The Science of Sleep
Stephane, a very shy and insecure young man who is socially
clumsy, is falling in love with an equally shy girl. He's a very creative
thinker, and everything that happens between them gets re-interpreted through
his dreams. In turn, everything that happens in his dreams gets re-examined in
reality. The reality also gets re-examined in reality, since he is a sincere man
who constantly worries about the meaning of small physical gestures or subtle
shifts in vocal tones in respect to the girl's feelings for him. Underlying it
all is the fear of rejection which affects all of us to some degree, but affects
shy people in highly significant ways which can completely dominate their lives. The
Science of Sleep exists in the dream and real worlds simultaneously, and it is
not always clear to us which we are watching. There's a good reason for that. We
cannot always differentiate between Stephane's dreams and reality because
Stephane himself is not completely certain which is which, and we are stuck
within his point of view.
The most amazing thing about the film is that the two lead
performers, Gabriel Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg, seem to understand
exactly what writer/director Michel Gondry wants to achieve, which is not an
easy thing to achieve in a surreal environment, and have managed to deliver
astounding performances, so natural and unaffected that they seem not to be
acting at all. Bernal also has a tremendous gift for comic timing, something I
had not really realized from his previous performances. Those two sympathetic
characterizations are the film's greatest strengths, since they draw us in and
keep us involved in a story which could otherwise be considered too rambling to
command ongoing focus in a world of short attention spans. The film takes a
deliberately low-tech approach to special effects (think Pee-Wee's Playhouse),
and that accentuates the natural, heartfelt performances beautifully. The
performers are also supported by some imaginative visuals and writing by Gondry,
who has already directed one masterpiece about the inner workings of the brain,
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
The film also has its weaknesses, primarily deriving from its
complete lack of structure. I could tell you that it doesn't have an ending, but
that would be a bit misleading, since it doesn't really have a storyline either,
so there is nothing to end. But I'm going to ignore that for a moment and just
note that the film ends in an infuriatingly ambiguous way which left me
wondering if the DVD had been mastered correctly. Were there scenes missing? No.
The writer/director was hoping to end the film in the dream world, thus forcing
us to speculate about the underlying reality which might be driving the final
dream. This was an alternative to spelling the reality out. He succeeded in the
sense that the film's ending has generated considerable debate and discussion.
Personally, I think ambiguity is a sign of subtlety and encourages audience
involvement, so I applaud it in general, but I think this film could have
benefited from a little less anarchy. Then again, perhaps that's just me
thinking in linear terms and wanting to balance equations that have no
Excluding the ending, which seems to suffer from the typical
pretentiousness of surrealism, the film manages to achieve something rarely seen
in cinematic attempts at portraying the subconscious: The Science of Sleep is
warm, human, and approachable. Stephane is happier and more competent in his
dreams than in real life, which makes them a pleasant place for us to visit with
him. The subconscious mind is normally portrayed in films and literature as a
frightening place, and most attempts to portray it are aloof, but The Science of
Sleep takes a different approach. It is the new, improved, cuddly surrealism!
C+ on our scale. One wants to reward independent filmmakers
with wildly original films, but it can't be higher than a C+. It was only a
moderate critical success (2/3 good reviews), and is an arthouse film, not the
type of film with broad box-office appeal. How many people do you know who like
to listen to other people describe their dreams?
The Last King of Scotland
This film remind me of a type of film which was popular in the
30s, then again in the 50s and 60s: the period adventure/drama in which a
completely fictional set of characters interact with well known historical
personages and against a sweeping backdrop of memorable historical events. Of
course the film world didn't invent the concept. When you get right down to it,
it has been the basis of some of the greatest fictional works in history. War
and Peace, the greatest novel of all, is such a work, as are The Three
Musketeers, Gone With the Wind, and A Tale of Two Cities, to cite a few among
many possible examples.
The Last King of Scotland reminds me
in many ways of a specific older film with a similar title: The Man Who Would Be
King. Both films are great yarns about ordinary Europeans who find themselves
getting in over their heads when they attain a surprisingly lofty position
inside a developing culture. Of course, The Last King of Scotland is a
modernization of the old format with new filmmaking ideas in a new world. The
most important new rule has been dictated by the fact that these historical
characters are within our recent memory and have been vividly recorded by the
electronic media. When The Man in The Iron Mask portrayed historical characters,
the actors were free to improvise wildly, and the authors were free to take
virtually any stance for or against the historical characters, since few people
today care whether Louis XIV is portrayed sympathetically, particularly when he
is a background character. The rules for historical drama are different when
dealing with characters from the late 20th century. People do care whether
Hitler is portrayed sympathetically, and people know exactly what he looked and
sounded like. The electronic record places a new set of demands on authors who
must spin the non-fictional characters accurately, and on actors who must look
and sound like people we have actually seen and heard. The pressure on accuracy
was even greater in this film because the African dictator Idi Amin is not a
background character, but a personal friend of the fictional character, and his
co-star. To the great credit of the writers and actor Forest Whitaker, the
film's portrayal of Amin doesn't conflict in any way with our perception of the
real man, thus freeing us to enjoy the story.
And what a story it is. A humble
Scottish country doctor decides that he doesn't want to spend the rest of his
life in a boring practice with his staid old dad, so he spins a globe, stops it
with his finger, and goes to the place he happens to be pointing at. Uganda is
the prize winner, and the apolitical Scotsman soon gets an education in African
power politics as he works in a clinic there. A chance occurrence vaults him
into an unexpected position as Idi Amin's personal physician, from which he is
soon advising the strongman on health matters that affect the entire nation.
Amin is a paranoid man who trusts few people, and the doctor helps him out of
few tough scrapes, so when the dictator sees that the doctor is dedicated and
has no private agenda, he is quick to take the Scot's advice on many non-medical
matters as well, including security and public relations. The humble
twenty-something white man soon finds himself the second most powerful man in
the country, and enjoys that status ... for a while.
The doctor finally has to stop
ignoring the evidence around him and to accept the fact that his benefactor is
both corrupt and brutal. He tenders his resignation, and packs his bags. At this
point the tone of the film makes a 180 degree turn. The doctor learns that the
club he has joined is like the mafia. Once in, it's almost impossible to leave.
Furthermore, Amin no longer trust him because of his attempt to leave, which
seems like disloyalty. Amin refuses to accept the resignation, takes away his
British passport, and issues him an Ugandan one, thus showing that his
life is owned by the dictator. From this point onward the doctor's life descends
deeper and deeper into hell. The film becomes a nail-biting thriller about his
attempt to extricate himself from the situation he has created, a predicament
made far worse by his having impregnated the dictator's youngest wife. Since the
film is a modern one and not a leftover from 1960s Hollywood, the terrifying
situations he faces are portrayed in graphically horrifying detail. I went with
my daughter, and she was looking away a lot during this movie, later commenting
that it was more tense and horrifying than any horror film she had ever seen,
especially since it all seemed real.
My daughter found the film too
intense, but I take her reaction as a sign of extremely effective filmmaking.
This is a very powerful movie. The set-up phase is interesting enough, but I
fidgeted a bit until the real movie began - when the tension started between the
doctor and the dictator. From the time of his resignation, the doctor is mired
in a hopeless quagmire of situations from which it seems he can never
escape. He feigns allegiance to Amin, all the while plotting to escape or
perhaps even to poison the dictator before he himself can be killed. The
suspense is maintained brilliantly, and the odds against him keep increasing,
particularly after he is identified as a poisoner and the real father of the
dictator's baby. Can he get out of Uganda? Well, if you want the answer to that
question, you have to see the movie ...
... and it's well worth it.
Mr Whitaker is expected to win the
Oscar for Best Actor, since he has won every other acting prize this year. The
only thing which might stop him would be a sentimental Academy nod toward the
superannuated Peter O'Toole, perhaps the greatest performer in film history who
has never won an Oscar.
I call this a B- on our scale. The
critics loved it (9/10 positive reviews), and I am surprised that it did not do
better at the box office, because it is a good adventure story from start to
finish, and the second half is a tremendous thriller that kept knots in my
stomach. If the stars had been Denzel and Cruise, I think it would have been a
hit. (Although not as good a movie.)
|Kerry Washington (zipped
.avi). Sweet booty! The film clip also includes the anonymous nudity.
Kerry's scene is at the end.
B.S. I Love You
The Graduate (1967) was the Pulp Fiction of its day in that it was
simultaneously so hip and so successful that it was widely copied. This film
came close to being a Graduate clone. Our young hero romances a
mother-daughter team, and in the end he runs desperately against the clock to
prevent his true love from slipping away with another. He dashes for the pier,
calling out her name, as he imagines her in a wedding dress, sailing off with
her hunky boyfriend. It's such a blatant rip-off that the producers of The
Graduate might have considered suing - in the unlikely event that this made
Fat chance of that. According to TV Guide it was never made to make money
in the first place. That probably would have ruined the tax breaks! The Guide
summed it up as follows:
"Independently made Canadian film apparently designed to be a tax-shelter
for its investors."
If it had been sued I think the defense would have been that it was meant
as a parody of the Graduate's genre, focusing on the mother of all
Graduate-style pics, the original. I guess there could have been some
justification for that. Some reviewers have identified this as a comedy,
notably the N.Y Times, which gushed, "Some gifted people are involved in what
turns out to be a neatly organized morality comedy with bright contemporary
trimmings." Based on that I guess it was considered hip and funny at the time,
but looking back from today at the films made in the 67-71 period, it's pretty
damned hard to tell which ones are comedies and/or parodies. If I ever had the
cultural context necessary to make that determination, I have lost it in the
intervening years. For example, I really can't tell you whether this film's
topless go-go dancing scene with the runaway zoom lens (below) was hip or was
making fun of other films which tried to be hip. It's stuck in the back of my
head that for some reason we used to think it was groovy when the camera would
zoom in and out rapidly on some action while bad rock songs played in the
background. Like, it was psychedelic, man.
Suffice it to say that the film is no longer hip.
It does have one thing goin' for it. Joanna Cameron, aka The Mighty Isis,
topless. Beautiful smile. Beautiful body.
* Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).
* White asterisk: expanded format.
* Blue asterisk: not mine.
No asterisk: it probably sucks.
Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles,
Electronic Lover is a cheapie exploitation flick made in New York in 1966. A
character known as "Master" orders his slave known as "Brother" to place his
high tech camera in the windows of women so he can spy on them using his
computer wall, make love to himself in a mirror, then dream about the women
visiting him. Brother, by the way, is mute, so 90% of the dialogue comes from
Women include Natura, Linda Boyce and Ute Erikson. Natura and Ute
Erikson do sort of a lesbian thing. Several aspects are unusual for 1966
including full frontal from Natura and Linda Boyce, and inter-racial lesbian
IMDb is still waiting on 5 votes. This is part one of a Something Weird
Video DVD on "Girls & Gadgets." This, to me, is a bottom feeder, but then I
feel that way about most of the New York grindhouse material. At least this
one tried something slightly different, which is worth considering. We will
call this a C-, good enough for fans of this obscure genre.
Blame it on Rio
The Time Machine is back in 1984 for "Blame it on Rio".
Michelle Johnson did some rather explicit full frontal nudity ...
... and then was joined by a very young Demi
Moore on the beach. Demi was topless but her long hair pretty much covered
Notes and collages
The Ladies of
Episode "The Sloan Men"
When Judith (Clare Sims) meets her husband's family for the first time, her mother-in-law (Margot Kidder), has some disturbing and surprising news for her. She tells her that the Sloan men are not
what she thinks, that they can control women with their thoughts. So both women go out to destroy the source of their husbands' powers. Clare's sex scene is very hot, the guy just touches her on the shoulder and
she has sex with him in front of everybody at the museum.
A really stacked Adrienne Barbeau in an off-Broadway musical called Stag
Movie (circa 1970). This accompanies other Barbeau rarities in the video
Lynda Carter - Battle of the Network Stars.
(And Mr. Kotter as a bonus!)
Nicole Sheridan in The Ultimate Fear of Speed
Callie Thomas in Scandal: The Big Turn-On
Here's a rarity. I had not realized that the DVD
of Ruby Cairo has a slightly different version of the love scene than some
previous VHS and/or broadcast versions. If you are familiar with the scene,
you will immediately recognize two things about
this version (1)
There is a very brief additional bit of Andie MacDowell exposure (seen left)
(2) The scene does not have the omnipresent dark blue filter!
Another rarity. The seldom-seen
Open House, which
includes Adrienne Barbeau's only film nudity after Swamp Thing. It was about
five years later, and she had trimmed down quite a bit, which cost her a
little heft in the chest. The quality is abysmal, but it's better than el
zilcheroo, which is what I had yesterday. Sample capture to the left.
And another. This video is from ABC's
Battle of the Network Stars, from the late 1970s. There is a slight-see
through of Barbeau (left), but the highlight is definitely Wonder Woman Lynda
Carter in a VERY revealing suit - see captures above in the images section.
Finally, two from Fear City. A lot of nudity from
Melanie Griffith, and
a bit from Rae Dawn Chong.