Tag Archives: Meta-narrative

CAPSULE: EX DRUMMER (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Koen Mortier

FEATURING: Dries Van Hegen, Norman Baert, Gunter Lamoot,

PLOT: A writer agrees to become the drummer for a band formed by trio of handicapped lowlifes to win a Belgian battle of the bands; he ends up manipulating them into destruction.Still from Ex Drummer (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  With it’s inverted skinhead and brief tour of a ravaged vagina, Ex Drummer is definitely weird; the problem is, it’s so unpleasant, pretentious, tedious and nihilistic that the oppressive atmosphere makes the viewer desperate to escape the movie.

COMMENTS: There are many possible interpretations of Ex Drummer—for one, the script at times implies it is a vague meditation on “personal sadness”—but the most honest explanation of what the film is comes from writer Dries’ confession when he agrees to join “The Feminists” as their celebrity drummer: “I want to step outside my happy world. Descend into the depths of stupidity, ugliness, obtuseness, unfaithfulness… Latch onto the life of losers, but without belonging to that world and in the knowledge that I can always return to my own world.” In other words, it’s moral tourism among the disadvantaged: the underclasses do the craziest things, like constantly rape each other and neglect their children until the tykes chomp down on excrement from hunger. Who wouldn’t want to enter such a world for ninety minutes, aside from most film-goers? Besides the drummer, the blackguard band’s principals are an abusive deaf guitarist, a gay rhythm guitarist with a stiff arm from an accident incurred when he was caught masturbating as a teen, and a misogynist skinhead singer with a lisp. Upper-class, educated Dries’ turns out to be the worst scoundrel of all, callously manipulating and scripting these mooncalves into cruel ends for his own amusement. True, the film can be very weird (gravity works backwards in the skinhead’s flat, where toothpaste and blood flow towards the roof), but the weirdness sits uneasily: the director seems to view unreality as just another form of ugliness to be savored. As a black comedy, more comedy and less black would have been greatly appreciated. First time feature director Mortier has a few interesting ideas and shots, such as an extended early sequence where the film unspools in reverse as the band bicycles backwards from Dries’ flat into their own backstories. But the pity is that the main memories we take home from Ex Drummer aren’t these few moments of inspiration; rather, there’s an impression that most of the movie was full of endlessly padded scenes of the band squabbling among itself or fighting other bands or organizers, hurling epithets and fists whenever anyone perceives the slightest slight to their egos. Since there are no characters anywhere in the film to root for, we have no reason to care who wins the battle of the bands. After that contest’s decided, there’s really nothing left for the movie to accomplish, but it presses on for another distasteful fifteen minutes, because having nothing to say or do has never stopped it before. Ex Drummer‘s attempts to forge nihilistic poetry from the lives of pariahs has gained it critical comparisons to Trainspotting; these are off, because Danny Boyle’s movie was about real people, and never indulged in such undisguised contempt for its characters. A more apt comparison is that Ex Drummer is a Belgian Gummo, with Eurotrash substituting for poor white trash, and even more shameless and self-aware gawking at the freaky antics of the disadvantaged.

On the plus side, the aggressive punk/metal soundtrack (with a few mellower indie rock numbers strategically inserted for a much needed change of pace) is actually pretty good, and likely the real reason for the film’s cult following. If you’re a fan of this type of music you’ll probably be much more forgiving of this movie, which could at times be described as an extended, uncensored, and rather pretentious music video.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…bizarre, horribly violent and frequently brilliant black comedy from Belgium: a melange of Irrevérsible, Clockwork Orange, Man Bites Dog and This Is Spinal Tap.”–Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Denny.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: SEX AND LUCIA [LUCIA Y EL SEXO] (2001)

DIRECTED BY: Julio Medem

FEATURING: Paz Vega, Tristán Ulloa, Najwa Nimri

PLOT:  Lucia, a waitress, falls in love with Lorenzo, a young novelist with a secret in his past; their passionate love story is intertwined with dramatized scenes from Lorenzo’s novel, with it left to the viewer to decide what is “real” and what is “fiction.”

sex_and_lucia


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTSex and Lucia‘s fractured narrative is more confusing than weird.  It’s meta-narrative conceits call to mind Adaptation, another movie that ultimately felt too much like an intellectual exercise to be extremely weird. Sex and Lucia treats it’s fiction-within-a-fiction structure with more subtlety and ambiguity, though Charlie Kauffman’s screenplay exists on a satirical plane that in the end makes it the more centered and satisfying effort.

COMMENTS:  The best things about Sex and Lucia are sex (important enough to get its own paragraph!) and Lucia (Paz Vega, whose acting is as naked as her body). While counting its plusses, we should also mention the cinematography, done on a digital camera, with the scenes on the Mediterranean isle bleached like a seashell in the sun.  The story is another matter.  Many viewers find it frustrating that Medem riddles his script with narrative wormholes which shuttle the story back in time or to an alternate resolution, then demands the viewer assist in the construction by choosing what is part of the “real” story and what is in Lorenzo’s imagination. The bigger problem may be that none of the possibilities he offers have a tremendous emotional resonance.  The movie is arty and self-conscious throughout, with multiple obviously significant shots of the moon. Symbolism is pervasive and tends to make sense, but adds up to little in the way of genuine insight.  While these difficulties make Sex and Lucia less than it might have been, it’s still beautiful enough to be lightly intoxicating, like a Mediterranean vacation or a one-nighter with a beautiful woman.

The sex scenes, especially those between the gorgeous and unselfconscious Vega and Ulloa, are undoubtedly a major attraction.  The lovers’ exploration of their bodies and sexual tastes during their whirlwind courtship is erotic and tasteful; the scenes are arousing, but are also beautifully constructed to create a sense of true intimacy between the characters.  The sex is front-loaded; after the middle of the film, when a sordid and pornographic but equally erotic fantasy occurs, sex leaves Lucia and Lorenzo’s relationship, replaced by tragedy and arguments.  Medem refused to let the sexier parts of the film be cut for distribution, but the scenes of tumescent male nudity and fellatio are so brief that they are unnecessary and reek of gimmickry; it’s difficult to rationalize the director’s passionate defense of the artistic necessity of erections.  The film may be purchased in either a unrated cut or in an R-rated version; your enjoyment of the movie is unlikely to be affected by which version you choose (I can’t determine if there’s a difference in runtime between the two versions).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“At its best, Sex and Lucia works literally like a dream, like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive or Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away — the narrative is fractured and oblique, the meaning suppressed. It will infuriate a lot of moviegoers, perhaps especially those looking for a high class dirty movie.”–Phillip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (DVD)

CAPSULE: ADAPTATION (2002)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Spike Jonze

FEATURING: , , Chris Columbus

PLOTAdaptation tells two stories: in one, a “New Yorker” journalist (Meryl Streep) becomes obsessed with the subject of her nonfiction book, a trashy but passionate collector of orchids (Chris Cooper); in the other, a depressed screenwriter (Nicolas Cage) struggles to adapt her book “The Orchid Thief” into a movie, while fending off his chipper and vapid twin brother (also played by Cage), himself an ersatz screenwriter.

adaptation

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINEAdaptation is a metamovie, the filmed equivalent of metafiction (a literary style where the real subject of the work is not the ostensible plot, but the process of creating of the work itself).  In Adaptation, screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) inserts a fictionalized version of himself into the script, writing and rewriting the story as the movie progresses.  Adaptation may appear unusual, and even weird to those who aren’t used to this kind of recursive style, but it’s a purely intellectual exercise about the creative process, and the mysteries presented in the movie have a purely logical explanation when considered in their literary context.

COMMENTSAdaptation sports perhaps the smartest script written in this young millennium, a story which twists and turns back upon itself with sly wit and playful intelligence.  (The screenplay was nominated by the Academy for “Best Adapted Screenplay”; maybe it would have won if it had been properly nominated in the “Best Original Screenplay” category).  In addition, the acting by the three principals—toothless and trashy Chris Cooper as the orchid thief, Meryl Streep as a jaded, intellectual journalist drained of passion, and Nick Cage as the twins, Charlie and Donald Kaufman—shows three veterans at the very peak of their games.   All three were nominated for Oscars, and Cooper won for “Best Supporting Actor.”   As good as Cooper was, it’s Cage’s magical performance as the writer paralyzed by artistic ambition and self-doubt, and also as his clueless doppelganger with a maddening Midas touch, that carries the film.  This is easily Cage’s best performance in an uneven career.

Despite the superlative script and performances, Adaptation falls just short of being an unqualified classic.  The problem is that the secondary plot—despite such welcome spectacles as Meryl Streep trying to imitate a dial tone while tripping balls—pales beside the more intriguing internal struggle of poor Charlie Kaufman.  When Streep and Cooper are on screen, we are always anxious to get back to Cage throwing barbs at himself.  Adaptation is geared towards a specialized audience—mainly writers, movie reviewers and other highly creative types—but will also appeal to fanatical film fans and industry insiders and would-be insiders who want to have a good wicked laugh at the cutthroat compromises required to bring a screenplay to life in Hollywood.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an occasionally maddening and sometimes brilliant motion picture that varies between being insightfully sharp and insufferably self-indulgent…  I can’t imagine Adaptation having much mainstream appeal, but, for those who look for something genuinely off-the-wall in a motion picture, this will unquestionably strike a nerve.”  -James Berardinelli, Reel Views