Couch Trip

Feb 25, 2009 at 12:00 am

Days and Clouds
Film Movement

I haven't seen a more devastating and sober reflection of our recessing economy than Days and Clouds, the latest work from Italian director Silvio Soldini (Bread and Tulips). Michele and Elsa (Antonio Albanese and Margherita Buy), the husband and wife in Soldini's naturalistic drama, are positioned perfectly between the barely scraping-by proles of Bela Tarr's early work and the placid bourgeoisie of Claude Chabrol's films, in a vanishing income bracket that history books will refer to as the "middle class." They live comfortably enough — helping their daughter purchase a restaurant and paying for a boat and a housekeeper — until Michele loses his executive job. Ashamed and embarrassed, he fails to tell his wife for two months, living — and spending — as if everything is normal. Elsa has to take an exhausting call center job, and then a secretarial position, while Michele sucks up his pride and turns his collar from white to blue with short-lived stints as a mail carrier and house painter. The couple absorbs the information in a familiar pattern of shock, empathy, false hope and contempt, as Days and Clouds becomes a heart-wrenching study of a family torn apart by outside circumstances. As we watch our own unemployment figures soar, we know they're not alone. —John Thomason

God's Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick

Even if you don't know the name, you've certainly seen the conspicuous 3-by-5-inch pamphlets at the local shopping mall, bowling alley, library or phone booth. These so-called "Chick Tracts" are the brainchild of comic artist Jack T. Chick, a guy who has turned out more than a zillion of these little parables in more than 100 languages since the early 1970s.

Filmmaker Kurt Kuersteiner captures the allure of the preachy, pint-sized tracts via interviews with fans, artists and contributors, along with animated passages from some of Chick's more (in)famous works. The incendiary and ephemeral nature of the man's work has made it ripe for parody, and highly collectible. God's Cartoonist includes those types — smart-alecks, collectors and combinations of both — including Ivan Stang, whose straight-faced, smarmy comments threaten to derail the proceedings.

Chick doesn't make an appearance in the film, but, luckily, Robert B. Fowler, author of the bio The World of Jack T. Chick, provides background on the elusive artist. Much of the film is dedicated to a trio of fellow religious fanatics who worked with (and for) Chick over the years, including Rebecca Brown, John Todd and Alberto Rivera. These three helped push the levels of conspiracy and taste beyond those to which Chick had escalated. See, Chick is no stranger to controversy. His tracts have been banned in dozens of countries, including Canada where his work is considered "hate speech." Fellow comic-artist Dan Raeburn points out that while Chick's writing may be hateful, it says far more about our close-minded Christian society than about Jack Chick.

While God's Cartoonist doesn't provide much information about Chick, it speaks to his legacy and status as one of the most prolific underground comic artists in history. —Mike White

Big Butts Like It Big

If you'd ever wondered whether butts have unique desires, this backdoor fest answers that question handily. The honking cabooses of Katja Kassin, Phoenix Marie, Tory Lane, Adriana DeVille and Mika Tan appear to love it large, as do their big-mouthed owners.

Where to begin? If you dig your triple-X talent bold and brassy and demanding more, Tory Lane's for you. Here the filth queen takes on two gents in a scene that's nothing short of athletic

Svelte, bespectacled minx Adriana DeVille, portraying a librarian that you'll never see in any actual library, takes on a gifted chap as she morphs from demure book-stacker to complete harlot at the drop of trou. More, DeVille's well-tanned bumper ranks with the best of 'em.

Though the lovely women of Asian ancestry have charms too numerous to mention, huge behinds aren't generally one of them. Mika Tan's the exception. She also breaks the "demure" stereotype, loudly and enthusiastically, in an extra scene that puts the "bone" into "bonus." —Fern LaBott