As I continue to burn through my newest pile of DVDs, I decide to watch a film I bought on two principles. The first being that it was a movie inducted into the Criteron Collection, and the second being that I found a pre-Criterion edition of it on sale for under two dollars (Canadian, meaning it was roughly four American cents).
The Squid and the Whale is an independent dramatized autobiographical comedy-drama written and directed by Noah Baumbach and produced by Wes Anderson. Don’t worry, it’s not entirely as pretentious as I made it sound there.
The Squid and the Whale follows the Berkmans, a family of four in 1986 being torn apart by an incredibly messy divorce between Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney). Their two sons Frank (Owen Kline) and Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) immediately take sides, with Frank siding with his mother and Walt his father. While it isn’t apparent why Bernard and Joan are separating in the first place, information begins coming to light, further dividing everyone in the family and cementing which sides they have chosen in this petty battle of favors.
The Devils is not a movie for everyone. In fact, according to Warner Brothers, it’s not a movie for anyone.
The Devils is a 1971 drama written and directed by Ken Russel set in 17th century France chronicling the final weeks of Catholic Priest Urbain Grandier’s (Oliver Reed) life in the fortified city-state of Loudun. King Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu have begun plotting the destruction of all of France’s fortified cities in order to rule over them all, however, Louis XIII has made a deal with the Governor of Loudun to keep its walls standing. The Governor, recently deceased, has passed control of the city over to Grandier who is now a target of the united heads of Church and State. Louis, Richelieu, and a local Baron decide to set in action a devious plan to remove Grandier from political power by framing him for demonic possession and heresy so they can finally take control over Loudun once and for all. As wild as all this sounds, this is all loosely based on real historical events. Ken Russel based his screenplay on Aldous Huxley’s non-fiction novel, which itself is based on the 17th century Loudun possessions. The Devils is quite removed from the original source material and is very clearly a dramatized retelling of the events that transpired.
Today marks a special day in Coffee and Illithids history. A while ago, I formally asked on my Facebook page (*cough* throw me a pity like *cough*) for recommendations and I got precisely one in reply. Being the wonderful human being I am, I kept procrastinating and putting off watching it until now. I’m a butt, sorry Anthony.
Don’t Look Now is a 1973 horror-drama from British director Nicolas Roeg, a man who has directed a bunch of movies I’ve never even heard of. It stars Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as John and Laura Baxter, two architects who are grieving the recent loss of their daughter Christine who died by drowning in a pond by their cottage. The Baxters are commissioned by a Venetian priest to help restore an old church. While in Venice Laura meets a pair of women, one who is psychic, and John begins to have odd visions and flashbacks to his daughter. The psychic while at first is warm and welcoming, eventually warns Laura that John will be in danger if he stays in the city any longer and that he must leave immediately. Odd happenings continue to happen to John and Laura the longer they stay in Venice, until John’s odd visions clearly become something more supernatural and sinister.
My last post here was about Jupiter Ascending, a movie with more movie per movie than any movie before it. There was so much stuff crammed into it, you’d think that the Wachowskis siphoned the plot out from another movie to feed their beast. Having just seen Only God Forgives, I think I found the movie they took from.
I don’t mean to say that Jupiter Ascending and Only God Forgives are similar in any way shape or form. They are both movies starring actors. That’s about where the similarities end. I meant that Only God Forgives seems to have so little going on in it, Jupiter Ascending must have stolen the essence of things happening right out of the movie. This metaphor worked a lot better in my head.
Only God Forgives is Nicolas Winding Refn’s (every pretentious first year film student’s favorite director) follow up to his critically acclaimed film Drive. When Ryan Gosling and Refn teamed up for Drive, they pretty much took the movie world over for a brief period of time, and when they announced they’d be working together again on another film, they hype train was rolling ahead at full speed.
Only God Forgives is an arthouse revenge thriller about Julian (Gosling), a man who owns a Muy Thai boxing club in Bangkok which acts as a front for his family’s drug operations. His brother, Billy has been recently murdered after raping and killing a teenage girl, and when the family’s mother and matriarch of the gang, Crystal, shows up she sends Julian out to find out who killed Billy and exact revenge upon them.
I’ve mentioned before how I work as a video store clerk, and any movie store worth it’s salt is sure to have a decently sized Criterion section. We’re lucky enough to have a sister section in our Criterion shelf dedicated to Arrow Video, a company that behaves like Criterion except they specialize in horror, sci-fi, exploitation, and cult films rather than pieces of high art. For example, films like Microwave Massacre, Society, and the entirety of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ catalogue of the macabre are available. Naturally, these films have flashy, explicit covers to grab your attention in any way possible, but out of all of them, I was drawn to a box set with a rather restrained and elegant cover. This turned out to be the Female Prisoner Scorpion Collection, a series of movies I knew nothing about at the time but after some quick Google-Fu, they shot right to the top of my to-watch list.
The Female Prisoner Scorpion films follow Nami Matsushima a.k.a Matsu the Scorpion (Meiko Kaji, later famous for Lady Snowblood), a convict in a Japanese all-women’s prison who was incarcerated for assaulting a police officer. Matsu fell in love with a narcotics officer named Sugimi who convinced her to work with him on a sting operation. Sugimi let the Yakuza catch Matsu, and let them have their way with her before using her rape as a distraction to help make his drug bust. Left bloodied, broken, and bruised, Matsu became hellbent on getting her revenge on Sugimi, and after a failed murder attempt against her former lover, she was locked away behind bars. Her hatred burns so deep however, that she’ll take any opportunity she can to escape prison, find Sugimi, and pay him back for the torture and pain she went through when he betrayed her.
I’m a firm believer that if you’re going to make proper art, you shouldn’t half-ass it. Sure, things will probably get screwy if an artist relentlessly pursues their vision for a project but I think all the best art is at least a little weird. You can easily tell if a film is half-assed or is the result of muddled or conflicting goals from the filmmakers, and I find it harder and harder to watch movies that are the result of handing a camera and a bunch of money to one person and letting them see their project through to the end however they see fit. Whether the film ends up good or bad, they’re almost never bland or forgettable.
Possession is a Franco-German drama/ horror film written and directed by Andrzej Żuławski starring the beautiful Isabelle Adjani and the incomparably hammy Sam Neill as Anna and Mark, a married couple going through the most extreme breakup ever committed to film.
Mark has returned home to Cold War era Berlin, West Germany from a business trip to find his wife Anna wanting a divorce. Her behavior has become somewhat erratic and hysterical recently, and Mark finds out that she has been cheating on him with a man named Heinrich (played by Heinz Bennent, a German more Udo Kier-y than Udo Kier). In shock and stricken with grief, Mark dives deep into a rabbit hole trying to investigate Anna’s alternate life to figure out why she would betray him so, and if they could ever reconcile their love. The further he digs into Anna’s affairs, the more sinister and disturbing things he finds out about her, leading to the discovery that perhaps something evil is driving Anna to have these new, depraved desires. (more…)
Enemy is a psychological thriller/ mystery film directed by Denis Villeneuve who also directed the critically acclaimed thrillers Prisoners, Incendies, and Sicario (all of which also happen to be on my to-watch list). I’m on the fence about whether or not I would call this an arthouse film or not, because it seems to straddle the line between an accessible movie that makes you think and a surrealist mindfuck. Enemy is loosely based on the book The Double by José Saramago and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Adam Bell, a bored history professor who finds Anthony St. Claire, a small time actor who looks exactly like him. It isn’t just an uncanny resemblance. Anthony is physicallyidentical to Adam. If you haven’t guessed it, Anthony is also played by Gyllenhaal. Adam researches and quickly becomes obsessed with Anthony, and begins interfering with Anthony’s private life trying to figure out who Anthony really is and why they appear to be the same person. Their lives become somewhat intertwined and they both need to find their way through a web of mistrust and deception to get to the bottom of it.