Tag Archives: Addiction

295. NO SMOKING (2007)

“Look up the word ‘bizarre’ in the dictionary. It doesn’t mean dark. Was Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind a dark film? It was bizarre. No dictionary in the world says bizarre means dark or vice versa. This is the problem with Indians; they come with fixed notions. What is the definition of dark? Tell me!”– An exasperated No Smoking writer/director Anrag Kashyap in an interview

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DIRECTED BY: Anurag Kashyap

FEATURING: John Abraham, Ayesha Takia, Ranvir Shorey, Kiku Sharda, Paresh Rawal

PLOT: K, an arrogant businessman and highly-addicted chain smoker, agrees to enter a smoking-cessation program after his wife threatens to leave him. Going to the address his friend gave him, K is led through a labyrinth and forced to sign a contract which specifies that his loved ones will be harmed in increasingly severe ways every time he smokes a cigarette. Naturally, K relapses into smoking and is caught, eventually winding up trapped in a nightmare world.

Still from No Smoking (2007)

BACKGROUND:

  • The script (at least its early sections) bears some striking similarities to ‘s short story “Quitters, Inc.,” which was previously a segment of the 19865 anthology Cat’s Eye. The writer/director admits the story was an inspiration, although the credits do not mention King.
  • No Smoking was Anurag Kashyap’s third movie, but the first one released in India. His debut, Paanch, was never released outside of international film festivals due to state censorship (for violence and drug use); his second film, Black Friday, a true crime story, was delayed while a court case was pending and released after No Smoking. He later achieved mainstream success with 2009’s Dev D, an adaptation of a popular novel.
  • No Smoking was a colossal flop in its native India, where it baffled audiences with little exposure to psychological thrillers or surreal cinema.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The bathtub sitting alone on a snowy plain in Siberia, just in sight of what appears to be a Soviet-era gulag, which appears in dream sequences at the beginning and end of the movie.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Hitler’s Indian buddy; Fosse’s cigarette cabaret; banana peel suicide

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: No Smoking isn’t quite what would result if got a wild hair to direct a Bollywood film—but it’s a reasonable approximation. With it’s theme of bad men forced to forgo their vices against their will, a bit like a Hindi twist on A Clockwork Orange, as well, only with more elaborate musical numbers. With the tropes of Indian popular cinema colliding against a Western-style neo-surrealist narrative, No Smoking is neither fish nor fowl; it totally confounded Indian audiences used to simple stories with happy endings, and it will probably confound you, too.


Hindi trailer for No Smoking

COMMENTS:  Anurag Kashyap’s Advice for How to Stop Smoking in Continue reading 295. NO SMOKING (2007)

CAPSULE: NYMPHOMANIAC, VOLUME I & II (2013)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:  , , , ,

PLOT: A sex addict tells the story of her troubled life to an older man as he tends wounds left from a violent assault.

Still from Nymphomaniac (2013)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although horrific, there is nothing here that stretches too far beyond the extremes of real-life addiction. It’s shocking, even grotesque, but not all that strange.

COMMENTS: Despite his reputation for pushing boundaries and drawing attention, I often found myself wondering what all the fuss was over the movies made by Lars Von Trier. I felt that he too often focused on raw, sometimes unbearable footage—female genital mutilation just isn’t all that fun for me to watch on screen—to get the desired effect from audiences, and that his use of weighty concepts (the death penalty, Christ allegories) to balance shock with substance was contrived. It seemed cheap to me to play on the emotions of a person simply for the sake of effect or to make the movie more memorable. This particular perception of Von Trier as an artist changed for me after watching Nymphomaniac, and I began to become more engaged with his stylistic techniques, as well as become fascinated by his (and the casts and crews that he works with) sheer bravery. I suddenly became hooked on this man’s work and his unusual talent for getting his audience to connect with characters in his films. I paid closer attention to the psychological terrorism of Antichrist and got in touch with why Von Trier chooses to be so shamelessly relentless: for sheer effectiveness I believe. He respects us by refusing to censor the human experience in any way.

Nymphomaniac is Von Trier’s longest (considering parts I and II as the same movie), most polished, brutal, and memorable film to date. I would rank it among the all-time epically foul sex sagas. It really is a horror film that presents itself in the form of an intense relationship-based drama. The horrifying elements of the film stay true to form for a von Trier outing; they are deeply psychological. Instead of gasping at Joe’s (the protagonist, played by Gainsbourg and Stacy Martin) lack of self-control (which is depicted in fully pornographic sex scenes of varying intensity), the audience is rather pulled towards terror by witnessing the sheer destruction that comes forth from the actions committed by all of the film’s characters. It is a labyrinth of hurt. A noteworthy example would be when Joe inadvertently convinces a man to leave his wife (played by a nearly unrecognizable Uma Thurman) and kids to come live with her. What follows is a mental breakdown by the Mrs. in front of her young children, all while Joe stares indifferently at the whole scene, totally unaffected and in the darkness of the void of addiction. It’s disturbing to watch.

The entire movie unfolds as a single conversation held between an older, seemingly asexual man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard, in his best performance yet) and Joe. We then watch and listen to the story of Joe’s life as an active sexual addict, including the horrors of her decisions and the abuse that circles through and around her. Skarsgard’s Seligman gives the movie an academic, non-sexual grounding that counters the brutality on display. He is nearly a saint to her throughout the film, a kind of hope that exists in the murk of brutality. We watch him show compassion and understanding while he comforts her, never judging, frequently quite forthcoming and innocently curious. The dynamic development and conclusion of this central relationship is one of the most interesting (and surprising) parts of the film, serving as a kind of base from which Joe’s story can grow its ugly, gnarling branches.

The depraved behavior that we see these characters engage in is ghastly and cruel, but it’s all so beautifully shot and presented that the pornographic elements become more like a reflection of reality than a means of cheaply shocking viewers. It all remains fairly wacky and demented, with a gradual progression into complete despair that left this reviewer dumbfounded. It is perhaps too grounded in reality, too obsessed with raw humanity to be considered “weird,” but it in no way lacks edge. It’s filled to the brim with raw, brutal violence, actual porn, and consistently amoral characters. It is often mean-spirited, in a comic way. Von Trier is still a prankster, and he pulls the rug out from under us more than once here. In some ways, Nymphomaniac is like a four-hour long, beautifully disgusting joke. It’s a sexy void. I have only seen it once, and I don’t really plan on watching it again, but I’m absolutely positive I will never forget it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s very weird, given, but it’s also effective.”–Tom Long, The Detroit News (Vol. II, contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: BRAIN DAMAGE (1988)

DIRECTED BY: Frank Henenlotter

FEATURING: Rick Hearst, John Zacherle, Gordon MacDonald, Jennifer Lowry

PLOT: One morning a young man wakes to find a small, disgusting creature has attached itself to the base of his brain stem. The creature gives him a euphoric state of happiness but in return demands human victims.

Still from Brain Damage (1988)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: The above plot description, which is lifted verbatim from the IMDB, describes the “creature” in question as “disgusting.” Not only is this an offensive description, but it outright ignores the fact that the thing has a name: Aymler, or “the Aymler,” more specifically. The unique little guy is far more than just a “creature”; he’s without doubt one of the most charming and well spoken horror presences to ever grace the silver screen. Or, at the very least, he’s the star of Frank Henelotter’s best film.

COMMENTS: Frank Henelotter’s brief heyday in the nineteen eighties is most well remembered through Basket Case, and the lead and his deformed brother of that mondo horror fest have a cameo here. But it’s Brain Damage that is Henelotter’s best film (to date ?). After befriending the Aymler, a seductively smooth talking parasite voiced to perfection by late night horror host John Zacherle (i.e. Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul), our anti-hero struggles with his own doubts, desire and addictions as he is seduced to corruption by the charming but evil creature. Henenlotter’s trademark gore-filled whimsy is on full display here, benefited by his highest budget to date. The film works as a pretty clear cut metaphor for drug addiction on the surface level. The out-there hallucination scenes, which could be compared to certain points in ‘s Altered States, are where the weird tag comes in. The movie also makes use, though admittedly sparingly, of some well-produced stop motion animation sequences, which are a joy to behold those that love this now largely forgotten art. It’s arguable that the List doesn’t need to be populated with a plethora of oddball cult horrors that may be best left on the dusty VHS rack where we found them, but if one Henenlotter film should go on, this is the one. It combines peculiarity with some actual filmic worth. A must see for weird horror aficionados; if you fall into that category and you somehow haven’t already seen this yet—what have you been doing all this time?

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“While it would win few prizes for narrative sophistication and visual imagination – the euphoric hallucinations seem to have strayed from a ’60s LSD movie – Brain Damage does display a commendable social conscience in deploring the perils of mindbending substances.”–NF, Time Out London

LIST CANDIDATE: THE ADDICTION (1995)

DIRECTED BY: Abel Ferrara

FEATURING: Lili Taylor, Christopher Walken, Annabella Sciorra, Edie Falco

PLOT: An NYU grad student is bitten on the neck one night, leading her down

Still from The Addiction (1995)

a rabbit hole of moral and physical degradation.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: The Addiction strips away the clichés from the vampire formula, replacing bats and theatrics with a personal disintegration reminiscent of Repulsion.  What it lacks in weird imagery is more than made up for by its melding of Sartre, heroin addiction, and the supernatural, as well as the eerie atmosphere established by its chiaroscuro photography.

COMMENTS:  Throughout his career, Abel Ferrara has made New York-centric films with a grindhouse flavor and an aspiration to artistry.  In Ms. 45 (1981), he took on the rape-revenge film; with Bad Lieutenant (1992), he made a Scorsese-esque crime drama.  Similarly, The Addiction is a one-of-a-kind vampire movie, marrying urban realism, graphic horror, and several films’ worth of existentialist banter.  Although the latter attribute occasionally renders the film inaccessible, it also grants the characters’ neck-biting intrigues an unexpected gravity while making Ferrara’s serious cinematic intentions very clear.  This is The Hunger for the smart set.

I Shot Andy Warhol star Lili Taylor plays Kathy, who’s en route to getting her Ph.D. in philosophy when a late-night run-in with a mysterious seductress (Sciorra) leaves a bloody gash on her neck and spurs a metamorphosis from mousy student to loud-mouthed blood junkie. In a series of violent encounters, Kathy’s newfound aggression (coupled with severe photosensitivity) spreads like a virus to her friends, professors, and even the strangers who harass her on the street. Late in the film, she meets an elder vampire named Peina (Walken) who teaches her to control her addiction while quoting William S. Burroughs and Charles Baudelaire; the ending that follows is puzzling but weirdly suggestive, as orgiastic indulgence and Catholic guilt come into play.

The Addiction is shot in high-contrast black and white, bringing expressionistic shadows in conflict with a tendency toward naturalism, especially as Ferrara’s camera prowls the classrooms and hallways of NYU. Taylor gives a stand-out performance as a woman rotting from the inside out, matched by her poetically hard-boiled voiceover. When she enters a university library, for example, she growls, “The smell here’s worse than a charnel house.” These lurid monologues color our perceptions of Ferrara’s New York like the saxophones in Bernard Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver, drawing us deep into Kathy’s dissipation. And Walken, as usual, is the voice of demented authority, cavorting around Kathy’s exhausted body with his slicked-back hair and daffy energy. He’s only in one scene, but he casts a long shadow across the preceding film.

At times, The Addiction teeters dangerously close to being unforgivably pretentious; it’s packed wall-to-wall with philosophical jargon, grandiose statements about hell and morality, and vampiric metaphors for sex, drugs, and genocide. But the film’s saved by its (and Taylor’s) sheer conviction that something intelligent and well thought-out is being said. Even when the film’s open-ended chronology and its abstract conception of vampirism threaten to make the plot totally incomprehensible, you can hold onto Ferrara’s sincere interest in spiritual redemption and moral culpability. In the end, this thematic integrity, when brought out through Taylor’s uncompromising performance, blasts away any doubts: this is a totally different species of vampire movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is one wild, weird, wired movie, the kind that really shouldn’t be seen before midnight… Scary, funny, magnificently risible, this could be the most pretentious B-movie ever – and I mean that as a compliment.”–Time Out London