Director: Gus Van Sant

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Last Days (2005) begins with its primary character, or cypher, Blake, spending the night in the woods. He also peas in a river. Makes one wonder if the dvd box's quoting the opinion of "Masterpiece!" wasn't a misreading of "Mister Pees!"

FilmIf you didn't know before hand that Blake is a fictional version of Nirvana's beloved & doomed Kurt Cobain, there'd be absolutely nothing interesting about this mumbling nabob. As the film progresses he becomes more & more the cliche of the burnt-out worn-down outsider rocker, though really he's even less than that, he comes off as a depressive thirteen year old.

I seriously doubt this was the impression either the actor or the director/scriptwriter intended, but there it is. And anyone who went through or is going through such a dark & dismal adolescence may embrace this adult acting like a child & love every minute of his presence on the screen. I found it mostly phony.

Kurt had a worn out sloppy charisma, & this young actor has none. Mostly in a one-note superficial manner, he wanders about the house, encounters hangers-ons & visitors, then walks about in the woods, constantly mumbling unfinished sentences, hiding his face in his long blond hair as kids are prone to do, obvioiusly depressed & probably stoned.

By begging Blake to be thought of as inspired by or akin to Kurt, the character borrows form something greater, then falls fall short of it. I perceived very, very few of Kurt's traits in Blake, just a superficial resemblance of hair style, & a willingness to put on a dress.

Blake does seem to have a streak of kindness in him, as "pre-fame" Nirvana-fandom in the Northwest club scene always remember how Kurt had an ability to remember the names of his fans & make them feel good about themselves. And this Blake cut-out seems to have some of that tolerance in him even as he descends into increasingly self-involved angst. But in the main it's just annoying that this weak character on any level pretends to be inspired by Kurt Cobain.

The film is in-your-face about having no story to tell beyond "Boy feels bad, boy will die." Blake digs up something in the yard; we never find out what. He carries a shotgun around with him for a while, but doesn't have it with him when he dies. You could shuffle most of these scenes in any random order & have the same effect.

If you were feeling moody enough to wish you were in a depressed transendental state, you might welcome being hypnotized into zombihood by this film's farting-artsy nothing-happens faux-angstiness. Or if prime-time-soap actor Michael Pitt as Blake happened to be "your type," as he is for van Sant's type, it might be bearable watching him do nothing for the length of a feature film.

But Pitt sure won't bring you in on the strength of the script or his own acting. Indeed a lot of it seems made up as it goes along, as if no one had bothered to write it out at all.

The film is not completely worthless; it does have its moments. Blake in a black slip being kind to the yellow pages ad man, who seems to think Blake has been advertising his locomotive spare parts business, is a quietly rivetting encounter.

The monotone speechifying to one of Blake's friends (Lukas Haas) by the Mormon twins is reasonable satire, flawed only by the fact that nobody thought it necessary to do even minimalist research, so that the junk they talk about (like why Mormon "blood of christ" is water, not wine, which the twins get wrong) & the clothes they wear are not what door-knocking LDS kids wear, do, or say. These extras in the cast, however, do a great job with the material they have.

Turns out yellow pages ad man & the twins were ordinary people, not actors, yet they had more character than anyone in the professional cast.

There's also quite a funny little scene in which Asia Argento opens a door against which Blake was leaning half-unconscioius, & knocks him flat on the floor. None of the characters take any of Blake's behavior as novel, so all she does is try to get him propped up as he'd been before, then leaves the room, almost as if her only desire was to disguise the fact that she'd even been there, evading thereby any responsibility toward a friend.

Strongest were the two musical interludes, one viewed through a window as Blake begins building up a loop of musical fragments & screams, which is very creative & with enormous audio power.

And second when Blake takes up guitar & sings with rough poetry a song of pure misery, including the lyric "It's a long lonely dream from death to the rebirth." Pitt wrote this song himself in the mode of Nirvana unplugged, & it shows he's at least musically advanced even if bland as an actor.

FilmThen when Blake's body is found, there's a grandly magic realist moment that reminds us Gus Van Sant has made good movies in the past, & little pieces of this one ain't so bad.

In the main it's a tedious film that bored the shit out of me despite its beautiful photography.

But only a couple days before I'd been speaking of Kurt Cobain -- who's shadow lingers over those of us in the Pacific Northwest -- & suggesting it was too damned bad that instead of dulling his pain with heroin then suicide, he couldn't've just taken his anguished success, his unwanted power, & begin "spending" his cache purely on projects that fulfilled him.

Whether it was funding a Museum of Scat & Turds in his crappy little home town, living on a hilltop in Romania contemplating his bellybutton, or reaching out to assist others who lived with addiction or depression, anyone with that much empathy should be able to use their pain for something more amusing than a gunshot to the head. Then when members of commerce complain he'd stopped being commercially effective, he could give 'em the finger & continue to do only what he wanted until his cache was all used up.

Then just a couple days later I happen to watch a film by Gus Van Sant who seems no longer to care how artfully wondrous yet at the same time commercially valid Drugstore Cowboy (1989) & My Own Private Idaho (1991) happened to have been. He's now using up his cache to make non-commercial crap like Elephant (2003) & Last Days, & if the public or the powers that be don't like it so much, then fuck 'em.

At least it's not "successful" Hollywood pablum like Goodwill Hunting (1997), & if it's Last Days or suicide, then Last Days is best.

Even so, this is a monotonous film that gains interest not by anything to do with the film itself, but only from the pretense that Blake is Kurt. After the umpteenth non-Kurtism it was too clear to me that he's John Doe Number Seven, as none of what happens actually relates to anything about Kurt. It may have been intended as a soulful film, but it's only an empty one.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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