Dark Horse (Todd Solondz)
Solondz continues to shoot fish in a barrel in Dark Horse, his latest exploration of arrested development. Focusing on a thirtysomething man who collects toys and lives with his parents, this comedy starts out by playing broader than Solodnz’s recent work. When his desperate wedding proposal meets with an unexpected acceptance the possibility of change arises. Of course happiness is fleeting at best in a Solondz film, so it’s only a matter of time before our rotund hero’s dreams are crushed. The narrative, which drifts off into the absurd after a major character falls into a coma (Solondz’s Bunuellian tendencies are at their worst here), is really just an excuse for the director to air his current grievances about culture and demonstrate his witty dialogue (her reaction to their first kiss? “Oh my God… It wasn’t horrible.”). Selma Blair makes less of an impact than one would expect as the would-be spouse and as the hero’s parents Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow barely register at all. The moral seems to be that none of us will ever live up to each other’s fantasies, but this might be best seen as a minor work, where the accumulation of cheap shots that Solondz lobs at pop culture targets (e.g. pre-show movie “entertainment”, Tron: Legacy, bad pop music) are designed to at least take some of the heat off of the characters. They can hardly be blamed for being awful, Solondz seems to be arguing, given how awful all of New Jersey is.
Girl Model (Ashley Sabin & David Redmon)
This documentary tracks Nadya, a pretty 14 year old girl from Novosibirsk, who travels to Japan in hopes of achieving a modeling career. She discovers a ruthless industry instead, seemingly designed to exploit the families of young girls in the hopes of turning out a rare money maker. I appreciated the film’s jaundiced view of a world that I know next to nothing about, but at the same time, I felt that the filmmakers refused to press on any tough questions. The close alliance of these modeling agencies with the sex trade is underexplored, for example, and the degree to which Nadya’s family could have anticipated a terrible outcome for her trip is left vague, probably to boost drama (at one point she clearly states that her friends warned her that the business was a scam). Ultimately a sad portrait of young girls left to fend for themselves in a world that is too willing to exploit them, Girl Model is hamstrung by its somewhat slapdash construction and lack of formal interest.
Crazy Horse (Frederick Wiseman)
With Crazy Horse, a documentary about the famed Parisian burlesque club, Wiseman varies his trademarked approach somewhat. Instead of merely observing anonymously, he shows several numbers here that have been obviously staged for his camera. These are a mixed bag, quality-wise, but they are generally interesting, especially insofar as they present the bodies of the female dancers at the Crazy Horse as assemblages of abstract parts. What works better here are the glimpses at the behind-the-scenes workings of the clubs. A conversation in which a costumer talks about achieving the appearance of a round buttock under stage lights is fascinating, for example, as are the few glimpses that we get into the business details of the club. These highlights do not comprise the bulk of the run time here, though, which suggests that Crazy Horse would be better still if it were as long as most of Wiseman’s other output. Beyond this, it’s interesting that Wiseman manages to get interviews from the club’s artistic directors by merely taping them as they are interviewed by other media personalities. This might be a violation of his usual fly on the wall style, but it’s a clever one. Odd too that there should be so little focus on repetition here, given that the girls perform essentially the same show each night after exhausting rehearsals. Wiseman’s desire to show us what a night at the Crazy Horse is like keeps Crazy Horse from showing us what life at the Crazy Horse is like to some degree.