All posts by Giles Edwards

Film major & would-be writer. 6'3".

CAPSULE: BLUE MOVIE (1971)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Wim Verstappen

FEATURING: Hugo Metsers, Helmert Woudenberg, Carry Tefsen, Ursula Blauth, Kees Brusse

PLOT: Michael has just been released from prison and has been advised to stay on the straight-and-narrow, but finding himself in an apartment block teeming with sexually precocious women is making that difficult.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Blue Movie has all the characteristics of a standard studio film: a straightforward narrative, technical proficiency, and rather good acting. And plenty of sex. We at 366 do not consider sex to be weird.

COMMENTS: A colleague described Blue Movie to me as “basically a porno” — which I assure you was not the reason I volunteered to review it. From my history of watching low-rent “giallo” pictures, I’m used to the threat of nude elements (and the accompanying threat of lilting synth music). That said, I was happily surprised by Wim Verstappen’s notorious picture, and found that while it largely failed in a pornographic sense, it succeeded handily as a quirky romantic comedy.

The story begins with Michael (Hugo Metsers) as he is released from prison for a sexual offense, having enjoyed himself carnally with a fifteen-year-old girl some five years earlier. His parole officer, Eddie (Helmert Woudenberg), is keen to have his ward integrate into society, arranging for an apartment, lining up a job interview, and vetting some of his new neighbors to find a “nice young woman from a good family.” When Michael moves into his new apartment, he immediately finds distraction in the form of the countless married (and open-minded) housewives who live along the same corridor. After some shenanigans, Michael, in his way, begins to start a new life professionally, arranging a big block party while launching his sex service syndicate.

Blue Movie made quite a splash at the time of its release, resulting in a lot of hand-wringing on the part of more upright Dutch (and international) citizens. Large chunks of the movie are, indeed, akin to softcore pornography, but as much as possible, the sex is handled not just tastefully, but also with a refreshing sense of joie-de-vivre. It helps that Michael has a quiet charm that works quickly on his neighbors, and that Eddie is an hilarious foil as the eager-to-please parole officer. When visiting Michael to drop off a bookcase for him, Eddie is concerned that Michael might be up some sexual mischief. He is right to be, as Mrs Cohn (neighbor, and wife of the famed zoologist next door) sneaks around the apartment’s periphery in a well-executed bit of rom-com foolishness.

The whole movie has a light and breezy tone that simultaneously shows off a lot of pro-sexual sex alongside social commentary (“All of Amsterdam is like this”) and playful subversion. Blue Movie also flirts with a tiny bit of weirdness in the continual, cheeky musical cues that toy with the audience. Teasingly suggesting a bit of impending smut, more often than not a light synth tune hearkens nothing beyond cutesy comedy. By subverting this expectation, Blue Movie goes a long way to normalize the idea that sex, at least in the post-Pill, pre-AIDS world, was something to approach with a smile bordering on a laugh. And by touching on men, women, the gay, the straight, the bisexual, and even the asexual, it attains an open-minded, relaxed feel that modern sex cinema would do well to reemploy. As a film that hovers near the realm of a triple-x rating, Blue Movie is a nice reminder that good movies can have good sex.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The twists that occur while Michael entertains his neighbors are quite predictable, so it is really the blending of the funny and the serious that makes them effective. Also, the film ends with a very bold segment questioning the relationship between sex and love that was almost certainly debated ad nauseam. “–Dr. Svet Atanaov, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: PARIS IS US (2019)

Paris est à nous

DIRECTED BY: Elisabeth Vogler

FEATURING: Noémie Schmidt, Grégoire Isvarine, Marie Mottet, Lou Castel

PLOT: Anna does not go on her boyfriend’s flight that crashes; back in Paris, she becomes increasingly detached from herself and society.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Alhough there are many Canonical titles that, it could be argued, are a bit incomprehensible, they also necessarily have some verve, panache, charming idiosyncrasy, or other stylistic or narrative merit. Paris Is Us is wanting for a purpose to complement its opacity. If you seek aimless ennui worth watching, check out Godard‘s early works instead.

COMMENTS: Two interesting things happened within minutes of each other when I began Paris Is Us. The first was a demonstration of the differences between dubbed dialogue and subtitled dialogue. (For reasons unknown, Netflix defaults to the English-language dub when available for its foreign fare.) The second was my cat hunting my pen as I waited patiently to find something worth writing down. That excitement out of the way (by correcting the audio to play the French-language track and by my cat nestling down to go to sleep next to me), I found myself trapped for the long-haul of a not-particularly-organized (and even less happy) spewing of montage.

Regular readers of my reviews know that this is the “plot” paragraph. There isn’t much more to say beyond the bare-bones description above. (And I’m probably repeating this ruse, now that I think of it.) The few minutes of dialogue in English perhaps skewered the whole viewing experience, as I couldn’t get the whole Frat-bro dialogue out of my mind while the (now) French-speaking twenty-somethings went on ad nauseum about: What if we’re all in a video-game? Isn’t there more to life than money? And can we even do anything about the state of this world that so drives us to European angst? Clattering around these musings were some specific lines that stood out, working at least as spoken in French (I shudder to think of the Frat Bro voice dub), like “I wanted it to create something so I could feel… alive” (in regards to hoping two planes might crash into each other overhead), and “We have something unique. We can’t throw it away” (said in the midst of one of the incessant fights between Anna and Greg).

I admit this is a really lazy review, but I only give the film-makers a qualified apology. Paris Is Us could have been tossed together by any freshman-level film students given cameras and a Parisian backdrop. The first act was long enough to make me dislike the protagonists; the second act stretched one obliquely conveyed tragedy across twenty-odd minutes; and the third act’s only saving grace was the random appearance of the only older character (Lou Castel), an ex-con on his way to visit his daughter’s grave. He has moved on with his life in the face of his double-tragedy, and the young ‘uns in the rest of the movie could do well to learn from his example. The administrator described this as “your oddest gamble” for Oscar week. It was a gamble. I have lost, but you needn’t do so.

Paris Is Us streams exclusively on Netflix (at least for the time being).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ce qui frappe immédiatement dans PARIS EST À NOUS, c’est son incroyable ambition esthétique. L’équipe du film prouve que la configuration de tournage imposée par son économie de moyen n’est absolument pas un frein à la qualité visuelle du métrage, bien au contraire.” –Aurélien, leblogducinema.com1)I’m keeping this quote in French because, like the movie, it sounds much more complex this way than it actually is.

“…a surreal slog in search of a plot.”–Joel Keller, Decider

References   [ + ]

1. I’m keeping this quote in French because, like the movie, it sounds much more complex this way than it actually is.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: BEST F(R)IENDS, VOLS. 1 & 2 (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Justin MacGregor

FEATURING: Tommy Wiseau, , Kristen Stephenson-Pino

PLOT: After Harvey, a mortician, takes in Jon, a vagrant, the two hatch a scheme to sell golden teeth gleaned from years of cadaver processing; Jon learns the hard way that friendship is more important than money when he double-crosses Harvey.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The first half of Best F(r)iends just about carries its weight with Wiseau weirdness, but the plot twist(s) and the Wiseau-ex-machina in the second half steers the experience well enough into the realm of ridiculous to handily earn its weirdo chops.

COMMENTSOrson Welles and Gregg Toland, Marco Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer: to this auspicious list one must now add Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau. Auteurs often go it alone, but sometimes, it takes the discovery of a cinematic soulmate to join the pantheon of greats. Sestero and Wiseau are not (yet?) there. But with their continued collaborations (beginning with the cult classic The Room), these two dreamers have carved their own niche in the world of weird movies. Best F(r)iends, volumes one and two, exhibits something of a peculiar talent. Having already tackled the “What the…?”, they now prove they can actually maintain a (largely) coherent narrative.

Bloodied and down on his luck, Jon (Sestero) resumes his life begging on the streets of LA while pursued by a garish hearse. Its driver, Harvey (Wiseau), is a mortician with a troubled past and an odd pasttime: collecting the dental discard of the cadavers he magically transforms from damaged bodies into something you could be proud to show off. Harvey tentatively decides to take Jon under his wing, but is soon betrayed when Jon arranges to offload the boxes of gold culled from Harvey’s years of corpse work. Conspiring with his new girlfriend Tracy (Stephenson-Pino), who is not all she seems, Jon ends up murdering Harvey. When things start to go wrong for the lovers, it takes a knight in shining armor to come to the rescue.

Best F(r)iends‘ weirdness crept over me slowly. Put together from untold hours of footage, it really is two volumes in name only: this is Sestero’s epic. Though the first half merely putters along a pathway of somewhat predictable Wiseau Weirdness (I had to give up writing down Harvey’s truisms halfway through), it is the second half that blows down the barrier between quirky and outright weird. While I don’t want to ruin things for Wiseau-philes out there, I will give the hint that my plot wrap-up above is far less metaphorical than you might think.

I won’t get into Wiseau and Sestero’s long and bizarre shared history. Suffice to say, Wiseau is as alien in real life as he seems onscreen and Sestero is only nominally more talented an actor than his Room performance suggests. He is, however, not half-bad as a writer, and Best F(r)iends, improbably, hangs together as a narrative, one that alternately confounds and amuses. Even more unlikely, it somehow turns out to be an emotionally moving film that, while weaving its web of lies and double-crosses, is a compelling meditation on friendship and trust. It is no great monument to film, but Best F(r)iends is still impressively odd, and, more impressively, something you can actually follow.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…director Justin MacGregor certainly plays into the absurdity of the script’s strange premise and twisted plotting. Taken as a whole, the pacing of the experience is a little flabby and unwieldy—partly due, no doubt, to the film having now been split into two volumes—but MacGregor and Sestero seem to have taken cues from David Lynch of all people. There is a pervading sense of surreality to the proceedings, as Daniel Platzman’s score overbearingly plays over montages and scenes that convey more bewildering emotion than they do coherent plot details.”–Leigh Monson, Birth. Movies. Death.

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: LET THE CORPSES TAN (2017)

Laissez bronzer les cadavres

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Elina Löwensohn, Stéphane Ferrara, Michelangelo Marchese, Hervé Sogne, Dorylia Calmel, Marc Barbé

PLOT: After hitchhikers interrupt an otherwise precision gold heist, the thieves find themselves pinned down in a sex artist’s derelict haunt by an out-gunned but tenacious motorcycle cop.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: During the first half I felt inclined to write this one off as an overstylized Frenchy heist-Western. Then I realized two things: a rather strange undercurrent kept bobbing to the surface throughout, and “overstylized Frenchy heist-Westerns” are very few and far between.

COMMENTS: There must be an archetype to explain the character of Luce (Elina Löwensohn), a sex-goddess artiste fighting to her last smoky breath against law, society, and age. Her coastal hideaway reflects her mind: grandiose but crumbling, free but tortured, joyous but destructive. This setting is the anchor for machinations involving a gang of hard men, a scumbag lawyer, a drunken novelist, and two determined law enforcers. Let the Corpses Tan sets off a precision-rigged narrative bomb within the confines of an evil ant-farm.

At Luce’s dilapidated estate, a mountaintop retreat for various decadents, a gaggle of toughs has assembled to commit a daring robbery. The execution of Rhino’s (Stéphane Ferrara) plan goes like clockwork, with gunshots punctuating the passing of time. His young driver keeps the gas pedal to the floor, swerving the intricate route away from the armored car, now relieved of its 250 kilos of gold, as he nervously watches the clock. Up the hill, a burnt-out writer (Marc Barbé) attempts to sleep off his eternal hangover; on the road down the hill, the driver nearly crashes into a young woman. She is the nanny of the writer’s son, who has been brought with his mother to find the reclusive novelist. The few seconds the crooks could spare are taken up collecting the trio before zig-zagging back. The authorities are soon on the lookout for the missing persons and the missing gold. Before you can say “existentialist ennui,” two no-nonsense motorcycle cops ascend upon the villa and things start going very badly for everyone. Except Luce. She can’t get enough of this deadly violence and frantic backstabbing.

This movie feels wrenched from the 1970s, complete with vintage Ennio Morricone score, but reprocessed in a Cuisinart. Intertitles appear throughout, simultaneously grounding viewers with demarcations of the exact minute of the action while disorienting them by shunting between all the characters as they travel madly like ants around the ancient monastery in which the cops and robbers find themselves holed up. This motif is made explicit with a series of ant-covered aerial shots of the clutch of ruins. The resulting effect is a neo-pagan feel, itself established further with a series of flashbacks to the days when these grounds were used for some very personal performance art on the part of the endlessly drinking, smoking, and often-topless Luce. Flashbacks show the many explicit rites (lustful, shadowy acolytes and lactation-inducing bondage, among other things) that cemented Luce’s psyche to the very grounds the characters find themselves trapped upon.

Let the Corpses Tan is a gloriously explosive ratatouille-Western that immediately captures the viewer’s attention with hectic editing and smirking heartlessness. Assembling all the best elements from arthouse and grindhouse, Cattet and Forzani blast a Frenchy shot across cinema’s bow as they stand by, taking a drag on a cigarette. Watching it is akin to watching your philosophy seminar turn into a bullet-riddled hostage crisis.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s a profoundly weird film but hypnotic nonetheless. – Mark Medley, Toronto Globe and Mail (festival screening)

366’S CUDDLES AND KISSES: VALENTINE’S DAY PIC PICKS

Giles Edwards, Pete Trbovich, and El Rob Hubbard suggest fifteen films to share with your strangest sweetie on Valentines’ Day.

Giles:

Being a Curated Valentine’s Day Film List

Poet Blood’s Red, Velvet is Blue —
Your Valentine’s with 366 has come true!

‘s a hottie, none can resist her,
Bar when pining for sister.
For romantic movies, we’ll start our curricula
With the tear-jerking tale of the emperor Caligula.

The French, as they say, have a “je ne sais quoi”;
(Et je pense que je sais vous êtes assez comme moi:)
You know nothing tops love betwixt Man and a Mouse
Making Sitcom the film to watch with your spouse.

Then there’s the Manhattan girl who just wanted love,
And her pleas weren’t ignored by the powers above.
With each death of lovers in throes of their passion
Liquid Sky has romance on peaks of punk fashion.

With both dollops of love and betrayal in parts
Julia uses all of her feminine arts
To try to make David, now unhinged, to behave,
And to dig herself out of her own Shallow Grave.

But for simplicity in love’s questing and fun
This title’s the first, though writ as the last one.
Bringing smiles for show of most wholesome desire,
‘Tis Rubber, the rom-com of which you won’t tire.

Worry not for the titles you may think I’ve missed,
For next comes the Trbovich Valentine’s list.

Pete:

Now you see, man is an animal futilely trying to be a god.

We aspire to these great heights, to rule the planet as the benevolent apex predator, to split the atom and warp space-time, to create a utopia of crystal spires and togas. There’s just one problem holding us back: we’re still animals.

Deep in our brains, there is an electrochemical machine of neuropeptides, hormones, and neurotransmitters ticking away, and whether we like to admit it or not, these little nut-sized chunks of brainmeat with names like “hippocampus” and “amygdala” are our true gods. If you piss them off and go against your natural programming, no happy-joy squirt of dopamine for you!

Every one of us is here today because all of our ancestors got laid, all 3 million years of them. The sticky thing about natural selection is, it isn’t “survival of the fittest,” it’s just “survival of the most efficient way to get laid.” Once you’ve reproduced, that’s all she wrote, nature is done with you. You’ve passed on your genes now, so you can hang around long enough to raise the offspring and then go die alone on an iceberg for all your genes care.

The drive to mate is a powerful force of dominating neurotransmitters, often working against your better judgment, or you wouldn’t be Continue reading 366’S CUDDLES AND KISSES: VALENTINE’S DAY PIC PICKS

CAPSULE: LORDS OF CHAOS (2018)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Jonas Åkerlund

FEATURING: Rory Culkin, Emory Cohen, Jack Kilmer, Sky Ferreira, Jon Øigarden, Valter Skarsgård

PLOT: The founder of True Norwegian Black Metal, Euronymous, narrates his rise and fall from beyond the grave in a tale of music, church burning, metal, and marketing.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Lords of Chaos is a well-crafted biopic/docudrama about some very weird people. Graphic suicide and murder notwithstanding, this is an eminently mainstream, straightforward piece of high-quality cinema. Fans of True Norwegian Black Metal will want to upgrade this from a “recommended” to a “” rating.

COMMENTS: Norway: the land of Ski Queen cheese, smiling people in bright sweaters, and True Norwegian Black Metal. For the last of those three things, you can thank “Euronymous” (née Øystein Aarseth), founder of the band Mayhem and, if Lords of Chaos is to be believed, something of a marketing genius. Jonas Åkerlund, no stranger to the metal scene of the late ’80s, brings the dramatic tale of Euronymous’ journey from upper-middle-class rocker bad-boy to tragic murder victim to an English-speaking audience in this docudrama. With a sure touch and an unlikely sense of humor, Åkerlund spins a formidable yarn about some troubled lads spiraling out of control.

From his omnipotent afterlife perch, Øystein (Rory Culkin) narrates his early roots—appropriately subterranean in his parents’ basement. Graduating quickly from the status of inept musicians riding around in their parents Volvos, the metal group Mayhem enjoys a series of lucky breaks accompanied by implied Faustian bargains. They find a frontman, Death (an eerie Jack Kilmer), who rockets them to sub-fame before blasting his brains out. Death’s replacement is even darker: an impressionable, awkward young man named Christian (Emory Cohen), who changes his name to Varg after he buys into the whole death-cult-Satanist-nihilist shtick that Øystein has fabricated. Varg starts burning down churches, and the other band members’ moral fabric disintegrates as a horrible contest of one-upmanship rips them apart. As his vision of commercial glory begins to unravel, Øystein is forced to come to terms with the beast he’s created.

While many films directed by Music Video People obviously show their signature markings, Jonas Åkerlund stays his hand stylistically. His story is about the people behind the image, not a love letter to the presumed madness and evil of True Norwegian Black Metal. On the occasions that he does indulge in his fast-dreamy editing, the effect is that much more striking: Øystein’s recurring daydreams/nightmares of traveling through the woods, looking for his first friend and leading man are unsettling and touching. The music, most of it performed by the (non-Norwegian, non-metal) band Sigur Rós, alternately haunts and pummels. And the acting transforms these aspiring metal caricatures into realistic portraits of young outcasts.

Which brings me to Rory Culkin. Yes, he is from the same brood as the famous (to some of us older types) Macaulay Culkin, but in Lords of Chaos he seems to be channeling a young (carried in no small part by his eyes and his near-constant, “What the Hell is wrong with you people?” tone of voice). Culkin carries this picture. His joyful cynicism is underscored as his post-death montage wraps up, “No. Fuck. Stop this sentimental shit.” Though he may call himself “Euronymous”, Øystein remains Øystein: a cheeky, ambitious nerd with a flair for publicity. Lords of Chaos rubs elbows with the countless musical biopics that have streamed forth from the movie industry since time immemorial. It’s one of the few, though, to capture melodrama, mundanity, and hilarity so capably and with such strong disregard for nostalgia.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Despite Åkerlund’s refusal to lionize these immature kids, ‘Lords of Chaos’ is tremendous fun. Caveat: one must be able to handle severed pig heads, cat torture, and casual Nazism.” –Amy Nicholson, Variety

CAPSULE: CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)

DIRECTED BY: George Clooney

FEATURING: , , George Clooney,  Julia Roberts

PLOT: Chuck Barris is a producer of game shows by day and a free-lance CIA agent by night; the successes and failures of his parallel careers are remarkably in-step with one another.

Still from Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: With as screen-writer and television’s slimiest visionary as the subject matter, we might have been on course for a nomination. However, director George Clooney grounds Confessions of a Dangerous Mind as conventional, hip Hollywood fare, embellished with some creative window dressing.

COMMENTS: An unlikeable protagonist, an unbelievable premise, and an odd fixation with montages add up to a dark and breezy viewing experience in George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. In his directorial debut, Clooney artfully weaves a tale of Cold War intrigue, mental collapse, and really, really bad television programming. Screen-writer Charlie Kaufman’s fingerprints coat Confessions, but while self-examination-through-self-debasement oozes throughout it is simultaneously an odd character study as well as a Hollywood thriller. Chuck Barris strikes us as a skeezy guy doing the CIA’s skeezy work.

Lustful from the age of eleven, Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) crashes through his youth horny and bitter. Wanting nothing more than to score with women, he is adrift in life, failing at his job as a minor, minor television executive. His fortunes change when he encounters Jim Byrd (George Clooney), a CIA recruiter who wants to take Chuck on as a freelance agent. After his run in with this shady emissary, Chuck’s life in the Biz immediately turns around: his “Dating Game” pilot is picked up, and his career rockets to a grimy pinnacle of debased pop success. Taking his longtime lover and friend Penny (Drew Barrymore) for granted, he dallies with classically educated, icily erotic fellow contractor Patricia Wilson (Julia Roberts). Chuck’s TV ratings begin to slide at the same time his CIA career takes a dangerous, deadly turn.

Confessions‘ budget hovers just below the thirty-million-dollar mark, but considering the actors involved, Clooney makes that outlay look altogether frugal. To accommodate, he uses a lot of novel sets to  create an illusion of grandeur, some deal-making with his fellow heavy-hitters (Julia Roberts, for instance, agreed to work for a mere $250,000), and plenty of vintage television footage. Beyond that there are the montages. In fact, the whole thing feels like a montage of montages: a montage of Barris’ rise, a montage of Barris’ CIA training, a montage of Barris’ conquests, a montage of… you get the picture. With Confessions, the point where flashback montage and current montage meet is blurred by further montage.

Perhaps it’s appropriate. Chuck Barris is constantly running just to stay in place as Sam Rockwell’s sickly charm carries the character through all the depressing motions, showcasing someone that we cannot help but loathe while simultaneously rooting for. After the suicide of an assassin buddy, he refers to him as a “stagehand.” That description is strangely apt: Barris and his cohorts were the kinds of guys that constantly lurked around the periphery, making sure the show went on without others’ awareness. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind acts as a eulogy for these men and women. All those spooks and hitmen were at heart ordinary people trapped in the giant reality show of the Cold War. And though heavily laden with regret and contemptuousness, this darkly comic biopic shows the tenderness and humanity of history’s dirtbags.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The whole is less than the sum of its parts: the dueling Kaufman and Barris takes on self-flagellation don’t exactly mesh. This film, a shape-shifting apologia-biopic as weird as Adaptation, is too cold for its own good.” –Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times (contemporaneous)