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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

While I wouldn't go so far as to characterize 2010 as a bad year for cinema, it's certainly been a mediocre one. Even the movies I've enjoyed have had very little staying power, vanishing from memory almost as soon as the lights went up. However, there have been a few gems scattered throughout the year and coincidentally, two of my favorites are arriving on disc December 14. One is a documentary (more or less) and the other a work of sheer fantasy but both come from a couple of merry pranksters who are having more fun with a camera than should be legally allowed.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (DVD)

Exit Through the Gift Shop
2010 (2010) - Oscilloscope Laboratories

For a guy whose identity is kept completely under wraps, British street artist Banksy has had a high-profile year. A few months ago, he contributed a controversial (and brilliant) couch gag to The Simpsons. More recently, his movie Exit Through the Gift Shop was included on the Academy Awards' shortlist of fifteen documentaries eligible for nomination in next year's Oscars. I'm rooting for this one to win, partly because it deserves to but also because the acceptance speech could be one of the most memorably bizarre moments in Oscar history.

The strange tale of Exit begins in 1999 with Thierry Guetta, a French émigré to Los Angeles with a passion for video. He obsessively films everything and develops an interest in street art and graffiti, particularly the work of Shepard Fairey.

He proposes the idea of a film to Fairey as a way of giving some permanence to his frequently ephemeral art. Fairey agrees and puts Guetta in touch with other artists around the world, a path that eventually leads to Banksy. But even though Guetta is extremely eager and constantly filming, it starts to become clear to everyone that this strange man has no idea how to bring an idea to completion. When he finally does begin editing his film, it's almost completely incomprehensible. By this time, Guetta's already grown bored with the project and decides to become an artist himself. Dubbing himself Mr. Brainwash and surrounding himself with an army of assistants to do most of the work, he sets about creating his own legend, arriving in the art world with a big bang. It's an impressive achievement in its way, but is it art?

It's a question that cuts to the core of Exit Through the Gift Shop, not just with Mr. Brainwash but all the artists involved. What they call art, the police call vandalism. Does Thierry Guetta perform a masterful piece of self-promotion or self-delusion? At times, even the artists themselves seem unsure about the dividing line between art and nonsense. There are no right or wrong answers offered and the questions are posed in such an exhilarating and entertaining fashion that you never feel as though you're taking part in an art history seminar. It's even possible that the whole thing is a put-on, that Mr. Brainwash is Banksy's creation, and the movie is no more a documentary than Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix's I'm Still Here. There are only a handful of people who know for sure and, unlike Affleck and Phoenix, they're not talking. In the end, it doesn't much matter. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a hilarious, brain-twisting examination of the art world that you won't stop talking about... providing you stop laughing long enough to talk.

The DVD provides a solid transfer of the feature with a handful of worthwhile extras, the best of which is B Movie, a separate feature about Banksy himself. The disc also includes a few deleted scenes, a featurette on Mr. Brainwash's first public exhibition at Banksy's Cans Festival in 2008, and the "Lawyer's Cut" of Guetta's film Life Remote Control, edited down to about 15 minutes from its original hour and a half length. The package also includes some terrific swag, including postcards, decals, and a special pair of "2D viewing glasses" (the instructions: "For maximum viewing pleasure simply put on glasses, start DVD and look out the window.")

Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B+

Dr. Adam Jahnke

Micmacs (Blu-ray Disc)

2010 (2010) - Sony Pictures Classics (Sony)

The films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet occupy a unique place in the cinematic landscape. They are dreamily romantic, unapologetically quirky, and frequently dark around the edges while remaining sweet and innocent at heart. His movies leave you giddy with the sheer amount of imaginative detail packed into each frame.

Micmacs finds Jeunet operating back in Delicatessen territory with an exhilarating and hilarious fantasy about a "family" of misfits and oddballs looking for a little payback from a pair of monolithic weapons manufacturers.

Dany Boon stars as a video store clerk left homeless and jobless after surviving a freak shooting accident that leaves him with a bullet lodged in his brain. He's adopted by a group of scrap metal scavengers and discovers the company that manufactured his bullet. As it happens, they're right across the street from the outfit that made the land mine that killed his father thirty years earlier. The odd little group pools their talents to hatch an elaborate scheme to bring down the weapons manufacturers. Yeah, there's a little bit of a political undercurrent to all this but it's no more controversial than, "Illegal arms trading is a bad thing."

Micmacs is overflowing with references and homages to the films Jeunet grew up with, everything from Sergio Leone to Tex Avery, but they're all filtered through Jeunet's unique prism, so they never feel gratuitous or tacked on. Even a moment that nods back to Jeunet's own Delicatessen simply brings a warm smile of recognition to your face. In fact, it's virtually impossible to watch Micmacs without grinning from ear to ear. The movie is an absolute delight that flows seamlessly from one wildly inventive highlight to the next. And while it seems as if it would be a maddeningly complex challenge to construct, Jeunet makes it all look effortless. This is a master working at the height of his powers and it's a sheer pleasure to watch it all come together.

Sony's Blu-ray is a pleasure all its own with an absolutely stunning image and a warm, immersive 5.1 DTS-HD French language audio track. This disc is a technical stunner in all respects. The extras are surprisingly strong, including a lively audio commentary by Jeunet (in English), a terrific making-of featurette running just over 45 minutes, a funny and informative Q&A session with Jeunet and actress Julie Ferrier from the Tribeca Film Festival, a quick look at the process of making the animated Absurd Deaths, and the theatrical trailer. The disc may not be advertised as a special edition but it's a lot better than some that are. Micmacs is a real gift of a movie, one that will be treasured and discovered for many years to come.

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): 19/19/A-

Dr. Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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