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Well, I don't really understand why Mister Lonely has such a low rate on IMDb.com... I guess that if you go and see an Harmony Korine film you should expect a bit of noncontinuous plot and a considerable touch of black humour. People were laughing all the time yesterday at the cinema, actually it is pretty funny to see the Pope holding a glass of wine in his hand or simply a: man imitating Micheal Jackson riding a tiny motorcycle dragging a monkey puppet that floats in the air... This film has the finest unreal set I've ever seen in a movie (Check the plot summary too get an idea). Even if doesn't have the complexity of Dogville or American Beaty, it's a perfect representation of the eternal question "Who are we?". Are we what we represent? Are we what we try or wish to be? And finally: Is there a god? To be honest, I think that a film about this kind of stuff deserves a decent rate. Also because it is absolutely well crafted and good-looking. It has got everything Korine is all about: weirdness, uncomfortable situations, disappointment and spirituality. If you are in the mood for a proper "art" movie, check it out.
In spite of mixed early reviews of Mister Lonely, the latest film by
wunderkind Harmony Korine was not only one of the stand-out films for
me at the Melbourne International Film Festival, but one of my
favourites of 2007. My experience of his work to date is limited to the
writing of Larry Clark's Kids and his directorial debut Gummo. The
former I saw relatively recently and impressed me with its gritty
realism, while the latter surprised me on its theatrical release with
Mister Lonely is a much more colourful film than anything associated with Korine. Its visuals (such as set design, camera angles and cinematography) are very pleasing, accentuated by its seemingly unrelated parallel narratives and absurdist premise. A Michael Jackson impersonator in France meets a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, who introduces him to a Scottish commune full of various impersonators. While superficially the film appears to be frivolous, clearly it has deeper social comments to make about identity, loneliness and alienation, issues the director has been reportedly grappling with personally.
The other narrative relates to a group of missionaries in Panama, with Werner Herzog portraying a priest, Father Umbrillo, delivering food aid by plane, assisted by various nuns. While the connection between the dual narratives is unclear, this story is strangely surreal, visually alluring and entertaining.
There is a small flat spot towards the end of the film, but for most of the film's 112 minutes, I had a big smile that was hard to wipe off my face. Charlie Chaplin, Shirley Temple, James Dean, Little Red Riding Hood, Queen Elizabeth, the Pope, The Three Stooges, Abraham Lincoln, Madonna and Buckwheat are all there.
The humour and irony are used with a clever and skillful blend of under- and over-statement. There is an underlying subtle sadness to some of the characters who, in spite of their eccentric alter egos, remain ordinary people that an audience can relate to. The film is intelligent and emotionally honest. One part is particularly close to the bone for me and brought tears to my eyes. This is Korine's most accessible and enjoyable film. It is full of originality and I highly recommend it.
MISTER LONELY is that sort of film that pleads to be loved. It has an
original concept for a plot, it takes many visual and surreal chances,
and it is populated with a lovable cast who seem to be having fun with
the process. Harmony Korine both wrote (with Avi Korine) and directed
this pastiche about people who, frustrated with reality, live their
lives as impersonators of famous people. When it works it is
delightful: when it gets bogged down with a self-conscious script it
'Mister Lonely' (beautifully depicted in the opening sequences under the credits as a child who cannot be what he is told to be) is a young man who takes on the persona of Michael Jackson (Diego Luna), performing dance movements on the streets of Paris as a busker. He encounters a like person who lives impersonating Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) and before long the two are off to a Highlands commune in Scotland, populated with full time impersonators such as a foul-mouthed Abraham Lincoln (Richard Strange), Charlie Chaplin (Denis Lavant), The Pope (James Fox), Father Umbrillo (Werner Herzog), Sammy Davis, Jr. (Jason Pennycooke), the current Queen Elizabeth (Anita Palenberg), Little Red Riding Hood (Rachel Korine), James Dean (Joseph Morgan), Madonna (Melita Morgan), and flying nuns among others. The story is less a plot than a celebration touched with a bit a angst of how the unnoticed people in the world find a source of belonging by embracing imagination.
The film is choppy and loses some of its potential allure from the editing. The cinematography by Marcel Zyskind captures some truly beautiful moments and the musical score by Jason Spaceman with the Sun City Girls adds a lyrical air to this surreal romp. For lovers of Harmony Korine this movie will please. For viewers with limited attention spans (running time is 112 minutes) the film begs indulgence. Grady Harp
Mister Lonely is one of the most original films of this year, or any year and with a plot consisting of a young man who makes a living as a Michael Jackson impersonator, you would have to agree. Michael soon meets a woman who impersonates Marilyn Monroe and she invites him back to a commune in the hills where in a secluded village, everyone there lives as someone else and pretends to be them and their big delight comes from putting on talent shows for the other villages. Mister Lonely really made an impression on me when I watched it for more reasons than I can probably think of, so I will do my best to list all of them. First of all, the script and film itself is really unlike anything I have seen before because of it's original storytelling and concept. It is also one of the best looking films I have ever seen with luscious landscapes and backgrounds to gritty and natural settings as well. Whatever the film is capturing with it's lens, it looks fantastic. The performances were all right on key and the whole ensemble cast needs to be recognized for that. The film with it's music, slower pace and images of beauty and sometimes shots of absurd things going on, are shot in such a particular way and with the background music and the cinematography, I found a lot of the film to be peaceful, harmonious and quite something to behold. The story itself is an excellent character study and from my past reviews, you may be able to tell that those are the particular type of films that I enjoy. This look at characters who are unhappy with their own lives, so they have to resort to being someone else to make themselves feel significant is something I know I have dealt with in my life and I'm sure many readers of this have in their lifetime as well. The way the film dealt with these characters trying to cover up their sadness by putting on a different face and being someone else and concluding with a message that I truly found touching, inspirational and a brilliant way to end a film like this. The last part of this film, just like the rest of the film is poetic in it's style and beauty and I truly felt moved by emotions of happiness and sorrow with this film, but they were never bad feelings and were always totally appropriate to what was going on in the film. What an interesting concept of people having to be someone else in order to please themselves and what a wonderful message to get across in such a unique and creative way. Visually this film is stunning, the storytelling and pace as well as the acting all work out perfectly and create a fable that is truly one of a kind and probably has to be seen to be believed and it should definitely be seen. I know a lot of critics have not given this film all that positive reviews, but I think they missed the film's point completely because on an artistic level there is so much to admire here and if you are anything like me you are probably tired of all the same old clichéd story lines coming out of Hollywood and now we have this inventive, touching and truly unique film to come along and critics don't get it. Something is definitely wrong there. If you have ever been interested in independent, or experimental films then this film is a great place to start and for those tired of the same old Hollywood stuff that we see each week then definitely give this one a try as well. I only wished I lived in a bigger city where I got to review films like this all the time. A moving, beautiful and completely artistic overwhelming treat for your mind and eyes, Mister Lonely is the best film I have seen so far this year and one of the most important films of this decade, or any decade and deserves to be seen and studied by film students and film buffs for years to come. A wonderful achievement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Harmony Korine - he strips the audience into camps that get ravenous at
each other. I remember being in film school and knowing people who
*loved* Gummo, loved it to death (one girl even did an homage picture
of herself like the one boy with his face turns to the side in
profile), and would defend it with... I don't know what logic, that (in
good argument) that Korine had a vision, that he had a great eye at
such a young age (21 or 22) at the outcasts of the world. Fine. Then on
the other camp, people *hated* the work of him, couldn't stand it,
couldn't get it. Understandable as well: Gummo is, I should add, a
freak-show, Jerry Springer shot with the camera of Sven Nykvist on
holiday. As for Julien Donkey Boy, well, that's a whole other story.
The reason perhaps that I have a whole paragraph about Korine's reputation is that Mister Lonely, his latest film, is also his first in over eight years. Whatever it was that spurred him and his brother Avi to get to work on this after such a hiatus from the director's chair is beyond me, but it is admittedly nothing else if not fascinating - both in how it works wonders and charms and, frankly, how it can bore and act like it's God's gift to the lives of celebrity impersonators. It's the kind of film where things happen but they kind of don't at the same time; it has Michael Jackson (Diego Luna) and Marilyn Monroe (Samantha Morton) meet in Paris, Monroe takes Michael to a Scottish castle where a family of celebrity impersonators (i.e. Chaplin, Stooges, Buckwheat, the Pope, the Queen) all are gathered to do... what? Well, put on a show for the locals, perhaps, even if they don't show up much, at all.
And in the meantime, Werner Herzog - yes, Werner Herzog, stay tuned - is in the picture as a Latin American priest who has a plane full of nuns dropping rice on villagers and then, shock of shocks, one of the nun falls out of the plane and can fly. This may be, for me, one of the only times I can remember when Herzog has been not used to his full potential on screen. Perhaps there's a symbolic/Christian/belief connection that I did not get at all, but the rhythm of film-making that Korine had suddenly would shift gears every so often to this unrelated-to-the-celebrity-people to Herzog and the nuns (at one point Herzog, with big goggle/glasses on, rambles on camera about this or that, which usually is enormously gratifying but here is not), and it's as if we're plopped into one of Herzog's docu-fiction films filled with ecstatic truth. This would be fine - if there was *more* of this throughout the film, which there isn't (I'd say %10 of the running time has Herzog and/or flying nuns), or if they had been used for a whole other project and Korine had focused on just the family of celebrities.
And yet, it's hard for me not to recommend the picture on some gut-level. There is invention here, and daring, and some kind of intuition with a personal aesthetic that makes Mister Lonely come alive in some unpredictable ways. But on the flip-side to Korine's inspirational coin are some hard truths to face: he finds all of this so self-important, so much like we're seeing something that we *must* find amazing and deep that he gets ahead of his own material. Some scenes end up rambling, others like Marilyn Monroe dancing slowly to herself and then it fading to black and the words "Thriller" streaming across the scene are beautiful and totally perplexing and pretentious in one fell swoop. There's also something of an easy out with the tragic part after the big performance is given (I wont mention it as it is a good spoiler), and it too leads to a conclusion that has some meaning but not enough. Some of this is very funny (hard not to laugh at cussing Abe Lincoln or smelly Pope), some of it weird in a good way... and some of it may make you wonder why you rented it in the first place.
Again, as with Gummo, Mister Lonely will divide it's audience (frankly, I'm sort of divided among my own thoughts), but if you need that challenge of a director saying "this is what celebrity, the idea of being someone or doing something you care about that has f***-all to do with the rest of 'ordinary' humanity", or just some remarkable cinematography with art-house tattooed on its eyelids, check it out. If it's a disappointment, it was worth a shot. And if it's the best movie of the year, well, more power to you.
Mister Lonely (2008) ****
Well, it's been 8 years since Harmony Korine made a film. The last time we saw him was in Julien Donkey-Boy, before that Gummo. Both those movies passed through eyes of which the majority had no understanding. Roger Ebert, in his review of Julien Donkey Boy, referred to Korine as on a list with such names as Herzog, Cassevetes, Tarkovsky, Brakhage, Godard, etc. The reason: because he smashed the boundaries of how a conventional filmmaker would have told such tales. He also pointed out the near death of the underground film scene. There once was a time when if you were a film buff, you sought out films like these, and sat willfully in old one screen cinemas. And you were not alone: It's hard to believe now, but yes people lined up around street corners to see the Godard's or Tarkovsky's. Now those lineups are reserved for the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean and Spiderman.
That kind of film buff is now a rare breed. We exist, and gleefully buy our tickets and run to the theatres, but we're no longer shoulder to shoulder or lined up around the corner. Take as an anecdote a few trips made to my local film festival. I saw a Bela Tarr film, and in my idealism rushed to get there early so i could get a seat. Though later I realized that the auditorium was only maybe half full, at best, in one of the smallest auditoriums in the city. When I first saw Mister Lonely, it was of course the same.
But I digress. The point? Mister Lonely, like Korine's two previous directorial outings, dare to be different, dare to be bold, and so are destined to go unappreciated. Even Ebert, who praised Julien Donkey-Boy only gave the film 2 stars - though he did wish he could give a 2 star positive review. The problem with making a film like Mister Lonely is that its so odd that everyone gets caught up on the oddity. A common gripe: "sure its original, but what's the point?" Mister Lonely, written by Korine and his brother Avi, sets its sights on the world of celebrity impersonators. Mainly are Michael Jackson (Luna) and Marilyn Monroe (Morton). He meets her while working a bizarre gig at an old folks home, as they sit half amused, half catatonic. She invites him back to her commune in the highlands of Scotland, inhabited by their kind: Abe Lincoln, James Dean, Madonna, the Queen, the Pope, Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Stooges, and Charlie Chaplin and Shirley Temple, who are her husband and daughter, respectively of course. They live in their own world. The only thing that ties them to the real world is a flock of sheep. To them, their world seems as perfect as they want it to be, for they are the truest souls of all as they cloak themselves in the lives and manners of others. Or so that is their claim. To showcase their talents and philosophy, they build a theatre where they will put on shows for themselves, and the townsfolk.
Although their is light heartedness and tender sweetness, something else seems to be sinister. Charlie Chaplin is an egomaniac, and emotionally abusive towards his wife, Marylin Monroe. To everyone else he is courteous and, well, Chaplin-esquire. She tells him that sometimes he looks more like Hitler than Chaplin.
Though the film retains its tenderness, its big shift comes with the slaughter of sheep. They are infected, and even the living must be killed. All gather round as Larry, Curly and Moe pull the triggers of double barrel shotguns. In a way, their fantasy reality is not so much shattered, but breached.
Punctuating this is a story about flying nuns, who believe that they can jump from the priests plane (played with absurd hilarity by Werner Herzog himself) and land safely on the ground below.
Although Korine has always found the beauty in his own chaos, Mister Lonely is a much more aesthetic film than his others. It has a certain level of visual prestige that few others would even strive to. Many images are quite simply breathtaking. The sequences of Nuns, accentuated in their sky blue robes against the sky blue skies are some of my favorite in any film.
And, yes, there is a point. What is it? I think I know, though I'm positive its up to some personal interpretation. And for that matter, a review is not the proper place for such a discussion. This much can be said though, its poignant, touching, and genuinely heartbreaking and life affirming at once.
Films like this exist to be based solely upon their own merit. Even though Mister Lonely has some thematic similarities to, say, Sweet Movie (which Korine has said was an influence on his career), it is still something all together unique.The problem with films like Mister Lonely, though, is that they must be taken totally literally or not at all, or maybe both at the same time. That is a lot to ask of an audience, especially now. But, I ask, is that not the point of good film-making? And Besides, where else can you see the Pope sleeping with the Queen? The Three Stooges killing sheep? Michal Jackson play ping pong with Charlie Chaplin? Or maybe James Dean hang out by a swing with Madonna and Shirley Temple? Where I ask you, where!
Just got through watching this and had to comment on how wonderful it
is. I am a big fan of Harmony Korine but if I hadn't known he had made
this, I would have never guessed it was his film (I probably would have
guessed John Sayles first).
So many amazing sequences in this film--the first Flying Nun sequence is unbelievable and I cannot get it out of my mind, brilliantly edited. The "Singing Egg" sequence almost had me crying and I don't normally get choked up. The stage show was also very poignant. And Werner Herzog's performance was pitch perfect.
I normally don't gush over movies, but Mister Lonely was so original, I need to gush. My one peccadillo? Not sure the title fits the movie.
(P.S. I hate critics and the ones on Rotten Tomatoes who called this a chore to sit through suck the most).
Don't be put off by the man's reputation: the film is about dreams, the
illusions our selves weave to tangle with things.
The first admission is that the film is the precursor to Trash and Spring but the vision is not refined yet. Contrary to various misconceptions, Korine is not a nihilist, about nothing, though he flirts with provocation. This has all manner of that, in its main thrust however it is about beauty and meaning as much as any Malick.
The provocation is as in his other works about the ways we consume culture, as biting as Godard in his time and at least here as superficial. The image always reflects your view of the thing pictured, so when you perceive superficial things to rail against it's going to be a superficial perception. Here an example is the segment in the retirement home with senile old people gawking at Michael Jackson, one of them tapping his head with a hammer.
Now about the thing that matters here.
The film is centered on people acting roles - in Trash they were pretending to be old people, in Spring it's even more subtle and deep. Here impersonators of cultural icons; Jackson, Marilyn, Chaplin. Among them, Abe Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth and the Pope so he can have opportunity to provoke later on; a Pope who stinks and so on.
This opens up a horizon of life as performance, with the complexity of self more evident than just people out the window. In the French mode, Godard's, this was an opportunity to show that self was a bunch of notations, stale. This is similar in a way, we have the famous faces in all sorts of hijinks, but the horizon is more ambiguous than at first glance: do we perceive the person or the role and where does the other image begin?
The main three ones are picked because the image is so recognizable, easy to sell; but more than that the image entwines glamorous light with personal darkness. The ambiguity is to conjure our own preconceptions ahead of us in space: where we expected the neurotic self, we find people doing things, happily drinking in a pond or playing pingpong, where we expected glamorous light, we find the same troubled souls as the rest of us, feeling small or neglected.
So this is nice, the image as anchor for our own self (entwined with knowledge of a damaged Michael, a desired Marilyn) to be drawn into and reflect the ambiguities of self.
It falters for me in that Korine decided to have this play out in a separate stage, a castle in Scotland, removed from life. It is his way of hitting up against the problem: an inner life of dreams as the desire to be someone else, as an escape to a stage that has no life to gracefully perform for no one (seen as a performance they stage for an audience of three people), so in the end when Jackson sheds the artificial self and returns to the world an ordinary guy, we see that it's this world and your own self that has to be lived. (Korine must have realized that if it is to pose a real question, the stage of dreams has to be seen around us, accessible; ordinary middle America in Trash, the this-worldly illusion of Florida.)
So a mild failure from this view, but with hindsight a necessary one to move beyond it. The gamble is to not be stuck grooming a view.
There's a great image here where we see the man cultivate the intuitive reach. In a separate subplot Herzog packs nuns in a plane to fly over the tropics and drop parcels of food, a nun finds herself airborne; the ecstatic rush of sky, the apprehension of god as the swirl of the whole horizon, everywhere light and air.
Since no one makes movies like Harmony Korine, I'm not sure what the
standard for critique is. So suffice to say it's really beautiful,
unsettling, rambling, and actually kind of spiritual. Love his movies
or not he is an honest filmmaker with a true sense of the surreal and
the poetry that lurks in the strangest details. The casting is
brilliant and the structure unique and pure Korine. The premise is the
wacky goings on at a retreat for celebrity and historical impersonators
tucked away in (where?) the Scottish Highlands. They are rehearsing a
"play" of some kind. It makes for some beautiful moments.
This story is told against another story of nuns who want to jump without parachutes from an airplane to prove the possibility of miracles (as legend claims did happen once) Needless to say this has ripe opportunities,especially when you have Werner Herzog playing the pilot. (Korine says the scene with the man waiting for his wife to return to the airport is an actual caught conversation. THIS you have to see to believe). At the screening I attended, an very odd fan's comment to Korine was simply; "Nuns floating dead on a beach. Awesome image man.Dude you rock". Korine says the two stories are really the same thing. Hmmm - I guess so.
Putting the great, great Samantha Morton together with Herzog, Richard Strange, Leos Carax (Pola X), Anita Pallenberg, Diego Luna, and James Fox - matches any casting coup by John Waters. The story may be criticized as forced and ridiculous, but Korine is willing to take bold chances, to mix it up and. with the help of great actors and wonderful cinematography he create of a work of real cinema poetry.
A mask can be a disguise or an aspiration. An instrument of ritual. An
imitation of greater hopes, that we might become more like our image.
Magical, incantatory. The earliest theory of art itself, as Susan
Sontag has pointed out, is one of mimesis, an imitation of reality (or
Who doesn't know that feeling, after putting on a new suit and tie, or perfecting one's make-up. Feeling like a new person. Going out to face the world with refreshed persona. Thomas Carlyle, that great Scottish author of Heroes and Superheroes, champion of the value of role models, suggested that, "A man lives by believing something." By believing in something we can become more than what we are, or become a different type of person. Or we can simply find ourselves out of place, wearing a suit that doesn't fit. Pretending to be someone we're not.
Mister Lonely has two main threads. There is Diego Luna best known for his great performance in Y Tu Mamá También who is a Michael Jackson impersonator and hangs out with other impersonators. Then there is Werner Herzog best known for his work behind the camera who leads a troupe of nuns in Africa. The impersonators stay in character 24 hrs a day. They include Samantha Morton as Marilyn Monroe (in an awesome dress by celebrated fashion designer agnès b.) and other people impersonating the likes of Charlie Chaplin, James Dean and Abe Lincoln (we never learn the characters' real names).
If you haven't twigged the connection, perhaps you are familiar with some devout Christians who ask themselves, in a difficult situation, "What would Jesus do?" That maybe works better as a role model in determining a moral dilemma than it would, say, if the answer might involve walking on water. And while impersonators might do well in street theatre, how excited would you be to see the 'Greatest Show on Earth' that starred not Michael, Charlie or HM the Queen but . . . impersonators? I can't tell you more about the story without giving away the ending, which again points up the similarity of inspiration and obsession in both narratives but, if you are a lover of quirky cinema, Mister Lonely might well be for you.
Mister Lonely has quirky written all over it. It is directed by Harmony Korine, who won awards for his Dogme95 feature, Julien Donkey-Boy, and for his screenplay for Larry Clark's Kids. Korine once tried to make a film by engaging random people in actual street fights - until he was hospitalised. Something to do with being prepared to die for his art. He seems interested in mental illness, dysfunctional childhoods, symbolism, and an innovative approached to film. Hopefully that will put off people who don't like films like that. Indeed, Mister Lonely can easily be read as disconnected and insubstantial if you like more solid fare.
Mister Lonely is deeply original, strange and yet accessible. There are points of touching emotion in an old people's home, for instance, as Michael and Marilyn evoke unfeigned warmth from what are most probably non-actors. Then there is the threefold face the actor, the character and the impersonation and we search for the glimmers of sadness or the 'real person' behind the manufactured facade. As they strive never to act in any way other than their alter-egos, it forms a tender bond with the audience when their feelings become apparent.
I particularly enjoyed Samantha Morton's performance. I had never been a big fan of her early work, but she seems to have injected new life and vigour into every project she has tackled since her reported stroke in 2006. Although she was always a competent actress, it is her work in films such as this, or Control, that has moved me to the core and left me speechless. It is as if she has somehow scaled the heights of her own aspiration as an actress and achieves something that is beyond her own mortal limits.
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