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Movie reviews: 'Dirt Music' a story of longing that turns out to be just too long - Printable Version

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Movie reviews: 'Dirt Music' a story of longing that turns out to be just too long - clarkkenallstar - 07-29-2020

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It may be possible to gauge your interest in “Dirt Music,” a new film on VOD starring Garrett Hedlund and Kelly Macdonald, by its advertising tagline. “Lose Yourself… Find Yourself… In Love.” That inspirational, Nicholas Sparks-style slogan tells you all you need to know about this movie. Much like the story itself, it’s vague, involves love but what does it really mean?

Stretched over two hours the film sees Macdonald play Georgie Jutland, a former nurse now playing step mother to the two sons of her new boyfriend, crayfish magnate, Jim Buckridge (David Wenham). Life in the tiny Australian fishing port of White Point is uneventful and unhappy until Georgie slips out for a midnight swim. While splashing around in the cleansing waters she meets Luther Fox (Garret Hedlund), a fish poacher plying his illegal trade. It is love at first sight and soon the two begin a passionate affair.

Luther is an enigma, a man with a tragic past. His family gone, he drifts though the world, mourning their loss. He’s a damaged guy who abruptly leaves White Point when it appears Buckridge has discovered the affair with Georgie. He heads north to the remote Coronation Island, looking for solitude and safety. Unable and unwilling to let him go, Georgie, with Buckridge‘s unlikely assistance, embarks on an epic search to find her love.
“Dirt Music” is a story of longing that turns out to be just too long. At a hair over two hours it is a feast for the eyes—the Australian landscape is breathtaking—but the story is as under developed as the film’s terse tagline. Considering the epic nature of Georgie’s search for Luther, these star-crossed lovers spend very little on-screen time together. Certainly not enough for the depth of the connection to be made clear. The result is a bit of a head-scratching exercise in lust and longing. Despite the soaring Australian temperature the pair barely have time to generate the heat needed to make us care when they are torn apart. 
The story telling in “Dirt Music” trades in melodrama while Macdonald and Hedlund are playing it straight. She’s an open book, he’s broody whose hobby seems to be staring blankly into the ether. Both are bound by grief but the very thing that connects them feels at odds with the film’s over-dramatic edge. 
FROM THE VINE: 3 STARS
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“From the Vine” breathes the same fragrant air as “Under the Tuscan Sun,” “A Good Year” and any number of other movies that offer up beautiful scenery and a stripped-down way of life as a tonic for the soul.
In a rare leading role Joe Pantoliano stars as Marco Gentile, an Italian born CEO of a Canadian automobile company. He’s at a crossroads in his life. Tired of the grind and troubled by an unkept promise he made years ago, he throws it all away. Without consulting his wife Marina (Wendy Crewson) he quits his high-paying job and makes a plan to hightail it to the tiny town of Acerenza, site of his grandfather’s old vineyard in Italy. There he hopes to reconnect to a way of life that will help him find his centre and regain his moral compass. But will his new beginning spell an end to old relationships? 
There is a sense of déjà vu that comes along with watching “From the Vine.” Like the movies I mentioned above, it’s a beautifully shot travelogue with that follows a familiar path. Adding some spark are engaging performances from the cast.
Pantoliano plays Marco as a man having an extreme mid-life crisis, but it’s not about buying a Maserati or trading in his starter wife for someone younger. He’s having an actual existential crisis brought on by the realization that the life he leads isn’t the life he wants. To illustrate his dilemma director Sean Cisterna adds in a few surreal Felliniesque flourishes, but the heart of the character comes from Pantoliano’s rough-hewn charm. 
As Marco’s long-suffering wife, Crewson brings warmth and a considerable amount of heart. 
“From the Vine” doesn’t add anything new to the soul-searching travelogue genre but the point of these movies is not to reinvent the wheel. Like rom coms, the most formulaic variety of mass entertainment there is, it’s about the journey not the individual stops along the way. Sure, the story is predictable but it exudes good vibes and tries to appeal to our better natures and these days maybe that’s enough. 
TARGET NUMBER ONE: 3 ½ STARS
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“Target Number One” is a Canadian true crime story, but no, it’s not a retelling of Bill Miner’s railway robbery or the great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist of 2012. It’s a gritty look at investigative reporter Victor Malarek’s fight to uncover the truth behind a heroin bust orchestrated the Canadian Security Intelligence Service put an innocent man in jail. 
A the-names-have-been-changed-to-protect-the-innocent retelling of the case of Alain Olivier, called Daniel Léger (Antoine Olivier Pilon) in the film, the movie stars Josh Hartnett as Malarek, a Globe and Mail reporter whose dogged determination reveals how the CSIS framed Léger, sending him to a Thai jail for eight years.
“I’d be very careful before you print anything about this case,” a high-level cop tells Malarek.
Telling the tale on a broken timeline, director Daniel Roby skip through the details, building both sides of the story simultaneously until the two threads meld, but “Target Number One” isn’t an action movie. There is tension as Léger‘s situation worsens but the compelling part is Malarek’s search for the truth. It’s a procedural the takes its time putting the puzzle pieces in place.
Hartnett does a good impression of the driven reporter and Steven McHattie turns in another of his trademark edgy roles as Frank Cooper, a crooked RCMP officer, but it’s the work of Jim Gaffigan and Pilon that are memorable.
Gaffigan ditches his affable stand-up comic persona to create a medicine portrayal of Glen Picker, a drug dealer and police confidant.
As Léger, Pilon as an arc. From lowlife criminal, whose big score is ripping off a gas station for a full tank, to someone who can navigate survival in a squalid Thai prison, he’s simultaneously vulnerable and edgy and that makes him the film’s most memorable character.
“Target Number One” is a low-key thriller, short on action but long on intrigue.
BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS: 4 STARS
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A truly great bar doesn’t just dispense drinks. Forget about bottle service and VIP booths, a great bar specializes in good will, community and acceptance for all who enter their doors. That’s the case with the Roaring ’20s, the dive bar that serves as the backdrop for “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets,” a new hybrid documentary that comes to virtual cinemas this week. 
It’s last call at Roaring Twenties, a threadbare bar way off the strip in Las Vegas. It’s the kind of place where the bartender says, “The best part of waking up is bourbon in your cup,” as he spikes a customer’s coffee with a shot.
Set to close forever on the eve of the 2016 election, it’s populated by regulars like former actor Michael, who declares, “I prised myself on not having become an alcoholic until after I was already a failure. Alcoholic failures are the worst.” He’s joined by a loud drunk who occasionally flashes her breasts at the bar, a veteran with a thousand-yard stare and Lowell, a good-natured free spirit. Others come and go, like John, the Australian who brings a box of donuts for everyone and downs beer after beer before dropping acid and heading out for a night of tripping. 
Others come and go, fights brew, tears are spilled and Michael philosophizes about a life spent staring at the bottom of a shot glass.
“There is nothing more boring than a guy who used to do stuff,” he says, “but doesn’t do stuff anymore because he’s in a bar.”
He emerges as the central character, someone who essentially lives at the bar—he often sleeps on the overstuffed couch in the back, and will become homeless when they put the lock on the door for the final time. 
“Blood Nose, Empty Pockets” isn’t story driven as much as it is a portrait of a time and place. But it’s also not a documentary in the strictest sense. Directors Bill and Turner Ross shoot cinéma verité ("truthful cinema") style but the story is a bit of a fib. The bar is actually located in New Orleans and is still open. The regulars are folks recruited from local bars brought together to participate in a preplanned story arc. That’s not to say here weren’t surprises. John’s acid trip was impromptu as was a scene featuring a pair of veterans who shed tears remembering fallen friends. 
Like a Cassavetes film, “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” is an experimental combination of documentary and fiction that favors characters and a sense of place over traditional story-telling. It’s rough and tumble, like the people it portrays. The rough-hewn sound and the hand held camera work creates the feel of having been sitting at the bar from morning to night. Conversations overlap, the images blur as a growing sense of melancholy settles over the film in its closing minutes. 
Real or not, what “Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets” does best is show the community that exists at the Roaring 20s bar. The regulars have a bond, brought together by booze and friendship, that allows them to overlook one another’s personality peccadillos. It’s a community that looks after one another, where support means stopping a fight or having a too-close conversation with someone you just met. No bottle service, just barstool prophets and some plain, unvarnished truth. Even if the story is a set-up.
THE SUNLIT NIGHT: 2 ½ STARS
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“The Sunlit Night,” a new Jenny Slate comedy now on VOD, feels like a throwback to the oddball indie films of recent decades. No detail is too twee, no setting too obscure. The viewer is reminded of a flood of titles like “Everything Is Illuminated” and “Amelie” come to mind, movies where the quirk factor is set to the max. 
Jenny Slate plays Frances, a young woman following in the footsteps of her parents. All three are frustrated artists.
“Maybe I’m not an artist,” she says. “Maybe I’m just the daughter of two other artists.”
After one spectacularly bad day that sees her break up with her rich boyfriend, get critically savaged by her art professors, find out her lawyer sister is engaged, and her parents (David Paymer and Jessica Hecht) are splitting up. As if that wasn’t enough, she gets denied an apprenticeship in Tokyo. Rather than live with her father in his tiny studio she accepts another, less than desirable offer—“He fired his last assistant and now he needs someone to paint a barn, using only the colour yellow.”—with reclusive artist Nils (Fridtjov Såheim) in the far, far north of Norway.
“This is where you go when you are exiled,” she says. 
Her new life in Lofoten takes some getting used to. She is a fish out of water, the sun never sets, small goats invade her trailer, and the job is a slog, essentially a large paint by numbers project that leaves her little or no time to work on her own paintings. Still, she finds time to explore the nearby Viking Museum run by ex-pat American (Zach Galifianakis) and, despite telling her mother that she is “closed for business," a potential love interest in Yasha (Alex Sharp), a Brooklyn baker who has travelled to the top of the world to give his late father, and not just the ashes, but the whole corpse, a traditional Viking funeral. 
“The Sunlit Night” has something to offer after a radical rethink following brutal reviews at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. It’s still a bit sloppy and a little too whimsically weird for its own sake, but Slate and a fun cameo from Gillian Anderson as Yasha’s mother do much of the heavy lifting. Most of the other characters seem to exist simply to add flavour to Frances’ rather colourless journey to find herself. 
No amount of re-editing could get “The Sunlit Night” past the basic premise of outsiders navigating the strange Arctic Circle surroundings, but Slate brings charm to a story that otherwise may have been devoid of any realistic or interesting human behaviour.