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Capone's Art-House Round Up with Dee Rees' PARIAH, Takeshi Kitano's OUTRAGE, THE CONQUEST, and Albert Maysles' THE LOVE WE MAKE!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

The thought that kept racing through my head as I watched this week's best release, the Sundance award winner PARIAH, was that everything about it felt 100 percent authentic. If there is, in fact, a Brooklyn scene made up of black teenage lesbians (in and out of the closet), it probably closely resembles the one portrayed in writer-director Dee Rees' stunning work, based on her short film of the same name. And while the filmmakers' portrayal of young Alike's life around her gay and straight friends and family members is key to the film's success as high drama, the force that pulls it all together is the performance of newcomer Adepero Oduyeas, playing a character who lives two very distinct and separate lives that inevitably come crashing into each other with unexpected and heartbreaking results.

Alike (pronounced "uh-LEE-kay") lives in the Fort Greene neighborhood with her bratty younger sister and her overbearing parents, Arthur and Audrey (Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans, yes of that Wayans family), who pressure their oldest to dress better, wear more makeup, and meet some nice boys. Meanwhile, she has a daily ritual that includes leaving her home dressed to get her parents' approval and changing clothes that make her look like a hardened hip-hop gangsta. The way Alike and her best friend Laura (Pernell Walker), a shot-out-of-the-closet-with-a-canon lesbian who hits on women like the player she was born to be, is undeniably believable material. Laura is one of the greatest characters I've seen in any movie in a long time, and she encourages Alike to find a lady friend of her own, which appears to be happening with new friend Bina (Aasha Davis), the daughter of one of Alike's mother's work friends.

It should come as no surprise that Alike's parents are in a great deal of denial about their daughter's sexuality, despite sign after sign that she practically pins to her bedroom door. PARIAH deals with so many issues at once, but it never feels cluttered or false. Remember: "authenticity" seems to be director Rees' mission statement. Alike's first attempt at dating does not go as planned, her parents' reaction when they finally face the truth is unexpected, and the list goes on and on in a series of often painful episodes.

I don't mean to paint PARIAH as a total downer (but with that title, I can't blame you if you do). There's some great humor, insight and soul in the piece that only add gorgeous layers to this gritty experience. Above all other things, the film is infused with hope in the face of rejection and a nearly broken spirit. I felt energized by PARIAH in a way that few films ever quite do (although most of the ones of late seem to be small films telling small stories). Seek this one out, and see how it stacks up against your own thoughts on the issues raised here.

I think the last film by the great Japanese actor-writer-director Takeshi Kitano that I actually liked was his telling of ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN, although the man has made quite a name for himself creating movies about the Japanese underworld that feature almost experimental filmmaking and a great deal of exposition punctuated by shocking and sudden bursts of violence. As an actor (he performs under the alias Beat Takeshi), he is stone-faced and usually quiet, but when he explodes in fits of anger (often accompanied by the aforementioned violence), it usually makes me laugh because it's so unexpected.

His latest work, OUTRAGE, is a return to both form and subject matter: the yakuza. The actual plot of this movie is nearly impossible to follow (I think deliberately so), with a seemingly endless number of clans and gangsters vying for power, seeking revenge for previous wrongdoings, and just cutting people up because they piss somebody off. It's awesome with two helpings of blood. Two-bit thugs are practically tripping over each other to kill or maim somebody to gain the favor of their respective clan heads, and in the middle of it is Otomo (Kitano), a higher-up soldier who just wants things to settle down so business can run without trouble. But this is a new age for yakuza, in which success in legitimate business is as or more important than the previous generation's illicit work.

And even if it sounds like it might turn routine after a while, OUTRAGE stays fresh and fun thanks to some ridiculously original and graphic kills, followed by meetings and truces, followed by more slaughtery fun, following by allegiances and deals, followed by slashing and shooting and stabbing. Hopefully, you're picking up on the pattern here. The film is ruthless, often ugly, but always captivating and (to my tastes) so damn entertaining, thanks in large part to Kitano's deep dark sense of humor about the nature of criminals or the almost privative ways they handle their business and disputes. I don't get a sense he admires these men at all, but that makes watching them all the more interesting. If you aren't a fan of weirdly paced movies, you may find it troubling to hang on to OUTRAGE. Otherwise, you'll likely dig this bizarre spin on a classic story.

Remember Oliver Stone's film W., which was released while its subject, President George W. Bush was still in office? THE CONQUEST is a better and far more probing work than W., as it tackles France's current President Nicols Sarkozy (elected in 2007) and his five-year rise through the ranks of power, using paths crooked and straight. What's interesting about director Xavier Durringer's take on Sarkozy's story is that he makes it clear that not everything in this film is real; some of it is flat-out made up to make the story more interesting, which it does. He even casts an actor (Denis Podalydes) who doesn't particularly look like the diminutive leader, who spent his career outthinking the opposition and knowing exactly what the public would respond to.

THE CONQUEST is a film that succeeds in making politics feel alive, electric, and actively devious in a way that, for example, THE IDES OF MARCH never quite captured. Sarkozy's enemies are wonderfully drawn, buttoned-down, over-privileged, career politicians who think they can squash him. But no sooner do they swear "The Energizer Bunny" (Sarkozy's nickname) will never advance, there he goes right past them. The film shows us how some of his more intelligent enemies anticipated the changing tides and sided with him early enough to not get trampled.

The film's greatest strength is in showing the strong bond between Sarkozy and his wife Cecilia (Florence Pernel), who guided and advised him though many a tough spot, but ended up cheating on him with a hired media advisor. Sarkozy is heartbroken but the way he keeps this infidelity from crushing his campaign is magnificent. Again, I have no idea if any of this is true, but it doesn't really matter. By confessing up front that this is partly a work of fiction, director Durringer is free to make the best story he can rather than get held back or bogged down by the facts. If you accept this film as gospel, you have no one to blame but yourself. Focus on the great performances and the way the plot bobs and weaves through the hallowed halls of French politics, which I have never understood; I still don't, but THE CONQUEST still make it seem like fun.

This remarkable time capsule of a film does a far superior job of capturing the turbulent emotional aftermath of 9/11 than just about any documentary I've seen on the subject, and what makes that even more remarkable is that 9/11 isn't really even the primary subject of THE LOVE WE MAKE. From directors Bradley Kaplan and the legendary Albert Maysles, this movie chronicles the month or so between the attacks and the all-star benefit event The Concert for New York City, organized in great part by Paul McCartney, who happened to be on the tarmac at JFK Airport ready to take off when the World Trade Center towers were hit; he could see the smoke from his window seat.

This all-access, behind-the-scenes account of the October 2011 show is a fascinating glimpse that goes far beyond simply parading famous faces in glorious black and white before the camera. Far more fascinating is watching the laid-back McCartney stroll down New York streets, wanting to take it all in again, and naturally being accosted by well wishers and autograph hounds. McCartney clearly feels at home pretty much anywhere he goes and can talk to anyone with an ease that a lot of folks in his tax bracket probably don't possess. His rapport with his limo driver is particularly engaging.

In addition to the music rehearsals, we also see McCartney on the publicity circuit, being subjected to interviews by everyone from Mike Wallace to Howard Stern. The Stern interview is particularly fun if only for the greenroom run in McCartney has with Ozzy Osbourne, whose adoration of the former Beatle is unbridled and quite touching. I also love that McCartney doesn't miss an opportunity to introduce various celebrities to Maysles (who also shot much of the film), the man who documented The Beatles' first visit to New York City in 1964.

Rather than simply show us performance after performance from the concert itself, the filmmakers wisely opt to show us McCartney's dressing room, where he watches the event with his band and has a constant stream of dignitaries visit him, including his daughter Stella, Bill Clinton, David Bowie, Elton John, Steve Buscemi and Harrison Ford; McCartney's conversation with one-time Apple Records artist James Taylor is really sweet and revealing as these two old friends reminisce. I sometimes had to keep reminding myself that all of these events were 10 years old, which wasn't hard to do whenever McCartney came into contact with one of the many police officers or fighter fighters with whom he crosses paths frequently in this film.

It nearly impossible not to get caught up in some aspect of THE LOVE WE MAKE. It was the more personal encounters that pulled me in. But for some, simply playing "spot the celebrity" backstage at Madison Square Garden as McCartney makes his way to the stage might be the reason to see it. For many in attendance that night, it was the beginning of a long healing process, and Maysles and company capture that reality quite beautifully.

-- Steve Prokopy
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Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 6, 2012, 1:28 a.m. CST


    by Daremo

    I hate myself. I should die.

  • Jan. 6, 2012, 3:55 a.m. CST


    by Al_Shut

    The one thing that really bugged me about Outrage was the stupid ambassador subplot. Although the scene where he tried to renegotiate cracked me up. "You do know that we are the Yakuza, right?"

  • Jan. 6, 2012, 7:26 a.m. CST

    Mention Concert for New York, don't mention The Who

    by Mickster_Island

    What the crap?

  • Jan. 6, 2012, 8:24 a.m. CST


    by Teto

    The Who sucks; that's "what the crap"

  • One dubstepper's talkback isn't going to convince anyone to ignore a 50-year-old band. Neither will one Wholigan's talkback convince anyone to listen to a 50-year-old band.

  • Jan. 6, 2012, 7:40 p.m. CST


    by strykebr

    caught it on HDNet, the plot was easy to understand and then got so backwards I was lost. The racist sub-plot really made me scratch my head, and seemed not necessary at all....that dentist scene made me put my hand over my mouth.

  • Feb. 2, 2012, 11:54 p.m. CST


    by Darth Thoth

    Finally got around to seeing it. Great review Capone. This is an absolutely great movie on so many levels. It's an important film. Highly recommended.