Unsimulated sex, suicide and prostitution â€” just another week in indie film. And damn right!
+ "9 Songs": Michael Winterbottom‘s real sex, fake (we presume) drugs, and real rock and roll finally slinks its 69 controversial minutes onto select screens. And the question here seem to be less "Is it porn or is it art?", as Kristi Mitsuda poses at indieWIRE, and more whether Winterbottom’s reduction of a love story to its purely physical elements provokes an astonishing sense of intimacy or emotional detachment. Matt Zoller Seitz:
It will be fun to watch critics pretend to be loftily bemused, and not the slightest bit aroused, by Michael Winterbottomâ€™s sexual drama "9 Songs," then dismiss it as pretentious, empty and un-erotic.
He claims this is the "standard American response" to films about sex, which seems a little unfair â€” sometimes they really are boring (we have to admit, after the first half-hour of "Lies," we were sorely tempted to just fast-forward every time someone took their clothes off). Stephanie Zacharek likes the film even more than Zoller Seitz, finding that " The fun and pleasure of sex are relatively easy to put on film. But subtler shades of feeling and doubt…are harder to capture, and that’s what Winterbottom gets here." Stephen Holden finds it a picturesque failure, with the characters remaining "frustratingly elusive," and Michael Atkinson call it "a common human rite fastidiously caught in amber, giving off no heat or joy but crystallized for the future."
+ "Last Days": "Imagine a Kurt Cobain movie by Oliver Stone â€” rubber tourniquets biting into a skinny arm, flashbacks to warring parents, fawning crowds, Courtney losing it on- and offstage, the imploring eyes of their neglected baby, the climactic shot ringing out â€” and youâ€™ll see everything ‘Last Days’ is not," Ella Taylor writes of Gus Van Sant‘s latest ode to death and narrative experimentation. For the most part, everyone else has high praise for the film. Dennis Lim calls the film brilliant, "a biography without a story, a sustained monologue that can barely be heard, an interior portrait that denies access to inner life." Manohla Dargis is similarly impressed by the way the film’s rhythms echo the drifting detachment of Blake’s (Michael Pitt) life: "He is out of time, out of step and in the wilderness." Armond White is, as always, a dissenting voice, dropping in a paragraph at the end of his "Hustle & Flow" review to declare the film nothing but "tedium."
"Hustle & Flow" suspends you in its spell of mood, of feeling, of climate. It’s a pop picture that finds its richness in peeling down to the essentials of good storytelling. In a world of movies that try far too hard to move, entertain and dazzle us, the artistry of "Hustle & Flow" lies in the way it waits for us to come to it.
Roger Ebert is also fond: "What we see in the ‘Hustle & Flow’ is rarely seen in the movies: the redemptive power of art." Armond White (and we actually discussed at length with Matt our predictions on how he’s feel about this film…sample: "It looks like the Village Voice might like it, so he’ll definitely hate it." "But it looks like a lot of others won’t like it, so maybe he’ll champion it as a misunderstood masterpiece.") declares that "’Hustle and Flow’ isn’t really about a pimp. Its concern is with the emotional turmoil a man faces while dealing with women on top of the social difficulties that beset impoverished black men." He provides an interesting counterpoint to Ebert’s "redemption" angle: "That Djay finally finds an outlet in rap music isn’t so much a sinecure (or salvation) as it is a sign of his desperation and the limited options that our society has left open to men of his social background." Laura Sinagra finds the film less artful:
The tale of a broke-down Memphis pimp turned rapper is being dismissed as shallow wish fulfillment, poverty porn, a hip-hop cash-in, and just plain silly. Of course, Hustle & Flow is all those things, but it telegraphs its intentions quite clearly. With 8 Mile in its rearview, this flick openly guns for the Rockys.
And A. O. Scott manages to articulate most of what we thought of the film, including the fact that Howard is so good he almost overcomes the "complexity – one might less charitably say the incoherence" of main character DJay, as well as the uncomfortable portrayals of women: "A pimp might be forgiven for failing to see his own misogyny – pimping is not a profession usually associated with feminism – but the movie can’t just slide off the hook along with its hero."