Reviews written by registered user
desperateliving

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70 reviews in total 
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Mr. Klein (1976)
7 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
8/10, 3 May 2005
8/10

This is a very interesting way to approach the Holocaust -- a portrait of a life, fairly slow to get its rhythms (at its worst, Losey directs the film in a stale manner), told ostensibly as a mystery, with truths about the Holocaust (that come into effect at the end of the film) and how the daily routine of it felt for an observer. It's a brutal revenge story (we know that Klein is being punished for making money off the deaths of others from the beginning), but also an allegory for the self-loathing Jew who, in this case, runs toward his death, aware that it's coming and trying to avoid it but actually walking right into it, a nasty bit of determinism.

The beginning of the film has a title that suggests this film is about not a person but a phenomenon -- a composite of various people -- but just what phenomenon are they talking about? Art dealers during the Nazi occupation? That could be, but how many of them had their identity essentially stolen from them? I think the phenomenon they're referring to has more to do with that allegory than it does with the literal happenings of the film. But what's so impressive about the film is that the literal happenings are taken very seriously.

Delon's performance here, as per usual in his later years, is very good and very subtle. He's not a ruthless man, and there's a very interesting balance he pulls off between being annoyed at his police troubles and trying not to offend anyone, especially the Jews, as he tries desperately to get off their newspaper mailing list. Of course there is no grandstanding, and his aging beauty gives him a perpetually over-tired face, a pretty boy whose looks are slowly deteriorating. He must have been aware of that, as his worn face matches the dull, rainy Paris landscape in the film. 8/10

Sonny (2002)
24 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
8/10, 30 April 2005
8/10

I guess it's hard to address serious issues when you're dealing with a plot about a flamboyant southern belle who raises her son to be a natural-born-whore, because this movie is considered to be a failure even though it really isn't. It's neither the ready-made slice-of-life that Sundance specializes in, nor is it an innovative film like "Pi," so casual independent fans have little reason to like this (they probably dislike Paul Morrissey, too). So there's already a few misconceptions about the film, but add to that that it's an actor's film: what else are we supposed to expect from Nicolas Cage? The movie is a mix of piano music and prostitution, and it's just like Cage's acting -- hyper-real and over-the-top, classy and trashy at once.

The movie is partially a series of differing acting styles -- Blethyn's comic exaggeration, Franco's sleepy mysteriousness, Stanton's quiet control, Cage's funhouse tricks. But I think Cage deserves a certain amount of credit -- he doesn't scuzzify the material or romanticize it; he creates some interesting scenes (and handles most of the more potentially offensive ones with as close to grace as possible); he indulges all of his actors. And there is some real pain in the story, about not being able to switch jobs, and how vagabonds have nothing to show for their life. There are times when this goes where few films do in terms of honesty, yet the script does have increasing problems as it goes along. A scene like the one where Cage makes his appearance, seen through Sonny's drunken haze, works only because of the oddness of it; it feels stolen from other films because it's supposed to be there for the type of movie this is. But the film is at its best when it resists any "type." 8/10

Sebastiane (1976)
32 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
9/10, 25 April 2005
9/10

Not being overly familiar with Bible stories or Christian history (and the fact that the opening rolling titles are impossible to read), the factuality of this film will escape me. But Jarman is a visual artist, and his film has more in common with the many paintings of Sebastian than it does with factual storytelling. Jarman's ornate decor can sometimes feel dull and bland -- his films can seem lifeless, bogged down by the set decoration. This calls to mind "Velvet Goldmine," a complex film I didn't care for, even though I love Todd Haynes; I want to like Jarman -- I love his books -- and this is the first film of his that I've been actively enthusiastic about. It has much more to do with sex than history; and it's apolitical and political at the same time.

Consider the film's approach to homosexuality. No one is defined as being a homosexual, so that at first seems like a de-politicization of sex -- all there are are acts, and acts are not political. But at the same time, it's acts that are disdained and made illegal, and without the "political" approach to defining (and thereby defending) people as homosexuals, it leaves the acts open to censorship and condemnation -- politicization. As a film itself, though, it is not pedantic or accusatory -- in fact, Sebastian is killed, it seems, because of the lust of Severus, who he refuses. Like the Christian God who Sebastian loves and sees as more beautiful than Adonis, Severus wants Sebastian. But it isn't just condemning lust, either -- Anthony and Adrian are openly lovers, and the abundance of male nudity, and the eroticism of it by Jarman, could hardly be called prudish. In fact, there is a scene at night of the men grabbing each other, their dark-lit bodies, and the soldier pressing his near-naked, muscled body on his lover, that still seems shocking in its passion today.

It's more like a lyrical tone poem, and Brian Eno's New Age-y score goes well with that. Jarman isn't a bully, and when the crucifying comes around he doesn't bludgeon us -- first we see a close-up of his face, as arrows pierce through Sebastian's skin, silently with the exception of the wind, and Jarman gives us one final distorted image to meditate on the death of the one we can't have. 9/10

54 out of 76 people found the following review useful:
9/10, 24 April 2005
9/10

This is just another confirmation that Cassavetes, along with Dreyer and Tarkovsky, is one of the very small number of geniuses in film, whose every film is an extension of their genius -- some more mature than others, but impossible to be "bad"; they are beyond terms like "good" or "bad" -- they are the great art works of the century.

This film isn't about a "crazy" lady; it's not about putting a woman in an institution; and it's not about people talking about your crazy wife, though all of this happens in the film. Those are merely the events that take place over the course of the film; what it's really about is our misunderstanding, our experience as an audience. Just like the characters, we misunderstand Mable's childlike actions. What Cassavetes does is turn *us* into children -- it's as if we're experiencing things for the first time all over again, because it's a totally new experience, the same with watching a movie like "Andrei Rublev." That is an amazing thing to pass onto an audience. That's why I've never been bored watching a Cassavetes film -- something is always happening, things are always changing. The reality of what we're seeing is always undergoing augmentation, so we can never get fully situated.

It's never unrelenting gloom the way many so-called realistic films are (and this film goes far beyond mere "realism"); it's devastating watching it, watching Mable ask people if they want spaghetti one by one. But it's loving when Nick jokes about someone hugging her too long. It's communal during a scene at a dinnertable where Mable takes a pride in feeding "her boys." But each scene goes through a transformation as it happens. When Mable goes home with another man, he makes it clear that he's not to be used, but also that she shouldn't punish herself. It's not a screamy moment with a woman hiding in the bathroom; his avuncular twang is disarming.

There's a complete lack of self-consciousness in the film, and I mean that in terms of the characters (during Mable's key freak out scene, Rowlands does, I think, go too far) -- that's why the kids are s terrific in the film. When a boy says, "It's the best I can do, mom," it's an incredible moment because it's managed to be included without being offensive, mugging for the camera with cuteness. The film has such a strange relationship with kids -- they're like little people. And if that sounds odd, you'll understand when you see the film. The characters are constantly changing their minds; they're so aware of themselves that they're unaware -- Mable doesn't realize she's giving off a sexual aura (despite the fact that Rowlands can at times look like a blond beach babe). As with Julianne Moore in "Safe," we don't know what's wrong with her. She's a frenetic, guideless woman trying to do the guiding.

The way Cassavetes sets up the film, with ominous piano music that comes in when Falk is trying to speak, blinded by frustration; or setting the film inside this house with gigantic rooms, makes everything feel larger and emptier at the same time. It's like the scariness of the echo of something you'd rather not hear. Someone said that they wouldn't want a single frame of "2001" to be cut, lest the experience be changed. I think that applies more aptly to Cassavetes' films, because he never treads over the same thing twice, even when he's doing exactly the same thing he's just done. It's always something new. 9/10

Trash (1970)
14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
9/10, 5 April 2005
10/10

This could be taken either as a farce or a serious drama, or an intermingling of the two -- I think that's the best way to watch it, as some scenes are undeniably funny, but to view *all* of this as a joke would suggest that it's a lot more distanced than it is. This is really an ode to and worshipping of nakedness -- real nakedness, blemishes and all -- naked genitals, naked emotions. (What makes the naked emotions so interesting, dealing with most of the performers except Dallesandro, is that they're based on extreme affectation -- "I've got to get some aaaacid" -- but still reveal more than the majority of more "accomplished" acting does.)

It would be easy to look at this as a parading of freaks -- the light bulb credits, and Geri Miller dancing topless to the line, "Mama, look at me now!" But that wouldn't take into account the fact that Miller is nothing if not sincere. The movie works by capturing literal abstractions, if that makes any sense -- out of focus close-ups that work both as simple pieces of formal beauty (Joe's silhouetted face on the street, with a golden background, as he talks to Andrea Feldman), and as insistent closeness.

This is the real reality of drug use -- dirty, pimpled, de-glamorized, and, above all, boring. Morrissey has always worked with satire and seriousness intertwined, so it might be difficult for some people to note the complexity of his work. When Joe begins to rape a woman, it turns into semi-passionate sex. Another woman hears about this and asks him to rape her. Another woman suggests that, since you have sex with strangers, why not family? Morrissey is making fun of all of this at the same time as he's probing into it; this isn't *just* a comedy, it's much more than that -- look at the scene where Jane Forth says to Dallesandro that his complexion is looking a little rough, a statement so intimate, so aware, so personal that it knocks him off guard. (Sometimes it's just sex without any moral judgment, such as when Holly Woodlawn, in a performance that defies categorization, declothes and fondles a young boy.)

It's often absurd, as in the scene where Joe is stoned stupid and naked, and Forth and her husband are bickering as he stumbles around their living room, a scene of bourgeois mockery. When Forth's husband asks him what it's like being a junky, his curiosity almost makes it seem like the junky life is a worthy life -- at least it's individualistic. 9/10

20 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
8/10, 4 April 2005
8/10

The film is just a story, but it's very, very good storytelling, and I'd be hard-pressed to explain why it's so good. It has to do partly with the fact that at first we think we know right where it's going, and that the worth will be in how it gets there -- we're amused by Nico's interest in girls, he's obviously gay (right?). What makes the Dani and Nico characters so believable is in the handling of the material, and the very smart decision to not really define anything. It's very realistic about the first sex between boys, and how it so often has to do with sex games (here, masturbation tips).

Before we have a clearer handle on the (differing) sexuality of the two characters, their sex seems to play like this: they see girls, they get aroused, and they take out their sexual frustration on each other. And that works because of the two characters' subtle manner -- Dani's creepy preening, Nico's goofy charm, and how at first it's Nico who seems to be the most "gay" of the two boys, simply because he has precise features and is abnormally skinny. (Like "Edge of Seventeen" or "Beautiful Thing," two of the best gay self-discovery films, the boys here look real.) The emotions, and the past histories of the characters -- like the man whose house Dani goes to, or the woman who, too, had a special girl friend when she was young -- are kept appropriately inexact.

Aside from the talent at passing along this story, there is also a nice feel the film has -- something like a cross between the accessibility of a Western and the human interest of Ingmar Bergman... It's like a funky road trip, with that harmonica music and the very apt photography, as well as the suggestive intertitles of dialogue that will occur later in the film. A comparison between this and "Y tu Mama Tambien," of the following year, would not be in vain. 8/10

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
8/10, 3 April 2005
8/10

Deadpan, colorful, and vaguely homoerotic, the master stroke in this short, absurd comedy is the narrator, which in its forced enunciation sounds like John Wayne playing an Indian in one of his Westerns. The mostly visual story is about a smiling, sneering macho man with dark sunglasses and a porn star mustache vs. the sensitive, silent man in the skimpy red speedo as they challenge each other with competitive dives into the swimming pool. I haven't seen any of Paizs' other films, like the more famous "Crime Wave" (apparently this silent character is recurring in his films), but it makes sense that he would have directed episodes of "Kids in the Hall." I don't know how readily available this short is, as it was shown in a film class. 8/10

8/10, 3 April 2005
8/10

It's difficult to tell who this documentary is making fun of more, the dogs or the owners. Well, obviously it's making fun of the owners and *getting* fun out of the dogs, but it's not cruel, it's just poking light fun at the various interviewees, like the woman who makes her dog dance ("dancey dancey..."), or the one who orders his dog to get baseball equipment. But some of the interviewees are clever in their own right, like George Toles, who is wry and funny and gives a description of his dog creating "lakes" of urine. It's about our relationships with dogs, and while at times it feels like a nonfiction Christopher Guest comedy, when one character describes having to put his dog down, not being allowed to hold it as the pet is injected with the needle, you couldn't claim that the film doesn't have a heart. This was shown in a film class, so its availability might be scant. 8/10

7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
9/10, 17 March 2005
9/10

I don't know why I've seen so many reflexive, "only a movie" films lately, but here's another. It makes you wonder whether a viewer can choose to alter a film in his own mind, and take out the bits -- like this, for instance -- that partly ruin or deplete the experience for you. Aside from that, the film, which has rightly been assessed as being a kind of Russian "400 Blows," is awfully good, but since nothing really happens you may find yourself wishing it were shorter; but for me, it's enough to just enjoy the beautiful black and white cinematography, and the performance of this boy. It's a remarkable performance -- he's loud but not obnoxious, a little whiny but not snotty, cute but not sickly sweet. Even though the look and the feel of the film is unique -- or, a unique amalgam, I'll say -- even had it not been, it could rest quite well on the face of this boy, which is open, feminine, and almost Asian in its features, with sharp, tiny black eyes.

There are some pretty raucous scenes -- the most effective being a scene where villagers are clamoring for food handouts and one man eats a "pancake" of flour and mud, but also one at a cultural event (a ball of some sort?) where the visitors turn to drink. And like that other children's classic, "My Life as a Dog," it has one scene that will stay with you a while -- that one had the bottle scene, and this one has a scene where our hero gets peed on. (Unlike that film, not much attention is paid to sex; although there is one act of desperate adolescent sexual desire -- although it's more like a begging -- that's pretty good.)

The oblique narrative is sometimes hard to understand -- at least to me -- not tonally (it's neither light nor harsh, but it has a specific feel) but literally, and that's probably aided by the fact that the film is mostly a series of events rather than a kind of plot. That's fine, because many of the individual scenes are thoroughly interesting, and every once in a while we get one like the ice skate thieving, which is disorienting and lyrical at the same time. What's particularly interesting about the film, I think, is that it goes beyond mere mischievousness -- like James Dean, we are presented with a kid who wants to do the right thing, but everything he does gets screwed up. And it's surprising that we end up on his side, considering the fact that he at one point tips over a train. 9/10

11 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
9/10, 10 March 2005
9/10

This is one of those movies that you're wary about, because the criticisms are so obvious. Yet I think this is something close to a minor masterpiece. This is quite rich material -- very literary, in a way -- and the invoking of Catholicism (and, for me, Genet) through the title is apt, for the way it delves into accepted perversions. At first I was wondering what the much-discussed shocking aspect of the film was, thinking perhaps it was the (would-be) sensuousness of this Latin boy-lover (the shared drink is not something you'd get in common fare), but it seems like it's more the violence that people react (or object) to. While it didn't upset me, I think the violence is interesting in two ways: one, the digital video makes the dispassionate killings have little impact, because it makes the film seem somewhat amateurish (with aid of the acting), like a genre film made on a shoestring budget; and two, the film as a whole is anti-dramatic -- for instance, when the revelation occurs, in a dramatized film it would be devastating: the truth of your lover revealed, and the swirl of emotions it creates; here, nothing -- so there is no cathartic violence (as in "The Godfather," for example), and it isn't lush. But it isn't brutal, either -- you don't get your nose rubbed in it, and I cherished that generosity to the audience.

The digital also helps keep the film grounded -- the only really attention-grabbing aspects of the film, as cinema, are the opening and closing framing of very beautiful music, and one nice over-the-wall camera move. It's like a cleverer "Man Bites Dog," in the sense that this *doesn't* draw attention to itself, that there is no winking or overt displays of cleverness. The film as a whole is subtle (at one point it feels like magic realism, even though we are told, I guess, that it's not), even though individual scenes are not (that the euthanizing of the dog is the only killing that has feeling is very heavy-handed). It's also incredibly easy to watch, and I think that must be due in part because the digital -- clear, crisp, and clean, with a smooth lucidity -- helps you seep into the film quicker, without any fuss. Indeed, without any film atmosphere at all. 9/10


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