Tag Archives: British

CAPSULE: LITTLE DEATHS (2011)

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DIRECTED BY: Sean Hogan, Andrew Parkinson,

FEATURING: Jodie Jameson, Luke de Lacey, Siubhan Harrison, Holly Lucas, Tom Sawyer, Kate Braithwaite

PLOT: Three anthologized shorts: a wealthy couple toys with a homeless girl, an ex-junkie and ex-prostitute joins a pharmaceutical trial, and a young couple’s sadomasochistic relationship turns sour.

Still from Little Deaths (2011)

COMMENTS: For weird purposes, we can dispose of two of the three sexually-charged horrors that make up Little Deaths quickly. The opener, “House & Home,” is a well-produced but obvious R-rated “Twilight Zone” thing where a couple who exploit homeless women find the tables turned. Even though you might not guess the exact details, the twist is something less than a surprise when it arrives. The closer, “Bitch,” is a bit more involving because of its depiction of unusual fetishes (canine roleplay among them) in the context of a very dysfunctional S&M relationship, and its exceptionally cruel ending. It’s essentially sleazy sex life portraiture, though with a climax that’s equal parts troubling and ridiculous.

That leaves the middle segment, “Mutant Tool,” which is indeed about as weird as its title suggests. The central character is Jen, a recovering junkie and ex-prostitute who’s finding it hard to go straight. Her drug-dealing boyfriend enrolls her in an experimental pharmaceutical treatment with a major side effect: she hallucinates about a strange man (or monster) hanging in a cage. The plot gradually brings an old Nazi experiments and a develops a cyclical pharmaceutical ecosystem somewhat reminiscent of the one in Upstream Color (2013) (if less rigorously developed). The film is visually murky, with only brief glimpses of the dingy mutant behind a face shield and a shower curtain, though the restrained imagery can be effective—and there is one WTF closeup that is both creepy and sort of funny.  The exposition can be a bit clumsy: Jen keeps taking calls from her escort agency, even though she claims to be no longer working for them, just so we can sense the pressure she’s under. And there’s a crusty old caretaker character who keeps coming up with excuses to volunteer mutant backstory to a trainee. Plus, it seems like an awfully bad idea for Frank to refer Jen to Dr. Reese, considering the ghoulish nature of his prior dealings with the physician. Still, if you can overlook those narrative shortcuts, “Mutant Tool” has a strong and weird conceit, and also has the only likeable characters in the triptych—Jen and Frank are lowlifes, sure, but they’re at least trying to escape from the horror rather than hurtling into it like the others.

Although perversity abounds throughout, and “Mutant Tool” perks some interest for seekers of the eerie, none of Little Deaths offerings are essential shock-horror. But at thirty minutes each, none of them outstay their welcome, either.

Little Deaths has been accused of misogyny, and although there’s some basis for the charge (e.g. the uncomfortable verbal lingering over a rape scene), it’s overblown in general. In Little Deaths, people are simply cruel to one another, and males are victims as much as females. The one exception might be that final episode, Rumley’s provocatively-titled “Bitch,” which invites (though doesn’t demand) the misogyny-minded to identify with its emasculated antihero. To their credit, the directors do anticipate these charges and address them in a series of interviews included on the DVD—although Parkinson has nothing to answer for, and Rumley glibly dismisses the objection with a shrug.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…three tales of the strange, the weird, and the fantastic… ‘Mutant Tool’ is Andrew Parkinson’s way-strange contribution… [‘Mutant Tool’] is some pretty weird and (to use the word yet again) ‘dark’ stuff, made all the more so by being played as straight drama…  LITTLE DEATHS as a whole is pleasantly unsettling and worth watching for horror fans on the lookout for something different.”–Porfle Popnecker, “HK and Cult Film News” (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Donatien,” who qualified his recommendation: “i don’t think all three short films can be classified as weird, only the 3rd one.” Maybe he misremembered the order of the tales? Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: REVOLVER (2005)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Vincent Pastore

PLOT: Jake Green is released from prison and sets out to settle scores with the crime boss responsible for his sentence; two mysterious loan sharks who seem to know the future offer to help him, but Jake senses he’s being conned.

Still from Revolver (2005)

COMMENTS: Quite naturally, there are lots of guns and gunplay in Guy Ritchie’s Revolver, but there’s no pistol playing a featured role. The title might instead refer to the way the plot spins your head around. Personally, I suspect Ritchie chose Revolver to draw a comparison to the Beatles album of the same name. Prompted by newfound mystical awakening (via psychoanalysis, rather than the Hinduism that affected the Fab Four), he’s announcing his intention to turn to  serious and experimental work after having mastered a simpler form. If so, savage critical notices and flaccid box office returns quickly prompted Ritchie to return to conventional narratives, making Revolver the curiosity in his oeuvre rather than the departure point.

For fans of snappy, stylish gangster films hoping for another Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch, Revolver begins promisingly enough. Haggard-but-handsome Jake Green (Statham) is released from captivity in an atmospheric downpour, which causes oily-but-elegant Macha (Liotta, very good here) a twinge of concern when he hears the news on a limo ride. Armed with conman wisdom he garnered from two cellmates in the slammer, Green sidles into Macha’s casino with long-game revenge on his mind. When the story pulls back, a twisted underworld comes into view: Macha strikes a dangerous deal with unseen kingpin “Mr. Gold,” while two loan sharks save Green’s life from assassins and put him to work for them, on their terms. They’re hatching a plan that involves some Yojimbo-style sabotage of Macha’s drug deal with a Chinese gang, and everything seems primed for a nice twisty thriller.

But don’t get too invested in that plot. Hints of something metaphysical keep screwing with the audience: precognitive warnings on business cards, twelve dollar bills, and the fact that the action inexplicably becomes partly animated during one caper. These bits set up one hell of an ambitious twist; but the problem with it is, it makes all of the preceding events arbitrary and meaningless. Really, there’s not even a point to Jake Green being a gangster; Ritchie could have written him as a politician, a car salesman… or even a film director. The misdirection here goes so far afield it feels like cheating—an especially distressing development because the film is presented and structured as a game. The effect is not like being surprised by an opponent’s intricately plotted chess move, but like learning that your opponent was playing a different game all along, and that all the moves you both made were completely irrelevant. You see, the movie’s all symbolic and deep; but Ritchie manages to fumble the reveal so that it’s somehow simultaneously confusing and obvious. Allegories work best when they play fair in their own narrative worlds; they usually falter when they go out of their way to announce themselves (Ritchie even appends clips of a bunch of psychologists talking over the credits, explaining the basic concepts underlying the movie’s “mind blowing” theme). There’s a difference between subverting an audience’s expectations and betraying them. Early on, Green’s internal monologue informs us that “in every con, there is always a victim. The trick is to know when you’re the latter…” At the end of Revolver, you’ll know you’ve been the victim of Guy’s jejune “gotcha!”

Revolver was the kind of self-indulgent mess that could easily have ended Ritchie’s career, particularly following as it did on the heels of another huge flop (the romantic comedy Swept Away). If nothing else, it’s a testament to the director’s perseverance that he’s still cranking out films for major studios today. He certainly hasn’t dared to try anything this outside-the-box since.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ritchie may still be working within his beloved cockney gangster milieu, but he does to it something akin to what Alejandro Jodorowsky did to the Western with El Topo, or to the slasher flick with Santa Sangre. In short, Revolver is a strange trip that dazzles the eye and exercises the brain, amply rewarding multiple viewings and certainly worthy of critical reevaluation.”–Anton Bitel, Eye for Film (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Daniel wiram, who called it an “outstandingly [weird] but great movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)