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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, CITADEL and the Wayne White doc BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of 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 greatest flaw in this pre-World War II tale of the first meeting between President Franklin Roosevelt (played with a twisted glee by Bill Murray) and the recently crowned King of England (Samuel West, playing the same stuttering royal that Colin Firth playing in THE KING'S SPEECH) is that it treats what was a historically important meeting like it was a weekend camping trip. And maybe that's how FDR saw it, but because that's how it's played, we never get a true sense of just how significant a moment this June 1939 overnight visit truly was.

It also doesn't help that the filmmakers of HYDE PARK ON HUDSON seem more concerned with Roosevelt's romantic involvement with his bookish neighbor Daisy (Laura Linney). I'm a fan of director Roger Michell (NOTTING HILL, PERSUATION), but this braiding of world politics and the president's intimate moments doesn't quite come together convincingly, which is not to say the film doesn't have its amusing moments.

The meeting between FDR and the king was essentially pulled together so that England could gather certain assurances that the United States would assist if Hitler's Germany made a serious play to crush the Brits. But motives at the time were curious and strange. Eleanor Roosevelt (Olivia Williams) seems more interested in subjecting the royals to a serious of embarrassing events that expose just how snooty they are in the company of common folk. But the president seems more interested in finding common ground, in particular with the king, a man who doesn't believe he should even be in his position.

Man of the exchanges in the film occur in private as the king and queen try to figure out exactly what kind of man FDR is, while Roosevelt is searching for the humanity in his guests. Meanwhile, Daisy is trying to figure out the complexities of her relationship with the president, which seems limited to pleasant conversations and hand jobs in the woods (not necessarily in that order).

Despite Daisy having this front row view of the massively important events going on before her, she tends to focus more on how much attention the president is or isn't paying her, and it gets tiresome fast. I truly wasn't interested in watching how this naïve woman put her personal feelings before the fate of the free world, and by the end of HYDE PARK ON HUDSON, I was sick of her.

The saving grace of this movie, not surprisingly, is Murray, who not only does a pretty solid FDR impersonation but also provides a layered performance that details how much Roosevelt was unlike any other leader, while also being a flawed man with desires that his wife simply was never going to fill (the references to Eleanor's special lady friends are far from subtle). That doesn't excuse his treatment of Daisy (turns out she's not the only one with whom the president takes rides in the woods). Hyde Park doesn't try hard enough to be truly probing into what made Roosevelt tick, but thanks to engaging work by Murray, we get a surface-level FDR that is at least fun to spend time with. HYDE PARK ON HUDSON is a nearer miss than many might have you believe, but it's a miss nevertheless.

In many ways, the Irish psychological thriller CITADEL looks at the world in a polar opposite way than the recent ATTACK THE BLOCK did. Rather than humanize the young men who sometimes commit crimes in housing projects, CITADEL presents us with the horror-movie pretext that these teenagers are actual misshapen, hooded monsters out to stab us with needles and snatch our babies. And you know what? The movie does a hell of a job making us paranoid just like the lead character of Tommy (Aneurin Barnard), whose wife is murdered in their hallway by these creatures, leaving Tommy to raise and protect their infant daughter. The problem is, as a result of the attack, Tommy becomes agoraphobic and is paralyzed every time he tries to leave his apartment.

As the saying goes, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean someone isn't out to get you, and sure enough, this pack of animal-like teens relentlessly terrorize Tommy and his baby. I was especially impressed with first-time writer-director Ciarán Foy's ability to ramp up the terror (real and imagined), turning an ordinary trip outside of Tommy's apartment into a full-blown waking nightmare. Eventually Tommy teams up with a priest who loves to curse and seems to understand exactly what the nature and motives of these creatures are. After Tommy's baby is taken, the pair gather their weapons and willpower to storm a seemingly abandoned project building (known as the Citadel) to rescue her.

Director Foy does a tremendous job getting deep inside Tommy's fear-riddled head, and the entire experience watching CITADEL has me on edge pretty much non-stop. I hope Foy continues to explore the deeper recesses of fear-based entertainment, because the guy clearly has a knack for it. He manages to tell his tale with seeming like he's picking on project kids. These monsters are clearly not meant to be a metaphor for poor people. I think instead, they are playing off the fears that some people have of kids from the projects by impersonating them. However you interpret CITADEL, this is one creepy ride and an original vision from a new filmmaker.

Regardless of the medium or format he uses, eclectic pop artist Wayne White's main objective is to make fine art both fun and funny, whether he's designing puppets or directing music videos/commercials or painting one of his signature landscapes with giant letters weaving through the work, saying the most outrageous things imaginable, often involving curse words. And with that in mind documentary filmmaker Neil Berkeley also makes his film about White's life and career as entertaining as the man himself.

BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING delves into White's inspiration, going back to childhood. He realizes in the course of looking at photos of his family's living room (which his mom decorated with bizarre figurines and other elements) that he lifted many design ideas for his work on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" from her. White also built and voiced a few of the puppets on "Playhouse," including Dirty Dog, Randy and one of the flowers. I was particularly shocked that he did so much of the hands-on creations in music videos for Peter Gabriel's "Big Time," Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight Tonight," and The Offspring's "She's Got Issues" animated clip. But working as hard as he did in the early years of his marriage and becoming a father took its toll on his mental stability. And while the details are left vague, it's clear that a type of breakdown occurred.

With both of his parents still alive, we get some great stories about him growing up and discovering his artistic roots in Tennessee, his early years in New York City, and his eventual move to California when "Playhouse" moved its production to Los Angeles. The wealth of behind-the-scenes footage from that production is worth the price of admission. That footage and much else gets pretty crude and rude, but it always remains in the name of keeping things humorous and letting off steam with vulgarity.

Terrific interviews with friends and comrades like Paul Ruebens, Matt Groening and Todd Oldham, as well as his wife and children, give us what feels like a fairly complete portrait of this demented force in the art world, who also happens to play the banjo and can dance a jig wearing a giant LBJ mask like nobody's business. Above all else, BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING is funny, moving and fascinating, and it adds a dimension to the ever-changing definitions of art and entertainment, with an understanding that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

The film opens a weeklong run in Chicago today at the Gene Siskel Film Center. After tonight's screening, the film's subject, Wayne White, will do an audience Q&A via Skype in a discussion moderated by yours truly.

-- Steve Prokopy
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Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 14, 2012, 10:33 a.m. CST

    I'll see anything with Bull Murray, period, forever.

    by Stifler's Mom

    Capone, please expand on the hand-job scene- are you joking or is that really in there?

  • Dec. 14, 2012, 10:59 a.m. CST

    Capone, how was Olivia Coleman in HPOH?

    by DexterMorgan

    She is a phenomenal actress, check out Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur for a knock-you-flat-on-your-ass performance from her.

  • Dec. 14, 2012, 11:14 a.m. CST

    was this written on a cell phone?

    by Big_Daddy_Nero

    Just askin..

  • Dec. 14, 2012, 5:19 p.m. CST

    @dextermorgan re:Olivia Coleman


    was wasted. She is basically playing Queen Elizabeth as constantly confused and upset. Shame to see her talent squandered.

  • Dec. 14, 2012, 8:18 p.m. CST

    Hyde Park On Hudson was fucking terrible

    by SenatorJeffersonSmith

    Lifetime Movie Of The Week bad. Capone refers to Daisy as FDR's, she was his cousin (fifth). Linney's overbearing narration is fucking horrendous. The only saving grace is the guy who plays the King. Better than Firth's. Much more human.