By Amy Nicholson
By Chris Packham
By David Kipen
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Caira LaVelle
By Zachary Wigon
By Scott Foundas
We Live in Public
Documentarian Ondi Timoner lends her credulity and camera to swollen, damaged egos who believe themselves visionaries. We Live in Public documents ten years in the life of dot-com multimillionaire-cum-installation artist Josh Harris, a clammy-looking loaf with none of the schizo firing-synapse spark that made musician Anton Newcombe a suitable study for her 2004 DiG! "One of the first great artists of the 21st century" (self-proclaimed), Harris' primary claim to fame was "Quiet," a locked-down scopophilic millennial commune for which he footed the bill in exchange for the rights to tape and live-broadcast every intimate moment of the participants, all interwired in a web of constant mutual surveillance, presented as a model of the post-privacy online future. Harris' canard, which Timoner echo-chambers, is to insist that the behavior of a flawed test sample — trend-susceptible extrovert extended-adolescent "artists" — observed under this unique set of circumstances has any relation to how most people use computers. Like with DiG!, Timoner cuts her material to fit preconceptions. Incapable of separating bluster from inspiration, she excludes any dissenting voice that might suggest that Harris' "Quiet," a spasm of manic profligacy born of short-circuiting megalomania, isn't artistically significant (it isn't). Thursday, November 19, 7 p.m. at the Tivoli.
Say My Name
Although men dominate the history of rap and hip-hop, a small (but fierce) cadre of females also helped the genres evolve. The absorbing Say My Name touches on these spunky matriarchs — Monie Love, who's now a radio DJ in New York, is an engaging voice — but devotes more attention to the ordinary women trying to build a career. The stories these ladies tell make Name heartbreaking and all too real: Hip-hop activist Invincible shows off downtrodden Detroit, even as she's trying to improve it by working with a multiracial artist collective; Trinie, a low-voiced Brooklyn resident, high school dropout and protégé of Wyclef Jean, discusses seeing her father murdered in Trinidad; and Shanika, an artist from London, shows off her fast, aggressive flow as part of the country's hard-edged grime movement. Interspersing these portraits with interviews from modern artists such as Jean Grae, Estelle and Rah Digga reveals universal truths: The struggle to release music, be respected as an artist and make ends meet isn't easy for ambitious female artists at any level. Thursday, November 19, 9 p.m. at the Tivoli.
Winner of the Sterling U.S. Feature Award at the 2009 Silverdocs festival in Washington D.C., October Country is an honest, heartbreaking portrayal of the Mosher family over a one-year period. The members of the Mohawk Valley, New York, clan struggle to break a multi-generational cycle of poverty, neglect, crime and abuse. Daneal is a teen mom dealing with an abusive ex-husband while taking care of their daughter, Ruby. In Country, she's facing the realities of her absent (and also abusive) father, gives up custody of her child and gets involved with another suspect character — all as her biological mother rues that Danael is repeating the same mistakes she made. Grandparents Don and Dottie are weary and sympathetic, but it's spitfire Desi who's the movie's most bittersweet character. The preteen is wise beyond her years when she assesses how much she dislikes her town and what's going on in her family. The stark, clear-eyed and never-pitying glimpses into the Mosher family's lives separate Country from other docs with this theme — and make it worthy of the kudos it's received. Thursday, November 19, 9:30 p.m. at the Tivoli.
35 Shots of Rum
35 Shots of Rum is a slow, deliberate tale about yearning. At first blush you think it has everything to do with being a member of France's second-class: the immigrants and minorities aching to claw their way out of the grimy Parisian banlieues and into the gilded capital. But gradually, oh so gradually, you begin to realize that the extremely understated melancholy depicted here derives from more universal conditions: the loss of a beloved, the desire to be loved. A little unique is the longing a widower has for his dutiful daughter: Ably played by Alex Descas, Lionel wishes his baby would fly the coop and tend to a man her own age. (How French.) In what has to be the most poignant cinematic portrayal of flatulence (or, perhaps the first ever), Lionel's own desire is summed up. I finished my viewing feeling like 35 Shots of Rum was above all a moody picture that badly wanted to feel momentous. It's not like anything was lost in translation (I speak French). It's that for all of the 100 minutes it took to reach the bar lined with 35 shots — well, I wanted more. Friday, November 20, 7 p.m. at Plaza Frontenac.
— Kristen Hinman
Saving Grace B. Jones
Tatum O'Neal plays one hell of a psychotic in this tearjerker from writer-director Connie Stevens. It's 1955, and O'Neal's character, Grace B. Jones, comes home to Boonville, Missouri, after nearly twenty years in the cuckoo factory. At first everybody's chirping with excitement. That includes a quartet of tow-headed tweens whose ebullience borders on annoying in the first half-hour of the movie. (Harsh? I don't watch Lifetime dramas, and I don't have kids. Maybe I just can't relate.) But as the Missouri River waters begin to rise, well, so does the town's level of wariness about poor crazy Gracie. Unfortunately, the people she needs most are overcome with naivété. Here's what I can say about that: You'll see. The movie was filmed in rural Missouri, and the lushness of the resulting cinematography will make city slickers want to run for the cornfields. Anybody who's ever sandbagged 'round these parts will appreciate the flood story line. Stevens captures its inherent drama quite well and does a decent job of marrying the natural disaster with human-created chaos. Even with its horrors, though, the picture has an overall quaintness to it. Perhaps that's why O'Neal looks so good. In the end, she's the only truly compelling character in an otherwise pretty set piece. Friday, November 20, 7 p.m. at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
— Kristen Hinman
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