Tag Archives: Artsy

Movie Review: Wedding Trough (1974)

theweddingtrough

Rating: D-/ Why the hell is this categorized as a ‘romance’ on Imdb?!!

To say that Wedding Trough, also aptly known as The Pig Fucking Movie, is not for everyone would be the understatement of the millennium. This dialogue-free, Belgian art-house film tells the charming story of a man (Dominique Garny) who appears to be somewhat lacking in mental faculties who rapes and miraculously (!) impregnates his pet pig. That’s pretty much the extent of the plot, excluding a couple of grisly spoilers, should you be brave (or crazy) enough to look up the entirety of this film online. Continue reading Movie Review: Wedding Trough (1974)

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Antichrist (2009)

I was apprehensive about seeing “Antichrist,, but not primarily for the reason that you might expect. Yes, the film’s allegations of rampant misogyny (not a new accusation for controversial filmmaker Lars Von Trier) and graphic violence were daunting, but I also heard that the Von Trier’s new work was linked thematically to “Melancholia,” a film I found almost unbearably aloof and pretentious.

I am, however, a fan of the director’s earlier works “Dancer in the Dark,” and especially, “Breaking the Waves” (the film that made me fall irrevocably in love with Emily Watson), so I decided to  give this one a go. This movie didn’t make me fall in love with anybody, least of all the characters (though the acting is very good.) It made me want to hit something. Or crawl into a fetal position and cry.

Not that “Antichrist” is a bad movie. It’s certainly a well-made one. Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg act their hearts out as the otherwise unnamed He and She. It’s just… let me put it this way. Von Trier was in a period of deep depression during the conception of this film. The production was a disaster. Lars Von Trier’s hands shook as he held the camera. To see this movie is to take a close look into its creator’s tormented soul.

Don’t watch this movie if you have a weak stomach. On second thought, don’t watch this movie if you have anxiety, panic attacks, a love of children (the cute, cherubic youngster kicks it pretty early on in this dark story), or if you want to have a normal, functional life and healthy relationships. This coming from the girl who laughed at “The Human Centipede II” and was barely fazed by Haneke’s “Funny Games.”

I know. By building it up, I’m just making you want to watch it more, so I stop here. It’s like the Mormons who tell you “Don’t watch that, it’s filth!” So you go see it, naturally. The thing is, I’m not telling you not to see it. I’m just saying, tread carefully. What might be harmless for one person could be the last straw on the road to a mental breakdown.

In a visually rapturous black-and-white opening, He and She (Willem Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg) have passionate sex while their infant son, Nic, escapes from his crib and falls out the window (the similarities between Nic’s fate and the death of Eric Clapton’s son need not be mentioned.)

She collapses at the funeral and is taken to hospital. In He’s infinite wisdom, he pulls She out of the care of the government and decides to take her to the place that she fears the most (“Trust me- I’m a therapist”) — the woods. To be specific, one place in the woods: “Eden,”  a place She went with her son to write a thesis.

Almost immediately, She’s verbal taunts begin: He wasn’t there, He is indifferent to his son’s death, He’s cold and distant. Meanwhile, nightmares start to penetrate Eden’s placid exterior. And they’re not the only things doing so — He and She engage in weird, compulsive sex acts and mind games.

I didn’t love “Antichrist”- I’m not even sure I liked it, but it taps into a sense of primal fear like few films I’ve ever watched. However, the meaning is as obscure as the film is unnerving. One thing I notice is the unsexiness of intercourse and the frequent use of sex as a temporary distraction and means to an end. Does this mean the film’s theme revolves around sexual politics? I don’t know? The meaning is akin to an unsolvable problem.

“Antichrist” is not fun, entertaining, or easy, but it gets under your skin and creates a creeping sense of dread, so a certain respect for it must be retained. Because Lars Von Trier isn’t fun, entertaining, or easy, but he pours out the dark contents of his heart for the world to see and finds strength in the darkness.

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

This movie is not for everyone. Curious art-indie buffs, you know who you are. Others, look elsewhere. “Wendy and Lucy” is ‘real’ in such a way that it will delight a certain audience and bore the pants off everyone else.

Drifter Wendy (Michelle Williams,) camping out in Oregon on her way to find work in Alaska, travels alone except for her beloved dog, Lucy. So when Lucy goes missing in a small podunk Oregon town, Wendy vows not to leave until she finds her best friend and traveling companion.

Invested in her plight is a kind, otherwise unnamed Security Guard (Wally Dalton) who doesn’t seem to do much work but instead gives her advice and comfort while she tries to find her dog. Wendy comes into contact with other people, some helpful, some detrimental, and in the end must make a painful and difficult choice.

Although the grainy imagery can be a little frustrating, “Wendy and Lucy” is a touching, and above all, real little tale. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t have a hook, but wins us over with it’s true-to-life characters and situations, and makes us wonder what’s going to happen.

Michelle Williams is extremely convincing as flawed protagonist Wendy, and Lucy is a very cute and charming canine. This is the kind of movie people will argue has no ‘point.’ Since when does a film have to have a lesson, a glossy twist ending, or an revelation at before the end credits?

Isn’t a depiction of real, believable people and honest plot developments enough to to keep the audience watching? Since when did we become a legion of people who need a robot, a superhero, farting animated animals, or a masked killer to keep us invested in a story? Maybe I sound pretentious. But I can’t help but wonder if peoples’ interest in the movies is regressing.

I’ve seen Michelle Williams in two movies recently. “Take This Waltz” had its moments, but was also often glib and sitcom-ish, despite a painfully effective ending. “Wendy and Lucy,” the more effective of the two films, was never unbelievable and never simplistic, a testament to the power of kitchen sink realism in film.

“Wendy and Lucy” also excels in the way that it portrays poverty without the morbid vision of filth and decay many movies strive for. Overall, it’s more “Winter’s Bone” than “Requiem for a Dream,” and delivers pathos and sympathy rather than cheap shocks.

Not that it doesn’t have tense moments, such as when Wendy sleeps in the woods and comes face to face with an unexpected intruder. It just doesn’t overplay its hand trying to be disgusting and gratuitous, and portraying Williams as a wretched drifting waif. I hope you see it.

Rating-
8.0/10

Elephant (2003)

“Elephant” is an interesting experiment, which could benefit from some editing and stronger acting. The ambiguity that surrounds the motivations of the killers is a frustrating, but perhaps relevant, critique of the shroud of confusion that surrounded the Columbine killings. 

   Parents, teachers, bullies, and the media were all held under scrutiny, and many school shootings later, we’re still holding candles in the dark as to what motivates these kids to kill their peers- and themselves- in a time that seems rich with possibility.

    The film is presented in a series of vignettes of students habitating a generic high school on the day of a Columbine-like massacre. Using nonprofessional actors and a handheld camera, the film recounts the a day in the kid’s lives- for many, their last- slowly following them around the school as they interact with their teachers and each other.

   The stand-out actors here are Alex Frost, as Alex, the apparent leader in the duo of shooters, and  Matt Malloy as Mr. Luce, the apathetic principal. Most of the acting (unsurprisingly, considering the inexperience of the cast) is rather stiff and listless, while attempting to be ‘real’ and ‘natural.’ The stillness of the performances are rather confusing considering the extreme nature of the subject matter.

   The characters are relatively interesting, not worth falling in love with but worth observing and studying. The most compelling character for me was Michelle (Kristen Hicks) a geeky student who deals with the bullying of her peers and the apathy of her teachers. Self-conscious of her legs, Michelle is told to tough it out and forced to wear shorts by an uncaring gym teacher.

   The kids’ individual dramas are made obsolete, a least for a little while, by the bigger drama of the shooting. This film is SLOW. 20% of the film is spent following the students, watching the back of their heads with intent interest. I would not recommend this movie to people who like fast-paced cinema. To people who are tolerant of slowness and stillness, I would not necessarily recommend it either. 

   “Elephant” is more an experiment than a full-fledged feature, and people out for entertainment should just forget it. But what do you expect with a Gus Van Sant indie movie about a school shooting? Sicko (cough.) Anyway, I feel pretty neutral about the feature as a whole. Some people might find it to be a film-student’s dream, others will be bored silly. Though I may dismiss it, I will not forget it either.

 
         
                                                              

Paradise Faith (2012)

What’s impressive and surprising about “Paradise: Faith” is how it takes a sensational premise (a lonely woman with an erotic fixation with Jesus) and does not use it for cheap shock value or as a vicious attack on Catholicism. In fact, it’s not really tawdry or sleazy at all- it, like it’s desperate heroine, just is. I have not seen the first movie in the trilogy, the thematically linked “Paradise: Love,” but after this movie I probably will.

Instead of building contempt and hatred for it’s fanatically religious protagonist, it develops it so that we feel a mix of curiosity and pity for strange, pious Anna-Maria (excellently played by Maria Hofstätter,) but never disgust or rage. She needs her faith desperately, as a human being needs food or oxygen.

A single woman in her mid-50’s, Anna-Maria works as a X-Ray Technician and spends her summers proselytizing the neighbors and no doubt making herself quite unpopular in her town in Austria. Anna-Maria is painfully sexually repressed and endures self-inflicted punishments for her unchaste thoughts. She fancies Jesus quite a bit and finds herself attracted to his gentle strength and kindness.

Everything abruptly changes when Anna Maria’s Arabic, paraplegic husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) returns after a long, unexplained absence. Saleh is quite good too, developing his character from merely an annoyance to a cruel misogynist who spits on Anna Maria and mocks her passionate devotion to God. Nabil wants Anna Maria to ‘fulfill her duties as a wife’ and make love to him, but Anna Maria’s only love now is God.

What follows is a battle of wills- between the fanatical Anna Maria and the stubborn Nabil. No love and friendship comes out of this conflict- only violence and bitterness. Meanwhile Anna Maria copes with her impending crisis of faith and her complex feelings for her savior.

“Paradise: Faith” is similar to the films of Michael Haneke in style- cold, unbiased, virtually devoid of music and littered with long takes. It interested me quite a bit. I hate the dumbing-down of the Christian in Hollywood, as even the craziest is a human being with complex motivations and belief system.

The film doesn’t give us a pat ending or anyone worth cheering for, and that’s just fine- Anna Maria is greeted with mixed reactions from her herd of endangered souls. No one wins, no one ‘proves her wrong,’ and there are no revelations or messages except for this- crazy-devout religion can be a temporary aid for something deeper- unbearable loneliness, repression or isolation. Sometimes someone who seems proselytizing or arrogant is simply lonelier.

Maria Hofstätter is just perfect as Anna Maria, and you can completely believe that she is this person, who she plays with total sincerity. It is interesting to see her try to ‘save’ the souls of her fellow man, and the way they react to what could be interpreted as a attempt to connect or or just pure  patronization. An essential art-house film for fans of the genre.

Buddy Boy (1999)

Buddy Boy, Mark Hanlon’s debut, is a haunting and potent film about dead end lives that provokes more questions than answers but remains bizarrely interesting throughout.

The film provides a look into the surrealistic existence of emotionally stunted, stuttering misfit Francis (Aidan Gillen), who lives with his trollish invalid stepmother (actual amputee Susan Tyrrell), in a squalid apartment.

Suffering from overwhelming guilt concerning his sexuality, his religion, and himself, he goes to confession monthly, admitting every impure thought and indiscretion. The contrast between faith and the id is revealed in the opening, which presents the viewer with a montage of religious imagery followed by Francis, uh… pleasuring himself to a pair of voluptuous breasts in a magazine.

Like Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, this is the high point of his day, which soon descends into woeful monotony. He finds a new pasttime in spying on his attractive neighbor Gloria (Emmanuelle Seigner, controversial Polish director Roman Polanski’s wife) through a hole in his apartment.

Then they meet. Gloria is strangely attracted to Francis, which would be unfeasible if she weren’t clearly lonely and desperate too. She tells him she is a vegan, a word he doesn’t understand, but he catches on. According to her, she doesn’t care what he eats, but then she buys him a “Meat Is Murder” t-shirt, which is a mixed message if I ever saw one. This further accentuates the character’s conflicting beliefs and desires.

Gloria is pretty and nice, too nice, and Francis begins believing irrational things about her pastimes, focusing on her eating habits. Meanwhile he becomes increasingly psychotic (?) and has a falling out with God. Is Francis going insane? Or is meat back on the menu? Buddy Boy is an enigma — although declared a religious allegory by IMDB users it at times seems to be making a statement against Christianity.

In fact Francis spends so much time obsessing about his masturbating, sinning ways that the viewer wishes the poor guy would just snap out of it. The movie is a triumph of atmosphere — the bleakness and decay of Francis and Sal’s apartment is palpable, while Gloria’s big-windowed, pleasingly green abode seems to spell change for the troubled young man.

The problem, it seems, is the vast contrast in acting styles between Aidan Gillen (Francis) and Susan Tyrrell (his stepmom, Sal). Gillen, from the GLBTQ show Queer as Folk (which I haven’t seen), plays his character sensitively and gently, as a fundamentally benevolent albeit strange outcast damaged by trauma and psychosis. Susan Tyrrell plays his abusive stepmom more like a SNL skit. Maybe her broad performance is the fault of the material.

When an actress’ character is scripted to beat a plumber over the head with her artificial leg (one of the stranger scenes in this story), maybe there isn’t much room for subtlety. Buddy Boy, nevertheless, is an intriguing first feature and a fascinating story.

It walks a fine line between being campy and profound, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I like the humanization of Francis, a character who might be written off as a scummy voyeur, or worse, as white trash. It raises interesting questions, contains twists, and transports you, which is something films should accomplish, but rarely do.

Julien Donkey-Boy (1999)

“Julien Donkey-Boy” is an occasionally emotional, mainly tedious foray into the art of Dogme 95, laden with grainy visuals and non-existent plotting. It recalls the much better film “Buddy Boy,” which came out the same year. “Buddy Boy” director Mark Hanlon knew how to engage your interest and make you care about his main character, despite his shortcomings.

Julien is a 20-something paranoid schizophrenic played by Ewen Bremner, one of the most underutilized character actors of today. Julien lives with his equally disturbed father, younger brother, and sister, who he has impregnated before the film’s beginning.

Uncomfortable yet? The whole movie works to make the viewer feel discomfort while also invoking sadness and emotion. At this it is only moderately successful. The dialogue is often random and directionless. The experience of the film is akin to having hundreds of puzzle pieces of differing shapes and sizes, none of them fitting together in the least.


While watching, you come to a crossroads- should you spend a indefinite amount of time trying to put together the pieces, or should you leave the goddamned thing for somebody else to solve? The visuals of “Julien Donkey-Boy” are willfully awful, presumably shot on a home video camera bought from the bargain bin of Best Buy for a total of five dollars.

Ewen Bremner does an excellent job as Julien, but although Julien isn’t innately evil or unlikable, it’s hard to emotionally invest in his plight. In fact, the movie has its meaningful moments, but most of what is has to say isn’t particularly innovative or profound, and it’s hard to feel many emotions other than bewilderment and disgust.

Meanwhile, “Julien Donkey-Boy” functions more as a curiosity item than a movie, with famous filmmaker Werner Herzog playing Julien’s gas-mask wearing, cough syrup- guzzling father, who offers to pay Julien’s younger brother (Evan Neumann) ten dollars to dance with him in his dead mother’s dress. Meanwhile, Julien’s sister Pearl (Chloe Sevigny) prepares to have her brother’s baby.

The film is dedicated to director Harmony Korine’s schizophrenic Uncle Eddy, and although I hate to criticize a personal film-making project (unlike the soulless Hollywood money grabbers I love to have a go at), I must. “Julien Donkey-Boy” is hard to sit through and willfully incoherent, like a cross between a David Lynch throwaway project and a bad acid trip. It is one of the few movies I can honestly say had very little point, and isn’t that a shame? Not for the majority of sober filmgoers.