January 08, 2017

ZERO MOTIVATION

Zero MotivationTalya Lavie’s 2014 black comedy, about a woman’s place in the Israeli Army, plays like a cross between “Reform School Girls” and “Catch 22.” Lavie skewers religious and military indoctrination in the context of psychological and physical abuses levied against female soldiers by male and female officers alike.

Writer-director Lavie takes inspiration from Jean Vigo's once banned 1933 film Zero For Conduct, about bourgeoning rebellion in an all boys boarding school, to transpose a narrative drawn from her experiences serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Although this movie might play as light comedy to Israeli audiences, the film echoes systemic abuses of female soldiers in the American military where rape is a common occurrence.

When our rebellious heroine soldier Zohar (Dana Ivgy) attempts to lose her virginity to a fellow soldier, she requests that he “be more gentle.” His callous response, “I’m combat, baby” speaks volumes about the sexist effect of his military training. Zero Motivation is a troubling movie in spite of its primarily comedic tone.

"War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing." —Edwin Starr

Zero Motivation

Not Rated. 97 mins. (B) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

January 07, 2017

STORY OF WOMEN — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Story of WomenBased on the true story of Marie-Louise Giraud, Claude Chabrol’s provocative World War II era drama features Isabelle Huppert as a lower class single mother of two in Nazi occupied France. Marie’s war-ravaged husband unexpectedly returns home just as she finds her calling as an amateur abortionist for local women, many of whom work as prostitutes servicing German soldiers.

Claude Chabrol’s “The Story Of Women” delves into the conditions of a small occupied French town that transforms a mother of two into a hardened opportunist.

Marie’s motivations shift as she reaches a comfortable lifestyle that enables an affair with a German soldier.

Isabelle Huppert walks a fine line as an anti-heroine whose broken relationship with her husband (François Cluzet) culminates in a betrayal of outrageous proportions. 

Much of this film's power draws from Chabrol's ambiguous handling of Marie Giraud as an imperfect, if industrious woman. Huppert plays the part with a seething passion locked beneath an implacable feminine exterior. Neither Huppert nor the director pass any judgements on Marie's actions, nor does either shy away from her wartime imposed survivalist attitude to the world around her.

Because abortions were criminalized in France [from 1920 to 1975], due to a grievous loss of French males in World War I and II, Marie-Louise Giraud became an ideal scapegoat for the French courts after being indicted for her crimes.

STORY OF WOMEN

Not Rated. 108 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

January 02, 2017

Mifune: The Last Samurai

MifuneWhile not the in-depth character study of the prolific Japanese actor that its title implies, “Mifune: The Last Samurai” is a rollicking survey of the gifted artist who played muse to Akira Kurosawa for much of the director’s storied career.

Keanu Reeves provides charismatic voice-over narration in telling an abbreviated (read sanitized) version of Toshiro Mifune’s transition from son to Japanese missionaries living in China, to Japanese Imperial Army soldier during World War II, and on to becoming one of Japan’s most highly regarded actors.

Predictable interview segments with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese put Hollywood’s stamp of approval on Mifune’s well-crafted character creations in films such as “Rashomon,” “Seven Samurai,” "Yojimbo," and “Throne of Blood,” all of which are referenced in essential clips. Never mind that Hollywood only recently included Mifune in their "Walk of Fame," long after his death in 1997.

Mifune

“Mifune: The Last Samurai” functions best as an introduction to one of Cinema’s most disciplined and unique actors. Watching this documentary should have the desired effect of inspiring its audience to seek out some of the more than 150 films that Toshio Mifune starred in, to witness the nuance, humor, and untamed fury of his dynamic performances. There are only a handful of actors in the history of Cinema that have created anything close to the number of indelible characterizations that Mifune made palpable on the big screen. Indeed, no other actor embodied the tragic face of the samurai legend and legacy as did Toshiro Mifune.

Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 11.57.08 AM

Not Rated. 80 mins. (B-) (Three stars — out of five / no halves)

January 01, 2017

FAT GIRL — CLASSIC FILM PICK

A-Ma-Soeur2In 2001, at the height of her powers, writer-director Catherine Breillat created a trenchant social study of familial and social prejudice set in the context of a wealthy French family whose unevenly matched female siblings vie for various rights of sexual passage.

Originally entitled “A Ma Soeur!” (“To My Sister”) the film’s inappropriate English title “Fat Girl” does this movie an injustice. This clear public relations attempt at inciting controversy with a derogatory term cheapens Breillat’s bold dramatic statements regarding budding female sexuality in the modern world, and feminist ideals at large.

Anais Reboux plays the Rubenesque pre-teen of the film’s title. Anais is the younger (12-year-old) sister to Elena (Roxane Mesquida), who at the age of 15 is ready to do away with her virginity. A family vacation at an estate by the ocean delivers a seemingly ideal solution to Elena’s plight in the form of Fernando (Libero de Rienzo), a wealthy twentysomething Italian law student whose list of conquests he wears with confidence. During their first encounter Fernando “takes Elena from behind” in the same room where Anais pretends to sleep in another bed just a few meters from the event. That Fernando requests that Elena take him in her mouth after anally penetrating her, speaks to a societally informed notion of humiliation attending sexual indoctrination.

Fat Girl

Breillat contrasts generational and sexual codes of behavior between her characters. The girls’ mother and father (Arsinee Khanjian and Romain Goupil) are at odds decreed by their social positions. Fernando’s concern for going to prison for deflowering an underage girl doesn’t prevent him from stealing a precious ring from his overweight mother (Laura Betti) to give to Elena even if he doesn’t really intend the gift as the engagement ring that Elena imagines.

A-ma-soeur

The story belongs to Anais. Her observant, if pokerfaced, vantage points on morality and social conditions enable her to survive a traumatic event via the brutal lessons she vicariously learns. “Fat Girl” is an understated picture that doesn’t shy away from any of the ambitious thematic heights that Breillat fearlessly mounts. Like Breillat’s debut feature (“A Real Young Girl”) “Fat Girl” is a masterpiece awaiting inspection by audiences open to its unveiled meanings and insightful commentary.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Nocturnal-animalsWriter-director Tom Ford’s psychological thriller is a glorified student film. Solid performances from Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon can’t mask this film’s lacking construction and misplaced artsy embellishments that imply political commentary where no such thematic support exists. At times the movie feels like Ford is attempting to steal from David Lynch but he gets it all wrong. He goes for dark camp humor — witness a villain using a toilet attached on his secluded home’s front porch. Plop. You wouldn’t guess the script was based on a 1993 novel (“Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright).

The story involves a revenge fantasy reenacted from the pages of a novel penned by Gyllenhaal’s Edward, ostensibly to scare the crap out of his ex-wife Susan (Adams). The movie flips back and forth between Susan’s sad but wealthy life with her cheating husband (played by Armie Hammer, this generation’s Brendan Fraser), and the violent content of Edward’s pulp novel. The movie-within-the-movie is more effective than Susan’s overlying storyline but it still isn’t strong enough to stand up on its own.

Nocturnal-animals-movie

Apart from some compelling suspense, “Nocturnal Animals” doesn’t give its audience anything to hang their coat on. Every composition feels overworked in a story where every plot-point leads toward a dead end. You’re glad when the movie ends but not for any sense of narrative or thematic satisfaction.

Rated R. 116 mins. (C-) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)

December 08, 2016

The Long Goodbye — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Long GoodbyeRobert Altman made a bold statement in his casting of Elliott Gould as a Jewish version of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe character in this modestly budgeted film. Giving the chain-smoking Marlowe an orange tabby as a beloved pet adds quirky counterpoint to his not-so hardboiled character. 

Elliot Gould's version of Marlowe is a postmodern '70s era invention who jives with the times as much as he clashes with them. If a bunch of partially nude model-types want to hang out on the balcony of his chic L.A. apartment (complete with its own elevator), that's fine with Gould's Marlowe; he can take it or leave it. 

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond elevates this film’s 1.7 million budget with his signature attention to capturing light and darkness. Here is a neo-noir that uses color to emphasize Los Angeles’s speedy influence on the characters and the action.

Altman’s knack for making every supporting character count is just one more element that makes “The Long Goodbye” so memorable. Arnold Schwarzenegger's portrayal of a musclebound boy toy is perversely hilarious. There are more than a few things in this movie that you can't unsee. Whether or not you'd want to, is another story altogether.

Elliot Gould

Rated R. 112 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

October 30, 2016

ANDY WARHOL'S FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN — CLASSIC FILM PICK

Andy Warhol's FrankensteinCommonly referred to as “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein” (what on Earth could be better?), Paul Morrissey directed “Flesh for Frankenstein” with a dry camp sensibility that he exploits hilariously, and relentlessly, for truly inspired gory (and nude) episodes of Grand Guignol exaltation. Makeup wiz Carlo Rambaldi (“Alien”) has a field day. Most significant in this gruesome parade is its premeditated use of the Space-Vision 3D process to allow disemboweled organs to dangle in front of audience’s noses. If this movie ever comes to your neighborhood in 3D, don’t miss it. It may well be the best use ever made of the stereoscopic process. The ratings board gave this movie an X rating for a reason.

Morrissey co-wrote the Hammer-inspired horror movie with two uncredited screenwriters (Tonino Guerra – “Blowup” and Pat Hackett). The movie is all about the set-up, style, and tone. If the dialogue seems atrociously stiff, that is the intention. Baron von Frankenstein (exquisitely played for hammy effect by Udo Kier) shares his remote castle with his nymphomaniac wife/sister Katrin (Monique van Vooren). Katrin’s pre-pubescent son and daughter secretly follow in Dr. Frankenstein’s footprints. With his submissive servant Otto (Arno Juerging) beside him, and hair slicked back in a Dracula-inspired style, the good doctor likes to stick it in the surgically opened gallbladder of his not-yet-alive female creation. Cue the 3D effects.

Udo Gets Busy

Udo Kier delivers the film’s money line when he categorically states, “to know death Otto, you have to fuck life in the gallbladder.” Hilarious.

Dr. Frankenstein goes on about creating life that represents Serbian ideals that “comes from the ancient Greeks” built of a head with the right “nasum” (nose).

Joe Dallesandro (“Little Joe” of Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” fame) steals the movie as Nicholas, the castle stable boy (a.k.a. stud) who Lady Katrin seduces and claims as her own. Dallesandro’s Brooklyn accent and physical bearing brings an intriguing undercurrent of global cross-pollination in the film’s European environs. Martin Scorsese followed in this film’s footsteps when he made “The Last Temptation of Christ” in 1988.

Flesh for Frankenstein

Other filmmakers also stole from “Flesh For Frankenstein.” David Cronenberg clearly took inspiration from this movie for “Videodrome” and eXistenZ. There is also no question that this deeply satisfying picture informed the set design and comic tone for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which also took its ideas from Peter Perry Jr.’s “Kiss Me Quick!” (1964).

“Andy Warhol’s Flesh For Frankenstein” is a riot. Even its closing tableau is socially transcendent, and transgressive. The movie periodically achieves its operatic aspirations. It also happens to be one of the most simultaneously gloriously gross and sexy horror movies you’ll ever see. Oh what sublime joy.

Joe Dallesandro

Rated R. 95 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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