105 of 126 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2005
A few weeks ago I had an interesting experience. Trying to escape my family, I decide to spend the afternoon at the theater, catching up on some of the movies I've missed so far this summer. I began with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the Brad Pitt-Angelia Jolie action/comedy, and followed that up with Gus Van Sant's latest, Last Days. Smith had shoot-outs, car chases and fight sequences galore while in Last Days, well, nothing much seemed to happen. Yet one film had me bored to tears (literally!), while the other kept me riveted to my seat. Want to guess which is which?
If you don't know the answer, I suggest a little experiment. Rent both films when they're released on DVD (Last Days comes out the 25th of October) and just try sitting through the inane, incoherent Mr. and Mrs. Smith after having just watched what I consider to be the best film of the year so far. That being said, though, I strongly recommend seeing Last Days on the big screen. So much of my appreciation of this film comes from it's photography as Blake, a thinly disguised version of Kurt Cobain (played by Michael Pitt), is swallowed up by the vast, empty space all around him. This is a film about isolation, mood, setting, not story, and that's just what's conveyed in it's telling.
Now as anyone familiar with Van Sant's work is sure to tell you, his interest in linear film-making has been waning in recent years, a welcome respite after his two most 'mainstream' films (Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester) failed to live up to the potential of his previous career best, 1991's My Own Private Idaho. And with Last Days, he's finally made his masterpiece, a film for which his two prior efforts are likely to be remembered as dry runs and little more. And as unjust as that may be, you can clearly see a progression from Gerry, a good film, to Elephant, a very good film, to Last Days, a great one and his career pinnacle, much the way as Kurosawa used Kagemusha as a tune up for Ran.
The story, in case you're unfamiliar with Cobain's life (as I was prior to seeing this movie), follows a young musician who, after having recently escaped a stint in re-hab, spends his last days wondering his palatial estate, cooking macaroni and cheese, avoiding his hanger-on 'friends,' and composing lonely, morose songs that cling to your memory long after the movie has ended. It's in these scenes that Pitt, a singer himself, proves that he was the ONLY choice for the role. Often under-appreciated (in The Dreamers and Hedwig & the Angry Inch) or overshadowed (particularly by Ryan Gosling's tour-de-force performance in Murder by Numbers), Pitt's finally allowed to shoulder a feature film and proves himself worthy of comparisons to James Dean and River Phoenix.
If you're skeptical of that statement, just watch the way Pitt is able to convey so much through body posturing alone. His eyes obscured behind his greasy, golden locks for much of the film (with the exception of one particular scene where he's allowed to stare into the camera for seemingly an eternity), and his dialogue reduced to little more than incoherent mumbling, he still somehow manages to let us into the soul of the character. He's on screen for almost the entirety of the film and rarely shares a scene with any of his co-stars, but despite all these obstacles is still able to flesh out one of the best performances of this or any other year.
Of course, much hinges on your opinion of Cobain and his music, though you needn't been a Nirvana junkie to appreciate it. In fact, it wasn't until after seeing this movie that I bought my first CD of his, and in the few weeks since I've managed to consume almost a half dozen books on his life. It takes a rare movie to provoke such an insatiable curiosity in me, an experience which makes this film (oddly enough) incredibly life-affairing.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Remember the days when Gus Van Sant made pictures with actual dialogue? I do. I remember them fondly. "Drugstore Cowboy" is a movie I fell in love when I saw it in the theater, it still has a place in my heart. "My Own Private Idaho", while deeply flawed, was so ambitious. And "To Die For" is a sublime, sly comedy.
I think it's fair to say that Van Sant has been on a minimalist streak in recent years: minimal dialogue, minimal plot, minimal action, minimal narrative drive. His last three pictures were characterized by all this and filmed in loooong, stagnant shots. There was "Gerry", then "Elephant" and now "Last Days".
I will never criticize a filmmaker for working outside the mainstream and for developing a unique visual perspective. But it is easy for me to see why so many people hate these movies! But it's also easy for me to see why some people hold them in such high regard. And I won't say either group is wrong. With these films, it is largely a matter of taste. "Gerry", to me, was a crashing bore and an utter failure. "Elephant", I'm surprised to say, was a movie I found tremendous. And "Last Days"? I guess I'd split the difference. While it didn't have the emotional resonance of "Elephant", it wasn't nearly as tedious as "Gerry".
But I wouldn't necessarily recommend any of these films to the "average" movie goer. To most mainstream audiences--"different" is not a good thing. That's why Van Sant's "Good Will Hunting" is his most popular work--it's a genial crowd pleaser. Only seek out "Last Days" if you know what you're getting into--and don't come to get any insight into Kurt Cobain (it's not a biography).
Michael Pitt is a talented young actor, and I admire his work here. Yet he is also a dynamic performer--and that's what you'll miss. Catch him in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch", "The Dreamers", and "Bully". This guy wants to be an actor, not a star--and I suppose, in some ways, that made him a good choice for "Last Days".
Some say Van Sant's last three pictures have been self-indulgent. Maybe so, but maybe that's not always a bad thing. KGHarris, 9/06.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 3, 2005
This film drips with pretension. I nodded off during one scene, then awoke to find the same locked-down shot playing out to no consequence. I do understand what was intended here. The mannered pacing is supposed to engage our senses in an unconventional way. If Van Sant wasn't a name director, however, people wouldn't give it a second glance and read into it what isn't there. But that's how it goes... certain artists are given license to bend the rules and sometimes it gives a medium a needed break from the conventional (uh, like Nirvana, irony of ironies). But there are other times when people get fooled by the contrived weightiness of a vehicle without a core, as in "Last Days", to not just see it as weak. This is weak.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2005
From Smother Magazine smother.net:
It's obvious that this movie is supposed to follow Kurt Cobain's last moments on Earth before he commits suicide. What's not obvious is how badly this movie views. While I'm all for creative art films and I've liked many that most find obnoxious or outright boring, I can't stand movies that forget that we're supposed to be entertained. What director Gus Van Sant ("Elephant", "Good Will Hunting", "Drugstore Cowboy") does well is attach the state of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and societal indifference that Kurt must have been going through in his last moments. And certainly that would make this movie special-if it hadn't been dragged out for the entire movie. There's a lack of anything really going on. We watch as he swims in a stream in the opening, then makes a campfire, and then in the morning wanders back to his big house. And just as isolated as he indeed is after his escape from the detoxification center so is the audience. You sit there aimlessly watching a main character be aimless, knowing and anticipating the conclusion, but bored in the wait. Perhaps that's the irony isn't it? Our heroes can just be boring dorks that seem oh so majestic when the media props them up but when we peel back the layers we expose them for the sorry excuse that they truly are. It's just a shame that you have to sit through a movie this intensely boring to figure it out.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Nicely photographed. That's the end of the good news. Absolutely dreadful script. The main characters stumble around in a stupor and mumble... scene after scene, after scene. After an hour or so it really gets old. Before buying this film I looked over the customer reviews and saw some people loved it an some people hated it. I had to see for myself. I quickly sided with the people who hated it. Maybe you need to see for yourself and decide.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2006
I didn't expect to like this film given the plethora of bad reviews and held off watching it for a while. During the opening sequence where 'Kurt' (let's not pretend he's meant to be anyone else) staggers inexplicably through the woods I started to have my doubts but wasn't too concerned given I had readied myself for a potential dud. Yet as the film film progressed I became less and less concerned with the reasoning behind the unfolding events and started to simply 'feel' the tone of the film and where GVS was coming from in his interpretation of a modern tragedy.
Essentially the only narrative in this film is that Cobain (given the name Blake in this) had left this earth before he pulled the trigger, it doesn't seek to document the potential real life sequence of events, it is simply a rumination and in my view a beautifully realised one to the point where I considered it a work of art.
If you aren't interested or indifferent to Cobain then I'm not sure how you could enjoy this film because it demands a great degree of understanding and reverance for it's subject in order to appreciate what Van Sant is trying to communicate with it. The sequences are long, mostly without dialogue and with very minimal action involved (though beautifully shot); perhaps that was one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much, it was so different from the normal 'busy' style of most film and television.
I can only speak for myself in saying that had I listened to the naysayers and avoided it altogether I would have deprived myself of a great film experience.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2005
People, this isn't a fanboy's tribute--this is a painting of a falling genius' tragic spiral. The cinematography is incredible throughout. You are looking for a music video if you are bored by this film, and real life is not a music video. Do you honestly think that Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore would have EVER agreed to contribute to a film that did not portray the realistic unraveling of a musician hooked on heroin who they KNEW and who RESPECTED them as musical heroes? You know NOTHING about Cobain if you don't realize the importance of these inclusions--read who Cobain idolized as a young musician. The problem is too many MTV fanboys and girls watched this movie and they're just not mature enough to understand this work. The scene of "Blake" composing solo is shown through a window, a brilliant decision by Van Sant to show the removal of the artist from public view and the drowning of a soul that is occurring onscreen. Pitt is astounding in this picture, chillingly depicting an artist both trying to escape from everyone and unable to escape from himself. The confusion in his manner, the blasé acceptance and inability of refusal, his desire for contact with friends and at the same time inability to contact, the physicality and slumping and searching, all were masterfully portrayed by Pitt. My few gripes include the other band members watching the news at the end, afraid of implication, and decision to drive to LA on an open road-way. Way too "Good Will Hunting" in view and I didn't think it added anything to the film. The details-the phone book salesman, the Bible twins, the kitten (a desire for tenderness Blake can control)--all seemed just so surreal and fascinating and real. Stop looking for Nevermind on celluloid-this is a dark painting of a true artist in quiet quicksand.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2006
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
After the initial coolness and novelty of seeing a well-cast actor portraying Kurt Cobain on film wears off, you begin to start assuring yourself: "Ok, this movie must be just about to start getting good..." Minutes turn into hours, but the moment never comes. If you are a fan of Cobain's you might begin to grow angry at the mindless portrayal of Kurt who just wanders silently about, incapable of expressing himself in more than one syllable, repeatedly falling over his own feet, meandering about in women's clothing, totally wacked out on some unknown chemical substance. He mumbles, but you can't hear a word he's mumbling. He communes with nature, but you do not sense anything meaningful happening. Some people might feel obligated to rate this high because it may appear to them to be "cutting edge" or something. In reality, their attempt to show a "troubled soul" was so trite a junior high school student could've written a better script. Uggh what an utter waste of time and money.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2014
I do not like how artificial all exchanges, gestures and statements appear in Gus Van Sant films - all actions feel overtly premeditated, as if rehearsed 100 times. There is nothing about a character's behavior which denotes normal human meaning. Overall his work comes across as too abstract, lacking in heart and genuine spontaneity. There is no fire - everything is 'too cool'. I observed this first in his terrifying-yet-disappointing and depressing "Elephant", a biopic inspired by the columbine massacre. None of the students acted like they were people - they acted like people acting like people. Given the huge cast and wide array of characters I'm afraid the blame for this falls squarely on Gus's shoulders. Perhaps he simply shouldn't be choosing his scripts. Good Will Hunting was a fantastic film that did not lack for heart. Why then, in the years proceeding from this, does he choose these sombre, ambient films with little or no humanity in them?
Each character is a sterile puppet, a purely symbolic entity that we cannot see into or interpret thought from. They're like place mat cards, a coffee-coaster, representative version of people. It feels like he's given them a set of rote tasks to perform, and in having to remember them, they have little time to emote. The only sense of emotion in this film is a sense of laconic depressiveness - much like The Virgin Suicides, Elephant, etc. Is this the only trick this one pony can do? Having seen Good Will, I don't think so, but Gus is quite happy retreading the same ground, hoping for recognition, without realizing that a failing approach is a potentially flawed approach. If there were some sense of progress, contrast in mood or form, there would be some sense of this being a film. Instead we get a film trying to be reality. As depressing as that is, as depressing as reality is, it's not a worthwhile approach. Because film never represents reality as well as reality does.
His films certainly Look pretty, but they leave you with no conclusion, no easy resolution, no lesson, and a deep feeling of emptiness. What, then, is their point? To make people feel worse? Sorry Gus, you've lost me. As for the biopic content of this film, I have no deep feelings either way. It's possible it would've had more impact if it'd been actually based on Kurt's life, but without that it's left feeling a little bit fragile.
Occasionally Gus will just focus on some bit of scenery and force the viewer to just Calm Down and just watch something peaceful for a while, which comes across a little bit patronizing. I can watch scenery all the time - I don't need to be instructed. Overall the film comes off as a whim, and an expensive one. It's irritating and intense and stupid. But at least the ending is tastefully and well done.
16 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2005
At the end of this film the audience is informed that what they just watched was inspired by Kurt Cobain's death, but was completely fictional, as were the characters. Thanks a lot you flippin' idiot! If you had told them that at the beginning of the film, they could have found something else to watch.
Some questions will be asked by those who are not aware that this film is an "artsy" act of self-stimulation on the part of Gus Van Sant:
Why are they calling him Blake?
What the heck is that mumbling, homeless drug-addict doing in that castle?
Dear GOD when is this going to be over???
My question: Is anything to be gained from invoking this dead man's image for a film that does not require him, and adds nothing to him - that certainly only subtracts from him?
Gus's next film will be inspired by the last few hours of Hitler's life. Except it will take place in the Gobi desert, on a Ferris wheel, with seven pre-teen boating enthusiasts dressed as Vikings. The Hitler character will be named Clayton, who will dress up like a woman and mumble commercial jingles in the style of Wagnerian operas. Of course there will be an obligatory, guy-on-guy non sequitur.
Now make way for the army of art-house rejects to proclaim Gus Van Sant's genius!