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3 Women (1977) Review

31 08 2012

Copyright 1977 Lion’s Gate Films

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

I go onto Netflix and add weird things to my queue fairly regularly.  Usually, by the time these films actually arrive at my doorstep, I have forgotten when or why I put them on there to begin with.  Such was the case with this movie, but luckily, it turned out to be one of those oddball picks I mysteriously chose that actually turned out pretty interesting.  Within the first few minutes of the film, I saw the title card for director Robert Altman fade up, which allayed a multitude of my concerns.  For the next two hours, I was strangely intrigued.

The movie stars Shelly Duvall (good subject for a Whatever Became of… book – I’m looking at you Mr. Lamparski!) as Mildred “Millie” Lammoreaux, and Sissy Spacek as Mildred “Pinkie” Rose.  Pinkie comes from Texas to work at a convalescence home in California where Millie, also originally from Texas, has been working for some time.  The strange, almost child-like waif, Pinkie, is immediately drawn to the outspoken and vivacious Millie, who seems more a legend in her on mind than reality would prove true.  As the film progresses, the two move in together as roommates; their landlords are a married couple, Willie (Janice Rule) and Edgar Hart (Robert Fortier).  Willie is a quiet, gypsy-esque mural painter, and Edgar is a former stunt double for country/western film stars.  The couple also own a bar/shooting ranger/dirtbike track that the two heroines regularly frequent.  The strange relationship between the three women becomes more intertwined as a series of bizarre events take place towards the latter half of the film.  That about sums it up, and no I didn’t really leave anything out.

This is a very stream of conscious film; in fact, it was conceived through a series of dreams that Robert Altman had over the course of several weeks.  Supposedly, the film was also shot largely without a script, and with Altman making many last minute scene and story changes on the fly.  Yet, somehow, this antithesis of what a mainstream movie should be and look like, holds your attention the entire two hour running time.  It’s almost more of a visual essay, a plotless saga, than a normal movie; however, all the same, it’s not quite that either, as there is a story there beneath the layers.  Coupled with wonderful performances all around, and hauntingly atmospheric cinematography, this movie is actually really worth any self-professed cinephile’s time.  It’s very unique, and something that you almost certainly wouldn’t have a chance to see on the screen today with the “safe bets” modern Hollywood likes to take.

Bottom line: If you aren’t afraid to take a chance on a film that will challenge commonly held story and viewing moors, then I highly recommend this interesting and thought provoking movie by maverick filmmaker Robert Altman.

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Melancholia (2011) Review

16 03 2012

Copyright 2011 Zentropa Entertainments

★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2

The first ten minutes of this film had me quite concerned with what exactly I was getting myself into, but the ensuing film was an immensely intriguing character study.

Defining the synopsis of this movie in detail would be, in my opinion, a rather futile process.  Let’s just say it’s a Bergman-esque family drama via Lars von Trier.  Oh yeah, and there’s a cosmic anomaly that is causing a hidden planet to come dangerously within Earth’s rotational path during the course of the story.  The relationship in question that the story focuses upon are of two sisters, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who are very different and have a strained, but oddly caring relationship.  Their parents, Gaby (Charlotte Ramping) and Dexter (John Hurt), are equally odd in their own ways and possibly a good explanation for their daughter’s troubles.  Claire is somewhat more grounded than Justine in her marriage to ultra rich, John (Kiefer Sutherland), and with her son Leo (Cameron Spurr), but as the narrative progresses and the strange planet of Melacholia approaches Earth, her defenses seem to be broken down more than Justine’s.

What von Trier has created with this film is an engaging and intriguing look at the psyche of these two sisters as their lives play out during what could be the final weeks of life on Earth.  It seems almost as if the approaching planet of Melancholia triggers an even deeper emotional block for both the sisters as it’s rotation closes in on Earth’s.  Almost every aspect of this film surprised me in how well it works because, as you can tell by the description, it is a pretentious story.  However, unlike the pretentious Tree of Life, which I was completely let down and uninterested in, this film wholly succeeded in keeping my engagement throughout.  I was worried about whether or not the story would take, the direction with its shaky camera movements throughout, the odd characterizations of the primary characters; yet, in the end, almost masterfully so, I completely understood why von Trier made those decisions and it ultimately worked beautifully for the film.

I am still thinking about this film today, trying to pick out and analyze pieces of its meaning, and that is always a sign of a great movie.  It’s a shame that von Trier made that SNAFU comment earlier in the awards season this year, as I feel it took the spotlight away from what is most important – the film itself.  This, in turn, I think took some of the respect this film deserves away, and this movie deserved a lot more recognition than it got.  If you don’t mind a pretentious film and want to see one that is done right, then so far, this is the best one I’ve seen from 2011.





A Zed and Two Noughts (1986) Review

15 11 2011

Copyright 1986 BFI

★ ★ ★ 1/2

This is my third foray into Peter Greenaway’s repertoire, so I went into this film with a general idea of what to expect, at least in terms of narrative filmmaking and visual style.  For those of you unaware of Greenaway’s work, his films are less a narrative fiction, than a sort of visual essay the dissects the theme and tone of the, usually bizarre, narrative.

This film, as hard as it is to summarize, is the story of two twin zoologist brothers whose wives die in a car accident that resulted from a Swan crossing the road on Swan’s Way.  The driver, raven-haired Alba Bewick (Andrea Ferreol), looses her leg in the crash.  The resulting grief of the brothers results in a morbid fascination with the process of natural decay.  As they analyze the beginnings of life from single cell organisms to the decay of everything from an Apple to a Dalmatian, they try to find some solace and purpose in life and the accident.  To further complicate the structure, they both begin to have an affair with the legless driver of the fateful vehicle, Alba.  In necessity to achieve symmetry, she eventually has her other leg amputated as well.  Other characters include a set of conniving zoo keepers, a doctor with a fascination for Vermeer paintings and a whore who recites various prose.  Ah yes, and Zebras….lots of zebras.

I won’t lie, this is a difficult film to get through, even for me.  However, it’s not a bad film; honestly, it’s kind of cheating to call it a film at all.  It doesn’t flow like a normal movie and doesn’t have the aspects we usually look for in narrative storytelling.  It truly is, best described, as a visual essay with a loose narrative structure attached for continuity.  The direction by Greenaway and cinematography by long-time collaborator Sacha Vierny are exquisite.  The images are carefully symmetrical and the lighting approach is very mood oriented.  Visually, it is a beautiful film.  However, narratively, it is so unique that it is almost hard to rate.  Is it pretentious?  Yes.  Does it have a purpose?  Yes.  Would a lot of people hate the film?  Yes.  So, I leave it to you, the viewer, as to whether you think you might like this film or not.  I, personally, marveled at the visual beauty and enjoyed it on a level, but can easily see how some people couldn’t even stomach that much of an appreciation.  If you are up for a challenge though, this one is a challenge.





The City of Lost Children (1995) Review

11 09 2011

Copyright 1995 Club d'Investissement Média

★ ★ 1/2

One word can easily describe this movie: bizarre.  But, if you look at the front of the DVD case, then you can probably deduce that you are in for a film that is not going to be exactly normal.  Most of what I have seen by co-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet I have enjoyed, but this film I found less than appealing.

The story takes place in a steam punk-esque atmosphere that is never completely disclosed where or when it is.  Every character in the film is somewhat grotesque and quirky.  Daniel Emilfork plays a weirdo named Krank who runs a compound with a series of other freakish creations in the middle of the ocean.  Krank, among the others he lives with which include six men that look the same, a dwarfish woman and a brain inside a fishtank called Uncle Irvin, were apparently all created by a currently absent mad scientist.  Unfortunately, all of his creations had some deformity including Krank’s inability to dream.  To experience dreams, he steals children and tries to tap inside their minds with an odd looking machine.  One (Ron Perlman) is a circus strong man who travels with his little brother and some other guy.  When his little brother is stolen from their circus caravan by a blind cult, One goes after them.  Along the way he befriends a group of child pickpockets including the strong-minded little Miette (Juliet Vittet).  In their search for his little brother they encounter more odd characters and circumstances until they finally find the compound where Krank and gang are residing.

Now, after reading that synopsis, does any of it make much sense to you?  Probably not.  That is my problem with this film.  Stylistically, it is top notch; the cinematography, direction and production design all add up to create a lusciously weird atmosphere.  However, the story itself is so contrived and bizarre that the novelty of the style quickly fizzles out.  The one shining piece about the film outside of its beautiful design is Juliet Vittet as Miette.  She did a wonderful job in the role and I’m surprised we haven’t seen her in more productions in the years since.  This phenomena seems to be fairly standard for child actors though; for instance, whatever happened to the boy who played young Toto in Cinema Paradiso?  He was amazing in that.

In conclusion, if you like dazzling production design and enough odd characters to put Tod Browning’s Freaks to shame, then you may love this movie.  For me, however, I thought it lacked too much in the most important areas of film production: story and character.





Videodrome (1983) Review

9 08 2011

Copyright 1983 CFDC

★ ★ ★ ★

In looking over Netflix’s streaming selection, Maddie and I rather haphazardly happened upon this film.  The synopsis looked very intriguing and, knowing it was a David Cronenberg film, I had an idea as to the tone and mood the film would have.

A young James Woods plays a sleazy television programmer named Max Renn.  His television station, Channel 83, televises mod content, softcore pornography and the likes over the cable airwaves.  With the enlistment of “satellite pirate” Harlan (Peter Dvorsky), Renn scours the airwaves for edgy content to show on his station.  One day, Harlan shows him a fuzzy broadcast he receives that takes place in a small room and includes very realistic sadomasochism and even murder.  Intrigued, Renn wants to find out more and see about broadcasting this risky program entitled “Videodrome.”  Around this time, during an interview on a talk show, he strikes up a relationship with a fellow interviewee, radio personality Nicki Brand (Deborah Harry).  Being a sadomasochist herself, Nicki is excited about the idea of “Videodrome” airing on Channel 83.  However, Renn has problems locating the source content makers and is warned by his agent to not look any further into the matter.  With curiosity growing, Renn continues to search for the makers of “Videodrome” and winds up having some bizarre encounters with an odd personality known as Brian O’Blivion (Jack Creley).  From this point on, the film becomes a very psychological and bizarre look at the strange effects that the “Videodrome” signal has upon an individual.

Woods does a great job in this role, and I was pleasantly surprised by Harry whom I had never seen act before.  For those of you who don’t know, her real claim to fame is as the lead singer of Blondie, who had hits with “One Way or Another” and “Heart of Glass,” among others during the punk/new wave revolution of the late 1970s.  Cronenberg’s shot selections were very inspired and dreamlike, which worked perfectly for the subject matter.  The contrasts between gritty, natural lighting and highly stylized mood lighting throughout by cinematographer Mark Irwin also fit the story very well.  Most impressively, however, were the incredible make-up effects by makeup effects designer Rick Baker.  Unfortunately, in today’s world, these amazingly well done makeup effects would probably have gone to a CGI department.

I will admit that I haven’t seen a large amount of Cronenberg’s work; however, this film has been the most bizarre entry of his repertoire that I have yet seen.  Maddie was at first interested, but then totally put off by the path the film took midway through.  I, on the other hand, was happily amused throughout.  So, in short, this film is not for everyone.  It is weird, hallucinatory and bizarre, but if that’s your cup of tea, then you will not be disappointed.








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