Poetry and Puncture Wounds
There's an old saying about Ginger Rogers, who did everything Fred Astaire did -- but backwards and in heels. This Australian western seems to be saying something similar about gritty American westerns: You think that's hard? Try living in the Outback. The Proposition mucks about in dust, blood, and moral ambiguity with all the cheerfulness of a Nick Cave song -- which is appropriate, seeing as Cave wrote the screenplay and composed the score. Guy Pearce plays a scoundrel sent to murder his older brother so that his younger brother will be spared. It's all very gorgeous, solemn, and ponderous, except for the many excellent scenes of bullets and spears poking holes in people. The informative, dour commentary confirms that the filmmakers think their movie is important, but who cares? It's mostly a big bucket of sour-faced fun. -- Jordan Harper
Most TV-show boxed sets give you standard-issue bonuses: commentaries, maybe some deleted scenes, and a blooper reel. But this collection for a pretty-good/could-be-great show starring Jason Lee raises the bar by including the unaired pilot for My Name Is Earl, which upends the show's feel-good premise (serving karmic righteousness, Earl rights old wrongs) and takes it down a meaner path constructed on the cobblestones of vengeance and fury. You can tell it was never gonna work in prime time -- too many middle fingers and dick jokes and smoked cigarettes -- but you'll nonetheless admire its nerve. Eventually the show found its way back to the road of good intentions, but it would have been fascinating to see whether the audience would love a guy it was supposed to loathe from the jump. -- Robert Wilonsky
He's the self-proclaimed "King Kong of show business" and a "sorry entertainer" -- Daniel Johnston, the beloved manic-depressive who penned perfect pop songs and mangled their delivery on his way to loony-bin infamy and indie-rock misfortune. Filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig rescues the man from rock's footnotes, using ancient audio recordings and interviews to illuminate the genius hiding behind the burned-out eyes and baby-talk voice. This is less a standard rock doc than a grim family portrait of a mother and father frightened by the creative child they understood no more than they would a Martian; they wanted to help, but they hurt in the process. Among the essential bonuses is a reunion between Daniel and his 26-years-lost muse-turned-obsession Laurie; rather than being freaked out at having hundreds of songs written about her, she seems even happier than he to be held at long last. -- Wilonsky
There's a great movie to be made about our culture's twisted fascination with perverts -- and for the first 40 minutes or so, this is it. But even an incredible performance from Lolita-with-a-twist Ellen Page can't save Hard Candy from its downhill slide; it's one of the most uneven movies in recent memory. Page plays a 14-year-old in a flirty online relationship with a grown man, and the opening scenes of their meeting are subtly creepy and tense. Unfortunately, that subtlety is later shed like a prom dress. It's no surprise that neither character is exactly who he or she seems, and when Page first reveals her hidden side, she also reveals talent far beyond her 18 years. But then there's another twist and another, and pretty soon the whole thing starts to feel silly. -- Harper
Jordan Harper Robert Wilonsky
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