Movies: The Official "Movie of the Week" Club Thread III

Discussion in 'Entertainment' started by TP, Oct 17, 2018.

  1. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    Performance
    (1970) Directed by Nicolas Roeg

    Performance, about a small time hood (James Fox, minus posh accent) who runs afoul of his own gang and gets all tangled up in the psychedelic '60s, is a terrible movie that would not be remembered at all except that it contains Mick Jagger in a very early film performance. Performance is also noteworthy for being Nicolas Roeg's first directing gig. You would think as a respected cinematographer Roeg would have assimilated some ideas about directing along the way, but you would never know that from this movie which is an abomination from just about every way that one can cut it. Speaking of cutting, let's begin with the editing, which is amateurish and distracting. Initially Roeg jump cuts every few seconds seemingly just for the hell of it--which makes his movie look like some film student's final year "experimental" project (the whole film looks like it was made by someone with enthusiasm but little talent). Eventually Roeg calms down a bit, but we are still left with a mise en scene and narrative that is filled with sleaze and a particularly unappealing brand of homo-eroticism. In short, Performance is a pointless exercise and an ugly mess.

    This and that: Mick Jagger's performance is kind of fascinating, but he seems to be acting in a vacuum, aware of his own inner voice but seemingly existing in a little bubble apart from the other actors. Anita Pallenberg is a complete delight, unselfconsciously sultry and sexy to the point of lubriciousness--it's amazing her acting career didn't blossom after this, but then maybe Keith was just too much fun to say no to. Roeg righted his ship soon enough and directed at least two masterpieces, Walkabout and Don't Look Now. Everybody survived Performance. That's maybe the best thing that can be said about the movie.

    If you want to see someone who knows how to jump cut, see any Takeshi Kitano directed gangster movie.
     
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  2. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    Performance (1970) dir. Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg

    Chas (James Fox) is a thug in a London gang. His speciality is intimidation and violence. He takes pleasure in his job, perhaps even a little too much pleasure. Chas' boss forbids him from getting involved in a take over of a betting shop, due to a personal history between Chas and the owner of the betting shop. Chas ignores this and goes after the owner anyway. The owner then comes to Chas' apartment to give him a beating together with some thugs of his own. Chas however manages to get a gun and shoot them. He runs for his life, and after overhearing a musician talking about going on tour and leaving a room, Chas decides to pretend to be a friend of musician and use the room as a hideout for now. The owner of the house is Turner (Mick Jagger) a former rock star who lost his groove, and now lives as reclusive artist in an open three way relationship with two women. At first there's a great deal of contempt between Chas and Turner, but slowly Chas is being drawn into the world of the house he now lives in.

    The first half of Performance is almost a by the numbers crime thriller, perhaps a bit violent 1970, but outside of that there's nothing really special about it, apart from the fact that it is well made. But once Chas seeks refuge at Turner's house, everything changes. The movie becomes a sexual experimental film, where social norms are challenged, the breadth of reality is changed, and the concept of identity is taken somewhere it really hasn't been before. Like Chas you don't see this coming from as far out as you should have. But unlike Chas you perhaps don't have the assistance of psychedelic drugs to help you make sense of what is happening.

    Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg perhaps found a perfect match in each other for this film. Cammell's story and overall direction is just as crazy as Roeg's visuals are. The slow descent into insanity (or sanity) that they create functions exactly as intended. Something that was often feature in Roeg's movies, but probably never in as experimental fashion as here.

    Fun is a strange word to use about his movie I think. But I want to call it fun, because I think it's a fun movie to experience. The first half is the start of great thriller. A thriller I kinda want to see the last half of as well, but alas. I'm not certain it's a good idea to think too much about the last half of Performance, at least not while watching it. But for me it's a fun experience to sit and just take it in. James Fox and Mick Jagger also do a great job here, and they are a big reason why this works so well. Even though I think it's fun, it's probably gonna be a while before I feel the urge to watch it again. Because there is a lot to take in with this movie, even though much of it isn't particularly coherent. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
     
  3. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    I'm not sure I can disagree with Kihei's point about the movie being terribly made. Because there are a lot things in Performance which are not well made, and should not work, and probably do not work. But sometimes a bunch of terrible things get put together in such a way that it becomes fun to watch. Either by genius or by accident. I'll let someone else judge which might have happened here.
     
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  4. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    I totally agree with kihei on Anita Pallenberg...what a treat! Completely natural. Jams a needle in her butt like she's been doing it for years. Oh, wait...

    Gentlemen, sorry to say I've been under the weather lately and not been much in the mood for watching movies or posting. I may pass for a week or two till I get over this bug. Be back soon. I hope you all enjoy La Cienaga!
     
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  5. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Blue Jacket's Curse

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    Get well soon. We'll be here. (I assume).
     
  6. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    La Cienaga
    (2001) Directed by Lucrecia Martel

    Consider La Cienaga the anti-Roma. The two stories have a lot in common. This movie takes a similar family situation but plays it as a complete circle of hell for its unfortunate inhabitants. The movie starts by the stagnant, scummy swimming pool of Mecha's country home. Adults are sitting around the edges of the dirty pool overcome by heat, humidity and torpor and looking like beached walruses. As occurs throughout the movie, children from about four to 18 years of age run around everywhere creating their own kind of chaos and adding an energy that will only tire the adults out more. Mecha, near comatose with wine when we first meet her, is the mistress of the pool; she possesses an absolute cypher of a husband, and they both have serious drinking habits. She gets so pissed that when she deigns to move from the pool, she picks up too many wine glasses and then falls on them, creating an unexpected crisis. Eventually she retreats to her bedroom where she tries to boss her teenage children, control her empire and complain about the servants. Just about everybody complains about the servants, accusing them of laziness and wrongs that they have not committed. This is about the only thing that the adults can agree on. Mecha has a friend with younger kids who visits in lieu of anything better else to do in the heat. Tali is slightly better off than Mecha in that she is less cynical, less self-pitying (for now) and at least has a husband who, while no prize in his own right, manages to appear at least less stupified than Mecha's barely conscious partner.

    So this is a Latin American movie about families and servants, one that even includes wet floors and pet turtles. Roma could almost be a weird homage to Lucrecia Martel's impressive first work, though of course Cuaron has a different, perhaps more subtle take on the situation. La Cienaga also brims with life, even more chaotic life than Roma. We spend most of the movie watching these burnt out, deeply dissatisfied people try to cope with a stifling heat wave and their own deep malaise. They interact but it's often only to complain about something. A stultifying portrait of middle class alienation slowly emerges. These people might as well be in one of Lucifer's hell loops where nothing much ever changes except for things getting slightly worse and bodies getting older. While the kids are oblivious to much of their parents' pain, it is clear that for all the adults in the room, life has long since reached its peak and gone well past, and there is nothing much to do except to play out the string.

    Lucrecia Martel is one of the most challenging directors in the world. She makes movies that are often uncomfortable and bleak, but she really brings to life the situations that she focuses on. Her technique is a big part of what makes her movie's successful. La Cienaga seems almost random until you look at it more closely and see how persuasively Martel builds a sense of discontent and claustrophobia. Her editing and camera angles accentuate an unhealthy closeness. You can almost smell people's sweat and feel their lack of ease in their own skins. There is a larger social statement being made here. The privileged middle class people whom we see in this movie are a mess with no path to redemption, no thought of redemption even. Their racism and sense of superiority are palpable. The drooping breasts and flabby stomachs in evidence reveal more than time just passing--the characters' bodies are visual evidence of decay, physical and moral. It is not a pretty picture, but it is a fascinating one. To Martel's credit, she finds ways to keep us interested in this lot. La Cienga would make a fascinating double feature with Roma.

    subtitles
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2019
  7. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Blue Jacket's Curse

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    La Cienaga
    Martel (2001)
    “Nothing works.”

    In all the time I’ve been participating in this thing of ours, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled with a review as much as I have with this one. I actually watched it a couple of weeks ago and have made a few runs at writing this and have just gotten nowhere. My notes aren’t much help either. Dirty pool. Zombie-like people walk around it, stumbling. One passes out, cuts herself, doesn’t seem to care much. One kid is missing an eye. Another has dental troubles. No one is really happy. It’s a rumbling, rambling, rainy film. La cienaga, I see, means “the swamp” and you can practically smell the dank squalor from your screen.

    We’ve watched more difficult movies, but for whatever reason, I can’t conjure up much to say here.

    I watched Roma the other night and for a stretch, I thought that film would help me unlock my thoughts on La Cienaga. One is Mexico, one is Argentina. Both families of a certain status (one better than another, one maybe once of a greater status), a beloved maid is central to both, both are a slice of life at a time and place of change ... aaaannnand to be completely honest, I’m not sure I can quite land this plane either. The latter recalled the former at times. Roma is better polished. La Cienaga grittier. The characters of Roma aren’t running from anything necessarily, whereas La Cienaga is all about getting away, ducking a certain level of reality. It is every bit as lived-in and most assuredly authentic. So it's got that going for it.

    I lack the societal context to fully appreciate the film, I suppose. Cultural knowledge? Lacking for me too. The characters didn’t really grab me either. No one is particularly likable (which is ok!) though I didn’t find anyone particularly compelling either. One of the things I most love about film is the ability to globe trot and time travel, to see and experience different lives at different times in different places.

    I'm making a lot of excuses here.

    Whatever it was about this venture, it just didn’t make much of an impression on me — or, more accurately, an impression I can adequately articulate. I did, however, read about Martel’s most recent movie (Zama), and it sounds like something that would be a little more my speed.
     
  8. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    La Cienaga (2001) dir. Lucrecia Martel

    A tale of two families. The middleaged Mecha (Graciela Borges) is the matron of her bourgeois family. She has a bunch of teenage kids together with her husband Gregorio. Mecha wishes to remain looking young, however you might be able to argue she's already lost that battle, and because of that she seeks away from city during summer, to the family's decaying country house. At the start of the movie she falls on the edge of the pool and inflicts deep wounds in her chest due to the glasses she was holding. This confines her to her bed, and the her borderline alcoholism takes on a full roar because of this. Tali (Mercedes Moran) is Mecha's counsin, her family is much less well off, and instead of teenagers she has a bunch of small kids. Tali makes many visits to the country estate in order to visit Mecha with her kids, and to get away from her home life for a while. Tensions in the families grow larger as they are all confined together.

    Cienaga means swamp in Spanish, and in this case it probably refers to the hot, humid and cramped country house, and how it slowly sinks down into the mud. Maybe I should have known better than to expect some kind of closure at the end of the film, just something feeling like it's been resolved. It's not long ago I watched The Headless Woman, another of Martel's films, and despite having a somewhat open ending, it feels like it's written in stone compared to what we have here. I have to give credit for Martel for the screenplay, at least part of it. She opens up so many little plot points, and so many small relations between the characters, which are all significant, and which helps to paint the picture of this family. That is incredibly well written. Sadly I just feel that so much of this is left unresolved. Of course it's intentionally this way, and it's a big part of the movie that there's all these hidden and pent-up things in this family, that no one really talks about, and it's just left to fester. But it was really hard for me to keep my interest up when it felt like nothing was progressing at all. In that regard I enjoyed The Headless Woman much more, which despite also being slow and meandering, had a feeling of progression and momentum as the film went on.

    Movies like this are really tough if you lose for interest for a short while. It's really a slog trying to get back into it when you are first out of it. I think the script is amazingly well written, and I think Martel is a great filmmaker, she has a great eye and she's great with actors, Borges and Moran both deliver great performances in this movie. But I just wasn't into it, and I wanted to be, but it just ended up falling flat for me.
     
  9. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    All of Martel's movies can illicit responses like KallioYeHardlyKnewMe and Jevo describe. Zama is her least problematic in this sense, but it still challenges. Her other two feature length films--The Holy Girl and The Headless Woman--perplexed me no end when I saw them, but I keep coming back for more. I think her movies are about power dynamics, often, but not exclusively, focusing on the lives of women living in strongly patriarchal societies. She has a strong feminist voice and a social conscience to go along with it, but she's unflinching about how people contribute to their own gloom. She sure doesn't leave a trail of bread crumbs to follow for her viewer, that's for sure. For me, overall, the impact of each of her movies is that the whole becomes somehow greater than the sum of its parts. Her movies accumulate impact, often seeming more impressive and somehow disturbing in retrospect than they were in the actual viewing. It can be disorienting trying to immerse myself in her works, but she demands it. One of the things I really like about her is how she respects the intelligence of her audience and her own intelligence as well. One of a kind in a really good sense.
     
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  10. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    Enemy
    (2014) Directed by Denis Villeneuve

    Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a rather meek college professor who is in a relationship that seems to be fraying around the edges. Already somewhat overwrought when we first meet him, his condition becomes worse when he realizes that he has an exact double, a mediocre actor named Anthony, who is likewise living in a suburban highrise and has a pretty blonde wife who is six months pregnant. Fascinated despite his fears, Adam stalks Anthony but when he finally meets him realizes that he has bit off more than he can chew. While Adam gets cold feet about pursuing his doppelganger, Anthony suddenly has no such qualms. He accuses Adam of sleeping with his wife and proposes a deal involving him sleeping with Adam's partner after which he will disappear from Adam's life forever. While this seduction is occurring, Adam wanders over to Anthony's apartment where he actually does sleep with Anthony's wife. She seems to realize that a switch has occurred and encourages Adam to stay in Anthony's place as his is the gentler, more vulnerable soul. Then comes a final scene that brings the movie to a sudden and surprising close. Threading its way through the story is a collection of spider imagery--often subtle, but sometimes very obvious. What is going on?

    I never came close to figuring out what allegedly is going on, but I didn't need to in order to be enthralled by the movie. Skating on the surface, Enemy seemed to be a vaguely nightmarish movie about a guy trapped in a suddenly untethered reality that was virtually indistinguishable from madness. It is disquieting in the extreme for Adam to realize that there was another person identical to himself out there, one that it seems may feel some vague but unmistakable animosity toward him. All this creepiness is of course enhanced by the spider imagery, the score, the editing, and especially by the cinematography which makes suburban Toronto, its endless high rises and freeways, seem simultaneously abstract, impersonal and diseased, virtually enshrouded in a sickly looking grayish yellow haze. The whole mise en scene seemed to me reduced to bare essentials so as to focus our extension exclusively on Adam/Anthony. I took the movie to be primarily about Adam and his deteriorating psyche, a man who finds his normal reality has shapeshifted in front of his eyes into a nightmarish world. Further I thought the movie was a comment on the fragile nature of identity--how though our sense of self seems fixed and permanent, it can be very easily challenged by circumstances that we have no control over, madness never being more than a moment away.

    I think that Enemy is the best work that Denis Villeneuve has ever done, mainly because how well he controls the atmosphere of his film. I may be a sucker for atmosphere in movies, but I am not an easy sell. Pretty pictures and emotive music isn't enough to create anything more than eye candy for me. The truly atmospheric movie drenches its characters in its essence--the atmosphere must pervade the entire film in a way that colours everything. Effective movies in this manner often give me feelings that I can't put into words, something that goes deeper than the verbal can readily get at. I can think of only a few movies that ever manage to accomplish this, but they are all created by highly skilled directors whose technical control of the medium is impeccable: The Double Life of Veronique (Kieslowski); McCabe and Mrs. Miller (Altman); Don't Look Now (Roeg); Vampyr (Dreyer); The Mirror (Tarkovsky); In the Mood for Love (Kar-wai); Barry Lyndon (Kubrick), all come to mind. Villeneuve's Blade Runner 2049 accomplished this for me as well (as did its predecessor), but I have the feeling Villeneuve is the kind of director capable of creating many more works that depend on mood as much as story to get their points across. To me, such works are really worth looking forward to because they can stretch the medium in so many unpredictable and difficult-to-grasp ways.

    (As it turns out there is a perfectly good explanation for what goes on in this movie, one that I didn't grasp at the time and am still weighing in terms of how much credence I am going to lend it. Once you have seen the movie, check out the youtube bit listed below):



    Concerning atmosphere, I would feel remiss not to plug a movie that no one has ever seen by an unknown director called Valley of Shadows (Gulbrandsen). It's a beautiful Norwegian film about a little boy who wanders alone into a very foreboding, very dark woods. It played TIFF in 2017, and is just drenched in an atmosphere that is as effective as it is haunting. I have no idea why this movie didn't get picked up for distribution--I thought it was among the five or six best movies I saw that year and it has only gone up in my estimation since.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2019
  11. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    My next pick will be Jacques Audiard's A Prophet from 2009.
     
  12. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    It's the last lazy days of summer vacation (or is it winter down there?) for two middle-aged Argentinian women and their families. Kids are tearing around their summer house in the mountains while adults lie poolside in a wine-induced stupor. That's La Cienaga. Tadpoles dart about while big lizards bask motionless in the sun, shifting spots only as shadows creep into their sunlight.

    Summer vacation movies usually celebrate life. It's a carefree time for fun in the sun. The living is easy. There's plenty of life in La Cienaga, but it's not the high life. It's the swamp life..primoridial, slimy, growing out of rotting carcasses. Watching La Cienaga is like peering into an aquarium, observing the behaviour of the species in their natural habitat, away from the city, work or school. There's really no story here, each of the characters have their own. But generally, the kids run about exploring their world, the social world as well as their local territory. Rumours runs rampant: sightings of the Virgin Mary, the existance of a legendary vicious rat-dog, native bestiality and missing linen, all just talk. The adult world is not so filled with wonder: now is the summer of their discontent, with ice cube scarcity at the top of the list of troubles, marital infidelity somewhere lower on the list. The swimming pool offers a metaphor of where they're at: Mecha's family--once wealthy, now reduced to cutting corners (a side trip to Bolivia to buy school supplies is supposed to be a vacation highlight)--can't afford to fix the filtration system. Middle class Tali's husband would build a pool for his family but they don't have the land. This place must have been a paradise once, but stagnation has become the new norm.

    There isn't much in the way of establishing scenes: La Cienaga throws us into the deep end, and it takes a while to figure out who's who and where we are. However, once acclimatized I think it would be rewarding to revisit next year. Wouldn't want to live there.
     
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  13. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    Funnily enough it was Zama that made me want to check out Martel's earlier work. I walked away from that movie with an overall "meh" impression, and yet...and yet...it's atmosphere and imagery seeped into my brain and stayed awhile. Impressive given that I saw it at TIFF where every day there are three or four movies coming at you and even good ones can get forgotten quickly.

    I feel I owe you something pleasantly cheerful for my next pick. Maybe next time. Instead, I'll go with Robert Altman's Three Women. Having seen Performance recently and with Enemy up now I'll throw in another angle on the identity-switching theme.
     
  14. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    Enemy (2013) dir. Denis Villeneuve

    Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a history professor who lives a somewhat dull and monotonous life. One day he watches a movie, and spots a background actor who looks exactly like him. Adam starts researching him, finds out who he is, someone named Anthony Claire (Jake Gyllenhaal). Adam slowly becomes more and more obsessed with the guy. He goes to Anthony's agency's office, finds out where Anthony lives. Adam calls Anthony's home and talks to Anthony's wife, who is certain she is talking to Anthony. Anthony and his wife now both slowly become intrigued about who this man is. Both parties start wanting to get closer to one another, filled with curiosity about what this is.

    When I watched Enemy for the first time, I didn't get the spider motif at all. Having now watched it a second time, knowing what I was in for. I still don't know to interpret that. The movie probably doesn't really know either. It almost feels like a get out of jail free card in terms of analysis. Because however you interpret the rest of the movie, you can always just fit the spiders into that no problem. Enemy is hell of a fun movie to play around with in your head. Because the movie doesn't really answer anything, but gives more than enough information for you to play around with plenty of different scenarios in your head about what is actually happening. Are Anthony and Adam really exactly alike? Are they even the same person? Is one just a product of the imagination of the other? If then, who is the real one? I'm not even sure what I believe is "correct", but that's a big part of the fun of the movie. When I think one theory makes sense, then I get another idea and run with that in my head instead.

    Jake Gyllenhaal seems to excel playing characters that are various degrees of crazy. Adam and Anthony both fits that bill pretty well. So Gyllenhaal delivers a (or is two?) great performance here. Anthony and Adam are both quiet distinct, so you can tell just by looking at Gyllenhaal who he is at any given moment. He is also practically the only one in the movie with a real character. There's also Anthony's wife and Adam's girlfriend. Both beautiful blondes who I forget how to tell apart. And that probably says enough about how important their characters really are.

    I really love the look that Villeneuve has given the film. There's a slight yellow tint to it. And Toronto has never looked as poisonous and nauseating as it does here. You are almost sweating along with Adam just by watching the film. The looks really fits the film extremely well, and that's something I think Villeneuve consistently gets right, even though none of his movies look the same.
     
  15. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    A yuppie history teacher with web skills and a taste for arachno-porn discovers what it really means to "be your own worst enemy."

    The less said about Enemy, the better. I don't mean that as an insult either. It's just that Enemy is a movie that is best felt than explained or analyzed. I get it, I think, but only on an intuitive, emotional level. Ask me to explain what it means and I'll end up babbling nonsense. Anthony says "we must be brothers!" when he and Adam, his exact double, first meet, but Adam isn't buying the logical explanation, he feels something more sinister going on. Enemy defies logical explanations.

    I think Enemy really works because it walks a fine line between the real world and the fantasy world. It doesn't overwhelm with hallucinatory craziness. It keeps those surreal touches to a minimum so we never quite lose the feeling that there may eventually be a plausible reason revealed to account for the phenomemon we're seeing. We see one memorable shot of a giant spider over the city, and that's all. But Enemy is not a special-effects movie, so that's enough. There are aerial shots of the city--spider's-eye views--that remind us of its menacing presence, but the focus remains on the main character. And there is one main character...although there are two of him, Enemy is ultimately Adam's story. Another way in which Enemy remains "grounded", keeping things simple and esoteric at the same time.

    I also got a kick out of seeing some familiar locations, particularly Toronto's St. James Town neighbourhood, not far from where I work. Some days when the weathers good I walk home through that area. I don't recall ever seeing film crews around, but if I see Enemy again and spot myself in the background, I may freak out!
     
  16. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Blue Jacket's Curse

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    Enemy
    Villaneuve (2013)
    “This was a bad idea.”

    Adam is a professor. His life is routine. Work, increasingly robotic sex with his girlfriend. One day a coworker who we’ll never see again recommends a movie to Adam, “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way.” He rents it and something catches his eye — an actor in the background, one who looks exactly like him. he tracks the man down, Anthony. He begins to stalk him. We switch over into Anthony’s life. He’s aggressive and assertive, unlike Adam. Adam’s calls dredge up ghosts of his past mistakes with his girlfriend. He’s driven to meet Adam and throws out an indecent proposal to sleep with Adam’s girlfriend. There’s a brutal car wreck. And maybe someone turns into a spider?

    I won’t pretend to know any more about Enemy now upon my third watch that I did in viewings number one or number two over the past few years. I read a quote about Burning recently that came to mind while rewatching this and I’m just going to lift it whole cloth — ”There’s is difference between movies that refuse to fix their meanings for fear of exposing their essential vacuousness, that leave so much space for interpretation that they end up feeling legitimately empty and movies that bristle with an ambiguity derived from the complex, irreconcilable nature of reality itself.” This feels like the latter to me. Oh how I wish I could provide a deeper intellectual analysis. Alas, I’m just going to fall back on the ol’ “it burrows into my brain and I really dig it.” I’m realizing now as I write that it has burrowed so deeply in there that my last two movies I watched were the Jake Gyllenhal-staring Velvet Buzzsaw and Denis Villenueve’s Polytechnique. This wasn’t intentional.

    The doubling and repeating make for an intriguing puzzle. One tragedy. One farce. The spiders are well beyond my pay grade. It’s a great performance by Gyllenhaal, doing double work as the nebbish Adam and the more muscular Anthony. I was ranting and raving in the Oscars thread about the obnoxious tendency to favor impersonation over creation in acting performances. Gyllenhaal is right up there for me in terms of actors who are always up to something interesting. It doesn’t always work, but I respect the hustle, as the kids may say. It does work here.

    This was my first experience with Villenuve (the first time I saw it a few years back), who rapidly has become one of the most interesting filmmakers working today if not also one of the best. He always has style to burn — here in the repetition, the sickly yellow pall over the entire preceding. He’s a master of tension, even here at this earlier stage. Enemy is fairly low stakes versus the events of say Polytechnique or Sicario. It’s probably his most low-stakes film and yet it’s eerily gripping throughout, patient with its mysteries and uncaring if you’re with it or not.
     
  17. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    General question for the group: can you guys play blue ray versions--because the next film that I want to pick is only available on blue ray.

    Also, is everybody cool with renting a screening of a particular film on Amazon if you can not find it elsewhere?

    Thanks.
     
  18. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Blue Jacket's Curse

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  19. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    Blue ray is OK.
    Amazon? Bring it on...
    :popcorn:
     
  20. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    The Cremator (1969) dir. Juraj Herz

    Set in the pre-WWII era in Czechoslovakia, at the time of the German annexation of the country. Karl Kopfrkingl works in a crematorium, and he has an unusual dedication to his work. For him cremation is spiritual. Without cremation the spirit can't leave the body. His work is essential in ensuring the passage to the afterlife, or a new life. He draws much of his spiritual inspiration from buddism, and often references buddism when he talks about cremation. His wife is half-jewish. Something he doesn't heed much thought, as it's not really something that's a part of her identity. But once the German annexation is complete, and he gets in contact with some people with The Party. The idea of racial purity starts to enter his mind, and figures he needs to cleanse his wife and kids from their jewish bodies by cremating them, so that they can be reincarnated as non-jews.

    Part comedy, part horror, The Cremator is almost exactly what you want it to be. Rudolf Hrusinsky delivers a fantastic performance as Karl Kopfrkingl. He straddles the line between serious drama and black comedy extremely well. The movie is often somewhat absurd, Kopfrkingl especially. And in each and every scene, it seems that the viewer has a choice either to see it as comedic or as dramatic. Either choice is correct, and equally effective, much to the credit of Hrusinsky. But also thanks for great direction by Herz. Kopfrkingl's obsession with death and cremation is handled really well I think. It would have been very easy to just make his obsession seem sexual. Because when it's so extreme, it just seems like such an easy way to play it, especially with the somewhat sleazy look of Kopfrkingl. But I think it would cheapen it compared to what we get, where his obsession is extreme, but it's purely spiritual.

    The Cremator was released less than a year after the Soviet lead invasion to end the Prague Spring in August of 1968, and filmed just prior to the invasion. It's not hard to draw parallels between the German forces waiting on the border in the late 1930's, and the effect it has on the people, and the Soviet forces doing the same in 1968. It didn't take long for censors in Czechoslovakia to draw the same parallels, and shortly after it's premiere the movie was banned until the fall of the communist government. Funnily enough it was still selected as the Czechoslovakian Oscar nominee for best foreign language film. Not good enough for our people, but good enough to show the rest of the world how good we are at making films. Kopfrkingle becomes charmed by the ideology of the invading force. And even though he doesn't appear to hold any extreme political beliefs before hand, he becomes complicit in their horrors while believing his is doing good.

    It's not often you find a movie that can just as well be seen as a hilarious comedy and as a dark psychological horror. Both ways of watching the movie are equally "correct" as well, because it is both. It's not the best known movie from that era in Czechoslovakia, perhaps because of its lengthy ban in the home country, but for me it ranks among the best I have seen from that time.
     
  21. Jevo

    Jevo Registered User

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    My next pick will be a return to slow movies from South America. Probably even slower than our last venture there, at least if my previous experiences with Lisandro Alonso are anything to go by. My pick will be Alonso's La Libertad. I haven't watched it before, but when I looked it up on IMDB and saw the description, I knew I couldn't pass up this film: "A man chop down trees, organizes the trunks, clean them, stops to defecate, lunch, nap and continues to sell its timber."

    Yes and Yes. Bring it on!
     
  22. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    Interesting. I had to reconsider part of my own interpretation, for example whereas at first I assumed Adam was the "real" Jake Gyllenhaal (mainly because of his name and its Biblical connotations) and Anthony was an alternate version of himself, a projection of his fantasies or himself in another reality, I can agree now that Adam and Anthony both represent different aspects of one character. Good call on "The Cheater" too--that's one obscure reference! But I'm not convinced by the spider explanation.
     
  23. kihei

    kihei Registered User

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    [​IMG]

    Cremator
    (1969) Directed by Juraj Herz

    Cremator is a gem from the Czech New Wave that flourished in the mid '60s and early '70s before the inevitable Soviet crackdown. It has a simple enough premise. Set in Czechoslovakia near the beginning of its brutal occupation by Nazis, Kopfirkingl (Rudolph Hrusinsky), a Czech funeral director with a great taste for crematoriums, is the central character and virtually everything is seen from his perspective. He has 90% of the dialogue and the the movie is as much about his inner workings as it is about his external reality. In short, he is already a degenerate man when we meet him, but his dark desires and psychopathology are masked by a veneer of normality that is removed as he becomes more influenced by the Nazi way of seeing things. He turns into a monster, true, but it was a very short journey. He begins targeting any one he knows with Jewish blood, and eventually this includes his wife, his son and his daughter. The style of the movie is what makes this particular maniac's story interesting. The visual approach reminded me of some of the work of early Soviet directors, such as Vertov, Pudovkin, and Dovzhenko with a dollop of German Expressionism thrown in. This is a movie where the visual style shapes the message of the movie almost entirely. Camera angles and movement, choice of uncommon lenses, extreme close ups, jump cutting--all contribute to the message of the movie about how a degenerate philosophy built around the sanctity of blood and soil can readily corrupt individuals who are probably leaning in that direction anyway. A mammoth and very disciplined performance by Rudolph Hrusinsky helps the effectiveness of the movie immensely. As though he is channelling early Peter Lorre performances, he starts off creepy and then gradually goes right off the scale of creepiness, all while retaining a certain serenity for appearances' sake. While he doesn't do anything obvious to telegraph this point, I got the sense that his character enjoyed his new freedom immensely. He doesn't see himself as a victim of Nazism at all; rather he believes that he is some sort of avenging angel whose duty it is to save people's souls by killing their bodies. Thus, even his sense of personal responsibility has been twisted into something evil. In addition to being a condemnation of Nazism's moral putrefaction, I suppose there is also a critique in here about the failings of the Czech bourgeoisie and the professional classes in general, revealing how easily they can be guided by self-interest to do anything to further their own personal security. Occasionally Cremator relies on horror movie tropes to underscore its points, and I'm not sure that approach was necessary. Thanks to Herz's skill as a director, we don't need to be cued to recognize the depravity that is on display here.

    subtitles
     
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  24. KallioWeHardlyKnewYe

    KallioWeHardlyKnewYe Blue Jacket's Curse

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    The Cremator
    Herz (1969)
    ”There’s no difference in ashes.”

    Karl seems normal(ish). He’s got a wife of almost 20 years and a pair of kids, living comfortably in Czechoslovak. He loves his job at the local crematorium. He’s more than happy to talk you through the process and he really loves tapping into his knowledge of Hinduism and reincarnation. The sooner man returns to dust, the sooner he is free, so he says. There’s a creepy vibe to the guy. I mean he REALLY loves his job, but while I felt the film inching toward horrors of a more fantastical sense, the reality is far worse. It’s WWII and the Germans are massing. And they’ve taken a liking to Karl, his expertise and his German blood. Karl is likewise interested. It isn’t long until he’s informing on the Jews he knows and ratting out his coworkers. When the Germans kindly note that his wife and children aren’t clean enough to come along on his journey, well, he helps purify them the only way he knows how — death and fire. (Does the daughter escape?) By this point, the final scenes of the film should have no surprise to the history minded viewer. The Germans have a need for a incarnation of bodies on a scale heretofore unseen. If only they knew a man who could design and operate such a contraption of horror....

    I had zero knowledge of this film and no familairity with the director. It’s an ethereal, haunting work. The horrors are very real, but the vibe is spectral, ghostly. It doesn’t make light of the history at all. Its hazy weirdness isn’t an excuse or justification for abhorrent behavior. Insane people did insane things and while plenty of explanations exist, it’s still crazy. The horror vibe actually heightens things in a weird way to me.

    I can’t attribute the source, but I’ve repeatedly heard over the years an adage about playing villains in film/tv/stage and that’s that the actor must believe they’re in the right, that they’re the sane one. Boy did Juraj Herz hit the jackpot with Rudolf Hrusinsky. This low-rent Peter Lorre looks like a half-melted gob of butter and his dry delivery conveys a cold confidence in his beliefs. I think he waivers only once — when his family’s blood is questioned — but the German’s words quickly sway him back toward the order he believes in and seeks.
     
  25. Ralph Spoilsport

    Ralph Spoilsport Rookie Mistake

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    The manager of a crematorium in pre-WWII Czechoslovakia sees the Nazi invasion as an opportunity to scale his operations beyond his wildest dreams. The Cremator is described as a horror/comedy, although its not really funny or scary, if those things are measured in number of laughs or increase in heartbeats. There's nothing funny about the Holocaust and it would be wrong to trivialize it by playing it for scary thrills. It's too important a subject to ignore, but a difficult and delicate one to broach for an entertainment medium. But given the subject matter here I think The Cremator does well in gently bringing its audience face to face with some unpleasant realities.

    The Holocaust isn't even on the radar as the story begins, buts gradually looms larger as the title character becomes more involved with Nazism and it becomes clear that his obsession dovetails with their final solution. The rise of Nazism and the ensuing Holocaust are attributed as the result of some kind of mass insanity. That's not an entirely original take but then what rational explanations have ever been put forth? And in 1969, when the event was still recent history and raw in the collective memory, a film like The Cremator would have at least broken the ice so this subject could begin to be processed publicly.

    To be precise, the main target of The Cremator's satire isn't Nazism but rather Czech complicity, which brings us to our "hero", Kopfrkingl (is the name supposed to be a joke? I've never seen a Kopfrkingl in the NHL, so I'm not sure). If an antihero is defined as "a main character in a story who lacks conventional heroic qualities and attributes such as idealism, courage and morality" then Kopfrkingl must be an antivillian: is this the face of evil? :) He is jovial, non-menacing, thoroughly believes in the righteousness of his beliefs. Whether we like it or not, whether we want to or not, we can't help but get a little too close to this guy for comfort. His voice-over narration dominates the film like we are hearing his confession, creating an intimacy with the audience. At times he's smiling sweetly and mugging directly for the camera and making googly eyes like a slightly twisted Oliver Hardy or Harry Langdon, as if to dare us to root against him. Other times we're seeing his POV, see through his eyes as he's following his wife into the bathroom to murder, er, I mean, free her soul from suffering.

    Ultimately The Cremator has no more insight into the nature of evil than the carnival's wax-figure house of horrors exhibit, but it does likewise satisfy a morbid fascination. It's an odd film, lurid and charming at the same time.
     

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