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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Not everyone will love "Last Days." Nonetheless it concludes a
minimalist trilogy that does more to build Gus Van Sant's cred as a
serious and original filmmaker than anything since "Drugstore Cowboy"
and "My Own Private Idaho." And in its way it's every bit as good as
its predecessors, "Gerry" and "Elephant," and like them is
HBO-sponsored and exquisitely filmed in a boxlike and claustrophobic
small format. The irony is that this career-making role for the young
Michael Pitt that "Last Days" contains is one in which he only mumbles
and hardly speaks. But he embodies and lives and becomes his role as
few actors you will see this year have done. He goes to a dangerous and
disturbing place. River Phoenix might have taken the part, but maybe
it's a good thing for him he never did.
Pitt channels the dying spirit of Kurt Cobain as he was, isolated in a big house, avoided by people there and avoiding them and almost everyone who came looking or called. Once he picks up the phone when his producer is calling and he listens, but never speaks. Blake (Pitt's character's name) is a shaky, peripatetic Howard Hughes, who goes native in the first sequence, wandering in a daze, walking into the woods, bathing in a river, spending the night by a bonfire of sticks. The mumbling is eerie, it's eavesdropping without insight for us. As he returns to the house, stumbles about, prepares makeshift meals in the kitchen, puts on a dress and brandishes a shotgun, the lack of human interaction brings home as no dialogue-written scenes ever could how isolated and mad he has become.
Since "Last Days" is largely a mood piece -- a splendidly original, dreamlike one -- setting is crucial and the old stone house with its crumbling, paint-peeling walls and mess and sound equipment and instruments and paintings, is a major player, so well represented in the elegant, original cinematography of Harris Sayides that it resembles no place else you've ever been. There are three or four other people in the house -- the action's so chaotic and haphazard you may not quite know who or how many. One's clearly "Asia," Asia Argento, and she's sleeping with "Scott," Scott Green, and there's "Luke," Lucas Haas, tall and gangly in Coke-bottle glasses. Blake sneaks up on Asia and Scott with a shotgun when they're in bed together sleeping. Typically, nothing happens. He doesn't shoot, and they don't notice him. They and other people go out to and return from nightly revels. Blake is just there.
As in "Elephant" Van Sant's approach is neutral. He does not analyze or explain or judge, and the actors are free to improvise and be themselves. Blake's respected because it's his house, but he's also a kook. Random visitors who're let inside are grotesque and comic: first it's dorky but cute twin Mormon "Elders," then a large well-spoken black man selling a renewal of a Yellow Pages ad from the year before. "How's your day been so far?" he asks as an opener. "Uh .it's another day ." mumbles Blake. He's cooperative in a rote sort of way but there's little indication he knows what he's talking about. There's a detective and a young man who once knew Blake, who escapes them and other people by running outside to the woods again. These two are neither sinister nor funny: they just are. They're just interlopers, like everybody else, into Blake's lost world.
The method in this trilogy has in common that it requires quiet acceptance of the proceedings; that if you give yourself up to its sometimes real time sequences (especially in "Gerry," where Van Sant says they're influenced by Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr), they're hypnotic and special, and if you don't, they're just irritating and boring. The experience requires a lot from the viewer. It's hard to describe a movie in which little happens. Nothing turns out to be quite a lot and you might remember that James Joyce wrote a long detailed novel about the events in the life of a little man in a single day in Dublin. It's certainly important that Pitt is deeply in character. If his acting were mannered or theatrical or unfelt, nothing would work. When he finally sings one song, a plangent cry of despair with the refrain, "It's a long lonely journey from death to birth," it's very Cobain, but Pitt's own song and passionate, exciting performance.
There's a kind of climax here, but there's nobody (but us) to witness it. Luke and Scott are up in bed with each other. As in "Elephant," several sequences repeat. Blake seems to be dying repeatedly, as Asia stumbles upon him lying on the floor and he seems to nod out, though you never see him do drugs and maybe it's just the after effect of them from long before. Finally he's gone. We don't see him do that either. His soul quietly climbs naked up out of his supine body, like a Duane Michals photo. Then there's all the police, the ambulance, and the other inhabitants sneak off, as Blake did. It's all a pageant. I felt right at home in it remembering Oregon, Washington, the hippie days of the Sixties: it was there for me. I know it was Grunge Rock and Kurt Cobain, to whom this film is dedicated, died in 1994, at 26. The point is that it feels real. But its relation to real events is tangential. And if you give yourself to it and take it in its own context it's a wonderful film, a beautiful funny-sad experience of doomed-damned youth and a deeply felt meditation on isolation and death.
Gus Van Sant, just as he had done in Gerry and in Elephant, has taken a
real-life mystery, and filled in some of the trivial missing parts with
his imagination. I haven't seen Gerry or Elephant, but this time he has
created a masterpiece.
The movie follows Blake, an isolated young rebel, who is a "rock-and-roll cliché", during the last days of his life. We see him mumbling to himself, and he seems incoherent, unable to stay awake. He is constantly running away, pursued by everyone, but unable to face his obligations. He is dragging himself through life.
The atmosphere of the whole movie is determined by the characters' state of mind. Every single element conveys the despair and pointlessness of Blake's existence, and the blurry thoughts that might be going through his brain. But these ugly days are filmed with an unsympathetic, contemplative and poetic eye. Every shot has the rare beauty of a renaissance painting. All the other elements fit together in perfect harmony: the music, the sounds that have no apparent source but the inside of Blake's head, and Michael Pitt's song "From Death to Birth" sent shivers down my back. The song, and all the actors' performances are authentic, personal and uncompromising.
Another thing: it was a very pleasant surprise to see a movie about the death of a rock star that's not filled with trashy violence aimed to shock and move viewers.
Forget about who Kurt Cobain was, and about his legend, this movie is not about him. Forget about the critics and the Cannes Film Festival, it's not about them either. Last days is a sincere and personal movie by people who apparently respect Kurt's memory. At least enough to tell a touching and aesthetic story inspired by his ordeal.
Last days This is the final instalment of Gus van sant's trilogy of the disenfranchised and the alienated human condition. It began with 'Gerry' dealing with two guys trapped in a desert with no way of finding civilisation again and continued with 'elephant' dealing loosely with the columbine school killings. Last days is loosely based on the life of Kurt Cobain the late nirvana singer. Last days is really gelephant a mix of the first two films. Similar themes like repetition and the same story told from different characters perspectives are lifted straight out of elephant and the endless, hopeless tracking shots of despair are taken out of Gerry. Here the main character Blake is lost, unlike the two central characters in Gerry who are lost in the desert without hope, Blake is lost in his own head seemingly without hope. We meet Blake in the title of the film, his last days, being destroyed by drugs (although we never see him take anything harder than a cigarette) and emotional vampires who pretend to be his friends sucking the life out of him coupled with the pressure of fame and impending 86 date tours, Blake is quite simply falling apart. Here though it is a beautifully subtle take on madness, gone are the visions you see in films like 'Jacobs ladder' replaced with a clever underscore of sounds of doors opening and closing and mutterings and oddities. It's as if as you travel round with Blake you too can here the doors of insanity opening in his head, you too struggle to make out all the sounds. It's gently handled but eerily effective in linking you in with Blake's mindset. Elsewhere he stumbles and crawls round trying to function in the face of increasing paranoia and his drug addled inability to perform even the simplest of tasks. With record executives, band members, his manager and a private investigator all on his trail doing little for his state of mind Blake only seems comfortable when making music. This is also the only thing he can do with any sense of achievement, this could be down to the fact that it is second nature or the fact that he is a musical genius. The film also has an amazing sense of space, the landscapes around the mansion, the emptiness of its rooms and the vacuous nature of the hangers on to Blake's coat tails. With some amazing scenes, look out for the Venus in furs scene and the amazingly shot and framed acoustic song performed by Blake in the studio with probably one of the best little pieces of improvisation I've ever seen, this is a brilliant and touching portrayal of a great man left to fall to pieces by those who should have helped him stay together. Although different in its approach it deals with madness in a way not seen since Polanski's 'repulsion' and ultimately it is a film that stays with you long after the final chilling shot.
Even though I really like some of Gus Van Sant's older movies
(DRUGSTORE COWBOY, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO,...) and I do appreciate the
fact that he dares to do something different (in terms of stepping away
even further from mainstream cinema) with his more recent work, he more
or less lost me with LAST DAYS. I think with this movie, we see a
director who's trying just a little bit too hard to be eccentric. I've
read some comments of people who liked it a lot and went on and on
about the deeper meaning of things. I've read things about this movie
being an accurate and truly sad & touching portrayal of the decay of a
musical genius. And some people clearly praise this movie because
they're fans of Gus Van Sant, completely ignoring the movie's flaws.
Well, that's all fine by me, but that's not the way I saw the movie.
When I call LAST DAYS hollow, I'm not saying it's insincere. Not at all, because it really feels like a sincere portrait of a musician bordering on the edge of sanity (and I'm not using the term musical genius, because at not one moment in the movie we get prove that he really is one, we just have to assume it, because he supposedly has a big upcoming tour to go on and a fellow musician asks his opinion on a song he wrote... but hey, that's fine by me). When I say LAST DAYS is hollow, I mean that it's an empty vessel with no contents. When people start saying that it's about being unable to communicate with each other or that it's about friends draining you emotionally or blah blah blah... I just can't help laughing that away. Because not one single person in the movie actually does something. They all just hang around, sleeping, doing nothing, occasionally listening to music... (well okay, Blake has two moments where you can see him making music and singing a song, those were two solid one-shot sequences and I enjoyed them a lot). But apart from that, nothing happens.
And what about Michael Pitt deserving an Oscar for his role as Blake? You got to be kiddin' me! You can see him wearing a dress. You can see him fooling around with a gun. You can see him stumbling around in the house and through the forest. And you can see him eat something in the kitchen. That's it. And what's worse, he always mumbles the few lines he has in a way that it's almost incomprehensible. But I guess that's what you get when you're a burned out junkie. Assuming Blake IS a junkie, that is. Because we never get any evidence or hints as to why he's losing his mind. Everybody thinks: oh, he's into rock'n'roll, so it must be drugs. Has it ever occurred to anyone that, besides being severely anti-social, he might also be suffering from a psychological affection? Like insomnia or autism or whatever? Once again Gus Van Sant doesn't feel the need to enlighten us with more information. No info, no plot... sounds more like a registration than a movie, doesn't it? And then, after the 'movie' is over and we have absolutely learned nothing about our protagonist, Gus Van Sant has the pretension to show us some written text explaining that this movie is based on the last days of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. I mean, if he had the rights to use Kurt's name in the end credits, then surely he could have build some more references to his real life in the plot, no? It just feels pretentious and above all, a smart move to draw public attention to the movie. Because, way before the movie came out, everybody already knew that it supposedly was about the final days of Kurt Cobain. Seriously, if that little text would not have been there at the end of the film, and this movie was just about some unknown musician, I would have considered this to be a much better movie and would certainly have enjoyed it more. It simply would have worked much better for me that way, and I would have rated the movie much higher because of it.
However... I must say this: The cinematography is absolutely beautiful. And the camera-moves and angles are subtle, nicely framed and to the point. In fact, I believe that if you, at any given moment, would take a still of any frame in the movie, you would always have a perfect photograph. One of my favorite shots was when the camera slowly pulls back from the window when we see Blake playing various instruments inside the house. It must have lasted at least 5 minutes or so. Pretty brilliant. Another good thing was that the movie had a consequent unworldly feel to it. And it was also fun seeing Van Sant doing his ELEPHANT-trick again: Showing the same scene from a different point of view later in the movie. Sadly, these were the only things that kept me going through the movie.
So even if I think LAST DAYS was pretty bad for the reasons mentioned above, I'm gonna be extremely mild in my final judgement. I'll add one point for every aspect I liked: The cinematography. Asia Argento running around in her underwear. Kim Gordon was in it. The little music that was in it, was good (Thurston Moore was involved with the music). So there you have it: 4 out of 10 stars.
Now i will be commenting on a few things in the film but whether or not they can be considered spoilers i will leave up to you, my own personal opinion is that a film must first have a plot before it can be spoiled in any way.
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Well i just finished watching this film 20 minutes ago so i'm writing this fairly fresh and still haven't completely formed an opinion of it, its probably best me writing these comments in this state of mind because most of you will probably be thinking the same thing.
I watched this film without reading any reviews seeing any ratings or hearing about it through word of mouth, after 2 minutes of seeing Micheal Pitt as "Blake" you will clearly see Kurt Cobain, 30 minutes later you will be slightly confused by just what the hell you are watching and for a time this movie will seem like a chore to watch and if i'm honest it just carry's on like that.
So why then did i give it 7 out of 10? Because roughly an hour into the film i was actually impressed by something, up until this point in the film all you see is a blonde skinny guy fumbling around looking like his half way to falling asleep or down a flight of stairs, this is pretty much what you have watched up to now. Then he starts playing guitar and singing, now i have been a Nirvana fan since i was 13 years old and that spans almost half my life time, this one scene reminded me why. Its a shame this is a movie site otherwise i could carry on with a review that could get me hired by rolling stone, but it isn't so i won't.
To sum up, if your looking for a source of entertainment please forgive me for the caps and DO NOT WATCH THIS. This is not a film you watch to be entertained in any form, if you watch this searching for something to give you a thrill or move you in anyway you will most likely be let down by it, an example of why this would be so? how about at one point in the film you are watching a TV showing a Boyz 2 Men video for the entire duration.
However, if you want to watch a film with some incredible acting, great direction and is a good deal different to anything else thats had a decent size release to it lately this might be for you.
It may also be worth it for Nirvana fans to check out. ;)
It's always difficult to recommend a movie like this. I don't think my
friends would let me pick a movie again if I took them to this. Is it a
good movie? Yes it is. Am I telling everyone I know about it? No, I'm
telling everyone about the 40-Year-Old Virgin.
This film is similar in tone and mood to Van Sants previous film "Elephant" about a Columbine like massacre. This one is about the final days of Kurt Cobaine. I saw a review that used the word "careen", as in crooning toward your final destiny. Careening is a good word for a drug abuse movie like "Requiem for a Dream" but in this film, the tone is much more relaxed and observant. Nobody is careening in this film. In both films there is not much plot or characterization. It is shot in a documentary style where we simply observe what this character is doing. Both "Elephant" and "Final Days" remind me of those films in elementary school where you watch a film about people going about their normal daily routines. You watch with wide eyed curiosity about why the people are doing this. This doesn't mean the film is boring, it just means you have to be in a different mood. It did spark my curiosity.
I think "Elephant" is a superior movie to this one but I admire Van Sant for making these two unique films. Elephant simply has a more serine quality to it but if you loved "Elephant" then you will like "Last Days".
Gus Van Sant does a remarkable job with this film - "Last Days." Nothing much happens, there is not a lot of dialogue but what we see, experience, is the slow demise of an individual into oblivion. We are observers, albeit at a distance. The urge maybe there to intervene; deliberately evoked by the structure of Van Sant's film. We want to say: 'You do not have to go on like this. We can help.' The structure is like a memory recalled. We keep going over it, adding bits as we do to try to make more sense, but never arriving at a definitive version. We especially hope that when the advertising salesman calls to the house and Blake lets him in,that he will engage with the man and forget his morose preoccupations. But the gulf between the two is unbridgeable. The nadir of the film is when Blake, left alone by his friends in the rehearsal room, starts to play on his guitar. His voice echoes his inner anguish, rising from a low to a high and then back to a low. He even manages to break a string on the guitar, but dexterously pulls the string while continuing the song. How could such music come out of such gloom? This is the paradox of creativity -- of trying to give form to ideas, not yet realized. We wait in anticipation, incapable of giving directions. Blake is constantly trying to evade the intrusion of others but cannot transcend his own self, of being in the world. The final intrusion finds him not there; he is dead.
I'm here to defend this brilliant film from those who have labelled it a bad watch. It's true that last Days isn't a film for everyone, nirvana fans are best to stay well away as the sight of their icon in a dress might send a shiver down their spines, but those who are willing to simply be with the character of Blake, body and mind, for 90 mins are in for something special. I've never been a big fan of Gus Van Sant's and this looked like his most pretentious project yet, but beyond the events the films based on and all the conspiracy theories that come with it Van Sant has chosen to just tell a story of a lonely isolated man. As Blake, Michael Pitt is fantastic, with little or nothing to say he has to rely on his mannerisms and facial expressions throughout most of the film and he does so with ease and brilliance. The stand out moment has to be 'Death To Birth'. Pitt's great song fits so well into the film you would think he wrote it about Cobain, (and he probably did) it's a scene you'll wanna watch over and you'll find yourself singing the song when the movie's finished. So not for everyone but a spiritual journey none the less, make sure it's late and your alone, put it on, you know your right.
"Last Days", Gus Van Sant's experimental film loosely inspired by Kurt
Cobain's, err, last days, is not one of his best, but it's certainly
not the worst (the "Psycho" remake, anyone?). Even though it's not half
as poignant as the previous "Elephant", which has similar style, I
admire Van Sant for daring to make such a personal, non-commercial
film. "Last Days" is slow, hard to watch, "boring" as some people say,
but that suits a brave attempt to show some moments of a troubled
musician, "Blake" (Michael Pitt, from the wonderful "The Dreamers"),
who seems completely lost and away from reality, trying to escape from
himself in his house, surrounded by "friends" who are only interested
in his money. Nothing "happens", like everybody says, throughout the
film, and Van Sant partially succeeds in showing us the big empty
inside and around Blake with bitter, raw strength. Pitt's performance
is low-key at most, and Ricky Jay ("Magnolia") and Lukas Haas
("Witness"), two criminally underrated actors, don't disappoint in
their small roles. We can't say anyone in the cast stands out, though,
because this is a movie where the scenery (the house, the forest) is
the biggest character, eating Blake up.
"Last Days" didn't engage me enough to make me want to re-watch it, but I didn't regret watching it. Far from being a masterpiece, but worth seeing if you're looking for a different option and are interested in the main subject, of course. This is not a movie for a Kelly Clarkson or Lindsay Lohan fan, but please don't say this is the biggest piece of pretentious crap out there - I'm pretty sure Björk|Matthew Barney's "Drawing Restraint 9" is a lot worse.
Nirvana were big around about the time I was in my teens so I do have a
certain amount of cultural involvement in his suicide. By this I'm not
claiming anything special, just saying that it was an event I remember
from the time rather than since. As such I was quite interested in
seeing this film although I did think it would be detailed than it was.
Instead it is literally "Blake's" last days in a remote house with a
group of friends. We see him in a state of isolation, falling deeper
into whatever it is that is eating at him from the inside out. Van Sant
has drawn this fall out over 90 minutes where, lets be honest, not a
great deal actually happens.
To some viewers this has given the film a tragic and haunting quality that has produced a lot of insight into the man Blake. I am not one of those viewers. It wasn't that I was waiting for the film to do a lot of work for me or spoon-feed me emotions, but I did need more than what was delivered and I confess that the film bored me intensely at some points. Van Sant has written these last days and based them on Kurt Cobain but I would have liked him to have imagined a bit more detail in his character and perhaps done more than delivered some stroppy teenager silently moping around the place until the inevitable happens (and even that is done in a very low key way). It is hard to fault the intimate nature of Van Sant's filming but this is very different from getting into the character and actually benefiting from this degree of perceived intimacy.
Pitt does as he is told and spends most of the film looking through his hair in a sort of creative and tragic way. Without any dialogue to speak of (sorry) this is all he can really do and I found it totally unconvincing and uninteresting which is a pretty big failing given that he is supposed to be the heart of the film and the reason we have all come along. The rest of the cast are fairly unimportant and it says a lot that the only one that held my interest was Ricky Jay but that was only because he was Ricky Jay.
Perhaps this will really touch major fans of Cobain but it did nothing for me at all. Silent and surprisingly dull, this badly needed depth and insight as well as a serious and respectful tone.
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