I first heard about The Painter and the Thief a few months ago when it earned rave reviews at Sundance Film Festival. The trailer was pretty compelling that I made a mental note to see it when it released on May 22.
A few words come to mind in summarizing this documentary – and I had to remind myself many times that it was a documentary because sometimes it didn’t feel like one. It’s just that good. And I hope down the line I don’t find out that this was all staged because I’d really be bummed… but I digress.
In The Painter and the Thief, we watch as the thief “Karl Bertil” is made vulnerable through the eyes of the Czeck painter, Barbora Kysilkova, whose paintings he and a partner stole in broad daylight. After asking to paint him, she does so in a way no one has ever seen him and you can see the shock and awe on his face. It’s devastating and beautiful and you just can’t look away.
But as the documentary progresses, flitting back in time a few months here and there, it’s not just Nordland who is exposed, we also see Kysilkova’s traumatic past laid bare through his eyes. To him, it’s why she paints such unflinching pieces that’s not exactly perfect to hang on someone’s walls.
I stayed up till 2:30 am to watch this (rented through iTunes) and that final frame was such a twist for me that it brought an audible gasp in the room and I lay there until the end of the credits, just transfixed. The editing, I thought. The editing is amazing*. But that would be my writer mind talking. As much as the director’s choices, the subjects make the documentary as riveting as it is, resulting in a gorgeously edited documentary of two people who end up, through one’s drug-fueled act of theft, seeing each other for who they really are.
And I still can’t look away.
*One of the reasons I watched this film with a writer’s mind is because as a writer, I see the story like a movie playing inside my head. The “camera” has to be arranged just right, at the right place and the right time, much like a documentary because I usually let my characters do their thing (as much as I keep declaring I write thousands of words in outlines) and allow me in their space to document everything. But like a good documentary filmmaker, I also need to know how to edit the scenes right – which ones to keep and which ones to toss aside to tell the perfect story.
“That’s what I love about documentary filming,” Ree said. “It’s difficult to do something similar in a fictional film. To be there is to be present and observe with a camera. When in the crucial moments an amazing cinematographer is filming, it’s like dancing with the subjects. You have one shot at knowing where to position yourself. It’s intuitive work. If you fuck up the positioning and focus, you won’t get the same subtext and complexity of a scene.”
Not all my October movie favorites are scary-scary. Some are funny-scary like
Shaun of the Dead (A Romantic Comedy. With Zombies) starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I love Brit humor and this one has a ton of it.
It’s a tale of two friends who find themselves in the midst of a zombie apocalypse and need to work together to survive. It even features a song by Queen.
I actually have this on DVD because I just had to have it. I also can’t find it streaming on Netflix, HBO, or Amazon (now you know what I subscribe to) and so I might end up buying this on iTunes just because it’s among my favorites.
It’s time for FILM IN OUTER SPACE BLOGATHON hosted by Moon in Gemini and my movie pick is Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). I should have picked Aliens, the second movie in the franchise but then that would mean I miss out on talking about that shocker of a scene at the dining table. Or the egg. And that cool understated poster with the tagline, In space no one can hear you scream.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Can you believe the movie came out 38 years ago? Gosh, I was actually too young when Alien came out and I think I may have watched it after I saw Aliens (“Game over, man!”) and fell in love with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein)*. I even wanted to have my very own big gun!
But back to Alien. It’s 2122 and a crew of the Nostromo is on their way back to Earth with their payload of intergalactic ore, only to be awoken by the ship’s computer named Mother because she detects a beacon from a distant planet. According to company policy, they need to investigate and so they do.
The crew is composed of Kane (the late John Hurt) who’s second-in-command, Captain Dallas (Tom Skerrit), Science Officer Ash (whom I just realized is a very young Ian Holm of Bag End/Bilbo Baggins), Chief Engineer Parker (Yaphet Koto), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) driver Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), and third-in-command, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).
After a rough landing that requires about hours of repair before they can get back to their ship, three members of the crew set out to investigate the source of the beacon. They find a horseshoe-shaped spaceship and inside, “star man” or what viewers have dubbed the space jockey.
Kane finds a hole in the ground and ends up in an area that has all these egg-shaped thingies just hanging out. Of course, he falls (I think he does) and one of the eggs opens up. How does that saying go again? Curiosity kills the cat?
But Kane is not dead. He’s brought back to the ship against the objections of Ripley who goes by the book. Nothing alien should enter the ship. Kane overrules her and lets the crew inside and from here on, it’s classic horror as the alien starts picking the crew one by one, starting with Kane who becomes the creature’s incubator of sorts before it makes its grand entrance during what would have been their last supper before going into hypersleep.
In today’s current cinema trends, Alien would be a lumbering and slow movie but considering its genre: sci-fi horror, it’s not. It’s perfect. The setting is claustrophobic and utilitarian, and the crew, hard-working men and women who just want to get home, have their own emotional arcs that have us fearing for their lives with each passing minute.
I showed this to my oldest son and he marveled at the fact that movie was over 30 years old yet you couldn’t tell at all. To this day, I consider it one of the best horror movies ever made with a bad-ass heroine whom we never saw coming and a legacy that continues to this day… although I kinda gave up with the last prequel movie after Prometheus.
What’s your favorite film set in outer space?
I woke up this morning to the news that one of my favorite actors passed away. Bill Paxton starred in Apollo 13, Aliens, Titanic, Twister, and my all-time favorite cult classic contemporary vampire movie, Near Dark (1987).
It’s an independent film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who would later win an Oscar for Hurt Locker, and stars Adrian Pasdar, Jennie Wright, and Aliens alum, Lance Henriksen, and Jennette Goldstein.
I remember seeing this movie at the same time The Lost Boys and it bombed in the box office. Then we rented it (VHS days) and I probably replayed it so many times. There was something about the story that grabbed me, the anti-heroes who manage to wring out some empathy out of you even as they wreak havoc wherever they go, and the power of family and love.
If you like gritty vampire fare (not the ones who glitter), this is worthy to check out, but the clip below is an extra and contains spoilers. And as always, Paxton has so many wonderful lines.
Thelma and Louise is one of those movies that has stayed with me since I saw it for the first time, and not because of Brad Pitt whose role as the charming thief, JD, is one of the first things some people remember the most. I was enthralled by the women’s friendship from the very beginning, the differences between them and the secret that Louise kept for a very long time, just simmering inside her.
There are so many images I can never forget, from that of Thelma and Louise posing for what we now call a selfie looking Instagram-perfect in one take…
to that last scene…well, before the screen fades to white.
It’s a movie about the enduring power of friendship and probably where the acronym BFF (Best Friends Forever) was born. It’s the story of meek Thelma who goes on a road trip with tough waitress Louise and how, one night, they end up in a bar and one of them gets drunk and is about to get sexually assaulted (or is, I can’t remember the specifics) and the other one does what comes automatic for her. She shoots the man dead, and knowing it would be difficult to justify the act as self-defense, suddenly both friends are on the run and the only man who appears to be on their side is Harvey Keitel (terrible when I don’t remember the character’s name, but it IS Harvey, right?).
Things go from bad to worse when their plan to drive to Mexico and use up Louise’s life savings goes south (without them in the literal sense) because they run into thieving JD who steals every penny. The girls are on the run but even as they go from those cute and fun-loving friends taking that Polaroid selfie in the beginning, their friendship only goes stronger until the very end.
Like, literally – the end.
But really, guess you gotta have a BFF somewhere who’ll not only help get you into trouble, but bail you out of jail – and even bury the body.