be going full grouch. Ultimately, though, Vincent turns out to be just the kind of character who aging actors play regularly these days: a curmudgeon with a heart of gold. (Fitting, then, that Jack Nicholson was apparently interested in the part before Murray.)

True/False Film Fest 2014: Rich Hill, Happy Valley, & Killing Time

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True/False Film Fest 2014: <em>Rich Hill</em>, <em>Happy Valley</em>, & <em>Killing Time</em>
True/False Film Fest 2014: <em>Rich Hill</em>, <em>Happy Valley</em>, & <em>Killing Time</em>

In his essay from the late 1940s entitled “Manners, Morals, and the Novel,” literary theorist Lionel Trilling, a member of the famed New York Intellectuals, stated that “pleasure in cruelty is licensed by moral indignation,” and would go on to claim the middle class as the group of people where such a strange aesthetic relationship often takes hold, designating moral indignation as their “favorite emotion.” Rich Hill exists in this space; detailing the lives of three separate, impoverished teen boys living in Rich Hill, MO, directors Andrew Droz Palermo and Tracy Droz Tragos allow their camera to probe and linger in spaces of disorder and grime, but without any discernible purpose other than gaining access to lower-class spaces—another popular pleasure created through middle-class distance. Rich Hill is poverty porn, and this isn’t simply because the film examines poverty, but because it does so with pity as its operative mode, engendering little more than a space for viewers to leave the film acknowledging its sadness.

SXSW 2013: Prince Avalanche and Drinking Buddies

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SXSW 2013: <em>Prince Avalanche</em> and <em>Drinking Buddies</em>
SXSW 2013: <em>Prince Avalanche</em> and <em>Drinking Buddies</em>

For those afraid that David Gordon Green had completely abandoned the lyrical style that marked such early films as George Washington and All the Real Girls for the crude stoner-comedy mode of Pineapple Express and Your Highness, well, it’s back in his latest film, Prince Avalanche, though perhaps not in the way one might have expected.

Simply on the level of tone, the film, a Judd Apatow-like bromance elevated to the realm of near-myth, is an extremely odd, deliberately jarring work—the kind of film where a tossed-off fart joke coexists with a mournful montage of a man, Alvin (Paul Rudd), contemplating the burned-out ruins of an old woman’s house. But the film has even weirder angles to it than that: how the old woman eventually turns out to be a ghost of some sort, and the how the leavening mysterious female presence offers a counterpoint to the broadly macho old-man ghost that offers Alvin and his fellow road worker, Lance (Emile Hirsch), drinks and, by extension, tempting them to indulge in their inner macho selves.

Sundance Film Festival 2012: Beasts of the Southern Wild and Wrong

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Sundance Film Festival 2012: <em>Beasts of the Southern Wild</em> and <em>Wrong</em>
Sundance Film Festival 2012: <em>Beasts of the Southern Wild</em> and <em>Wrong</em>

As a Southern-gothic fairy tale about post-Katrina New Orleans, Beasts of the Southern Wild could have easily turned out to be a crass and unwittingly exploitative work. Co-writer/director Ben Zeitlin’s fanciful approach to his understandably touchy subject matter theoretically seems glib. Thankfully, every time Zeitlin and co-writer Lucy Alibar threaten to oversimplify their story with mawkishly twee sentimentality, they steer the film’s elemental narrative in another direction. The hopefulness that viewers take away from the film, the most buzzed-about title at this year’s Sundance, feels earned thanks to Zeitlin and Alibar’s focus on their characters’ fears of imminent abandonment and annihilation. As a film about the seductive and essential power of hope, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a warm, accomplished, and fitting tribute to the fighting spirit of New Orleans.

This is the film you might get if Terry Gilliam conflated David Gordon Green’s George Washington with Alice in Wonderland. We follow Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a six-year-old girl that lives with her single father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in a remote region of New Orleans only referred to as “The Bathtub.” Since Hushpuppy spends much of her time by herself, all of her fears are filtered through a convoluted system of icons and symbols. This proves that she’s a product of her environment. She listens to animals and people’s hearts because her father has a heart condition, fears cannibalism after a Bathtub resident teaches her that all living things are “meat,” and even fantasizes about wild rampaging boars because Wink has a big fat black hog on his farm.