Film

On Screen

'10 Items or Less,' 'The Beales of Grey Gardens,' and 'Fuck'

10 Items or Less

dir. Brad Silberling

Morgan Freeman, according to no less an authority than the IMDb, "frequently plays characters with calm demeanor." While said trademarked calm is always a welcome presence, it's hard not to feel a pang or two about this charismatic, effortless performer now shellacked into forever playing the Voice of Moral Reason. There are probably worse positions for an actor to be in, true, but after playing God and the president and Miss Daisy's driver and the narrator of choice for penguins worldwide, how exactly does one kick back and relax?

The odd little character piece 10 Items or Less serves as a reminder of the actor's seldom-used range. Insubstantial as dandelion fluff, this is a strange, muzzy little movie made palatable by Freeman's enormously charming, gliding presence. Identified in the credits only as "Him," Freeman plays a once-big action star fading into obscurity after spending four years between projects. While doing research for an upcoming indie role at a grotty supermarket, he stumbles across a caustic, gorgeous checker (Paz Vega), and proceeds to spend the day with her. Lessons are learned and homilies are swapped, but all in a fairly noncloying manner.

On the debit side, writer-director Brad (Lemony Snicket) Silberling's film feels awfully padded, even at 82 minutes, and somehow comes off as weirdly smug about its no-budget, Hollywood outsider status. (The closing credits proudly trumpet the fact that no brand names were paid for their inclusion in the film, which puts one in the difficult moral position of admiring Arby's.) Still, the copious chemistry between the stars, and Freeman's obvious delight at being able to cut loose for a change, ends up counting for an awful lot. Ditching the moral compass, however temporarily, does the actor a world of good. To mangle a line from David Mamet, he's so cool, sheep count him. ANDREW WRIGHT

The Beales of Grey Gardens

dir. Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Ian Markiewicz

Strictly for fans of the original Grey Gardens—and really, who isn't?—Albert Maysles's follow-up The Beales of Grey Gardens is culled from the original footage, shot in the early '70s, of 70-something Edith Bouvier Beale and her 50-something daughter, Little Edie, squatting in a few rank chambers of their 28-room Long Island mansion. The Maysles brothers must have used most of their good footage in Grey Gardens, because The Beales of Grey Gardens is a series of visibly flawed outtakes. You can usually tell why a given scene was rejected by the original team of "director-editors"—with a boom mic poking out here, and a repetitive story there, The Beales of Grey Gardens often looks simply sloppy.

The only time the Maysles brothers appeared bodily in Grey Gardens was in bank shots into the mirror—arch nods toward their own agency in the double portrait. Here, they hang out all over the place, flirting audibly with Little Edie (as she bats visibly back), wandering into the frame, even valiantly dousing electrical fires. Thirty years after the cinéma vérité classic, we're much more comfortable with filmmakers who nudge their way in front of the camera; this class of goofs doesn't wreck the new film's integrity, and in some ways it makes the original more interesting.

As for the actual material, well. There are more preposterous quotations. ("I'm not going to church to keep thin! I'm going because I love the Lord!") You are reminded yet again that Little Edie has been feeding the raccoons. There are more priceless squabbles. The role of Lois—the Edies' East Hampton neighbor, who paints atrocious pastel Age of Aquarius landscapes and makes a modest living as a palmist—is expanded, depressingly. And, in a nod to the original film's fashion-industry devotees, there is a long montage of Little Edie in her trademark bizarre costumes. And (gasp!) a glimpse of some spare white hairs peeking out from under her makeshift scarf. It's no masterpiece, but if Grey Gardens left you desperate for more of the spoiled, tottering, lovable aristocrats, you can satisfy your cravings here. ANNIE WAGNER

Fuck

dir. Steve Anderson

The documentary Fuck aims to break down the much-maligned f-word's effect on our censorship-happy country. A flashily edited mishmash of celebrity talking heads "dissecting" the First Amendment, the film bounces erratically between the likes of a Lenny Bruce memorial to unexplained footage of Euro-hippies screwing in the name of the environment.

The ample celebrity commentary can be engaging but it's also underripe, dragged down by an utterly predictable cast. The f-word advocates are your usual potpourri of tatted rockers, porn stars, and hip comedians. When Ice-T is your go-to funny man and the lead singer of Biohazard is one of your free-speech heavy hitters, you've got a marked lack of gravitas. Even worse is the bevy of conservative pundits in the film, a scramble of right-wingers who inveigh so disproportionately against such a little curse word, they become laughable.

Half-baked, and in desperate need of a central focus, Fuck bottoms out early, rejecting actual content in favor of a series of loosely connected, f-bomb related detours. The film touches at the edges of an interesting debate about the modern view of freedom of speech, but never draws any insightful conclusions. At best, Fuck is a slew of often entertaining, often pointless digressions into the bawdy history of the world's most infamous four-letter expletive; at worst, it's a toneless, shoddily stitched together, MTV-caliber confection. Not unbearable, but definitely not fucking great. NOAH SANDERS

 

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