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0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Review restricted to a couple observations, 10 February 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I consider this film wonderful, and any praise I have for it has already been said, and recognized, on this excellent thread of reviews. However...

A couple of observations of this film's brilliant sense of detail I have to mention. The first is a case of what I think is mistaken interpretation.

Much has been said about the colour saturation of the flashbacks, compared to the contemporary storyline (dull grey compared to vibrant) and I have to respectfully disagree. I think this is based on a certain, strikingly done, sequence.

I experienced a three-quarters eclipse here in Montreal, during the 1990s. That eerie, other-worldly cast of colour on the world was like nothing I've seen ever since. Except in "Dolores Claibourne"! That sense of colour, during the "murder sequence", was the work of an art director who has seen an eclipse and registered its exact look, and recreated it precisely for this movie., with a perfect sense of colour.

What has been praised as the symbolic was, in fact, a brilliant approximation of a visual reality rarely seen.

My other observation, much more modest, is how people tend to absorb the speech patterns, and witticisms, of those most important in one's life. Notice Vera saying Dolores "has a hair across her ass" -- guess whose repertoire that expression came from. Then, notice how many of Dolores's big statements are essentially paraphrases of Vera's grand bon mots from the past, as we find out in flashbacks. ("Sometimes all a woman has left is being a bitch...")

A huge part of these women's unlikely friendship is a mutual intellectual fascination.

They Wait (2007)
7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Vancouver ghost story is a real gem!, 31 January 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A young Canadian, mixed-race family (he's Asian, she's Euro, and they have a westernized 11-year-old) have their prosperous life in go-go modernday Shanghai interrupted by a mysterious family death back home. This takes them back to Vancouver's Chinatown, where they experience culture shock in reverse. The couple find themselves at odds over the very cultural pressures they once fled, while their little boy, a born psychic like his denying mother, finds himself the innocent target of malevolent spirits. From there the terror mounts.

An extremely well mounted and well written supernatural thriller, both quietly eerie and scream-inducing horrific. Believable characters (nothing "Cleavers" about this troubled but loving couple) and no cheap thrills -- any horror moments are clearly explained in this one, as part of its intricate plot. Sometimes to a fault -- the odd snatch of dialogue is a bit too explanatory -- but it feels like a great horror director hit-and-missing at a great skill, in his movies to come.

Another great treat of this film is spotting those wonderful older Chinese character actors, whom I've seen around for years, doing their "Rosemary's Baby" turn as fabulously diabolical oldtimers.

13 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Exquisite sleaze, 14 December 2006

1971's "Doctors' Wives" is a piece of vintage garbage I've waited decades to see, and it's every bit as splendidly awful as I've long anticipated. This is a sterling example of big budget Hollywood trying to keep up with the hippy era sex revolution, while appealing to suburban Squaresville tastes, and the results are as unappetising as walking in on your parents in the backroom at a leather bar. In other words, it's a vulgar abomination, and required viewing.

"God, am I horny!" announces Dyan Cannon, providing the film's tasteful opening line. She's the resident nympho of the wives in question, and they're playing bridge at their country club. She tells her neurotic rich cronies that, as a public service, she's going to sleep with every last one of their husbands, and report back to them exactly what they're doing wrong in bed. Hours later she's shot dead, while caught in the act with the first of her conquests. The conquest survives, and we're treated to endless and nauseating footage of real life open heart surgery, as the character has the bullet graphically dug out of him. This, of course, was shocking stuff for an early 70s mainstream movie, and its blatantly exploitational marketing gimmick. The rest of the film is exactly the kind of glossy soap opera that starred the likes of Lana Turner a decade earlier, but overlaid with grimy layer of smut. Not much genuine sex and nudity, mind, but an all star cast of middle aged imbeciles debasing themselves with humiliating sexual revelations.

The murder, you see, has come as a wake-up call to the various wives, who decide it's about time to "get with the times" and spice up their marriages. One WASPy iceberg has a fling with a studly intern, while another pumps herself up with an aphrodisiac cocktail of morphine and champagne. This makes her thrash around on the carpet like a cat in heat, as she seduces her bored surgeon husband fetish style, with hopes of winning back his affections. He, meanwhile, has been having an affair with his head nurse, a noble single mother of a sick little boy -- but their love dare not speak its name because she's (gasp!) black. Another of the wives, meanwhile, is an out-of-control drunk whose husband saves her from suicide by drowning, which lures him back to bed for a sympathy lay. The funniest of the lot is a frigid shrew who confesses to a lesbian fling with the murdered harlot ("It was a hot night and I was wearing no bra, under a see-through blouse…") Her husband, played by Gene Hackman, reacts by swatting her repeatedly with a rolled-up newspaper.

What's actually refreshing about this numbing lunacy is how curiously free it is of cheap moralizing. With the exception of the victim and her killer, everyone screws around and are all but congratulated for doing so, as they arrive at better understandings of one another, and the ending suggests that their sordid privileged lives will be more of the same. It plays like a battle cry for the short-lived suburban wife-swapping fad of the sleazy 70s, and worse, it takes itself dead serious. Only in its intentional comedy relief, for instance, is there any mention of STDs. This involves a pretty young med student seducing as many hospital staffers as she can, and tape recording the details of intercourse while performing it, as a Kinsey style master's thesis. It turns out she's spreading the clap like wild fire. This subplot, needless to add, is the only part of the film that isn't hilarious.

As a narrative, "Doctors' Wives" really is a whole lot of absolute nothing -- dirty as a cesspool without even softcore sex; full of shrieking conflict with no dramatic involvement or resolve; and worst of all, it's perfectly set up to be a murder mystery. This, stupidly, is quickly solved and cast aside, in favour of some strange hybrid of degrading chick flick and clueless social document, with gratuitous bits of gore porn, but no suspense or violence. In other words, it's one of those true rarities that manages to miss the broad side of a barn, in terms of any sort of target audience.

That is to say, any audience of its day, since it's now a fascinating freak of unspeakably wretched period cinema, way more fun and thought-provoking for what it gets wrong, than what the same year's highly regarded, and similarly set, "The Hospital" once seemed to get right. That one, from the over-rated Paddy Chayefsky, was a deliberate satire of medical professionals that now seems smug and obvious. The accidental parody of its intellectually challenged contemporary, "Doctors' Wives", covers the same turf with a time capsule crassness that's certainly a lot less boring.

Oh, and did I mention the Carpenters-style theme song, sung by Mama Cass Elliot, about the world being a masquerade ball that goes on and on? Now there's a bit of deep and cool irony to frame the profundity that follows exactly right.

The Woods (2006)
15 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
A Worthwhile Disaster, 11 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Woods" is the long-awaited follow-up effort from director Lucky McKee, who caught critical attention with his modest but impressive 2002 teen shocker, "May". With an intermediate budget and slated for mainstream release for the past year or two, "The Woods" still hasn't shown up in theatres, and its Canadian premiere at Montreal's Fantasia 2006 leaves an unfortunate impression that it likely never will. It's an intriguing watch for the longtime horror fan, as a sincere American approximation of 70s style Italian giallos, but demands indulgence for just how bloody awful it truly is. Characterization is non-existent and the plot, which amazingly fails to explain any of its climactic events, appears to have lost its thread during scene-by-scene rewrites. The result isn't so much a tribute, but what looks like a frantic Plan B in the editing room, which imitates rather than captures the logic-be-damned nightmare flavour of vintage Bava and Argento.

The influence of Argento's "Suspiria" is evident to the point of plagiarism. The setting is an isolated boarding school for troubled girls, where young Heather (Agnes Bruckner) is sent, allegedly for pyromania, though the film never expands upon, nor utilizes this seemingly crucial character trait. Rebellious Heather is an instant magnet for all sorts of abuse, from both her snooty fellow pupils, and the creepy spinsters who staff the place. She attempts to run away, only to find that the surrounding woods are alive with supernatural menace, driving her right back to the school. This has something to do with a trio of 19th century witches, who got stoned to death or something, and are either haunting the place or hanging around as reincarnated teachers, though it's hard to tell. Meanwhile Heather befriends a couple other social rejects, who mysteriously vanish, and discovers that she has latent telekinetic powers (something else she puts to no future dramatic use.) These the faculty encourage her to develop, which she finds a tad suspicious. Is this why she's here, as a novice chosen for the teacher's blood coven? Or are they preparing her as a sacrifice to the forest demons? Don't even bother trying to figure it out, since she never gets around to it. The confusion merely intensifies when Heather's concerned father (Bruce Campbell) tries to spring her, and the FX budget kicks in, with animated ivy vines snaking all over the place and entangling cast members, for no apparent reason other than an in-jokey "Evil Dead" reference as Bruce dashes about in an axe-wielding frenzy. Never mind that everything up to this point has been dead serious and mostly low key Gothic, and Bruce with his gorestick comedy looks like he was parachuted in at the last minute. If the mess can't be tidied up, why not slop some cheap laughs on top of it?

One entertaining conceit is the film's 1965 setting, suggested with no great ear for retro dialog but little that's noticeably anachronistic. Period detail, meanwhile, is safely kept to a bare and economic minimum. This is made easy by its singular setting of an old converted mansion and its rustic surroundings, which necessitates the production rental of exactly three vintage automobiles. With all the younger cast members in a single change of outfit, between schoolgirl uniforms and prudish nightgowns (odd that there isn't a whiff of lesbianism in this), it's with the teachers that at least the hair and wardrobe departments get to have some fun, decking them out in ghastly exaggerations of 60s frump fashions and bouffant hairdos. The head mistress, in particular, has Joan Crawford's coiffed orangutan look from "Berserk", and as played by the usually brilliant Patricia Clarkson, she exudes poker-faced menace on a single mortified note, as if fulfilling her contract with a gun to her head. Real ingenuity is shown with the spare soundtrack, comprised of only three old hits by Lesley Gore, the perfect iconic choice for a film about mid-60s teenage girls. Rather than just playing in the background, the songs are blended with sound and visuals into the mood and action, especially "You Don't Own Me", which is emotionally merged, via intelligent montage, into an eerie operatic duet with the doomed soloist of the school choir.

This is one of several jarring stylistic flourishes -- another involves an inspired stereotype reversal of the school bully bitch -- that leads one to suspect that "The Woods" fell victim to militant studio tampering. If his compact and punchy earlier work, "May", is any indication, Lucky McKee knows how to construct a horror film, and he wouldn't have started with a script as sloppy incoherent as this one, accredited to his neophyte collaborator David Ross. As for Ross, unseasoned though he may have been, it's hard to believe he would've tossed in that pyromania and telekinesis, if he didn't have plans for his heroine to throw her weight around, rather than letting daddy-on-the-spot Bruce steal her thunder in that cult-pandering finale. Hotter heads prevailed on this one, probably penny pinching and running creative interference until precious little of the original vision remained. The film's a disaster, but a fascinating one, and let's hope the compromised talents blamed for it survive.

The Queen (1968)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
The best of artefacts, 20 June 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

1968's "The Queen" is a slight but fascinating time capsule, probably one of, if not THE earliest in-depth glimpse at the drag queen subculture in its final days as a solidly underground phenomenon. This doesn't concentrate on professional female impersonators, who'd been a legitimate part of show biz for decades, but specifically on effeminate men whose cross-dressing was an active part of their social lives in the homosexual milieu, which as a North American whole was still trying to struggle along beneath the radar of vice laws. Taking place a couple years before the Stonewall riots, which engineered the gay rights movement, this documentary is strikingly non-politicized and thus warts-and-all candid, taking the viewer into this insular world of long ago in a manner that's never preachy and rarely poignant, but shows an amused affection for its marginalized subjects, rather than leering at them in the "Mondo" shock value style that was then the exploitive norm for this kind of subject matter.

That isn't to say that "The Queen" lacks a sleazy expo-zay appeal, just by the nature of the annual event it covers. It's the way downscale, transvestite answer to the 1967 Miss America Pageant. More of a glamour than a beauty contest, elected "empresses" from cities nationwide flock into New York, to vie for the title of that year's national reigning drag queen. Out of drag, they come in all shapes -- spindly teenagers and gawky nerds and big hairy trucker types and fat balding guys nearing middle age. Followed around with hand held 16mm cameras, the contestants get to know one another in the dilapidated hotel where they're billeted, swapping remarkably upbeat life stories and opinions on gender issues in the spirit of outcast camaraderie. One notable exception, focused on immediately as resentments begin to simmer, is the aloof Philadelphia representative, Richard, alias Miss Harlow, a very pretty blond lad whose rise to drag circuit stardom has been a little too rapid for most everyone's taste. His cause isn't helped by his sulky attitude.

In preparation, they're choreographed and groomed and grilled on rules of stage conduct, by a pair of established drag queen organizers who, with New Yawky know-it-all-ness, are as fiercely demanding as drill sergeants. Here's where the film's period is especially evident, inviting comparisons to later drag show docs like 1995's "Wigstock", with its wild and free-wheeling variety of bizarre drag performances. No such freedom of expression thirty years earlier, as the conventions of these fringe dwellers' burlesque are rigidly enforced, with the unquestioned conformity of regional folk dancing. In fact, it's written that the legendary Divine helped break this mass creative stranglehold, after violent opposition early in his stage career.

It's the transformation process on the big night that's really captivating, as the boys pluck away body hair, pile on make-up, pad and corset their figures, and fret over wigs and gowns. As we watch, this rather goofy looking bunch not only shed their maleness, but their individualism, as they turn into a small army of statuesque glamour girls. The look, an exaggerated version of the Ursula Andriss 60s Greek goddess in a towering bouffant and streams of diaphanous chiffon, is a fun one but utterly uniform, and one all but loses track of the different players. The pageant itself is an embarrassing disaster, clearly sucked dry of any spontaneity in the planning stages, in a grubby old theatre with a bored society crowd in trendy attendance, and a catatonic Andy Warhol chairing the panel of judges. The competitors themselves are merely paraded about, not even allowed to lip-sync girl songs like they'd do in the clubs back home -- they're simply gaudy mannequins. Entertainment, such as it is, is provided by talentless local transies doing drunken versions of dreary old show tunes, while a tired strip joint orchestra tries valiantly to match their ever-changing tempos and keys. The night is a catastrophe in the making.

Tempers start to flare when the five finalists are announced, and some of those left backstage go ballistic with unconcealed envy. This shameless poor sportsmanship is carried onto the stage, when the fourth runner-up, a certain Miss Crystal, storms off in a huff. The crown, of course, goes to the undeniably prettiest, the reviled Miss Harlow, to politely thunderous applause, and in rivers of mascara, he weeps over this greatest moment of his life. The magic is short-lived, though, when who should be waiting backstage but Miss Crystal, who tears into Harlow, mocking his shoddy make-up and ugly dress that wasn't even clean, and insisting Harlow was not the prettiest -- Crystal was! The organizers spring to Harlow's defence, diverting Crystal's rage, with accusations that the whole pageant was rigged and they'll be sorry. As Harlow sobs, the threats and insults fly back and forth, with increasing shrillness, until the theatre management shows up and unceremoniously tosses everyone out. So much for that year's pinnacle of appreciation for the American cross-dressing arts.

As cheerfully tasteless a finale this is, celebrating bitchy stereotypes while pulling out on a note of cheap hilarity, it's refreshingly free of judgment pro or con, making for the best sort of historical artefact, superficial in its mood and thus unbiased as an accurate documentation for future cultural study. If, on EBay or wherever, you can track down "The Queen", enjoy it in good conscience --your neighbourhood drag queen certainly would.

17 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
50s J.D. angst at its most curious and terrifying, 31 May 2006

"The Party Crashers" doesn't waste a lot of time on drag races or fights and romance at the soda fountain or even teen rebellion, though these are certainly elements. It's an intergenerational semi-horror tale, that focuses its outrage on that era's older generation and carries this into the realm of the diabolical. The teens in this aren't very nice, but their parents and the rest of the suburban neo-affluent, post-war 30s to 50s crowd are a hell of a lot more scary.

The main young delinquent is played by handsome young Mark Damon, a charismatic young thug who leads fellow bored teens into the title weekend pastime, that of invading teen parties around the city and turning them into orgies of violence and vandalism. At his opening conquest, he captures the romantic interest of a good-girl-itching-to-go-bad, played by gorgeous young Connie Stevens. Connie uses emotional blackmail to drag along her square and decent boyfriend (the legendary ill-fated child star Bobby Driscoll, in his last role before wandering off to an early heroin death in an abandoned NYC tenement) into Mark's whirlwind of crazy kicks.

Along the way we get to know these kids' parents. Connie's a confused spoiled brat, with an indulgent but ineffectual father and a successful writer mother completely obsessed with her own career. Bobby's parents are kindly but socially clueless -- post-lobotomy Francis Farmer, also in her last role, plays his mother and there's a quiet poignancy to the scenes these two lost and tragic actors play together, that is downright heartbreaking. Then there's Mark and his home life, and suddenly we're more than aware of what has turned this kid into the monster he is. His father is a staggering drunk, drowning beneath the contempt of both his damaged son and evil wife (Doris Dowling, in the performance of her career), a hedonistic shrew who is both verbally and physically abusive, and explicitly exhibits incestuous yearnings. (You will truly not BELIEVE that this film was made, and released, in 1958!)

Though the film ends on a rather twee note that reflects the 1950s cautious obsession of playing to the censors, the final third leading up to it is freaky and ahead of its time. Mark, who has used his charms to entrap Connie and Bobby into his seductive delinquent thrill ride, picks the wrong party to crash, with horrific results.

On that (unrevealed) note, the film has a lot more in common with 1966's "The Chase", with its air of drunken angry "lost youth" hysteria, than the actual "angry youth" drive-in flicks of its period, and no wonder it's forgotten. 50s kids, to whom this film was marketed, preferred the focus to be on themselves, no matter how much they were demonized. "The Party Crashers" is a coldly adult movie, with its juvenile delinquency being matter of social cause and effect, rather than angry free choice on the teen's part, and that was likely a little bitter of a pill to swallow.

At any rate, the HIGHEST recommendation for fellow fans of unusual mid-century cinema.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A tasty appetizer for a grand main course?, 22 March 2006

"V for Vendetta" is a sprawling urban fantasy that solidly entertains, despite puzzling the viewer in annoying ways that one can only hope will eventually prove to be strategic. A mega-budget adaptation, by the Wachowski brothers who gave us the "Matrix" franchise, of a series of graphic novels (which I've never read, I cheerfully admit to being a just-devirginized fan), it's more or less a hodgepodge of "1984" and any number of Euro-traditional super crook epics, from the early silent days, like "Fantomas", laid out in a cunningly abstruse manner. While it seems to be a self-contained narrative, chugging along in a haphazardly linear way to a grandly philosophical conclusion, any certainty that the story actually ends is undermined by lingering doubts over the reality of much of what's occurred. Nothing so hokey as "it was all a hallucination", but the viewer senses that maybe both his and the girl protagonist's perception of events has been toyed with, and there's plot elements all along the way to back this up. Couple these with the fates of several key characters, which we're only told about, and there's more than a whiff of a new franchise in the works… especially if there's a big about-face over whom the real villain(s) of ongoing piece turns out to be.

Set in a totalitarian Britain of the not-too-distant future, the madly convoluted plot involves a quasi-heroic terrorist mastermind with super human fighting skills, bent on bringing down the oppressive police state. To this end V, the title avenger, serial murders various government bigwigs, hijacks the media to inspire civil disobedience, and demolishes grand old London landmarks. This penchant for historical vandalism, which he somehow justifies as nobly symbolic with oodles of strange rhetoric, is in tribute to his hero Guy Fawkes, the celebrated 17th century insurgent who tried to blow up the British parliament. V wears a plastic mask replica of Fawkes's face at all times, to cover up disfiguring burns he once suffered as a human guinea pig in government medical experiments, which put him on his path of vengeance. This, at least, is what he keeps telling Evie, the young working class heroine played by Natalie Portman, as an excuse to never unmask and, we're led to suspect, reveal his true identity. As she's recruited, kicking and screaming by increasingly diabolical methods, into V's deadly campaign of civil war mongering, neither she nor the viewer are ever quite sure why she's been chosen, even though flashbacks to her tragic childhood keep appearing in a somewhat explanatory fashion. As for the climactic suggestion of unrequited romantic love on V's part, a la "Phantom of the Opera", this has more the feel of a mere plot development than any corny attempt at tidying things up.

Still, assuming that this is indeed only the first chapter -- will number two be "W for Something Else", then so on with X and Y? -- it brilliantly camouflages the fact, by leaving the impression of being a thought-bombarding political allegory in the style of Truffaut's version of "Fahrenheit 451", way more concerned with the message it leaves behind than any big action pay-off, despite lots of good bloody fights along the way. Without giving away the aforementioned grand finale, there is so much speechifying that surrounds it, pertaining to the liberation and abiding strength of the human spirit, that one ponders how literally, rather than intellectually, the images on the screen are meant to be taken. I found myself thinking that what I was looking at was a bizarre and big scale rip-off of the 1985 depression era drama, "Places in the Heart" (of all things), with its tear-jerker church house ending that turns into a ghostly curtain call. Only later, when taking into account all those dangling plot threads, and just how morally questionable the ending actually is, did I say to myself, "Now just a damn minute, here!" Either I'd just watched something maddeningly vague and half-realized, or here was the groundwork for a true thinking person's super epic, which might combine the genres of science fiction action and political thriller in ways never seen before.

At any rate, "V for Vendetta" baffles and infuriates, but anything that can time release that much second guesswork, and demand to be quickly seen again just for what might've been overlooked, especially within that molasses-thick dialogue -- here's a film that's doing something right, in my books.

Karla (2006)
54 out of 80 people found the following review useful:
Numbing and pointless ordeal, 21 January 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

For non-Canuck readers who might not be familiar with this media frenzy of the past decade, Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka have the dubious distinction of being the First Couple of Canadian Crime. Bernardo, a long time serial rapist, and Homolka, an amoral party girl, had a brief courtship and marriage during the early 90s, in the small city of St. Catherines, Ontario. During this time they were responsible for the torture slayings of two teenage girls, Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, as well as the rape and accidental killing of Homolka's 15-year-old sister, Tammy. After a long and bungled RCMP investigation finally led to their capture, Homolka plea bargained by turning evidence against her by-then estranged husband. Bernardo was given life without parole, and Homolka got off with 12 years for manslaughter, on the theory that her involvement was due to battered wife syndrome, and there was indeed well-documented proof that he had regularly beaten her. Only after the sentencing, however, were home videos of the crimes uncovered, and these revealed that not only Homolka was an enthusiastic participant, but possibly the actual killer, which Bernardo continues to contend from his cell. Her light sentence and subsequent release, last summer, has made her one of the most reviled persons in Canadian history. She's nowadays reportedly living in hiding, somewhere here in Montreal.

"Karla" is a sketchy adaptation of "Invisible Darkness", the true crime bestseller by Stephen Williams, which ran into legal hassles and much public outrage, for revealing court-sealed details of the grisly case, such as play-by-play descriptions of the incriminating videos. That there'd actually be a movie version was way too much for the various decency brigades, and no Canadian talent would dare touch it, so this is a rare example of a Canadian tale made entirely in the States by Americans, rather than the other way around. It shows, especially in the casting and characterizations. While the sequence of events, at least the more lurid ones, is laid out with plodding accuracy, it plays like something overheard, then retold, by someone who wasn't there. There's no feel for regional dialect or cultural idiosyncrasies, or even its time frame of a decade and a half ago. TV's Laura Prepon (no doubt imagining that this would be her "Monster" ticket to the big time)is all wrong as Karla, coming across a big-boned trailer trash hoyden perpetually stunned by her situation, rather than the petite, cunning and creepily girlish sociopath who so captured our mass revulsion. Misha Collins is all psycho-jock swagger and hoodlum snarls, with no hint of the pudgy-cheeked sickly boyish charm of the would-be yuppie next door, with his phony Ken Doll wholesomeness, that the real Bernardo not only socially aspired to, but used as such a clever disguise during his reign of terror.

The sheer ickiness of the real life couple is where "Karla" really misses the mark, in terms of both dramatic insight and black comedy potential. While the murders themselves, which the film wallows in as its main focal point, were indeed sad and terrible, there was a horrid hilarity to the killers and the 80s retro, idealized image they presented to the world. With their matching bleach blonde hair and rabid consumerism, they really thought themselves the perfect upwardly mobile couple, or at least a failed yokel approximation of one. Things like Karla's hideous taste in just about everything, and Paul's talentless aspirations to be the next Vanilla Ice, could've inserted some much needed chilly chuckles into the relentless despair, without detracting from the horrific impact. Also barely dealt with is that pompous, ridiculously expensive wedding of theirs, in which they paraded, the very picture of kitschy bliss as they waved to onlookers, through the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake in a horse drawn carriage, only to finish the day at a grotesque reception of drunken family dysfunction. This could've surely been the most pivotal of climaxes, but is tossed off as a brief visual footnote. If only the film would've taken its cue from something like the cult classic, "The Honeymoon Killers", and balanced its real life horrors with a sense of their absurdity, which the well-written and extensively researched book was offering up in spades. That it didn't is hardly surprising, though, given all the moral indignation and potential lawsuits the production had to tippy-toe around, so that the finished product comes across as one long and pointless apology that it was even made. Of course the pedestrian direction by Joel Bender, veteran of such stellar titles as "Immortal Combat" and "Warrior Queen", doesn't help. His approach to serious docudrama seems to be showing as much nasty stuff as he can away with, with an earnest solemnity he hopes will camouflage his sleazy fixations. A classic case of flimsy talent trying to over-reach his abilities.

At any rate, I caught opening night of its limited Canadian release, and it appears that all the controversy surrounding this film has done nothing to spark attendance, and word-of-mouth certainly won't, either. Prime time crowd of maybe 50, curiosity seekers who learned absolutely nothing new, and smartsy teens (girls calling out to see if Karla was in the audience, and other girls answering, "Here I am!") looking for bad taste laughs, which it wasn't even inept enough to provide. My guess is that in its country of origin, where it hasn't yet found a distributor, "Karla" will go the route of the rest of Bender's products, bypassing the marquees and heading straight to cable.

Capote (2005)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
On with the Truman myth, 24 December 2005

"Capote" is a factual account, and that is to say it's loosely based on the accumulated hearsay of Gerald Clarke's post-mortem biography, dealing with the six gruelling years that author Truman Capote spent researching his bestseller, "In Cold Blood". This was his masterwork -- a "non-fiction novel", as he called it while claiming to invent the art form -- about a pair of young drifters, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, and how they savagely murdered a farm family in 1959 Kansas, which eventually led to their deaths on the gallows at Leavenworth. A stark and equally famous 1967 film was adapted from this book, and "Capote" is a very calculated companion piece, in terms of mood and pacing and general bleakness. It fills in the blanks of what Capote left out of his book, namely his own very active and high profile role in the case, and in the lives of the people involved, especially the killers. Capote, with stunning efficiency, kept himself a completely invisible presence in the book and the later film.

It's a portrait of journalistic ruthlessness, reminiscent of Billy Wilder's biting film satire of 1950, "Ace in the Hole", and how such ruthlessness emotionally boomerangs. Capote was as much a professional charmer as a brilliant author, who rose from humble beginnings to the heights of New York society just by sheer force of character, turning himself into something of beloved mascot of the extremely rich, much to their later regret. In the 80s, he exposed their smutty secrets in an infamous chapter of an unfinished novel, that he published in the New Yorker. The rich, Truman told the dazzled public, use such things as menstrual fluid, in humiliating sexual situations, to declare their racial supremacy. It was pure social suicide, as bewildering as it was titillating, and this movie, though not referring to this directly, purports to tell us how it came about.

We join Truman in 1960, when he goes to Kansas to write about this obscure mass murder. Though an effeminate little weirdo, he employs his masterful New York social climbing skills on the Midwestern townsfolk and local authorities, and they're putty in his hands. He sweet talks and lies and finagles his way through the channels, and eventually into the confidence of the killers themselves. Only they can provide him with the story's grisly core, the cold facts of the mass murder as it happened. Focusing on the more intelligent and vulnerable of the two, Perry Smith, Capote chips away at Perry's resolve with faux friendship, which gradually evolves into a very real platonic romance between the two. Meanwhile, Truman's new lover's execution, which Truman has the means to help prevent or at least postpone, is something that must occur if Truman's masterpiece is ever to be completed. The film's wonderful conceit, dime store analysis at its finest, is that this prostitution of his affections for the sake of art and fame is what led to his own self-demolition, in alcoholism and betrayal of his privileged friends. Highly debatable in terms of accuracy, but it makes for a great, if sanctimonious, gossip fable.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is terrific as the diminutive oddball, catching the effete mannerisms and catty charisma that made Truman a talk show celebrity, and suggesting that this public persona was simply a tool employed by a cold and very troubled genius. Perhaps this extreme dead seriousness is, in itself, something of a flaw to the portrayal. The film is resolutely grave and low key, trying too hard to mimic the mood of the book and subsequent film it's centered around, while frantically steering clear of the situation's very evident black comedy aspects. Truman was, according to all sources including Clarke's biography, a preposterous human being, and his never-quite-sane shenanigans, even during this intense period of his life, had more than their share of high hilarity. A lot more could've been made of his culture clash with uptight 1960s Midwesterners, and his egocentric excesses that are well documented, without detracting from the story's impact. While "Capote" doesn't commit the unpardonable sin of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Robert Altman's "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle", that of making a literary icon an aggravating bore, it does wring a lot of the fun out of old Truman. It's as if the filmmakers were scared shitless of making this seem like a sleazy character assassination, which, in essence, it is.

Where "Capote" does succeed, despite its over exacting cross referencing, is that it's a solid psychological piece in its own right. Leisurely as it is, it's utterly involving and invigorating, and I'd hazard to guess that one could appreciate it with no prior knowledge of "In Cold Blood", or the highly publicized life of this most famous of mid-century authors. It actually rises to that most daunting of challenges -- taking on an artist and his godforsaken creative process, and fashioning a piece of accessible cinema for more than just his hardcore fans. Of course I'm biased -- I am, indeed, a lifelong Capote freak. The guy and his books are fascinating, and though far from the last word on the subject, this fractional biopic figures well into the ongoing mythology of Truman Capote.

Uncle Sam (1996) (V)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Half realized, 11 September 2005

Semi-sober satirical horror film, pleasingly directed by William Lustig from a script by the ever-maddening Larry Cohen -- well matched collaborators who fall just short of taking that extra step, that could've turned this gleefully subversive gore fest into a runaway cult item.

Update and reconstruction of Bob Clark's "Deathdream" (among its many other titles), with a zombified Gulf War casualty of "friendly fire" back for burial in his hicktown, where he rises to wreak havoc during the patriotic hysteria of a fourth of July celebration. Victims are a round-up of America's most loathed -- corporate swindler, teen sociopaths and druggies, smarmy politician, corrupt cop, pious draft dodger, sex deviant, military geek -- and he bumps them all off in grandly inventive ways (the ones we're allowed to see), while dressed and masked as the title fetish.

The main trouble is that the tale is wildly rushed -- too many awful characters crammed in (and worse, wonderfully written and performed by the thrilling cast, for what we see of them) just to die or disappear within the deliberate time frame, clearly only there to represent their stereotypes, and one is left feeling cheated out of getting to know them better. Same with the good guys -- the wonderful Isaac Hayes vet with a conscience, and that pair of screwed-up boys, and the blonde sisters-in-law... just pushed ahead and out of sight by the plot, audience interest be damned.

I was left reminded of the better Stephen King mini-serieses, and how Cohen and Lustig had all the makings of a small town, leisurely horror epic here -- something that should have unfolded over lots of hours, drawing the audience into this town and its people and the horror creeping up on it, but combined with the jeering social satire one sees on British TV. Instead they compacted things into flotsam for the video shelves, a true waste of talent and great ideas.

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