Autodidact: self-taught

Jul
28
2015

Suburban Gothic

by V. L. Craven

Suburban Gothic

Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) has intelligence and fashion sense and an expensive degree from business school.

What Raymond does not have is a job. Therefore, he has to move back to the small town from which he hauled ass directly after high school. And back into his childhood home. Oh, joy.

His mother still loves him, her little boy, and his father, Donald, (Ray Wise, ever hilarious and awful) is the same racist homophobe he ever was.

Dear old dad is having work done in the yard and the people doing the work just happen to unearth an old coffin, which they open, as you do.

Then things go badwrong.

Raymond has always had a bit of a seeing-spirits-problem, which went away when he moved away. But now that he’s back, the spirits are a-plaguing him again. (He doesn’t know about the coffin at first.)

Unearthed spirits aren’t his only issue, though. The living are giving him difficulty, as well. They were the reason he got the hell out of there in the first place. Luckily, just before his old tormentors from high school can pick up where they left off, he befriends a fellow former fat kid, Becca (Kat Dennings) and they become buddies.

And that’s just as well, because he’s going to need all the help he can get when it comes time to fight the malevolent entity rearing it’s disembodied head.

Kat Dennings looks more like Lydia Deets in this film than Bewbs O'Klok up there.

Kat Dennings looks more like Lydia Deets in this film than Bewbs O’Klok up there.

I watched this film because I wanted to see Dr Spencer Reid swear–I’d seen a gifset on Tumblr of him calling someone an asshole and just had to see it in context. It was worth it. He drops the ‘f’ bomb a lot, too.

‘Quirky’ is the first word that comes to mind. It’s the next three words, as well. Suburban Gothic was released in 2015 but the special effects were…special. So I’m thinking they were an intentional homage to 60s horror flicks.

The script had some genuinely laugh out loud funny lines. Ray Wise was hysterical as the All American bigot. He nailed it. I have the feeling some of his lines came from things someone’s (Richard Bates Jr or Mark Bruner’s) actual father said and they were so over-the-top they just had to put them in.

I don’t know from fixing a curse, but the filmmakers really captured the special hell that is returning to your tiny, small-minded hometown. Except when I go back to mine I don’t pair up with a fellow outcast and have wacky adventures. I just deal with whatever unholy purpose has drawn me there and get the hell back to civilisation as quickly as possible.

As a comedy it succeeds. As horror, it’s not scary in the least, but most 60s horror films aren’t all that frightening today, either. YMMV, but I’d give this one a 4/5.

If you’re not interested in either of the leads you’ll probably think I’ve overrated it by a star.

Jul
21
2015

Higher Learning

by V. L. Craven

Higher Learning

Malik (Omar Epps) is a young, black, incoming freshman track star. A little cocky–all right, more than a little.

Kristen (Kristy Swanson) is a white, naive freshman with no clue who she is or what she wants.

Remy (Michael Rappaport) is also white and a freshman but he’s odd. A loner. He can’t seem to fit in anywhere.

Out of their hometowns for the first time in their lives–and for some of them, having to deal with people who aren’t the same race, for the first time as well–they scramble to make sense of the new world they’re meant to fit in to.

Malik ends up with a group of guys led by Ice Cube (another guy in the group is Busta Rhymes). Some of their scenes are excellent examples of the way racism is alive and well (the film is twenty years old, but it remains accurate) on campuses. Malik also begins romancing Deja (Tyra Banks).

Kristen starts off hanging out with two friends from back home but after a traumatic experience she finds solace and solidarity with Taryn (Jennifer Connelly).

Then there’s Remy. Remy’s the sort of person the average human gets the urge to inch away from so of course the campus skinheads think he’s just swell and the feeling is mutual.

All of these characters; stories collide in one way or another and no one comes out untouched by the repercussions.

One of the professors is played by Laurence Fishburne and, in case I need to say it, he’s amazing.

John Singleton knows how to handle an ensemble cast and tell several stories at once whilst making a larger point.

I was reminded of this film after watching Dear White People last week. Mostly because the average film about American university life is about parties and hooking up and other things I could not care less about. Just in case you were wondering why this one seemed to be getting dragged out of the mothballs.

Do yourself a favour and watch this one. 5/5

Jul
14
2015

Dear White People

by V. L. Craven

Dear White People

Winchester is an ivy-league university with a minority number of minorities. One recent Halloween a very white dorm sent out invitations to their very racist themed party.

Dear White People is the ‘re-enactment’ of the five week lead up to that party.

Okay, it’s all fiction, but barely. We’ve seen the photos of the racist costumes–the black-face and brown-face; the Native American headdresses and sombreros. As though white is a blank canvas of normal humanity and everyone else is putting on a costume every day and pretending to be ethnic.

The invitation in the film is a near-verbatim copy of an actual invitation to a 2010 party at the University of California, San Diego. The party in the film is based on an actual event, as well, though it didn’t turn into a riot. And over the closing credits are photographs of real life university students doing the same things satirized in the film. (That must have been an uncomfortable day on the set. Hoo boy.)

The supposed ‘re-enactment’ starts with Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) at the beginning of his sophomore year. He’s been moved from house to house (people live in large, gorgeous houses rather than prison-cell-like dorms at Winchester) as he doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Uncomfortable with his sexuality–he doesn’t like labels–and unsure what to do with his hair (he tells fellow black students he’s growing it out and they laugh and say it’s gaining sentience) he doesn’t know what he wants or who he is. He doesn’t even have a major anymore.

Then there’s Sam White (Tessa Thompson) revolutionary media arts major with a radio show called Dear White People. She wants people to pay attention. She wants to make a difference. But Sam has her own struggles with race to deal with.

Next up is Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris). She wants people to pay attention, too. To her. She wants to be famous. So when a producer shows up at the university looking for a certain sort of person she tries to get his attention by being provocative.

And finally we have Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell). His father is the Dean and he has aspirations for law school and, eventually, his own firm one day. He’s currently head of the house he lives in and is one of those All-American types. He’s Barack Obama, basically.

He has a white girlfriend, though, and that goes over just as well as you’d expect with his cohort. His girlfriend is the sister of the son of the President of Winchester. Who is also the man who beat out his father for that position. The long-term political fallout of this cause all kinds of problems.

Dear White People is funny as hell–there are exchanges and one-liners galore. But it also holds a mirror up to our society and shows how much further we have to go in terms of racial equality. It is accurate and perceptive while being witty.

This one is a must-see. Watch it. 5/5

We all know this guy, right? We know him and we hate him. Don't be this guy.

We all know this guy, right? We know him and we hate him. Don’t be this guy.

Jun
30
2015

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

by V. L. Craven

How to Lose Friends

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is an English journalist with a cynical view of … everything, but particularly celebrity. He has a small publication that’s on the verge of imploding and desperately wants to break into the big time of professional celebrity stalking/mocking. He wants to be a

After a truly ridiculous turn of events involving a pig and Clint Eastwood, young Mr Young is invited to work for the man whose party he crashed, Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), in New York. Mr Harding, you see, owns several magazines.

Sidney has caught his big break. He’s in. He’s going to be someone. But first, he has to make an utter tit of himself. Multiple times. I mean, this is an Englishman in America being played by Simon Pegg.

But he’s still in…sorta. His sense of humour is all weird British and he doesn’t dress properly and … Oh, dear. Sidney wants to take the piss out of celebrities, as God intended, but the people he desperately wants to write for want him to kiss simply all the celebrity backside, as journalists do in the States. Loads of things change when you cross the ocean.

So things begin to falter pretty early on. He does make friends with a colleague (Kristin Dunst) who helps him as much as she can help a person determined to shoot themselves in the foot. Another rather ruthless colleague (Danny Huston) teaches Sidney a few invaluable lessons, as well.

And then there’s the vapid celebrity he’s deeply smitten with, played by Megan Fox. She’s hilarious. No kidding. Her publicist is played by Gillian Anderson and do you need to know any more than that? It’s Gillian Anderson. She makes everything better.

There are some fantastic cameos: James Corden, Katherine Parkinson and her IT Crowd co-star Chris O’Dowd, Thandie Newton and others. Miriam Margolyes plays Sidney’s Polish landlady in New York and Diana Kent is an actress desperately trying to make a comeback. Sidney’s father is played by Bill Paterson.

It’s one of those films where every few minutes you’re saying, ‘That guy!’ and then running to IMDB.

How to Lose Friends and Influence People offers some not-surprising but still depressing information about how publicity and journalism (especially in regard to celebrities) works in the States. And it’s based on a true story . The ‘real’ Sidney Young (whose name is Toby Young) worked at Vanity Fair for five years. The one in the film… well. Five years would have been a miracle for that guy.

Knowing it was based on reality to some degree helped. Otherwise it would have been a very funny but somewhat predictable film. Instead, I was sat watching it wondering what was derived from what and who the real life counterparts were to some people. [The Jeff Bridges character was clearly based on Graydon Carter .]

Overall it was a good time. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments, an excellent cast and Simon Pegg doing his thing. 4/5

Jun
02
2015

Mean Girls

by V. L. Craven

Mean Girls

Last weekend I decided to become the last person on Earth to see Mean Girls. I hadn’t actively avoided it, really. I simply felt that, being on Tumblr, I had seen most of it in gif form. I knew fetch was never going to happen. I knew on Wednesdays we wear pink. I knew Leslie Knope was the cool mom.

For once, though, Tumblr didn’t oversell something. I actually enjoyed this one.

I know, I know, I’ll let you catch your breath from that gushing praise. But when something is praised so highly and quoted so frequently, it’s difficult to expect much. Generally, when any product appeals to the masses it’s because it speaks to the lowest common denominator.

Occasionally, though, you get something else. *cough* Harry Potter *cough*

I’m not saying Mean Girls is on par with Harry Potter, but it was still entertaining. The internet hadn’t managed to show me every laugh and surprise from the film. (Including a really big one.)

I haven’t done my usual plot description then review because I assume everyone with eyes under the age of, say, forty has seen this thing, but if you’re like me and you haven’t, I recommend it.

It’s like Clueless–that sort of unrealistic teenage film that doesn’t even attempt to be about authentic teenagers, but still captures more about the high school experience than those films about trying to lose your virginity on prom night.

Mean Girls sort of reminds me of Popular, that Ryan Murphy television show that didn’t last nearly long enough. They could definitely take place in the same universe.

It’s written by Tina Fey and based on a non-fiction book called Queen Bees and Wannabees , which is about how horrible teen girls are to one another. If that doesn’t catch your interest then no plot description or review is going to. It’s just as excellent as you’d think that combination of things would be and is the sort of thing I’d watch again. On purpose.

The are very, very few teen films I’d say that about. 5/5

May
05
2015

Harold and Maude Film

by V. L. Craven

Harold and Maude

Harold Chasen is nineteen years old. Wealthy in that old-money sort of way. Obsessed with death in that constantly-staging-his-own-suicide sort of way.

He drives a hearse, watches demolitions and attends the funerals of strangers. At several he notices an older woman (she’s turning 80 within the week)–who also notices him. She’s positively full of life.

Though she does have a bothersome habit of stealing cars…or police motorcycles.

She also poses nude for sculptures and frees trees being choked by smog. Oh, Maude is just what Harold needs.

Harold’s mother, however, thinks Harold needs to get married or join the army. She sets him up on dates arranged by a computer dating agency and then sends him to see his uncle, the brigadier general. These experiences go rather hilariously sideways.

The entire film is hilariously sideways.

Harold and Maude still

I admit my prejudice in that Harold and Maude is one of my top five favourite films. I watch it probably once a year and it never ceases to crack me up.

When the film was originally released in 1971 it was a flop, but eventually became a cult-hit being played on university campuses. It’s wonderfully dark and bizarre. The line-readings are classic, the set designs lush. Every character is perfectly cast.

It’s the sort of film you’ll either ‘get’ and love straightaway or stare at, nonplussed.

5/5

I pulled this one out to review when they re-released the novelization of the screenplay, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow.

Apr
30
2015

The Well Film vs Novel

by V. L. Craven

Similarities and Differences Between Elizabeth Jolley’s Novel The Well and the Film Based Upon It

This post includes spoilers for both the 1986 Elizabeth Jolley novel The Well and the 1997 film of the same name. There are spoilers everywhere and will not be behind the usual ‘here be spoilers’ tags. If you need a moment to decide if you’d like to continue reading, here is a photo of Pamela Rabe.

The Well Pamela Rabe

If you’ve decided to stick around, then here we go.

There are more similarities than differences and the film sticks very close to the book–closer than most adaptations do. Many of the same conversations happen, though perhaps in different places.

The most noticeable difference, however, is the choice of casting Pamela Rabe as Hester Harper. In the book, Hester is menopausal or after–she’s fifty-something if she’s a day. Whereas, Rabe wouldn’t have been forty when she played the role. (Don’t get me wrong, they made the correct decision, but I was surprised by how much older the character was in the book.)

Per usual, there’s more about everyone in the novel–films don’t have the ability to capture the inner world of the characters the way books do–and we learn more about Hester’s beloved governess Hilde and Mr Bird and Katherine’s friend Joanna, as well as Katherine’s time at the orphanage.

Hilde had to leave one day after having a miscarriage (or giving birth? it’s difficult to tell from the description) when Hester was fourteen. Hester found her in the middle of the night on the floor of the bathroom bleeding profusely and crying. The next day her father took Hilde away and Hester was sent to boarding school. This gave Hester quite a dim view of bearing children or childbirth or relations between men and women.

Mr Bird dies suddenly near the end of the book but was trying to look after Hester right up until his end. There is some intimation that he was romantically interested in her, possibly. He certainly had affection for her, as he’d sent her cards on special occasions her entire life. She hadn’t wondered why until it was too late to ask. The original Hester Harper is remarkably self-involved.

Joanna, Katherine’s friend who spends most of the book and film on remand, sends letters and plans a visit. She eventually becomes an evangelist and her final letter in the book arrives on white paper with a gold cross on each page. She invites Kathy to join her for a tour of the States.

The Hester Harper of the book seemed much more frivolous and less capable than the one in the film, who was always in control and knew what was what. The Hester of the film also seems to have more of a sense of humour and a better singing voice.

The Katherine of the book (she’s never given a surname) is more annoying, but she also looks after Hester. She’s less conniving in the source material, whereas in the film, she comes across as money-grubbing and manipulative. This could be because the book is very much from Hester’s point of view, but the film has to be from a more objective viewpoint. However, in the book, Katherine never refers to her benefactress as ‘Hester’, as she does in the film. She always calls her ‘Miss Harper’.

The original Hester Harper is much less likable. She’s insanely possessive and absolutely will not allow Katherine to bring a man into their house and certainly not allow her precious Kathy to have a baby, even though, as she ages, these are things the younger woman expresses an interest in. She’s jealous of Joanna, as well, but not to the same degree, and, by the end of the novel, she’s resigned to letting Kathy go with Joanna to America if she wants.

The book explains where Hester gets Kathy (see my review ) which I had found confusing in the film. And in the book the Harpers didn’t have Molly–the woman they let go in the film–to make room for Kathy. The girl also didn’t find the work too hard and strop off only to return. Films need conflict, though. Something else the book explains that the film doesn’t is what Katherine sees in Hester. She seems to like looking after the woman–she brings her sweets at the dance, for example, in the book. But in the film it’s unclear why she’d return that day early on when she’d decided the work was too hard.

In the book, Katherine wears the yellow dress to the dance that Hester makes for her. It’s cause for some snide comments because Mrs Borden thinks Hester is trying to keep Kathy like a child even though she’s twenty-one, but Katherine likes it–she certainly doesn’t intentionally ruin it the way the character in the film does.

After the man is put down the well everything goes the same in both media. However, in the big argument in the film, Kathy says something to the effect of, ‘If you give me the key I’ll do anything you want, I’ll be so good.’ Intimating sexual favours. This line doesn’t appear in the book, though earlier Hester reflects on how her enjoyment of watching Katherine dance makes her feel and:

She groaned. The dance was for her the only physical manifestation of physical love. Hester did not feel guilty about the feeling. It was private. She pulled off onto the gravel for a few precious minutes alone on the edge of the great emptiness.

Afterwards, in her weakness, she cried a little…

So clearly there was sexual attraction on Hester’s side, even though Kathy doesn’t mention it in the book and that’s really the only mention

The last scene of the book is Hester with a petrol can in the car with Mrs Borden and a bunch of her children. She and Kathy had run out of fuel and the older woman felt like a walk so the younger woman stayed in the car to work on her sewing for an upcoming fete. Joanna will be arriving by then for a week-long stay.

The well has just been permanently covered over after the downpour, which nearly filled it. Hester had it covered as she thought Kathy would realise the men working on it all morning would have surely heard anyone alive if, indeed, there had been a living soul down there.

Hester has also set herself on the plan that, if Kathy decides she wants to go to America with Joanna, she’ll simply have to let her and fill the emptiness of her days by constantly finding things to do with her time.

The film ends with Hester in the Bordens’ car with the brood and Kathy hitch-hiking with a bunch of money. The book is never clear on if Kathy has the money or not. In the book Hester doesn’t look for it the way she does in the film.

 

Oh, and in the book the woolly hat is red, rather than yellow.

Apr
28
2015

The Duke of Burgundy

by V. L. Craven

DoB Three Panel Maroon

This review is free of spoilers, though in some ways this film is better if you know nothing about it going in. It may sound odd, but I recommend not reading this review, or any review. Just watch the film—it’s incredible.

A young woman, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) arrives at her employer’s house—Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen)—a cold, demanding woman who makes her stay late at work and punishes her severely when she makes mistakes.

In the next scene we find out the women are lovers who play sadomasochistic sorts of games. This isn’t a spoiler—we learn this in the second scene of the film.

The women go through their normal lives—the older one is a lepidopterist—and they attend talks at the library, as well as do scenes at home.

But all is not well in kinky-land.

And then the end happened and I was: Whaaaaaa?

I know that seems like a short plot synopsis but it really is better to know less rather than more. Also, the film is more of a character-study than plot-based.

DoB Venus in Furs

The Duke of Burgundy was written and directed by Peter Strickland in the 20-teens, but feels like it was based on a 1970s novel. In an interview Strickland says it was an homage to 70s films, and that’s apparent in both look and feel. The cinematography (by Nicholas D. Knowland) is lush and luxurious.

The setting is somewhere non-specific in Europe and the time could be any time after the 70s. (It was filmed in Hungary and Budapest). The soundtrack is by Cat’s Eyes and compliments the film perfectly.

The Duke of Burgundy is about what happens when Dommes and subs don’t negotiate what they both want. (And something called topping from the bottom.)

There are some trippy sex scenes and music cues that are very 70s. And there’s an entire sequence roughly three-quarters of the way through that’s that sort of LSD weird-out sort of thing you’d see in the 70s.

Even though it’s surreal and artistic, it’s a more realistic depiction of a BDSM relationship than Secretary, as it shows how far the fantasy is from the—often boring or hilarious—reality.

Basically it’s my favourite film now. 5/5

[The images in this post are by Julian House. More are available here .]

Bonus: some behind-the-scenes photos of the film.

Apr
21
2015

Quills

by V. L. Craven

Quills

The Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has got himself locked up in the lunatic asylum at Charenton.

The Abbe (Joaquin Phoenix) has prescribed writing about his deviant fantasies in order to rid himself of the thoughts.

What he doesn’t prescribe, but the Marquis does anyway, is to publish the writings. This is done with the help of the laundress Maddie (Kate Winslet), who smuggles the scribblings out to a man on horseback.

This is how Justine is published. Napoleon is less-than-pleased with the work and orders all copies to be burned and for the Marquis to be killed. He is talked around to sending Dr Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to the asylum to ‘work’ with the artist.

The good doctor is a pioneer of curing mental illness. Unfortunately this is the early 1800s, so that mostly involves torture.

Before taking up permanent residency at Charenton, Dr Royer-Collard swings by a Paris convent, where he collects his underage, orphan bride-to-be. They’re wed in very short order. She’s so much his junior and the wedding happens so quickly, everyone begins to gossip and the information makes its way back to the Marquis…who writes a little play.

Which the performers of the asylum put on for the doctor (they’ve been doing plays for some time, always to good turn out) but this one is rather bawdier than usual and, of course, more true-to-life than the typical fare.

This enrages the doctor, who does the worst thing he can think of to a writer–he removes his every ability to put pen to paper. No more pens, no more ink, no more paper.

The Marquis gets creative and then things go a bit south…

This would be creative mode. You don't want to see 'south'.

This would be creative mode. You don’t want to see ‘south’.

The cast is A+, as is the writing and direction. And cinematography and costumes. It’s all grand. Historically correct, not so much. It’s funny and dramatic and a little bit gross, just like the Marquis.

5/5 just don’t consider it to be a history lesson.

Non sequitur bit of info: I went to see this in the cinema in 2000 and it was sparsely attended, but the other film-goers were a random bunch. There was a young couple with a baby in a stroller a couple of rows away and the person I was with and I were: Do they *know* what this film is about?

Mar
30
2015

The Jinx

by V. L. Craven

The Jinx

Some people have all the luck. And other people are massively unlucky. Robert Durst is one or the other. He’s either got away with murder three times or has known three different people who have got themselves murdered in such a way as to make him seem to be the killer.

In Andrew Jarecki’s documentary about Durst, The Jinx, he doesn’t exactly come across as a master criminal. But he does possess three qualities that will allow a person to get away with quite a bit: He’s male, white and wealthy. You can call me a social justice warrior all day if you want, but no poor black woman would get away with even one of these crimes.

Hell, in the one murder case they manage to get to court the jurors just couldn’t believe he’d done it because he seemed too nice. In that case he admitted killing and dismembering the person, but the question was whether the killing was justified.

We get to meet the major players in all three cases–Durst’s first wife went missing in 1982 under mysterious circumstances and she’s never been heard from again; in 2000 his long-time friend and confidant was killed in an execution-style murder; in 2001 he killed and dismembered a neighbour he was supposedly friends with.

All of these occurrences happen just about the time these people are about to make Durst’s life very difficult. Huh. What an unlucky person.

One of my favourite people is Jeanine Pirro–she was the District Attorney in New York when they were trying to make a case against Durst regarding the disappearance of his first wife. She has my absolute fav bit in the entire piece, when the filmmakers show her something they discovered. She examines it, then exclaims, ‘Son of a bitch !’

I have a bit of a crush on her.

But I digress.

It’s a six part documentary and I went in knowing the main points, including the ending, but had to see how on Earth all of the insanity Durst’s life sounded like could be and it was still compelling viewing. I watched all six episodes in one go.

The Jinx is a must for true crime fans or people who want to see how the justice system ‘works’. 5/5

Since the show aired, Durst has been all over the news for other crimes and is finally getting his due. Hopefully.

Mar
17
2015

Rampage

by V. L. Craven

Rampage

Bill Williamson (Brendan Fletcher) is a 23-year-old white guy with no prospects, no ambition and no savings. His parents would like him to do  something with his life and, at the start of the film, they say they’ve discussed it and he should move out. He’s old enough to support himself.

He has a terrible day where the world just generally gets on top of him and well, Anton Chekhov said: ‘Any idiot can face a crisis, it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.’

Bill Williamson just gets worn out. The little things that make up day-to-day living build and build.

He suits up in a truly impressive set of homemade armour and a small arsenal and heads downtown to begin his assault on the general population.

Then we get to the titular rampage which is remarkably dull. Unlike other films where the white guy snaps and starts killing people (Falling Down, He Was a Quiet Man) there’s no catharsis. It just goes on for an exceedingly long time and becomes tedious.

That section wasn’t particularly graphic for what it was, it was just…boring. (Though there was one part that was laugh out loud funny and a welcome break from the oddly tedious horror.)

But Williamson isn’t done. He’s not a punk–he’s not going to get shot by some cop. He’s smarter than the average mass murderer and he has a plan.

It’s actually a pretty good plan, I must admit.

'...and gosh darn it, *I* like me!'

‘…and gosh darn it, *I* like me!’

Generally I enjoy a good, ‘That’s it , that’s the last straw and now the world is going to burn!’ sort of film. Everyone has those days when they want to destroy the neighbourhood (right?, I hope so or I’m in trouble). And overall, I did like this one, but not for the rampage scene. That was the part I actively dis liked, which isn’t what you want in a film called Rampage.

I mean, when you see a film is by Uwe Boll, you know you’re in for a good time. I should have just been happy it didn’t make me throw up in my mouth. But I also expected more from him somehow.

I did like it, but it was pretty nihilistic (this is a plus for me, but will make some people hate it). Pollyannas beware. I’d give it a 4/5.

Mar
03
2015

Secretary

by V. L. Craven

Secretary

 

Shortly after Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental hospital following a self harm incident that accidentally went too far she attends a typing school.

With her certificate and very high marks she applies to be the secretary of an attorney, a Mr E. Edward Grey (James Spader, again playing a weirdo because the man can not play a well-adjusted human being).

After warning her the work will be boring and receiving the reply, ‘I want to be bored,’ Mr Grey offers her the job. This follows the most illegal set of interview questions imaginable.

Mr Grey notices his new secretary’s cuts. He catches her with her self harm travel kit one day and works out that she needs physical pain to help deal with emotional pain.

He recognises a submissive in this socially awkward individual who has been doing her best to please him. And he cares enough to not want her to hurt herself badly enough she may wind up in the mental ward again or worse.

Then one day she commits one typo too far.

Oh dear, oh dear. tsk tsk

Oh dear, oh dear. tsk tsk

And we’re off to the races. If races were kinky.

Their relationship changes then; while she’s still his secretary she also gets spanked on a regular basis (she’s clearly completely into this).

And he has informed her that she will no longer be injuring herself. She agrees to this because he is Dominant and she is submissive. He makes decisions about what she eats and where she walks, therefore it’s as though he’s with her all the time, which she’s fine with because she’s crazy about him. And she likes pain.

Then, like all romantic comedies (I promise that’s what this is), something goes wrong and they break up. Will they get back together? Well, it’s a romantic comedy so you guess.

But how it happens and what they go through to get there will surprise most people. Their relationship certainly isn’t what Hollywood generally serves up.

Secretary gif 1

Secretary gif 2

Secretary came out in 2002. And I loved it straightaway. It’s a damn sight better than that other BDSM film featuring a Mr Grey even though neither of them are entirely accurate in their portrayal of the lifestyle (there’s no pre-negotiation or aftercare in Secretary and …everything is terrible in the other film/books). A complete breakdown of the two films is here .

Back to the review at hand, though. It’s stylish and stylized. The soundtrack is by Angelo Badalamenti, who also did the music for Twin Peaks. E. Edward Grey’s office is gorgeous and bizarre in its own right, but so is everything in this film.

The writing is funny and real and unreal at the same time.

I recently re-watched it in order to write this review, showing it to a friend of mine who describes herself as a ‘vanilla weenie’. Around three quarters of the way through she asked, ‘What even is this film?’ Which I think is a good way of putting it. It’s not like anything most people have seen before.

It’s based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill included in the collection Bad Behavior, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow. I give the film 5/5 and I’ll see you tomorrow for the book review.

Bonus: On the official Secretary website there’s a little typing game, as well as Lee’s CV that’s pretty funny.

Feb
24
2015

The Well (1997)

by V. L. Craven

The Well

Hester Harper (Pamela Rabe), a spinster living with her father on a farm in rural Australia, takes on Katherine (Miranda Otto) as a helper, letting go of the long-term help in order to do so.

The new girl finds the work too hard and decides to leave. But Hester has already become taken with the girl so she proffers a deal–she’ll bring back on the previous maid for the heavy work in order to keep on the younger woman. Her proposal is refused.

Katherine soon returns, though, much to Hester’s surprise. Long accustomed to being shut up on the farm she’s drawn to the young woman’s uninhibited energy.

The younger woman sees her opportunity and begins asking for gifts, which the enamoured Hester happily bestows.

One such manipulation involves the sale of the farm, the place where Hester was born, in order to afford a month-long trip to Europe and New York.

They wind up living in a lonely cottage which is the location of the titular well. Hester spent time there as a child and says the well has always been dry.

This is either a blessing or a curse, depending upon how you look at it, when Katherine accidentally runs over someone on the way back from a dance and they need somewhere to put said corpse.

And then things get…weird.

Pictured: Gold-digging, possible lunatic

Pictured: Gold-digger, possible lunatic

The Well is about obsession and greed. And jealousy and…insanity? It’s difficult to say at a certain point. I’ve watched it three times now and I’m still uncertain about the ending, but I have a high tolerance for ambiguous endings.

Folie a deux relationships are a personal interest so I found it enjoyable. It puts me in mind of Sister, My Sister in that it’s about an intense relationship between two women that leads to tragedy.

I’d give this one a 4/5. It’s a slow boil, but I really enjoyed it.

Personal thoughts for those who’ve seen it and want to know what I think:  I really have no clue. We see that Katherine has some of the money, but it doesn’t appear that she has all of it–there was far too much and her suitcase didn’t seem large enough to hold all of it. Also, we saw her in her bedroom alone and she seemed to really believe the guy in the well loved her, even though the fall alone would have killed him. So… yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to read the script and see if it’s clearer and if they edited it to make it more ambiguous.

Feb
17
2015

Hysteria

by V. L. Craven

Hysteria_Movie_Poster

It’s the 1880s in England and all of women’s emotional problems stem from their uteri. They must be brought back into alignment and this was done by inducing hysteria… which involved, um… manipulating the lady bits. You know .

[The filmmakers weren’t making any of this up–this was actual medical science of the day.]

After being fired from his job for believing in the clearly made-up germ theory–whoever heard of doctors changing bandages or washing hands, I mean, really–Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) has a difficult time finding new employment.

That is, until he’s taken on by Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who is pioneering the new technique of digitally manipulation (see the first paragraph) in order to restore women’s uteri to their proper position. (People used to believe they moved around and cause all sorts of trouble. I swear to you.)

He calls this work ‘tedious’.

Granville would call it debilitating–he winds up with something akin to carpal tunnel, poor, giving soul.

Luckily, he happens upon an invention his great friend Edmund St-John-Smyth (Rupert Everett) is working on to make housework easier for women. Granville quickly realised that, with a few adjustments, it will make something else far easier for women, as well.

And it ain’t dusting, ifyougetmydrift.

In the midst of all this is Dr. Dalrymple’s two daughters. The eldest, Charlotte, (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a feminist trying to assist the down trodden in nineteenth-century England–so there’s no worry of her running out of people to help; the younger is obedient Emily (Felicity Jones) who will marry whomever her father says, including Mortimer, if he so wishes.

A contrived thing happens because it has to and we have a subplot.

Pictured: Anna Chancellor being underutilized

Pictured: Anna Chancellor being underutilized

The film starts off with Anna Chancellor’s voice. So I had high hopes. Then she has one other, very short scene. This did not bode well.

For something that was about female ‘paroxysm’ it certainly wasn’t sexy. The two scenes that showed women having their uteri replaced to their proper locations were played for laughs (because female pleasure is funny). Though I swear I want women to say that now. ‘Honey…I think my uterus is out of joint. Help me out?’

It also showed how things haven’t changed. Women are stilled called hysterical when expressing an opinion–something men are never called–and if a woman is being a bit too forthright, well. She needs a good seeing to.

Oh, and you’ll love this. The reason what the doctors were doing wasn’t considered sexual was because women couldn’t receive sexual pleasure without insertion of the penis. Le sigh. So the bit on the front of the ladies–That’s just there as a sort of mechanical part to bring inner bits back in line. It’s nothing to do with anything else. I knew this was the received wisdom of the time going into it, but still.

But I digress.

The costumes were great. The acting was fine. Everything was somewhat interesting and pretty to look at. I’ll just sit here and damn with faint phrase, shall I?

It was typical Hollywood fare with the ending obvious a mile off. Still fun enough. 3/5. 4/5 if you’re interested in the period.

I was a bigger fan of The Road to Wellville , even though that one was more about the early twentieth-century push to keep people from touching their naughty bits.  They prescribed cornflakes and vegetarianism. (Again, no joke.)

Feb
10
2015

Calvary

by V. L. Craven

Calvary

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is hearing confession when a parishioner reveals he was sexually abused by a priest from the age of seven. He informs him he’s going to kill Father James a week from Sunday, as killing an innocent priest is more shocking than killing a bad one. (This isn’t a spoiler–it happens in the first two minutes.)

The priest then goes about his week as usual–meeting with people, comforting the sick, etc. He does take advice from the local bishop on the situation, though decides himself how to handle it. He settles his daughter (Kelly Reilly), who returns from London for a rest in Ireland after another suicide attempt into his house.

The Father has truly philosophical conversations with a local emergency room doctor (Aiden Gillen) when called in to perform last rites. And does his best to help an aged, possibly dying parishioner, who wishes to end his life on his own terms.

He tries to mediate the marital conflict between Jack Brennan (Chris O’Dowd) and his wife (Orla O’Rourke), after she arrives at church with a blackened eye. That situation is more complicated than at first glance; as is everything else in this film.

Another person in the picture is a wealthy new landowner played by Dylan Moran, whose role offers a bit of levity, but it’s the dark sort of levity at which the Irish excel. There are other moments of humour but the overall tone is a grim one.

Every male becomes suspect to the viewer (Father James says he knows who it is). He vacillates between saving himself and sacrificing himself.

The week carries on with its joys and woes–no one else the wiser. The person who’s threatened the Father ramps up his campaign of intimidation.

The denouement is tense and startling and satisfactory.

Calvary Moran

Between the scenes of emotional tension, philosophical conversations and everyday interactions, we are treated to breath-taking shots of beauty–the Irish country-side is nearly a character in itself. Which was useful. ‘I can’t take anymore! Oh look, a beautiful cliffside.’

Many of the characters were stand-ins for the ills of the day. There was the cynical atheist (my personal favourite character), the cynical businessman who cared for nothing but money and whose life now had no meaning, there was a Buddhist, and a woman who embodied the randomness of the universe. In a film about religion–about a man who was choosing to die for his religion, that’s pretty thought-provoking.

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this film is that, if you decide to watch something based on the cast alone always,  always read a synopsis anyway. I recognised the majority of the cast and, from that, assumed it was going to be a comedy.

Then it was over and it was 2am and I wasn’t sure what to do because a person can’t go to bed after watching something that heavy.

The Irish take the comedy and tragedy masks far too seriously. There’s a spectrum, my lovelies. Everything isn’t either hysterical, goofball comedy, or kill-yourself, lie-facedown-in-a-ditch-after drama.

Always read a synopsis.

Still 5/5. Just watch it during daylight hours.

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