Sunday, April 26, 2009

Don't Look Now (1973)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Don't Look Now is a piece of classic horror/thriller cinema. A young married couple spends some time in Venice while trying to get over the loss of their daughter in a tragic drowning. They meet a pair of elderly sisters, one of which is blind and a psychic, who warns them of danger. The wife is reassured by their supposed contact with the deceased child, but the husband is understandably skeptical. The mystery deepens as the story unfolds.

The one main strike against this film is that it hasn't really aged all that well. But beyond that one point, it's a very effective thriller, and is quite capable of conjuring a suitably frightening atmosphere - for its time. The ending is particularly notable, though I don't want to spoil just what happens.

I also must mention the sex scene. I was impressed with the sex scene - one of the better sex scenes I've seen in all of cinema. It was very sweet and intimate - and felt natural, not forced. It was much more honest than "Hollywood sex", but it wasn't explicit (even though it allegedly rose some controversy in its time). You saw a lot, such that it didn't feel like it was carefully choreographed to cover up anything "offensive" (an approach I despise), but you didn't see everything, so that it maintained an air of sophistication. Overall, it just felt very real, and I believe it really helped the characterization of this couple and the troubles they were going through, and reinforced the fact that they did indeed love one another (despite their arguments). It was also shot very artistically, interspersed with corresponding shots of them getting dressed for dinner afterwards (in an almost Alan Moore-esque dance of juxtaposition). It would be nice to see more of this kind of approach to sex in cinema. Of course, this movie is now over 35 years old, and look where we are now...

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I've been meaning to watch A Clockwork Orange ever since I heard about it over a decade ago. That day has finally come.

Firstly, to sum up the plot. The story is a narrative following the (mis)adventures of a sociopath named Alex, his eventual slip-up which leads to prison, the experimental psycho-pharmaceutical treatment he undergoes to be transformed - by the power of science - into a decent well-adjusted member of society, and his subsequent adventures.

The settings are rather extravagant, architecturally and in terms of fashion - like '70s kitsch taken to the extreme. I thought it was just a style choice initially, but supposedly the story is set in the near future (?), which might explain that. That would also explain the strange dialect of English they speak - the weird words they use, which you pick up on through context. I just thought it was Alex and his gang's own form of hipster slang, but maybe not.

The film definitely has a certain style to it, and it depicts a lot of sex and violence and depravity with a very bright and whimsical tone. Ultimately, I'm not sure whether to take the film as a satire, or a comedy, whether it's pure entertainment, or if it's supposed to have deeper meaning, or what. It's definitely entertaining, and quite humorous, but it also makes a lot of suggestions about good and evil and morals and ethics, and I was looking for some kind of statement in the end, but I was kind of left hanging. I'm not sure if I missed it, or if I wasn't supposed to be looking for it in the first place.

A few words about the experimental treatment Alex undergoes in prison. It seems a form of aversion therapy wherein the subject is given drugs to make him feel sick while being forced to watch films depicting depravity. Essentially, the purpose is to turn a sociopath's enjoyment of depravity into severe displeasure through conditioning. From a practical standpoint, assuming such a process works (as it does in the film), it could turn criminals into well-functioning individuals in society (theoretically, though I guess that doesn't really work out after all), thus reducing crime and also the strain that the incarceration of criminals puts on the rest of society (financially and whatnot). However, from a moral and ethical standpoint, it's really akin to brainwashing - taking away a person's ability to make a decision whether to pursue good or evil (effectively chaining the subject's free will), and forcing that person to adhere to "the will of the state".

Also, a few words on the depravity (sex and violence). I'm not sure if A Clockwork Orange is supposed to be a shocking or disturbing film - if it is, it neither really shocked nor disturbed me. Granted, I've seen a lot of depravity in films, and maybe it's just not as shocking in today's climate. I suspect that maybe the key is not that the sex and violence is disturbing, but that it's treated so whimsically. I don't know if that's supposed to make it more shocking, or if it's some kind of commentary about how we don't take it seriously, or what. I thought the infamous "singing in the rain" scene was quite entertaining, but after seeing Irreversible... well, it was like watching Disney.

I was disappointed that the potentially hottest scene in the film was all sped up. I think the scene worked very well as is, for comedic effect, and if it had played out normally, it would basically have been porn - but, those two chicks were hot (especially the blonde), and come on, the boots... Sigh, I'm kind of disappointed. Ah well.

[Editor's note: After writing this review, I was informed that the movie was based on a version of the original novel that had its final chapter cut. I then tracked down and read the story for comparison.]

Having now read the original story, the movie seems shallow in comparison, missing out on a large part of the point of the story. I mean, they never even explain what the hell a "clockwork orange" is in the movie! Having said that, I can't help feeling that the original ending is kind of sappy. Sure, it shows the character's growth, but after all that's gone on, it's a little hard to swallow. I think I can understand the reasoning behind cutting that part out, even though I still agree that cutting a chapter off of a story is a really stupid thing to do. I daresay, though, that if the movie had used the original ending, it may not have become so popular and hip. Because then all the sex and violence wouldn't be quite so unapologetic, and after all, isn't that what the hip young kids like?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I first became aware of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (originally a novel) from a group on Flickr, believe it or not. At the time I discovered it, it was one of the highest quality nude art groups I've come across, with many of the photos submitted to the group possessing a sort of ethereal quality. Recently, they've cracked down on the theme, redefining the rules, to deemphasize the nudity and refocus on the abstract quality described by the title. For better or worse.

Anyhow, I gave the film a watch, as I am sure you've discerned by the existence of this post. It's a pretty long film, getting up close to three hours, but it doesn't really seem to drag much, which is good. The story, essentially, is about a young doctor in Prague who enjoys having illicit affairs with various women, and the one woman he meets and falls in love with, who is interested only in monogamy. It's a story of romance, but it's also a story about life, the ups and the downs, about finding happiness, and there are some politics involved, by the nature of the setting - at one point (forgive me if I get the details wrong, this topic isn't my forté) the Russians (I think) invade and our characters are forced into exile, only to return later to what seems to be something of a police state. The point is, it's kind of grim, with that sort of environment of war and revolution, and civil unrest. But that's just one aspect of the story. By the way, the woman I above mentioned is a photographer, and there's a pretty cool scene where she gets naked with a model and takes some pictures.

Well, it was an entertaining story, and there were certainly sad parts and happy parts and exciting parts and devastating parts. The photographer woman, Tereza, is endearing, and the doctor, Tomas, has quite the distinctive hawk-eye, and is quite believable as a seductor. I feel like the film in some parts may have touched on the nature of the concept at hand - the unbearable lightness of being - but for such a profound abstract concept, I was kind of expecting something a little bit more...transcendental. Of course, fans of the novel cite the film as an imperfect adaptation, which might well be the case. It might be worth a read someday. Even so, I did enjoy the film, and the political climate distinguishes it from other romantic dramas you might see.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is an enlightening - at times humorous, at times enraging - documentary exploring the hypocrisy and the secrecy of the MPAA ratings board and their inconsistent and nontransparent practices. It is in some way connected with the IFC (Independent Film Channel) - which, despite the fact that I've never seen the actual channel, is one of the best channels ever, based simply on some of its programming I've seen on DVD.

Anyhow, in This Film Is Not Yet Rated, in addition to providing a little background on the MPAA and its history, and discussing through interviews with various independent filmmakers the process (and frustrations) of getting a film reviewed by the MPAA, and the dread of the NC-17 brand, which essentially prevents a film from receiving any kind of a reasonable audience (let alone profit), as such a rating severely cuts a film's distribution and advertising avenues, (is this sentence long enough yet?), the director, a guy named Kirby Dick, hires a private investigator to try to crack the suspicious secrecy of the MPAA ratings board, who keeps the identity of its raters top secret, and eventually uncovers the identities of said raters, much to the board's consternation.

Phew. So yeah, it's a really interesting documentary that really brings to light the shady practices of the MPAA, and just how biased they are towards the big studios and against the independents. Not to mention the dichotomy between their all-appeasing public image, and the corruption that goes on behind locked doors. There's also some very interesting discussion with the filmmakers I mentioned above about some of the (often ridiculous) reasons their films received NC-17 ratings. This naturally includes a discussion of what is and is not apparently okay for mainstream cinema (according to the MPAA), the uneven treatment of sexual versus violent material, discrimination of (usually sexual) minorities, etc.

If any of this sort of thing interests you, then you should definitely give this doc a viewing. It may not be a comprehensive look at the rating/censorship phenomenon, but it's certainly a fascinating glimpse and an exposé not to be missed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Joe Bonamassa - The Ballad of John Henry (2009)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

So I finally got around to getting Joe Bonamassa's latest album, The Ballad of John Henry, which was released a couple months ago - back in February, if I'm not mistaken. Joe's been releasing a consistent average of about an album a year ever since he initiated his solo career at the top of this decade. And he has yet to record an album I don't like - in fact, the only way I can imagine that happening is if, somewhere along the way, he decides to record a completely acoustic album (but let's not give him any ideas ;p). The Ballad of John Henry is no exception, and is a great addition to Joe's catalog.

The very first listen through, it struck me that there wasn't really a standout track(s) that rose above all the others - for example, the title track on Sloe Gin, or Tea For One on You & Me. However, the album sounded really good (especially at high volume, which Joe repeatedly encourages in the booklet), particularly the guitar tone, and I did notice that there were a lot of great riffs in those songs. I suspect many of these songs will grown on me more and more over time, like Bridge To Better Days and High Water Everywhere have. And really, it's the mark of a great album when the entire album sounds good rather than the good parts being limited to this or that track, right?

There's something to be said for Kevin Shirley's production (who also worked with Led Zeppelin, and Silvertide), and his collaborative relationship with Joe Bonamassa, which has been fostered over the past couple albums they've worked on together, since You & Me. Bonamassa's latest albums, compared to the earlier ones, seem to be sounding better and better, and have been lifting out of the "collection of rock/blues tracks" territory into the more "album masterpiece" realm, and this is very exciting.

I could probably say something about most of the tracks on the album, but just to pick out a few... The opening (as well as title) track, The Ballad of John Henry, sounds great, with a powerful riff; it really kicks off the album. Jockey Full of Bourbon is really cool because it starts out with a little piano part that sounds a lot like that style you hear in old westerns, like in some gunslinging saloon, and then this heavy guitar riff stomps in - it's really cool. Stop!, Last Kiss, Story of a Quarryman, and The Great Flood are all good, rocking songs. There's even a couple of softer pieces, but to my relief, the album never gets too soft for my tastes. In fact, the closing track, As The Crow Flies (which I recall Rory Gallagher previously covering), is kind of acoustic, but it still has a hard electric part!

So, all in all, I think it's a great album, and I'm really excited about it, and even after listening to it a number of times, I'm still excited to listen to it some more. Joey's easily my favorite modern musician, and he's already got a great catalog. If he keeps this kind of material up, he could become as big to me (if not at large) as the classics!

Crash (1996)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Crash is a David Cronenberg film adaptation of a novel about car crash fetishism. It's also the second of these "alternative lifestyle" film studies I've seen recently with James Spader in a starring role (which kind of makes you wonder about him XD). It's a very serious, yet not really approving, exploration of the psychopathology of this subculture. And while the actual occurrence of the sexual fetish in the population may be relatively rare, the concept also works as a metaphor for a less extreme interest and idolization of cars and mechanical technology in general - and the risks such idolization poses.

The film begins with our lead being involved in a serious car accident. As he recovers - physically, and psychologically - he's introduced to a group of people who are really into getting off on twisted steel and disfiguring scars, and finds himself fitting in with them rather well. As the leader of the group explains, they derive their sexual satisfaction from the pure energy and excitement involved in a car crash. And aside from the sexual aspect, it's not hard to agree that, in addition to the horror, there's a certain excitement and fascination involved with accidents of that sort. These guys just take that feeling to the extreme.

There's not really any major conflict for this group. It's not like they get into any (serious) arguments with mainstream society, and nobody really seems to stop them from getting at what it is they seek (I'm surprised nobody complained when they drove up to that highway accident and just started walking around, taking pictures, and whatnot). So towards the end of the film, I was starting to wonder what the point was. Are we supposed to learn something from this tale, or just marvel (or grimace) at these people's deviance? But there's a line in the final scene that drove the point home for me.

Spoiler warning!

There's a harrowing car flip, and I'm thinking the guy's gonna find the girl dead, and then realize just how dangerous these activities are. The girl's alive, and I'm thinking ok, relief, it's not gonna be a tragedy ending, after all. But then, as the lead couple are making out among the wreckage, the guy asks the girl if she's alright. She says yeah, "I think I'm alright", and then sheds a tear, as the guy says, "maybe the next one." Turns out death wouldn't have been such a tragedy for them, after all...

And that's when I realized, the point is that this lifestyle is extremely self-destructive. These people get high off of destroying cars and damaging people - even to the point that death becomes the ultimate gratification, something to aspire towards. And when you extrapolate that back to the metaphor interpretation, you can see a point being made that our fetishism of high speed car culture, and our love of technology taken too far, can be a dangerous and self-destructive impulse. So in a sense, it's a cautionary tale.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Romance (1999)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I've been trying to remember what it was that made this movie seem interesting enough for me to watch it, but whatever it was, it has escaped me. Romance is sort of a feminist-ish French chick flick about sex. I don't mind a good chick flick, and I certainly have no problem with French cinema, and feminism - well, it can be good or bad depending on interpretation. I think one of the main strikes against this film, for me, is that all of the fairly explicit sex is some of the least erotic cinema sex I've ever seen. And I think that may be part of the point, but still...

Caroline Ducey in the lead role is nice to look at - she has a sweet and subtle beauty that's undeniable but not overbearing, plus the various expressions and mannerisms she employs are very seductive in an innocent kind of way. She plays a young woman in a sexless relationship with a man she loves, but is - from what I can tell - either completely impotent, or completely asexual. Naturally, the woman has to search elsewhere for the impersonal connections she needs to satisfy her lustful desires.

Much of the film consists of these sorts of encounters, though as I've said before, the sex is very un-erotic. However, the more important focus seems to be on the philosophies and the emotions of the lead as she recounts them in narration. And there are certainly some interesting philosophical ruminations on love and sex and romance and all that. Without going into specifics, there are some pretty interesting ideas in there, but at the end, I can't help feeling maybe it would have been better as a book rather than a film? Then again, maybe I'm just bitter about the live childbirth closeup... There's nothing less sexy than childbirth...

Actually, I think that irony's also part of whatever point the director Catherine Breillat is trying to put across. Interesting, sure, but the film itself leaves me feeling somewhat unsatisfied after watching it...

I Stand Alone (1998)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Having been so impressed with Irreversible, I tracked down I Stand Alone, also written and directed by Gaspar Noé, after I found out that the one character (known as "The Butcher") who makes a cameo in an early scene in Irreversible, is actually the main character from Gaspar Noé's earlier film I Stand Alone. That fact alone is fascinating, that this character would recur in another of the writer/director's films. In fact, another portion of the character's life is told in yet another, even earlier, film - Carne - which I'd also like to see, if I could find it...

Anyhow, I Stand Alone is not as much an artistic masterpiece as Irreversible, and not as graphic or intense either, but coming from the same mind, you can still expect high quality. It's the story of The Butcher, named for his preferred profession (and not, like I suspected, for any reputation as a brutal murderer), and his struggle against the hardships of living a poor life. His earlier life, including a troubled childhood and a brief period of relative prosperity, is told in recap - and I believe this includes some or all of what transpires in Carne - and the story picks up after The Butcher gets out of prison for assaulting a man he mistakenly thought had raped his young daughter.

It's a very depressing tale, and a lot of the film involves following The Butcher around while we get to listen to his thoughts - lots of poetic existential despair, that I could really relate to. And it's fascinating the way The Butcher justifies the questionable acts he commits, or considers committing, such as violently assaulting his pregnant wife, and gunning down the rich and the people who insult and oppress him. And his justifications are frighteningly convincing - I certainly felt myself sympathizing with this character. He's not a nice guy, but I don't think he's evil, either; he's just a victim of circumstance in a bleak, insensitive, dishonest world.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Irreversible (2002)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

"Time destroys everything."

I want to say that Irreversible is one of the greatest films ever created. It is absolutely amazing in every aspect. And so utterly disturbing. To describe the experience of watching Irreversible in a single word, I would choose "uncomfortable". And yet so very effective. It's not the kind of film that you go to see to be entertained; it's the kind of film that makes a powerful statement and has the ability to change you.

Irreversible is a gruesome anti-revenge tale told in reverse, for significant effect, with swirling camera movements that are at times - not to shy away from the truth - very annoying and possibly even nauseating. But that's a primary part of the narrative. Besides, nothing about this movie is comfortable, and that's why it's so very effective. This film also contains what has been accurately described as one of the most uncomfortably realistic depictions of rape - the camera refuses to cut or fade, but it's not done for exploitative purposes, to entertain, or primarily to shock (though it certainly does), but rather for the purpose of really drilling home the absolute horror and vileness of the act (and by the way, mission accomplished).

I could say so many good things about this film, but I also want to avoid saying too much about it, because I don't want to spoil the whole experience of it. The film takes you into the very bowels of an earthly Hell, populated by humans whom you could easily believe are demons, but it's not about the violence - the film has a story to tell and a point to make. This is art, this is cinema, this is a masterpiece of filmmaking. I would make this film mandatory viewing for everyone, because it's that effective, but the honest truth is that most people probably don't have the stomach for it, or the interest to step that far into the void. But for those who do, put this film on your list. But be warned - once you watch it, you can never take your innocence back.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Secretary (2002)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Secretary is an at times humourous romantic drama involving a dominant/submissive relationship which is much more obvious, and also much more physical, than that of 9 1/2 Weeks. Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader both give great, convincing performances in the lead roles.

Maggie's character, Lee, starts off just having been released from some sort of mental institution or hospital. She's innocent, quirky, naive, and has a masochistic streak that involves cutting herself. She takes pleasure in becoming a secretary for a rather strict lawyer, Mr. Grey. The two were quite clearly made for each other, but considering the nature of their desires, it takes some time and drama for them to realize, understand, and come to terms with what they want from each other - and that it's okay.

This is an enjoyable film. It's very entertaining, and the subject matter makes it a bit exotic and perhaps even educational to some degree. But at its heart it's just a good old-fashioned love story. I'd have to say this was the best Maggie Gyllenhaal performance I have yet to see. I think I can happily recommend this film, even to those not especially interested in this particular kink, provided the very idea of it doesn't completely turn you off, of course.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kissed (1996)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Kissed is such a beautiful film. And Molly Parker, in the lead role, is so beautiful. I knew I was gonna like this film even before I watched it, based on the premise alone. And it did not disappoint. Of course, now that I've said that, I've put myself in something of an uncomfortable position now that I have to tell you what the film is about...

Kissed is about one woman's profound, romantic obsession with death. In childhood, she would sneak out and perform secret solitary rituals, dancing around fresh graves she dug for dead animals - birds, and mice, and whatnot - while reveling in the sensations of death (especially smell and touch, and sometimes even taste). When her one friend freaks out on her she discovers the true abnormality of her feelings. She takes a job at a funeral home to get ever closer to death, and goes to school to study embalming. She meets a fascinated young man (living), who she confesses her secret to, but finds that he can't satisfy her emotionally - or physically - the way corpses do. The relationship is bound to end in tragedy.

The reason I was so excited about this film is not because it deals with the topic of necrophilia, something I can honestly say grosses me out as much as the next guy, but because I had heard that it was a very tasteful and beautiful depiction of such an unusual and controversial topic. Being no stranger to alternative lifestyles myself, the idea of a film that can touch on such a topic in a respectful and artistic way, without resorting to either immature humor or exaggerated grossout, is very attractive to me indeed. And Kissed is a most artistic, beautiful, engaging, emotionally complex film.

I've already mentioned that Molly Parker is beautiful, but she's also convincing, and engrossing. Amazing performance. Even though I can't relate to the character's preoccupation with death, I can very much relate to her secret rituals, and her forbidden desires. And the scene where she confesses to the guy she gets involved with, only going on a hunch that he will be able to understand her...nerve-racking, and so completely convincing. And liberating. I really felt like I was in her place, I could feel all the emotions the character must be feeling in that instant. And the scene where she mounts the corpse - very tastefully done, very beautiful, and by god, I do believe it's the most erotic corpse-fucking scene I will ever see in my life. And trust me, I never thought I would ever be in a position to write a sentence like that...

The movie is relatively short, at under an hour and a half. I felt like it could have gone on, and I certainly wouldn't have minded being under the enchantment of the film for a bit longer. But, as it is, it's a great little, tragic, unusual love story. I recommend it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

9 1/2 Weeks (1986)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

9 1/2 Weeks, starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, is an emotionally intense story of a short-term romantic relationship between two complete strangers. Comparisons to Last Tango In Paris are not out of place, but one would be wise not to draw too many parallels. This film is characterized by Adrian Lyne's dreamy urban style (Lyne also directed a little film called Jacob's Ladder, which just happens to be one of my personal all-time cinema favorites), and is also, unfortunately, very dated as an eighties film, particularly in terms of fashion. But that's something you can either get over, or not.

I have to admit I was very confused for a large portion of the film. There is a lot of unspoken subtext between the two lovers, and it's easy to miss out on their motivations, especially if you're not thinking of their relationship in a D/s context. And when you think of a D/s relationship, I'm sure all sorts of visual depictions of fetishism pass through your mind, but in the movie, it's heavily concentrated on the emotional aspect. And it's a gentle sort of domination. Such that, it's actually quite easy to forget that their relationship is anything but perfectly normal, except that doing so leaves you a bit confused at some points, as I was.

But man, Adrian Lyne's style really has an effect on you, and the emotions are pretty intense - in like a slow and gentle, but heavy, kind of way. I think the movie would benefit from repeat viewing, to catch some of the nuances of the emotional dynamic. Were I so inclined. The love scenes were kind of hit and miss for me. Foodplay? Not so much. Sex in a sewer alley? Hell yes!

And yeah, I know, that last one sounds kind of disgusting, but it was pretty hot, actually.

Caligula (1979)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Wow. What a film. You know, for the reputation it gets, I thought it was quite good. Caligula is, obviously, a dramatized depiction of the rule of the infamous Roman emperor Caligula, and the story is a great demonstration of the way that absolute power corrupts absolutely, with the added twist of insanity. A lot of the film seems to embrace absurdism and pure hedonism, but at its heart it's the tale of a man who became God - or so he thought.

I think it's a great story, and the rampant deviance and sexuality is quite refreshing. In fact, the movie opens with the title card "Pagan Rome", and it goes all out in depicting the popular image of pagan "debauchery". Public orgies, rape, incest, hints of bestiality ("take my horse to his own bed")'s got everything. In fact, you may have heard the controversy over the porn scenes spliced into the movie. There are, indeed, a couple places where the sexuality goes way beyond what's necessary. You can clearly tell, in these instances, that the sex is changing from either plot-driven or atmosphere-generating (both used extensively throughout the film), to a point where it's just shameless pornography. And, despite what reputation I may have for what I like to see in a movie, I thought the film would have been much better off without those particular scenes. I have no problem whatsoever with the sex being there, it's just that in those cases it becomes the emphasis, and goes from "interesting movie sex between characters" to "cheap porn sex between extras".

So yeah, I don't want to give off the wrong idea, because I'm thumbs up on most of the sex in the movie. It's just those couple instances where it just goes too far, and it takes away from the movie itself. Which, minus those porn parts, I feel is a really strong and enjoyable movie. Great characters. Caligula's sister was hot. I'm kind of disappointed they didn't end up getting married. "And now for Caesar's wedding gift!" Boy, Caligula totally went insane. Anybody fancy a game of "Almighty Caesar says..."?

I'd love to be more liberal in my recommendation of this film, but the bottom line is, you're not gonna like it if you're offended or in any way dislike explicit violence and sexuality. But if that doesn't bother you, I'd like to take this opportunity to say that Caligula has an entertaining and epic story to tell underneath all that. Despite what you may have heard to the contrary.

"Give him enough rope, he'll hang us all."

Last Tango In Paris (1972)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Last Tango In Paris is a Bernardo Bertolucci classic, which received considerable controversy due to its depictions of "rough" sex. However, the film is notable in that, despite receiving an X rating (the then-equivalent of today's NC-17), it received an Oscar nomination (or two).

I commend Bernardo Bertolucci's lack of restraint in tackling issues of sexuality in his films (The Dreamers being a more recent example), in a more straightforward way compared to Hollywood, but not with the vulgar and soulless approach that pornography uses. Last Tango In Paris is a beautiful film, and its highlight is the intense character study, pulled off magnificently by Marlon Brando in the lead role. The subject of the film is the relationship between two complete strangers who bump into each other on a Paris street, and proceed to have a completely anonymous sexual relationship. It sounds pretty basic, I know, but the film is not just an excuse for the sex. The story is about these two people, who they are, and it explores the nature of their anonymous relationship - asking questions like, why is it so fulfilling to them?

The film itself is admittedly slow, there's not really much in the way of action, but that's just the type of film it is. There's some mystery in it that I found very intriguing - in the beginning these two characters are complete strangers, not just to each other, but to the viewer as well. And so, as you move through the film, these pieces of identity are thrown at you, and you have to piece together just who these people are, their motivations, etc. And it's pretty tragic, the details of this man's life.

Definitely an interesting film, but I felt it was lacking something, to really attach myself to it. And I think that something was the fact that, despite how intriguing Marlon Brando's character was, and even how cute the girl in the equation was, their relationship kind of confused me. I think I can generally understand the appeal of the anonymity of the whole situation, but the sex scenes were some of the least erotic I've ever seen - I mean, one of them, the infamous butter scene, was literally anal rape (it's not explicit, but it is uncomfortable). I mean, I guess I can't really understand why the girl kept coming back, and how she could have fallen for him...

Anyway, the movie ends kind of tragically, and hell, the character study was fascinating, and it's worth a watch for Marlon Brando's performance alone, I think. Of the Bertolucci films I've seen so far, though, I enjoyed The Dreamers much more.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Kids (1995)

Note: This review was originally posted on a message board forum. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Having just watched Kids, I honestly can't decide if it's an exploitation film, or one of those cautionary tales they show you in Health class. Perhaps it's both. It's definitely an "AIDS scare" type of story, from the '90s. It's filmed in a rather voyeuristic fashion, following a day in the life of one particular teen, whose hobby just happens to be deflowering virgins, and he just happens to be HIV positive. Can't you just feel the drama unfolding, already? Kids depicts a rather depressing picture of urban youth, where the kids indulge in just about every sin your parents and teachers ever warned you about. But the most disturbing thing is, not the eight year olds smoking pot, the twelve year olds having sex, nor the fifteen year olds engaging in an E-influenced orgy, the teen gang beating an outsider to a bloody pulp, nor even the drunken rape, but the fact that, as sick as all of this is, it didn't feel to me so exaggerated that I didn't believe it could be real.

The characters are, with perhaps one or two exceptions, very unlikable (which I think is the point), and certainly not the kind of people I'd ever hang out with. However, I found the "fly on the wall" perspective and the "pseudo-documentary" style quite interesting, as I have some voyeuristic tendencies myself, but, while I found the film to be relatively enjoyable, I wouldn't be surprised if somebody else (particularly of more delicate sensibilities) were to consider it "trash". Because really, that's more or less the subject of the film.