Only Lovers Left Alive
M. & Mme. Adelmann
Apres les Cendres
Simon et Suzanne, Ninon
Boer in Cord (2015) in 720p
Paige Cohn in Prom Ride (2015) in 720p
Whittaker in Venus (2006)
Unless you live in a hollow tree making cookies with Jeff Sessions, you are probably aware that Jodie has now been identified as the thirteenth Dr. Who and the first to possess a vagina. That brings her up to "top of mind" awareness, and reminds us of her brilliant film debut in Venus.
Venus was a classic Peter O'Toole movie - a variation on the same theme he played for most of his career, one that stamped role after role with his wit, intelligence, quirky charm and heart. Mostly heart. That's really what distinguishes him, isn't it? He is perhaps the most blatantly sentimental famous actor of his generation. The gushing of Richard Harris was leavened by a certain mad, macho ferocity. The gentleness of Michael Caine has always been tempered by a roguish carnality. Richard Farnsworth was locked out of effusive emotional displays by the natural reserve of the gentlemen of the American West. But O'Toole was never either ferocious or reserved. He just seemed to be out there with his heart on his sleeve, puckish but wise, seeming to possess infinite layers of compassion - a man who had seen too much malice and always understood it, but forgave it anyway.
This time he was wooing a woman barely out of high school (Whittaker was 24), even though O'Toole was 74 and looked ten years older, and was playing a character who was impotent, incontinent, and dying of cancer. He can't provide much in the way of hanky-panky, and his beloved is actually quite thankful for that, yet there is genuine sexual love between them, and their talks are the playful banter of lovers, not the asexual chit-chat of a grandfather and his favorite granddaughter. There is the kind of mutual mocking and hesitant suggestion that marks our courtship rituals, and there is even some nudity and a tiny bit of physical contact. It is a testimony to O'Toole's unique genius that he can play an 80-year-old man telling a 20-year-old girl that he has been thinking of her "cunt" and not only avoid the concomitant creepiness vibe, but actually make it sound as if he were serenading her with a love song, or reading from a very vivid translation of the Song of Solomon. The important point is that there is a physical love connection between them, if not in the normal sense.
I suppose O'Toole is the greatest performer never to have won an acting Oscar. His first nomination came for his iconic portrayal of Lawrence of Arabia, a performance which is considered among the greatest in history, and would probably have won in 90% of Oscar's years, but ran up against another performance which, while perhaps not requiring as much talent as Lawrence of Arabia, may be the single most beloved portrayal in screen history - Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. When O'Toole lost that one, he had his passionate defenders who thought he should have won, but nobody gave it all that much thought because O'Toole was a mere stripling, still in his twenties when he played Lawrence, and he was obviously possessed of such prodigious talent and good looks that he would win many future Oscars. Didn't happen. He picked up eight nominations, including one for this film, but came home empty-handed each time.
Venus is one of those films much beloved by critics but with very little broad-based appeal, which is a shame because it's the kind of heartfelt quirky comedy film that the Brits do so beautifully, and it's the genre that O'Toole doth bestride like a colossus. I image that a composite critic and a composite mainstream moviegoer would have a dialogue like this:
CRITIC: I have to see so many films, that it's wonderful for me when something like this comes along - so original, so quirky, so filled with real characters and witty banter. Thumb up!
AVERAGE JOE: I suppose all that is true, but I see only four or five films a year, and I'm not going to spend one of my movie nights on a film about a dotty old dying grandpa who's hitting on a young girl. I was hoping for something with a little more energy. I might catch it on cable some night, if I'm too tired to reach for the remote, and I'll probably be surprised by how much I like it.
So it goes.
My head can sympathize with both positions, but my heart came down on the same side as the critics. I enjoyed the film. This is really one for those of you who see a lot of films and are tired of the same old thing. Of course, I seem to enjoy almost everything O'Toole does (My Favorite Year is one of my favorite films), so maybe I'm not exactly Mr. Objective in this case.
Warning: major spoilers.
Very few films are capable of creating an entirely different world in which humanity may dwell. When such movies come along, works of imagination like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, we tend to form cults around them and we never forget having seen them. There were three great ones in the 1980's, Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, and Tim Burton's Batman, and then the well went dry for about a decade until, in the dying embers of the previous millennium, there were two formidable new entries into this arena: Jean-Pierre Jeunet's City of Lost Children (1995), and Alex Proyas's Dark City (1998).
Dark City features a mini-world in which humans think they are in charge, but in fact are just stuck in the experiments of another race, like rats in a very complicated maze. The Strangers are a dying race who can alter time and space through sheer will, but cannot figure out how to keep their race from dying out. In fact, they are melding into a single group consciousness, and losing all sense of individuality. They admire the liveliness and passion of humans, and are trying to determine how to incorporate human emotions, joy, and individuality into their own race. They change the entire world every night at midnight, when they stop time and humans sleep.
If you erase a mass murderer's consciousness and give him Albert Schweitzer's memories, will he become a philanthropist, or will something in his genetic composition steer him back to murder? And what about our surroundings? If you change them, do you change us? Probably, but if so, how much? We really don't know the answer to these questions, and ultimately that's what The Strangers think they need to know if they are to understand individualism.
Rufus Sewell, who appears despite all evidence to the contrary NOT to be Joachim Phoenix, plays the part of a murderer who awakens in his bathtub. At least he thinks he might be a murderer. Some people think he is, but he doesn't remember anything about anything. In fact, nobody in town seems to really know much about anything. They aren't sure how to find other parts of town, and they can't remember which towns they grew up in. Oh, yeah, and nobody can remember the last time they saw daylight, but they don't seem to worry about it.
Dark City revives the old German Expressionist school of cinema. The primary themes of Expressionism are based in the ongoing human struggle to make sense of the world around us. Instead of epic heroes who triumph over adversity, or tragic heroes - great men who collapse from their tragic faults, Expressionist films present ordinary men as anti-heroes who simply can't figure out the answers to life. The original Expressionist films were defined by a unique visual style, in which powerless men were lost in a confusing and oppressive world of enormous, soul-destroying machines, mass confusion, and horrible creatures. Their settings did not reflect reality, but the emotions of the characters. Examples include Murnau's Nosferatu, Lang's Metropolis, and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. That artistic movement was a product of the German consciousness at the conclusion of WW1. Germany was defeated, humiliated, and destitute, and the dark mood of the Expressionists seemed to find an emotional connection to the depression of the people who lived through those times.
Dark City's revival of German Expressionism is a clever and completely appropriate conceit, because the settings in this film are literally the product of the psychology of The Strangers. When they want to change the settings, they need only to think about it. The humans are generally oblivious to The Experiment, since they are re-implanted with false memories and lives according to the whims and scientific goals of The Strangers. Humans are simply the rats in their maze, until one human (Rufus Sewell) acquires the ability to stay awake during the nightly changes, then starts to investigate the elements of life that don't make sense (why is there never any daylight, although there is daylight in their distant memories?), then finally starts to acquire powers that match and perhaps even exceed those of The Strangers.
I admire the visualization and pure imagination of Dark City very much, and I think it succeeds grandly at creating the mood it seeks, but I do wish the script was coherent. It is just filled with logical flaws. On the other hand, I don't think you're supposed to subject this to any analytical thinking. Expressionism is the art movement which brings human emotions to life, often divorced from human logic. You aren't supposed to subject Munch's The Scream to logical analysis, you're just supposed to feel the pain of the screamer. You're supposed to let the art wash over you. And it is some very impressive art simply because it is nearly pure emotion. Although Munch's painting technique is technically mediocre and the depicted situation has no logical connection to any specific reality, everyone who has ever seen that painting can remember it, even if they can't name the artist or the work itself. Dark City is to cinema as Munch's The Scream is to painting. It is also some very impressive art, and it is also approaching the level of pure emotion.
It is almost an unquestioned masterpiece like Blade Runner, except that Dark City has two ingredients that keep it from that level:
1. Blade Runner's dialogue is almost as memorable as that in a Shakespearian play. Because the humans of Dark City are formed from generic personalities, they speak generic dialogue. Minus the resonant genius of Roy Batty or the resigned noir integrity of Deckard, Dark City lacks the poetry and eloquence of Blade Runner.
Sidebar: Rufus who?
Life isn't always fair, and success in the film industry is sometimes the most unfair of all life's elements. If this movie had been a major success on the level of The Matrix, which it resembles in some ways, Rufus Sewell would have become a major star. It wasn't, and he isn't. In 1998 he was in at least three meritorious movies (Dark City, Illuminata, Dangerous Beauty, and maybe two others I haven't seen). By 2002 his only theatrical release was Extreme Ops, a dreadful schlockfest about international war crimes and snowboarding, two things that just naturally go together.
Drew Barrymore in Boys on the Side (1995)
Drew Barrymore - what a life!
First she was the adorable little perfect template for a lisping movie child, then we started to hear how wild she had gotten, even in her early teens. Then she turned 18 and it seemed that she just couldn't wait to take out her puppies on camera. Her first few movies after her 18th birthday - topless nudity. Just like that. Bada bing, bada crosby. Doppelganger, then Bad Girls, then Boys on the Side. After that, it seemed that she had gotten her film exhibitionism out of her system, and she kept 'em sheathed for a long time, and even got 'em reduced. So let's remember the good times, shall we? This time it's the girl-bonding classic Boys on the Side, our last clear topless peek at Drew.
Boys on the Side is a fully certified chick-flick directed by one of the high princes of Chickflickland, Herbert Ross. I mean this is the guy who directed Steel Magnolias and Funny Lady, so right away we know that at one time he must have had his male genitalia removed and placed in a blind trust.
Check out this plot:
Two women pair up in New York for a cross-country drive to L.A. One is a sloppy black lesbian who has failed as a musician (Whoopi), while the other is a straight white woman (Mary-Louise Parker) who is dyin' of AIDS. When I say this woman is straight, I don't just mean "heterosexual." I also mean straight-arrow, the kind of woman who writes thank-you notes to the butcher for a nice cut of meat, washes her hands after phone calls, wears a neatly pressed blazer to sell real estate, and places all her albums in alphabetical order. Oh, if only she could have lived her life without men, because the only guy she ever went home with left her HIV+. Are you starting to pick up those "men suck" female empowerment vibes?
Mary-Louise is also straight in the sense of heterosexual, which really doesn't work out very well for Whoopi, who ends up falling for her. The two of them set off to L.A. for somewhat murky reasons, and on their way they decide to make a stop in Pittsburgh to visit Whoopi's old friend, a zonked-out space cadet of a nympho druggie (our Miss Barrymore, who else?), who is in an abusive relationship with a scumbag drug dealer, a guy whose mental condition is so far gone that he makes Drew seem in comparison to be as focused and logical as Judge Souter. During this heart-warming visit, the three women end up subduing the guy, hitting him with a baseball bat, duct taping him to a chair, and fleeing.
Empowerment rules, dudesses!
Unfortunately for our newly-empowered babes, the scumbag dies, Drew becomes a murder suspect, and they all become fugitives from the law.
Did I mention that Drew is pregnant, and that the father may be Mr. Scumbag? Or not. Might go several different ways, since Drew has slept with the entire male student body of Carnegie-Mellon University, and one entire sell-out crowd of a Steelers game eight weeks earlier. So we have a dyin' woman, a horny pregnant murderer, and a rather conspicuous black lesbian takin' a road trip through the heartland, searchin' for America and their own souls and that kind of meaningful crap. And then the murderess falls in love with a handsome and idealistic young cop (Matthew McConaughey) who loves her but is having some trouble with their relationship when he uncovers that whole wacky thing about bludgeoning her last boyfriend to death with a baseball bat.
Yeah, yeah. I know it sounds like this movie sucks. It does have every possible strike against it, but it doesn't actually suck. There is some humor, and all of the melodrama is underplayed to the extent reasonably possible. All of the women's actions lead to reasonable consequences (which means death for one and a jail sentence for another), and the emotions are played with restraint. The situations may start out larger than life, but people end up dealing with those situations in measured and realistic ways. The character development is deep, the characters are both real and sympathetic, and the actresses knew how to bring them to life. To be honest, all of those positives make up for the preposterously contrived story. I got into the story and never thought of reaching for the fast-forward because I liked the characters and enjoyed having them in my living room. I think you'll miss Mary-Louise when she's gone, and you'll wonder what will happen to the two who survive.
There was a surprise for me. If I was ever aware that Whoopi could mimic singers, I didn't remember it. She sings one song in the manner of Janis Joplin, and one or two in the manner of Karen Carpenter (!!), and she does a passably good job of mimicry in each case. The few bars she sings of Superstar, accompanied only by her own halting piano work, will bring tears to your eyes, given the context.
So, it's a dyin' woman female empowerment chick-flick all right, but it's not one of those so drenched with estrogen that you guys have to stay away for fear of having your testicles shrivel up. If your significant other forces you to sit through it, you can probably pretend to be interested and work that into some après cinema hanky-panky, and you'll even be charged up by the last clear filmed sighting of Drew's full and ripe young melons.
It was only a few years ago that Tom Green split up with Drew because she was "too immature." Where do you go from there? If you are too immature for Tom Green, who's left? I keep waiting for her to announce her engagement to Pauly Shore or maybe Eric Trump. Of course, I don't have to live with her, so I find that her free-spirited and immature ways are delightful and refreshing.
Grier (and others) in Coffy (1973)
"Coffy is the color of your skin ..."
Those are the words of the theme song, which offers a subtle hint that you're not about to watch another Schindler's List. Coffy is one of the American International Pictures Pamsploitation classics from the early 70's. As they say in sports, Pam Grier was The Franchise for AIP.
This is not one of the better Pamsploitation efforts because some of the other pics in this sub-genre gave Pam a chance to play roles more suited to her. In this one, Pam plays a nurse by night, street avenger by day. Her avenging consisted of assuming false identities to sleep with all the important pushers, pimps, and dealers until she got the opportunity to blow their brains out. The difficulty for Pam was that she was only good at being Pam, and this role required her to mask her identity with accents and disguises. Her acting was still rudimentary in 1973, and she didn't seem all that comfortable with the dialogue. Her various masquerades would embarrass Bobby Valentine. You won't believe the accent she comes up with when she goes undercover as a prize Jamaican ho. She pretty much sounds like William F Buckley, except she says "mon" at the end of every sentence. One time she forgot to say "mon," and then added it as an afterthought. The director just left it in. AIP's budget didn't allow for a lot of re-takes.
Oh, well, I doubt if you would be watching this for the plot and acting and subtle artistic touches. It's an exploitation pic, and in that realm it delivers the goods. AIP knew what they had going here, an exotic and beautiful black woman, with a great chest and a great booty, who had no problem with nudity and was great in the action scenes. She could handle a shotgun and do a shoulder roll as well as anyone, and she opened up several cans of whup-ass in the course of the picture, on men as well as women. My favorite scene is a mass catfight when Pam cleans house on a bunch of jealous hookers at a cocktail party. The weaponless Pam takes on all of them at once, ala Bruce Lee, without even any Kung Fu, although she does use Champagne Bottle Fu, and Salad Fu, and the all-important Rip Off The Other Girl's Top Fu.
The special features
The director's commentary must be the dullest thing I've ever heard. Mostly he just apologizes for not using any black people in the crew, and for not using any real black music, and for making all black people of both sexes look like Huggy Bear. I couldn't listen to the entire thing, but by the time it was over he probably mentioned that he had never met any actual black people.
And his concept of interesting anecdotes is a bit different from mine. At one point he thanks ol' Florian Zabriski or somebody, the assistant to the assistant gaffer or something, for coming up with the idea of sharpening a bobby pin on a stone. "I never could have come up with that on my own."