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Under the Skin

In this delicious little existential sci-fi, Scarlett Johansson is an alluring creature who preys on unsuspecting males. After making an attempt on a kindly, deformed bystander, our protagonist is compelled to take a journey of self-discovery, despite unsavory consequences. I suppose I should warn you with a spoilers sticker, but considering the visual heaviness of the feature, I really don’t feel as if you’ll be missing out on much by spoiling the story.

There's going to be a lot of this.

There’s going to be a lot of this.

Essentially we’re dealing with a film that is pretty much completely visual, only occasionally complimented by non-diegetic sound and a sprinkle of dialogue (when it helps). We’re given scenes that are beautifully shot and composed, ultimately providing a tantalizing, often haunting experience, stringing together themes of  loneliness and longing – predator and prey.

6a00d8341c730253ef01a5116a1913970c-800wiPersonally, I enjoyed the clear disconnect between viewer and protagonist, after all, she is an alien. But when she attempts to discover herself as a person, that’s where I got kind of pulled out of the story. There’s a certain charm and awkwardness involved…mostly awkwardness – but isn’t that what being human is all about?

Well, in unnamed protagonist’s case, it’s actually a step back, which was kind of surprising. (Her awkward discoveries keep her from being a person, that is.) More so, it seemed as if some of the transformational bits were fairly forced, making her story become clunkier as it went on.

Or maybe I just wanted more scenes of skin being sucked off of peoples’ bodies. Hard to say.

This film is definitely something to experience, but I couldn’t help but feel that it was hindered by the need for a paradigm shift. The protagonist’s desire for identity leaves the audience drifting off with her…maybe I’m just jaded but it eventually felt incredibly try-hard, but the finale left time for pondering and reflection. On the whole, I dug it, but I could definitely see many-a-disappointed film-goer.

Final Grade: B

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Filth

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is a misogynistic, alcoholic cokehead with a penchant for kinky sex and sick mind games. He’s also a police officer. Usually tormenting his friends and coworkers, he now focuses his energy on the chance at a promotion on the force, with only an unsolved murder standing in his way. Naturally, chaos ensues when the twisted web he weaves inevitably collapses on him, forcing Bruce to finally come to terms with himself.

Sort of.

Thank you.

Thank you.

This was probably one of the best McAvoy performances I’ve seen – he’s just this raw psychotic force, and you just love to hate this character. And then when those tender moments hit, they hit hard, but not in a way unbelievable for the character.

However regardless of the strong character study, Filth seems to be suffering from an identity crisis – most noticeably, throughout the film there are numerous references to A Clockwork Orange (with an explicit 2001: A Space Odyssey reference thrown in for good measure). What perplexes me about this choice is that though I appreciate a good reference, I really don’t understand why they chose to use them so continuously.

"Awake at last, yes?"

“Awake at last, yes?”

It’s neat for trivia and I suppose it helps frame Robertson’s mental frailty, but on the whole it feels like reference for the sake of reference – Alex DeLarge and Bruce Robertson are very different people, and both stories have very different commentaries (and it’s not like the film/book are on Robertson’s mind or in the background).

I mean, I guess some points could be argued, but I better stop myself from diving further into an infinite Kubrick loop. I bring this up because I feel by using these references so overtly, it draws away from the real originality (as if it already wasn’t fighting away from being another Trainspotting).

Overall, I felt that Filth was a raunchy good time, despite the identity crisis. Sure it gets really dark fairly quickly, but that’s what I expected, and wanted. After seeing this movie, I actually want to read the book. So I say come for the McAvoy and stay for the ride.

Final Grade: A-

Netfix: Berberian Sound Studio

When I first saw this trailer for Berberian Sound Studio, I was completely enthralled. I waited and waited, then procrastinated a bit, and finally caught it on Netflix. I think it’s fair to say that I was not disappointed.

Built on the mythos of 1970s Italian giallo films and the visceral nature of sound, Berberian Sound Studio conveys a beautifully nightmarish atmosphere, blending the lines between fiction and reality by playing with elements such as entrapment and gradual disillusionment of time. The audience also never actually sees any footage from the film itself – much like Pontypool, it’s what you don’t see that frightens you.

In addition, we also witness a fantastic transformation of character, considering what we have to work with. I say this because we really don’t know much about Gilderoy (Toby Jones) to begin with, other than he’s meek, polite, lives with his mom, and is a fantastic sound engineer (or at least good enough to be brought in by an enthusiastic director). Suddenly he is brought in to a completely foreign environment, working on a genre he’s never approached before. Despite being disturbed by the content of the film, he finds solace in his work – until he’s forced to take part in the foley work. From this point on things get increasingly hostile, as well as bizarre. As foretold in the synopsis, fiction and reality intertwine, and Gilderoy is thrust into his own private hell – inevitably mutating from witness to perpetrator.

There will be produce.

There will be produce.

The meta nature of Berberian Sound Studio is something to admire. Perhaps it’s because I really enjoy films about filmmaking, but this one particularly struck my fancy when it came to audience immersion. We’re trapped with Gilderoy in his reality, or lack thereof – so are these people really as rude as they seem to be? Considering some of the actresses’ woes, yes, probably, but it leaves Gilderoy’s interactions up to interpretation for the most part.

With its seamless editing and intangibly stirring qualities, Berberian Sound Studio is a film you simply have to experience.

The Good
Finally, a movie about sound design and engineering that is entirely enthralling!

The Bad
I really wish the footage we do get to see didn’t look like it was shot hi-def with an added film-grain.

The Ugly
This is a film that speaks solely in subjective terms, therefore, we’re only dealing with pure human nastiness.

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow is essentially the Canadian lovechild that occurred after Kubrick and Cronenberg had an epic hookup while listening to some trance – then David Lynch popped by to say “hi.” Check this out –

Unfortunately, this lovechild didn’t really pop out as perfectly as that glorious trifecta would imply – but I’ll get to that later.

All hail Barry Nyle

I believe in Barry Nyle.

The plot, what little we have, revolves around the dynamic between Dr. Barry Nyle and Elena within the realm of the Aboria Institute circa 1980. As somewhat established, the Institute was built to help reach transcendence through science – Elena being the only proof of this phenomenon. Meanwhile Barry, Aboria’s #1 guy, lives a rather asinine existence – part putting up with his stuporous wife, part tormenting Elena simply because he can. Really though, Barry’s contempt for Elena stems from a deep-rooted jealousy, that she was in fact the only arguably “successful” outcome of Aboria’s treatments. Barry on the other hand, is a monster. After his exposure to Aboria’s…techniques, Barry is rendered a psychopath most fragile – a violent madman behind a composed facade.

After a round of hazing most cruel, Elena is soon set free by one of the Institute’s underlings, beginning her escape through Aboria’s labyrinth. Almost simultaneously, Barry strips away his disguise, revealing the creature Aboria unintentionally created. Finally accepting his true identity, Barry relentlessly hunts Elena dies as she rediscovers the world around her.

How can this story be almost two hours long? Mind-bending cinematography at a snail’s pace, that’s how. Not that it’s a bad thing – sure was a lot more fun to watch than Tree of Life. This picture is so beautifully filmed – sitting through it is a sometimes disturbing, but absolutely sublime experience. So while you’re given plenty of time to digest possible themes (and there are a few – control and identity, for instance), your eyeballs are subjected to all sorts of pleasures. I suppose I could also describe Beyond the Black Rainbow as a really long, glorified music video, but really I’d like to give director Panos Cosmatos (if that is your real name) more credit than that.

Isn't black-haired-creepy-girl a motif in itself by now?

Isn’t black-haired-creepy-girl a motif in itself by now?

As mentioned, there is a downside: the style outweighs the substance. Did it really need to be two hours long? No, not really. Though Cosmatos even mentions that the “hypnotic” pace was deliberate in order to create this self-described trance sub-genre, on found it’s far too easy to space out on the visuals than to piece together a coherent theme or themes. Again, such is the risk of creating a two-hour trance music video. On the upside, this warrants multiple viewings if so desired. Despite this, Beyond the Black Rainbow is definitely worth your time, if you’re up for it.

It would seem Beyond the Black Rainbow  does not have the cult film recognition it deserves. Perhaps it’s not old enough, or maybe because it’s one of those sneaky Canadian films that, like so many, were swept under the radar. The world may never know.

Hooray for Bollywood

I have recently discovered all the joys Bollywood films have to bring. For instance, it’s not a real musical number unless there are at least two costume changes. Okay, that’s not really a very significant thing, but it sure makes for a great spectacle. Let me back up a little.

A (Very) Brief History of Bollywood

Believe it or not, Hollywood isn’t really as big everywhere else as it is here. Indian cinema is actually the largest film industry in the world  – in terms of production, that is. Cinema was first introduced in India in 1896, with the first feature film produced in 1913. When the advent of sound hit the film industry, India was one of the first to take full advantage of this new technology, using musical spectacle to dominate the industry come the 1930s… in India.

Even though these spectacular films are made in what is now known as Mumbai, the name Bollywood stuck (for anyone out there who didn’t know about Bombay, shame on you), continuing the song and dance throughout the ages.  Somehow, in some magical way, Indian cinema stood clear from Hollywood influence, adapting their own genres and styles. Basically, all you need to know about modern Bollywood is that there are three basic genres: socials (contemporary romances), mythologicals (stories of history and legend), and adventure (cheesy action flicks); furthermore, Indian censorship is so heavy, that song and dance numbers are often used for characters to express their feelings, being that kissing and other cheeky things are not allowed. Oh, and Bollywood stars are gods.

Literally.

Literally.

You think American celebriculture is weird? In India, Bollywood stars are essentially royalty – these guys are everywhere, endorsing all sorts of things.  Additionally, Bollywood has become so engrained into Indian culture that songs from the films have become standards; it’s no secret that the actors lip-sync, but the playback singers are just as famous as the actors. Just try to get this out of your head –

If this was an American film, I would probably hate it.

Honestly, if this was an American film I would probably hate it.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (Aditya Chopra, 2008)

This brings me to my film highlight, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi. This little gem can be found on Netflix for all your eyeball pleasures. Though RNBDJ isn’t really a groundbreaking Bollywood feature, this was the one that really opened the door for me personally.

The plot is as convoluted as humanly possible: shy Surinder (Suri) is visiting his old professor when he is met by the professor’s alluring engaged daughter, Taani. During Suri’s visit, Taani receives word that her fiancé and his wedding party are instantly killed in a car wreck – her father gets a heart attack at the news. On his deathbed, fearing the idea of Taani being alone, he makes Suri and Taani marry, to which both oblige out of respect. Crazy, right? It gets kookier.

Suri finds that he is smitten by Taani’s beauty and rambunctiousness, whereas Taani is too traumatized to believe she could ever love again. While spending time with Taani, he notices her love of romance and dance, eventually permitting her to join a dance group, which she is more than delighted to be a part of. Curious and interested in spending more time with her, Suri adopts an alter ego called Raj Kapoor, a stylish, fast-talking ladies’ man – who she totally doesn’t recognize as Suri. Forced into dance-partner-hood, Suri leads a double-life. Will Taani ever find out the truth about Raj? Will Suri ever confess his love? Can you believe this movie’s nearly three hours long?

rab-ne-bana-di-jodi-ss-2132012138391

A rare time when a movie can make you believe in love and chances and all that crap.

As I mention above, I’d probably hate this movie so much if it was presented as an American romance, but Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi just charmed my pants off. As crazy as this sounds, this a romance with some heart for a change – and it’s incredibly fun to watch. The performances themselves deserve your full attention – Shah Rukh Khan’s almost seems to channel Peter Sellers as he switches between these personalities.

The other key source of enjoyment for this film is its incredibly meta nature: we’re watching a Bollywood romance that pulls every Bollywood romance cliche while making fun of itself – there are even great references to older adventure films. Also, this happens –

Every Bollywood dance scene ever.

So if you’re in the mood for some colorful noise, or just a feel good movie, give Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi a try. I really don’t think you’ll regret it. Expand your mind a little – it can be fun.

That Movie People Don’t Like To Think About

Oh how cryptic, what could it possibly be?  Deadgirl? Antichrist?  Perhaps another time.  Today I’m going to bring to light probably one of the most intriguingly disturbing films to ever grace my eyeballs,  A Serbian Film.  I’m serious.  If you know of/seen this movie you’ll know what I’m talking about – if not, well, this isn’t the sort of movie you recommend to people, hence why I made this a Kool-aid feature (because I honestly believe this movie could hit cult standards with a little time, effort and therapy) instead of a What You Should Have Watched.  I’ll probably lose some readers over this, but I’m over it.  This movie is fantastic.

Taboos, Taboos, Taboos!

Let me get you folks up to speed here: A Serbian Film is well, a Serbian horror film from 2010 directed by Srđan Spasojević (no, I have no idea how to pronounce that).  The film stars a semi-retired porn star named Miloš, a man who has settled with a wife and child but has issues keeping food on the table.  One day Miloš is approached by an old co-star who has a proposition for him: meet with a mysterious director and he will be paid copious amounts of money for a project.

Be thankful her face is out of view.

Intrigued, Miloš travels with her to meet this director, an “artist” named Vukmir.  Vukmir offers Miloš a contract, but the catch is he cannot know what the project is or what it requires, lest it ruin his performance.  Miloš begrudgingly agrees, but immediately regrets his decision when he discovers a project of unimaginable consequences to which he has no escape.

This movie has absolutely every taboo imaginable: pornography, violence, child abuse, rape, necrophilia – the list goes on and on.  To say this film is “pretty graphic” is like saying Hitler was “kinda grumpy.”  Within the first five minutes, you’re already subjected to some pretty crazy stuff – and then without apology this movie quickly snowballs to capture some of the most heinous actions imaginable.  Some so despicably disgusting, there are reaction videos on YouTube.  (Here’s a hint, it involves an infant.)  This is the kind of movie that proves there’s no God and then rubs salt in your paper cuts while murdering your parents.  Too much?

“The Victim”

To film atrocity for attention’s sake is just obnoxious – not to mention, completely uncalled for.  I would not waste your time if this was indeed the case.   When Miloš learns the truth about this production, he immediately asks Vukmir why him, why a porn star?

Not pornography, but life itself! That’s life of a victim. Love, art, blood… flesh and soul of a victim. Transmitted live to the world who has lost all that and now is paying to watch that from the comfort of an armchair. … Victim sells, Miloš. Victim is the priciest sell in this world. The victim feels the most and suffers the best. We are a victim, Miloš. You, me, this whole nation is a victim.

If you haven’t taken a peek at the wiki entry yet, you’ll learn that Spasojević’s main concept behind this film was a parody and critique Serbian film culture, being that it is ran by means of foreign funds and is now a comical shadow of its foreign self.  Thus Spasojević decided to focus on the extremes…extreme extremes.  I’m paraphrasing of course, but that’s what the hyperlink’s for.  Personally, I found the quote far more interesting than the political stuff.

This image is cropped for your sanity’s sake.

It seems that these days the victim is the new hero.  What makes the hero so relatable most of the time is that they are victimized in some way or form, and from this victimization comes passion for justice (this occurs on various scales, the “revenge-flick” being the most obvious).  Then immediately after Vukmir says this, he tells Miloš that he is the only one in the film who is not a victim.  This presents an interesting argument:

Vukmir presents the idea of an inborn need to see people get revenge – usually this is the reflection of the political/economic times (in Serbia’s case, capitalizing on suffering by destroying the film industry with run-of-the-mill fluff) – but Vukmir’s film has no revenge in it whatsoever, it is merely Miloš doing the victimizing.  Now from a meta standpoint, we want Miloš to get out of this because we can sympathize – he has a family and just needed some extra money, and he didn’t know what he was bargaining with.  At the same time, Miloš did sign a contract and has an obligation to uphold (not that we as viewers want him to, but these guys have atrocious methods of persuasion – you do not want to piss them off).  Such a glorious paradox, ironically presented in a pornographic snuff film.

Sweet dreams.

A Serbian Film is absolutely wretched but you cannot look away, mostly because you can’t believe what’s going on.  It’s also hard to gauge which is worse: the fact that this was filmed or the fact that it was greenlit.  I’d be lying if I said this didn’t disturb me, but man this film is just so darn interesting!  This is why it’s impossible to recommend because you don’t want to look like an absolute monster, but the conversation that can occur and the analysis – it just tickles my brain just thinking about it.  Or I could just be a perverted psychopath, you never know.

 

WYSHW: Breakfast on Pluto

“Sugar Baby Love” is now saturated into my brain.

I feel this is an underrated film.  Sure, Cillian Murphy received a Golden Globe nom, but there wasn’t much chatter after its release (and really no one pays that much attention to the Golden Globes).  Based on the book by Patrick McCabe, Breakfast on Pluto is the story of Patrick “Kitten” Braden, a foundling in search of her mother in 1960’s Ireland.  Kitten’s journey takes him from a strict Catholic upbringing to getting involved in The Troubles.

Just Kitten’s journey alone is worth the watch.  The film is divided into short chapters about her life, stemming from her childhood in Tyrellin to her journey to London and back again.  She runs away from home after writing an erotic story of her conception involving the local priest, hooks up with a singer in a glam rock band, becomes a prostitute, works in a fantasy park, becomes a magician’s assistant, gets arrested under IRA suspicion, works in a peep show, and then moves back home to aid her pregnant friend.  Whew that was one long sentence.

Forget finding herself – she figured that out a long time ago – this was all to find the woman who abandoned her, the Phantom Lady who was swallowed up by the City.

She just oozes with fabulousness.

What made this film stick out in my mind the most was Kitten’s character.  Despite shunning from her family and community, she cannot deny who she is and keeps her head up through every situation.  Even when brought in by the police after being caught up in an IRA bombing, she still presses on with a fantastic and enviable charm and whit, almost like an Oscar Wilde in heels (not that he didn’t on occasion but you know what I mean).

Breakfast on Pluto is a wonderfully unconventional film of love, loss and endurance.  The performances are spectacular, especially from Murphy and Liam Neeson.  And have I mentioned the music?  The soundtrack is fantastic – it’s a great mix of sixties/seventies rock pop that mirrors the film perfectly.  Just check it out.

Next time for What You Should Have Watched, another feel good chick flick that occurs in the course of a day.

 

WYSHW: Martyrs

J’adore les français.

I’m not the biggest gore junkie in the world, but it’s not something I shy away from.  In fact, I love a good scary movie, gorey or other-wise.  The most important thing is the story.  Granted, that could be said with movies in general but I’m just talking about horror right now, especially because lately I feel as if mainstream horror has become a throwaway for teen flicks and torture porn – just cheap thrills and tits.  So here’s a small tiny taste of what’s going on elsewhere outside of the mainstream and dive into Martyrs.

Martyrs is a French torture flick that has made its mark on the New French Extremity movement, a film movement which focuses on human transgression often through violent means.  And I won’t lie, this is why I find Martyrs so incredible.  The story is about a young girl, Lucie, who escapes from a seemingly abandoned warehouse horribly abused.  Taken into an orphanage, she grows close to a girl named Anna to whom she confides in.  As it turns out, since her escape Lucie has been followed by a horrible being hell-bent on killing her unless she finds the people who took her in her youth.  When Anna is thrust into Lucie’s nightmare, she unravels a world of secrets, faith, and transcendence.

She chose martyrdom over taking part in the remake.

I need to find more New Extremity films, because I fell in love with Martyrs.  As dark as this film is, I found it inexplicably beautiful.  I was so relieved that there finally was a more prevalent reason for this agony, but the ending is so profound, let alone thought provoking, it’s impossible to ignore.  And with the ending the way it is, it’s something to discuss over and over – even I can’t even make a solid statement on what I think the final words meant.

Now, what truly disgusts me is that this film is yet another perfectly good foreign movie that is to be imported to  the US.  That’s not the bad part.  Other than the fact that the producers of Twilight are behind it, it seems that Daniel Stamm, the alleged director, completely missed the point of the film, having said the following:

Martyrs is very nihilistic.  The American approach [that I’m looking at] would go through all that darkness but then give a glimmer of hope. You don’t have to shoot yourself when it’s over.

Now, if he actually saw the movie, let alone understand the premise, I think he’d eat those words.  Because of course the director of The Last Exorcism knows it all when it comes to fantastic endings. /sarcasm

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, a low-budget sci-fi that you really should have seen by now – Sam Rockwell is amazing.  Now excuse me but my jimmies need to be un-rustled.