Kurt Cobain About a Son
dir. AJ Schnack
Opens Fri Dec 21
The most tasteful example of Kurtsploitation yet, the awkwardly named Kurt Cobain About a Son is far from just one more film about one more dead musician. It makes sense that About a Son is so different: Cobain was different, and as the dramatic frontispiece for the last band that really mattered, his story deserves telling through means other than a sappy biopic. (Though, no doubt, there'll be at least one of those in the future, too.)
Here, director AJ Schnack and co-producer Michael Azerrad make good use of audio recordings from Azerrad's interviews with Cobain, conducted for Azerrad's excellent book Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana. The resultant tapes ramble: There's talk of music, celebrity, misanthropy, and other "brooding and bellyaching," and yes, both heroin and Courtney make their ominous appearances.
Accompanying Cobain's words are poetic images of his haunts: Aberdeen, Olympia, and Seattle. Gracefully shot by the film's excellently named director of photography, Wyatt Troll, About a Son's low-key images effortlessly represent the beauty and utilitarianism of the Pacific Northwest. Sync it all up to an original score by Steve Fisk and Ben Gibbard, and a painfully appropriate soundtrack that ranges from Queen to Leadbelly, and you have a quiet, insightful portrait of a guy who's been loudly, crudely eulogized for over a decade. "My story is exactly the same as 90 percent of everyone my age," Cobain mumbles at one point, and he's right. It says a lot that About a Son feels like it perfectly captures the other 10 percent. ERIK HENRIKSEN
The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep
dir. Jay Russell
Opens Tues Dec 25
Armed with modest goals and a surprisingly capable cast (Emily Watson, Brian Cox, and Ben Chaplin among them), The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep succeeds where most contemporary family adventure films fail so miserably: It at least manages to paint a reasonably convincing world before succumbing completely to obligatory, mediocre CGI. Your standard a-boy-and-his-[insert fantastical creature] fable, The Water Horse concerns young Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel), a servant's son growing up in WWII-era Scotland who's shouldered with raising the Loch Ness Monster—which is, frankly, the most burdensome magical best friend I can think of. Of course, this ensures that the film has its fair share of excessively animated CGI slapstick—an unfortunate ubiquity in today's kid-friendly fare. On the plus side though, The Water Horse is a lot more E.T. than Free Willy: Its sentimentality is mostly stomachable, its war-time subtext is a pleasant diversion, and there's even some satisfyingly menacing sequences where Nessie flips out and goes a little Jurassic Park. It might not totally make up for the greasy little digital beast that's all over the movie posters, but there are certainly worse movies to take your sister's kids to this Christmas. ZAC PENNINGTON
dir. Jean-Jacques Beineix
Opens Fri Dec 21
In Diva's Paris, everyone lives in huge dark lofts, maintains highly individualized states of philosophical melancholy, and finds transcendent bliss in the process of buttering a fresh (but not too fresh) baguette. In short, it is an elder conceptual Paris, more true to its love of discretion than today's world of all-access and high rents, in which French Vogue Editor Carine Roitfeld is broadcast worldwide every time she changes her clothes, and in which no half-assed postman could afford a loft so vast it contains an automotive graveyard, as does that of Jules (Frédéric Andréi), the unwitting protagonist of this eccentric thriller from 1981.
The cast and plot is simultaneously oddball and expected: Loner (Andréi) obsesses over an opera star (Wilhelmina Fernandez) and becomes unwittingly involved in a crime syndicate cover-up. Various complications are as diverse as rare concert bootlegs, dead hookers, and the sorriest depiction of Parisian detectives' effectiveness as has ever graced the screen.
The first feature from director Jean-Jacques Beineix, Diva is not perfect—it's awfully laidback for a thriller—but what it captures is something fit to bottle and sell. MARJORIE SKINNER