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January 31, 2014

Movies You Missed & More: Cutie and the Boxer

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 12.34.26 PMThis week in movies you missed: We continue with the current Oscar nominees for Best Documentary. When I'm done viewing them, I'll predict the winner.

But I can already award the Most Memorable Title award to Cutie and the Boxer, Zachary Heinzerling's study of the 40-year marriage of two artists. (Trailer is here.)

What You Missed

Eighty-year-old Ushio Shinohara and his wife, Noriko, live in a sprawling living/studio space in Brooklyn. He has been creating ferocious neo-Dadaist art — including canvases that he attacks with paint-covered boxing gloves, hence the nickname — since his angry-young-man days in Japan. She draws wry cartoons about their turbulent relationship and grumbles about being in his shadow.

Together, they worry about making the rent. For all Ushio's '60s celebrity — the Guggenheim is considering acquiring one of his boxing paintings — money is tight.

Noriko married Ushio when she was a wide-eyed, 19-year-old art student recently arrived in New York; he was 41. She speaks candidly (mostly in subtitled Japanese) about his past alcoholism and her struggle to raise her son in relative poverty. Rather than just a litany of woe, however, this is a tale she transforms into sly slapstick with her cartoon images of "Cutie" (herself) and "Bullie" (Ushio).

Heinzerling uses minimally animated versions of those cartoons to tell parts of the couple's past history, along with home-movie and news footage. Mostly, however, he focuses on the Shinoharas' current efforts to sell work as they prepare for a gallery show that will showcase them both.

Why You Missed It

Twelve-theater release, now on Netflix Instant. DVD/Blu-ray release on February 4.

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 11.20.35 AMShould You Keep Missing It?

Cutie and the Boxer is no world-shattering documentary. I don't see the slightest chance that its makers will go home with an Oscar when films about protests, "dirty wars" and mass executioners are in the running.

But I can see why the Academy nominated Cutie — and not just because its members skew old like the subjects of the film. Whatever you think of their art, Noriko and Ushio Shinohara are kind of fascinating and kind of awesome. And, yes, pretty cute, too.

Still a pugilist at 80, Ushio is all bluster and not above low blows. (After Noriko insists she's not his "assistant," he privately tells the camera that he thinks the lesser artist has a duty to assist the "genius." Not lacking in ego, this dude.) His wife gives as good as she gets, mocking and needling him (sometimes lovingly, sometimes not) at every turn. We can see that her disappointment about not fulfilling her own artistic ambitions is real, even as she turns it into a running comedy routine.

Heinzerling shows us the couple's physical vitality in montages of Ushio swimming (filmed underwater, so we can see his muscular, churning limbs) and Noriko ballroom dancing. But it's their verbal sparring that's most memorable, as they hold nothing back in front of the camera.

By comparison, the other, younger people in the movie — a gallery owner, a Guggenheim rep — come across as stuffed shirts. (They're the type of buzzword-using people you'd expect to see in a documentary about New York artists.) The Shinoharas' grown son, Alex, appears a few times, but he never tells his story; rather, we hear his parents argue about his alcohol consumption. (One wonders if his virtual omission was his choice or the director's.)

Overall, the film demonstrates once again that not everybody "settles down" as they age. Ushio Shinohara may no longer be the bad-boy darling of the art world, but he's still consumed by his creative impulses. So is Noriko, whom we watch coming into her own.

Verdict: so much more fun than reading an artist's statement. I'm illiterate in visual art, but the Shinoharas' is one gallery show I wish I'd seen.

This Week in Theaters

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin meet up on Labor Day, a piece of apparent Oscar bait that failed to hook the voters. Bros get their own rom com in That Awkward Moment, starring currently hot young actors Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan.

The Savoy has the Oscar-nominated animated and live-action short films, so head over there if you're an Oscar completist. (Find descriptions here.)

This Week on Video

Argento's Dracula, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Fifth Estate, Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (it's Oscar nominated!), Last Vegas, Metallica: Through the Never, Rush.

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