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Tales of Obsession: On Demand’s ‘Black Sea’ and ‘Art and Craft’ deliver

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Obsession: It makes for a great story.  It allows the director to dive into the motivations of what drives men to such depths. This week I chose top movies On Demand to see what digital downloads were worth watching. I found two very diverse movies that had wildly different subject matter but a common theme: obsession.

Black Sea

ALL THAT’S GOLDEN DOES SHINE: The second half of Jude Law’s career has given way to roles that he truly can sink his teeth into. Courtesy photo.

“Black Sea” is a classic, claustrophobic thriller about a group of blue-collar marine workers trying to recover a sunken World War II-era Russian sub filled with gold. “Art and Craft” is a documentary about an incredibly eccentric artist who has committed himself to a career of forging works of art and duping museums. Here’s what I took away from them:

Black Sea
Starring Jude Law, Scoot McNairy
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Rated R
Available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and Time Warner On Demand

Robinson (Jude Law) has spent his best years as a captain, performing underwater salvage. Apparently, the underwater salvage business ain’t what it used to be, and he’s laid off. A number of his peers are in the same boat and are no longer able to find work. They spend their days in the pub, throwing back beer and trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Robinson is a gravely, abrasive, rusty piece of work. He’s a lonely man who has given everything to his trade—and for what?

Soon, a once-in-a-lifetime offer presents itself in the form of a salvage job that could set him up for life. It involves a story about Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, and promises a payoff in gold bars that were loaded into a submarine that never completed its journey. The submarine is now resting at the bottom of the Black Sea. The risk is high, and the job is complicated. Robinson needs funding and a multinational crew to help repair the Soviet-era sub and make it sea-worthy. The submarine interior is a great petri dish for drama, and “Black Sea” milks the dark, dingy interior for all its worth.

“Black Sea” is an enthralling thriller. It’s an incredibly tense potboiler with a ridiculous amount of tension. Jude Law is riveting in a role that requires him to shed the polished veneer and reveal a very gritty character. For my money, Law has become a much more interesting actor as he moves into middle age. Robinson is a great piece of meat for him to chew on, as he embraces the thinning hair, with a scowl affixed to his face. He anchors the movie and helps elevate it into a working man’s “Crimson Tide.”

Art and Craft
Starring Mark A. Landis
Directed by Sam Cullman, Jennifer Grausman, Mark Becker
Available on iTunes and Amazon Prime

“Art and Craft” is a quirky little documentary about an interesting man, named Mark Landis. He’s a small, unassuming, soft-spoken, wisp of a man, and the kind of eccentric character you’d expect to find in a John Waters film. Landis is hardly the type of person you would expect to be the world’s most prolific art forger for the past 30 years.

Landis has spent his life using his talents to recreate beautiful works of art. He then tricks museums into accepting and displaying his work. There’s no attempt to profit. This isn’t the story of a grifter duping museums for some quick cash. It’s the story of a man who has devoted his life to creating exquisite things and spending an insane amount of time conning people into believing them to be the work of others.

Landis is such a unique character. He barely seems real. If someone had told me this was a faux documentary, like “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation,” I totally would have believed them. Some of it seems too implausible to be true. After years of perpetrating the same hoax over and over, he’s finally discovered by a museum employee in Cincinnati named Matthew Leininger who becomes obsessed with ending Landis’ hoax.

The entertainment factor of the movie comes from Landis who is such a peculiar relic. He’s a schizophrenic, demon-riddled little boy in the body of a grown man. There’s an additional layer to the character portrait in the hopeless obsession of Leininger, a small-time museum registrar who eventually loses his job because of the amount of time he devotes to Landis. When the two finally meet at an exhibition of Landis’ forgeries, I was expecting fireworks. But Leininger barely registers as a blip on Landis’ radar.  It was like an anti-climatic version of “Catch Me If You Can.” Landis never profits from his forgeries, so there’s no real crime committed.

In the end, Landis becomes a minor celebrity in art circles, and Leininger turns into a frustrated stay-at-home dad, whose obsession is wasted on a world more interested in the con man than the man who finally exposed the con. Society’s collective fascination with the sinner rather than the saint is just part of what makes “Art and Craft” such an interesting character study.

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