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Tag: drama

The Neon Demon (2016)

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Beauty Stab

Nicolas Winding Refn doesn’t know fashion, he doesn’t care about fashion, but most importantly, he doesn’t feel fashion. That’s why he’s copycatting Guy Bourdin in the rare occasions it is given screen time. But of course fashion is the least of The Neon Demon‘s concern. The closer but most elusive domain to cinema, fashion is a mighty beast to tame, and the list is long of directors trying to use it, either as satire or backdrop. Count this movie as another ill-advised foray into the carnivorous industry of youth, beauty, and the predatory behaviours it entails. Oh it’s beautiful to look at, and too clever by half. But it’s a ridiculous movie all the same.

There are a lot of questions to be asked about where Refn’s love for genre will take him at the expense of a coherent cinema. “Do you mind if I use you for that?” is a key phrase, said by a photographer to a model towards the end of the movie. This is definitely a question Refn should have asked Dario Argento before committing his feverish dream about the loss of innocence to film. To be honest, no one has ripped off Argento more shamelessly and unsuccessfully than Argento himself, and before the Suspiria remake hits the theaters next year, The Neon Demon might be the next best thing to the original. But as it the case with fashion, one will argue that Refn doesn’t get Argento either. He knows the notes but does not sing the tune; once again, it is not what interests him here. So, what does? Christianism, apparently, as was the case with Only God Forgives. It makes sense: after the Old Testament comes the New.

For some reason everything seems to be happening in bathrooms/toilets, at least the three best scenes. They play like a Christian allegory. The first one, in a dark club, has the Three Mothers (cleverly?) presented in reverse order, and the Mother of Tears, the most dangerous of all, has Jesse (Elle Fanning perfect as a preraphaelite nymph with porcelain skin), lured her out of her comfort zone and orally dissected by her two sisters, the Mother of Darkness, a top model who proudly lists her cosmetic procedures, and the Mother of Sighs, never the It girl to begin with and therefore on passive-agressive auto-pilot. This is as much temptation as it is a Holy Spirit visitation.

The second scene has Jesse meeting an unfortunate candidate for a runway show after she smashed the ladies room mirror. Jesse attempts to comfort her but is scorned for it. She cuts her hand on the broken glass. What follows is as sudden as it is ghoulish, a communion of sorts which emphasizes what is barbaric, vampiric, in the idea of drinking someone’s blood as a religious rite. In the audition scene itself, starting as the Malcolm McLaren video for Madam Butterfly, the way Refn uses sound is very clever: the models walk, and you can hear their shoes creaking on the white floor of the studio. The designer never looks up. When Jesse walks, there is no such noise pollution, so he has to look up, and she’s cast.

The third bathroom scene is the shocking one, with an apocalyptic blue pattern on the walls and the body horror you might have heard about. It is another hint at communion, in a potent mix of glossy styling and gore. It might also be the most ridiculous way a director as gifted as Refn can take this idea across to his viewers. The scene has to be seen, and can’t be unseen; it is both gross and weirdly disincarnate. The Neon Demon is not sadistic, not even voyeuristic. It makes an earnest attempt at figuring out what it is to be the most beautiful girl in the world, and guesses rightfully that she has to be punished for all the love and lust she inspires. It’s too bad the movie wasn’t shot in Japan as initially intended. Los Angeles is the wrong Petri dish to grow these alien life forms, reduced to one designer, one photographer and one make up artist (Jena Malone, poised even in the movie’s most incongruous foray into exploitation).

There is a thin line between using a genre form for such an aloof purpose and having the rubber, once stretched too far, snapping back in your face. The Neon Demon describes our iconisation of beauty as a pagan cannibalistic cult based on the debasement and consumption of virgins all too willing to sacrifice themselves to the titular demon, a vaginal pentacle devouring them whole at the end of a runway. The virgin thinks she gets a chance at becoming a Holy Trinity of herself, but instead of making her whole the demon slices her up, pixellating flesh and soul alike. There is definitely something Christian in that but, like barocco churches, there is so much imagery at work that it’s all to easy to get lost in looking and missing the point.

MONSTROMETER
MONEY    Monstrometer2
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer3
FEAR    Monstrometer3
TIME   Monstrometer3

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Money Monster (2016)

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Occupy The Screen

If not a stylist in the slightest, Jodie Foster is a very smart lady and a capable director with a keen flair for tone. Both funny and utterly pessimistic, Money Monster brings welcome memories of (admittedly better) movies like Network, and there are much worse associations than this one. Presenting the alliance of computer trading and cable television as a weapon of mass destruction, of value as well as lives, Mrs Foster packs up a convincing case, if not escaping all traps of such a complex subject having to be laid out and resolved in 138 minutes, which by the way breeze by as if they were 98, one of the best possible compliments for a movie in our age of bloated freak shows.

The Ibis corporation took a plunge of 800 M$ after a “glitch” affected its high-speed trading, this mere weeks after Lee Gates, star anchor of the Money Monster cable programme, has deemed its share safer than any life insurance policy. Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), one of the 99%, having lost everything, breaks in the TV studio, takes Gates hostage, put an explosive vest on him and asks for answers. They prove difficult to get, as Ibis’ CEO has vanished. Gates can only rely on himself, and on Patty Fenn, the studio director (Julia Roberts).

It is not useless to underline that the ibis is the animal form of the Egyptian God of Knowledge, due to its ability to make the difference between drinkable and corrupt water, a form of wisdom which all concerned are deprived of, intoxicated as they are with the promise of money acquired faster than the speed of light, thanks to inscrutable algorithms in a world shrunk to a few stock exchange places. Greed, once heralded as good, is still the same, though, and for lack of a better word, greed is a bulimic monster that cannot be satiated.

There is a measure of squeamishness in having close friends Clooney and Roberts sharing top billing. Both are consummate professionals, but it is hard not to think once or twice during Money Monster that they are not stretching their acting chops to a dangerous extent in it. Clooney is his usual jerk with a heart of gold and easy empathy to his fellow humans, whatever disturbed they are, and Roberts is her trademark strong woman whose inner vulnerability allow her to act noble instead of curt. They make the show, however, since the other actors are something of a white noise, except Emily Meade as Molly, the hostage taker’s girlfriend, who is brought on the air to mollify him and has one excellent, enraged scene.

Money Monster wears its ideas on its sleeve, but they are treated without naivety. On one hand Mrs Foster is obviously sympathetic to the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and clearly thinks that unregulated finance is the enemy. If something catastrophic occurs, blame it on computer programming, on Europe, on the ways of the world. Never blame yourself for your mistakes regarding others as long as you make a load out of them. Last time one checked, this was the 21st century definition of capitalism, a battle of financial kaijus eradicating industrial sectors or countries alike. On the other hand, her movie is pessimistic as hell regarding the ability of the common man to make any change to this current state of affairs. There are a couple of chilling moments towards the end of the movie, one an enthusiastic flash mob marching in support of Kyle Budwell, only to vanish like a flock of sheep as a gun is fired, the other the immediate loss of interest for whatever the same had to say when his fate is sealed. Case closed, let’s have a commercial break. “What kind of programme will we have tomorrow?” ask Lee Gates to Penny, whom Drama Day has obviously brought together (again).

Ending up in memes and tweets like most things do whenever they start nowadays, Money Monster sums up in a rather tight bundle a sizable portion of what is going wrong in our wretched century, bringing short attention span disorder in the realm of terminal illness. We don’t have enough memory to process everything happening at the speed it is happening. Our short bursts of indignation are followed by long bouts of complacency. If money has always been the root of evil, it is now a very modern and capable monster indeed.

MONSTROMETER
MONEY   Monstrometer4
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer2
TIME   Monstrometer3

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Il Divo (2008)

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MONSTROMETER
MONEY   Monstrometer3
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer2
FEAR    Monstrometer3
TIME    Monstrometer4

 

Truth is the End of the World

Splendidly visual, Il Divo is anything but a biopic of  Giulio Andreotti, an austere and prominent Italian politician, 25 times minister and 7 times Prime Minister between 1964 and 1989. It is more of a portrait, fragmented and elusive as they best portraits are; it also offers an unique view on politics and murder during the bonfire of vanities that were Italian politics at the near end of the 20th century.

The only creature that can live long and prosper in a bonfire is a salamander, and that’s precisely what Andreotti (Toni Sorvillo, extraordinary) looks and acts like. Devoid of any visible emotions save for his hand motions, translated to Fanny Ardant in a transient role by his devoted secretary, the Presidente (of the Council, not the Republic, and that’s the problem) “doesn’t succumb to lesser vices” but ice cream. He doesn’t drink anything but water, he doesn’t smoke, he is not cheating on his wife Livia (Anna Bonaiuto, first seen being bored during the blueprint for the bunga bunga parties to come, during which the Finance ministry makes a fool of himself). Prone to migraines, he toasts with aspirin and read giallos in the Senate. He is as opaque as opaque can be before it gets dark.

Andreotti is by all means a survivor and a loner, a condition emphasised by his constant crossing of gigantic halls of power, in which no one or nothing can come in his way but a Persian cat with vairon eyes. He is opinionated to the point of brilliance, once telling Pope John XXIII “Pardon me Your Holiness but you do not know anything about the Vatican”. He has a dry sense of humour, the mere shadow of a smile touching Sorvillo’s lips when he’s asked the question “Have you ever danced?”, to which he answers “All my life, Madam.”

His entourage, presented one by one at the movie beginning, is a clique of rather shady Christian Democrats, including a cardinal nicknamed “His Healthiness”. When they congregate at Andreotti’s, his secretary announce them by saying “Storm clouds are gathering”, an excellent definition of what is happening. They plot their next moves, wishing but failing to have the Prime Minister elected President. They exchange jokes about past Popes. Andreotti hardly smiles. In a scene stupendous for the banality with which it suggests the growing chasm between him and his wive, they just hold hands watching TV, switching from a news program to a variety show. He doesn’t look at her, lost in thought; she looks at his profile for a long while, searching for the smallest trace of the man she once married. She does not find anything.

Last part of Il Divo deals with Andreotti’s trials and tribulations. The trial of the century opens, based on his presumed links with Mafia boss Toto Riina (Enzo Rai, scary as hell). We know the two met because the event was shown earlier in the movie. Still, Andreotti is so convincing in his denial that one doubts what he just witnessed. Was it magical realism, like the scene in which a skateboard incongruously rolls through the Senate hallway, or was it history? It’s impossible to say. Andreotti is an extra-terrestrial, a very cautious turtle carrying on him the weight of political decades, and you can feel every gram of it leadening, but never weakening his stance. The movie is a fucking masterpiece.

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The Danish Girl (2015)

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MONSTROMETER
MONEY    Monstrometer2
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer1
FEAR    Monstrometer2
TIME   Monstrometer2

 

The Movie-ish Girdle

Another poison-pen love letter to freaks and monsters around, The Danish Girl is, like the pastry of the same name, sugar-glazed heavy fluff. While we all know that Denmark is the happiest place on Earth, something is definitely rotten in the Kingdom; that’s why the aftertaste, one guesses. This is a BOATS movie, see, Based On A True Story but reality has been careful edited for the viewer (or is it the voyeur?) to take a stroll by the edge without taking a hard look at the precipice, the sulfurous subject-matter sanitized by soft lightning, period dresses and politically correct dialogue. “Toddle-oh”, as they often say in Elsinor!

Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne, looking both good and repulsive in lace and satin), and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander, happy recipient of an Oscar for supporting role when she is the female lead, a proven studio strategy) are both painters. He’s brushing successful, moody landscapes and she’s a portraitist, a lesser artistic form in friendly, neighbouringly Copenhagen. But she’s definitely wearing the pants in the relationship, while Einar enjoys stockings and lingerie because “it’s pretty”.

It remains unclear what Gerda’s endgame is: is she creating an alternate version of herself out of an unfulfilling husband, or the muse for a sea change in her artistic career? The character is ambiguous, expressing thoughts like “Kissing you was like kissing myself” or “I’ll never be as pretty as you”. There is, under the layers of varnish, a canvass of cruel rivalry, the wife detaining the compass point at what her chrysalis of a husband should be. Or so she thinks.

Enter the man which will precipitate Einar’s metamorphosis, Hans Axgil (Matthias Schoenaerts, sweet as a lamb but almost embarrassingly manly in such a girly environment) He kisses Einar and she becomes Lili, in a reverse frog-to-prince moment. Her nose bleed: she has become a woman. Soon she webbing lies to her suitor and spreading her newfound wings in a dumbfounded small, small capital city where no one ever recognises her for who he, a public figure, was.

Gerda and Lili move to Paris, where their portraitist/model double act is a success, Gerda on the course of becoming Tamara de Lempicka. They are on a see-saw, through. Lili’s chemical imbalance has led to a radiation treatment which let him sterile. A painter becoming a model is even more awkward than a model becoming a painter, in an obvious parallel to a man so twisted he would like to becomes a woman. Einar has left the building, both as an artist and as a man; Lili devour him from the inside, a painful process including the mandatory homosexual mugging scene in the Tuileries garden. “Elbe like the river”, she says when asked her name; she’s adrift, drowning in a dark current stronger than both of him/her.

Obviously it does not end well, but in a dignified, symbolic way, a lot being made of a scarf, a confrontation with a pregnant woman emphasizing that gender realignment surgery (as they called it in the Twenties… sigh) will never make her a real woman. “The trick is to only eat sugar”, Lili says at some point when complimented on her figure; the trick here is to film the horror story it is as a treacle treat. The director, Tom Hooper (the atrocious The King’s Speech) and his production designer did their homework by pilfering paintings from Villhem Hammershoi and it seems everyone involved enjoyed recreating a monster to observe him/her suffer and die.

As usual, there are two ways of watching this particular exercise of glossing over a subject matter too dark to be used as such. The first is to wonder why to make such a complacent, emasculated Oscar vehicle of it, and be a bit ashamed at having watched it, or even worse, reviewed it. The second, which one guesses is what The Danish Girl deserves, is to consider it a 25 M$ spoof of Little Britain‘s unconvincing transvestite Emily Howard doing her lady things with her friend Florence, and have a good laugh at it.

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Et Dieu… créa la femme (And God Created Woman – 1956)

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MONSTROMETER
MONEY   Monstrometer3
LONELINESS    Monstrometer1
BOREDOM    Monstrometer3
FEAR    Monstrometer1
TIME    Monstrometer1

 

Initials BB (aka Being Boring)

A parasitic form of life, women love nothing more than being slapped in the face. That’s the idea behind Roger Vadim’s first movie, which alternative title could be St Tropez… In the Beginning, a quainter than quaint piece, dated before being contemporary. It nevertheless drew massive crowds, and placed Brigitte Bardot’s on orbit as THE French sex Goddess. To each his own.

Arguing that Vadim was more interested in playing God with women than in cinema undoubtedly has a point. His track record in womanizing is impressive. His writing and directing are far less stellar though, a curious case of zeitgeist marginally interfering with melodrama, present movie being the prefect case study.

The mother of Tropezian Tart, Juliette (BB) is a despicable tease and a sloth. She wants to be happy and makes everyone miserable in the process; she is a black hole of selfishness and stupidity. Far above her head when it comes to even wake up, she sow frustration and destruction wherever she goes, barefoot, under St Tropez’s stupid, selfish sun. She’s in love, but not quite, with one guy whose brother Michel (Jean-Louis Trintignant, handsome in his prime) she will marry, precipitating a not very interesting chain of events including guns, a juke box, a torrid mambo scene and Curt Jurgens as the cosmopolitan vile seducer without whom the whole piece would play out like Marcel Pagnol.

Bardot is a complete cipher, reluctant to act as to be filmed. She either pouts in rebellion or pouts in lascivious oblivion of said rebellion. She’s the French Megan Fox, at an antiquated time when a novelty actress career could last for more than three movies. Jurgens is straight out of an Eddie Constantine movie and Trintignant, still inexperienced, is by far the best of the lot.

Scenes abruptly fade to black after half hearted one-liners, leading to nothing but the oh-so-slow build-up of a presumably dramatic end but fear not, if you have the leisure of feeling involved between two yawns, nothing bad will happen and the status quo will prevail. “I would like to think of nothing”, says Bardot, meaning nothing, then she dances in front of a mirror since she only likes herself and not even that much. A couple of slaps later she’s back in the marital bed; a sex Goddess indeed.

Vadim and Bardot kinda invented reality TV, And God Created Woman a precursor of Temptation in the Kardashian Island. Is that worth of your time 60 years later? Definitely not, according to Vadim, whose last movie was a remake of the same, featuring Rebecca de Mornay, the American Brigitte Bardot. Sigh.

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Spring (2014)

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MONSTROMETER
MONEY    Monstrometer1
LONELINESS    Monstrometer3
BOREDOM    Monstrometer2
FEAR    Monstrometer3
TIME    Monstrometer4

 

We Will Always Have Bari

Spring is an exquisite tale. A story of the innocent abroad meeting the wrong the only woman in true Henry James fashion, it uncoils along the Puglian coast in long, broad, carnal lapses that are as much satisfaction than longing for that unaccessible moment, the surrendering of self, the end of the world.

Yes it has flaws, mostly uselss CGI, but one guesses it is a 21st century thing, a bit like too much gilding in rococo or too many conversations sacrées during the Renaissance. Spring is as much about growing pains that it is about blossoming. But the acting is right and the camera work is fluid. What the story owes to Lovecraft is more than mitigated by things as simple as a bottle of wine, an olive tree, love lost and found.

The best movie monsters are those one could actually love. Spring has such one, but holds much more. It has a prey that is human, full bodied and sweet as a Negroamaro. One can not foretell that at the beginning, when the film seems aiming at an Italian rendition of Hostel, but this rare feast is accomplished with near nothing, a bit of alien dialogue, a tree dying to allow the growth of a new one, and the moon over the ocean. It has, of course, the unspeakable, almost unfilmable splendor of Italy.

A volcanoo is erupting at the end, but this is not what is really happening. A couple of sound effects does the trick.This is where the Rite of Spring has led us, gaping, the ocean rolling its indifferent waves, and we feel happy, and amazed, and wiped out. This is a lovely movie.

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