Wednesday, June 3, 2015


Playing Saturday, June 6, at No Festival Required:

Dark Star: H. R. Giger’s WorldThe Swiss artist and designer H. R. Giger made his biggest single mark on pop culture as the creator of the title creature in the Alien films. As with much of Giger’s work, the Alien is scary but—to my eye, anyway—not ugly; it has a svelte elegance.

At the beginning of this fascinating documentary, director Belinda Sallin’s camera noses around the quiet grounds of Giger’s rambling, tree-shrouded, cat-guarded old house, set incongruously amidst the sleek modern architecture of Zurich. We’re brought in the door and down the shadowy halls, past freaky murals and heaps of books, to where Giger sits sketching.

Again, the home that Giger pads around does indeed seem “dark,” bizarre and macabre, but not evil. There’s a serene, almost idyllic atmosphere to the place that’s quite appealing.

This effect even applies to the man himself. In the film, completed shortly before his death last year, Giger looks like a real-world version of Tolkien’s Gollum. Written on his round face with sad eyes and small, fretful mouth are both a past that includes tragedy and a life spent transcribing, often via airbrush, the surreal, erotically-charged “biomechanical” visions in his head. He speaks in a low amphibian croak suggesting that he suffered a stroke at some point.

But he’s no recluse. He’s friendly, patient and grateful toward his wife and the many friends and helpers that hang around his home; I found myself wishing I could be among them.

“Hansruedi” Giger was born in Chur in 1940, the son of a pharmacist. His childhood seems to have been happy, although his seminal memories seem to be of his father giving him a human skull or his sister taking him to the Raetian Museum to see a mummy, and he is said to have designed “ghost rides” to entertain neighbor kids.

After art school he gained gradual fame throughout the ‘70s with posters and rock album art—I first became aware of him by his cover for Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery. His Alien design won him an Oscar in 1980, and he worked on many other films, including Alejandro Jodorowsky’s abortive Dune adaptation (Giger is memorable among the talking heads in last year’s Jodorowsky’s Dune).

Giger’s wife Carmen tells Sallin’s camera that she finds her husband’s paintings erotic, and at an art gallery in Austria, a curator says that he sees a light behind the darkness of Giger’s visions. I see it too. Although the artist expresses a disbelief in—and a distaste for—the idea of an afterlife, there is, in his work, an exalted spiritual radiance under the chilly surface.

Opening today:

EntourageThe adventures of a pretty-boy Hollywood star and the hangers-on who share his glam lifestyle and guide his career is the not the sort of show I would have expected to enjoy. But the HBO series, which ran from 2004 to 2011, and which this feature continues, became a favorite of mine.

It is, I suppose, a guilty pleasure, loaded with snazzy homes and cars and luxury items and, only slightly less objectified, innumerable nude or scantily-clad young women (yet, oddly, many of the show’s most devoted fans that I know are women). It’s so escapist that it doesn’t even show us the drudgery and tedium of actually working on a movie, only the decadent partying and lively studio intrigues that take place before and after a movie is in the can.

What gave Entourage a heart was the cast. Easygoing Adrian Grenier, as easygoing star Vincent Chase, was rarely the focus of the stories, he was the hook on which the acting ensemble hung—Kevin Connelly as Vince’s Jiminy Cricket manager Eric “E” Murphy, Jerry Ferrara as chauffeur Sal “Turtle” Assante and Kevin Dillon as Vince’s older brother, hack actor and self-appointed chef Johnny “Drama” Chase.

There was a raft of well-realized supporting characters, and many real-life celebrities showed more juice playing themselves here than playing characters in their own movies. But the real energy on Entourage came, beyond question, from Jeremy Piven. As Vince’s wound-up agent Ari Gold, Piven strode around unloading insults and invective in his emphatic, declarative voice, while also letting us see Ari’s underlying conscience, his capacity for affection, and his surprisingly fierce if selectively applied sense of integrity. Ari’s manic efforts to unravel the studio-politics messes in which he finds himself were the true hero struggles of Entourage, and the series would have been inert without him.

Piven and the rest seem happy to slip back into their roles in the new film, directed by series creator Doug Ellin. The plot, around which a half-dozen or so subplots revolve, concerns Vince’s directorial debut, the attempt by the imbecilic son (Haley Joel Osment) of a Texan investor (Billy Bob Thornton) to meddle with it, and the efforts of Ari, now a studio head, to prevent this meddling. The film may not do much for the uninitiated, but for fans, it’s probably enough to say that it plays like a sped-up season of the show. Ellin keeps things moving, and for the short running time of Entourage—it clocks in at well under two hours—I was contentedly entertained. It feels like a reunion with old, immature, disreputable, goodhearted friends.

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