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Capone's Art House Round-Up with Roman Coppola's CHARLES SWAN III, THE TASTE OF MONEY from South Korea, and LORE!!!

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…

I love that writer-director Roman Coppola has made another movie. His previous feature, CQ, was an art director's dream, the performances were strange and wonderful, and the ideas were slightly scattered but always interesting. Focusing a bit more on character with A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III, but not quite leaving behind the bizarre way he tells a story, Coppola borrows more than a few storytelling devices and cast choices from Wes Anderson (on whose past films he has worked as second unit director; he also co-wrote MOONRISE KINGDOM), but the story is uniquely Coppola's.

In the film, Charles Swan III (Charlie Sheen) is a well-regarded graphic designer who is in the early stages of a nasty breakup with his most recent girlfriend Ivana (Katheryn Winnick). His drunken, philandering ways made him fully responsible for the break-up, but that doesn't deaden his very amusing pain. Surprisingly, Sheen pulls off playing a booze and cooze hound, but he also makes us feel a little sorry for Swan in the process (unlike the real Sheen). He commiserates with his best friend, the famous musician/comic Kirby Star (a fully bearded Jason Schwartzman, whose presence in any film makes it that much better), and his business manager Saul (Bill Murray, same).

What's fascinating about the film is that Swan gets lost in elaborate daydream/fantasy sequences which cast those in his life in various roles. Some are more reality based, such as him imagining who would be the most sad at his funeral. But other takes the tone of wacky dreams, including a ridiculous scenario where he, Kirby and Saul are cowboys fighting off a bunch of sexy Indians, all of whom appear to be Swan's ex-girlfriends. The film certainly comes across as one big in-joke at times, but there is something somewhat relatable about some of what is going on here.

A strong supporting cast including Patricia Arquette as Swan's sister, Aubrey Plaza as his assistant, Dermot Mulroney and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. I was especially moved by the scenes with Swan and his sister Izzy and her kids. Sheen gets a chance to be more charming and sensitive, putting aside the amusingly insensitive persona that he seems to have been stuck in for the past 10 years or so.

What's interesting is that the deeper Swan digs and more he learns about himself, the less interesting he and the film become. But I never got tired of watching Sheen dig in and really explore this character in ways the actor simply hasn't been given the chance to do in a long time. Some may draw parallels between Swan and Sheen's lives, but that doesn't really get you anywhere.

If you enjoy the film (and a lot of people do not), it's going to be because you don't mind entering a world where existential questions about why people live their lives the way they do aren't answered. Also, people in A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III act like idiots sometimes. It may be an exercise in endurance for some, but for all its flaws, the movie has something going on under its cowboy hat.

While many of the great directors from South Korea are beginning to make their mark on these shores, one of the more interesting agents of social commentary in his nation, Im Sang-Soo (A GOOD LAWYER'S WIFE, THE HOUSEMAID), has made a fascinating if not always successful attempt to go after those with so much power and influence, they believe they live under a different set of rules.

THE TASTE OF MONEY is about Young-jak, the personal secretary of a wealthy woman named Madame Back, whose family fortune is in the billions, and whose husband and children run the family business like there are no limits to their finances or culpability when it comes to their employees' lives. Even when one member of the family is arrested for one reason or another, the family barely bats an eye, since they know that the judges and politicians they have paid off over the years will clear things up quickly.

Young-jak has aspirations, and after being essentially forced to sleep with Madame Back (as revenge for her husband taking up with the family's Filipino maid), she begins to give him more power in the family business. This makes him somewhat more desirable to Madame's beautiful daughter, Nami. The interpersonal manipulations in THE TASTE OF MONEY are the most interesting moments. Unfortunately, a great deal of the film deals with shady—or outright illegal—business dealings between those running the company and their American business partner, who only seems to care about prostitutes and staying drunk. The not so subtle subtext about how Americans conduct business is very amusing.

The film is beautifully filmed and charged with a healthy mix of perversion and eroticism to keep things interesting. I'm not sure how accurate its depiction or commentary on the way the rich behave in South Korea is, but it sure is fun to be reminded that corruption and corporate bad practices aren't unique to the Western world. THE TASTE OF MONEY isn't one of Sang-Soo best works, but it's still highly watchable and even a little insightful at times. This particular weekend, you could do a lot worse by sticking to the multiplexes.

Director Cate Shortland's delicate but tough work LORE is a film that both asks a lot of its audience but also gives a great deal in return. First and foremost, it asks that we sympathize with the children of an SS officer and his devoutly Nazi-loving wife, who have clearly taught their kids to view the German people and the Jewish people as you would expect

As the film opens, the war is winding down, and Nazi officers and party members are being arrested by the Allies. When the parents are taken away, the oldest child, 14-year-old Lore (Saskia Rosendahl), is left to fend for herself and four younger siblings (including an infant). They are suddenly outcasts wherever they go, as they struggle to find food, clothes, shelter and compassion, all of which are in short supply.

At one abandoned farmhouse, they meet Thomas (Kai Malina), who is extremely helpful to them but is also revealed to be a Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, a fact that triggers built-in resentment from Lore. Before long, desperation finds a way to break down all prejudices. I wouldn't say LORE wants us to embrace or even feel sorry for these kids, but most of them are too young to really understand what it is to be taught to hate a whole group of people. Mostly what this film is about is suffering and struggling to stay alive.

The very real possibility is explored that these kids, especially Lore, might be taken advantage of in exchange for a small amount of assistance. At one point, Lore and Thomas must kill a man, and the reality of what she's done forces Lore into a complete meltdown. At times, this is a rough moviegoing experience, but in the end, it's a beautifully photographed, gripping film about Germans coming to grips with exactly what their countrymen did during the Holocaust. There are casual conversations between Germans the kids run into in which they try to convince themselves the Jewish death toll account are being exaggerated by the Allies, but there's a look in their eyes that says they know better. In many ways, LORE is a brave little movie with a pair of magnetic lead actors at its center. This might be my favorite film opening this week.

-- Steve Prokopy
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