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500 Nations (1995)
Wonderful historical detail, and well told. Very one (left) sided though.
18 February 2005
Fascinating amount of detail on AmerIndian history.

It's also however extremely one sided.

We don't hear about all of the endemic massacres by Indians of whites from the get go, through the whole thing.

We also don't get any context. I.e., everyone believed in conquest against deeply foreign peoples not sharing the same religion/world view in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Certainly AmerIndians did, most of whom lived in states of endemic (as in yearly or more often) warfare, including often the extremely cruel torture of their captured enemies. E.g. the Hurons in common with many Great Lake tribes skinned alive their captives in ritual fashion back in their own home villages. For those not committed to reading source history, the movie Black Robe (which takes a quite neutral and or mutually critical cultural stance) is informative in this regard.

The current view that conquest is horrible and likely to be called genocide is unique, at least among winning societies (and usually among everyone), in world history.

The AmerIndians were the ones who taught total war to the whites early in the 1600s near the Atlantic coast, killing old women and children, as well as all men combatants (or not), and taking the younger attractive women as additional wives / concubines / sex slaves. This had been the form of warfare they had waged amongst themselves before first contact with Europeans.

Read Thomas Sowell in "Conquest and Cultures" on the Amerindian issues. Sober, balanced, and most interesting.

There's no question that Euro-Americans committed many atrocities against AmerIndians, as amply reported in this series. But to watch this series you'd think that Indians never killed their enemy's women and children or took them as slaves. In fact many tribes usually did one or the other as a matter of their avowed tribal political and religious policy whenever they had the chance whenever they were at war.

In contrast it was never or almost never the policy of the British or national American government to kill not only enemy men (combatants) but also women and children -- although it certainly sometimes was the policy of some local militia commanders, and later of some great plains and western Army commanders -- and sometimes in a winking way some frontier governors. However, shamefully, the "removal", i.e. "ethnic cleansing" of AmerIndians to points ever further to western semi or actual badlands was far too often official policy. This was partly in response to endemic guerrilla war and partly simply in response to endemic lobbying by land hungry whites (the only side of it we hear in this one sided, propaganda-lite series). Andrew Jackson's removal policy against the successfully settled, agricultural, for the most part no longer guerrilla raiding, and semi-assimilating Cherokee, known as the "trail of tears", is probably the most shameful of all instances of this. This is of course amply reporter here, though also of course, with the Cherokees totally and completely without fault or threat.

All history has some point of view. At a (desireable) minimus, one always has to edit what down to what is most important. Nonetheless, when the "victim" (under the approach of this series and many other works) is virtually completely without fault (a rare reference to increasing alcoholism solely of course as a response to victimization not really excepted), and certainly without any independent capacity for aggression other than belated and regretfully ineffective defense, a work may be hard to distinguish from propaganda.

Now if two competing propagandas on the same topic were aired back to back, that would have been another thing.
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Brilliant. Courage and strength, not just moral platitudes, are necessary for freedom and decency to prevail.
4 November 2001
One of the best and most unique Westerns of all time, "High Plains Drifter" is probably the most interesting -- and controversial. Of course it's in the modern, non-mythological style, which neither glamorizes the old West, nor the moral codes of its protagonists. Yet this film is its own unique moral fable.

Clint is absolutely at the top of his acting game. Although there certainly is violence and dramatic shots of Western landscape here (particularly the stunning opening scenes), this is overwhelmingly a character drama. Nearly all the many characters of this plot become full real people. It's a tight, spare drama with little waste. You need to pay attention, or watch it several times. Or both, to get the most out of it.

What at first seems to be a shockingly amoral film, turns out to be one of the most thought provoking tales of social and personal morality and the need for personal courage I have seen. Like much of Eastwood's work, it's point of view is strongly Nietchzschian -- the extraordinary man surrounded by weaklings of various sorts. Yet this is no call for strong man rule -- it illustrates just what can happen when people are so weak as to need that. There are no pat answers here. Rather issues of right and wrong, survival and revenge, strength and weakness are dramatically played out in starkly different circumstances than most current day Americans have ever experienced.

What if an entire isolated town, a social system unto itself, is complicit in murder wholly to protect it's own illegally based prosperity? What if an entire town fears for its continued existence and physical safety in the face of hard and evil men -- who are returning to exact revenge for actual wrongs done to them by that town? What if this town, this social group, is filled with moral and physical cowards, who must look outside their own, to some strong individuals, for help? How far will they debase themselves in their need for external strength, and leadership?

Most shocking to today's audience will be Clint's early rape of the town's belle (and woman let's say of easily shifting alliances) Callie Travers. She clearly was trying to seduce the Stranger in her own game playing put down way, after she saw him establish dominance by blowing away the town's three gunfighters. But the Stranger then clearly takes her against her will, after he grows tired of her games. She's furious afterwards too, and tries to shoot him. An utterly clear case of rape in today's climate. No one will side with her, since this town needs this strongman. So she is defenceless, and without effective recourse. Further, the degree of her own moral compromise becomes clear when we see how easily Clint can seduce her once he has cemented his alpha domination of the town. It's clearly solely for that reason. "I don't eat with dogs" she says, at first resisting his request she join him for supper, still mad about her violation. "Oh, I think you might," Clint responds, "when it's the leader of the pack" and trains his steely gaze on her. She melts into his arms, and asks for thirty minutes, to make herself ready. This is fully believable; we've seen glimpses of the power games that make her tick from her first introduction. Her moral standing is even more compromised when in a flashback we see her next to one of the towns richest citizens (her lover?), an owner of the mine, looking impassively on as the town's paid assassins whip the town's Marshall to death. The upstanding Marshall had discovered that the mine, which is the reason for the towns prosperity and existence, is actually on government land, and felt he had to report it. Not just men, but women too can be guilty in this Eastwood film, and deserving of their own type of special punishment in this anarchic and unsocialized time and place.

In the end it's the townspeople themselves, and the assassins they had had unjustly imprisoned for something they didn't do, which destroy the town in an orgy of combat, cowardice, lack of leadership and self destruction. The Stranger steps back and has no part of this on either side, having already catalyzed it's fulsome unfolding. As the assassins look to be winning in destroying the town, belle Callie Tavers, rape "victim", switches sides again and professes her never faltering love and devotion to one of them, continued she says all the time he was in jail.

In contrast the hotel owner's wife, who Clint seduces rather than rapes, decides after their intimacy that she wants nothing more to do with the town or her marriage. She seems to have been ambivalent about the town's prior actions, had little direct role in them, and is now disgusted. Like the Stranger she stays out of the final melee, as she too prepares to move on.

You must be brave and strong, before you can be free and enforce some sort of moral decency, is one of the teachings of this most Clint of all Eastwood's movies. Moral platitudes and preaching, but the town's utterly ineffectual Preacher or others, is not enough. There is no big brother here to do it for these people -- these townspeople are on their own. And not up to the task. The degree to which the weak, including their women, will suck up to the strong and degrade themselves, particularly when they are moral as well as physical cowards, is another. Women are not always forces of moral good here (unlike in the vast majority of Westerns). Neither are they the worst forces of evil or cowardice. (And they don't get the worst revenge either.) This is a Western with an Old Testament feel to it.

As the film ends, what was earlier foreshadowed becomes crystal clear. The Stranger is the ghost or alter ego of the assassinated town Marshall. Whose grave is unmarked no longer.

It's a brilliant piece of work, and probably my favorite Western.
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Crush (1992)
Definitely worth seeing.
15 August 2001
I only saw the last half of this New Zealand film on Sundance cable this evening.

Of course I wouldn't normally comment after an incomplete viewing, much less only half. I'm only doing so because so far there are no comments on IMDb, and this one deserves them. But given my partial viewing, I won't venture any more comment than this:

It's a very well filmed, intense psychological drama among four women and one man. It definitely brings a fresh perspective. It's well acted, and riveting, for those interested in intelligent, as opposed to least common denominator, dramas.

I will definitely be viewing the whole thing.
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The Bachelor (1999)
Calling this movie misogynist is a hoot!
12 August 2001
"The Bachelor" is a pretty good light romantic comedy. Brook Shields does indeed have the best scene in the whole flick. It's well described below, and is wonderfully funny. Rene Zellweger is both very good and very charming, as is Chris O'Donnell. It's not the sort of movie that will stay with you for much, but its pretty good fun while it's going on.

There's one thing I have to say though, and the main reason I'm bothering with a comment to this flick. Those that claim this movie is unrealistic and misogynist because of it's depiction of O'Donnell's former girlfriends and the huge number of women desperate for 100 million dollars, are infected with a serious case of delusional feminist PC propaganda. I can guarantee you that if an ad (turned into a front page article) with a picture guaranteeing sharing in a $100 million fortune for marrying a guy who looks like Chris O'Donnell the next day in a big American city (and clarifying that he was deadline desperate due to the date of his grandfather's death and the will provisions, so that many would feel they had a chance and he wasn't necessarily an impossible loser), there would indeed be hordes of women lining up to do it. Many wouldn't of course. But there'd be legions willing to take their chances. One of the main things limiting the numbers in fact would be self selection. The cliché that women (especially after their early 20's) tend to be attracted to money (or its prospect), fame and or success, while men tend to be attracted to beauty, has more than a little truth to it. Of course there also has to be personal chemistry in the ordinary course, but with $100 million on the table, a great many women would take their chances. So the crowd scenes are indeed plausible (if so many managing the wedding dresses on a few hours notice isn't).

What's most unrealistic is the PC "balancing" rejection this centi-millionaire gets from all but one of his former girl friends. That of course is what takes up the bulk of the movie. That is what is impossible to believe in the real world. In other words, "The Bachelor" actually leans over backwards to pretend that a far higher proportion of women wouldn't be swayed by the $100 million than is realistic. But just imagine how a more accurate balance would be criticized by the American media (not to mention academic) pundits of the moment. There are endless dismissive allusions to men being unduly or primarily interested in women's looks in today's American films -- and that that is terrible. (Why -- well, because women tend to have different priorities, and women must be right not only for themselves, but for men as well, of course.). That sort of commentary (with some basis in truth, if not in how it is characterized), often clearly intended as a put down of males, is perfectly fine under the reigning Hollywood ideology. Whereas highlighting women's special attraction (often enough) to men with power of various sorts -- money, fame, politics or sometimes physical power -- is dangerous ground indeed. Gee, I wonder why that is.
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The only real reason to see this movie is for Angelina Jolie at 20 -- but that's a plenty good reason.
12 August 2001
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** This Italian-American farce is one of those intentionally "so bad it's good" sorts of movies. It's a decidedly B movie, but it's campy fun. She radiantly plays an angelicly pure but smoldering 16 year old princess, more than ready to pop the cork on her sexuality, previously successfully guarded by her parents. Phew!!! It's her youngest soft, romantic type role. "I'm crazy in love with you Rosario". "My parent's don't like any man for me. Especially they don't like you. Because you are sexy, and dangerous." "Be tender with me Rosario. I'm a virgin." In what other movie will you get to see Anglina lose her innocence??? (Well, maybe in Cyborg 2. There she's a kick boxing sex assassin robot though, so perhaps it doesn't count.)

Of course "Love is All There Is" fully intends to be campy. It's a broad humor romp though 60's or 70's Italian working class bad taste, mixed with endearingly warm personalities and high sex drives. It's plot is a reprise of the Romeo and Juliette story, played with an in your face lack of subtlety. The unlikely 16 year old couple are the children of two rival NYC Bronx (City Island) catering families, brought together by their roles in a community play. It's staged by Gina's (Jolie) parents to attract the goodwill of the bedrock S. Italian working class (culturally, if not necessarily economically) community, which is crucial for their business success. They are titled Florentines, but economically reduced enough to be trying to make a big success in the same business and community where Rosario's (the Romeo) parents are better established, in a down scale sort of way. Rosario's parents' have decidedly working class S. Italian roots (like most of New York's, and America's, Italian community) and working class taste, although they have made good, if precariously, in the local wedding banquet business.

Of course the stage kisses that really bring this couple together become vastly overheated by their ripe sexuality and first love passion. Jolie's father is horrified, and the onlooking S. Italian women from grandmothers to teenagers become overheated in sympathetic excitement. Their impetuous, reckless romance then proceeds at a galloping pace in their real lives, while the two families try to keep the two apart for their class different but essentially similar reasons.

The humor is often too broad to feel just right, though it nearly always scores some sort of hit. You tend to wince through some of it. You also can't help but chuckle or laugh at other parts. There is no doubt that the direction in this movie was always to overact, to make characatures of all the parts, and that's just what the actors do. Paul Sorvino was at the time the big name here and is only so-so, but Barbara Carrera, who though stunning is usually a poor actress given limited eye candy sorts of parts, is actually very good here as a haughty aristocrat. (She's most famous as Fatima Blush in some Bond films.) Anglina Jolie is one of the few who doesn't overact -- though the others no doubt do so by design. She's absolutely radiant as a previously virginal but precociously sexually overflowing 16 year old. It's easy to suppose the whole farce was structured around her -- though at the time she was a little known fledgling actress.

The conflict between Northern and Southern Italian culture, often symbolized by the cuisine of these feuding catering families, is a running joke -- sort of. Jolie is seen holed up in her room at one point, with a plate of elegant N.Italian butterfly pasta, with a thin white sauce, left untouched. (It looks right out of countless Manhattan northern Italian restaurants.) Meanwhile Rosario's parents are given to roccoco four food wedding cakes, to impress their mostly seriously overstuffed clients. Their house is filled with elaborately awful 'sculpted' plastic objects, and the like. In one hilarious scene, Rosario and his buddies make good on their scheme to snatch Gina from her parents by staging a chaotic diversion at their northern Italian style catering hall. They sabotage the pale pink pasta sauce warming in a huge sliver serving dish by -- horror of horrors -- pouring in a huge cooking pot's worth of dark red tomato sauce!! The guests start gaging at the results, of course.

Well, it's all worth it for the still virtually teenage, way beyond luscious, Angelina.
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Love & Sex (2000)
"Sex and Love" is one of my favorite romantic comedies of recent vintage.
6 August 2001
"Sex and Love" is one of my favorite romantic comedies of recent vintage. It may in fact be may favorite.

It is from a decidedly 30 something, as opposed to 20 something, point of view. There is no question that that helps define its sub-genre, and its maturity.

I adore (and lust after) Framke Janssen, and deeply respect Jon Favreau. I was introduced to both by this movie. I have since gone looking for both in other films -- and have been rewarded in that quest.

This film does indeed dispense with the sex wars stereotypes of the moment and deal with two individual characters. At the same time, neither is the polar opposite of the sex stereotype (which might itself actually be a play off of the expected). Framke is a semi-promiscuous, very sexy but also "too tall", somewhat depressive and quirky woman. Favreau is not very good looking (which women, especially more intelligent and more experienced women tend to not care so much about), intense, highly intelligent, and if anything too oriented towards early commitment. At the same time he seems to have a very strong and experimental sex drive. All in all, he is in many ways what elite level late 90's women say (at any rate) they want the most in men.

But Jon develops a problem. Though he fights against it, he is in fact life experience jealous of Framke's 13 (as I remember) against his (rather amazing 3). (Both are very suppressed numbers, if you ask me.) He stays with women he sleeps with for six years. She hasn't had a relationship that lasted longer than six weeks, other than her high school French teacher (with a vanishingly small d**k). So one thing leads to another and they separate in a most friendly and civilized manner. Only to....

It is the detailed and very honest character development which makes this movie -- what it is all about. In fact it is a very "French" American romantic comedy -- set within a quintessentially American idiom.

I'd love to see many more like this.
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Only one reason to watch this movie -- but its plenty. Laura Harris.
6 August 2001
It's absurd that she is billed down in seventh or eighth place. She completely carries the film. She also has the most face time and is what stitches its various threads together. It's about her.

She simply lights up the screen and those around her with the joy of being with her. Considering the situations she gets herself into in this flick, that's something -- and fun.
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Montana (1998)
Kyra Sedgwick's utterly mannish, non erotic, cardboard character pulls the film down to just stylish, but worth seeing.
2 August 2001
Montana is worth seeing, but flawed. It is indeed in the style of Pulp Fiction, without being so tight or erotic. It's at least as casually violent. But that alone doesn't carry it. There's no Uma Thurman here in a leading role.

The basic plot is fine, but not directed quite tightly enough. Sections in the middle drag considerably. Stanley Tucci does carry this film -- but so in a way does Robbin Tunney as Kitty, the gangster's moll. She does a fabulous job with her role -- and adds all the female sex appeal to the film, which is considerable. Tunney's role though is most unfashionable for the 90's -- a seductively submissive gangster's mistress. It becomes clear that the submissiveness is mostly an act, though her "role in life" cannot but remain 90's unfashionable. She proves herself plenty tough and resourceful when taking control is useful or essential to her (i.e. she blows away, and causes to be blown away, at least her share of bad guys.) One of the movie's big problems though is that there's nothing going on between her and the main male character, played by Tucci -- or anyone else on screen. (Actually, if there was between her and anyone, and it got any face time, she'd probably steal the movie completely away from Kyra Sedgwick. As it is, she actually almost does.)

As others here have noted, Tucci's performance is wonderful, but he isn't on screen enough to carry the whole film. He's tough, cool, intense and utterly competent -- and edgily sexually compelling. Tucci's got a signature magnetism, despite his bald, average at best static looks. There's something about his intensity.

The film's key problem is Kyra Sedgwick. She plays a tough as steel hit woman. But she's all business. But she's also about as emotional as steel. There's no erotic thrill to her. She's a cardboard character, without any real emotional vulnerabilities. But for her long curly hair, she's a thoroughly mannish character. I really haven't seen (or anyway remember) her in much else, but here she's thoroughly wooden. Of course because as-tough-as-any-man women are very much the 90's (and late 80's) fashion, this will tend to be overlooked by many.

Men who are the same, and don't show a convincing vulnerable side to a woman they are attracted to, generally aren't very likeable protagonists either (though they can make good villains). If we didn't see the even colder hitman Jean Reno's intense (though initially guarded) affection for the 12 year old Natalie Portman in The Professional (Leon) for example, we wouldn't much care about him and the movie wouldn't have been nearly as powerful. Sedgwick goes through the motions of affection and caring for Tucci, but it doesn't remotely ring emotionally true. There's zero chemistry coming from her. It's actually rather weird, since chemistry DOES seem to be coming off of Tucci towards her big time, just not the other way around. (Makes me suppose she's strictly gay in addition to not being very good. Or was it the direction?)

Anyway, for whatever reason, she simply doesn't work. I could care less what happens to her in this film, much less feel any sexual attraction whatsoever. Which is a big problem, since she's really the central character of the film, who stitches the various other characters together, and gets the most face time.

I sure would like to see Robbin Tunney as the lead character in a good and intelligently erotic movie. She's sizzling hot here, without any nudity (but a lot of lingere). Unfortunately she was given only a limited screen time supporting role, with no one to really erotically interact with. She nonetheless simply exuded sexual chemistry. Unfortunately, that will be overlooked or dismissed by many because of her unfashionable role.
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The Devil's Arithmetic (1999 TV Movie)
Yet ANOTHER Holocaust movie, and a lousy one.
28 July 2001
I essentially agree with Anonymous of Raleigh, NC below.

The Holocaust is of course the most saturation retold story of modern media history. This version is way weaker than many, and adds nothing to the genre. It doesn't succeed in making us care especially poignantly about the victims. In fact it's much weaker than many other Holocaust films in that.

The two strongest Holocaust films, at least of recent vintage, are the inimitable Schindler's List, towering above all, but also "Jacob the Liar". "Life Is Beautiful" is also poignant.

This one is dreck.

I only saw it for Kirsten Dunst. She too is disappointing here, probably largely because the character she is asked to play, a spoiled affluent brat, is fundamentally unappealing and unidimensional, until near the end.
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Kimberly (1999)
How about flipping the script, one of these days, movieland?
25 July 2001
On another level "Kimberly" explores the actual idea of simultaneous multiple partner relationships, and seeks to peek below some taboos. That's cool. But it doesn't go at all deep. It's all formulaic female wish fulfillment -- commit through competition, one full man out of four -- and no real dynamics or exploration of motivations, true drives, and what can work, and can't, for any period of time.

Meanwhile the prevailing social climate is framed by the most virile, intelligent and attractive of the four guys announcing to the college class he is teaching that it is a new age, a new dawn between the sexes, with independent women, and dependent men. Interestingly, and tellingly, he turns out to not be "the one". Probably because he wouldn't work as the dependent. Not really. But he can announce and appear to submit to the principal.

Ah yes. That's the chick's movie crowd pleasing, "original", "cleaver" theme of this shallow romantic farce.

I'm all for looking underneath taboos and social norms, and finding out what's really there, or needs to be there. I'm all for accepting diversity; for letting people do their own thing.

Just one question though. Would any of you care to name the American film of the last decade and a half or more, where a man is in a similar position -- with three or four different women at the same time? That is, where that is celebrated, as the reverse is here in "Kimberly", rather than reviled. All of whom came to know about each other, and remained or became fast friends, though not without rivalries for the top edge of affection from the irresistibly man. You know, where as in "Kimberly" he loves each of the two or three or four women really and truly for their different and unique personal qualities and looks, but doesn't want to give any of them up. And where the whole thing is treated as, if not for everyone, still intriguing, adorable, interesting, and heartwarming.

I'll give you a clue. It doesn't exist. Not in the last fifteen years, anyway. Not remotely. On the other hand, films which sympathetically treat or rather celebrate women at the center of several men's competing and then co-existing love interests, well beyond the initial "courtship" or getting to know you stage, are becoming increasingly common. See e.g. "Splendor", released in the same year as Kimberly. It takes the same idea as Kimberly even further. It's also a considerably edgier movie, though still most definitely feminist correct -- or actually, even more so.

This is despite the fact that everyone who knows anything (and isn't a blinkered ideologist) knows that two woman threesomes are a central male fantasy, not just in America but everywhere. (Actually, polygamy has been a reality and not just a fantasy in much of the world through most of history, for more wealthy or high status men.) Exploring how it could work in contemporary American post feminist culture is hardly old had -- it would be ground breaking. Yet where is it? It's the great feminist taboo.

Oh, I can imagine that a two women, one man menage-a-trois set in contemporary American culture could hit the screens soon. But for it to be "avant" or "edgy", one or both women would have to have the clear balance of power -- as Kimberly in the film of that name, and Victoria in Spendor unequivocally do. How, when it's changed to a one man, two or more women situation? Simple, make both women not a little, but predominantly gay. Hey, that could take male emasculation in feminist dominated American media culture to a new level. The one in the center then becomes the bi woman, or both of them on an alternating basis, if neither are dyke, lesbo only types. Something like that does occur for a while in "Slaves of the Underground" (1997), before the lesbian draw wins out completely and the male is left all alone. But hey, he is admired for his lapdog affection for lesbian power.

Anything but having one male in a predominately hetero loving and involved three or more way. THAT would be unthinkable. Shudder. In America that is. In Europe, especially France or Spain, it's a different story.
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Splendor (1999)
So when are we gonna see this script flipped??
25 July 2001
This movie has a fresh and intriguing premise -- or anyway, one which is carried forward and explored to an unusual degree. But unfortunately it both is and isn't very well done.

Visually, it's very well done. Kathleen Robertson, as the Victoria who can attract two hunky guys so much that they put up with living all together, is absolutely stunning. She's a blonde beauty to begin with, but as well her face positively radiates light in this film. She's got the glowing look of a woman first falling head over hells in love, and then pregnant at the same time. I'm not sure how they / she did it, but it's pretty compelling. As well the reckless young 20 something LA party scene atmosphere, which Araki used with even more (and darker) abandon in "Doom" and "Nowhere" (and I understand as well in the all gay "Totally F**ked Up" which I haven't seen), is colorful here as well. Veronica's jumping Matt at second sight, in the bathroom, is a memorably abandoned casual sex scene. Hot. Most of the movie is in high contrast, diffuse back lighted candy colors. The atmosphere is fun, fun, fun. All of which makes a good date movie.

Emotionally it only goes just below skin deep. Yeah, OK, the two guys have different personalities, sort of. One is the carefree musician / jock physical type. None too bright. But sweet. The other is the emotionally soulful writer type. But both soon seem to merge into hunky male dependency on her, financially and emotionally. Ah yes. The theme song of the feminist 90's. Actually, she digs it.

There are some interesting sex relations insights (gay world derrived -- natch for the 90's), such as that for a two hunky guys and one gorgeous girl threesome in the same bed to work, the two guys are gonna have to get off on each other physically as well as emotionally, at least to some degree. (Just kissing, the film pretends -- maybe.) But supposedly all are overwhelming hetero, if not entirely exclusively so. The relationship conflicts which would be sure to be there, to be dealt with successfully perhaps, are hardly seen at all in this film. In fact the guys look increasingly gay to me, but that is little explored.

Instead, the plot moves forward through a different conflict -- her perceived need for ANOTHER sort of man. A career and financially successful one, who can help her in the traditional ways -- once she learns she's pregnant from one of her happy go lucky, but femme submissive, hunks. The trouble of course is that she doesn't LOVE the successful guy. He too is a male submissive, but of the casper milktoast variety. I mean this guy convinces her to go with him on a weekend getaway to his condo in Maui with the promise of "only talking", and then when she's receptive to him after being blow away by the luxe, he remains "true to his word", the idiot, and doesn't do diddly. She was begging for it Earnest. Talk about a testosterone deficit!!!

Nonetheless, our heroine gets engaged to Earnest. He's so nice, and life with him would be so secure. This is getting pedestrian. As well, at this point the film loses any semblance of honesty. "Earnest is the kind of guy who would stick around, whether it was fun or not", she explains to her girlfriend. Of course the film never asks the obvious reverse question. Is she? Probably because you'd get the wrong answer. Next her lesbo girlfriend warns her against marrying someone she doesn't really and truly love. "I'm doing the responsible thing" she says. Her girlfriend counters: 'Even if it means ball and chaining yourself to him for the rest of your life?"

As if!!! Under today's feminist "reformed" divorce laws? What total dishonesty! Just what would be the downside to Victoria marrying Earnest? How long does she have to stay with him? What does she get if she splits after a couple of years? For that matter, what would keep this thinking-outside-the-traditional-box femme from shacking up with her two hunks three or four nights a week while she's married to her well off milktoast? And what would be the consequences for her if she did? Horrible, for such duplicity, right? Hardly. If Earnest decided not to put up with it after a while, guess who'd have to pay for the mistake, and the transgressions? Why Earnest of course!!! Welcome to marriage law in feminist America. Whatever emotional significance most people still attach to marriage commitments at least before the fact, legally marriage is now almost entirely a one way contract which obligates only men, and not women.

Was the possibility that Earnest could be viewed by Victoria not as an alternative to her dual action thing, but really as a supplement to it, touched on by this flick? Why not? After all, isn't it a natural line to explore, since she's trying to combine an edgy sexual relationship with multiple submissive men, with financial security for her child? Isn't it begging to be explored, after a line like: 'Even if it means ball and chaining yourself to him for the rest of your life?"

Maybe it's not because then the incredible bias in feminist "reformed" American marriage (divorce) law today would come into focus. We can't have that, now can we?

Oh, and another thing. When are we going to see a flick which flips this script? Two (or more) predominantly hetero women living happily with one guy? Where that is celebrated, I mean, rather than vilified. When in the last 1 1/2 decades has that been done? Anyone care to name the American film? It can't be done.
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Some Girl (1998)
Urban anthropology of the "leading edge" of the 90's dating game.
23 July 2001
"Some Girl" is interesting primarily as a piece of urban anthropology which delves into young female dating despair amidst late 90's West LA plenty, of all sorts. It also seems to me to really be about female downward mobility, by a route more usual in real life but less movie cliched than the full fledged drug addiction, leading perhaps to prostitution, chestnuts of yore. None of these girls are going to either themselves, or by marriage "success", earn the sorts of incomes their parents did. Not even close. Dissolution.

It tracks a few weeks of the "dating" lives of four late 20's upper family income girlfriends from a quasi hip strata of west LA. What they have in common is a battle weary and cynical participation in a relationship scene where low meaning sex is plentiful for reasonably attractive girls (like themselves) and a smaller number of in the scene and very attractive (or skillzed) guys, and taken as the background given. But where lasting emotional connection, much less love, is very, very elusive -- or non-existent. Sex with and mostly without lasting personal connection. But utterly without real romance. Meanwhile large numbers of guys who don't have player status and who aren't getting any, litter the landscape as a sex needy silent chorus, from the nerdy wannabe younger brother of Claire (Marissa Ribisi), who at least has future possibilities if among other things he'd lose the glasses (and get a few notches in his belt), to Jason's (Giovanni Ribisi) four house mates, who have apparently largely given up, and spend their time endlessly playing scrabble as mating games unfold around them. All of this is quite realistic, at least as a portrait of the two poles. (Meanwhile, in the middle, there are a lot of couples that have already paired off, married or most likely not at this late 20's age in the leading urban areas. But they aren't the subject here.)

Counter the usual stereotypes, here it is the girls who are easily the most messed up among the ones focused on -- with the partial exception of Neal (Michael Rapaport), April's nice guy and doormat boyfriend, who has a severe case of masochistic clinging and an utter inability to play the game. One can imagine though that there is hope for him with the right stable relationship sort of girl -- ironically, someone somewhat like Claire, if a bit lower voltage and with more of a take charge personality. In fact the film frequently draws subtle parallels between Neal's and Claire's positions with those they are seeing -- the situations aren't exactly the same certainly, but there are also many similarities. Of course neither sees this whatsoever.

Though the friendship of four girlfriend players (who boast among themselves and for all who care to overhear about the oral skillz) is the near background, the film focuses on Claire, and as well the sort of sex she has decided she doesn't want (any longer), illustrated by her friend April (Juliette Lewis). April is a full-fledged slut if ever there was one. In fact her character serves as a current pop culture archetype. The only possible missing requisite is a fondness for stranger gang bangs, though one could hardly rule that out. Mostly she doesn't seem ambitious enough to organize them herself. Her normal operating routine, most nights a week, is to wake up the next morning in some new house she doesn't recognize, stumble to the curb so as not to have to deal with whoever she discovers is lying next to her (and we almost never see these he's), and call one of her girl friends or her doormat boyfriend (!) to come pick her up. "Don't ask", she always says. So much for the background.

Claire, whose wildly red and wildly curly hair, framing alabaster skin, make her easily the most interesting looking and exotically attractive of the four friends (if you can overlook her increasingly beaten looking eyes), has settled into a pattern of serial short term relationships, which invariably break her heart. This, she quickly spills to Jason, is because within a couple of weeks they either stop calling her, or she discovers they are real jerks. Either way, another broken heart. (A bit easy in the heart department, per chance?) She doesn't want to get it wrong again this time, she plaintively tells him. "OK, we'll take it slow" he reassures her. Actually, he tries to, within the ready sex ethos they are living in. It soon becomes apparent that she is the one who can't. What she always does wrong becomes glaringly apparent, for those with eyes to see and enough knowledge to understand. The problem isn't really sex too soon. The problem is clinging dependence too soon -- and too much.

Claire begins as a winningly vulnerable and open character, and initially I had real hopes for her, and for her with Jason. She may not be good at the game, but she sure seemed to have an open and beautiful heart. She believes in devoted love. Their relationship begins promisingly enough. Their magazine rack scene together is sweet. He too is a romantic, looking for emotional connection far more than sex (which he takes for granted, as do all the players, especially the girls). He picks Claire up at a magazine stand in a way that at first appears to be simple understated confidence, combined with disarmingly dispensing with line routines. He sees her, and as he pretty much just says, is intrigued by the contrast of her flaming hair against her pale white skin, as she is more than used to hearing. (He is also attracted to her subtle but evidently submissive demeanor, though that is something he acts upon, rather than expresses.) He manages to disarm Claire's reasonably robust shields against pretty boy pickups, by calm, not going anywhere, persistence and innocent charm. It's also the last time she manages to try to resist him.

By the first scene of their ensuing next day date, I was clued to him being a master pickup artist. His not specifying on his call where they would go on their first date was a clue to his having already scoped a good part of her nature, but wasn't conclusive. He first brings her to a laundromat where he casually folds the clothes he had previously left, while soothingly reassuring her, asking her if she's upset. "Well" she says smiling uncertainly, "what's next -- the supermarket?". "No" he reassures her, "although I'd like to do that with you too. I had something more like a nice restaurant in mind." Then I knew. Pure seduction genius, for someone like Claire (and a lot of women). (It's about being together, not about him having to prove his worthiness to her.) He has her totally on the way by then, of course. Back at his room, after he's lit the two candles and turned on the opera aria, he says softly after stroking her: "I don't want to f*** you tonight Claire". This is followed of course by her hiding her crest fallen disappointment, her shields of "of course" and "I brought my car" coming up as she bravely tries to mask that and HOPES he's just going TOO slow, as he said he would, but will want to the next time. All this we can see in Marissa Ribissi's wonderfully expressive sad but bravely smiling face. After a pause, and after gently stroking her arm and the side of her face again, Jason follows that with: "No Claire. No. ... I want to make love to you tonight, really make love". Of course it's her coupe de grace. Not for her sex -- that was long a sure thing. For her heart -- for emotionally deeply connected first sex. She is totally, totally gone by then, or anyway by the time he follows through. You can bet they made beautiful music together.

That's the sort of thing a whole lot of women want the first time with someone, almost all women (with whatever lead in approach works for them), but lots of guys seem to either not want, or be unable to pull off with someone they aren't already head over heals in love with. He's a master, natural or otherwise -- if we overlook his cliched "just released from college" room props, which are after all good enough in this context.

Still though, I wasn't counting out a relationship between them at this stage. He really is the romantic type. Relationships and the heart are what he is after. We never actually learn enough about him to know if he feels compelled to endlessly move on to new full mind and body seductions, or whether he is just looking for the right one, but doing it skillfully. We do learn that he's the sort of guy who's got it down so well that he doesn't have to spend much time in the desert between relationships. Choices he's got. More than anyone else in the film. This too is realistic, though he represents the top of the male magnetic pyramid. (The ones with by far the least choices are the sex needy guys, rather than any girrls, which the film uses only as background noise, and most young female viewers are unlikely to even really notice -- or dismiss simply as losers.)
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Some Girl (1998)
So who is the biggest user and heart breaker in this movie -- really?
23 July 2001
Guess what girrls, it's right under your noses. And you haven't even seen it, most of you.

I find it amusing and a reflection of the heavy female slant of popular cultural ideology at the moment, that the commentators here focus on Claire's heartache in discovering her "boyfriend" graphically "cheating" on her -- while completely ignoring April's relationship with her boyfriend Neal. Claire and Chad had spent all of two evenings together and had sex once before that happened. OK, so it was meaningful sex. Chad had made no promises and done nothing to pledge monogamy. They were beginning to explore each other. They had connected. His statement "Claire, I love you", as she walked away from his house the morning after was clearly an expression of feeling and connection, rather than a commitment -- if she was able to understand him at all. As well we know, although Clare doesn't, that he was set up and probably didn't go out looking for it. Clare's hot hurt that Chad's having sex with someone else was "cheating' at that infant stage was about as unjustified as it's possible to be in the modern urban context -- and entirely a product of Claire's projections ahead of reality. In contrast, April privately and publicly humiliates her long term boyfriend just about maximally by spending more nights a week than not sleeping in some new pickup's home, only to extricate herself the next morning without waking up Mr. Strange, by calling any one of their mutual friends to come pick her up -- or for that matter her boyfriend himself. Meanwhile, Neal is reduced to supplicating her to stay with him "tonight, at least". When Neal succeeds for a while in extricating himself from this utter self-denigration by finding someone new -- she lures him back to her, by convincing him she sees and needs and truly appreciates (no kidding!) the real Neal, as no one else can.

This scene is even described by one girrrl reviewer thus: "Theres this scene with juliette and Micheal Rapaport(april and neil) sitting in his car. She finallyl explains to him how she really feels and what she sees in him, and that she's sorry for being so "slutty." Juliette delivers this scene with such raw emotion that every time I watch it I tear up myself." Yeah, well anyone who believed she was going to change much of anything because of that bit of emotional manipulation doesn't know much about people. She wasn't remotely close to changing -- which in any fundamental way is always dicey and at best a long road anyway. Try reversing the genders girrrls.

Finally, any guy who would marry an April is freaking totally out of his self-deluded mind, unless he gets off on thoroughly masochistic self-destruction, and wants that as the predominant and public theme of his personal life. She is a good definition by example of a total slut. And no, that judgment doesn't reflect a general prejudice against girrrls who like me have been with a whole lot and even scores of the opposite sex. I often prefer women with considerable experience of different men. Instead that judgment reflects the way that April habitually does her maximally casual sex, long after she's proven she can (to the limited extent that's ever much of an issue for girrrls), how little she really looks for anything else, and how she likes instead to relate to her steady "relationship interest" while she's doing her all consuming thing. Well, conceivably if she had followed her genuine total slut period by an extended period of abstinence, or a previous year or longer of monogamy with someone else -- to show me that what she was looking for really had changed. After all, cheating is as easy, and habitual, for a total slut like April as the nearest bar and an evening supposedly spent with her girlfriends -- any evening randomly chosen without effort or pre-planning. Although actually, her history of total slutting while simultaneously manipulating a man who was emotionally committed to her, would permanently disqualify her so far as I'm concerned.

As well, now that I'm on the subject, it's hardly an accomplishment for any reasonably attractive mid-thirties or younger woman to casually bed scores or hundreds of men -- even if she limits herself to attractive men. Most young women above dog status (bad fat) can if they want to, if they dispense with any sort of commitment or even a strong (if sometimes fast) emotional connection as pre-qualifiers. There's a vast sea of men out there, including attractive ones, who are interested in casual sex but can't get it at will just because they want it -- or can only get it by working really, really hard at it. It's only an accomplishment of sorts when men rather than women do something like that -- for the simple reason that only a small minority of men CAN, although the great majority of young men would love to be able to (sometimes desperately so). That in a nutshell is why women can be sluts and men really can't. (Although many men use the word unfairly, and with more than a little jealousy.) A slut is someone who habitually has careless, easy sex. It's not simply blind social prejudice, as the current feminist line would have it. It's the nature of the different "market conditions" for casual sex between the two sexes. For women, screwing lots of men very quickly and easily merely involves relaxing or abandoning requirements which most women enforce (most of the time) before sex. For men it requires being very unusually attractive, in one way or another.

As for my downward mobility premise -- consider who appears as the possible happy ending guy, who picks up our West LA (parents') upper class mansion dwelling late 20 something Some Girl, as the movie is ending. A nondescript in looks and personality, but moderately forceful, young member of the LAPD.
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Some Girl (1998)
At what point did Chad fall out of love with Claire -- here's when ...
23 July 2001
One commentator below asks: "At what point did Chad fall out of love w/ Claire? I feel like I missed something...though I rewound that part of the movie a few times."

To me that was glaringly obvious. When Claire went to his house after their second get together because he didn't follow his "I'll call you later" with a call later that night, or "even" by the next afternoon. She was worried because he had ended their perfectly warm chat in her living room without sex by saying he had to shoot a commercial the next day, and wanted to be fully rested and focused. Bad move Claire, made much worse by her failing to in any way dissipate the message of heavy neediness, after he explained he hadn't called yet "because Claire, I only got up about an hour ago." Her face and whole being conveyed a desperate longing for him -- after sex once, and two get-togethers. (Try reversing the shoe girrrls, when a guy is that far ahead of you. Kinda sends the message that he/she knows something you hadn't yet figured out about how much he/she is really worth to others, doesn't it?)

Actually, she started to be in trouble when she apologized for her brother being rude to Chad, and then backed down completely when he responded "was he"?, with a "Well … maybe not." The point isn't being more careful. The point is trying less hard to please. Guys of course fall into the same trap all the time, and if anything, quite a bit more often. (Of course that's what a lot of girrlz want -- with their safe, steady, settle down choice in a guy, anyway. But it's no way to sweep someone off her / his feet.)

The other possibility of course was that Chad was playing a serial seduction game from the get go -- of the full mind as well as body capture variety -- with no intention of it ever lasting regardless of how sypatico they turned out to be. I suspect however that he was always open to the possibility -- without coming close to feeling the sort of desperation that it had to be her, that she did. Other romance minded girls are real easy to find when you've got the looks, skillz and the sort of career that Chad has. (Hell, they're pretty easy to find as well when you've just got the magnetism and skillz, without looks, plus something going on career and future wise.)

Of course this is exactly the position which highly attractive girls with some ability to play the game are in -- and a far higher proportion of girls are in something like this position than guys are. (At least that is while both are in their twenties. It starts reversing fast for those still or once again single in their thirties.)

For those who might be inclined to agree with April's (of all people's) several times repeated warnings that "guys like Chad are the worst" (most dangerous), consider this. Is meaningless sex really better while you are looking for the one that will last? Isn't a much fuller connection, though painful to lose for the one who wanted it to continue, a much richer and more expanding experience -- and much more of a trial run at finding the lasting thing?

In the end a lot of the problem is the simple fact that Claire wasn't really in Chad's league (looks, personality or career wise) -- just as Neal, who might have otherwise been a personality natural for Claire, wasn't really in Claire's league. Yeah, Claire could have delayed the falling apart moment by playing the game smarter. But it would have come apart anyway so long as beneath it all she was so needy. She's not going to get a guy who isn't relationship desperate, probably because he isn't getting much sex (guys being different from girls), until she changes that -- though by the end of the movie it seemed an indelible part of her character to me. Frankly, I think marriage to her, though it might well start out full of passion, lovely romance, and beautiful mutual giving, would before long end up a nightmare. In fact the pyrotechnics at the end of the movie telescope that future likelihood.

She just doesn't have enough else going on in her life, or any apparent drive to make other things go on. She wants to live off her committed partner's vital life force. Her sort of full life (and not just bedroom and occasional emotional) submission may be initially seductive, but it tends to turn to poison -- pretty quickly in today's social climate. She seems the type who would always be consuming much energy jealously patrolling her partner's life with bee-bee guns and worse, and very possibly slipping into a bottle or something else as the poison grew stronger. She'd be enough to drive almost any guy to adultery -- while, ironically, monogamous romantic commitment is what she herself wants most.
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Elemental and powerful
21 July 2001
"Knife in the Water" is one of the really great films. It is elemental and archetypal. Although he made it at only 29 on a shoestring budget (while in Poland), it is certainly Polansky's most unique and striking work, and perhaps his best. This is despite a substantial work of influential, powerful and complex major works, including e.g. Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, Repulsion, Tess, Frantic and Bitter Moon. It's power is spare and elemental, but very emotional. It is a visual tone poem, in black and white, with subtitles.

After a brief initial car trip setup scene where an attractive married couple pick up an attractive 19 year old male student hitchhiker, and then the husband invites him to spend the weekend sailing with them, the entire film is set on a pocket cruiser sized sailboat, perhaps 26 ft. (9 m) long. It is just big enough to have a small cabin below where three or four people can sleep on air mattresses. Three people, one small overnight sleeping sailboat, and the surrounding scenery of the very large lake where they are all alone, is the setting for this intense interpersonal drama. Keep in mind however that this is in Communist Poland in 1962. Having a boat such as this is a mark of high status and privilege. The cocky mid to late 40's husband, and the beautiful and self assured mid 20's raven-haired wife as well, convey the same.

And yet this is not at all a stagey, play-like move. Visuals are overwhelmingly what communicate to us here. There are long stretches with no dialog, and what there is is always poem like in its economy. Most interaction is conveyed by body language, including wonderful facial expressions, especially by the gorgeous and very sensual female lead, but also including all manner of other body motions, ballet like, while they harness the wind and respond to each other's challenges.

As a sailor, who's first owned boat was only a bit larger than the one in this film, this is also my favorite sailing movie. And if I haven't seen them all, I've certainly seen a lot.

The film is all about character revelation, layer after layer, as they deal with a gamut of fairly minor sailing challenges on a summer weekend, and as the husband's agenda of subtly dominating the vigorous young man becomes increasing clear to all. The college student becomes increasingly subtly resentful. Tension between them and especially within the student, while the young trophy wife sometimes dampens or diverts the tension, but mostly while she sits back and enjoys the contest with what we intuit and then learn is her own agenda, feels increasingly like a powerful spring ready to explode. An outright knifing of the husband seems foreshadowed by the increasing camera attention to the student's large retractable knife, and then their knife throwing competition. The young guy is a mystery. He looks caged, ready to explode. He could be a violent criminal, who the husband is taking far too many chances with. And then violence does explode -- but not in quite the way we have been expecting. This sets the stage for conflict and its resolution between the stunning young wife and her successful and handsome older husband.

Much of what makes this film so interesting is that all three characters are so strong. They are three predatory leopards beneath a reasonably polite surface, circling each other, sniffing for weakness. This is most definitely true of the twenty something woman as well. We start to see this in her easy confidence and mastery of the sailing -- clearly something she has learned from him, but something she has made her own as well. As the contest between the two men develops she enjoys it, and does little to stop it -- she only seeks to set some channeling rules, which are violated. In fact, though she begins as principally a beautiful ornament, she becomes the most interesting character of the film. The final scene in their car as they are stopped at a literal and figurative crossroad, is especially thought provoking.

In a revealing and fascinating moment after the feared drowned student has returned to the boat, and starts trashing the husband who has swum to shore to quell his wife's accusations that he as "murdered" the student, she stops him, and tells him that really her husband and he are a lot alike, only at different stages in life. He too will make it, she stays, if he stays focused on that, as her husband did. Her husband and her as well were up from the bottom like him she says -- and then relates a litany of tough conditions which she taunts he is about to wear proudly as his badge. Six to a room, etc., etc. This scene, and the fascinating final one in the car, are probably the only two which are carried principally by dialogue.

Some earlier commentators have said that as the weekend progresses, we can see there is trouble under the surface in their marriage. Well, yes and no. Mostly no, I think. I think their relationship has more love and passion than most of any duration. At a guess they've been together about four or five years. We see her love and admiration for her husband in some of the looks she gives him when he's looking elsewhere. We also see moments of knowing bemusement. But there is something of a power imbalance. We know that it was he who raised her up from poverty, and that he reminds her of this from time to time. This is not the source of any intense resentment, but something that has begun to bother her under the surface. She is looking for opportunities to balance that -- and finds one over the weekend.

The final scene, in their car again, subtly announces the new balance. It is clear that she will never let him know for sure what happened. Her matter of factly stating it, in a way that she knows he will initially discount, is perfect. She has thoroughly seized the high ground over the events of the weekend, which was not at all inevitable. It's a weekend none of them will ever forget. Nor will we.
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A young woman indecisively parked in a relationship where nothing is terribly wrong, but she no longer feels any magic.
14 July 2001
This slight 15 minute short explores the thoughts and daily actions of a late 20's or maybe 30ish woman who no longer feels passion or much attraction for her attractive boyfriend of about the same age (maybe a few years older). It's set mostly in their Paris apartment. There doesn't seem to be anything really wrong with him or their year old relationship, except that she doesn't feel the magic anymore. He does get (understandably) annoyed by her increasing remoteness, and her attempts, as she puts it, to "de-seduce" him -- though he doesn't seem to recognize it as that.

The short description in the TV grid website that this is a move about a woman trying to break off an "obsessive" relationship seems thoroughly wrong to me. (I saw it on the Sundance Channel.)

Although she's attractive, he's better looking than her (certainly by comparison to the respective "fields" for each sex) with a strong, masculine personality, and is attentive, without fawning on her. He is the one who wants her to stop always going off and obsessively reading her book (Sun Tsu, "The Art of War"), and come watch a show with him. We don't know his work, but he's got an Apple computer he uses at home. He is obviously chosen as someone a lot of women would love to be with, although we see no flirting by either of them with anyone else. She is indecisive about just breaking it off -- she doesn't dislike him, she fears loneliness, and he does occasionally break through her increasingly thick shell with well done love making she can't or doesn't resist. She's not miserable in the relationship. It's better than being with no one. There's not reason she shouldn't be able to find someone else (or he either).

She wants to move -- and so he finds them a new place -- together. She remains ambivalent. She's comfortable, including sexually. But not passionate. It's certainly possible the entire problem is in her head. But of course that's where we live our lives.

It's interesting as a short characterization of a place I think many young women inhabit in relationships while they are waiting to find, or be found by, someone else. Where the chemistry, for whatever reason mysterious or not, is simply hotter.
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A movie only Lifetime lifers could like
14 July 2001
Warning: Spoilers
This Lifetime style movie takes the middle aged divorcee victim who then finally fights back genre to new depths of cartoon-like absurdity.

Here the 40 something stay-at-home ex-wife of a successful lawyer protagonist (daughter away at college) is starting a new life after her divorce, helped by a female college friend in opening a new dress shop as a sort of franchise expansion deal. She has even started up a friendship with her attractive, slightly younger perhaps, landscape architect / gardener (who's black). But then horror of middle-aged women's horrors, ANOTHER 20 something female she took on as a tenant to let a room to, starts 'taking over" her life.

What this new younger woman threat really does is mildly flirt with the gardener, and offer him a glass of wine that * gasp * really belonged to the divorcee!! She runs up the utility bills by not turning down the thermostat!! And backed up the toilet! And leaves old food gone bad in the refrigerator! And hangs her pieces of (African) artwork in the living room!! And so on. Well she may have killed the cat as well. Yeah, ok, the extent to which this one does these things is bad enough, but its more than a little ridiculous, especially as it turns into a campaign. The character reality is that any tiny part of this would drive this particular prissy woman insane. (So why did she rent the room -- and to horror of horrors, a much younger woman?)

Supposedly this increasingly arrogant (natch) younger woman has a mania for seizing control. And our brave 40 something must learn to fight back against this evil (and erotically hot looking, of course) 20 something. But there's this problem. Anytime the 20 something starts to maybe get into trouble she uses her POWER -- and just flirts or has sex with some guy, and escapes the consequences. (Well, there actually is something to that capability of good looking 20 somethings. It just isn't * generally * used in quite this sort of way.)

The premise is moved along by the device of the 20 something conning the divorcee into formalizing their room rental deal with a written lease produced by her. Of course the 40 something doesn't know about these things, and the 20 something has had help. The lease actually gives the younger woman equal right to the whole house during the rental period, with utilities thrown in at the fixed price. Even though an eviction proceeding is soon pending, the 20 something soon gets a temporary restraining order against the older woman, supposedly because she has been threatening the 20 something. You know, the judge is sympathetic to all the woe-is-me of the sexy sweet young thing. Finally the 40 something's "heroic" battle back for THE HOUSE then begins. Woopie!!

The only realistic or perceptive thing in this movie is how horrificly easy TRO's (or orders of protection) are for women to get on nothing more than her unsubstantiated say so -- although they are generally only this easy against men. They are sometimes just as unjustified and just as motivated to seize control of a home as it is here. Indeed, girlfriends who have moved in with their boyfriends can often get them evicted from their own homes or condos on the basis of no proof whatsoever, but only an unsubstantiated claim of threats, and sometimes without even hearing his side. Even when there is a hearing, it is routinely impossible to rebut claims of threats (to prove a negative), when the burden of proof is effectively on the accused, rather than the accuser. (This is one of the only areas of American law where that is true -- and it's a signal outrage of feminist overreaching, and the failure of any organized group to resist the steamroller.) Of course that's not likely to be the subject of any Lifetime movie in this lifetime.

The absurd basic premise of this movie relies upon the explanation that the 20 something is psychotic, and isn't taking her medicine. Even so it makes no sense. She isn't after the successful lawyer ex-husband, though she does con his help (to the ex wife's fury) in her quest. She's after THE HOUSE (technically, to drive the divorcee out of it during the period of the lease). This second younger woman is after ALL THAT'S LEFT after the divorce, after affairs with other 20 somethings STOLE her husband!! (The ex-husband seems unattached and basically solicitous after his fling -- doesn't matter, he still strayed!!!)

The protagonist is good enough looking for her age. But her outlook, attitude and focus is so small minded, frumpy and utterly without imagination or life force that it's impossible to care about her. Well, a core group of Lifetime fans care, I guess, judging by the average score the small number of raters gave it. (I kept watching it only because it was so extremely bad and cartoonish that it had a camp appeal. I couldn't resist seeing just how far they'd take it.)

** Spoiler ** (if such a thing is possible with this flick).

Well, here's a clue. The movie ends with the 20 something getting bailed out of jail by promising to "listen to" her 20 something male co-worker and sometimes lover, and "do whatever he says" and "let him take care of her" (he means get her to keep taking her medicine) -- and then tricking him and returning to THE HOUSE. There she climbs the stairs with a knife, demonicly stalking her nemesis 40 something, who is taking a bath by candlelight, secure in the thought that the younger woman is out of her life. There's a struggle -- and the 40 something mom wins -- by sticking the 20 something with a hypodermic needle full of anti-psychotic medicine she had found. She then begins stroking her, mom like, and the two women have a bonding, female solidarity moment!!! How sweet.
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Rosetta (1999)
Even with the steely determination and ruthlessness of any high corporate climber, some circumstances of poverty can threaten to plug anyone into hopelessness.
11 July 2001
This film, set in the French speaking part of Belgium, is a powerful piece of social realism. As well, it does indeed use interesting and fresh camera perspectives, so unwaveringly physically close to the attractive young (17 or so) protagonist (Emilie Dequenne in her first film role) that it merges third and first person perspectives. In this it is somewhat like the French film "A Single Girl", only it takes the technique considerably further. In "Rosetta" the perspective sometimes goes almost all the way over to first person, as when shot about one foot from her face at about 90 degrees, with a wide angle lens, as she determinedly strives from one task to another in her caravan park. I agree by commentators below however that at times the camera is too unsteady. That bit of low rent cinema realte could use a bit of stabilization.

I was struck, however, by how poorly understood the overall narrative perspective or "message" of this film often is, judging by the other comments here. Most seem to feel that the film, though it has interesting camera techniques, and is well acted by an interesting young lead, sends not only a depressing message, but also a confused and pointless one. Or others have said it goes no deeper than saying life isn't fair, or that the circumstances of poverty can reduce the poor to atomistic, asocial competition, where they are impelled to turn even on their friends.

Well, that's part of it, but it misses the larger point.

There is no effort in this film to portray Rosetta as "every girl" -- who copes just like anyone else would in her situation. No, her's is instead a striking personality, that pushes the boundaries in some ways. She is not ordinary, but extraordinary. Yet she is not randomly chosen. I suspect she is in fact closely drawn from someone the writer knew in real life. Regardless, she is a well chosen extraordinary type.

Rosetta is an answer to social Darwinists, or those who tend in that direction, in their philosophy of poverty, and how it can be readily escaped if people only bring the "right stuff" to the struggle. I suspect that the prevailing (liberal to socialist) social ideology among those who tend to view and like films such as this has blinded most from even seeing that that is what this film is primarily addressing. Rosetta is a Machiavellian striver, with a lot of personal qualities on the ball. Yet she still can't get on a road to rise -- at least within the time ambit of this slice of her life.

First the poverty that Rosetta finds herself in with her mother is extreme and unusual in a Northern European country. It is obviously a result of her mother's extreme alcoholism. They don't live in a fairly physically comfortable, if drab, flat in a public assistance building filled with other people, if usually dysfunctional ones full of raging against the established orders one way or another, along with some sort of fellowship. They live in virtual isolation in a caravan park in a tiny one room mobile hut, of the sort designed to be pulled behind a car and used by the French lower classes for inexpensive summer vacations. Usually these have considerable tent extensions for use in warmer climes and times of the year, but any such are missing here. Her dumpy, unkempt, bloated (but one can see once cute) mother is a late stage falling down drunk, lost in utter hopelessness -- about as bad as it gets. She isn't violent, but she is utterly self degraded. She matter-of-factly trades crude sexual favors to the caravan park manager to have the water turned back on. We have to believe this and worse is nothing new. Her daughter walks in on them as they are finishing, and simply demands a receipt for the paid utility bill. The mother has drunk away all of her public assistance money, even though her deal with her daughter was that she would at least cover the utilities, while her teenage daughter somehow scrounges the rent. Rosetta begs her mother to go to a treatment program for her extreme alcoholism, but the mother doesn't want to. Soon afterwards her mother runs away, Rosetta runs after her, tries to stop her, tackles her, her mother worms free, and kicks Rosetta into the shallow caravan park pond, where she almost drowns in the viscous, quicksand-like, suspended mud, as her mother disappears over the fence. Rosetta at 17 or so is in the early stages of pregnancy.

Rosetta is desperate to escape this hopeless poverty, but to somehow do it without abandoning her mother. She does indeed campaign for real work, any steady job, like it is a glorious and crucial prize of war. Living off of welfare or trying to game it is the last thing she wants -- that is the hopeless "rut" she is desperate to not fall into herself, as her mother so horribly has. Her determination is fierce. She strides everywhere at double time, just short of running. Her eyes are steely determination. She gets trial period work, at least, at a bakery, and goes about her tasks with quick determination and focus. She is all business and competence. Soon she loses this job before the social welfare protections against firing without cause, and with benefits, kick in, as she has lost other ones. In this case it's because the owner feels he has to give the position to a far less determined distant relative when he shows up. (Of course it is this same social welfare scheme which has much to do with the difficulty of getting permanent jobs beyond the trial period -- and is a good part of why the unemployment rate in continental Western Europe is chronically around 10% or sometimes worse. That is background the movie does not discuss, though continental Western Europeans will all be aware of it, with varying causal social interpretations of course.)

She goes back to the bakery and other work places regularly, again and again, searching for stable, real, work. She is in the face of the owner -- 'is anything available'. 'It's too soon, too soon he keeps telling her -- try later'. She won't take the social hint, and give up, or at least give up there. She doesn't care how annoying she is -- but she stops short of actual physical aggression. She doesn't act out in frustration and trash that place or any place. Everything she does is calculated, and controlled. But she'll do almost anything to avoid "the rut".

We learn it is almost, rather than actually anything, when she starts down the path of killing to get ahead, staged as an intelligently conceived if perhaps spur of the moment accident. But she pulls back, finds a long branch, and helps him escape the viscous bottomless muck in the same pond she almost drowned in. She will do something else though. Soon she ends up betraying the young waffle stand operator, only a few years older than she, who works for the bakery "boss". He is one of the few people who have tried to help her in a personal way, and to befriend her without even coming on to her, at least in any crude way. But she is determined and she has something on him, something he has revealed to her to try to help her -- it is enough to get him fired and her hired in his place.

Soon that too turns to muck. Not because she doesn't do a good job. She is all immediate competence, simply from her prior observation of him at work. But her mother has returned home after days of disappearance, collapsed outside the entrance to their mobile hut, and she needs care and motivation to live -- or will probably soon die. Rosetta calls "the boss" and quits the waffle stand job she had been willing to do almost anything to achieve. As the movie ends she is hauling a too large for her cylinder of gas back to their caravan with an attempt at the same striding speed she has used in searching for work. The young guy waffle stand guy she betrayed once again circles her on his motorbike, again and again, not hitting her, but harassing her, shaming her. The movie ends with her collapsing on the gas tank with her first tears, hopelessly -- and with that same guy coming to her, relenting, and starting to hold her. What will become of Rosetta?

How much more determined could someone in her position be? She is determined to not abandon the one most intimate human link of her life, with her mother, however desperately she is pulling her down, like the muck in that pond. But Rosetta was willing to sacrifice just about anything else. She's as Machiavellian in her determination to get permanent, lasting work, to escape "the rut" of welfare hopelessness, as any fast track corporate climber or ruthless small or large businessman is to prevail. Her social skills may be a bit lacking, but she has no platform whatsoever to work with. And in fact her social ability isn't terrible -- people do respond to her determination, up to a point, and she doesn't senselessly antagonize anyone. She also certainly doesn't play the game of the winsome ingenue who everyone can't help but adopt -- but how realistic is that usually? She has seen her mother sell herself, and that or anything like it is not a route she will take. She doesn't have time for friendship for its own sake -- although she does allow one with the young waffle seller quickly enough when she figures he can help her somehow.

There may well be better ways to go about escaping from Rosetta's situation than the strategy she purses here, but this film certainly graphically illustrates how hard it can be. The film's message is that the usual cliched nostrums from the political right of personal strength, determination and focus on work don't automatically or easily succeed when you are coming from circumstances this far in the gutter, at least in this social environment. The reasons here have nothing to do with being waylaid (understandably or not) by drugs, alcohol, the attraction of quick money crime, loyalty to loser friends, or social alienation.

I'm not saying I necessarily entirely buy the film's message as a matter of social truth, if the message is that the situation for someone in Rosetta's position is nearly hopeless, at least while her mother is still pulling her into the muck -- though I accept it as a partial truth. I would say, although perhaps the filmmakers might not, that high unemployment and large barriers to first permanent work created by the high employer costs of the social welfare system where she is have a lot to do with this situation. But of course none of that is remotely Rosetta's fault, or something she can easily overcome. One wonders why someone as determined as Rosetta didn't find school a route up from her situation. Of course the answer will be that she has since learned some life lessons, matured and changed, partly due to her pregnancy. As well, what doesn't work immediately often does over time, and doesn't require as extreme measures as some which Rosetta resorts to -- which in fact can backfire. Additionally, friendship and loyalty to friends is not only personally satisfying and morally attractive, it is also important in anyone's successes, minor or major. It is not entirely a luxury best dispensed with if you are really desperate, as is Rosetta's decision. But this is arguing social truth. The film makes a graphic contribution to the dialogue that I am unlike to forget.

Actually, it's not at all clear that the film is saying Rosetta cannot eventually climb out -- if she too doesn't succumb to hopelessness, as her mother did. But we do see how hard it is for her not to do that, even with all the grit, determination and focus in the world on the "right" things to succeed -- even to the point of going well overboard. That I think is the real point of "Rosetta". It deserved the award at Cannes.
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Charming window into Taiwanese home and personal life.
9 July 2001
Warning: Spoilers
A beautiful and touching movie. I give it a 9/10.

In some ways similar to Babette's Feast, this movie is far more emotionally warm throughout, with none of the austere northern European Calvanism as is the backdrop needing (and getting) some thawing in that movie. It is also more engaging as a foodie movie, since the traditional high Chinese cooking pervades the whole movie, as the long widowed father's and hence the family's principal focus for emotionally communicating, sharing and supporting his three twenty and thirty something daughters. He has raised them since the youngest, 20 by the movie, was 4, almost entirely by himself -- and has obviously created a warm, thoroughly gentile, and loving, if somewhat reserved (perhaps a cultural norm?) household. He has devoted that part of his life not working in his restaurant entirely to caring for and loving his daughters -- and making them endless and routine family feasts, each Sunday and other times besides.


The ending is most life affirming as well. If there was ever a fifty something or perhaps sixty year old widower who deserved to effortlessly win a young woman the age of one of his older daughters (mid 30's?), initially by adopting her 9 year old or so daughter as almost his own grand daughter, it is Mr. Chu. Charmingly, the little girl derives status by bringing lunch pails stuffed with minor versions of his feasts to share at her school. As the movie ends, his new wife is giving the papa another daughter on the way, a little sister for his adopted "grandchild".
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Natalie Portman is captivating, and the plot is heart warming, but much of the character detail doesn't ring true.
3 July 2001
This movie is indeed heart warming, and easy to watch -- Natalie Portman is thoroughly captivating. Ashley Judd is very good, beautiful and engaging as well. It's a charming fairy tale -- though one which in its broad outlines has a refreshingly plausible upside ending, rather than the incredible long shot sort.

One bit of movie trivia -- I love the evocation of Natalie's first very powerful role, as the already charismatic and disturbingly sexy 12 year old informally adopted by a recent immigrant hit man in "The Professional", through her huging to herself a large potted plant as she travels into a new home and phase of her life. In each film it's the only emotional tie the young girl really has left at that transition, before she builds up again from rubble.

"Where the Heart Is" has a thoroughly laudable set of messages, and their general outline rings true. It's all about openness and giving to others, ultimately prevailing over selfishness and irresponsibility. It's about finding the right people for you, even when they might not seem so right at first. It's about young and not quite so young women learning through life's experiences to finally tell good men from not so good or downright bad men. Further, it's refreshingly set in a geographic and social part of the country, among Oklahoma and Tennesse small town working class whites, that generally gets little attention in the movies. With captivating and charismatic performances by the beautiful Portman and Judd, and as well in a different way Stockard Channing as the reformed alcoholic earth mother, what's not to like? It should be a thoroughly winning, if fairly small movie.

Well, partly it is. Portman and Judd have done their careers no harm, and some good, by this film. The screenplay, by and large, is good as well. The trouble is the directing.

In its its character portrayal details, this movie is fundamentally false. How could a young girl as emotionally unclouded, clear and giving, with almost no consuming resentments, come from foster homes, no father, and the thoroughly irrepsonsible and emotionally unreliable and distant mother which Sally Fields portrays in an excellent cameo? As well, Portman as directed (and maybe cast) just doesn't pull off being nearly illiterate and not so bright very well. She is obviously highly intelligent in every look and expression she gives. Judd as well plays too smart for her role. They are both simply gems too unclouded to be believable in their life circumstance -- especially the older Judd, who has had more time to recover from teenage waywardness. The result is something more like a fairy tale, than a work of real dramatic truth. The fault seems the director's, not the actresses. They seem directed to have played unremittingly loveable, rather than real.

Novalee would be much more believable if she were significantly wilder, more irresponsible and sexually driven than she is portrayed. There is some tinge of that, in her early sexy innocence with her baby's father, and the very brief lust at first sight scene with the auto mechanic, but it is very much downplayed (no hot scenes, no compulsions), there is only one such relationship after she is abandoned, and it lasts barely a month. Why if she wasn't going to keep being pulled in that direction doesn't she much sooner really connect with the young, intelligent and caring, and at least fairly good looking (if not cocky) Forney -- who early on becomes the effective adoring daddy to the daughter which is the central focus of her life? Instead it takes more than five years. Yes, sure, the reasons given -- the spoken one that she doesn't think she's good enough for him, given his college and family background despite his unambiguous interest in her, and the unspoken one that he doesn't seem like enough of a stud to her until she has done some considerable changing and learning some of life's lessons -- together make perfect sense abstractly. But they don't ring true emotionally in the film. She seems like a Forney sort of girl in many ways from the get go, and certainly after she has given birth. We see her learning and growing, but not emotionally or sexually changing all that much. The fatal attraction for cocky studs just isn't portrayed, at least after she is abandoned in the Walmart parking lot right at the very beginning.

Nor do we see what is supposed to be largely the same story actually portrayed by Judd -- rather than explained. As well, what is with the never married Judd's pumping out the five kids by her early thirties? The first one sure. But then she doesn't wise up about female backup birth control? I'm not saying that never happens. I'm saying I don't buy that the character portrayed by Judd would have kept doing that, with her self awareness, intelligence and unclouded emotional makeup. Unless perhaps there are things we aren't really told. Such as that maybe the kids were really "oops" pregnancies designed to wring commitment out of a succession of guys that weren't really willing to marry her. She tells Novalee and hence us that she repeatedly kids herself about the sorts of men she falls for, but it's something we hear about, rather than see in her.

In each case the director didn't want to cloud the picture of emotionally perfect, and otherwise highly attractive, female characters slowly emerging from life's bad breaks and their small town working class origins. They aren't complex or flawed enough to ring true, especially not with the life stories they present.
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Love Stinks (1999)
Horror story of how far "women's rights" have gone
19 June 2001
How any single (or divorced) man could "enjoy" the second half of this movie is beyond me. Stare at it in nervous horror -- well, that's another thing. And well, yes, Bridgette Wilson as the she devil is a blonde beauty with an outstanding topside. When she was in seduction mode she was sure hot -- although there was obvious big trouble brewing for anyone with half a brain.

No woman should even begin to be able to do what this one does. The point isn't how bad she is for doing it. The point is she shouldn't be ABLE to do it. Those who think that the central premise in this movie couldn't possible occur are simply wrong. Admittedly, she'd probably have to kick the palimony suit off by not only lying that he "promised to marry me", but also by claiming he had "abused her" -- but if so, without any proof whatsoever, she might well get a restraining order and him kicked out of his own house. That should simply NOT be able to happen.

For that not to be able to happen, no woman should be able to kick a man she isn't married to out of his own house / apartment for any reason whatsoever, unless he is convicted of something and sent to jail. But the feminist movement and their male supporters, sometimes allied with the religious right, has in fact taken the domestic dispute laws and practices so far that that is not the case. Hell, a married woman shouldn't be able to have a man kicked out of their joint house unless she can prove true and significant injury -- not just her fear of it (which can always be claimed), or scratches (e.g. from him trying to hold her hands so she won't keep slapping him, etc.). But of course they can -- and claims by angry women are given great credence in the system these days -- regardless of whether there is an evident motive to lie or greatly exaggerate.

That's how outrageous the American legal system has become towards men in domestic disputes with women. Yes, I'm a lawyer (though not a domestic relations lawyer).

The costs of defending against a palimony suit of the sort in the movie might have been somewhat exaggerated, but not all THAT much. It could well be many tens of thousands of dollars, if not likely hundreds of thousands. Possibly with him paying her costs all the way. That should also not be. In fact palimony suits should be summarily dismissed, unless perhaps he has made promises in writing. Well, in some jurisdictions they are, but not all I think.

All of this is deeply, outrageously wrong -- of course some states like California and New York, with many judges and juries of a certain world view, are vastly worse than others. Some of it would be very easy to fix. Simply make any claim of palimony only enforceable if the "promise" is in writing. If obviously should have to be. Hell, if we are going to require that promises to sell or buy real estate should have to be in writing to be enforceable, then certainly promises to marry should have to be -- if they are supposed to be enforceable.

This movie actually has a serious social message at its core. But because it is pro male and anti-feminazi (how else can once describe Wilson and those that support her here) for a change, it has to be couched as humor, and deeply undercover.

Maybe things are starting to change and re-center.
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Unusual, sweet, humanity affirming movie.
19 June 2001
I only tuned into this movie on cable half or 1/3 way through it, so normally I wouldn't venture a comment. However, there are only two, so I will. I'd really like to see the whole thing through.

This is a charming, life affirming movie. It operates well outside the stereotypes.

It's the seventy year old, Armin Mueller-Stahl, who carries the movie. We are all aware of older men, maybe even this old, who charm younger women. But when they are this old they always need to be either seriously rich, or seriously famous and accomplished in movie land, and for that matter, general popular culture. Mueller-Stahl is none of those things -- although he is well educated, thoughtful, and a talented violin player -- a minor artist. What he is most of all though is a really good listener -- and someone who at root is kind and loving -- even if he had tended to withdraw into a cynical and loner shell.

Of course the 20 something (Olivia D'Abo) has to be needy for there to be any chance of even a passing chemistry between them -- but she is. She gets beaten up by an abusive boyfriend who she knows is headed nowhere's ville with his lowlife criminal lifestyle. The Stahl - D'Abo relationship definitely is mostly father-daughter. But after his generosity, and concern, but lack of preachiness to her, she gives him what she knows will be a precious gift -- and it is.

A sweet movie.

(And I'm decades younger than Stahl.)
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Stakeout (1987)
The gorgeous Madeline Stowe's youngest major role
17 June 2001
There is really only one compelling reason to watch this movie. That's the astonishingly beautiful Madeline Stowe in her first big movie role, while she was still young (28 or 29). Especially at that age she combines fierce erotic heat and utter classyness. She's the sort of woman who could be described as a natural aristocrat. She realizes all one might hope for from a British - Costa Rican union.

Otherwise, it's a serviceable tough cop / romance movie, that serves as a decent vehicle for exploring Madeline -- only it would have been better with more air time for her. I do agree with all who've said there's a realized chemistry between Dreyfuss and Stowe. Of course there has to be to make the movie work.
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Coming of age and male fantasy call girl flick.
17 June 2001
Rebecca De Mornay at 21 is fabulous as the savvy call girl for any teen boy to die for -- or for that matter any red blooded male of any age. She enters the film gliding silently into the back yard entrance of his parent's off-the-lake Chicago house, and after speaking only a few words, something like "are you ready for me Joel", artistically slips off her demure little slip of a dress, back arched to him, one leg kneeled in the window seat, presses her bottom into him, silently invites him to take her, and then turns, melts into him, kissing him in apparent yielding passion. This is immediately followed by cut scenes to multiple positions in multiple locations around the house. It's a perfect male fantasy of what paid for wild but romantic sex might be like (however unrealistic). It's also undoubtedly Joel's (Cruse's) first time. What an initiation.

The movie never gets that hot again (although the scene enacting Lana's "thing about trains" gets close). But it does become increasingly interesting as a first rate coming of age flick. Actually, it's a bit more than that. It explores the tension between the self disciplined deferred gratification he and has friends have all been taught they need for upper middle class success, versus the let loose sexual and other risk taking he knows is out there, some other people are doing, and wishes he could get away with. How far can a nice upper middle class boy go without throwing it all away? That risky business is what the film is all about.

Tom Cruz is perfect as the dutiful but less than gifted "future enterpriser" high school senior who's always had to work a little harder and stick more to the straight and narrow to try to live up to his parents' expectations -- without quite getting there. Although he was about the same age as De Mornay when they made the film, Cruz looks and acts a thoroughly convincing boyish 16 or 17. De Mornay's Lana is an iconic bad girl hooker of the naturally toney and perhaps feeling variety -- although about the last we're never entirely sure. She remains ultimately an enigma, beyond Cruz's and our full grasp, but not beyond his connecting with. Sadly, her first major role was probably her best -- although certainly not her only good one.

Cruz may be "on the right track", but it's De Mornay's Lana who knows everything about sex, life, taking risks, and living on the edge. She seduces Cruz into turning his parents' home into a bordello, to tap the money to be made by mingling his kind of friends with her kind of friends for a night, while she is hiding out from her "manager", and he has been left to "act responsibly" while his parents are away on a business trip. The scene where the Princeton alumnus interviewer, whom his dad has contacted to try to help finesse his "not quite Ivy League transcript", comes to the house to interview Cruz on the night the bordello party is in full swing, is deliciously funny and at the same time full of nervous tension. Cruz's character is on the brink of disaster, and then in fact clearly has thrown away a good part of his future opportunities -- or has he?

It's a delicious movie -- especially for males raised in seriously high academic achievement oriented families. Every good boy would love to call a Lana sometime -- and get away with it.
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The best and most intelligent exploration of over the top D&S sexuality between heterosexuals ever made.
14 June 2001
Warning: Spoilers
This beautifully made film is a searching, intelligent and artistic exploration of sexual infatuation and then deep erotic love -- but always on the sole plane of sexual union, to the increasing exclusion of all other family and human bonds.

This is a powerfully erotic movie. But it's real power is in its exploration of the nature and power of erotic obsession or at least one major side of it. (No unrequited love leading to great sacrifice, distant yearning for an ideally beautiful lover ultimately achieved or not, or cold sexual manipulation here.) The film's erotic power is despite the fact that neither of the lovers is extraordinarily beautiful, although both are quite attractive. Yes this film is suffused with beautiful images. But it is overwhelming a film about ideas -- but not in the remote, abstract fashion of some Euro-pics, especially of the 70's and 80's variety. It's a most dramatic and sexually graphic tale. It can be enjoyed strictly on that level -- though I doubt most Americans who aren't college graduate "material" would much like it. Those who are, and are sexually adventurous are likely to truly love it. It explores deep sexual intensity as being ultimately about control over and surrender to the subject of desire (aka dominance and submission) -- which first the male, and then both, and then the female partner lead in dominating. All is pursued fearlessly and with abandon -- yet with ultimately gentile hearts. There is no violence in this movie, and no sadistic or uncaring manipulation. The goal of their mutual control is never anything outside their relationship, its always more of their relationship. In this she leads in selfless abandon -- and he finds it so seductive, he follows. It's all about mutuality and increasing unification. (The one apparent act of violence at the end, a shocking one, really isn't an act of violence -- and only occurs after one of the lovers is accidentally killed by the other.) This is all very unusual stuff, on any sustained basis, in a movie from any country.

Part of what makes this film fascinating is that it is completely outside of Judeo-Christian notions of sexual sin, limitation, and boundary violation. However, that doesn't mean it occurs in a society without effective rules on the relations between the sexes and about sexuality. In many ways there were obviously many more such rules, although different ones, than the West had at that time -- and they governed men as well. The film is set in early 20th century Japan, in many ways still a late medieval society in the traditional Japanese country gentry setting in which this film is set (though the female lover has a big city "bad girl" origin).. Certainly there is less sexual equality in exterior social relations than the West knew even by that time (not to speak of today). In the end though this movie shows there was more traditional limitation to male dominance within the family than I for one had expected. Geishas for example were invited to traditional gentry homes, and expected to stroke male egos by privately performing song and dance and generally deferring to men in intimate settings in ways that settled wives actually would not -- but were expected to not go beyond flattery and teasing -- and certainly not to have intercourse, which might e.g. lead to children. Men could pretend to have concubines, and be flattered as though they did, but respectable ones weren't expected to consummate the pretense.

It is especially interesting that when the protagonist lovers break loose of their tightly rule bound and male dominated society to recklessly follow where erotic control games might lead them, with intensifying their mutual erotic pleasure their driving guide, they don't end up in an even more male dominated union than the society they came from. Rather they transcend that world into a radically mutual, equal and control swapping culture of two. Its dangerous and it's too consuming, but though it starts with her calling him master and devoting herself to his pleasure -- which she never abandons -- it ends with him doing the same thing.

Of course in the universal tradition of such rule breaking romances, it has to end tragically. But the inevitability of this tragedy doesn't seem to be that some socially suppressed devil of instinctual evil gets released from the darkness after the lid of social suppression is worked free. Rather it's that these reckless lovers traveled to uncharted waters, without a map or play book. And so an exciting game turned out to be far more dangerous and deadly than they really knew. Not because of inherent evil unleashed -- as is the usual Judeo-Christian theme in such situations. But rather because they needed to learn some rules for a new territory -- some of which are taught by this movie.


Or more prosaically re: the tragic ending -- yes strangling games may work really well as a super sex Viagra drug for the already high performing -- but the moment of peak pleasure in that particular game is truly right at the edge of deadly effect.
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