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Last Days
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by Jason Whyte

"Van Sant's 'Red'."
5 stars

Two years ago, I sat in a cinema in complete, awe-struck silence as "Gerry", Gus Van Sant's film that was both a fascinating parable about two friends who were lost in a desert as well as a long awaited foray against the Hollywood system, was unleashed into art house cinemas where it caused a pretty huge critical divide. For some, it was long, ponderous with utmost refusal to explain why the actions were occuring on screen. For others (I am in this camp), it was a transcendental experience by way of the early experimental works of Bela Tarr's "Satantango" fueled by the works of Russian genius Andrei Tarkovsky. The fact that it refused to explain was sort of its point; that these people are mistakenly lost by way of nature is its own explanation.

Later that year, I viewed Sant's "Elephant" in the comfort of 1100 Vancouver Film Festival attendees and the reaction was somewhat similar; either you came out of the 81 minute film in complete bewilderment about what the heck Sant was going for in its tale of the day leading up to an eruption of violence in a school, or you came out dazed at the fact the film was really about those dank, long corridors on an overcast day and terror can really come out of the quiet. It also may of helped that the film had some of the most glorious use of photography in years (the Stedicam shots alone looked like they were right out of the page of Stanley Kubrick).

The funny thing is that both arguments have their validation. I normally hate the phrase "Either you get it or you don't" because a lot of people these days simply do not have the graspings to understand this kind of cinematic language (how else does one explain how "Transporter 2" made $20 million in its opening weekend in the box office?) but the brilliance of these two Van Sant films is that if you are openminded enough, his films encourage your own interpretation of the material. And his last film in this trilogy, the Kurt Cobain-inspired "Last Days", may be his most difficult one yet. And his most brilliant.

Early on, we are introduced to Blake (Michael Pitt), a musician, as he is mumbling his way through the forest. We see him wander on the outskirts of a mansion in upstate New York, take a bath in the lake, and slowly wander his way back to his house...although he doesn't go there and instead finds his way to a toolshed where none of his entourage seem to come and bother him. Blake is alone, mumbling; his entire existence seems to be completely gone in a cloud of drugs and depression. Simple tasks like fixing a bowl of Cocoa Puffs (where the milk is where the box should be and the box is where the milk should be) and a bowl of macaroni (which seems to have boiled itself in 30 seconds and he mixes the powder without mixing the very important butter) are shown to us with meticulous detail, all the while his friends who wander back and forth into the rooms around him.

Certain characters come in and out of the picture. One of note is a detective (Ricky Jay) who spends time talking about a magician in his car (Jay, a magician himself, always seems to work a little magic into every role he does) and never seems to find Blake who can always run and hide down by the lake. There's a man in a bar that Blake goes to that recognizes him, but Blake is so far gone that he hardly acknowledges it. And another character is Kim (Kim Gordon of "Sonic Youth") who wants nothing more than for Blake to come back to reality with her and for him to see his daughter.

Very little is explained in the way of expositon, rather we are forced to confront Blake's mumblings, wandering gazes and the words of his friends to figure out the why and the how. It's a challenging task for a viewer who is up to it, but it's amusing how audiences who are confronted with a character and a narrative such as this suddenly go into "plot" mode and wish everything to be explained to them; the recent "Broken Flowers" starred Bill Murray as a man who was confronting his existence and his performance WAS the plot of the story. His facial mannerisms were the point of the film, as are Blake's in this one.

The standout sequence in the film is towards the end, where Blake sits alone in a room in a mansion which he has turned into a small music studio. The camera sits, unmoving in a single unbroken take, as Blake begins to mumble his way through a ballad that is coming from deep within. This scene is worth mentioning because it is a take that runs over 8 minutes and is situated in the same position for the entire shot. I haven't seen photography like this since Roy Andersson's Swedish masterpiece "Songs From the Second Floor" and it is something I want to see more of.

All the while we are reminded of Kurt Cobain, who shot himself in his house around 1992 in Seattle. Michael Pitt's performance in the film is a standout not just because he looks and gives off the aura of Cobain, but the mannerisms and stilted dialogue of a drugged out, depressed rock star whose power and popularity have overwhelmed him. One would question why Van Sant didn't just go all out and make a Kurt Cobain biopic, but perhaps his estranged widow, Courtney Love, may have not given approval. With that said, perhaps this route is better since it gives Van Sant more room to let his writing and direction come through.

As mentioned before, this film will make you question the material and challenge you to come up with your own interpretatioin. My own feelings tell me that Van Sant has channeled a powerful, haunting story through a terrific performance by Michael Pitt and is worth seeing any way possible, and who knows, you may feel it too, and I urge you to give it a chance and agree or disagree with me. And I also believe that with the use of long takes, twisting the narrative around and refusing to break things down for us, it makes us do a little bit of more work than what is expected of us in the Hollywood world. And whilen this style may not always work in cinema, in Van Sant's world, it works for me.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12289&reviewer=350
originally posted: 09/17/05 03:09:17
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 CineVegas Film Festival For more in the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/02/10 User Name For those patient enough to give ti a chance, Last Days is a capitvating piece of art. 3 stars
8/21/09 trash well, im at one hour now and i cant help thinking. why does he have to mumble so much... 2 stars
12/23/07 mm artsy. its decent, but Elephant was better 4 stars
9/14/06 Ash Watching a horse take a dump is more interesting than this garbage BOOOOO! 1 stars
7/21/06 Jen This guy needs a good whooping, where's Dave? 2 stars
4/10/06 Indrid Cold Excrutiatingly boring and pretentious, but I guess it achevies what it sets out to do. 2 stars
11/20/05 tatum About as entertaining as Nirvana's "music" 2 stars
10/30/05 ALBERT a piece of shit. 1 stars
9/25/05 a. kurlovs interesting meditation. some scenes are psychologically amusing 4 stars
9/21/05 nirvana rules that faggot screw everything, he's a sick man that make sick movies. sickening. 1 stars
9/09/05 Robert artsy,hypnotic, Must see at least twice. 5 stars
9/04/05 Green Gremlin Dust off your copy of "Nevermind" and give this arty farty mess a miss !!! 1 stars
9/02/05 Just Mike Was I watching a movie or a nature documentary? 1 stars
9/02/05 VoRn Hilariously Boring 1 stars
9/01/05 VoRn A masterpeice of shit. 1 stars
8/24/05 Michael Stoner A really bad way to lose two hours of your life. Waste of time. 1 stars
8/16/05 Dylan How dare they! 1 stars
8/04/05 Rob Not entertaining, but a plausable portrayal of that scene 4 stars
7/29/05 josh terrible, horrible movie. I love Nirvana. I hate Van Sant. 1 stars
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  22-Jul-2005 (R)
  DVD: 25-Oct-2005



Directed by
  Gus Van Sant

Written by
  Gus Van Sant

  Michael Pitt
  Asia Argento
  Lukas Haas
  Ricky Jay
  Harmony Korine
  Nicole Vicius

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