Gummo

Dir: Harmony Korine, 1997. Starring: Jacob Reynolds, Nick Sutton, Chloë Sevigny. Cult.

For the sake of argument, let’s agree that catharsis can come from viewing tragedies. We watch movies circulating around slums and the darkest corners of imagination not only to get a clearer understanding of them but also because we come away feeling a little more alive and grounded in our own circumstances. But there is a unique squalor of America not found anywhere else in the world. A sort of squalor of choice or adaptation where people dwell in their own filth and close-mindedness willingly, and with perceptions that someone forced to live in such a way might not understand. So in response to this catharsis, I’ll be the first to admit that Gummo sort of hit me like a drug. Say, heroin for example. I couldn’t quite grasp what was going on, but in the trailer when I heard Madonna’s voice singing, “In the midnight hour, I can feel your power, just like a prayer, you know I’ll take you there…” over cigar-smoking, cat-torturing youth, a boy in filthy bathwater, a tornado and a happy albino woman dancing in a parking lot, I was pulled into a trial run. But since it also induces a fever-like edge of comedy, I’m going to write this review in the form of a mock prescription.

If you like to be pulled out of yourself in order to see the irony and falsehood of the pursuit of the "American Dream," Gummo might be for you. Set in the tornado-stricken city of Xenia, Ohio, it features the lives of two boys, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton), who spend their days killing cats to sell to butchers, riding bikes with mismatched parts, sniffing glue, having sex, and philosophizing about life in an eerie way that only a person living in this reality can. Their town is filled with strange and disturbing people who are rooted so deeply in their own bitterness, racism, and boredom that their actions can only be received as a cult-like unison of abandon and self-destruction. Chloë Sevigny plays Dot, who along with her sisters Darby and Helen, occupy themselves with a benign sense of vanity and seclusion similar to Little and Big Edie in Grey Gardens. Not exactly hard to watch, but still strange.

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Edythe Smith
Mar 22, 2010 5:57pm

Deliver Us From Evil

Dir: Amy Berg, 2006. Documentary.

You don’t have to have or understand religion in order to understand spirituality. Most everyone has a source of reason or a spirit of life that feeds our quest for a healthy existence and is the foundation of our morals. Whether it comes from deities or an inner muse, every person who decided to remain a part of this world has their own way of defining purpose. Deliver Us From Evil deals with the corruption of such spirituality in the Catholic Church.

This is a brave and gut-wrenching documentary about the corruption of faith among the youth and families of several parishes in California. It touches on a sickening truth - that some years ago, the Catholic Church re-formed its guidelines which allowed a priest to get married and have children, as the resulting male sons would inherit his assets instead of the church. Now removed from the option of finding romantic adult peers, an alarming number of Catholic hierarchy, many of whom were sexually abused in childhood, now see children as their sexual peers.

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Edythe Smith
Mar 16, 2010 3:52pm

Monster’s Ball

Dir. Marc Forster, 2001. Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle, Heath Ledger, Mos Def. Drama.

It is a treat and a privilege to see the work of actors and directors that are versatile and consistent. Director Marc Forster has had an interesting approach to portraying damage within people, families, and romantic relationships. In movies like Stay, The Kite Runner, and Finding Neverland, we can see examples of his attempts to unify an audience with stories and feelings that no one is exempt from. But when Monster’s Ball was presented, featuring an extraordinary cast and controversial subject matter, I was more than eager to see what all the buzz was about. To say that it did not disappoint would be an understatement.

The story seems simple: two strangers meet and become romantically involved. But here is the not so simple part. Halle Berry gives an Oscar-winning performance as Leticia, a waitress who lives on the brink of eviction with her son who has a lifelong struggle with obesity. Her ex-husband Lawrence, wonderfully played by Sean Combs, is within 72 hours of execution on death row. Billy Bob Thornton plays Hank, a corrections officer specializing in assisting prisoners on death row and currently is assisting Lawrence’s last days. He lives with his son Sonny (Heath Ledger), who is also in the same profession, and his father (Peter Boyle) who retired from the same profession. His life circulates with racism, ritual, unease, bitterness, and abuse. The two meet in the most unconventional way when Leticia’s son is struck during a hit-and-run and Hank later witnesses them in distress and escorts them to the hospital where the boy is pronounced dead. From there a consuming and aggressive romance begins to unfold.

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Edythe Smith
Mar 15, 2010 3:59pm

Death Of A President

Dir: Gabriel Range, 2006. Mystery/Thriller.

It goes without saying that during the 8-year term of former President Bush, many activists, parents and the general public alike had little to no trouble expressing their anger and disappointment with the balance and well-being of the United States. Death Of A President, an astounding mockumentary on the successful assassination of President Bush, would then seem to be a sort of outlet in cinema of the events leading to and following the ultimate display of anarchy towards any government. But this is not the message behind this film. If anything, it simply asks that you both pay attention to the policies and laws that govern us as a people, and think twice about taking matters into one’s own hands.

The film opens with a certain anxiety, looking over industrial buildings while listening to an Arab woman’s voice off-screen. The point of her dialogue is to stress consequences. Her husband, Jamal Abu Zikri, is an IT professional of Syrian descent who has become the prime suspect among a line of other Middle-Eastern men in the assassination of the President. She knows he is innocent and cannot fathom how someone could commit such an act without knowing that it might lead not only to the end of the President’s life, but also to the end of government as we know it and the downfall of many other innocent people.

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Edythe Smith
Mar 9, 2010 5:17pm

The Thin Blue Line

Dir: Errol Morris, 1988. Documentary.

Two men are in prison for the rest of their lives. One is Randall Dale Adams, an average man who appears rational, patient, and has had no distinct trouble with the law. The other is David Ray Harris, a young and destructive delinquent on death row after many years of trouble with the law. On November 28, 1976 their paths crossed in an act of gratitude and friendlessness when Adam had car trouble and the then 16-year-old Harris offered him a ride. By morning, a police officer would be shot dead and the trial to decipher which of them is guilty is enough to plot an entire trilogy of thrillers.

Documentaries are a strange breed of cinema, outlined by rules and guidelines set forth in order to produce "cinéma-vérité." This quest to give the audience "truth" leaves absolutely no room for bias, or theatrics for that matter. That is of course until Errol Morris came through with The Thin Blue Line, a documentary that successfully argues the innocence of a man and eventually leads to his release. After all, once you put a camera up to any situation, you are in some ways distorting truth. Morris simply adds reenactments and colorful visuals to the frame in order to give an appropriate feel to a film documenting a crime and the lousy justice department that attempts to solve it.

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Edythe Smith
Mar 8, 2010 4:55pm

Videodrome

Dir: David Cronenberg, 1983. Starring: James Woods, Sonja Smits, Deborah Harry. Cult.

Let’s revisit the early 1980s. Picture yourself removed from all forms of technology that are now so familiar and seem to endlessly grow. We’re talking Internet, texting, Blu-ray, and even modern day cable television. Now imagine that satellite television is the most exciting concept. Let’s also imagine the thrill of recording and watching something on videocassette. Supposing you are one of the privileged few who has access to this technology, what would you choose to watch? Remember, you’re now able, for the first time, to pull video feed from anywhere with this satellite into your home. How much would you want to devour with your own eyes and in what ways might it change the way you live?

I have something I want you to watch. Its name is Videodrome. Directed and written by David Cronenberg, it is a film with a philosophy about a mind-altering pseudo-program that has a philosophy of its own. James Woods plays Max Renn—the president of a small cable television channel that presents exclusive and mostly erotic content. His idea is simple: allow people to manifest their desires at home and, as a result, keep it off the streets. While working with his assistant he comes across segments of a pirated television show called Videodrome. In short, Videodrome is a near primitive display of unlucky souls who are tortured and/or raped, never to return onscreen. The simplicity and terror of the program is unlike anything he’s ever seen. He wants to share this vision with his viewers, thus beginning a quest to find its source.

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Edythe Smith
Mar 1, 2010 6:35pm

Murmur of the Heart

Dir: Louis Malle, 1971. Starring: Benoît Ferreux and Lea Massari. Foreign.

Some of Louis Malle’s most daring films capture the bewilderment that comes with entering young adulthood. Features such as Au Revoir Les Enfants and Pretty Baby not only guide the audience through the tender and turbulent times of their leading youth, but also deliver a glimpse of the social environment and conditions in which they live. Murmur of the Heart is, in few words, a nuance of intimacy and perhaps a re-working of the Oedipus complex. It follows Laurent—a fifteen-year-old boy whose aristocratic identity and layered personality result in a constantly altered state of mind and lavish exercises in rebellion. Due to his social standing and education Laurent is not your average fifteen-year old, and thanks to the privileges of a lax society and the perspective of older, rambunctious brothers, he has come to think of himself as a young man. The current leading lady in his life is his mother; a beautiful Italian who, like a girl of a much younger age, is constantly impressed and smitten with Laurent’s charm and innocence. Known to his older brothers and surrounding family as "sensitive" and intellectual, Laurent also shares a certain vulnerability to jazz, theft, and women. All of this is put to a halt, however, when Laurent develops a heart murmur and is sent on vacation with his mother to receive treatment. With plenty of free time and leisurely activities, Laurent and his mother grow even closer than before, ultimately leading to displays of affection that must later become secrets, and yet are still handled, by Malle, with delicacy.

For a first-time feature-length actor, young Benoît Ferreux is full of surprises. Laurent’s character is like a balanced mesh of puppy dog and tyrant, which somehow blends to make an odd and highly entertaining finished product. Portraying the unmasked desire by boys of this age and social class to become men is a refreshing alternative to the rough-edged machismo upbringings we often see presented in film. For Ferreux to be able to grasp that concept early and portray it correctly is in itself a promise of the fruitful career that was to come.

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Edythe Smith
Feb 24, 2010 6:01pm

Fat Girl

Dir: Catherine Breillat, 2001. Starring: Anaïs Reboux, Roxane Mesquida, and Arsinée Khanjian. Foreign.

Doctor: " What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets." Cecilia: "Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl." -- Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides Rarely can one witness the gift of a film that has the gut and the power to deliver a story of the complex and trying "coming of age" which we all had to endure. Even more scarce is work surrounding the female perspectives of such experience. To shy away from female sexuality and experimental thought is an exercise used to the point of exhaustion in modern cinema. Catherine Breillat, on the other hand, has made a point of idolizing masters in the art of capturing the human condition and therefore has made many films doing just the opposite of her counterparts. Out of these, which include A Real Young Girl and 36 Fillette, Fat Girl dominates as a bold and provocative juxtaposition between two sisters, spiraling through two very different types of disgrace.

Anaïs Pingot and her sister, Elena, are on holiday with their mother. Typical of any vacation-town, spouts of ennui and a lack of familiarity cause these two sisters to roam aimlessly through the town in search of some kind of amusement. While dining at a local restaurant they meet Fernando, an Italian college-age man who is automatically drawn to the beauty and flirtatiousness of the 16-year old Elena, while the overweight 12-year old, Anaïs, simply stands by and allows her sister to soak up his affection. But as the vacation proceeds so does their sibling rivalry and the hastened and inappropriate relationship between Elena and Fernando. Here we gaze and experience, through the point-of-view of Anaïs, the desire to be wanted and the helplessness of seeing the innocence of a loved one shattered.

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Edythe Smith
Feb 24, 2010 2:05pm

Cries and Whispers

Dir: Ingmar Bergman, 1972. Starring: Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Erland Josephson, Liv Ullmann, Kari Sylwan. Foreign.

"In the screenplay, it says that red represents for me the interior of the soul. When I was a child, I imagined the soul to be a dragon, a shadow floating in the air like blue smoke....But inside the dragon, everything was red." -- Ingmar Bergman

For most of Ingmar Bergman’s career, the decision to shoot in black and white, both before and after Cries and Whispers, has been one of choice and trust. The delight of seeing his vision in color is not simply based on color itself but of his use of it in the film. Like a poet, Bergman decided to look past what color can mean for the eyes alone, to its purpose to help us understand and appreciate life, death, and the soul.

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Edythe Smith
Feb 16, 2010 2:50pm

Who’s That Knocking On My Door

Dir: Martin Scorsese, 1967. Starring: Harvey Keitel and Zina Bethune. Drama.

"A broad. You know, there are girls, and then there are broads. A broad isn't exactly a virgin, you know what I mean? You play around with them...You don't marry a broad..." -- Who's That Knocking At My Door

Who’s That Knocking At My Door, directed and co-written by Martin Scorsese, has had various names, influences, and spans of time in which it was filmed. One thing that leaves no question is that for Scorsese and Harvey Keitel’s first feature-film, it is an ambitious and carefully executed debut that will leave you wanting more. Keitel plays J.R., an average Italian-American whose idea of a good time is romping around with his friends and persuing “broads.” All that changes when he meets a beautiful and traditional girl (Zina Bethune) whose purity is so alluring that he cannot help but get involved. His Catholic classification of women to be the “Madonna or the whore” ignites an inspiration not only to be a gentleman, but also to offer up a willingness to settle for such a girl. But when a secret from her past distorts the fine lines he thought every woman could be defined by, J.R. must confront and break down everything he once understood about affection and his convictions.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Feb 16, 2010 2:39pm
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