Short Cuts: ‘The Garden,’ ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’ and more“Short Cuts” are expedient, pretension-free movie reviews. This installment tackles two unfortunately overlooked DVDs, “The Garden” and “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” and a few which have yet to grow on me: “Explicit Ills,” “Coco Chanel” and “I Sell the Dead.”
WHAT IT IS: … And justice for some? “The Garden,” an Oscar-nominated documentary, tells the story of a very special plot of land. In the sprawling concrete jungle that is the City of Angels sits an empty lot. Not too long ago, that 14-acre piece of property housed one of the most impressive community gardens in the nation. “The first time I stepped into the garden at 41st and Alameda,” wrote director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, “the city of Los Angeles seemed to vanish. Surrounded by varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs, the smell, the air was different immediately.” The responsible/“guilty” parties? Immigrants from Mexico, many of whom were just using the land to get food for their families. They had originally cultivated this urban garden as a way to heal after the devastating L.A. riots of ’92. However, the good times quickly come to an end when the city, in a closed-door City Council session, decides to sell the land to a wealthy developer for millions less than fair-market value. When their little piece of heaven is threatened with demolition (Ralph Horowitz, the aforementioned developer, turned around and jacked up the price when the farmers expressed intent to purchase the land), the farmers mobilize, enlisting the help of big-name supporters like Willie Nelson, Daryl Hannah and Joan Baez. Eventually, they raise the inflated asking price — a cool $16 million — but … guess what? Horowitz refuses to sell to them. As Kennedy’s film comes to a close, you’re treated to images of the lot, since bulldozed and sitting there unused.
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: Completely heartbreaking. The actions of developer Ralph Horowitz were utterly … [reviewer Matthew R. Perrine lets out an exasperated sound not unlike that of a PO’d Charlie Brown]. I don’t know, maybe I’ve been brainwashed, but he seems like the most disgusting man in America. That’s all I can say, lest a libel-inducing tirade spew forth from my keyboard. (Yeah, it’s that powerful of a documentary.)
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Watch it, any way you can, and prepare to take action — not against Horowitz, of course, but locally. Think of the hundreds of travesties we suffer through each year (the old-growth trees on Park Point getting cut down for a private airport quickly come to mind). This documentary is a good reminder that, while every cause you stand up for might not pan out in the end, at least you fought a worthy battle. And isn’t that why we’re here on this planet? To fight the baddies?
“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh”
WHAT IT IS: The screen version* of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon’s a-little-south-of-plausibility coming-of-age story of the same name, brought to life by a cast of extremes: one of the most adventurous actors of all time (Peter Sarsgaard), one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet (Sienna Miller) and one of the most underrated actors of Generation Y (Jon Foster, of the equally underrated series “Life as We Know It”).
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: The back of the box kind of says it all: “Art Bechstein (Foster) is a recent college grad and plans on spending his last summer sleepwalking through the exams that will send him far away to a job chosen for him by his gangster father. But when Art meets the beautiful Jane Bellweather (Miller) and her wild boyfriend, Cleveland (Sarsgaard), Art’s summer and life change forever. … ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’ captures the adventures and emotional explorations of three young people trying to find their way in a changing world.” Note the inclusion of the word “wild.” This film is relatable enough in the first half — as in the “What am I doing with my life?” twangs of panic most young adults go through when they realize it’s time to grow up — but it soon devolves into quite the head-scratcher. One example: Did Art just sleep with Cleveland even though he’s supposedly madly in love with Cleveland’s girlfriend Jane? Yep. I guess that’s just how this film rolls….
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Rent it. No matter how ludicrous his role here gets, Peter Sarsgaard is always worth your time. He’s the man who brought “The Center of the World” to life, after all.
*That one’s pretty obvious I suppose.
• Mark Webber’s “Explicit Ills” gets a few things right (Rosario Dawson and “Little Miss Sunshine” quasi-mute Paul Dano, most notably), but its interconnected storyline of down-and-out Philadelphians just doesn’t click. It seems a wee bit forced, as if “the next ‘Magnolia’” was something Webber desperately wanted to see on the box art. No go, unfortunately.
• “Coco Chanel,” about — you guessed it — the famed fashion designer of the same name, is about as hard to get through as one of those bargain-bin boxes of chocolates at Kmart. There are elements/actors you may recognize and enjoy from other products/movies (Malcolm McDowell, Shirley MacLaine), but … you know what? This polite way of tiptoeing around the fact that this film is unapologetically boring isn’t doing anyone any favors. Pass. Something just ain’t right here.
• Unlike “Explicit Ills” and “Coco Chanel,” Glenn McQuaid’s funny/scary “I Sell the Dead” is decidedly this group’s “Most Likely to Find a Cult Audience.” There’s nothing technically wrong about this oddball romp about robbing graves for profit — the visuals are great, as are the performances (it’s nice to see Dominic Monaghan succeeding outside of the “Lost” universe) — but it just didn’t click with me. Then again, neither did Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” films (which also happen to feature Monaghan), and those obviously have legions of fans. Perhaps an additional viewing or two is in order here.
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