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Beyond execrable!
31 October 2003
This film easily ranks as one of the worst movies I have ever seen! And I don't mean that in a "so-bad-it's-almost-good" kind of way. The nicest thing I can say about it was that it was well-intentioned. The plot was embarrassingly amateurish, and relied on several bizarre coincidences. For example, the entire premise (and hence the title) rests on the fact that the boy, Vlado, who has been orphaned in the Bosnian conflict, dreams of escaping to Norway, because that's "where Eskimos live". But, inexplicably, Bob Hoskins' character, Sharkey (who is supposed to be Polish) introduces himself to Vlado by saying he comes from Norway. This is never explained, but we are meant to accept that Vlado somehow trusts Sharkey, because he says he Norwegian. What's also inexplicable is just how bad Bob Hoskins (sublime in films like "Felicia's Journey") is in this film. He didn't phone in his performance - he asked a casual acquaintance to email it for him. Hoskins' accent veered from Cockney to very fake-sounding upper-crust British, to very fake-sounding sort-of Polish. Then he just gave up and grunted like a dyspeptic bear. But the other actors weren't any better. If you want to see a good film about the Bosnian conflict, try "Cabaret Balkan" or "No Man's Land". Just don't waste any time or money trying to get through "Where Eskimos Live".
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A haunting, thought-provoking slice of life
12 January 2002
OK, so "Dancing at the Blue Iguana" features wall-to-wall naked gyrating women. But don't let that put you off. Despite the subject matter - the lives of five strippers who work in the eponymous club (played by Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly, Sheila Kelley, Charlotte Ayanna and Sandra Oh) - and the frequent nudity, "Blue Iguana" is not a T&A movie. Rather, it's a compelling insight into the lives of the underclass of Los Angeles, or indeed, any one of the world's major cities.

If your cinematic tastes run to tightly plotted fare where all the loose ends are tied up with a big gift-wrap bow in the last five minutes, you'll probably it find frustrating. But if you can appreciate a film in which some issues are never quite resolved and some questions are never quite answered - just like real life - then you may be seduced by the "Blue Iguana".

The film has been panned by so many critics that I must admit I started watching with some trepidation, expecting to be embarrassed for the actors. But I became so engrossed in the world of the Blue Iguana that I was actually disappointed when the film ended.

Much of the criticism of "Blue Iguana" is based on the fact that it was made without a script. The actors started with only two things: the title of the film and the fact that it was set in a strip club. Everything else, they worked out themselves - their characters, their storylines, and their dialogue - in an intense series of improvisational workshops. This approach may be unconventional, but it gives "Blue Iguana" a freshness and immediacy which is rarely found in mainstream films. As Michael Radford explains, improv relies on nailing the scene in the first take; once it becomes too polished, it loses its sense of realism.

The female cast has been another target for critics - not because they're not superb actors, but because, in their late 30's to early 40s, Daryl Hannah, Jennifer Tilly and Sheila Kelley would be too old to work as strippers in LA where beautiful young women exist in a buyer's market. But they bring a depth of sadness to their characters - you can't help wondering where they'll be a few years down the track.

Sandra Oh's performance as Jasmine is a standout. Jasmine leads a double life, stripping on the Blue Iguana stage and secretly writing poetry in the dressing room. After persuading her to read one of her painfully beautiful works at his poetry group Dennis (Chris Hogan) starts to fall in love with her mind. But Jasmine realises the fledgling romance is doomed. In the film's most heartbreaking scene, when Dennis seeks her out at the club, she performs her routine to Moby's "Porcelain" with its haunting refrain "So This is Goodbye". The camera focuses on her face. It's an impassive mask, but her eyes betray incredible sadness. She's wordlessly saying to him, "This is the real me. Do you still want me now?"

Putting aside its improv-based development, "Blue Iguana" succeeds on its own merits. If you want to see a T&A film, rent a copy of "Showgirls". If you want to see a haunting, thought-provoking slice of life, see "Dancing at the Blue Iguana".
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