Mar. 19, 2008 - Issue #648: War & Oil
Film CapsulesOpening This Week
Written and directed by Anna Biller
Starring Biller, Chad England, Bridget Brno
Fri, mar 21, Sun, Mar 23 (7 pm)
Sat, Mar 22, Mon, Mar 24 (9:15 pm)
Metro Cinema, $10
JONATHAN BUSCH / firstname.lastname@example.org
“This is Jonathan. He likes really glamourous women.” That’s how I was once introduced, several years ago, by a friend to a visiting artist at a new media festival in Saskatoon. I wasn’t terribly offended, but I felt like I’d been figured out.
So filmmaker and actress Anna Biller should be my kind of woman, and I don’t even sleep with girls. Her new erotic feature Viva stars herself as a dissatisfied housewife whose husband leaves her at home too often, ultimately forcing her to abandons her roost and join the circus.
Sexy circus, that is.
Barbi (Biller) is fired from her job as a secretary for refusing to be “promoted” by her boss. She takes sudden interest in a potential career as a catalogue model, only to shy away as she fears the impact it has on her marriage. But her husband Rick (Chad England) has greater concern for business trips and sport leisure than his wife, and she strays off into the call girl industry with her best friend, Sheila (Bridget Brno). The wild life takes a great liking to Barbi, who quickly changes her name to Viva, and it’s not long before it starts to complicate her life. She encounters a cavalcade of great characters in bad wigs, many of whom `vie for her affections until she’s the centre of it all. But Barbi soon questions how long she can maintain the lifestyle, especially when there doesn’t seem to be anybody left that she can trust.
Biller’s film is like a memorable conversation with somebody at a party who sincerely admires the sexploitation films that began in the late 1960s, particularly those of Radley Metzger, Herschell Gordon Lewis and especially Russ Meyer, whose Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is directly referenced in a fast-paced, stunning orgy sequence. It’s a fiesta of gold speedos, transparent bras, and lots and lots of pubic hair. Biller fetishizes the period to such an extent that she centres her entire film around it, including maintaining a bizarrely banal plot and extended sequences of titties and psychedelic music. The film runs at two hours, providing an experience of excessive wank material that’s not a far cry from the predecessors.
And of course, there’s plenty of subtext that allows a post-feminist deconstruction of irony in the hands of women filmmakers, though it’s so underhanded in Viva that it will be a long time before university collectives start re-enacting the film as a method of raising awareness. Unless, of course, that awareness regards the glory of re-creating kitsch décor, which in the case of Viva, become visual quotations of what it might have looked like to live as an adult during the sexual revolution. It’s the perfect date movie for couples so bound up in their own cynicism that they’re able to classify the vocal style and range of their orgasms into eras before they were born.
Written & directed by Neil Marshall
Starring Rhona Mitra, Malcolm McDowell
OMAR MOUALLEM / email@example.com
From the producers who loved Escape From LA, the writer and director who probably swears he thought of 28 Days Later first, and the costume designer who got the Mad Max box set for Christmas and thought it the best Christmas ever, comes Doomsday: a grab-bag of every post-apocalyptic film of the last 30 years.
In 2035, three decades after the reaper virus smothered the people of Scotland, forcing Great Britain to blockade the peninsula, London becomes contaminated too. A mighty woman is sent into the ghost nation to find a handful of remaining survivors who may carry the cure. She is Eden (Rhona Mitra), a Scot who was saved by the British army when the virus first struck. Raised by the military, she possesses every martial arts skill imaginable, and has a nifty Bluetooth eye that she can roll down the corridor to ensure the coast is clear. But when she and her infantry get over the great wall and enter Glasgow, they’re stunned to find a thousand-strong community of anarchists worshipping Sol (Craig Conway), the GG Allin of the future. Her team becomes entangled in a cyclical, seemingly endless battle and escape, only to do the same thing again when they encounter the new Scottish kingdom ruled by Kane (Malcolm McDowell).
It’s easy to forget what the whole point of their mission is. It seems that, at times, the filmmakers did, too. But in the days of shoot-em-up games, they’re considerate enough to know that if you set up titillating scenarios challenging the heroes, you can appease your audience. It would fit in almost perfectly on a triple bill with Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, the disqualification being the fact that this shameless rip-off doesn’t filch from obscure movies, but instead it robs from some of the most memorable and accessible ones ever made.
Neil Marshall, director of the strangely popular B-movie Dog Soldiers, delivers a combustive, clever cacophony of action-horror. It’s bad enough to make your eyes roll, but good enough to keep them from shutting. Doomsday is that friend that you love going to the Strat to get shit-faced with, but deep down, you know he or she isn’t going anywhere, and if you continue hanging out with that friend, you won’t be, either.
Horton Hears a Who!
Directed by Jimmy Hayward, Steve Martino
Written by Ken Daurio, Cinco Paul
Featuring the voices of Jim Carrey, Steve Carell
JOSEF BRAUN / firstname.lastname@example.org
An elephant is gradually shunned, then hunted down by his entire jungle community for claiming that there is life beyond what we can see, hear or feel. A less-than-respected town mayor is wracked with anxiety, a panicked sense of futility, burdened with the knowledge that his world is teetering on the brink of apocalypse. Pretty heavy shit for a kid’s movie, but we’re riffing in the heady realm of Dr Seuss, who sort of had a knack for blending mortally high stakes and political metaphor with screwy humour and fantastical hi-jinx.
Horton Hears a Who! has the enormous advantage of Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas still lingering in our collective memory, ensuring us that no matter what the Fox animation squad does to Horton, it can’t possibly be worse that the grotesquerie of Howard’s live-action toilet fodder. Horton does share Grinch’s star, but fortunately Jim Carrey, often cartoonish in any case, can’t mug quite as gratingly when reduced to voice only. In fact there are a moments where his good-natured titular elephant, persecuted for claiming that an entire world exists on a spec resting on a flower, is reasonably charming, interacting with his pupils or with his mouse pal, the obligatory sidekick well-voiced by Seth Rogen.
What ushers Horton Hears a Who! to a substantially higher level of Seussian entertainment, however, are the scenes in Whoville, where Steve Carell’s Mayor slips and slides through a village of curly, gravity-defying, Gaudi-inspired architecture and candy-coloured everything. While Horton’s jungle home feels akin to typical contemporary, soft-hued, numbingly fluid, Hollywood-budgeted computer animation, Whoville, where the animation style has been stripped down to something far more graphically bold, draws us into a landscape that actually feels like a place Seuss might have dreamed up.
But the film’s major problem isn’t related to these varying degrees of visual or aural charisma. What makes Horton Hears a Who! something of a drag is the fact that you can feel writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (The Santa Clause 2) straining to expand Seuss’s winsomely compact tale to feature length. There are too many supporting characters with little to do, too many scenes that become repetitive and redundant. One of the laudable themes of the story is the importance of questioning authority: if only the team behind the film could have questioned their studio superiors to the point of making them accept that Horton, like the beloved 1966 version of Grinch, would probably work better at a third of the duration. V
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