Tag Archives: sex

Boogie Nights – Review

7 Jul

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most distinct voices in modern film, and I doubt that anyone would diminish the scope and power of his vision. There Will be Blood and The Master are so well photographed and told, while Magnolia tells a surreal, yet human tale. Before all this, however, there was Boogie Nights, Anderson’s break out hit from 1997. Not only was this the start of a career for Anderson, but also for Mark Wahlberg, who was known more for his rap music and work as a Calvin Klein model. To say the least, Boogie Nights is an epic film that hearkens back to the earlier films of Martin Scorsese, but it also stands alone as a singular visionary tale with P.T. Anderson’s style written all over it.

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In the late 1970s, Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is one of the leading names in the pornography industry, after directing numerous successful porno films. His real dream, however, is to hook the audience with the story instead of the sex. One night at a club, Horner stumbles upon Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg), a young guy with a seemingly non existent future and some really special talents. Adams is soon recruited by Horner and changes his name to Dirk Diggler, a name that will soon be known throughout the porn industry as the greatest male actor to grace the screen. Along with his best friend, Reed Rothchild (John C. Riley), Diggler takes the world by storm, but is soon introduced to a lifestyle of hard drugs and decisions without consequences. This takes a toll on his life, and the lives of everyone around him, and by the time the 1980s hits, it becomes time for Diggler to make some serious decisions about who he is and who he wants to be.

From the very first shot, I knew that I was about to watch a masterfully shot film. The first three minutes is a long take that starts on the marquee of a theater, travels through the street, and finally into the nightclub where we meet Jack Horner and Eric Adams, soon to be Dirk Diggler. I’m a real sucker for long takes like this, and it reminded me very much of the famous long take from GoodfellasBoogie Nights is made of quite a few of these long takes, with another in particular happening about halfway through the movie, which switches gears into overdrive. Other than that, this is just a really nice movie to look at. The outdoor scenes are very bright and really set the tone of the success that Dirk and his friends are feeling. Once the 1980s hits, a lot of the scenes are shot at night which also signifies a massive tonal shift. The way Anderson shoots this movie isn’t just artistic and technically proficient, but it also helps tell the story, and that’s awesome.

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While this is a story about Mark Wahlberg’s character, it’s important to note that it also tells the story of many other characters who come to be associated with Diggler. Other than Burt Reynolds and John C. Riley, Boogie Nights also stars Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I would much rather look at this movie as an ensemble pieces about a time period and the consequences of that time period, with the rise and fall of Wahlberg’s character as a catalyst. Anderson pays such close attention to period detail that it’s hard to argue this movie isn’t about the period in which it takes place. Each character has a different problem or situation that reflects a part of that time, and it gets even worse when the 1980s arrive and they have to come to terms with their past choices.

I keep mentioning the 1980s like it’s some ominous presence looking over the sun drenched horizon of the 1970s, and that’s sort of what it is in this movie. It also marks a point where Anderson makes some poor storytelling choices. The first half of the movie that takes place in the 1970s is note perfect, and I don’t have single complaint. Things take a turn for the worse right when the 80s arrive. This is when the fall of the characters begin, and it’s handled well for the most part, but some of it is just way too over the top and kind of pulled me out of the movie. There’s a really powerful sequence during this part that is followed up by a striking moment with Don Cheadle’s character. This scene alone is really cool and odd, but fitting it in after some really disturbing stuff was like sticking a Spider-Man comic into the Book of Revelations. This scene is really what I’m talking about, and it pulled me out of the movie so much that I just kept seeing all of the over the top moments as individual scenes that could have been turned down a few notches to make a better fit. These are really only a few scenes in a movie that’s two and a half hours long, so it doesn’t hurt the movie too bad, but I felt that I had to mention it.

Boogie Nights is simply a movie that can not be ignored. I consider Paul Thomas Anderson to be one of the best film makers working today, so seeing the movie that kick started his career was a real treat. This film is more than the pornography industry in the 1970s and 1980s. It’s a film about the kinds of decisions that were made by a kind of people that led to a decade of serious trouble. It’s a rise and fall story with a time period that sort of act like characters themselves. This isn’t exactly a perfect movie, but I’d recommend Boogie Nights to anyone and everyone.

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Breaking the Waves – Review

19 May

Every time I watch a movie by Lars von Trier, I begin to hope that maybe it will help me understand him more. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that no one ever truly will. Enough about that, however. Today I’m going to be looking at a very important movie in von Trier’s career, his 1996 film Breaking the Waves. If it wasn’t for this movie, Lars von Trier would not be the internationally acclaimed film maker that he is today and it also allowed him to explore with techniques that he never worked with before. All that aside, while Dogville is my favorite of his movie, Breaking the Waves might be his masterpiece.

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In a small town in rural Scotland, Bess McNeil (Emily Watson), a mentally ill woman dedicated to her strict church, meets and falls in love with Jan (Stellan Skarsgård), an oilman who works on a rig off the coast. The two quickly get married and spend their first days together in a state of marital bliss. Eventually, Jan has to go back to the oil rig which leaves Bess devastated. She prays that God will send Jan back to her, and her prayers seem to be answered with the news that he’s coming home. What Bess didn’t know was the accident Jan was in the middle of the left him paralyzed from the neck down. Bess feels an overwhelming amount of guilt for this, thinking this is God’s way of punishing her, and will do anything to help Jan feel better. When Jan makes the request that she go out and find a man to sleep with so he can feel that connection again, Bess takes the request to the extreme which has extreme consequences with the people of the village.

It’s interesting to note that a year before this movie was made, Lars von Trier and fellow director Thomas Vinterberg created the “Dogme 95 Manifesto.” What this was was a set of rules created by von Trier and Vinterberg that they believed would create the purest and most authentic film possible. There are strange rules like the film has to be in color, shot on a hand held camera, and the banning of using any type of filters. In my opinion, it’s all a bit much. Breaking the Waves can’t technically be called a Dogme 95 film because it does break rules about sound and the director being credited, but the movie is shot on a hand held camera with what seems to be mostly natural lighting. This was a huge stylistic change for von Trier, especially since his earlier movies like Element of Crime and Europa are so heavily stylized. This is more really the only way a story like Breaking the Waves can be told, so it was a bold shift in style that should be respected.

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When it comes to love stories in film, it’s very easy to mess it up. If you look at most romantic comedies, there’s really nothing to the love that you see in the movies. It’s the most superficial type of romance you can see. What I love about film makers like Lars von Trier, Woody Allen, and the Coen Brothers is that they all seem very confused by love while also still being a part of it. That is what keeps the love story in Breaking the Waves feel so authentic and ultimately tragic. This film is absolutely devastating, but the relationship between Bess and Jan is very powerful and beautiful in a weird kind of way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a very unique movie with characters and situations and relationships that feel very fresh and real, sometimes disturbingly so.

It’s impossible to talk about this movie without dedicating a chunk of this review to Emily Watson. Lars von Trier’s movies aren’t known for their stellar performances, sometimes due to his awkward writing, but Emily Watson kills it in this movie. Bess is probably the most fully realized of all his characters and Watson taps into something deep here. I haven’t really seen Emily Watson in too much stuff so I never really had an opinion on her. After seeing her in Breaking the Waves, however, I now see just how powerful an actor she really is. Bess is a wonderful character and Watson plays her absolutely perfect.

Breaking the Waves is a truly magnificent movie that is both hard to watch and impossible to look away from. Lars von Trier has become one of my favorite film makers for a reason, and the reason is that he isn’t afraid to tackle new or taboo subjects using a variety of techniques. This is one of his more down to earth movies, but it still has that other worldly von Trierian quality that we’ve all come to expect with his movies. Simply put, Breaking the Waves is his masterpiece.

Thirst – Review

12 Jan

Anyone who reads these reviews knows that I’m a huge fan of South Korean movies. South Korea is actually may favorite market for foreign film because of the amount of beautifully shot films that come out of there. Today we’re going to be looking at a movie made by Park Chan-wook who is prominently known for his cult classic Oldboy, but also for dabbling in the American market with Stoker. I’ve always found the majority of his movies to be beautiful but awfully pretentious. The same can be said for his 2009 film Thirst, although it is far more enjoyable than others like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance.

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Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho) is a Catholic priest who feels that his life should be dedicated more to than just prayer. To make himself feel more fulfilled both with his life and faith, Sang-hyun decides to volunteer to become a test subject to find a cure for the deadly Emmanuel Virus, which has been wiping people out all over the globe. While he does in fact die during the test, he is resurrected when a blood transfusion is performed, but with some unexplainable side effects. Sang-hyun is now cursed with vampirism and survives day to day by stealing blood from hospitals. Life after death becomes even more complicated when he is reunited with Tae-ju (Kim Ok-bin), a childhood acquaintance who insists on becoming a vampire.

This is just such a cool idea for a movie. When done properly, vampire movies can contain some of the coolest and most memorable scenes and characters. Interview With a Vampire is my go to vampire movie, but then there’s the comedic What We Do in the Shadows that also works great as a vampire movie. In Thirst, the biggest draw that separates it from the rest is the fact that a Catholic priest is turned into a vampire. This is an interesting plot point since Catholics believe so strongly in going to either heaven or hell after they die, and this priest is now stuck in this undead state and is forced to drink blood to survive. Another interesting thing is that Park wrote vampirism to be some weird biological side effect to the disease that Sang-hyun volunteered to help find a cure for. It puts an interesting and worldly twist on something that is normally considered supernatural.

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With his other films, Park Chan-wook has shown himself to be highly skilled at creating a visually beautiful movie. While his movies do look beautiful, I’ve always felt that they’ve lacked in terms of telling a story. In both these regards, Thirst is no different. There’s a lot of great looking scenes in this movie that deserve a lot of attention, but Park doesn’t really explore the narrative possibilities to their full potential. There’s a vampire priest that’s engaged in a sexually charged relationship with a woman who feels the need to become a vampire. That should open a lot of doors to utilize different vampire lore or character development, but that doesn’t really happen to the degree it should. With that in mind, there are also a lot of scenes where nothing really happens and just serve to drag the movie out a little bit intead of a scene that could include something that would boost the movie up.

Thirst is an example of a really good movie that gets weighed down by the pretentiousness of the film maker. Park Chan-wook obviously has a lot to say about a lot of things, but he’s conveying these ideas in broken sentences. It’s pretty clear that Park’s main goal was to make a beautiful piece of art, but the art of a movie isn’t just how it looks or sounds. To me, one of the most important pieces to a film is the story. Narrative should never be discounted as not important to making a cinematic work of art, even if it’s something more abstract or experimental. That’s just my personal taste anyway.

I don’t want this review to sound negative because I actually did enjoy Thirst and appreciate the work that Park Chan-wook put into it. It’s actually one of his best movies after Oldboy. I just wish more attention would have been put into the lore of the vampire and more detail added to create a flowing story. I actually highly recommend this film to people who love a good vampire movie, but just don’t expect a completely fulfilling movie.

It Follows – Review

26 Apr

I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but it’s something I feel very strongly about. Horror movies these days have turned into spooky ghost stories filled with jump scares and very little real, lasting tension. But, there is a light, and it’s a bright one indeed. This light at the end of the tunnel of garbage is David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows. Why does this horror movie succeed where everything else seems to be failing? Well, pretty much every memorable aspect of this movie is the answer. It Follows is the best American horror film since the ORIGINAL Paranormal Activity, and is definitely one of the best American horror films of the decade.

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Jay (Maika Monroe) is just your everyday college student that seems to be in your average, everyday relationship with he new boyfriend Hugh (Jake Weary). After their first time getting a little hot and heavy together, Hugh lets Jay in on his horrible secret. There is a supernatural entity slowly following him, and since they had sex, it will now be following Jay unless Jay can pass it on to someone else through a sexual encounter, and if not it will kill her. Now, with the entity slowly following her everywhere with the intent to kill, Jay and her friends have to find a way to get rid of it, by either passing it on, finding another way to get rid of it, or suffer the consequences.

The best part about this movie is that it made me feel something. It made me feel distressed and anxious, which in turn made me feel nervous and scared for the characters. There’s real suspense happening in It Follows and the pay off rarely ends in a cheap jump scare. Sure, there are a few, but those aren’t the parts that are important. What really pulled me in is the fact that somewhere in the world, this thing is walking towards whoever has it, and it may not catch them very quickly, but it’s always there and it’s always walking. Just put yourself into the shoes of the characters. That is an awful thing to have to think about, and it made me relieved that I was just watching a movie.

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Let’s take a step back from the content and look at how the movie is made. It’s easy to shoot a bland movie. That may be why so many exist that really aren’t any good. I don’t expect too much technical achievements in a horror movie, but this one was just fascinating. Much like the supernatural being in the film, the camera always seems to be slowly moving towards the characters or peering through a door or window like some sort of deranged stalker. It’s a chilling effect and works perfectly for the movie. Now, add the excellent, retro score of Dangerpiece and you got yourself a treat. The music is eerie and unsettling and has been compared to the synth scores of horror movies in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The whole movie looks and sounds retro. Just count the cell phones.

What else do many horror movies of the past and present seem to be missing a good amount of the time? Intelligence? Yeah, intelligence. It Follows is a surprisingly intelligent movie with an original screenplay and characters written like actual human beings. Mitchell had a great idea and worked with it to achieve such an refreshing, original story. The actors in the movie also work well because A.) they’re talented and B.) they characters are written well and three dimensionally. It’s an excellent combination.

It Follows blew my mind, plain and simple. It’s a horror movie with brains, scares, talent, confident execution, and originality. There’s very little violence or gore, but there’s enough dread and suspense to keep me going for a life time. What David Robert Mitchell has done is get to the roots of what a horror film is and what it should do. There’s a message about sexuality and growing up weaved into it that makes you think while also being scared. Bravo, Mr. Mitchell. You’ve made something truly special.

Nymphomaniac – Review

3 Apr

There are times where I’m writing these reviews where I think to myself, “I could just leave this whole page blank and people would get what I’m trying to say.” This is one of those times. Lars von Trier has done it again with a 4 hour dive into the mind of a sex addict in Nymphomaniac. When both volumes were finally over and the credits started to role, I began questioning what it all really meant, and I’m still not sure. All I can say is that if you are used to von Trier’s work, then you might know what you’re in for, but you still may be a little bit surprised. Now that I’ve got my confusion out of the way, let’s get into why I actually really, really liked this movie.

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In a snowy alley, a man named Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) is walking home from the grocery store where he finds an unconscious woman laying in the middle of the alley. He takes the woman home where she introduces herself as Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and admits the reason that Seligman found her like that is because of her troubled life dealing with nymphomania. She then goes on to tell the story of her life from when she was a young girl learning about trees with her father (Christian Slater), to her first real relationship as a young woman (Stacy Martin) with a man named Jerôme (Shia LaBeouf), and all they way through her adult life up until this point. While hearing about how her addiction has torn her life to pieces, Seligman compares her story to everything from fly fishing to Jesus’ crucifixion.

Nymphomaniac is the third part of Lars von Trier’s Depression Trilogy which also included the films Antichrist and Melancholia. Now, to anyone who has seen these other two films, it’s obvious that this is only a thematic trilogy, but you can see how the director has made allusions to the other films which was very interesting and acted as almost demented Easter eggs. What sets this film apart from the other ones in the trilogy is that von Trier is working on getting so many ideas and themes across that it is almost difficult to catch them all and link them together. With Antichrist and Melancholia, there were more than one ridiculously cynical theme, but I was able to catch all of them and link them together. It’s almost like von Trier is trying to upload all of his thoughts and arguments he’s ever had and turn them into one big movie. I don’t know if that makes this thematically messy or just really heavy.

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I can see how a lot of people would get upset with this movie. It is one of the most unapologetic films I have ever seen in terms of its graphic sexuality and violence. While the violence doesn’t happen too often, it is very disturbing when it does. Even though the film is graphic, it never oversteps its boundaries, which surprised me. After seeing Antichrist, I was concerned that von Trier was just going to use this movie to completely outdo all oft he terrible scenes that made me cringe and cover my eyes. This isn’t true. Nymphomaniac goes about everything in a down to earth way, even though it sometimes depicts the corners of the earth that we don’t necessarily want to look at.

I read somewhere, and because I don’t keep logs of everything I completely forget where it was, that Gainsbourg was asked if she is more comfortable with Lars von Trier after working with him on the two other movies in the trilogy and she said she absolutely wasn’t. That’s hard to believe considering everything she has done for this man’s films. She gives an excellent and understated performance, even amongst all of the psychological insanity going on around her. The way von Trier expresses this insanity is through the clever use of cuts, music, and sound design. It’s still Gainsbourg’s performance that leads us through this twisted tale of addiction, and it really wouldn’t have been the same movie if she wasn’t cast.

Nymphomaniac is one of the most bold films I have ever seen, and for that I have to give Lars von Trier a lot of credit. This is also beautifully shot and acted, with some of the coldest and almost obsessive compulsive dialogue I’ve ever heard. The only thing that really got to me was von Trier’s misplaced themes and an ending that may be one of the worst in film history. If you’re introducing someone to Lars von Trier, don’t start with this one. Start with one of his earlier works like Europa or his more recent Melancholia. This film is difficult to watch, while at the same time being beautiful and disturbing. It’s a strange trip that is only for the people that believe they can be comfortable with what they are going to see.

Shame – Review

5 Jul

Movies about drug addiction are a dime a dozen. Sex addiction is a totally different thing. Some psychologists even argue that sex addiction doesn’t even exist. Whether it does or not, I’m not here to debate. What I will do is tell you if Shame, the movie that Richard Roeper called full of sex “but never sexy”, is worth your time.

Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a thirty-something businessman who seems to have his life strictly in order, expertly balancing his work, friends, and a well hidden sex addiction. This balance is shaken when his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan), comes to stay in his apartment indefinitely. Brandon, now faced with this intrusion, must learn to control his addiction and attempt to form a more intimate relationship.

This is a very powerful movie without ever becoming loud. There is a score to this movie, but it is never boisterous, but strictly appropriate to what is happening. That can be said about everything in this film, including Michael Fassbender’s (in my opinion) Academy Award worthy performance. Fassbender was truly meant to play this role, and keeps a very controlled attitude throughout the movie. Behind all of this control we can see a glimmer of desperation and panic that shines through making this a very layered and complicated performance.

I feel like Shame is one of those movies that people would say, “It was boring. Nothing even happened.” At times, I can see where they’re coming from, but would argue that the conflict is coming from beneath the surface. There are scenes where Brandon and Sissy argue or where Brandon must fight his sexual urges with clear temptation. Then there are scenes where Brandon must quietly deal with something, and it seems like nothing is really happening. For example, there is a long take of Brandon going for a run after hearing sounds of sex. The camera stays with him for a very long time, which may make some viewers bored. But, as with everything in this movie, it happens for a reason.  This reason could be debated.

Shame also succeeds at never feeling too fictionalized. There are scenes that show Brandon’s mental collapse or a breakdown, but it’s never over dramatic. As I said before, that is the main component to this movie’s success: it’s control. The audience follows along in Brandon’s damaged psyche. We feel like we have a clear understanding of things in the beginning as it is layer out for us to see, but as Brandon becomes more and more stressed, the time line shifts and more intense editing ensues. That is brilliant film making.

Sex addiction is an interesting topic that is genuinely examined here. Screenwriters have to study and learn about their themes before writing the screenplay, so I’d bet my entire movie collection that this is accurate. Me, personally, would believe that sex addiction is real and it looks terrible. Brandon can’t even get through a work day without masturbating in the bathroom stall. Something like this can’t be made up and portrayed so seriously without feeling like fiction, if that makes sense.

Shame is an interesting, powerful, and moving character study about how one man’s addiction can affect his work, his friends, and the stability of his life. It is rated NC-17, so this is a graphic movie when it comes to the sex, but that shouldn’t draw you away because this sex is never erotic. I loved Shame and I can’t wait to watch it again.