Movies, movies, movies!

Nurse Bob's film reviews

When rating a film I ask myself these three questions: What is the director’s goal or purpose? How does the director try to achieve it? Is the director successful? Hence a big box office hit may get a “5” while a Eurosleaze sexploitation flick gets a “7”. My rating system in a nutshell:

10 = Brilliant!
9 = Exceptional
8 = Very Good
7 = Good
6 = Average
5 = Forgettable
4 = Bad
3 = Dismal
2 = Dog Barf
1 = Beyond Awful

~ ~ ~ ~

Le Jour Se Lève
[Daybreak] (France 1939) (6): The silence of a rooming house is split by the sound of gunfire and from an upstairs apartment a man staggers into the hallway clutching his side before falling down dead. The perpetrator, blue collar labourer François (an intense Jean Gabin), proceeds to barricade the door keeping the police at bay while dissolving flashbacks and an inner monologue slowly reveal what led to the fatal encounter. Although noted for its oppressive atmosphere and some innovative cinematic tricks (director Marcel Carné built an entire town square complete with multi-storied apartment building opened at the back for camera access) as well as its frank sexuality—yes, women are involved and premarital sex is taken for granted so take that Hay’s Office!—there is a clunky feel to the unfolding melodrama which is not helped by a couple of theatrical moments. French navel-gazing was just hitting its stride and everyone it seems has an issue to ruminate upon in between unfiltered cigarettes and glasses of Bordeaux. An interesting study of polar opposites nonetheless as Carné divides his main characters into working class idealists and privileged cynics with a mob cheering the underdog from the streets below. The film would later go on to achieve a sense of dark irony when François’ isolation and despair seemed to herald France’s overall zeitgeist following its surrender to the Nazis.

Our Kind of Traitor
(UK 2016) (7): Another John le Carré thriller is brought to the screen with all the usual gaps and stretches, but director Susanna White keeps things brisk and exciting with a starry cast (Ewan McGregor, Stellan Skarsgård, Naomie Harris, Damian Lewis) and highly photogenic locations shots which range from Morocco to London to the French alps. British couple Perry and Gail (McGregor, Harris) are on holiday in Africa when Perry becomes uneasy chums with boisterous Russian mobster Dima (Skarsgård) after a chance meeting at a swanky restaurant. Taking the naïve Brit into his confidence, Dima talks Perry into acting as a liaison between himself and British Intelligence—his ultimate goal to exchange incriminating evidence regarding the mafia’s overseas dealings in exchange for asylum for him and his family. Now caught between the Russian mob and a taciturn MI6 agent (Lewis)—neither of whom they can trust—Perry and Gail find their own lives on the line. Unlike the usual glut of le Carré adaptations that rely on dark corners and oppressive spaces to ramp up the tension, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle revels in alpine panoramas, decadent desert oases, and gilded hotel lobbies while screenwriter Hossein Amini finds what suspense he can in a deadly stare or the offscreen howl of a dying dog. Very much a three-handed film with McGregor looking for validation (he feels as if he’s walking in his successful lawyer wife’s shadow), Skarsgård seeking redemption, and Harris letting down her barrister’s detachment to reveal a little more humanity.

Tuya’s Marriage
(China 2006) (7): Life on the steppes of Mongolia is never easy and no one knows this more than Tuya. Ever since her husband Batoer was crippled while trying to dig a well in the backyard she’s had to pull double duty playing nursemaid to him and their two children, tending the flock of sheep, and taking care of their meagre household which includes an arduous daily journey to collect drinking water. And then she hits upon a clever idea: divorce Batoer and find a new able-bodied mate who’ll be willing to allow her ex-husband to remain under her care. Soon thirty-year old Tuya has a line of suitors willing to meet her demands—but with a social order as unforgiving as the environment, words do not always equal deeds. Quan’an Wang’s low-budget, low-key indie film is both a small exotic tragedy and larger feminist parable for in Tuya (a gritty and believable performance from Yu Nan) we see one small yet determined woman not only staring down the elements but asserting herself against a host of men (including a would be fiancé-cum-rapist) while holding steadfast to her own values even though the odds continually stack against her. Aided by a cast of professional and non-professional actors (the performances are uneven at best) Wang finds a suitable metaphor in the harsh polar extremes of Mongolia itself—the encircling mountains and arid expanses highlighting Tuya’s understanding of just how limited her options really are. In the role of Batoer, Bater (much of the cast use their real names) is an understated mix of pathos, apathy, and internalized rage, and Sen’ge excels as a henpecked husband and Tuya’s childhood friend who may just be the only man with genuine feelings for her.

A Bigger Splash
(Italy 2015) (7): Jealousy, lust, and sexual tensions percolate just beneath the surface of an otherwise idyllic island getaway in Luca Guadagnino’s remake of Deray’s 1969 classic La Piscine, updated and transferred from the French Riviera to southern Italy. Aging rock star Marianne Lane (Tilda Swinton) is recuperating from throat surgery on a small Mediterranean island with her hunky filmmaker boyfriend Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts) when her former producer and ex-lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes) rings to say he’s arriving for an impromptu visit—in fact his plane actually passes over the sunbathing couple in what has to be one of contemporary cinemas more clever foreshadowings. Manic and somewhat unpredictable, Harry’s also brought his estranged daughter Penelope (Dakota Johnson) along for the ride signalling the beginning of a very bumpy holiday, for Harry is still carrying a torch for Marianne who hasn’t quite forgotten the good old days, Paul is dealing with unresolved conflicts of his own, and Penelope turns out to be a calculating Lolita seemingly intent on playing everyone against everybody—can transgression and tragedy be far behind? Borrowing his title from artist David Hockney’s iconic painting in which the calm surface of a swimming pool has been shattered by the aftermath of a dive, Guadagnino likewise places his characters in a calm subtropical setting and then proceeds to probe beneath surface appearances to reveal a darker psychology at work, often utilizing heavy-handed metaphors to drive home his point—snakes slither through Marianne and Paul’s little slice of Eden; The Rolling Stones croon “Emotional Rescue” and “Worried About You” from the stereo turntable (in between more ominous notes); and characters are never more than a couple of paces from a tempting body of water. Keeping Tilda Swinton’s character voiceless for the most part provides an intriguing counterpoint to Fiennes’ pressured speech while Schoenaerts and Johnson play off each other nicely for even though they both sense wrongness in the air—he’s a documentarian used to searching for the truth, she’s cynical beyond her years—both are caught off guard when emotions actually start hitting the fan, including their own. Fearless performances from Swinton and Fiennes who bares all (literally) in one of his most vulnerable performances—Schoenaerts and Johnson on the other hand seem to have trouble keeping up—and Guadagnino keeps the pace brisk and just a little off-kilter with abrupt edits and seamless flashbacks. Not sure why he tried to tie the plight of African migrants crossing the sea with the main story—the two lines don’t easily connect—but it’s a dangling tangent which doesn’t really affect the film’s overall impact.

(UK 1971) (4): Unhappy with the way his life is going, nightclub comedian Eddie Ginley (Albert Finney) decides to realize his Bogart fantasy by hiring himself out as a private investigator à la The Maltese Falcon. But his first case almost ends up being his last when he gets entangled in a convoluted plot involving drug dealers, kidnappers, and a foreign revolutionist or two. Did I say “convoluted”? It’s more like writer Neville Smith took every cliché Chandler, Hammett, and Spillane ever put out, tossed them into a blender and meekly accepted whatever dribbled out. As an homage to yesteryear’s Film Noir it bombs at every turn—the dialogue cracks more than it crackles, the femme fatales (in this case Ginley’s duplicitous ex-wife and a mysterious American) are D.O.A., and the ham-fisted attempts at wit are delivered with all the finesse of a stubbed toe, in fact the only clue that it might be a satire of the genre is the fact it says so on the DVD jacket. Even the music provided by an aspiring Andrew Lloyd Webber (say what?!) sounds like it was lifted from a mediocre radio station. Klunky, boring, and sophomoric, this is one mystery that should have remained a cold case.

One of our Aircraft is Missing
(UK 1942) (7): During WWII six crew members of a British bomber are forced to bail out over occupied Holland when their plane is strafed by Nazi artillery. Linking up with the Dutch underground the men attempt to make their way back to Britain using one ruse after another with the Germans never far behind. Not the best from directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, but the duo still manage to turn out an entertaining wartime film which bypasses the usual genre expectations. Beautiful B&W cinematography combines with convincing miniature sets to put you in the cockpit during a bombing raid over Stuttgart with smoke and explosions far below and streaking flak above or else bobbing on a creaky buoy in the North Sea (assistant director John Seabourne reportedly seasick the entire time). Meticulously placed light and shadow mark every frame whether it be an interrupted church service bathed in stained glass sunbeams or a perilous trek through secret tunnels, and the evil Nazis are confined mainly to the occasional starched uniform or disembodied voice coming through an open window while the stiff upper-lipped Brits and their fearless Dutch allies (headed by an impressive Googie Withers oozing female empowerment) keep the nationalistic jingoism to a believable level. What impressed me most however were the small moments: the onboard banter, the whispered plotting, and a good-natured humour in the face of deadly odds—at one point village women can’t help but giggle when one of the officers resorts to drag in order to sneak past the watchful enemy. Pretty well sanitized of course with an ending obviously meant to shore up the morale of troops and civilians alike, but considering it was shot three years before the war even ended all can be forgiven. A barely recognizable 21-year old Peter Ustinov plays a village priest and future director extraordinaire David Lean does duty as film editor.

Snoopy Come Home
(USA 1972) (6): When Snoopy receives a letter from “Lila”, a little sick girl begging him to come visit her in the hospital, he immediately sets out on a cross country trek with a clumsy Woodstock in tow. Braving everything from thunderstorms to a manic kid with a fetish for collecting pets (not to mention the ubiquitous “No Dogs Allowed” signs which seem to be posted everywhere they want to go) the two slowly make their way to her bedside. Meanwhile, Charlie Brown and the gang are left wondering just who the heck Lila is and whether or not Snoopy will ever return. Based on a plot first presented in a Peanuts comic strip and then padded with a non-stop barrage of cutesy songs which range from passable jingles to cringeworthy ballads, this early feature-length animated film bombed upon its initial release due in large part to the production company’s flailing fortunes. All these years later the primitive 2D artwork retains a certain retro charm and some of the side stories (a boxing match with Lucy; a visit to the library with Sally; a teary farewell party) manage to capture a bit of the old magic first seen in A Charlie Brown Christmas. It’s just not very interesting, especially given that overuse of musical tangents (where’s Vince Guaraldi when you need him?). Nice use of bright crayon colours however, but unlike the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine Bill Melendez’s touches of psychedelia are more sugar rush than LSD.

Sunshine Cleaning
(USA 2008) (6): Rose (Amy Adams) has problems. Her elderly father (a nicely crusted Alan Arkin) is falling for one get rich scheme after another; her ne’er-do-well sister Norah (Emily Blunt) is busy sabotaging her life; the man in her life has no intention of leaving his wife; and her problem child needs a private school. That’s a lot for one woman to handle especially when her only source of income comes from a dead end housecleaning job. Her fortunes turn for the better however when she takes a stab at the highly lucrative business of crime scene sanitation—cleaning up the blood and guts left over from suicides, murders, and traffic accidents. It’s macabre and often malodorous work, but with Norah in tow the two start to make a name for themselves. Unfortunately, fate and circumstance seem to have different plans for the plucky entrepreneur… Emotionally, Christine Jeffs’ film is all over the map. As a black comedy it elicits a few smiles mostly centred on gory mattresses and crawling maggots, and as a drama it fails to engage on anything but a superficial level—Norah finds one cleaning assignment hitting too close to home; Arkin reprises his Little Miss Sunshine role as he mentors his grandson in the ways of crooked business dealings; and Rose pines for her boyfriend (Steve Zahn treating us to a butt shot) while feeling the sting of falling from head cheerleader in highschool to impoverished single mother post graduation. Pretty pat and dry plotting with everyone taking a turn at having their own personal revelation and more or less happy endings all around including a potential new love interest that audiences can see coming from a mile away. Sweet but forgettable.

The Heartbreak Kid
(USA 1972) (6): Jewish schmuck Lenny Cantrow (Charles Grodin all gangly limbs and chest hair) finally meets the girl of his dreams when vivacious blonde Kelly Corcoran (supermodel Cybill Shepherd) blocks his sun on Miami Beach. The trouble is, Lenny’s in Florida on a honeymoon even though it only took three days for him to fall out of love with his whiney J.A.P. wife Lila (Jeannie Berlin stealing the show) and now he has to find a way to dump Lila, woo Kelly, and convince Kelly’s wealthy midwest parents that he’s worth the trouble. Like the inferior Goodbye Columbus and vastly superior The Graduate, both of which came before it, Elaine May’s kitschy comedy of 1970s manners pits a dull everyman against the stuffy establishment—here represented by Eddie Albert who received a Best Actor nomination for playing the unmovable Corcoran patriarch—in a battle of wills-cum-class distinctions. Frothy and terribly dated from its “mod” fashions to its social sermonizing, May still manages to produce a likeable little time capsule thanks in large part to Neil Simon’s adaptation of Bruce Friedman’s original story. Grodin hops about in neurotic desperation getting tangled up in his own lies as he tries to let go of one woman while pursuing the other (he explains his nighttime absences using every excuse from “an old army buddy” to a tanker explosion); Albert huffs and puffs like the big bad WASP; Shepherd channels Ali McGraw from Love Story (sans the leukemia); and Berlin gives the film its only dose of sympathy as her nasally bride suffers one indignation after another culminating in an epic breakdown over lobster dinner. And kudos to character actress Audra Lindley in her role as Kelly’s soft-spoken mother, all polyester prints and bemused stares. Nice jingly soundtrack too which lends a bit of irony to Burt Bacharach’s “Close to You”.

The Snowtown Murders
(Australia 2011) (9): Hovering somewhere between documentary realism and disjointed nightmare, Justin Kurzel’s recounting of serial killer John Bunting’s exploits in South Australia during the 1990s is one of the more horrifying works of cinema you’re likely to see. In the small town of Snowtown the three Vlassakis brothers, aged 13 to 17, are still reeling from the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of their mom’s ex-boyfriend when a new man enters her life. Handsome and intensely charismatic, John’s anger over the crime and relatively light sentence handed down by the courts inflames the locals who follow his lead and harass the ex until he finally leaves town. But John’s show of moral outrage is nothing more than the respectable veneer of a cold-blooded psychopath whose hatred of anyone outside the norm, be they pedophiles, homosexuals, addicts, or simply “weak”, compels him to murderous violence. Exerting an unhealthy influence on seventeen-year old Jamie Vlassakis (already made fragile by abuse and neglect) Bunting proceeds to tear the family inside out… Keeping the gore factor to a minimum—a bloodied bathtub or rucksack full of grisly tools hinting at unseen depravities—Kurzel knows how to keep his audience on tenterhooks as a deadly calm Bunting (bravura performance from Daniel Henshall) morphs from upright family man to evil incarnate dragging a bewildered Jamie (Lucas Pittaway, magnificent) down to Hell with him. Episodic and deliberately weaving as if to keep audiences off balance, Kurzel applies the screws one appalling twist at a time while his backdrops of suburban squalor and white trash extras keep the storyline grounded and believable. Ending on a terrifying note, the film’s final fifteen minutes are almost unbearable to watch not for what is shown but rather for what is merely implied. This is the stuff of bad dreams made palpably real.

The War of the Roses
(USA 1989) (5): “A civilized divorce is a contradiction in terms…” says pint-sized lawyer Gavin D’Amato (Danny DeVito, who also directed) to a potential new client as he recounts the divorce of Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner) whose marriage went from fairy tale to horror show over the space of seventeen years. Meeting when he was a struggling law student at Harvard, it was lust at first sight for Oliver and Barbara—but a dream house in Nantucket and two kids later their marriage began to unravel at the seams. He became an upper class snob, she became the quintessential unfulfilled trophy wife, and as love died it was replaced by ugly capitalism as the two vied for ownership of the mansion they once called home and all the expensive tchotchkes within. Turning the house’s richly appointed hallways into a militarized zone, the Roses resorted to increasingly nasty (and frankly ridiculous) extremes to drive each other out—she turned his beloved Staffordshire figurines into missiles; he cut the heels off her designer shoes—until their “war” finally reached the inevitable point of no return…and beyond. Starting off like a Disney romance with happy muzak and photoshopped sunsets, DeVito gradually lets the air out of the tires as unhappy frowns turn to snippy comments which in turn slowly give way to more aggressive shows of resentment—a looming battle reflected in their children and pets with daughter and cat siding with mom, dog and son standing by dad. As a blackhearted satire on yuppie culture it certainly hits the mark, for emotions and maturity do indeed take a backseat to grasping materialism (the two first meet at an estate auction where they try to outbid each other on a discarded trinket) but watching two already unlikeable characters grow into insufferably boorish assholes is more endurance than entertainment.

Treeless Mountain
(S. Korea 2008) (7): When their harried mother goes off in search of their deadbeat dad, six-year old Jin and her little sister Bin find themselves unceremoniously dumped on their aunt’s doorstep with nothing but a suitcase and a plastic piggy bank—“Whenever you obey your aunt she will give each of you a coin…” says mom proffering the little pink pig, “…put the coins in here and when it gets full I’ll be back.” But auntie has problems of her own and even as their hoard of pennies grows, Jin’s hopes of seeing her mother again begin to fade… Like Malle, Truffaut, and Victor Erice before her, writer/director So Yong Kim has managed to set her cameras at knee height and in so doing capture those delicate moments of childhood when trust turns to wariness and innocence comes up against life’s meaner realities. Not stooping to emotional sleight-of-hand (there are no Dickensian beatings or workhouse privations here) she instead concentrates on the thousand little betrayals that adults wield on a daily basis—the broken promises, casual humiliations, and convenient lies which grown-ups have become inured to but which deal a confusing blow to a child’s worldview. Indeed, as auntie proves to be less than a perfect provider Kim zeroes in on Jin’s eyes as they go from moist incomprehension to dulled sullenness while little Bin, still too young to wrap her head around their plight, continues to prance about in her threadbare princess gown. Filmed in a quasi verité style with natural sounds and handheld cameras Kim’s two young actresses are a revelation, their wholly natural performances anchoring every scene and turning adults into mere archetypes—their own mother and aunt balanced by the one “good mother” next door who lovingly cares for her Down’s Syndrome child and has a seemingly endless supply of cookies. Those looking for a climax and resolution will be left wanting however, for Kim’s film is not so much a linear story as it is a video diary with spare script and small doses of quotidian realism (punctuated by scenes of clouds and endless sky) which demand our full attention if we are to glean any meaning from them. But there is a promise of light at the end of the tunnel as the girls literally go over the mountains and through the fields to grandmother’s house with suitcase and piggy bank in tow once more.

The Captain Hates the Sea
(USA 1934) (7): Based on Wallace Smith’s novel, Lewis Milestone’s engaging high seas comedy is not quite of the “screwball” variety but it could have served as a template for a Depression era episode of The Love Boat. Determined to start on his new book, washed out author Steve Bramley decides to forsake alcohol and take a Caribbean cruise in order to revive his creative juices. Of course his vow of sobriety lasts as long as it takes him to stagger from the gangplank to the bar, but as the ship leaves New York he finds himself surrounded by enough eccentrics and oddballs to fuel a dozen novels. There’s the hulking private eye who falls in love with the wrong girl; the browbeaten wife who’s losing patience with her abusive husband; and a Latin general on his way to the latest coup. And they’re all presided over by a drunken purser and the ship’s grumpy old captain who hates passengers almost as much as he hates the ocean. A who’s who of silent era character actors bring their voices to the screen—Alison Skipworth shines as a horny dowager with her eye on a handsome thief while Walter Connolly’s captain scowls and blusters like a dime store Bligh—and Milestone keeps the production on an even keel even though half the cast were pickled at any one time. Sadly, the role of Bramley proved to be the last major part for John Gilbert who was slowly drinking himself to death in real life. Look for the Three Stooges making their onscreen debut for Columbia Studios as a three-piece ship’s band.

The Furies
(USA 1950) (8): In the New Mexico territory of 1870, cattle baron T. C. Jeffords (Walter Huston giving a worthy swan song) uses his iron will to rule an estate that seemingly stretches from horizon to horizon. Matching him in ruthless ambition is his daughter Vance (Barbara Stanwyck), a savvy businesswoman who stands to inherit the old man’s empire with eager hands. Complications arise however when Vance sets her romantic sights on the one man her father considers a mortal enemy, and T. C. in turn alienates his daughter’s affection by bringing home a new bride—an unctuous fortune hunter able to outwit her at every turn. Love quickly turns to hate one night when angry words lead to darker deeds and Vance hatches a revenge which may very well destroy everything… Ostensibly taking its name from the ranch itself, “The Furies”, Anthony Mann’s big B&W epic has at least one foot rooted in Greek mythology where the three daughters of Uranus and Gaea—collectively known by the same title—stalked the Earth embodying vengeance, jealousy, and constant anger. Certainly there is something of a legend at work here given the heightened dramatics—Stanwyck especially knows how to turn her passions from fire to ice in the blink of an eye—set against cinematographer Victor Milner’s oscar-nominated sweeps of explosive sunsets and distant mesas. If the accompanying moral message is nothing new—yes, pride (or in this case unchecked ambition) does indeed precede a fall and violence always begets itself—Mann’s gift for storytelling ensures that the ending, when it arrives, still satisfies. Beulah Bondi co-stars as a no-nonsense banker’s wife and Gilbert Roland pokes yet another thorn in T. C.’s side as a Mexican squatter and Vance’s BFF.

99 Homes
(USA 2014) (8): Unable to keep up his mortgage payments following a string of failed jobs, general handyman Dennis Nash (a perpetually shellshocked Andrew Garfield) finds himself evicted from his family home along with his mother and ten-year old son. But in a strange twist of fate he finds a lucrative position working for Rick Carver, the bank-appointed real estate broker who evicted him in the first place (Michael Shannon, colder than a dead snake). Starting off with the odd home reno job, Nash soon realizes that honesty, integrity, and hard work get you nowhere in the new America as he goes from being Carver’s gofer to his ambivalent acolyte, evicting former neighbours along the way and learning how to cheat the government for a few extra thousand dollars in the process. Trouble is, Nash’s voice of conscience won’t quite let him sleep at night—he can’t even bring himself to tell his family where the new paycheques are really coming from—and the deeper into Carver’s world he tumbles the more shrill that voice becomes. Ramin Bahrani’s cynical look at the flyblown remains of America’s dream plays on two distinct levels. As the story of one man weighing his soul against the deed to his home it’s a particularly American twist on Faust with Shannon’s Carver a hardened Mephistopheles in power suit and martini glass. However, Nash’s fall from grace also serves a greater metaphor which lends irony to the epithet “Land of Opportunity”—for the biggest opportunities in this unforgiving landscape come from preying upon the weak. “America doesn’t bail out the losers…” hisses Carver to a struggling Nash, “…America was built by bailing out winners.” But even Shannon’s character has his own demons to tame, for like Nash he too started out innocently enough only to be moulded by a power structure which encouraged the gullible to live beyond their means. Thoroughly absorbing with master class performances from its two leads, Bahrani’s morality play sustains its air of dark pessimism with a pounding score giving depth to some striking visuals—the most notable being a drunken Nash passed out in a vacant mansion, his reflection in a patio window making it look as if he’s submerged in the backyard pool. Unfortunately Bahrani missteps towards the end giving us a climactic final sequence whose inherent scepticism is marred by a bit of Hollywood fluff. Still a worthwhile film to watch, and a suitable companion piece to McKay’s The Big Short.

Before Sunrise
(USA 1995) (8): While traversing Austria two young strangers (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy crackling with onscreen chemistry) meet on a train—he has a flight back to America which departs Vienna the next day, she’s on her way back to Paris. As idle banter turns to innocent flirting, she decides to keep him company and so they spend the next twenty-four hours wandering through the capital together. Richard Linklater’s utterly charming feature takes the simplest of premises and turns it into a meditation on life, love, and the million choices which shape our destiny. As Jesse and Céline head towards that first kiss their conversation likewise wades into deepening waters—he’s a pragmatist still smarting from an emotional wound, she’s a romantic reacting against her privileged upbringing—and together they compare notes on everything from intimacy and indifference to the politics of life and death. “Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?” she queries. “I kind of see love as this escape for two people who don’t know now to be alone…” he shoots back even as their fingers entwine a little tighter. And as the sun sets over Vienna the city transforms into a magical netherworld alive with portents—a fortune teller sees past their palms and into their hearts; a gypsy’s dance puts Céline in mind of creation; an old woman hobbles past like Mother Time herself; and in the background trains and trolleys pass each other going in opposite directions. It’s these subtle visual cues—a visit to a quiet cemetery provides counterpoint to the raucous nightclub the two visit next—coupled with a disarmingly natural script which couches heavier philosophical musings inside featherweight chatter that makes Linklater’s opus so irresistible. That, plus the voyeuristic glow—simultaneously erotic and melancholy—which comes from watching two handsome strangers drift towards each other knowing that their time together is measured in mere hours. A study in what might have been—or what may be to come for this is but the first instalment of a trilogy—that one can’t help but apply to their own experience. What would your life be like if you had done this instead of that?

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
(Italy 1971) (6): “An erotic nightmare that keeps you on the edge of an abyss of terror!” screams the poster for Lucio Fulci’s murky whodunnit, a giallo thriller set in merry old England but composed entirely of pure Italian cheese. Upper crust hausfrau Carol Hammond is so repulsed by the carnal exploits of her next door neighbour Julia Durer—a buxom blonde libertine whose taste for loud music and kinky sex regularly rattles the wall between their apartments—that she dreams about killing her. But when Durer is actually found brutally murdered all clues point to Hammond even though she insists she never met the woman in real life. Are Carol’s dreams concealing deeper mental health issues or is someone else trying to cover their own guilty tracks by pinning the blame on her and fast-tracking her to the loony bin? Displayed in lurid technicolour heavy on the blood reds and pink flesh tones, Fulci shows some restraint when it comes to his usual glut of sex and violence: Julia’s psychedelic orgies are mainly shown from the waist up; the hippy drug references have been rendered retro comical; and the crime scene has much of its gore washed out by a barrage of incandescent flash bulbs which manage to pick out the deceased’s nipples and false eyelashes while downplaying her open stab wounds. Even the obligatory lesbian spit-swap is tastefully restrained using faux fur and a studio wind machine to simulate eroticism. But PETA acolytes beware, there is a vivisection scene which landed Fulci in court where he had to prove he used props and not real dogs. Revelling in an overdose of kitschy 70s decor as well as some highly effective artwork (one of Francis Bacon’s screaming popes sets the tone nicely) cinematographer Luigi Küveiller turns swinging London into a psychosexual maze of underground catacombs and thrusting spires with a wild chase sequence through an abandoned church (cue belfry full of bats) as well as a claustrophobic crawl through England’s most depraved insane asylum staffed by badly dubbed Italian extras. And if the visual flourishes are not enough to keep you amused there’s a ballsy score by Ennio Morricone (although I think Argento’s Goblins would have sufficed) and a plot with more twists than an elephant’s colon—from Carol’s prominent lawyer father to her doting husband to her precocious daughter-in-law, everyone takes a turn at being “it” until Fulci gives the big reveal just seconds before the final credits start rolling. A “must” for fans of the genre and a gentle intro for those who are timid yet curious.

Coming Apart
(USA 1969) (7): A psychiatrist of some renown, Dr. Joe Glazer is nevertheless unable to throw himself a lifeline when his relationship with his mistress comes undone. Filled with anger, seemingly towards women in general, Glazer—under the telling pseudonym of Dr. Glassman—sets up an impromptu office in his ex’s swank New York apartment building and begins bating, bedding, and then cruelly dumping a succession of neurotic female patients, clandestinely videotaping each encounter with a hidden camera focused on the giant wall mirror behind his couch. Ironically, in capturing the ongoing emotional cruelty he ultimately records his own psychological disintegration. Controversial for 1969 where its ample nudity and (mostly) implied kink earned it an “X” rating, Milton Moses Ginsberg’s experimental B&W video diary, filmed in a tiny space using static shots and natural background noise throughout, still manages to impress with its sheer nerve if nothing else. Rip Torn gives a remarkable performance as a man pining for lost love yet unable to connect with another human being except on the most superficial level while the women themselves (and one sad transvestite) provide a range of hippy era angst from the childlike aspiring model willing to do “special poses” for fifty bucks to the neglected high society housewife whose sexual frustrations translate into destructive S&M impulses (Good-bye Mrs. Robinson). And throughout Ginsberg makes good use of that huge living room mirror, often showing us nothing but reflections of his actors as the amateur footage skips, jumps and occasionally fades in and out of black—its damaged reels undermining Glassman’s desire to “film the truth”. The impromptu dialogue falls woefully short of Cassavetes however, the stilted ad-libs consisting mainly of heated banter which only occasionally reveal a deeper truth. But there is an unpolished arthouse appeal to Ginsberg’s work, a hint of Warhol as it follows one man’s downward trajectory beginning with a smug close-up and ending with a literal crack-up.

Bad Santa 2
(USA 2016) (7): F-bombs and toilet humour rule the day in this low-brow scatological sequel to 2003’s anti-Christmas flick. Hard-drinking, perpetually horny safecracker Willie Soke (Billy Bob Thornton) is once again talked into an uneasy alliance with his mutinous former partner-in-crime the elfish Marcus Skidmore (Tony Cox) who has his wee heart set on robbing a crooked charity based in Chicago (Montreal). But a few wrenches are thrown into the plan beginning when Willie discovers that the yuletide caper is being masterminded by his estranged mother (Kathy Bates sporting tattoos and a trucker’s mouth), then the wife of the charity’s CEO worms her way past his zipper, and finally Thurman Merman—his ersatz son from part one now twice as big and three times as stupid—begins dogging his every step (a tedious one-note performance from Brett Kelly). Will the trio get away with it this time or will Willie’s rock bottom luck ruin the day yet again? As in the first instalment the plot takes a backseat to a script determined to piss on every politically correct sensibility with crass jokes taking aim at midgets, white trash, addiction, and Christmas itself—an enraged Willie in Santa drag beats up another Kris Kringle using a “weapon” borrowed from a nearby manger scene. Strictly frat house dialogue with visuals that emphasize the “gag” in “sight gag” (Kelly bares his lumpy butt, Cox poses with a scrotum, Thornton pukes and pisses) but oddly enough it all works for the most part especially if you set your expectations really low from the outset. Part 3, however, is definitely NOT on my wish list.

(USA 2018) (5): Once upon a time in an enchanted goth forest where the sun never quite shone and everyone walked around in a happy barbiturate haze, a strung-out damsel (Andrea Riseborough looking like a crackwhore Shelley Duvall) was abducted by a satanic hippy cult and their gooey gang of biker demons (think Hellraiser on wheels). Overwhelmed with grief, the damsel’s slack-jawed boyfriend Red (Nicholas Cage in dire need of a paycheque perhaps?) forged a mighty weapon and proceeded to cut a swath of bloody vengeance which would lead him to the brink of madness and the very gates of Hell itself… Awesome, right?! A mixed bag of influences shape Panos Cosmatos’ trippy bloodbath, among them the artwork of Frank Frazetta, the stage antics of Gwar, a few dog-eared copies of “Heavy Metal” magazine, and just about every Italian giallo film ever made—not to mention the odd tab or two of LSD. Shot in grainy shades of red and black his nightmare aesthetic sees characters moving about as if underwater, their monotone voices and dilated pupils suspended halfway between the real world and some geeky adolescent revenge fantasy. Crazy cult leader Jeremiah (Linus Roache treating us to a full monty) spouts the usual mystical babble in gimmicky slo-mo and echo chamber voice while Red transforms into a gore-spattered backwoods warrior and the special effects team earns its keep staging fiery apocalyptic climaxes with sprays of dark red blood and vaseline-smeared monster masks. Cosmatos does inject a bit of humour to let us know he’s in on the joke—one coked-out demon watches porn while tugging on a metal scimitar boner and a chainsaw duel turns into a distinctly male quandary when the bad guy yanks out a bigger blade—but it’s not enough to save the whole production from sliding into a demented shit show. Crimson backlighting and screaming guitars (and a screaming Nick Cage) may be great for atmospherics but if there’s nothing there to shore up they become just so much light and noise. As an arty homage to grindhouse exploitation it goes too far. As a clumsy attempt at satire (America’s “Christian Values” get a poke or two) it doesn’t go far enough. And as a metaphor for old age vs. youth—supposedly one of the director’s intentions—it misses the mark entirely. Personally I chalked it up to an assault on the senses and and an insult to the intellect—but at least Cosmatos had the humility to laugh at himself.