Criticwire Picks: 'Beauty is Embarrassing' and 'Detropia' Highlight Another Strong Week for Docs

Reviews
by Steve Greene
September 6, 2012 1:45 PM
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"Beauty is Embarrassing."
"Beauty is Embarrassing" wasn't the highest-profile documentary to premiere at SXSW earlier this year. But between its runs there and at the Los Angeles Film Festival, the earliest feedback has been laudatory. Neil Berkeley's debut film tells the saga of Wayne White, one of the creators of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" and an important figure in a number of areas of visual entertainment. In her review for The Playlist, Katie Walsh says of the central figure, "White is such a hysterically funny, wacky and weird guy that the documentarian need only train his camera upon him in order to make it entertaining. It is a genuinely hilarious film, but it’s funny because of the pathos too, the sadness in White that makes him want to live everyday to its fullest, to make a silly puppet because it’s fun, and why not today?"

Of the films with a steadier stream of critical response, "Detropia" is this week's clear, vetted best bet. Presented as a potential fate awaiting the rest of the country amidst a wavering economy, the doc captures the disrepair of Detroit, a city that was once a thriving center of industry. Those who praise the film highlight directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's ability to display both the beauty and the tragedy that intertwine in the city's current state. As Shadow and Act's Tambay Obenson describes, "despite the despair on display, the canvass is quite vivid and painterly, creating something oddly beautiful and transfixing of all that desolation. And it's aided by a calmly haunting soundtrack." Don R. Lewis from Film Threat seconds the cataclysmic effect, describing that "Detroit is like a city from a parallel universe that was hit by an Armageddon, with a colossal train station and garish mansions sitting in various stages of decay with no one there to keep people from trespassing. Artists and photographers flock to the city because they can basically do anything they want in a huge metropolis that is basically abandoned." While most are in agreement about the film's visual merits, some, like Film School Rejects' Kate Erbland, lament the lack of inquisitive depth. "Viewers who have read a recent article on Detroit or watched any sort of television special on the subject will see more of the same, though 'Detropia' presents it in a significantly more artistic and articulate manner than most," Erbland writes.

Another 2012 Sundance alum hitting theaters this week is Ira Sach's "Keep the Lights On," a decade-spanning relationship drama between two men who first meet in late-90s New York. Most critics acknowledge a noticeable level of sincerity in Sach's story of Erik and Paul, but the dynamic nature of those characters is the point of some debate. Simon Abrams' Sundance review definitively asserts "There’s no melodrama here, just a moving and totally engrossing story of two men in love," but Film.com's William Goss, while not completely disagreeing, is less convinced. "There’s little doubting the sincerity that Sachs is bringing to 'Keep the Lights On,' and bless him for eschewing melodrama in favor of tenderness," Goss explains, "but his characters are often left adrift in a sea of conflicting emotions, and as such, the heartache hardly hits home." An inescapable element of the film's crafting is the frequent scenes of intimacey between the two main characters, a feature that Slant Magazine's MichaƂ Oleszczyk counts as a strength. "It's very rare that a viewer gets a sense of movie characters' erotic bonds morphing over the years while remaining basically unyielding," writes Oleszczyk, "and this is exactly what's happening in 'Keep the Lights On,' thus rendering its beautifully evocative title even more relevant."

Some other notable releases from the impending weekend include two other Park City vets from this year, So Young Kim's "For Ellen" and the raucous pre-wedding comedy "Bachelorette." Also on the docket is the Snoop Dogg Lion documentary "Reincarnated" and "Girl Model," Ashley Sabin and David Redmond's look at a dark undercurrent in the fashion industry.

Criticwire: Films Opening This Week
NOTE: The averages listed here are current as of the publishing of this article and are subject to change as new grades come in.

Beauty is Embarrassing (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: A- (10.00 out of 12.0)

Detropia (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingB+ (9.00 out of 12.0)

Girl Model (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating(8.455 out of 12.0)

Keep the Lights On (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingB (8.345 out of 12.0)

For Ellen (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingB- (7.143 out of 12.0)

Bachelorette (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingB- (6.880 out of 12.0)

The Words (Film Page)
Average Criticwire ratingC+ (5.889 out of 12.0)

The Eye of the Storm (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: TBD

Reincarnated (Film Page)
Average Criticwire rating: TBD

For more information about this week’s releases and those scheduled for the weeks to come, be sure to check out the Coming Soon section.

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