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Movie Review Double Feature: "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and "Cyrus"

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“Exit Through the Gift Shop”
Directed by: Banksy
Starring: Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Invader, Shepard Fairey, Neckface and Swoon.
Rated: R

 “Exit Through the Gift Shop” caused quite a stir at the last Sundance Film Festival. That's no surprise. It's the kind of movie that film lovers love. It's got an intriguing, seldom explored but familiar subject matter and a back story concerning its making that is head-scratch inducing.

It's a documentary that plays like fiction, and at times, the viewer isn't exactly sure of the true nature of the film.

The director - only known as "Banksy" to protect his anonymity as a graffiti artist - also assumes a lead role.

Banksy is a street/graffiti/urban folk artist. Thiery Guetta is a want to be documentarian who was fascinated with Banksy's (and other guerilla artists') work.

Guetta is a Frenchman who has devoted a great part of his life videotaping graffiti artists. His tapes are unorganized but extensive. When Banksy - who hails from London - arrives in L.A., he meets
Guetta,who wants to film him and combine that footage with some of his vast library of other street artists to fashion a documentary.

Guetta's skills as a director turn out to be somewhat lacking. So Banksy, keeping the heart and soul of his guerilla art aesthetic, convinces the would-be filmmaker into doing street art of his own and Banksy makes a film about him and his fledgling career as an artist.

Some people think the entire scenario of the subject becoming the director might, in itself, be another manifestation of the guerilla art style. That point doesn't really matter. Whether legitimate documentary or planned art hoax, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” works. And it has some of the same kind of adrenaline rush the great documentary “Man on Wire” about tightrope walker Philippe Petit had. Petit is legendary for his 1974 tightrope walk between the World Trade Center towers, a stunt/performance art piece that was called “the art crime of the century.”

These graffiti artists aren't going to the extremes that Petit had to in order to pull off his masterpiece, but they are considered outside of the law. Their work ranges from simple (but elegant) spray paintings on walls or freight train cars to elaborate stencil projects on huge open spaces in major cities around the world.

The artwork itself may not be to everyone's liking, but anyone interested in the creative process should find “Exit Through the Gift Shop” thought-provoking.

(The film will be gone from its short engagement at The Moxie by press time but the DVD release will be out in the fall.)

“Cyrus”
Directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catharine Keener
Rated: R

“Cyrus” surprised me because of its rather limited release. It's still building, though, and it definitely will have great word of mouth and bring in audiences and box office dollars.

The cast does not have Tom Cruise or Arnold Schwarzenegger top dollar A-listers, but John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and Catherine Keener are all well known for great acting and choosing their projects wisely.

“Cyrus” is another wise choice for the entire cast.

While the sibling writer/director team of the Duplass brothers is not well known, the strength of their script for “Cyrus” obviously got them noticed.

It's funny but also poignant and the brothers manage to explore the Oedipus Complex without ever making it smarmy. While the complex - Sigmund Freud's explanation for a child with subconscious sexual desires toward a parent - can be uncomfortable subject matter at times, the film never uses run-of-the-mill teen sex joke fare.

John C. Reilly plays John, a sort of emotional wreck of a man who is still great friends with his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) and her soon-to-be new husband. At her insistence, John accompanies them to a party where he meets Molly, played by stunner Marisa Tomei. But she's also approachable, and she and John hit it off.  (As in “sleep together.”)

Tomei has never been afraid to take chances and her role as Molly proves that once again. Despite their obvious differences, the love affair between Molly and John never makes a false move.

Then comes Cyrus. He's going on 22 and still lives with Molly, his mom. It's obvious they have a very close - maybe too close - relationship and Cyrus, all sweetness and need to his mom, makes it clear to John that he's going to be a formidable foe for her affections. Cyrus is going to do anything he can to make sure John and his mom never get on the right track.

“Cyrus” has moments of wry humor, but it also has a great deal of emotional impact. The Oedipal aspect will make some people uncomfortable, but the directors never play it as farce. Their script and direction, combined with a cast of fine actors willing to take chances, make for a powerful film. “Cyrus” will stick with you long after you leave the theater.
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