Elektra Luxx

Don’t be decived by the low-budget look, feel (ahem), and bawdy subject manner, this is a good movie. Despite the very conscious porn-style art direction, this is a movie with some great laughs and some some real heart. The cast alone should make that obvious, but any doubts are utterly erased by the incredible performance in the prison scene — both subtle and solid enough to make you sit up and take notice. Carla Gugino is a heck of a talent and manages to pull off seedy, sexy, and intelligent all at once without falling into the cliche “prostitute with a heart of gold” model.

This is a sequel to Women in Trouble, which I haven’t yet seen; my understanding is that this is the better of the two. Given the fun of this movie, I’ll be picking up the first soon in my screenings. If you’re looking for something very different and out of the Indie showcase genre, don’t miss this movie.

Luther (BBC)

I watch a LOT of BBC mysteries; this one blew me away. Luther is probably the most original, non-book based detective created since Prime Suspect gave us Jane Tennison. And that’s saying something.

Luther starts dark and continues that way, pulling you along through horrific crimes and the lengths to which Luther will go to solve them. His passion is both infectious and terrifying to the audience and to those around him. But while it is Luther’s internal struggle that drives the story, he is surrounded by wonderful characters, both whole and broken. Elba picked up a BAFTA for his performance, deservedly, though there isn’t a weak member in the ensemble.

The second series is coming and, I have to admit, I can’t wait to see it. You shouldn’t wait to see this one.

Another Year

Slow but focused, this tale of a couple and their friends is really beautifully done. Even more so when you realize it was mostly improvised; something that wasn’t even obvious until I watched one of the extras on the disc. A solid cast of actors and characters makes it all feel very natural and believable.

Leigh bring a very Altman-like feel to his efforts which, among other things, includes directing  Vera Drake. Both directors just let the story unfold and, while there is clearly a story, it is told through interactions rather than through exposition (visual or dialog). However, unlike Altman, Leigh has more restraint and focus, containing his canvas so you can follow, more or less, one story rather than many. I do enjoy Altman, but all too often I find he goes off the rails with the scope of his films. Leigh maintains a more solid center.

Worth your time when you’re in a quieter mood and want to see good story and excellent craft.

The Amazing Screw-on Head

Based on Mike Mignola’s (Hellboy) work, this failed pilot is a twisted, dark, and rather adult Scooby-Doo sort of adventure.

The voice talent is astounding, as is the pedigree. Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Wonder Falls, Pushing Daisies, Heroes, etc) produced and his wry sense of humor pervades. I can see why this failed as a series, both in content and for the writing, but it is a great 22 minutes when you just want something very different.

Renovation

Reno WorldCon Aug 17-21 will be my first (yes, gasp, even after all these years) WorldCon. But with so many friends participating, it seemed foolish to miss. I don’t know if I will be on programming or critiquing or just hanging about and having fun, but I’ll be there none the less.

Valentino: The Last Emporer

For a good part of my life I’ve been Fashion World adjacent. It started while I was a professional actor and the many costume designers I knew and know. And it carries forward, even to the fact that I am co-owner of a lable (Literary Ends and Shibui Originals) and an embroidery business (Dreamcatchers NW, LLC and Literary Ends Press). So, yes, I’ve more than a passing interest in this subject matter.

However, it really wouldn’t have mattered. This is an incredibly well done docu that lays bare not only the inner workings of Valentino’s house, but also of big business, relationships, culture, and changing mores. Most of this is tangential to the main thread, but it is unavoidable and fascinating. The history of the house of Valentino is now almost 50 years old. He was the last of the original haute couture and the end of an era in the fasion world and in our cultural view of the rich and famous… IOW, our aspirations (for or against).

The docu is also very honest with its lens and doesn’t at all try to white wash the titular focus. We see Valentino in his glory as he invents and praises and his not so glory as a petulant child-artist with his staff and lover. Whether you care about fashion as an industry or not, this look at this particular business provides amazing insight well beyond its apparent boundaries.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

This is a bonus write-up today as I ended up with what is probably the most mismatched double feature I’ve managed in a long time (Iris being the companion piece last night). I wouldn’t even have bothered except this animated movie surprised me.

I came back to Batman with Batman Beyond years ago… which started as some fairly deep, adult action and situations (in comparison to what else was around) but rapidly degenerated into kiddy fare by its second season. This movie comes back to the adult level… just watch the first five minutes and you’ll be both shocked and hooked. Reasonably well animated and with some good voice talent, the story sells.

My biggest gripe was the magic factor involved. One of great aspects of the fun of Batman was that he was mortal and flawed. OK, the stunts often defied physics and the gadgets bordered on the absurd, but they were fun and you could just believe them if you wanted. This story crossed that line in the DC universe where the fantastic had to be engaged. Good for the story? Probably. Good for Batman as a genre? I’m on the fence. If they hadn’t gone that route, I’d probably have liked this enough to rewatch it again. As it is, I had fun… may even watch for more installments… but I’m not likely to revisit the story.

If you’re at all a fan, or was a fan, definitely take the time to watch. Even if you’re not, this may change your mind. This isn’t your typical Saturday morning or weekday afternoon meal.

Iris

A life well lived and a life well lost. I realize I come to this film later than most and, like many people, with my own baggage on the subject matter. But it wasn’t nearly as difficult to watch as I’d feared and the story was worth it. At its heart, it is really a love story. It is the devotion and honesty of the couple as they struggle against the inevitable that is both tragic and warming. Broadbent more than deserved the Oscar he received for his performance… which was oddly reminiscent of Firth’s in The King’s Speech in some ways, though that could have just been the stutter and the strong female presence in the house.

But I think the overlooked performances of Winslet and Bonneville are the real gems here. The casting, directing, acting are so pitch-perfect you really think you’re watching a young Dench and Broadbent. Particularly the latter. That seamlessness allows you to slip forward and back in the characters lives without squinting to believe. Even their contemporary friends had great casting for their younger selves.

The truth is that this story is only notable because it was an infamous person famous for her words. But it was handled as if she was just a normal person… with the excuse to being able to be shown where she came from and where she ended up without having to force the matter. It isn’t easy to put a regular person in the position of being interviewed or giving multiple speeches over time to large audiences. These kinds of moments ended up less provocative situation and more practical example in this case.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I started the flick, but I am glad I finally found it and spent the time to watch.

Carancho

A somewhat predictable, well-acted thriller about two broken people in Argentina where, apparently, it is never daytime. Yes, it is dark, but it is’t quite noir…. more modern dirty streets despite the atmosphere and locations. Overall, this was an intriguing film but one where I think living in Argentina would have provided more context given the political relationships and issues, though I was able to make the leaps fairly well. What sets it apart is that, despite the traditional kinds of stakes, you can believe these people were once good and just fell into their situations by circumstance and bad judgement. They want to do right, but can’t find the way to do so that isn’t wrong.

In truth, Nine Queens, which Ricardo Darin is in as well, is a much better and more entertaining film. Sadly, my write-up of that doesn’t seem to have made the port from the old site, so just take my word for it. Queens is a fun caper film, also filmed in Argentina and worth the effort to seek out.

Overlapping Frames: Langlois and The Dreamers

(Dreamers)  and  (Langlois)

The Dreamers opens with a scene in front of Lagnlois’ Cinemateque at the Palais du Challiot, Paris on the day he was ousted in a political coup. As it happened, a documentary on Henri Langlois had been recommended to me months before and was awaiting my viewing. So, in a rare instance, I waited to post my impressions until I’d seen both films, suspecting they’d make a great double feature, or weekend endeavor. The two films really do go together well, though I’d recommend watching the documentary first as it puts you in a better frame for the parable of The Dreamers.

The Dreamers was a surprising film. First, and most famously, for its acres of unapologetic flesh and sex (especially if you view the NC-17 version). Given that it is about 3 young adults in their late teens in the late-60s in Paris, this isn’t unexpected. What is, is how the story of the three becomes a political parable about socialism and the uprising in Paris in 1968. We watch children mature into what they think is adult and, at the same time, watch the world around them disintegrate. I can’t say it is a great film, but it isn’t a bad film; it’s Bernardo Bertolucci after all! It is open, honest, unselfconscious and invites us to understand what it is to dream in a very idealistic way and try to make that dream a reality. And the realities of getting your wish as well.

Langlois was very much himself a dreamer who became the father of modern cinema by virtue of his vision. His vision to preserve the original films of cinema and his recognition of what cinema was and could be. I am sure Bertolucci was paying homage to him throughout The Dreamers; Langlois’ presence is felt heavily through the beginning of the film.

The documentary, Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinematheque, is a brilliant, if somewhat confusingly non-chronological at times. It is a relatively honest look at the man, his life, and his lasting legacy. The salient point that got me to the documentary in the first place was half way into the film, but I was riveted for the 2 hours of rapid French and subtitles, learning about his efforts and celebrating the cinema in general. All lovers of the art need to see this documentary and understand how we got here and what film can truly be when it isn’t cookie-cutter studio fare.

Art, writing, life explained… or at least commented upon…