Read my review of the excellent new Stones Throw documentary here.
Who knew there was a documentary about Rye Coalition coming out? And who’s gonna care? You should, this band is excellent.
The main takeaway from Leave The World Behind, a new documentary about the demise of DJ super-trio Swedish House Mafia, is that it’s best to go out when you are on top, even if you are living a lifestyle filled with riches, success, and fame beyond even most rock stars’ wildest dreams. But you better make damn sure your fellow House Mafiosi are on the same page.
In 2012, this wildly successful DJ crew called it quits, saying that they had accomplished more than they ever could have imagined and would now focus on solo DJ and production careers. They embarked upon a massive farewell tour from 2012 to 2013, melting the faces of adoring fans at sold-out arenas worldwide, and then presumably faded off into the Swedish countryside to eat meatballs and peruse Ikea catalogues. Or possibly to see if they could capture the same uplifting progressive house magic they had with hits like “In My Mind”, “Greyhound,” and “Don’t You Worry Child”.
The documentary’s style matches SHM’s glossy music, opening and closing with shots of the guys cruising around Miami on the eve of their final show in a cigarette speedboat, hair blowing in the wind, the world their proverbial oyster. There are also shots of them skydiving, boxing, swimming in large pools, and generally having fun in glorious high-definition slo-mo. Throughout the 90-minute running time, the cameras follow the group as they travel from city to city, setting up a massive light and stage show to pulse in time with their beats. In quieter moments, they smoke a lot of cigarettes, FaceTime with their wives and children, and ponder this momentous decision they’ve made.
It’s apparent that there are some drawbacks to the superstar DJ lifestyle, even if they’ve left their hard-partying days behind. But it also seems like they are having an incredible time traveling the globe, making ridiculous amounts of money, and working feverish crowds into sweaty, rapturous bliss. The exact reasons for breaking up aren’t articulated precisely, and at times it seems like the guys aren’t exactly sure of why or what they are doing it for. But even those with a passing knowledge of the group or its music will be enthralled by all the pretty pictures that this doc throws in your face (at times said pictures seem like they could use a warning about possible seizures). Director Christian Larson does his best to not only make SHM look like the e-music gods that they are, but to match the throbbing cadence and pulse of the music.
Ultimately, Leave The World Behind doesn’t really delve very far into who Swedish House Mafia actually are and what really makes them tick. There is a little drama in the slight disagreements that takes place in the studio and on private planes as to whether they are making the right choice in splitting up. But this isn’t a hard-hitting look at a successful group going out in its prime; it’s an adoring portrait of one of the biggest names in recent house music that does everything in its power to make its subject look epic and awesome. In that, it succeeds smashingly.
The Final Member
The small town of Husavik, Iceland, lies near the Arctic Circle, has just over 2,000 residents, and is home to what may be the world’s largest collection of penises on display at the Phallological Museum. The Final Member details the drive and determination of the museum’s curator, Siggi Hjartarson, to complete his enormous collection of phalluses from throughout the animal kingdom with the one specimen he is missing: a human being.
Hjartarson’s health is beginning to fail and he realizes that this may be his last chance to realize his dream before he is incapacitated or worse. Enter two possible donors, polar opposites in character, but each quirky and eccentric in their own ways. Pall Arason was Iceland’s most famous explorer, known for opening up the Highlands to tourism and being a notorious womanizer. He’s frail and in his early ‘90s, but feisty and boisterous all the same. He wants to donate his penis after his death, although he worries that, due to his advanced age, it may not be truly representative of its status from its swinging heyday. Arason’s main competition is an American, Tom Mitchell. Mitchell lives in California and is truly a bizarre man. He wants to donate his penis before his death, claiming that it’s of no use to him anymore because of an accident suffered during some particularly energetic sex. He names it Elmo, has an American flag tattooed on the head, and constantly pesters Hjartarson with emails, trying to convince him that he should be the first donor. For all his eccentricity, Mitchell is a vulnerable and sad character, looking for a sense of belonging and immortality in perhaps not the most emotionally and physically healthy way, but who are we to judge?
Hjartarson takes all of this in stride, and displays such sincerity about his collection and his quest for a human member that the audience can’t help but sympathize. Yes, there are some funny moments and some cheeky shots that the filmmakers throw in of the main players on horseback and standing behind a huge penis statue. Who can blame them, as this penis death race is inherently funny and sometimes a little ridiculous? But it’s also, at various times, sad, inspiring, and fascinating, and the directors do an excellent job of creating a gripping narrative that culminates in what is essentially, and appropriately, a happy ending (I won’t spoil who becomes the first donor here). The Final Member essentially tells an age-old story of disappointment and trial leading to triumph – in this case, it just happens to have to do with pickling a severed human penis and putting it on display.
I reviewed David Gordon Green’s less than spectacular new movie, read it here.
Read my review of uneven mob film, Rob The Mob, here.
I reviewed the new David Gordon Green film, Prince Avalanche, for Paste Magazine – read it here.
I reviewed Terrence Malick’s pretentious and boring new film for Paste Magazine, which you can read here.
I reviewed this new German-language crime thriller from Swiss director Baran bo Odar for Paste Magazine. Read it here.
Emperor begins the way the war in the Pacific ended – with a devastating atomic blast. Director Peter Webber’s new film opens with newsreel footage of the bomb dropping on Japan as WWII drew to a close, a horror wrought by America, which subsequently found itself responsible for the rebuilding of the bombed-out country. In 1945, General MacArthur (played gruffly and full of cocksure swagger by Tommy Lee Jones) joined the occupying forces in Japan to figure out how to rebuild without inciting insurrection and guerilla warfare. One of the many problems America faced was Japan’s devotion to its revered Emperor Hirohito, who was in fact considered to be the living embodiment of God. MacArthur brought in a general named Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), who could use his deep love for and intimate knowledge of Japan to figure out how to root out war criminals while respecting the emperor’s presumed divinity. Of course, “intimate” here refers to a past lover, Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune), whom he met at college in the U.S. She abruptly returned to Japan, leaving him jilted and heartbroken.
If this sounds suspiciously melodramatic, it is – there are repeated scenes of Fellers pausing to remember his past love, as swelling music plays over images of the two running in slow motion through forests of bamboo. This feels out of place with the rest of the film, which vacillates between 1940s film noir tones and hints historical biopic. Matthew Fox traipses through the ruins of Tokyo, getting into drunken fights in bars at night as he simultaneously hunts for Aya and the war criminals he’s tasked with finding, and one can’t help think of films like The Third Man. The problem is that Fox is no Joseph Cotten. He’s a fine actor in certain roles, but his inherent earnestness doesn’t do his conflicted character justice here. Jones, on the other hand, is perfect as the blustering MacArthur. After landing in Tokyo at the film’s beginning, he announces that he and his team are about to show some “good, old-fashioned American swagger” before donning a pair of sunglasses and an enormous pipe for his walk down the runway.
Although the events of <i>Emperor</i> are based on historical fact, Webber avoids making a straightforward historical picture, instead choosing to focus on the inner workings of his characters. That doesn’t mean he ignores the history, however, and the last third of the film is mostly devoted to the mechanics of setting up the meeting between Hirohito and MacArthur. When it finally happens, Jones adopts a more subdued tone, showing that although MacArthur may have been full of bravado, he knew when to sit back and display the respect needed to avoid an international incident. Ultimately, this is the most interesting part of the film, which drags when it gets bogged down in sentiment but shines when detailing the intricate dance that was post-WWII reconstruction and negotiation.