Tag Archives: Romance

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE BEGUILED (1971)

DIRECTED BY: Don Siegel

FEATURING: Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris, Mae Mercer, Pamelyn Ferdin

PLOT: A wounded Northern soldier finds himself in an isolated girls’ school in the South during the Civil War; he attempts to take advantage of the women’s sexual attraction to him as they nurse him back to health. 

Still from the beguiled (1971)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: The Beguiled is stealthily weird, with a fundamental story about men who dominate and women who hold their own concealed beneath layers of other Hollywood genres, including the war film, the captive romance, and most notably, the star vehicle. The Beguiled never lets you get settled, indulging expectations and then subverting them so that you’re never really sure what kind of story you’ve signed onto.

COMMENTS: 1971 was an extraordinary year in the careers of Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood. With two successes under their belts, they would celebrate Christmas with their collaboration on the hyperviolent, hypermasculine Dirty Harry. Only a couple months prior, Eastwood would make his directorial debut with Play Misty For Me, a tale of a disc jockey who has to fend off the advances of a obsessive fan. (Siegel shows up there in a cameo as a bartender.) But before any of that, another Siegel-Eastwood partnership hit the screen with the Gothic sexual suspense tale The Beguiled. It’s tempting to look for commonalities; all three feature malevolent forces trying to kill Eastwood. He triumphs over his foes in two out of three instances. See if you can guess which one bombed at the box office.

The director and star would forever blame poor marketing for the film’s failure (Eastwood would not work with Universal Studios again for decades), but The Beguiled traffics in a quiet Gothic horror that would be a tough sell even with the best campaign. Although the setting is a Louisiana plantation serving as a girls’ finishing school, it might as well be on an island in the void. We never see beyond the thick woods that surround the property, and the only signs of life beyond the mansion are the downtrodden soldiers who stagger past as they contemplate sating their carnal impulses before returning to the war and their likely demise. Dreadful augurs abound, from the raven tied up on the balcony to the deadly mushrooms that grow beneath the trees. You’re not being paranoid when there’s danger all around you.

It’s fair to wonder if either of the two men most responsible for The Beguiled ever actually understood what it was about. Siegel claimed the film was about “the basic desire of women to castrate men,” while Eastwood defensively observed that his audiences rejected the film because they instinctively side with characters who are winners. Neither man seems to have recognized that while Cpl. John “McB” McBurney’s instincts run toward self-preservation, he takes a villainous tack in order to secure his safety. We learn very quickly that McB is by no means a good guy. He forces a kiss on young Amy, declaring that 12 is “old enough.” He lies to Martha about his high Continue reading APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: THE BEGUILED (1971)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: PERFECT SENSE (2011)

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DIRECTED BY: David Mackenzie

FEATURING: Eva Green, Ewan McGregor, Stephen Dillane, Ewen Bremner, Denis Lawson, Connie Nielsen

PLOT: Epidemiologist Susan and chef Michael meet and begin to fall in love, but their romance is complicated by a slowly unfolding global pandemic that methodically strips the human race of its physical senses.

Still from Perfect Sense (2011)

COMMENTS: Hey, remember the COVID pandemic? Wasn’t that a ton of fun? We learned—and perhaps are continuing to learn—a whole lot about how our society would react to a worldwide health crisis, and the answers involve far more skepticism, selfishness, and general ignorance than we might have preferred. So there’s nothing quite like watching a movie in which the protagonists don masks to try and prevent the spread of an airborne virus that is threatening the entire world. Such happy memories come rushing back!

It seems that the cinema was prescient about such things about a decade before we got the real deal. Audiences had recently been treated to the horrors of outbreaks in films such as I Am Legend, Quarantine, Carriers, and (heaven help us) The Happening. One, Blindness, even focused specifically on a health crisis that deprived the populace of one of its senses. And in the year 2011, you had a choice: get a glimpse of the near-total failure of our public infrastructure in ’s thriller Contagion, or deal with the effects such a worldwide disaster would have on a budding romance in Perfect Sense, a love story suffused with foreboding and melancholy.

Diseases often propagate by preying upon our desire to help and comfort one another. But the contagion in Perfect Sense is unusually cruel, by turns capitalizing on our natural inclination to be kind toward one another, then exposing us at our most primal and emotional level, and finally stripping away that which allows us to interpret and enjoy the world. The film finds a particular power in images of the populace as a whole suddenly losing all control and self-possession, overcome by bouts of rage, despair, or even gluttony and pica. In each case, people try to pick up the pieces as best they can, and director Mackenzie and screenwriter Kim Fupz Aakeson envision these victims reaching out to each other to fill the ensuing losses with hope, which is a welcome grace note in a film about the encroaching end of the world. 

The story of this ever-evolving sickness is an odd counterpoint to the more intimate tale of two people who are rotten at love but find each other. Green and McGregor have terrific chemistry, impressive considering they are introduced to us as particularly poor romantic prospects: she’s an emotionally unavailable pessimist and he’s a frictionless cad. They have a genuinely effective, character-driven meet cute, and despite the obvious nature of their jobs—she works with diseases, his job revels in the senses of taste, smell, and sight—they act as worthy avatars for the damned human race. Just as their fellow humans find ways to go on, so do Susan and Michael keep after their mutual attraction, determined to hang on to their story even as the world falls apart.

The central figures in our story are so strong that it can be frustrating when the movie cuts away to share the ongoing collapse of the human race, complete with an omniscient narrator to explain “what it all means.” Unlike it’s cousin Contagion, which juxtaposes personal stories of survival against the global effort to defeat the pandemic, Perfect Sense works best at the micro level, with Susan and Michael navigating the crisis alongside their relationship with their friends and family. (McGregor also gets two reunions of a sort, with a fellow chef portrayed by his Trainspotting co-star Bremner, while his boss at the restaurant is none other than his own uncle Lawson, with whom he also shares a Star Wars pedigree.)

It’s only in the peculiar landscape of Perfect Sense that the closing moments of the film could be considered in any respect a happy ending: the world overtaken by a wave of unreserved euphoria, followed by Susan and Michael realizing the depth of their feelings and racing through the streets of Glasgow toward a heartfelt embrace—at the precise moment that their ability to see is snatched from them. Humanity won’t be long for this world, and all they will have is the sensation of this final, passionate embrace, but they will have that. It’s a dark but oddly hopeful conclusion regarding the one thing we learned for certain during the course of the pandemic: we humans are nothing if not persistent.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Perfect Sense is, to put it bluntly, a weird film… Overall Perfect Sense is a very strange and grim oddity that evokes the wrong reaction.” – Maxine Brown, Roobla (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Erin. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Perfect Sense
  • DVD
  • Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • English (Original Language), English (Unknown)
  • 1
  • 92

46*. BUBBLE BATH (1980)

Habfürdö, AKA Foam Bath

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“While it wasn’t a successful release, [Bubble Bath] now has all the qualities of a cult classic—riveting, unique, misunderstood, equal parts bizarre and brilliant, ahead of its time. It also fits into the category of surreal and psychedelic masterpieces from that era…”–Jennifer Lynde Barker, “Bubble Bath and the Animation of György Kovásznai,” in the booklet accompanying the Blu-ray release

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: György Kovásznai

FEATURING: Voices of Kornél Gelley, Vera Venczel, Katalin Dobos; Albert Antalffy, Anna Papp, Katalin Bontovits (singers)

PLOT: In a panic, Zsolt drives to Anna’s apartment, begging her to call Klári, his fiancée and Anna’s co-worker, to call off his wedding, which is scheduled for later this afternoon. Anna reluctantly agrees to help, as the two find themselves becoming attracted to one another. When Klári suddenly arrives, in the company of a drunken boxer,  to whisk Anna to the wedding, things take a turn for the screwball when Zsolt hides by dressing up as a frogman.

Still from Bubble Bath (1980)

BACKGROUND:

  • György Kovásznai was primarily a painter, but he made several surreal short films beginning in the 1960s. Habfürdö was his only completed feature. He died of leukemia in 1983 at the age of 49.
  • Habfürdö was only the third animated feature ever made in Hungary, and the first one not made for children and not based on an existing literary work. It flopped in its local release but was influential among animators, and later became acknowledged as a cult film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Things move too fast to pin down a single frame, but, although they’re depicted in multiple styles, what sticks in the mind most are the character designs: Zsolt with his wavy hair and bushy, wandering mustache, and (especially) Anna, with her black bra straps and round glasses that frequently glow with freaky patterns.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Psychedelic disco apartment; frogman down the drain

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Although the story—a loose romantic comedy about a man having cold feet on his wedding day—is standard issue, this animated musical is thoroughly lysergic in its visuals, with the characters and scenery constantly morphing in stroboscopic wonderment. The entire film probably needs an epilepsy warning.

Restoration trailer for Bubble Bath

COMMENTS: Despite its relatively small size, Hungary’s contribution to the world of animation is tremendous. At its height, the national Pannónia Film Stúdió was considered one of the top five studios in the world, ranking only behind the Soviets, America’s Continue reading 46*. BUBBLE BATH (1980)

CAPSULE: THIS IS ME… NOW (2024)

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<em>This Is Me… Now streams exclusively on Amazon Prime.

DIRECTED BY: Dave Meyers

FEATURING:

PLOT: “The Artist” searches for a soul mate while discussing her past with her therapist as the Zodiacal pantheon oversees her difficulties.

Still from This Is me... Now: A Love Story (2024)
This Is Me… Now: A Love Story (2024)

COMMENTS: Having little experience with Jennifer Lopez until watching this film, her, now, is all I have to work with. Fortunately for J-Lo, and director Dave Meyers, I’m a sucker for vanity projects, music videos, and random experiences. This Is Me… Now dances energetically atop a certain floor of competence, jerkily zapping with defiance, then (jerkily) tilting into romantic melancholy. Ladies and germs, what we have here is a semi-operatic music video feature, likely to please any fan of the artiste behind the songs and dances.

For those not particularly interested in Ms. Lopez or her music, there are still a cache of fun little flourishes to keep you amused over the hour-long experience. The biggest rests amongst the stars—whence comes all life, light, and hope, as might be declared by none other than Neil DeGrasse Tyson, onscreen here as the Zodiacal sign of Taurus. No less impressive is , leading the team of star signs—proving she’s as fun and full as ever. (I’ll leave it you to check out the celebrity checklist for the other astrological persona, but it is a motley and… star-studded bunch.) , ever his woman’s fellow, dons a ridiculous hairpiece and a brash schmuckery as a nebulously right-wing TV personality. And I am told that Fat Joe is something of a heavy hitter, and his performance as Jennifer’s therapist makes me curious to explore his career further.

Perhaps more than any other film which has crossed my plate, This Is Me… Now plays to its audience; it is a loving gift from the singer-celebrity (evidenced in particular by her own personal outlay of some twenty million dollars to get it off the ground). From the opening steam-punk dystopian heart factory metaphor power ballad (gotta keep feeding petals into the core, lest that heart becomes broken), to the decent-to-impressive late era MTV-style set pieces (quirky-jerky dance routines featuring dozens), right through the closing maneuvers, This Is Me… Now delivers J-Lo on her own terms, and that was good (enough) for me.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Please allow me to introduce you to the shiny and ambitious and strange and ludicrous and trippy and occasionally fantastic ‘This Is Me … Now.'”–Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: THE DARK SIDE OF THE HEART [EL LADO OSCURO DEL CORAZÓN] (1992)

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DIRECTED BY: Eliseo Subiela

FEATURING: Darío Grandinetti, Sandra Ballesteros, Nacha Guevara, André Mélançon, Jean Pierre Reguerraz

PLOT: Poet Oliverio meanders through life, verbally jousting with the angel of death while searching for the perfect woman, whom he may have found in a practical-minded prostitute.

Still from "The Dark Side of the Heart" (1992)

COMMENTS: Oliverio has a standard pickup line, one he busts out for women at the bar and women he’s already lured into the sack alike: he can take or leave any woman, regardless of their physical attributes, but the only one who really interests him is the one who can fly. He’s quite serious about it, and we even see the fate of those who come up short in that regard: a plummet into the abyss via a trapdoor built into his bed.

Suffice to say, this live-action Tinder line isn’t paying off the way he’d like, although it’s hard to pity Oli for his disappointing romantic escapades. He would seem to be living the dream version of a poet’s life, generating product at the drop of a hat and able to turn his words into income whenever the need arises. He wanders the streets reciting poems to commuters stuck in traffic, who readily hand over their cash. He pays for thick steaks at a street café with romantic odes, which the cook promptly uses to win a wife. And of course, he can lure any woman into his sheets, even though they all disappoint him in the end. How on earth is the poor bastard going to get out of this pickle?

Of course, Oli’s profession is carefully chosen, because this poet’s tale is being told poetically. We shouldn’t question how he manages to survive from day to day, because this is the story of his crisis of the soul. The fact that his late mother speaks to him in the form of a cow, or that he trades barbs with Death herself (who is trying to find him a steady job in the classifieds), is only literal in the metaphorical sense. It’s not fantasy or even magical realism. This is a poet’s view of the world, where feelings are made manifest because they’re just that strong.

It’s a credit to Subiela’s direction and Grandinetti’s deft performance that this doesn’t come across as highly obnoxious. Oli is arrogant, to be sure, but he’s a perfectionist whose dedication to poetic ideals results in a high standard for happiness. He can throw away his art on commissions for which he has no passion, but his commitment to himself is absolute. This makes him the perfect foil for Ana, the sex worker from Montevideo for whom he falls. With pain in her past and responsibilities in her present, she draws a very clear line between love and sex. The movie’s focus on Oli shortchanges her point of view somewhat, but their chemistry is so strong that we feel her influence on him even when she’s not onscreen. It’s a peculiar sort of charm where the boy treats other women better as a result of not getting the girl (played out in a genuinely enchanting scene where he romances a blind woman and makes the extraordinary decision not to give her the Wile E. Coyote treatment at the end).   

El Lado Oscuro del Corazón demands a certain tolerance because of the way its fantastical notions are presented in such a grounded manner, and it sometimes thinks that the main character himself is more interesting than his idealistic pursuits. When it gets the mix right, though, it earns its magic, which is probably why it’s the rare surrealistic meditation on love to merit a sequel. Not everyone loves poetry, but when you hear the right poem, you’re likely to want another.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Moving effortlessly between the familiar and the surreal, this wildly imaginative, erotic, irreverently funny film seems to have the flexibility for almost everything from the sublime to the ridiculous.”–Hal Hinson, Washington Post (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Dreamer, who explains that the film “is weird because of its particular way of being poetic and to some extent poetic because it is weird.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)