Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Pleasure Dome 21st Jan 2014 - Katalin Varga/Don't Talk To Strange Men/The Big Easy

Here's a trial attempt to write 500 words per week on whatever movie or movies I've seen this week, not everything I've seen and not the movies that get highlighted in my monthly diaries, just some films that inspired me to write more than a couple of unintelligible lines. Emboldened by the writings of Graham Greene who wrote something similar every week for several years for a newspaper, the reviews of which were collected in book form under the title The Pleasure Dome. The idea is to become a better writer. But then that's always the idea.

To quote a fellow reviewer, Katalin Varga is a bleak and beautiful film. Just the way I like them, too. Written and directed by English filmmaker Peter Strickland, funded from his own bank account and filmed in Romania with Romanian actors speaking Romanian. Technically this could be another fine film for inclusion in the much-vaunted Romanian New Wave.

It's a slow telling of a woman's quest for revenge nine years after she was raped but it's really not the rape revenge film you're thinking of. Not least because you don't see the rape and the revenge is not sweet or bloody. You do see, however, plenty of atmospheric shots of the countryside, close-ups on troubled faces, meaning conveyed with a nod or a slight movement and plenty of interesting back story inferred rather than explained explicitly.

Newcomer Hilda Peter as the eponymous protagonist carries the entire film on her delicate shoulders but it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Strickland's followup, Berberian Sound Studio, that the careful use of sound effects and score is the main star of the film, serving to subtly drive proceedings and create an air of foreboding around each moments.

Don’t Talk To Strange Men is essentially a British public service announcement for young girls of the 60s, and a warning for their parents, originally released as the B-movie to Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It doubles as a very good thriller produced on the outskirts of the social realist movement of the time. The idea of seducing young girls anonymously and the frank look at the effect it can have on previously sensible teenagers is one that is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s but modern cinema could never play things quite so subtly. Director Pat Jackson benefits from a really tight script, on the nose performances and impressive cinematography from Jack Cardiff, to produce an all round gem of a film forgotten in time.

The Big Easy was Jim McBride's followup to his Richard Gere starring reimagining of Godard's Bout de Souffle and boy does it fly in the face of expectations. A New Orleans set neo-noir should be hot, sweaty, sordid and a little bit mystical, essentially everything that Alan Parker's Angel Heart would be the following year but with this Dennis Quaid starrer you're left with a wise-cracking buffoon whose occasional Cajun accent is suspect at best and the only thing hot and sweaty is the chemistry between the sheets he shares with Ellen Barkin and a movie which aims for light hearted entertainment at all the wrong moments. Otherwise it's a very ordinary story of heroin and crooked cops that telegraphs its ultimate villains from the opening scene, one that could have been set in any major American city such is the magnolia nature of proceedings. It will surprise nobody I’m sure to note that Hollywood took note and made sure that Jim McBride didn’t have much of a directorial career after this.


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  3. If you are looking specifically for a US production with a Gay protagonist, I suggest Pushing Dead and Closet Monster. I have other suggestions if you are open to seeing documentaries, foreign films, and LGBTQ themes other than just Gay.

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