The Air I Breathe
At one point in its development, The Air I Breathe must have been
considered a major project. The film has a solid cast from the B+ list: Forest
Whitaker, Andy Garcia, Buffy, Kevin Bacon, Brendan Fraser, Emile Hirsh. There
is a slick web site. It has
all kinds of ambition and a high-falutin' literary style based on an ancient
Chinese proverb about the four emotional cornerstones of life: pleasure,
happiness, sorrow and love. There are four separate stories illustrating each
of the four basic emotional food groups, and the lead characters actually have names like
"Pleasure" and "Sorrow" in
the credits. That's not Joe Pleasure, or Mortimer Sorrow, but just Pleasure
and Sorrow. Happiness (Whitaker) is a meek stockbroker, Pleasure (Fraser) a
hit man who can see the future, Sorrow (Gellar) is a female pop star and Love
(Bacon) is a doctor desperate to save the life of someone important to him.
Their stories are all linked by a crime boss (Garcia). Hirsch plays Garcia's
nephew. The four stories are intertwined because happiness and sorrow are
intertwined in life. Get it? When combined, the four tales coalesce into a nearly circular form,
ala Pulp Fiction. In tone and style, the film seems similar in many ways to
Crash, a multiple Oscar winner.
The result: it was released in seven theaters for one week, the last week
in January. (Three weeks ago.) It did not get a second week in any of the theaters. It grossed
$29,000 in the entire United States.
What went wrong?
Well, these elements stand out:
I'll bet you've already deduced that the project is pretentious.
Oh-so-serious ensemble dramas tend to lean in that direction, and this
particular one leans so far that it falls over. The characters virtually
speak in fortune cookie dialogue. "The things we can't change, change us."
It tries to blend too many disparate elements. As the New York Times
wrote: "Among other things, Mr. Lee declares, it is a film noir variation of
The Wizard of Oz and an exploration of the theme of character as destiny.
Whew! That’s an awful lot of concepts for one movie to juggle." Indeed. On
the one hand it wants to essay some serious themes, ala Crash. One the other
hand, it's filled with gimmicky supernatural elements and violent, cavalier
noir-movie gangsters. So it's Crash meets The Sixth Sense meets Pulp
Fiction. Each of those films is good, but they don't mesh well. I loves me a
Guinness, some nectarines, and spicy mustard. But not together.
The four stories intersect in somewhat preposterous ways, to the point
where the convergences get the audience groaning. These unlikely
coincidences might have been tolerable in smaller doses, but when piled one
upon another and combined with the gangster's ability to see the future,
they create a kind of madcap surreal world that would be more appropriate in
a cocky black comedy. That effect flies directly in the face of the film's
grand literary aspirations.
You can probably tell from the brief synopsis in the first paragraph that
Emile Hirsch's role, as the gangster's feckless douchebag nephew, was
fundamentally unrelated to the rest of the movie. It doesn't even fit into a
verbal summary, except as an afterthought. That character could have been
cut completely without losing anything from the film. His story was actually
a fifth tale, but there are only supposed to be four emotional pillars of
life. It's as if Confucius had told us that the five building-blocks of life
are happiness, pleasure, love, sorrow, and douchebaggery. Having noted that
Hirsch's brief role is totally irrelevant, I want to add that I'm glad he's
there because he provides some comic relief in a film which otherwise takes
itself much too seriously.
The distributors were almost certainly correct in their abandonment of the
project. I can't see how the film could have attracted a big audience, so a
wide release would probably have been throwing good money after bad, as the
But I'll tell you this. There's a lot of talent on display here for a
rookie writer/director. He made a lot of mistakes, but he also demonstrated a
lot of potential. If you think about it, Magnolia also could have been a grand
epic failure for most of the same reasons I cited above, and many people would
say that it was. There are very fine lines between pride and hubris, between
poignancy and pretension. Magnolia negotiated the lines a bit better than this
film. But Paul Thomas Anderson and the director of The Air I Breathe (Jieho
Lee) were going in the same directions. They are the kind of guys who reach
for the stars and wear their hearts on their sleeves. I like that kind of
ambition and I like that kind of emotional intensity. I like it very much when
young filmmakers, men and women who have not lived long enough to be jaded and
cautious, reach for the stars. It's the Mickey Mantle theory of hitting,
as applied to filmmaking: swing as hard as you can every time. You strike out a
lot, but when you connect, the result is a beautiful thing to watch, and the
applause is deafening. Mr. Lee failed because his ambitions involved the upper
deck instead of a sensible game-winning single into the gap, but if you have to
fail, that's the way to go! Maybe next time he'll knock it out of the ol'
The only nudity comes from some
random strippers in a gratuitous
strip club scene involving the unnecessary Emile Hirsch character in the
"fifth wheel" story.
However, Buffy gets tied to a chair with her legs exposed up to her
underpants (Hankster-approved!) and also has a sex scene with Brendan Fraser.
You can see those
Catch the deluxe
version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles,
Ilsa, the Wicked Warden
Ilsa, the Wicked Warden is chronologically the third in the Ilsa films
starring Dyanne Thorne, but that is basically a post facto distinction. It
does feature Dyanne Thorne, but is not an official Ilsa sequel. In fact, it was
first released as Greta, the Wicked Warden, then re-named Wanda, and finally Ilsa. It was directed by Jess Franco and produced by Erwin C. Dietrich, and
they retrofitted the film to capitalize on the popularity of the Ilsa films.
Many scenes in the final version were not even in the original script, most notably one
involving a tiger, which was added to ride the coattails of the newly
released Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia.
The story is simple. Wanda ... er ... Ilsa runs a
woman's prison hospital, but also makes and sells dirty 8mm films of the
inmates. A woman (Tania Busselier) wishes to find out what happened to her
sister at the institution so she concocts a plan to get herself committed. She soon discovers that day-to-day life is
controlled by a single prisoner (Lina Romay), who is the girl-toy of the warden
(Dyanne Thorne). The doctor who helps Busselier get committed turns out to be a traitor and is
murdered. Busselier was then afraid she would be there forever but in the end, as usual, things go against
the evil Ilsa.
Satisfied by a "no full-frontal clause" in her contract and a job for her
husband, Howard Maurer, Dyanne Thorne was persuaded to jet off to Portugal and Switzerland
to make this film. Director Jess Franco, having no money to speak of and
living in no permanent address, was not especially afraid of being sued for
breach of contract, so he tricked Thorne into showing full-frontal anyway.
Franco would simply holler "cut," and keep the camera running. When Franco
filmed the most graphic scenes, Thorne and her husband were sent
on an innocuous tour of England. Lina Romay is involved in what is probably the most disgusting scene.
Lina takes a crap, wipes her butt with a magazine sheet, then forces Busselier
to "lick her culo." For those who have not tried wiping with glossy paper, it
doesn't work very well, which makes "lick my culo" all the more
Despite the deceptions, Thorne and Maurer have nothing but praise for Jess
Franco, and the film turned out to be a pretty good WIP film. It includes two
shower scenes, a cat fight, girl/girl action, torture, and lots of nudity.
In addition to Thorne, Tania Busselier and Lina Romay showed everything, as did
Notes and collages
Despite the best efforts of cast and crew, this ghost story is bland to
the point of being boring, and totally uninventive. Even the ending is a
yawner. Even the title basically gives away the whole movie.
Stacey (Laura Harring), an American, and Mark, a South African, fall
deeply in love and marry. They move to Mark's farm in South Africa and are
very happy, until Mark has a car accident and is killed.
Grief stricken Stacey decides to stay at the farm, and soon discovers
she is pregnant. But after the baby is born, Stacey is besieged with
feelings that her son is possessed by the spirit of Mark, who wants her
dead so that she can spend eternity with him.
Unfortunately, this is one of those movies that sounds much better than
it is. The best thing about it, I'm afraid, is the nudity and skimpy pokie-filled
outfits worn by Laura Harring.