Sunday, 28 February 2010

You Got Me Hotter Than Georgia Asphalt.

I'm a big David Lynch fan. Mulholland Drive is one of my favourite films. Twin Peaks is one of my favourite television shows. Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man - love 'em.

So it was with a great deal of expectation that I approached his Wild At Heart, his 1990 picture that brought him home the Palme d'Or. And... maybe my expectation did bad things. It just didn't really do it for me.

Sure, it was filled with Lynchian moments, but even they seemed a bit dulled down. Yes, it was over the top, the performances were extreme and caricatured in his distinctively twisted way. But it didn't have the through-line I wanted, it didn't leave me gasping with want for clarity, it didn't seem to have everything and anything going on below the surface. It seemed, in a way, to almost be a straight story told in a kooky way. And David, you're better than that.

Nicholas Cage plays Sailor, a con released back into the arms of his lover Lula (Laura Dern.) Very much against the wishes of Lula's nymphomaniac alcoholic mother Marietta (Diane Ladd) the two run off to California, trailed by private investigator Johnnie (Harry Dean Stanton), who has been in love with Lula for a long time, and gangster Marcelles Santos (J.E. Freeman), both hired independently by Marietta. En route, Sailor and Lula come across the aftermath of a car accident, with the lone survivor dying in front of them, which Lula sees as a bad omen and begs to stop at a town called Big Tuna in Texas to rest up for a bit - she's also become quite ill, strangely mostly in the morning...

While there, Sailor drops in on an old friend Perdita (Isabella Rossellini), as he's strapped for cash and hoping to make some more. He also meets Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), an intriguing character working with Perdita who asks him to go in on a simple feed store job for some quick cash. After Bobby blows away the two clerks unnecessarily, he announces that he's been hired to kill Sailor before being shot by sheriff officers who have turned up at the scene, then accidentally (and quite graphically) blowing his own head off. Sailor is arrested and spends another five years in jail whilst his young son with Lula grows up. Lula and child meet Sailor at the train station on his release, and Sailor quickly realises that he is not what they need now, before being beaten up by a street gang, discovering with a Wizard Of Oz hallucination that he is wrong, and runs over car roofs back to Lula, singing to her as the credits roll.

You see? It just doesn't quite sound crazy enough. And it plays so straight as well. Cage is fine as Sailor, playing an early installment of the same character he will riff off for a long time, while Dern is similarly acceptable as Lula, though somewhat over the top to the extent where any semblance of truth in her character kind of drowns (except for the late scene at the train station, which I found strangely moving.) The real highlights were Ladd as the mother (netting an Oscar nomination) and Dafoe as Bobby, beautifully chilling, seedy, sleazy and memorable.

Other than that, though, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot to say about the film. It's just not particularly memorable, really. Muddles its way through without a great deal of remarkability. 2.5 stars.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

I'll Try And Be As Strong As You Want Me To Be.

Is there any late actor as repeatedly imitated as James Dean? In terms of attempted artistry in photo spreads of the newest up-and-comer playing something approaching bad-boy status, or who's just so damn pretty and talented, that look is always going to come out somewhere along the way. 

The only Dean film I've seen is Rebel Without A Cause - though he only made three major films, so that's a whole third of his primary output. I do also plan on correcting that to encompass Giant and East Of Eden as soon as I can lay my hands on them.

I first saw Rebel Without A Cause at an underground cinematheque of sorts in inner-Sydney back in... what, 2005? Projected onto the wall of a room underneath a cafe in Surry Hills from an old 16mm print I think from the National Film And Sound Archive. I'd obviously been aware of James Dean for years before, had been in love with him from naught but his photos and tragic story (nothing like a tragic story to get me crushing - Mr Dean, River Phoenix, the list could go on but it's just going to get to much for our little hearts to bear.)

RWAC (as it shall now be known to save on typing) is the story of Jim Stark (Dean), a perpetual new kid on the block whose family decides to move every time he gets in trouble - which seems to be often. Finding himself in his new town, he only has to turn up to school to get into trouble - he steps on the school seal, which everyone else walks around on the way up to the front door. Stark has already met a couple of the kids from school by the time his first big fight happens later that day, at a field trip to the planetarium. Judy (Natalie Wood) lives down the road from him, going out with tough guy Buzz (Corey Allen), but you can tell from the get-go that Stark enthralls her. John, known as Plato (Sal Mineo) is a complete outcast, an apparent homosexual, lusting (completely understandably) for our protagonist. The fight between Stark and Buzz at the planetarium sees a challenge to a game of chicken that night, whereby Stark and Buzz get in stolen cars, race them towards a cliff's edge, and whoever jumps out first is the chicken. Except Buzz never manages to get out.

As the film continues, with the famous scene between Stark and his parents, Stark's discontent and angst-before-angst-was-in becomes more and more apparent, and Stark, Plato and Judy all become closer and closer, finally spending time in an old abandoned mansion where they are set upon by Buzz's old crew (including Dennis Hopper in an early and very minor role.) The film comes full circle, finishing at the Planetarium, with police involvement.

Dean is electric, though Wood and Mineo got the Oscar nominations. The script is fantastic, spawning so many quotable lines that have entered the lexicon to the extent where I'm certain it is quoted without most people having any idea where these words come from. Director Nicholas Ray keeps the film taut and trim, allowing the easy beauty and dynamism of the young cast to flow through every scene, and Dean's ability to bring humanity to a role that so easily could have been completely loathsome, or at least purposelessly antagonistic, keeps you feeling for all three when, by rights, you should be on the side of the law. But at the end of the day, Stark just wants to try and find his place in the world, find how he fits in, but he doesn't want to hurt anyone. And once he finds love, all he wants is contentment that seems to completely elude him.

A true classic of cinema, let alone American cinema. And testament to the reason James Dean has remained so prominent in the eyes of the world over half a century after his death. 5 easy stars, and sometimes I wish I could add an arbitrary sixth.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

You're Lucky The Bar's Open To You.

Oh, Casablanca. How I love thee.

I'm not going to write too much about this, one of my favourite films of all time, because, seriously, it's been out and about for almost 70 years. If it hasn't been watched yet, it's probably never going to be. BUT GO WATCH IT BECAUSE IT IS BEAUTIFUL.

I'd play it again, Sam, forever. I really would.

And that's coming from someone who doesn't generally like older Hollywood films, because they always strike me as so false. Something about Humphrey Bogart's and Ingrid Bergman's performances, though, cut through me. That's love. It really is. Bogey is cold, Bergman is cold, but they're so warm, so enchanting, so fierce when they break through to their hearts. And they're so mysterious, especially Bogey's Rick. What has he done? Why is he in Casablanca? What the hell does it matter, he's in love again.

Truly, it's one of the greatest films ever made. So many people agree that it's become a cliche, and I'm sure it would be derided more were it not so damned good. But it is that damned good. And better. Black and white, cheesy in parts, racist, probably, stereotyped, of course. This is Old Hollywood, remember. This is during the war. (WWII that is - America has had a lot of wars, hasn't it?) But Casablanca is just about itself, about Casablanca, about an escape, a place away, a place where nothing matters but today and you and me and Rick and Ilsa and Sam and the bar. Even the transit papers don't really matter. It's good times tinged with sadness and the possibility of hope.

It's beautiful. 5 stars and a tear in the eye.

Be White. Live White. Like This.

My lord that sounds racist, doesn't it?

Sympathy For Lady Vengeance is the last part of Park Chan-wook's vengeance trilogy, after Sympathy For Mr Vengeance and Oldboy. To get down to brass tacks, it's my least favourite of the three. There, I said it. It's still pretty good though.

After the male protagonists of the first two, Lady Vengeance follows a woman for the first time. Lee Geum-ja (Lee Yeong-ae) has just been released from prison after being sentenced to fifteen years for the abduction and murder of a young child - which she didn't do. The real killer, Mr Baek, forced her to confess on the threat that he would kill her young daughter if she didn't. Whilst in prison, Geum-ja was the model prisoner, helping others in need, donating kidneys - the normal. While she wasn't all goodness and light (she poisoned and killed a fellow inmate who was torturing another, all the while pretending to help her), she was owed many a favour by her ex fellow convicts, which she calls in following her release.

Geum-ja's persona has completely changed post her release. Where she was all sweetness and light inside, she is cold and vicious outside, relentless in her search first for her daughter (who was adopted by an Australian couple living in the outback - and how strange it was to see Tony Barry suddenly pop up unexpectedly in a Korean thriller) and then for revenge on Mr Baek. Mr Baek is now married to another ex-con who owes a favour to Geum-ja, and it is her assistance that allows our villainous hero to capture the killer. In doing so, she discovers that he has killed more than just the one she took responsibility for.

With the help of the detective who was looking after the case, she gathers up the rest of the relatives and gives them a couple of options regarding his fate. Let it just be said that what follows is particularly disturbing.

Where Mr Vengeance was gritty and real, obviously the first of an acclaimed series, probably without the money or the gravitas of uber-respect behind Chan-wook, and Oldboy was glossy but still very real, Lady Vengeance felt it had gone too far towards that Hollywood slick look, and it really detracted from my experience. From the opening credits (which looked a lot like the advertising going around for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, don't you think?) you could see that it was deliberately targeting a far bigger audience, and from then on in it felt altogether safer than the previous two entries. The little Australian segment didn't work for me (maybe because I'm Australian - I honestly do not believe for a second that a Korean girl would be adopted into a farming family. My extended family on one side is all farming, and I simply struggle to see it), amongst other things. Yeong-ae was fine in the role, but I also don't think she hit the highs of the previous leads. Chan-wook and Yeong-ae seem to have decided on a hammed up take on her character in prison, which leads to a lack of real belief in her on release. Her character also didn't have any real highs or lows in the outside world. She just wafted through with a stern look on her face until right at the end.

The film did look pretty, again shot by Chung Chung-hoon, but I don't think it suited this time. Maybe something a little dirtier, a little more hand-held and immediate would have loosened it all up a little and left it in the realm of possibility. As it is, though, it felt quite abstracted.

This kind of sounds like a negative review, but it was a good film, believe me. It's just, compared to the previous two entries in the trilogy, it pales. Not enough to stop me looking forward to getting a chance to see Chan-wook's latest Thirst, however.

3.5 stars. Writing this I've oscillated between 3 and 3.5, but my memories of the ending involving the families of the dead children and Mr Baek tipped me towards the higher. It really is quite an affecting scene.

It's Impossible, That's Sure. So Let's Start Working.

There is not a great deal that can be said about Man On Wire after looking at its awards page on Oscar, BAFTA, BIFA, BFCAA, Independent Spirit, LAFCAA, NBR, NYFCCA, OFCSA, PGA, 2 x Sundance and Toronto, just some of the wins. Plenty more nominations. That's a lot of wins, a broad spectrum of critics, audiences and industry recognition around the world.

Holy. Gemini. That is a long way up without a harness.

Man On Wire is a documentary about 'the artistic crime of the century', the build-up to and the happenings of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the tops of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in 1974, not long after their completion. Combining archive footage, dramatic reenactments and talking heads, the film goes through Petit's youth, his discovery of tightrope walking, hit previous conquests (including between the towers of Notre Dame and two pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge), the immense amount of planning to get into the twin towers in the first place, and then to rig the wires and actually achieve what he had to achieve. An incredible clandestine operation that could have fallen apart at any one of a hundred points in the build up to his early morning walk, the film demonstrates the tenacity not only of Petit, but of all who worked on the project. Keeping in mind that the achievement was completely illegal, that there was no permission involved, and that all of the equipment had to be taken to the roof of these towers, strung up under cover of darkness in a day before mobiles and email, with guards constantly on the loose, and all of this happening, what, 500 metres in the air?

Most documentaries that seem to get this kind of acclaim tend to be a little dour, they don't tend to be uplifting explorations of incredible achievement. Of course, they are out there, but generally I think it is harder to make a compelling film out of something light than it is out of something tragic. How do you get someone emotionally involved in something that a few people did that doesn't involve you feeling terribly sorry for them? Spellbound did it for me, trapping me in with the competition element. What Man On Wire has is the fact that it was illegal, and so horrifyingly dangerous. Nothing compares to watching the footage of Petit on the wire between these two iconic towers, so memorably and tragically destroyed so recently.

Director James Marsh does a tremendous job of working a reasonably tough assignment into a brilliant documentary. He was lucky, I guess, that the crew shot a whole lot of behind the scenes film footage in the lead up, giving him plenty of material to work with, and that the whole even was such huge news globally, giving him news footage and innumerable headlines to work with. But full credit to him and editor Jinx Godfrey for putting together so taught, so thrilling, so engaging. A definite 5 star must see.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Not Disgraceful At All.

J.M. Coetzee was the first author to win the Booker prize twice (a feat only matched by fellow Australian [as Coetzee has been an Australian citizen for a while now] Peter Carey), first for Life & Times of Michael K in 1983, and subsequently for Disgrace, in 1999. This second Booker winner is also the second of his novels to be turned into a theatrical feature, after In The Heart Of The Country was turned into Dust in 1985. 

Interestingly, Disgrace is regarded as Australian due to financing and production reasons despite starring no Australians and being shot in South Africa. Curiously, the director, Steve Jacobs, was born in the States (though now resides in Australia) and the writer, Anna Maria Monticelli, was born in Morocco, though also resides in Australia. At least the majority of the rest of the key crew were Australian, otherwise it would come across a bit strange...

David Lurie (John Malkovich) is a professor at a university in Cape Town. Apparently completely lacking any further passion for what he is doing, he forces an affair with a student, Soraya (Natalie Becker.) She is none too thrilled about the idea, and eventually her cousin appears at the university and the seduction and manipulation is made public, along with the fact that Lurie passed her for an exam she did not sit. Having to answer to these allegations, Lurie pronounces himself guilty, refusing to play the game of going through the motions, before also refusing to make public remonstrations of his remorse. Instead, he ups and leaves for the farm owned by his lesbian daughter Lucy (Jessica Haines), finding her there newly alone after the breakup of her relationship, apparently watched over by her black farmhand and co-manager Petrus (Eriq Ebouaney.)

Not long after his arrival, a gang of youths force themselves into the house under false pretences, locking Lurie in the bathroom as Lucy is raped by each of them in turn. Lurie is set on fire as they leave. The crime is horrific, though that done to Lucy is recognised by her father as definitely the worst. He immediately suspects Petrus has something to do with it, and at a celebration of Petrus' marriage he spots one of the youths responsible. Petrus assures him that what the boy did was a mistake, and that he is only a boy, and Lucy seems all too happy to accept this, despite Lurie's protestations. In fact, Lucy simply wants to get on with her life, forget what has happened - but then she discovers she is pregnant.

The novel is an incredible work of fiction, truly spectacular, moving, damning, terrifying. The film falls short, but not horrendously. Malkovich is terrific as the almost entirely unlikeable (except for his feelings for his daughter) professor, who feels that he knows everything whilst showing himself up to know very little about the real world outside his cloistered university life. Haines, in her debut feature, is superb, showing a non-fussy pragmatism about what needs to be done when she refuses intimidation and wants little more than to get on with the life she has been slowly building herself.

Jacobs handles the film well without resorting to so much of the cliched romantacism of the country that so many directors fall prey to outside of urban areas. The score by Antony Partos is beautiful, and Steve Arnold lenses simply, to serve the story. It's a solid attempt at an adaptation that was waiting to happen, but I'm not entirely sure it ever should have. The book stands so perfectly on its own - I think the greatest service the film could have had would be to introduce the book to a new audience. Unfortunately, the film was all but ignored, everywhere, despite its award-winning appearance at Toronto in 2008. I'm not sure why it was categorically shafted by everyone, because it is a much better film than that. It's not a masterpiece, not even close, but it's definitely better than a whole lot of work that gains much more recognition. 3.5 stars.

My Lover's Song Is Too Short.

Following on from Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, Park Chan-wook came through with the Cannes Grand Prix winning Oldboy, the second part of his vengeance trilogy (to be followed shortly by Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.)

Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), outside a police station after being bailed out by a friend for drunk and disorderly conduct on his young daughter's birthday, suddenly disappears, and is held captive in a cell of sorts for fifteen years - why, he does not know. With nothing but a television to pass the time, he begins training and plotting revenge on whoever has done this for him. Fifteen years surrounded by four walls, never changing, with no means of escape sets his mind ruthlessly on revenge.

Upon his release, a sudden awakening inside a case on the top of a high rise building, he wanders into a sushi restaurant, where he meets sushi chef Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong.) Whilst eating a live octopus he suddenly collapses, and finds himself back at Mi-do's house, ill on her bed, blaming fifteen years of poor diet leading to an extreme vitamin deficiency for his collapse. Whilst he is recovering, Mi-do reads the diaries he kept in his prison, outlining all those he has wronged who may be seeking their own back, and the musings of his mind, detailing his experience. Mi-do then becomes his accomplice in trying to find first his daughter (who they are told is now living in Sweden with a foster family) and then whoever it is who wronged him.

They begin by tracking down the dumpling house that served him his food every day (known to Dae-su as he once found an identifying piece of paper in his food), trailing a delivery boy to the hotel. Dae-su breaks in and accosts the proprietor, discovering that people pay him to lock people up for however long they wish to, and that all he has as far as identification of Dae-su's kidnapper is a tape recording outlining his reasoning when Dae-su was locked up. Caught in an epic fight with a number of people in the corridor, Dae-su succeeds in overcoming them but is quite seriously injured - he collapses on the street and a stranger puts him in a taxi, directing it to Mi-do's address and referring to Dae-su by name.

The next day this stranger identifies himself to Dae-su as Lee Woo-jin (Yu Ji-tae), telling Dae-su he is his kidnapper. Woo-jin gives Dae-su five days to find out why he was locked up, and if he is successful Woo-jin will kill himself, but if he is not, Mi-do (whom Dae-su has become quite intimate with) will die.

I will stop there on the synopsis as anything more will start to give it all away. Rest assured that this is the least intriguing part of the story - from here it twists and turns time and time again, becoming more and more sordid with every second, before ending in a final bloody battle.

Mr Vengeance, as outlined, was a good film. A very good film, even. Oldboy is brilliant. The performance by Min-sik is extraordinary, as the hardened by still feeling victim, paying for something relatively trivial in amounts far beyond due recompense. Hye-jeong as his love interest is dutiful to a fault, something you don't quite understand until much later in the film. And Ji-tae does wonders as the antagonist of the piece, with an almost constant smile playing around his lips and eyes, making him all the more menacing for his lack of remorse. Shot by Chung Chung-hoon, Oldboy is wonderfully rich, taking the ganster sensibility of a cold Seoul and making it beautiful in its own gritty way. Cool tones dominate, so the moments of colour really shine through.

It is an astonishing piece of work, truly compelling. 5 stars.

It Takes Real Guts To See The Hopelessness.

There was an awful lot of hype and expectation in the lead up to the release of Revolutionary Road a couple of years ago. Too much. Enough to kill it. Not only was it the first time Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had starred together since the biggest blockbuster (in unadjusted terms) up until then, but it was also the first time Winslet had worked with her husband, acclaimed director Sam Mendes. It was a period piece, set in the post-WWII American suburbs, it was Jack and Rose all grown up. Jack hadn't died, the Titanic hadn't sunk, and now they had to work out how to live together. The dream was over.

And then the film just... well, it didn't seem to gain the traction it should have. The reviews were luke-warm, the trailer just looked strange, it didn't look like the huge success it should have been. And that's probably because it was never going to be the next Titanic, it was never meant to be that way. It was a little quasi-indie adult drama, not the next fix for lusty teenagers. The expectation felt like Titanic 2 while the reality was something entirely different.

That being said, it's not a bad film. The beginning of the film sees Frank (DiCaprio) and April (Winslet) meeting at a party, and in no time they're married and living in a nice little house in the suburbs with a couple of kids. Frank doesn't like his job, April is trying to rediscover some passion in her life with an ill-fated amateur theatre company debut, and the cracks start to show in their marriage. April's feelings are that they have sold out on their ideals and dreams to move to the 'burbs with their kids and fulfill that expected American dream. Frank is working in a job that he hates, working long hours and taking bits on the side from a girl in the typing pool while April is languishing at home wishing she were anywhere but there. They fight and fight, and then they have a realisation - Paris.

Their decision to pack up and move so that April can take a well-paid government secretarial position while Frank stays at home to discover whatever it is he wants to do with his life puts a temporary patch on their marital issues, but quickly cracks start to appear, initially from around the edges where external factors start to niggle, quickly cracking through to the centre, letting it all fall in on itself. What kind of a man in 1950s America moves to Paris to let his wife support him while he sits around and reads? It's an assault to his masculinity coupled with a particularly (un)fortuitous moment at work and a sudden unexpected pregnancy, giving Frank an out he may have wanted all along.

I love the way Mendes directs his film. He was an acclaimed stage director before moving into film with American Beauty back at the turn of the millenium, and you can feel that stage influence, though not in the same way you get it with the likes of Rob Marshal's musicals. It doesn't really feel like the actors are on a stage and being shot flat, but the way Mendes utilises the frame and the space within it, often composing a number of people through distance in much the same way as one might in a theatre. He's not afraid to allow empty space to fill the screen with his actors on either periphery to enhance the feeling of distance emotionally in the scene, creating an aching longing in the viewer to close the gap. He's taken the best part of the stage and transposed it onto the screen, and it allows him so much more room to move.

The screenplay by Justin Haythe is great, the lines spoken (or, more often than not, screamed) are for the most part beautiful, poignant, scathing and real, even as they are many times somewhat verbose. The photography from Roger Deakins is beautiful, marrying in with Mendes aesthetic perfectly and giving that '50s America a slightly distant but wonderfully close-to-home feel. It was, however, the performances that won me over. Both DiCaprio and Winslet... it was amazing to watch them together again, because it was incredible to see how much they have both grown. It really was like watching children all grown-up and suddenly able to do things you'd only ever dreamed about. Watching them separately in other films, I'd always known that they had retained and improved on their talents, but seeing them together again, playing off each other like that, after, what, a decade and a bit was a terrific experience. And they were backed up by terrific supports from Kathy Bates as their estate agent Helen and Michael Shannon as her crazed son John, a role he nabbed an Oscar nomination for.

It's not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but, especially now thinking back to when I saw it a week ago, it is very solid. 4 stars.

You Know Why I Have To Kill You.

Both Oldboy and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-wook were on my list to see, but, as they're the second and third parts of a trilogy, I figured I should start at the beginning. And so the beginning I did start at, with his Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance, from 2002.

Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun) is a deaf-mute who is laid off from the factory job that supports not only him, but his sister, who needs a kidney transplant and can't take one from Ryu as their blood types don't match. Ryu tracks down some black market organ dealers, desperate to help his sister, and is told that for 10mil won and one of his own kidneys they will find a kidney for his sister. Having taken his kidney and his money, Ryu hears nothing from the dealers, and a few weeks later is contacted by the hospital, saying they have found a suitable donor and for 10mil won they can go ahead with the transplant. Of course, Ryu no longer has the money, and so has to come up with a way to find it to help his sister.

He and his anarchist girlfriend Yeong-mi (Bae Doona) come up with the plan to kidnap Yu-sun (Han Bo-bae), the daughter of the friend of Ryu's ex-boss, holding her for ransom. His sister looks after Yu-sun as Ryu and Yeong-mi manage to keep her happy, waiting for the ransom money to come through, but when Ryu's sister finds out about the plot and the reasons behind it, she takes her own life. Devastated, Ryu takes her to a river bank to bury her, accompanied by the suitcase full of cash and Yu-sun. Ryu, with his back to her, cannot hear Yu-sun's cries as she falls into the water - unable to swim, she drowns.

Once more wracked with guilt over an unforeseen death that he unwittingly played a part in, Ryu's rage takes over and he exacts revenge on the organ dealers while Yu-sun's father grieves and vows his own vengeance. Back at the river side he does this, recognising Ryu as a good man but stating he has no option, drowning Ryu. Shortly after, he is set upon by four activist friends of Yeong-mi, taking revenge for her own death at his hands.

Mr Vengeance is a powerful revenge thriller, filled with quirky characters and scenes reminiscent of a David Lynch film, seemingly without much of a point but creating mood and tone far beyond what the mere narrative might create. Delving into the grimy worlds of kidnapping and organ theft, it never manages to feel as dour and depressing as something like Dirty Pretty Things, retaining a sense of hope, fun and optimism even as everything is going wrong.

Chan-wook does a great job of crafting this story, aided by a terrific performance by Shin Ha-kyun - like Mathieu Amalric in Le Scaphandre Et Le Papillon, he gives off a performance without uttering a word in real time, reliant on what he does with his body, his eyes, his expressions (and often a complete lack of them) to convey his emotions. The supports, including the young Bo-bae, are generally solid, though their parts to play in the story mean they are generally little more than stereotypes and caricatures, which fits in well with the surreal aspects of Ryu's silence.

As the first part of the thematic trilogy, it is a solid entry, setting up expectations well for the subsequent Oldboy. 4 stars.

Friday, 19 February 2010

We Do Not Make B Pictures Here At Capitol.

I try. I try and I try and I try. I really do. I try to like the Coen Brothers' films. I recall liking Fargo, though I saw that a long time ago - I do recall liking it a lot, though, so hopefully time hasn't dampened it for me. Maybe I'll check it out again soon, actually. I've seen an awful lot of their films as well. In fact, I mostly like them, and then somewhere towards the end I turn and end up getting angry with them. I remember that in The Man Who Wasn't There. I remember it in No Country For Old Men. The Big Lebowski we've already discussed. And now Barton Fink, a film that has been on my radar since it came up for some class I did back in uni. All I remember was that some lines from the screenplay were involved (making me think it was one of my writing classes, though who can be sure) and that I liked them, always intended to check out the bigger picture, as it were.


Barton Fink (John Turturro) is a Jewish New York playwright who has just had a critical smash in his home town. He is lured to LA to make some quick, easy money working on contract at Capitol, under Jack Lipnick (Michael Lerner), the reasoning from his agent being that he makes a couple of thousand a week in Hollywood, and then he can afford to devote himself to making socially serious plays for a lot longer in the Big Apple. (Keep in mind this is the early 1940s and that money means a fortune, whereas now it is a pretty decent living.)

He checks himself into a cheap hotel and is set the task of writing a boxing picture, only he has never seen a boxing picture (he doesn't really watch movies at all), doesn't like boxing, and has no inspiration, or even really an idea of where to start. And he's under pressure to perform. Cue his neighbour, Charlie Meadows (John Goodman.) Meadows sells insurance, and is a drunk, a friendly fellow, prone to barging in and making Fink feel decidedly uncomfortable. The two, in the end, strike up quite a friendship.

Meanwhile, Fink has called upon W.P. Mayhew (John Maloney), his writing hero also selling himself in the movies. He strikes up a friendship with Mayhew's partner Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis), but that all ends badly in his hotel room. Meadows heads in to help him clean up the mess, and then things start to go strange.

This is what I mean. Things start to go strange. There's just no such thing as a straight story in the Coen universe. Not that I necessarily want a straight story, but I don't want one where I feel the filmmakers are smugly sitting there saying 'ha, we're sooo much smarter and cooler than you.' And that's what I always feel. I sit there waiting for something random to fall from the sky, or for the hallway to suddenly catch fire. I get that we're talking in metaphors. I get it. I really do. But the hallway on fire? Or UFOs? Or whatever? I was mostly enjoying it up to that point!

Actually, I wasn't overly in love with Barton Fink at any point. It was mildly entertaining, and then I just wanted to pelt my television (or, more accurately, my friend's television as I was at his house) with olives. I didn't, obviously, because it was my friend's television. And I didn't have any olives. But still.

Goodman was wildly entertaining. The script was smart enough, harking back a bit to the age of movies it was set in. Turturro inhabited his character quite well. This is probably my least favourite thing I've seen Davis in, and let's remember that I love her to death. But not so much here. Lerner is fabulous. It won the Palme d'Or, and apparently was the first film to win that prize, the Best Director prize and the Best Actor prize in the same year. That's about it. 2 stars. I'm actually getting angry again sitting here writing about it.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

America Makes Everyone Give Up Smoking.

Mira Nair's 2001 international hit Monsoon Wedding is a seemingly simple but surprisingly complex tale set around a traditional Punjabi wedding during the rainy season. Expensive and elaborate, it brings together family from all corners of the globe, one of very few things that can do this - guests travel from Australia, the US, all over India.

Ostensibly, the film centres on the father of the bride, Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah), but his connectedness with the family sees a number of subplots come in. The bride, Aditi (Vasundhara Das), has been having an affair with her married boss, Vikram (Sameer Arya), a television presenter who will not leave his wife. Thus, she is having an arranged marriage to Hemant (Parvin Debas), whom she only met a couple of weeks earlier. It is rushed as he lives in America. During the film, they get to know each other for the first time in the couple of days leading up to the wedding, including arguments and reconciliations - a relationship and courtship crammed together into a matter of hours.

Ria (Shefali Shetty), a cousin of Aditi, provides the dramatic subplot, having been abused by an uncle Tej (Rajat Kapoor), Lalit's brother in law. She speaks out over the wedding weekend to stop a similar fate befalling her young cousin Aliyah. The contracted wedding event organiser PK Dubey (Vijay Raaz) gives us what is the true, love for love's sake subplot (as opposed to the pragmatic love story of the bride and groom) as he falls for the family's maid Alice (Tillotama Shome.) There is a gay subplot in the lack of masculinity shown by Aditi's younger brother Varun (Ishaan Nair), and a more modern flirt-fest involving Aditi's cousin, recently returned from Melbourne.

It's a lot of stories, and I think that doesn't help the story. It just feels like too many. Sure, it's a look at what goes on in the lead up to a wedding, the family secrets that can come out when under pressure, the feelings spread through the air, but none of the storylines quite hit home. I think they all get diluted a little too much by having to compete for air. It did look beautiful, however, captured by Declan Quinn, and the colours in the design of the film were, as expected for something taking heavy Bollywood influence, bold, rich and stunning.

It was an ok film, I'd say. Not a great one. Not a bad one. A fine way to spend a couple of hours, but not one I'm going to go back and repeat in a huge hurry. 3 stars.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Almost On Target.

I am shortly going to put on Disgrace, and that will be my 97th film since I started this seemingly easy but surprisingly difficult 365 films in 365 days challenge. It started back on the 9th of November, which makes today the 100th day. So, pretty good going, I reckon. In there I've had a trip to Iceland, which broke up my watching, the Christmas/New Year period, where obviously I dropped a couple of titles, and a bit of a life. But I've also had plenty of days watching two or three films in order to make up for it. It's been great so far, sometimes demanding (after a long day of work, when you're tired and hungover from a night out the night before, forcing yourself to watch a three hour Inuit film can be too hard - Atanarjuat, I'll try you again sometime soon. I'm sorry.)

But, onwards! I have a couple of weeks off next month when I plan on doing some of my own work, but will definitely manage to make up for the few days I'm behind already, as well as hopefully being able to capitalise on the time to put myself ahead for a few days - my parents are visiting through April/May, so I'm going to need to be prepared to drop a whole bunch of days then. But still, 97/100 is a pretty good total, I reckon.

Only 268 to go! (When I put it like that, it sounds extremely formidable...)


At the behest of an ex-colleague, who was on the jury that gave Andrea Arnold the Sutherland Trophy for it, I checked out Red Road a couple of years back at... I think it was the Brisbane International Film Festival (all of the festivals blur into one a couple of years after they happen...) and I quite enjoyed it. I thought it was a very solid film, interestingly told, well made, not brilliant but a very good debut. So I was quite looking forward to her follow up, Fish Tank, which came out last year and I kept missing in cinemas (that seems to be a theme for me and movies last year - here's hoping I can get my shit together this year.)

Fish Tank was great. It really was. Mia (Katie Jarvis) is a fifteen year old living on the estates of Essex. Being an Essex girl she has a mouth like a trooper, fights like a bitch and has no respect for anyone. (I apologise for the generalisation... but that's how I've been told Essex girls are. From an Essex girl. It's not quite racism, but it's close, though it also paints a very specific picture in a very short space of time. It's a useful cliche for one in a hurry.) She lives in a little apartment in a hideous highrise so prevalent on the outskirts of London with her mother, Joanne (who must have had Mia at about the age Mia is now... she's quite young - played by Kierston Wareing) and her younger sister Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths - whose mouth is just as foul.)

Mia wants to dance. That's pretty much all she enjoys and all she wants to do. She doesn't seem to have any friends, so takes her discman and speakers to an abandoned apartment and dances a crazy fusion of whatever seems to come into her head. And then Joanne brings home her new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender - be still my beating heart) and everything changes. Mia likes him instantly, though being a fifteen year old girl she isn't about to let on, instead insulting him as much as she insults everyone. Seeming to have heard it all before, it is water off a duck's back for Connor, who laughs it off as he selectively plays dad to Mia and Tyler, taking them to bed, taking them fishing, giving them lifts. Connor is the perfect predator, knowing exactly how to cultivate the attraction (not that it would be hard when you're Michael freaking Fassbender) without scaring anyone or giving anything away. He encourages Mia to record herself dancing to send off for an audition for a club looking for female dancers, and she does.

Soon, though, everything starts to fall apart. The relationship goes a step too far and it turns out that Connor has been lying about a lot. Mia uncovers it and confronts Connor, taking something dear to him before almost destroying it and then returning it. Connor turns on her, but being a victim of a sexual predator almost twice her age who she herself actively pursued, Mia is too scared to take revenge, instead shipping out with a boy she met when she tried to set his horse free earlier in the film.

Jarvis is exceptional in her debut role. She is the perfect sulking loner teenage girl in public, but in private or when not watched is craving those all-too-adult feelings of reciprocated attraction. Hovering on the edge of adulthood, she's not quite there yet, and seems unsure as to whether she should fight for inclusion, thereby demonstrating her immaturity, or sit back and wait for her entrance pass, which means she's going to miss out on so much she wants to be a part of. She's backed up very well by Wareing as her mother, trashy and uncaring, completely unaware of what her daughter is doing, let alone feeling, and with no ability to control either of her children. Speaking of children, Griffiths is possibly most frightening as the much younger sister displaying so many of her sister's character traits, because she is so young. Why does innocence not last? And Fassbender, as the only male influence on these women, proves not to be a particularly good one, playing the creepy older man and the overwhelmingly attractive heartthrob simultaneously with perfection. I won't talk about the fact that he does a lot of it only half dressed, because that would indeed be crass.

Arnold lifts from her strong debut to give us an excellent sophomore effort, something that many struggle with, and with Robbie Ryan managed to capture the stark nature of the world these people inhabit simply and with an austere beauty. Jarvis will emerge the star, hopefully managing to parlay this introduction into a career if she can show she has the chops, but the film as a whole is very strong. 4.5 stars.

My Favourite Colour Is Fluorescent Beige.

Truly, everyone has heard so much about Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire that there doesn't really feel much more to say. Yes, it was the first film ever to take out the Audience Award at the two most influential North American film festivals last year (Sundance and Toronto - taking out the Grand Jury Prize at the former to boot. Plus it nabbed the audience awards at San Sebastian, Hawaii and Chicago.) Yes, it peaked hella way too early, somewhere around September everyone was saying that it would take something mammoth to beat it to the Best Picture Oscar this year. As we now know, it's not getting anywhere near that trophy - Avatar blitzed, The Hurt Locker came from behind, and Up In The Air safely flew through the middle. No one is even mentioning Precious in the same sentence as Best Picture unless they're mentioning that it received a nomination. It's definitely not going to win.

This is a textbook example of buzz creating backlash creating lasting damage for a film that otherwise should have been able to pose more of a threat. Probably released a little too early to be able to carry the high hopes through to Oscar, it nevertheless did the best thing for its box office (and that's the most important thing - let's be honest, Oscar is all glory and no moolah these days.) I do find it a bit upsetting, however, that it is being so comprehensively ignored these days. Apart from the gimme that is Mo'Nique's Supporting Actress Oscar, the only real surprise seems to be the Editing nomination for Joe Klotz and, to a lesser extent, that Lee Daniels arrogance and the Academy love for Clint Eastwood didn't shaft him from the Best Director race.

On to the film. Clareece Precious Jones (Gabourey Sidibe) is sixteen, horrendously overweight, failing junior high school and pregnant with her second child. And her father is the father. She is kicked out of her current school, and is pressured to go on welfare by her mother, Mary (Mo'Nique), who is also on welfare and seems to do nothing but sit in her apartment, abuse Precious and smoke, occasionally trying to tidy up when a social worker comes to visit and she reclaims Precious' first daughter from Precious' grandmother - the child has Down's Syndrome, and Mary doesn't want it in the house, but she does want the welfare cheque that looking after a baby brings with it.

Precious enrols in a new school, an alternative school, where her teacher, Ms Rain (Paula Patton) proves an inspiration, very much in the vein of Michelle Pfeiffer's character in Dangerous Minds. She motivates her students to write, to learn to read, to explore what it is they really want to do with themselves. And she cares for them all from the beginning. Precious is also talking to Mrs Weiss (Mariah Carey) at the welfare office, who has taken an interest in the fact that Precious has been raped and impregnated not once, but twice by her own father, under the watchful gaze of her own mother.

I guess this is the majority of the storyline. I'm not going to go into the character arc of Precious, because, when broken down, it's actually quite basic, almost exactly what you'd expect. It does hold on to a few surprises, so that just when you're feeling better about it all it kicks you back down into the depths of despair without so much as an 'excuse me.' The film does manage to leave off on a hopeful note, contrary to all of the reports of how bleak and terrifying the film is. It is bleak and terrifying, but it is also profound and moving, funny in moments, and warming at the end.

The film basically takes any previous concept of female performance and shits all over it. Seriously. I don't aim to be crass, but that's really what I saw. Sidibe, a total newcomer, was astonishing, mumbling her way through trauma and tears, wrenching your heart, but constantly shining a light through the middle of her distress. Patton (her characters is a lesbian! For no reason! It means nothing to the story, is only really mentioned once! Is this the breakthrough we've been waiting for???) is perfect as the inspirational leader, pretty, confident, successful, with just enough superiority to keep the kids in line without once seeming to patronise them. Carey... dare I say it, but I think if Mo'Nique's character hadn't been in the film (because I think it is such a strong character that a lot of people would have been able to turn in award-worthy performances, though maybe not as stunning as Mo'Nique pulled off) there would be serious talk about her being a proper contender for Best Supporting Actress. She's only in a couple of scenes, but the last one especially is so tremendously crafted. As a social worker she's trying to keep her personal feelings and emotions out of it, but failing dismally, and you can see that struggle through her questioning of Mary. A definite match for the Oscar nominated turns by Mo'Nique and Sidibe.

Which brings me to Mo'Nique. Hot. Damn. Seriously. Monstrous. Switching between connivingly nice and outrageously awful in a heartbeat, she turns it all up to eleven, and then manages to push it closer to a hundred. Magnetic at the same time as she is hideous, she never makes Mary so detestable as to stop you from pitying her at least just a bit for whatever has caused her to be such a fearsome and loathsome character. You don't pity her for her desire and need for love, no sir, not when the most obvious candidate for love has been beaten and bullied so badly by both her and those around her, but you do feel sorry for the fact that she so needs to trample her child in order to feel worthy. She pushes so far into the realm of hatred that you come full circle and almost want to help her. Almost being the operative word. At the end of the day, I'd still be quite happy watching her fall under a bus. And all of this doesn't come close to describing the true gravity of her achievement here. Let it be said that if, somehow, she doesn't walk home with an Oscar next month, you can quite rightly expect riots in the streets. I'll be leading them.

All that having been said, it is far from a perfect movie. Some of the directorial choices seemed a little random, and I must say I didn't really enjoy the fantasy cutaways of Precious. I appreciate the idea, but they didn't work for me. They could have, maybe if they were a little more lo-fi, but as they were it felt manipulative. And little things, like pulling away from Mo'Nique's face to her hands in the middle of her final scene's explosive and powerful monologue. WTF? Stick with her face! It's redefining performance! This is what it's all been leading up to! WHY AM I LOOKING AT HER HANDS??? TAKE ME BACK!!! WAAAAH!!! (I really did feel that strongly about it in the movie as well. I think I actually muttered various curse words in surprise in the theatre. Truly.)

Overall, though, the story and the performance did incredible things, enough to help me get past all else. 4.5 stars, but with a note that Precious should still be very, very high on your list of things to see as a masterclass of an entire ensemble doing absolutely everything right every step of the way. Not a foot wrong, even from the lesser supports.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Fry Me A Steak And Try To Use Meat This Time!

So, I was sitting there reading Peter Biskind's Easy Riders Raging Bulls, all about the New Hollywood of the 1970s, and it kept occurring to me that I'd heard so much about these director's and their films but I'd actually seen very few of them. Hence viewings of things like Easy Rider, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and this one, The Last Picture Show. I've seen Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon, distractedly, a few years ago, but otherwise this was my first of his, despite having known his name almost as long as I have been able to talk (ok, maybe not that long, but I've known it for a loong time considering I'd not watched his films.)

The film takes place in a small town in southern USA, around the time of the popularisation of television. Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are two young residents of the town, friends. Sonny is dating Charlene (Sharon Taggart) while Duane is with Jacy (Cybill Shepherd.) It's between WWII and the Korean War, and the kids are pretty bored in town, going to films and dances, flirting with many, though for the most part staying true to their relationships. Jacy is invited to a pool party, where everyone is naked, and develops a bit of a crush on Bobby (Gary Brokette), but he won't have her as long as she's a virgin. After nailing Duane she ditches him over the phone, but then discovers that Bobby has eloped with someone else. Meanwhile, Sonny has broken up with Charlene (it never seemed like it was going anywhere much) and taken up with Ruth (Cloris Leachman), the wife of his high school basketball coach. Jacy finds out and goes after Sonny, who starts up with her, while Duane has joined the army. Jacy learns of this affair and starts going after Sonny, but ends up dabbling with the young Abeline (Clu Gulager), who is having an affair with her mother Lois (Ellen Burstyn.) While this is going on the old owner of the picture house Sam the Lion (Ben Johnson) has died (Sonny and Duane were on a weekend road trip to Mexico at the time) and Sonny has inherited the pool hall he also owned. The picture house is failing, and the last show is announced for while Duane is back in town briefly just before shipping out to Korea. At the same time, Billy (Sam Bottoms), Sam the Lion's old helper, is hit by a truck and killed. Devastated, Sonny runs back to Ruth while Duane goes off to war.

Writing it out like that (it's all a bit disjointed... it's a hard one to describe) it sounds like a big bed-hopping farce. It really doesn't play like that at all. The death of the picture house is really a metaphor for the death of Sonny and Duane's youth - death, inheritance, affairs all make themselves known in their lives.

Truthfully, I wasn't blown away by the film. I thought Johnson and Leachman deserved their Oscars for their work, and Bridges and Burstyn deserved their nominations. In fact, all of the performances were solid. And the film floated along fine, but it did feel like it was floating. It never really seemed to capitalise on the possibilities that lay before it, instead happily chugging along without seeming to have a great deal of point. That being said, it wasn't unenjoyable. I just expected a lot more.

And because I'm so behind on writing up and still have to watch another film tonight, I'm going to leave it at that. 3 stars. Maybe I'll revisit some time and like it more.

RIP Alexander McQueen.

Oh, what a shame. I have loved McQueen's fashions for years now, often from afar, more recently from closer by. While often outrageous and controversial, they were almost always interesting and, to an extent, wearable. But now they will be no more, at least from his mind, after his apparent suicide yesterday.

Such a shame.

Thursday, 11 February 2010


It appears to be neck and neck this year for the Best Foreign Language Oscar between France's Un Prophète (A Prophet) and Germany's Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon), from Michael Haneke - I'm hoping to catch the latter over the next week as I only just realised it released here last November and somehow managed to slip by my radar, which has been hanging for it since it took out the Palme d'Or. This two-horse race of course means that something completely different will pull through for the win, though sadly not Samson And Delilah, which didn't follow through on its shortlisting to the nomination stage.

I caught director Jacques Audiard's previous picture The Beat That My Heart Skipped (I'm dead certain that it was released as The Beat My Heart Skipped in Australia, which I think sounds soooo much better) back when it was out and about in 2005 and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was responsible for my infatuation with Romain Duris, in fact. I recall taking issue with a few points, but I think I gave it four stars at the time. His follow up, which took the Grand Prix at Cannes last year, I can't fault.

Un Prophète is the story of petty criminal Malik (Tahar Rahim), sentenced to a half dozen years in prison. French-born but an Arab by heritage, he falls in with the Corsican gang who run the Parisian prison he finds himself in. The Corsicans, led by César Luciani (Niels Arestrup), need someone to take out an informer in prison briefly, and call upon Malik, who has absolutely no desire to take part but is told in no uncertain terms that he has no option - now that he knows of the plan, either he does Ryad or the Corsicans do him. Once the job is done, however, he finds himself part of the Corsican gang, initially just doing their dirty work (literally - he makes them coffee and cleans up after them), but eventually, as the majority of the Corsicans are transferred to another prison, becoming right hand man and confidante to Luciani. 

Meanwhile, the Arab contingent is building itself up, not willing to take more shit from the weakened Corsican faction in the prison. Yes, the Corsicans did once own the guards, but as they become fewer it starts to be the Arabs who are wielding more power. Malik, not one to be left out in the cold, is consorting with a few select inmates to run a small drug trade, which, on day leave as his sentence nears completion, whilst still running errands for Luciani, he converts into a powerful cartel using old Corsican contacts and another ex-inmate Reyeb, released on compassionate grounds after becoming quite ill.

As his parole date gets nearer and nearer, Malik realises he holds the power and takes over the Arab gang, leaving Luciani virtually on his own and utterly powerless, with no friends either inside the prison or on the outside, entirely unable to exact revenge for the traitorous actions of his once-protege. 

Un Prophète is an intricate study of the economics of corruption. Malik says all along that he doesn't work for the Corsicans, he works for himself - when it is in his interests that work will cross over with the Corsicans, but when his interests change, he will quite happily double-cross to ensure his safety with the other side. In the process, he becomes incredibly powerful considering his young, innocent (for want of a better word) and naive roots.

Rahim as Malik is a true revelation. Virtually unknown previously, he is now up for a BAFTA Rising Star award for his portrayal, carrying this fairly long film almost entirely on his own back. His transformation from pitiful to powerful is subtle but definite, played out slowly but carefully so that by the end you are in no doubt of his strength. Arestrup as the prison kingpin is dominating but vulnerable. His downfall is not a surprise, as his reliance on other people fearing him (coupled with the fact that, outside of the opening, Malik really isn't) is so entrenched that, when his structure falls away, it is really just inevitable, a matter of time before he falls back to the bottom of the heap.

Cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine perfectly captures both the prison, the outside, and the fantasy world that Malik so often escapes to. Alexandre Desplat, who somehow managed to score only, oh, five other 2009 releases (including: ChériCoco Avant Chanel; Twilight: New Moon; Julie & Julia; L'armée du crime, and; The Fantastic Mr Fox - lazy bastard), does an extraordinary job with the soundtrack, aided by some ripping choices by the music supervisor - I'm always happy to hear Sigur Rós turn up, as I'm sure you can imagine.

And through all of this, Audiard keeps a very firm grip on things. Very firm. The film is spectacularly strong, riveting in every moment. It moves through relentlessly, not letting up, but without overbearing you. Worthy of every award going, it just remains to be seen whether Haneke will get his due from the Academy or whether Audiard can keep him waiting a few more years. 5 stars.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The Last Time I Was Really Happy... I Got So Fat.

There you go. Happy = fat.


Back in 1989, a film was playing in West Berlin (the Allied controlled section) when the wall came down. People from East Berlin went into the cinema expecting to see some serious Western porn, but left sorely disappointed. What was that film? Why, Sex, Lies and Videotape of course!

Steven Soderbergh's debut feature won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1989, and announced the appearance on the world stage of someone who would go on to become one of the most recognised directors in the world - though it took until the one-two of Erin Brokovich and Traffic in 2000 and the huge commercial success of Ocean's Eleven the following year to really cement that status.

Sex, Lies and Videotape features four main characters. Ann (Andie MacDowell) is married to John (Peter Gallagher), who is having an affair with Ann's sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo in her credited feature debut.) An old school friend of John's comes to town, and the appearance of Graham (James Spader, who won Best Actor at Cannes and then, curiously, only picked up an Independent Spirit nomination elsewhere) throws that curious three-way relationship into turmoil. Ann initially dislikes Graham, but after they go apartment hunting his wily ways win her over and they start a sort of friendship, briefly, which ends once she discovers a pile of video tapes in his home. He quite honestly tells her that they are tapes of women talking about sex, their history, desires, fantasies, anything really, and this freaks her out a little. Cynthia, quite the little hornbag, meanwhile, is fascinated by this new friend of her sister and tracks him down, flirting outrageously (as is her wont) and then making her own tape for him. It is this tape and Graham's honesty that bring the truth of Cynthia and John's relationship out into the open - she confesses it on the tape, knowing that Graham won't let anyone else see it. But when Ann begins to suspect the affair, she mentions it to Graham, and he confirms it.

I won't go any further into the plot for fear of giving away what little remains a secret. All of the performances are reasonably strong, but San Giacomo was by far the standout. Her sultry, slutty sister was perfect. The other three were all fine, nothing overly exemplary, but she was fantastic. I've always loved watching her pop up in films like Pretty Woman, but it's a pity she never got to really show her chops like this again.

The film is an interesting one. I don't really think it's a brilliant film, more of an excellent exercise. That's what it felt like to me. I wasn't particularly riveted by what was going on in the film as much as I was riveted by how it was going on. The form of the film was more interesting than the content, I think, which was really quite stock-standard. Thematically, nothing was pushed, but structurally it was fascinating. I think that's what I'm trying to say. I'm remembering the film more fondly for how it played out than the specifics of what played out.

Gah, I'm not even making sense to myself. It's an interesting film, worth the watch, but I went in expecting fireworks (though not porn!) and got something entirely different. 3.5 stars.