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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with Tornatore's THE BEST OFFER, the Oscar-nominated doc THE SQUARE, and OLD GOATS!!!

Published at: Jan. 17, 2014, 11:04 p.m. CST

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 BEST OFFER
The latest work from Italian writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore (CINEMA PARADISO, MALENA) is being sold as an unusual romance between a buttoned-down, always-gloved art authenticator and auctioneer and a new client of his who likes to hide behind the walls of her palatial mansion. But at its core, THE BEST OFFER is about forgery and how there can still be great value in something that isn't the genuine article. Of course, this is part of Virgil Oldman's (Geoffrey Rush in top form) job: authenticating paintings and other precious artifacts. But apparently in the art world, there is some call for forgeries of more valuable paintings, since some of them were painted by lesser, but still known, artists of the time.

Being a collector of a certain type of painting himself, Virgil is involved in a scheme with his silent partner (Donald Sutherland) in which Virgil will de-value a piece's true value so that the partner can bid on it and then sell it back to Virgil. We get a glimpse of the secret room where Virgil has stored and displayed dozens of the works he has acquired this way, and we realize that all of the paintings are portraits of women looking at the artist. Virgil has no real female companion to speak of, but he seems to take great comfort sitting in a comfortable chair surrounded by these ladies.

But then Virgil is contacted by an heiress names Claire, who owns a vast estate and is looking to catalog and pare down her collection (really her family's collection). At first, she communicated with Virgil only by phone, but after apparently just missing being in the same room with her a few times, he discovers that she suffers from agoraphobia and has since she was a child. Not only does she never leave the house, but whenever someone else is in the house, she retreats to a hidden room behind the walls. It's not like she's some feral creature back there; she has the internet and apparently makes money writing books under assumed names.

But Virgil becomes intrigued by her, and one night he pretends to leave the house when in fact he stays behind to catch a glimpse of what turns out to be a lovely young woman with slightly ragged hair (likely the result of her self-cutting it).

Of course, the whole idea of a beautiful woman gazing at Virgil from a hole in the wall falls right into Virgil's fantasy of the women in his paintings, and before long, he's hooked and the two start an unlikely romance as he slowly coaxes her out from her hidden chamber. Virgil seeks advice from a few unlikely acquaintances, including a mechanically inclined younger friend Robert (Jim Sturgess), who helps piece together a really cool automaton, the pieces of which Virigl has found scattered throughout Claire's home. And then there's the mysterious dwarf (Kurina Stamell) in the bar across the street from Claire's mansion who seems to possess a flawless mind for numbers and a photographic memory to boot.

I don't think I'm spoiling anything to say that I'm fairly certain Tornatore wants us to be slightly suspicious of Claire and her motives. She seems custom-designed for Virgil's own view on life and love, and what is too good to be true often is. But there's something so hopelessly frail and meek about her that the audience will absolutely be root for Virgil to enter her life and make it more livable and pleasant. There's a truly lovely, lush score by Ennio Morricone that plays perfectly as the soundtrack to their love.

Rush is in rare form in THE BEST OFFER, and after missing his mark in last year's THE BOOK THIEF and playing a clown in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEN movies for so long, I'm glad to see him inhabit one of his classic, eccentric roles so completely. This is my first time seeing Hoeks, an actress who hails from the Netherlands, and she seems perfectly suited to this part. Since she's an unknown quantity to most English-speaking audiences, she doesn't bring any baggage along with her performance, so we have no idea what her intentions are beyond the stated ones. We don't know if her bizarre demeanor comes from her lack of human contact or something else, and it's that mystery that propels the film and lifts it into being something fun and strange.

The focus on and backdrop of the art world is also one that never gets old, and the scenes of Rush running an auction are a lot of fun. THE BEST OFFER is worth checking out just to see Rush in what feels like his natural element, and the story is smart enough that working your way through its layers doesn't feel like work.


THE SQUARE
Just nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar yesterday, director Jehane Noujaim's (CONTROL ROOM) latest, THE SQUARE, covers the nearly three years of the Egyptian Revolution from the perspective of a handful of revolutionaries all of whom met in Tahrir Square and became allies in the initial push to get then-leader Hosni Mubarak out of office and a more democratically chosen government in place. But what happened instead is that while the leadership might have changed (the military took over governing the nation), the policies of detainment, torture and killing citizens continued, forcing the revolutionaries back into the streets and the square. In the interim, the military found a way to turn this city of many religions united to oust Mubarak into a nation divided by cutting deals with the Muslim Brotherhood and turning Christians and those practicing Islam against each other.

The focal point of the films is the charismatic Ahmed Hassan, who walks us through the struggle and keeps in touch with all of the other players in this situation, including noted actor Khalid Abdalla (UNITED 93, THE KITE RUNNER, GREEN ZONE), who returned to Egypt to help give a voice and face in this struggle for the Western media. Also prominently featured is Magdy Ashour, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and switches sides on the issue of leadership, while still trying to maintain a friendship with Ahmed. The sense we get is that he's towing the party line but isn't committed to the military being in charge, especially since he was tortured under Mubarak's rule.

This is a fascinating journey that director Nougaim premiered at Sundance a year ago and then went back to Egypt to update the ongoing story. (I believe the most recent footage in THE SQUARE is from August 2013.) We watch the intensity of both the events and the convictions ebb and flow, and sometimes we can spot the exact moment where fear becomes a deciding factor as to whether a revolutionary keeps up the fight or drops out. One subject is a popular singer in Egypt who is very open in singing about his disgust with the current rulers, but he his arrested and beaten severely, causing both a crisis of body and conscience.

There's a true sense of immediacy to THE SQUARE as well since nearly all of the footage is taken from right in the heart of the massive protests to which millions showed up. It's clear that some holding cameras were hurt or otherwise caught up when the police or military shows up to disperse the crowd, and the danger seems almost overwhelmingly real. Less a history lesson and more like watching history as it unfolds, THE SQUARE is a tense, breathtakingly immediate and searingly important work that deserves not only its nomination but your attention.


OLD GOATS
I don't know the entire story behind the utterly unique film OLD GOATS, but I'm almost afraid that finding out would ruin all that I loved and found so moving and funny about this story of three elderly men living in coastal Washington state, whose friendship helps each of them in different ways make the transition into their golden years. From first-time filmmaker Taylor Guterson, the movie focus on Bob, Britt and Dave (Bob Burkholder, Britton Crosley, David Vander Wal), all of whom are playing versions of themselves (rather convincingly, I might add). Dave is seemingly the most normal of the bunch, with a wife, solid golf game and a plan to spend half the year in a newly purchased condo in Palm Springs. But there's a dark side to Dave that comes out in small, dark moments, usually sparked by his wife's demands about how he should spend his retirement.

The oldest of the bunch is Bob, who is quite the ladies' man, but still relies on the kindness of others to drive him around. Bob has also written quite a revealing tell-all memoir that he is in the process of self-publishing with a shady publisher. And finally there's Britt, who opens the film with a plan to sail over the Asia in his house boat, but he chickens out and is slowly pulled out of his shell by the other two men so he can enter the terrifying world of cell phones and internet dating.

OLD GOATS is more slice-of-life than linear storytelling, and the men in the film are working within fictitious events, even though they are essentially playing themselves. Still, they all come across as so absolutely authentic, capturing older-aged men in a way that is so believable. They still crave the idea of living the life of younger men, but experience has taught them to be cautious, and they each find ways to break free of these self-imposed restrictions and still find room to grow and be moderately adventurous. Watching Britt rise up out of his hermit-like state in his houseboat is almost too painful to watch; his fear of entering the dating scene again almost pushes him into a coma, especially when the woman he starts seeing pushes him to sell his boat and move in with her. His simple comment, "I like sleeping on my boat," is the ultimate cry for help.

Watching this film simultaneously made me fear growing old a little less and worry about it a little more, both for different reasons. Dave's tiny ways of undermining his wife's plans for his future are so sad and petty that it made me fear that growing old is about burying your dreams to make someone else happy, while Britt's fear of all technology is practically upon me already. But watching Bob live his life as full as he ever has is quite encouraging, despite the fact that he can't hold down a relationship and is always in need of someone driving him somewhere.

OLD GOATS isn't searching for big, sweeping revelations on living your life as an elderly person. It's more about letting you know that it's okay to get scared as long as you're willing to work through the fear, and find ways to express yourself and not settle into routines. "Inspirational" might be too strong a word to describe the film, but it certain odds a bit more hope into the idea of getting old.

-- Steve Prokopy
"Capone"
capone@aintitcool.com
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