Archive for August, 2012

Wilby Wonderful (2004)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on August 29, 2012 by tom

My Canadian friend, Emily, and I joke that I should move to her beloved Nova Scotia at once. After watching “Wilby Wonderful,” I might just do that (even though they have freezing fog there–what the hell is that about???)

In looking back at my films for 2012 thus far, I note that there are not a lot of Canadian films. I have Swedish movies. Films from Belgium and Germany, and a couple Kevin Smith films all the way from New Jersey. But nothing from Canada.

“Wilby Wonderful” is a beautifully made, heartfelt dramedy, about a small island community. Like many small towns, this place has a high per capita eccentric rate.

I’m not going to write much about this, but here’s the basic idea. Wilby is a small island community. The town’s newspaper is about to print a list of people who have apparently caught The Gay, and have been gaying it up at a beautiful, unspoiled nature area called Wilby Watch. One of those soon to be outed has decided to kill himself. Suicide is not funny, but this poor guy keeps trying, and somebody always interrupts him. The sheriff is married to a Type-AAAAAA realtor, and he seeks refuge with the former skankiest girl from his high school class. Her daughter is 16-ish, and is on the cusp of her first sexual relationship. (Daughter is Ellen Page, from “Juno,” “Hard Candy,” “Inception,” etc–one of the best young actresses around) Anyway, the wily sheriff figures out who is besmirching Wilby Watch as a hotbed of gayness, and their motives for doing so. Things climax and resolve nicely. Roll credits.

What I really loved about this film is the heart and rhythms of a small town. It reminded me of films like “Lars & The Real Girl” and “Mystic Pizza,” where small communities keep to themselves, and move in their little circles. The pace is unhurried, despite all the activity taking place, and the characters aren’t so much developed as just allowed to BE. I never knew what was going to happen next, but it never bothered me. The film unfolded at its own pace, and I was in no hurry. It was nice to spend 90 minutes simply enjoying a film: I didn’t have to think much, nor did I have to react strongly to any particular characters. Again, in a small town, everyone plays his or her part.

One other thing. The original musical score by Michael Timmins really enhanced the film. It avoided syrupy strings and flatulent brass. The tempo and sound were laid-back, like the movie. Like life in a small town. Like “Juno,” there were a number of alternafolk songs playing from scene to scene, but Timmins’ score really evoked the beauty and peacefulness of Wilby. One notable, glaring exception was a fiery Beethoven piano sonata, which foreshadowed the impending climax. Good stuff.

“Wilby Wonderful” is not a Big Movie about Big Things. It’s small and comfortable, and a really nice place to visit for awhile.

I wonder if my friend Emily has a guestroom I can use.

Grade: A

Summer With Monika (1953) (orig: Sommaren med Monika)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on August 28, 2012 by tom

“Summer With Monika” original film poster, not to be confused with…

Ingmar Bergman could direct “Tommy Boy,” and make it dark and stern.

Whew. I just had to say that. Confession is good for the soul.

Tonight, I watched “Summer With Monika,” Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 story of two young people stuck in dead-end jobs, living miserable lives in Stockholm. Monika is played by Harriet Andersson in her first starring role. She plays Monika as flirtatious and fickle, quick to move from laughing to crying. She’s also kind of a demanding, ungrateful witch to her parents and siblings and, eventually, to her young husband.

Anyway, one afternoon in a coffeehouse, she runs into Harry (Lars Ekborg). Harry is 18 to her 17, restrained where she is whimsical. That first night, they go to the movies, a…I don’t know the Swedish words for “chick flick,” but this was one of them. By the end of the film, Monika’s sobbing her eyes out, and Harry’s yawning.

Over time, they come up with a romantic fantasy about one¬† day taking a boat, and leaving the city, heading off to live alone on an island, two souls in perfect and eternal love. As it passes, they both lose their jobs, so they do just that. They take Harry’s father’s boat, and leave Stockholm.

Indeed, their fantasy comes true, for awhile. They kiss and dance and explore the islands, and they have a ball. Until Monika becomes pregnant. For awhile, they keep up with their archipelago adventure, until–realizing they don’t have shit, save for a perpetually refilling gas tank–they decide to return to Stockholm. The fantasy is still alive, but it takes a side-track. Harry gets a job and takes night classes, trying to improve himself so he can care for his new wife and daughter. Monika is bored out of her skull, indifferent toward the baby, and whines shrewishly about wanting a new dress, or to go out, or how crappy their life together is.

Eventually, Monika looks elsewhere for the spark their life is missing. You can guess what spark, and how she finds it.

I get the impression that Harry and baby June will end up being just fine. Monika will flit from relationship to relationship, and maybe she’ll be fine with that, too.

Still, if she weren’t so darned cute, I’d want a piano to fall on her head.

If you’re keeping score at home, I’d put this in the “lesser Bergman” category. It’s not a masterpiece like “The Seventh Seal” or “Fanny & Alexander.” It’s not even especially Bergmany. It doesn’t plunge us into existential crisis, or explore deep concepts and Big Thoughts. At the bottom line, it’s a standard cautionary tale of two teen-aged lovers. They play out their escape fantasy, but the dream ends when the bills pile up and diapers need changing.

Although her character could be shrill and bratty, Harriet Andersson shows a huge presence. There’s something magical about her face, some ability to bare her soul through her eyes and lips. Bergman chose this to be her debut, and she delivers an excellent performance. (note: she was also schtupping Mr Bergman at the time) Even after their romance ended, Andersson went on to be part of Bergman’s “stable” of regular actors, and she starred in some of the “high-Bergman” films he went on to make.

This would be a hard film to recommend, for a couple of reasons. If you’re looking for your standard, classical Ingmar Bergman film, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a light-hearted tale of two lovers running away to deserted islands, this probably isn’t what you would be imagining. It’s a good film, well acted and well made. It’s just hard to make it fit.

Grade: B

Note: This movie, despite being released in 1953, contains images of a nekkid female hiney running across some rocks. Also, there are a couple of boob glimpses. Nothing gratuitous or extended. However, thanks to good old American ingenuity, this 96 minute, artistic Swedish film was carved down to 62 minutes, redubbed, and enhanced with some bonus additional nekkid film. Bergman did not do this to his own movie (He could see Harriet Andersson naked anytime he wanted to, and he made his film his way, dammit). This, er, reimagined abomination? It remains to this day the most widely seen Bergman film in this country. Let’s stay classy, America. Oh, and they changed the poster just a bit.

…its skanky American cousin.

(If you could find one of the 1953 pervs who went to see this, and show him, say, YouPorn.com? His poor perv brain would explode within 15 seconds)

Post-Surgical Sunday Morning Mental Chex Mix, live from The Purple Zone (feat. The Hunger Games (2012))

Posted in Films 2012, mental chex mix on August 26, 2012 by tom

Ah, “The Hunger Games.”

Shit. Sorry.

Ah, “The Hunger Games.”

That’s better.

*- At its core, “The Hunger Games” is about people using what they have to survive, to make the best of their situations, no matter how bleak and foreboding, how hungry they are, or how they have a giant golf-ball-sized crater in their backs.

(This is an odd one. Get a beverage and prop up your feet.)

*- A real life example: a Hagrid-sized misanthrope notices a bump on his back a week ago. He slathers it every day and night with enough Neosporin to fill a small pond, yet after a week, it’s still there. Grown, in fact, and red. So, he…oh, who are we kidding, I ended up going to my doctor. (I have kind of a thing about infections, believe it or not ūüėČ ) My doctor said something to the effect of, “EEK! We must drain this immediately, or you’ll end up in the hospital this weekend.”

*- “NO,” I cried. “I will NOT go to the hospital with an infection this weekend! Fie. Fie on the damned hospital! Prithee, Dr M. I beg of thee, work thy magic. Defy these hellish portents, and spare me such a dreadful future!”

*- So, my doctor and his nurse stabbed me in the back with a syringe full of a¬† “numbing agent,” which seemed to have as much effect as simple tap water, numbing-wise.

*- Now that my back was just as sensitive as it was before being stabbed, the doctor proceeded to cut. And cut.

*- The incision was two feet long!

*- Sorry, INCHES. Two INCHES long, and it hurt like a sonofabitch.

*- The doctor then squeezed the abscess. And squeezed, and squeezed, and drained like a 5 gallon bucket of toxic death goo out of my back, as if he’d opened a spigot to hell’s septic tank.

*- Not even I could make this part up. My doctor actually said, “You know, I have to admit. Squeezing this thing? Squeezing out all this crap? It’s really very satisfying, like I’m actually doing something instead of just writing a prescription.”

*- “Glad I can help, doc.”

*- Okay, yuck. I apologize, and I accept that this pus-draining has nothing to do with “The Hunger Games.”

*- Except for one thing: I demanded pain meds. He said something about Vicodin, and I said, “No. OXYcodone. Hydrocodone makes my heart race.” (That’s true)

*- To be honest, the abscess didn’t really hurt until he started hacking on it. To be even more honest, it felt a hell of a lot better once he drained it. But I’m too damned old to be rewarded with a lollipop, so, I left the office with a crater-sized hole in my upper right back–a hole that had been stuffed like a Christmas goose, (only with gauze) and bandaged over–and a prescription for Percocet.

*- So, tonight, I picked up some supplies for the impending nasty weather, just in case. My dinner consisted of a ham sandwich, some M&M’s, about a gallon of water, and a respectable number of Percocets.

*- It was at this point that I popped in the DVD of “The Hunger Games.” (note: I loaded the DVD into the laptop’s optical drive. I did NOT ingest the DVD, no matter how pretty it was)

*- Ham sandwiches, water, and M&M’s are all pretty consistent, and a few Percocets probably weren’t going to make me feel worse–they might actually help my lower back stop aching. As far as the film, though?¬† I was prepared to be disappointed.

*- I was quite happily wrong.

Like 90% of literate humans, I read “The Hunger Games” trilogy, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The story was fresh and disturbing, with some wonderfully drawn characters. Writer-Director Gary Ross did an excellent job bringing this book to the big-screen. There was some controversy. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the heroine Katniss Everdeen, is an actual woman, with curves and boobs and things, just like real women have. Many people thought Katniss should be a stick-figure. I’ll grant that Katniss in the book spent a lot of time hunting and bartering for food, but this doesn’t mean she can’t have curves and boobs and things. Hell, in the 90’s, Kate Moss shilled for perfume reflecting the super-rich life, and she has the figure of a coffee stirrer with two ant bites.

Jennifer Lawrence was a brilliant Katniss, in my opinion. Her face is beautifully expressive–she can convey a broad palette of emotions without speaking a word.

Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). He’s a nice guy, very charismatic and warm, where Katniss comes off as more aloof.

If you don’t know the story, I’ll explain briefly: there are 12 districts. Once a year, each of them sends one young man and one young woman to participate in The Hunger Games. In The Hunger Games, the 24 tributes from all over Panem are pampered for a few days, then thrown into the “arena,” wherein they kill each other–or die from some sort of ookey “nature”–until there is one person left. The Hunger Games champion is rich, and just has to enjoy life and do publicity crap forever. In this particular Hunger Games, there’s a hitch: Peeta professes his love for Katniss. Blah-cubed, the rules are changed, so that they can both win, just because it’s better tv.

I’ll just hit¬† on a few observations, since I assume everyone has read the books, or at least knows what they’re about.

*-I liked the chemistry between Peeta and Katniss. The book had them faking it more. I know they weren’t really in love, but I liked how the movie didn’t obsess on this.

*- Stanley Tucci played Caesar Flickerman, the emcee/play-by-play announcer/TV host of The Hunger Games with tremendous flair. He’s good in everything, but I really liked him in this.

*- Woody Harrelson’s performance as District 12’s “mentor,” Haymitch Abernathy, was brilliant. This film was full of good performances. He easily blew everyone else away.

*- The film version of “The Hunger Games” showed us what happened behind the scenes–we got to see the game-master guy, and all the control room people, as they decided which obstacles to put where, and how to change the “arena” to crank up the action and sate the nutball viewership. The book didn’t touch this, since it was told from Katniss’s point-of-view (third-person, limited omniscient, if I recall)

*- I also remember reading of controversy surrounding the casting of Rue, the young, tiny tribute from District 11 or something. Amandla Stenberg played Rue. Ms Stenberg is Half African-American and half Danish. Some people were freaking because the book Rue was not designated as a person of color. These complaining people can just bite me. Amandla Stenberg is lovely, and was a fine Rue. Plus, her first name is A) the Zulu word for “power”; B) a lovely name, and C) the title of a really good Miles Davis cd. Yay, Rue.

*- Half-Jewish/half-African-American Lenny Kravitz played Katniss’s image consultant, Cinna. Lenny Kravitz is an awesome musician and songwriter, and he did a nice job acting in this film.

*- Holy shit, this hole in my back really itches. It could be the tape. It could be that it’s healing. Either way, I want it to stop itching. However, I can’t do anything till Tuesday. Because voices carry.

*- No, I mean because that’s when I go back to my doctor, and he unpacks the crater, and examines it to make sure it’s done producing satan-pus, and that I’m not going to die.

*- In a perfect world, I’d be able to have an orchid growing out of the crater.

*- Hell, there may be an orchid growing back there. I’m not allowed to take a shower till this is unpacked Tuesday.

*- “The Hunger Games” is one of those books that features so much detail, and so many thoughts inside the protagonist’s head, that it is difficult to do it justice in a film. Kudos to Gary Ross for his excellent, loving treatment of a book so many people love.

*- I really like Donald Sutherland (Donald Sutherland is one of the whitest people ever). In The Afterlife, I hope I’ll be given access to a special film lab, where I can go in and substitute Donald Sutherland for any actor in any film. For example, I could replace, say, Richard Widmark in “Judgment at Nuremberg” with Donald Sutherland. Or see how he would do as Louis in “Casablanca,” trading barbs with Bogie.

*- The BEST, though, would be to substitute Donald Sutherland for Kevin Costner in “JFK,” meaning that Donald Sutherland would fly off to DC to meet up with Donald Sutherland! How cool would THAT be???!!!

*- My sandwich is gone. My water has been drunk, and my M&M’s savored. The pain meds knocked out the pain in my back, and left me sufficiently comfortable to enjoy the film.

*- “The Hunger Games” is not going to change the world–either in book or in movie form. Very few films do that.

*- However, I found “The Hunger Games” to be highly entertaining. It’s not cheery or upbeat, to be sure, but it is a well done film, well acted and paced so that it never bogged down.

*- I’m far from District 12. The only district that matters to me this morning is that I live in “District A,” the Purple Zone if you’re looking at your Pinellas County Evacuation chart. Hurricane Isaac is out in the Gulf. If it gets stronger and jogs this way, mine is the first zone to be evacuated. This is reality; “The Hunger Games” is just a lovely piece of fiction.

*- How pleasant, though, that I can lie here in District A, and watch people from Districts 1 through 12 battle it out, while I enjoy a ham sandwich from the “Deli District” at my 24 hour grocery store, and augment that with a couple of pills from the “Control Class II” district of my favorite Walgreen’s.

*- It’s ever-so-lovely when people, food, entertainment, and medications can join together–regardless of race, creed, or district–and entertain the crap out of me for a few hours.

Grades:

“The Hunger Games”: B+

“Ham & Swiss Sub”: A-

“M&M’s (Plain)”: B

Water: H20

Percocet: A

Happy Sunday from The Purple Zone.

God Bless America (2011)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on August 25, 2012 by tom

The tagline is classic: Taking out the trash. One jerk at a time.

I am so tired of election ads, that I just want to bash something. Hearing the half-truths, the carefully parsed language–really, Romney people? “Tax breaks for job providers?” Aren’t they also known as “big corporations”??

Seriously, it’s enough to make me want to “sharkstooth a bitch,” as Christina would say.

“God Bless America” is the story of a man who does just that, only not with shark dentition.

Frank (Joel Murray (another of Bill Murray’s talented brothers)) lives a duplex next to neighbors from hell. They play their tv too loud; they have an incessantly crying baby, fight all the time, and invariably box-in Frank’s car when they parallel park.

One day, Frank gets fired from his job (he sent flowers to a sad coworker, and was fired for sexual harassment ), and told by his doctor that he has a huge, inoperable brain tumor. He decides to kill himself. While he’s sitting there with the gun barrel in his mouth, he sees one of those MTV-type “sweet 16” shows, whereupon a rich girl is screaming at her parents for buying her a brand new Lexus instead of the Escalade she’d wanted.

Frank decides that if he’s shuffling off this mortal coil, he’s going to shuffle off her mortal coil as well. While he’s doing recon in the woods, a teenaged girl named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) figures out what he’s doing. Once he’s actually accomplished his task–plan A didn’t work, but plan B did–Roxy hops into the car to join him. On the road, they discuss different groups of people who should be killed (“people who high-five,” e.g., or “People who say `The Man’.”

They leave some bodies in their path. Sometimes, it backfires. They kill a horrible asshole on a right-wing TV network, and he becomes a martyr.

The same thing happened in “Heathers.” In fact, many ideas and leitmotifs in “God Bless America” are similar to other films: Heathers, Badlands, Network, Talk Radio, Falling Down, Natural Born Killers, Mulan, etc.

Okay, not Mulan.

One ongoing backdrop is a “talent” show called “American Superstarz” (obviously “American Idol” in “you can’t sue us” disguise). On the night before Frank loses his job, this verrrrry slow-witted, tin-eared kid named Stephen goes out and sings “Theme from Mahogany”. It’s terrible. Beyond terrible. Words cannot describe how terrible this kid’s singing was. Have you ever smelled the stuff that comes out of a sebaceous cyst when you pop it? This kid’s singing stunk worse than that.

So of course, he becomes a phenomenon, one people mock around the watercooler at Frank’s office.

Frank’s quarrel with the world is that it’s just so mean, so cruel. He just wants to kill the people who are meanest. That seems a bit ironic.

The best thing about “God Bless America” is the chemistry between Frank and Roxy. She’s fearless and brash, and lets it be known she’d entertain the idea of adding “Benefits” to their friendship. He refuses. In fact, he won’t touch her or allow her to touch him until he finally breaks down and lets her try acupressure to relieve his headaches. (He’s shocked when it works)

Of course, they split, then inevitably reunite prior to the climax.

“God Bless America” is not a great film, but it speaks for a lot of people who are just sick of the hate-mongering. The film skewers bad morning-drive radio, viral YouTube videos, TMZ, Westboro Baptist Church, and this whole culture where people become celebrities just for being reprehensible (Snooki, Kardashians, etc).

“God Bless America” was written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite, who does a good job. He’s not trying to remake Citizen Kane, and he knows it. He trusts his actors and his instincts, and both serve him well. I really enjoyed this film a great deal more than I’d thought I would. There’s violence and plenty of spewed hatred, but Frank has a heart. When he and Roxy shoot the moviegoers who made noise and talked on their phones, ruining the feature for the duo, Frank stops and thanks one lady for not speaking during the film, or talking on the phone, or being in any other way rude. She says, “You’re welcome,” and she emerges unscathed.

Again, there are a number of derivative points in “God Bless America”. This would normally bother me more than it did in this film. Watch “Triumph of the Will,” Leni Riefenstahl’s film account of Hitler’s 1934 Nuremberg Nazi Party rally. Then watch any piece of film JFK’s press apparatus released before and during his campaign and administration. Since¬† JFK, everyone else has caught on as well: the angles, the edits, etc–“hey, this kraut Riefenstahl lady has invented film propaganda, and it got that Hitler fella some power, right? Let’s use it on our guy.”

Also, I think the derivative points appealed to me for the simple reason that I’ve seen those movies, and I get so damn pissed at society’s idiocy that I feel like running amok. About sharkstoothing¬† a bitch, or running over roadside hatemongers with “God Hates Fags” signs. On occasion, those films’ scenarios pop into my head intact. There are so many ways people stumble upon to become momentarily famous, and pitifully small selection of ways to rid the planet of them.

I live in a swing state with a lot of electoral votes; I live on the “I-4 Corridor,” which is where the Josh Lyman’s and Sam Seaborns figure Florida will be won or lost. The Republican National Convention is here. I’m tired of them all.
Not homicidally so…not yet, anyway.

I am blessed to have a good cat, a brand new bed, a shitload of Xanax. and a lovely balcony, from which I can bellow to the mallards, “I’m as tired as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”

Grade: B/B+

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992 film)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on August 22, 2012 by tom

I saw the film version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” years ago, before I watched the series. I just rewatched the film.

Ye gods.

The “Buffy” TV series had some campy moments. The difference between the BtVS film and the TV series is that they added to the TV series–this was a group of high school kids who kept staving off the Apocalypse every week. They deserve a little camp every now and then. Also, we get a chance to get to know Buffy in the series. Granted, the series was seven seasons long, so of course we know the character better.

Anyway…back to the movie.

High school senior/bratty cheerleader Buffy (Kristy Swanson) hangs around with her fellow senior/bratty cheerleader friends, going to the mall, being complete bitches, mocking geeks, etc.  One day, an oddly dressed older man named Merrick (Donald Sutherland) shows up, and tells her that her destiny is to be the vampire slayer. He convinces her to accompany him to the graveyard, after identifying some dreams Buffy had been having.

(If my grammar is bad, it’s because I’ve lost 40 i.q. points in the past 100 minutes, so please bear with me)

Buffy, one of the shallowest people in the world, actually GOES with the guy. In a beat-up Ford she wouldn’t be caught dead in otherwise.

They go the the graveyard and–gasp–vampires arise. Merrick and Buffy slay them.

On the other side of town, a boy is waiting. With fiery eyes, and dreams no-one can see. She drives on through the night, anticipating. ‘Cause he makes her feel the way she used to–

CRAP! Sorry. I got distracted from the story.

Which happens alot in this film. Paul Reubens is a vampire named “Amilyn,” the sort of chief minion to the all-world evil vampire, Lothos (Rutger Hauer). The dynamic between these two is one thing that bugs me. In the beginning, Amilyn goes off and kills some people, working toward the time when Lothos will rise. We see an elegantly gloved hand rise slowly out of a luxurious coffin, and Amilyn kisses it as a penitent would kiss the Papal ring. Fifteen minutes later, it’s like The Three Stooges. All slapstick and idiocy.

There are some funny parts to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and some good dialogue here and there, where Joss Whedon’s brilliance shines through the crap.The problem is that the filmmakers kept rewriting his work. And rewriting. And changing things. Then rewriting. Joss Whedon became so frustrated with the entire cluster…um, “debacle” that he walked off the set and never returned (per IMDB). I don’t blame him. Imagine being Stephen King and having Snooki and Paris Hilton rework your vision and change most of your words.

Thank God, Joss Whedon was able to get BtVS made as a TV series, because this film is a hot mess. Kristy Swanson isn’t bad, and Donald Sutherland is pretty good (not his best role by a longshot). Rutger Hauer’s character vacillates between scary and funny, and misses them both. Paul Reubens and Luke Perry fare best in “BtVS”, simply because their characters are second-tier, and seemed to escape being ruined by the filmmakers’ “improvements.”

I’ll tell you what: this film’s direction is so unfocused, that I’ll give all the actors a pass. Seriously, the¬† worst actor in the world could have given the worst performance in history, but it would not go on his or her permanent record. The mitigating circumstances are too great.¬† There’s some talent on the screen, God help them, but they don’t get any help. This is Hilary Swank’s first film–she’s an okay actress, right??–and that Affleck kid is also in it. There are three Oscars right there.

Fran Rubel Kuzui directed “BtVS,” which was coproduced by her husband, Kaz Kuzui. You may know them for their great contribution to entertainment: somehow owning a piece of “Buffy,” so they get an Executive Producer credit at the end of each “BtVS” tv episode. That means that when you see an especially good¬† “BtVS” episode–“Once More With Feeling,” eg, or “Hush”–Mr and Mrs Kuzui bleed off a little credit and a little money. It’s almost like they’re…vampires?

I’m glad I rewatched “BtVS” after having seen the series. Two final observations: first, this movie was a helluva lot more entertaining when I saw it eight years ago, completely out-of-my-skull shitfaced. Second, you’d have to stake my fat ass to get me to watch it again.

Grade: D

 

 

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) (aka, Valerie a t√Ĺden divu)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on August 17, 2012 by tom

Thirteen year-old Valerie is sleeping in a gazebo, when a spry, torch-bearing thief bounds in and steals her earrings right off her ears. The earrings come back to her–in very odd ways–throughout the film, and disappear just as mysteriously. There’s a vampire priest who hides behind a paper fan and a weasel mask, and who may or may not be her father or grandfather; a Puck-ish young man named Eagle, who may or may not be her brother. Her stern, gray grandmother, who may not be make a deal exchanging Valerie’s birthright to the vampire/priest/possible father/grandfather for eternal youth. What else…

OH! Valerie gets her first period, which she discovers because a small drop of blood falls on to a buttercup as she walks. Also, a missionary comes to town, and he gives a special sermon to all the town’s virgins.

Vampires! Oh, crap. I mentioned them. There are happy bands of lesbians, wearing white dresses and frolicking out in nature. And a gypsy acting troupe! They’re fun. And a flower girl, who seems to flirt with Valerie.

And this all may or may not be a dream or a series of dreams.

“Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” is described a Czech surrealism. Whoa, yeah. Most definitely surreal. It’s actually kind of a fairy tale, but the old school, non-Disney ones.

There were a few things I really loved about Valerie. First, she just sort of wanders contentedly through life, whether it’s practicing her harpsichord or facing down a vampire/weasel/priest. She doesn’t get all shrieky. Also, she has an amazing amount of presence for a 13 year-old girl, whose first film role is a starring one.

I admit: I nearly turned this off early into it. It just wasn’t connecting with me. You know how it is. Sometimes you want 1960’s experimental Czech surrealism. Sometimes you just want to order pizza and watch Men in Black.

I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s hard to watch a movie that lacks a linear plot. We like that: A, B, C, D, etc. “Valerie” doesn’t work like that, and it was hard for me to stop trying to find the plot, and just be drawn into the film. Once I was, it was rewarding.

Also, “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” is only 73 minutes long. That helps.

I’m glad I watched it, and I’ll probably watch it again in the future, just to see if I missed anything.

It’s sort of like eating Thai food for the first time. There’s just no way to describe it adequately to someone who’s never had Thai food.

I would recommend it if you feel a little daring.

And most DEFINITELY if your doctor gives you Dilaudid.

Enjoy.

Gotta run. “Men in Black” is starting, and my pizza’s at the door.

Grade: B-

Walkabout (1971)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags on August 12, 2012 by tom

If you recall from “Crocodile Dundee,” a “walkabout” is when an Aborigine goes out on his own for awhile, learning about life and seeking a spiritual awakening.

In “Walkabout,” there is an Aboriginal youth (David Gulpilil) who is out on an actual walkabout. He hunts kangaroos, and spears giant lizards and fish.

His story is secondary.

One day in Australia, an English father (John Meillon) picks up his two kids from the posh private schools they attend, and the three drive way out into the outback for a picnic. The father sends his teenaged daughter (Jenny Agutter) to set up their picnic lunch, while her much younger brother (Luc Roeg) runs around playing with his toys. The father, naturally, starts shooting at his kids, before setting their car ablaze, and eating the last bullet in his revolver.

So, we have two city kids, trapped alone in Australia’s vast, animal-intensive outback. They walk for a couple of days before finding a small oasis. There’s a fruit tree and a small pool of water. They eat and drink their fill, then fall asleep. The next morning, the pool has dried up. However, they happen across the young Aborigine, who shows them how to get more water. He leads the two across the wasteland, catching and cooking food, finding water, etc. The little boy and the Aborigine learn to communicate through pantomime.

One day, they find a small lake. The men go out hunting, and Jenny Agutter–bless her–takes this opportunity to get naked and swim.

The story gets a bit predictable, at least to me. Bad white people use trucks and guns to shoot animals, mostly for sport. Also, we see a small farm–run by white people–where Aborigines are treated like slaves and make souvenirs to export.

Our two schoolkids and their guide find an abandoned house. The guide dresses in ceremonial paint, and does a long, silent courtship dance, trying to land Jenny Agutter. It doesn’t work, and once again, the two white kids are on their own. They find a road, then an old mining camp, and a crotchety old bastard who directs them to a bed and breakfast. At the end, the film flashes forward to Jenny Agutter’s husband relating some inanity from work. Her eyes go a little dreamy, and she thinks back to their Aboriginal guide, her brother, and her, all laughing and swimming naked in a watering hole, almost like this was a highlight from her life.

If you are at all squeamish about animals being killed, don’t watch this movie. I’m not squeamish, and I winced a few times. Just a warning.

The trick director Nicholas Roeg had to pull off was how to direct the film’s biggest star and character: Australia. He takes an interesting approach. Sometimes, he shows things fairly realistically: it’s three people walking through a dusty bunch of infinite nothing. Other times, he uses soft focus and short lenses to give a more surreal appearance to the grounds. The third thing he does in overlay images of the “civilized” world with this vast, lonely place. For example, when the Aborigine is butchering a kangaroo he killed, the film cuts back and forth between the middle of nowhere and a modern butcher shop “back home.” The cinematography alone would probably be able to pull this off, but Roeg got some excellent help from composer John Barry. There are times where the music is sweeping and beautiful, vast orchestral themes complementing the beautiful desert. Then, there will be cacophonous synthesizers during one of the trippy scenes.

“Walkabout” is an excellent film. It’s the kind of film that could bore the crap out of an audience if it went on too long. Happily, Roeg’s film doesn’t. What it does is show–not tell–the spiritual transformation of these characters. When they were in the desert, Jenny Agutter couldn’t wait to return to “civilization.” When she was in “civilization,” with her successful-seeming husband blithering about successful-sounding work crap, her mind drifts back to that horrifying episode, but she remembers only the fondest part. Playing with her brother and their guide.

“Walkabout” is well worth a viewing, if you’re not squeamish about animals being killed, bled, slaughtered, and eaten.

I enjoyed it, but I feel like I was missing something. Maybe I was.

It wasn’t naked 19 year-old Jenny Agutter, though. I most definitely did NOT miss any of that.

Give this one a try.

Grade: B

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