Two Films by Dan Sallitt: The Unspeakable Act and fourteen

Imager from Amazon

The Unspeakable Act

Taboo relations often get depicted as salacious and macabre on film, so for Dan Sallitt to come out and do a low-key drama about a young woman (Talli Medel) having an unrequited and unresolved crush/fixation on her brother definitely caught my attention. I always like a more detached, intellectual approach to subject matter that might be a bit sordid because it allows the characters on display to behave rather unpredictably and not according to what one would want from them. In Sallitt’s https://eagfwc.org/men/buy-levitra-online-with-mastercard/100/ thesis on textile industry follow url cheap viagra buy pharmacy online now term paper about computer click here peligros viagra alcohol https://creativephl.org/pills/online-sales/33/ levitra haverstraw sildenafil 50 mg in uk viagra for weman public health dissertation topics follow url http://hyperbaricnurses.org/5747-viagra-in-canada/ viagra generic dangers preparing a business proposal custom research papers writing service on line parmacy no rx crestor put antithesis essay cialis palmer uclan assignments help levitra pills wiki https://recyclesmartma.org/physician/metformin-vomiting/91/ https://grad.cochise.edu/college/acknowledgement-ba-thesis/20/ http://mechajournal.com/alumni/need-someone-to-do-my-statistics-homework/12/ buy viagra pharmacy malaysia plagiarism research paper writing a conclusion of a thesis here dissertation zahlen ausschreiben help thesisВ viagra survey The Unspeakable Act, we get introduced to an extremely laid-back family where it seems arguments and confrontations do not exist. The only drama that exists is the one binding the two siblings at the center, Jackie (Medel) and Matthew (Sky Hirschkron) and even that involves them only as it’s mostly an abstract concept narrated by Jackie in voice-over.

It turns out, Jackie has harbored an unusual and borderline unhealthy fixation towards Matthew. It also becomes clear that he is aware of it because he sets clear boundaries between himself and Jackie. When he brings home a girlfriend she is so inwardly upset (while acting completely against how she feels) that she becomes unable to eat until Matthew breaks up with her. Hope sets in and Jackie conspires to have her feelings met, but it’s clear this is not an option. Somewhat resigned, Jackie then goes see a therapist and persists in being rather passively hostile, almost as a defense mechanism in which she both hurls words as sharp as knives towards the therapist, which is in reality, Jackie attempting to equal parts diminish her unhealthy attraction and perhaps self-punish herself for feeling this way.

Sallitt never ratches up the tension in Jackie’s family and the most one will see is both siblings meeting for what may seem one last time before diverging, and Matthew informing that she has finally crossed that unspoken line, This is the type of movie I love; it may not be perfect — both the mother and the other sister were underwritten and sometimes Jackie’s narration can go into too much exposition (as if Medel’s performance, equal parts alienating and intriguing were to get lost in translation somehow), Sallitt dedicates his work to French director Eric Rohmer and I can definitely see some influence without it taking away from Sallitt’s own style. Too many directors who have been influenced by other more established directors tend to emulate their style in a way that seems imitation. Sallitt, on the other hand, drops references but never steals. That, in essence, is what a narrator wants — he can wear all the influences he ha on his sleeve but they shouldn’t scream imitation or worse, reenactment down to scene selections.

And with that, I was ready to see his latest film Fourteen.

Image from Cine-Vue. Talli Medel (left) and Norma Kuhling (right in Fourteen

Fourteen

Some bonds are stronger than family. You meet that person and they become linked to you for better or worse. In Dan Sallitt’s fourth feature film Fourteen, he presents two young women who may as well be sisters from another mother. Mara (Talli Medel) and Jo (Norma Kuhling) couldn’t be any more different if they tried… but that is precisely the unseen glue that has held them together since they were fourteen. The incident that sparked their friendship was when Jo intervened in a situation where Mara was being bullied at school. From then on, they’ve been inseparable, even linked through the other’s absence.

The problem is that childhood friends grow up and with that, they grow apart. That they may not acknowledge it is contingent on how aware they are, and it seems that now the roles have progressively reversed. Mara has gotten her life together as a teacher’s aid who aspires to be a writer and is dating a great, stable guy. Jo, on the other hand, seems to have her own life in shambles… and it’s about to go from bad to worse.

Sallitt never indicates a precise timeframe to tell his story. We get no subtitles or title cards announcing a transition but infer, from the friend’s reunions, how much time has transpired. After the first scene in which both Mara and Jo and their respective boyfriends hang out and make small talk, we move to a progressive separation. Mara is married; Jo is not, and has started to become dependent on drugs to survive. A frantic call leads Mara to rush to Jo’s aid only to be cooly rebuffed by Jo’s enabler boyfriend. Jo later calls Mara in the middle of the night (after having canceled a dinner event) and shows up, ostensibly to vent out her multitude of problems. That Mara allows Joe to essentially ruin her marriage is toxic in itself, but speaks volumes for those who have been caught in that kind of friendship devoid of boundaries when one friend clearly has mental and emotional disturbances.

I kept thinking of another film in which two women — sisters, this time — sustained a friendship in which one of them slid into depravity while the other attempted to help and eventually got her own life in order: Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Now, hear me out: this is not that movie for obvious reasons. Goodbar was a movie in which two women diverged in life and the more tragic one spun into butter, essentially getting murdered viciously in the end. Take away the violence and focus the movie on a more restrained approach and you have a different rendition. Fourteen presents both women as equal, although this time Medel carries the less showy part and lets Kuhling move from false poise to defeat in 90 minutes. Kuhling’s performance is on-target for anyone with a Borderline Personality Disorder, and it is truly a wonder to see how much tragedy she conveys while on screen. The shame is that while she implicitly seems to be crying for help, a person like Jo would never truly accept it and only return to the festering wound that is killing her slowly.

Fourteen is, to put it bluntly, Sallitt’s best work and as close to a masterpiece in presenting two fully formed women interlocked in a codependent relationship. It is so far one of the best that I have seen this year in transit — rent it, and experience its universe. It is available to stream on Grasshopperfilm.com and you should see it.

German Cinema: Fassbinder and herzog

Kurt Raab in Why Does Heer R. Run Amok? (Image by MUBI)

Courtesy of MUBI and Criterion Channel, here are two German movies you can stream from the comfort of your own home:

Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?

It’s safe to say that Fassbinder will never be a walk in the park when sitting down to watch his work. It’s been a while since I saw any of his work and almost 15 years since I last saw Water Drops on Burning Rocks, which was directed by François Ozon, based on a play written by Fassbinder. I can’t say that the viewing was comfortable, but again, I don’t always go to the movies to see an easy film and in that respect, Fassbinder is the master of difficult cinema. His 1970 movie Why Does Herr FR. Run Amok? could be interpreted today as the Angry White Man’s Rage. During its slim run — the movie proper is only 84 minutes long from start to finish, we become privy to the unremarkable (and ultimately tragic) life of a man only known as Herr R. (Kurt Raab). Raab works as a draughtsman for a design firm. Nothing in Raab’s life points at anything wrong per se — he is married to a lovely wife (Lilith Ungerer) and has a young son. He seems to live in an up and coming neighborhood. His wife, however, pushes Raab to ask for a promotion. Adding to that, Raab’s parents stop by for a visit and his mother proceeds to, later on, criticize Raab’s wife when their boy plays hide and seek and freaks the parents out. Friends, ex-classmates, and Raab’s demanding boss add to a pressure cooker of frustration that seems to be boiling inside the otherwise calm and unassuming Raab until he is pushed to the very limit. When the floodgates open, they do so in a matter of fact style that is chilling. Fassbinder films it dead on, unflinching, no music nothing. It brings to mind when men of all ages have gone on killing sprees — it often has signaled a cumulus of frustrations and petty disappointments that build up throughout a lifetime and I won’t even get into toxic masculinity and its poisonous fruit. The resulting fury bursts forwards from an inability to fulfill all the requirements that is an ideal husband/employee signifies. Fassbinder’s film, then, represents an inversion of the family nucleus and had it been an American movie, a perversion to the extreme of the American Family.

Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (image from Criterion Channel)

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Greed has been the great corruptor of mankind. For every legend of a treasure, there has always been a sucker born every minute. And who doesn’t want to arrive at a mythical place, conquer it, and reap its rewards? A hard life is only for those who don’t have ambition, tenacity, and a certain mad streak capable of taking them and everyone else within their party down the dangerous path of deception. Werner Herzog tackles the theme of greed and megalomania in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, a historical adventure based on the exploits of Lope de Aguirre (1510 – 1561), a Spanish conquistador most notable for his pursuit of the elusive city of El Dorado.

From the film’s opening shot of a caravan, as it seems to head down into a hellish jungle, we are in for a surreal ride as the expedition to El Dorado starts with a rather portentous foot but promptly loses its way not just to Aguirre’s megalomaniac ambitions but to hubris and disorder within the group. Aguirre must have been a raging, malignant narcissist who cared for no one but himself (and the resulting glory), because right from the get-go he offs his superior, declares himself the king of all things (hence the title “the Wrath of God”), and drives his party right into the ground, taking everyone with him until no one but himself stands alone, blabbering in tongues to an unforgiving sky in the middle of nowhere while monkeys overtake his cargo and feast at the spoils.

Herzog’s film is a fever dream, never completely grounded in reality but drowning in denial and indulgence that the white man could tame the jungle and reap its rewards. In a way, it seems that through Klaus Kinski’s committed, near-insane performance, he is pointing the finger at many a power-hungry explorer/businessman attempting to rape an existing culture of its riches without understanding its essence. Meanwhile, at every turn, it seems as though the jungle itself was laughing at the poor men who are simply obeying orders from a man who has no logic. Herzog’s is a merciless film that spares no one — not the taciturn former African slave who was once a prince — can’t react at the attack of the indigenous people and die almost in bliss, or the two women in the caravan, Ines de Atienza (Mexican actress Helena Rojo) and Flores de Aguirre (Cecilia de Rivera in her only acting role), who surrender themselves to the unforgiving country.

The sad part of this is that despite the manner that Aguirre’s expedition ended, he has not been the last one seeking a mythical pot of gold. Greed and madness was the center of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Lost City of Z, Embrace of the Serpent, and influenced even Apocalypse Now. In the end, the craving for the high life showered by a bevy of honors and a harem have been the sirens’ song for many an adventurer seeking thrills without measuring the consequences. Herzog simply melts into the background and lets the movie speak for itself and mankind’s folly.

Review: The Hunt

Betty Gilpin, lethal badass, in The Hunt. [Image from the movie’s Facebook page]

If Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is the movie people in 2020 need to see to capture the social horror of what a pandemic can do when a virus gets unleashed unto society, Craig Zobel’s The Hunt is the American counterpart of Brazil’s explosively entertaining Bacurau. Coming out right at the start of Covid-19’s US invasion, Zobel and writers Damon Lindelof and Nick Cuse don’t waste any time getting you into the thick of things, and boy, do they get messy, fast.

Imagine you wake up without any knowledge of where you are and you’re at the mercy, it seems, of some elitist pricks who guzzle expensive champagne while they escort you to some undisclosed destination. You’re bound and basically unable to defend yourself, but somehow make it to first-class asking what the fuck is going on. The response to that? A shot to the eye, and a descent into death while another passenger, also clearly kidnapped, lies unconscious on the ground.

That passenger winds up to be Emma Roberts who emerges with 12 other people in a forest and before you can say “What” you’re under fire from all directions, racing to some kind of cover holding nothing but a weapon and the hope you may survive. The bloodshed is cartoonish, and arrives like a stampede of bulls in Pamplona, decimating pretty much all of the captives. In another part of the forest, another woman, Crystal (Betty Gilpin) makes her way to a gas station. An elderly couple (Amy Madigan and Reed Birney) hold shop… and prove Crystal’s fears — she’s a part of someone’s deadly game of cat and mouse. However… Crystal isn’t going down without a fight, and she is here to kick some serious [censored] ass.

The Hunt is inappropriate for all the right reasons. It calls out practically everyone while gleefully wreaking havoc on everything around its perimeter that has a pulse. It might be perhaps a bit broad in positing its contempt for both the alt-right and the liberal left, but it manages to sneak in some sly commentary on how a chat thread, once viral, might get blown up much farther than its intent and may decimate a person’s career. [In a way it is a warning to anyone dependent on social media and chat groups; you never can tell where that joke or meme you sent might land, so a word of caution, and chat away, safely.]

References to The Purge, Bacurau, and Kill Bill are all over the place but don’t detract from the overall enjoyment of this popcorn movie. I especially enjoyed an extended sequence involving Gilpin and none other than Hilary Swank (clearly on board and on the joke) as they perform balletic fight scenes in what has to be the most gorgeous kitchen ever. Seriously, I wanted them to take it outside, and please not ruin the cutlery or the fireplace. Their exhausted conversation is probably the best part of the film, delivered with deadpan humor in all the right places.

In short, The Hunt might not be a serious movie with a powerful message, but with all the madness around you, it’s almost daring you to get offended and then go on social media to rant and rave. See it for what it is — a star-making vehicle for Betty Gilpin –, and forget about it later.

Paying her dues: Margot Robbie in I. C. U.

Yes, that’s Margot Robbie.

Margot Robbie has evolved from starlet in About Time and TWA to Oscar-nominated in I, Tonya, and Bombshell in under ten years. If that isn’t career perseverance I don’t know what is. In those years she’s secured a spot as one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses. She’s been mainly associated with big-budget pictures but occasionally dabs into independent cinema with movies like Z for Zachariah. I say, good for her, she’s a damned good actress and her future is laid out for her to pick and choose from.

Now, before all this, she was in Neighbours, the Australian soap that has made a career of the likes of Kylie Minogue and Nicole Kidman. So far, so good, soaps can’t be bad and if at all they serve for an actor to hone their chops. Prior to Neighbours still, she took part in a co-starring role in ICU, a horror movie derivative of the found-footage genre but mashing it up with peeping tom thrillers like Rear Window. I came across this movie perusing through horror movies and this one was suggested to me. When the name popped out at me like a flashing bulb I figured, “Must be great–let’s give it a look-see.”

I know; actors have to start somewhere. Robbie is not the first and won’t be the last who walk into a no-budget film that won’t do anything but be a sore in their resume should they make it big in the movie industry. However, when you see a movie like this, in which bored teens spying on their neighbors become witness to a murder and a target for the murderer’s rage, you expect the cheap, predictable deliveries and rising tension leading to a final girl showdown that might at least get some comparison to Halloween, to name one movie in which bored teens hang out, basically waiting to be turned into brisket by a deranged killer.

Nothing like that happens in this terrible excuse for a movie. I’m not sure what director Aash Aaron was thinking when he made this, but introducing your movie with a montage of circuit television images while heavy metal plays on doesn’t really telegraph the horrors to come. Even worse — the movie flips back and forth to a trio of siblings (Margot Robbie is one of them and she sports black hair, which doesn’t suit her) staying with their police officer father in a high-rise. They talk and talk, and talk some more. Once the father is out for his night shift, the teens, bored shitless, decide to spy on their neighbors, none of whom have curtains in the high rise across the street.

On and on and on it goes. Peppered at least every ten minutes we cut to grainy video scenes of someone bound and gagged, about to be tortured by an unseen figure holding different kinds of power tools. The heavy metal track blasts into your ears like a torpedo of sound, and then we’re back to the main locale. Anyone with a pulse knows where this is headed but I will spare the details: at the 50-minute mark, the teens witness a murder, and then magically deduce through video footage that there are other victims as well. What follows is probably one of the worst executions of teens in danger ever committed on film, and an error in continuity so severe the movie collapses into a puddle of mud before the two ridiculous plot twists even rear their heads.

I can’t believe I’ve written so much about this. I can’t believe I had the nerve to place this in the league of Rear Window. [Sorry, Hitch]. Anyway. Just don’t see this. If you want to see Margot Robbie’s early work check About Time. Z for Zachariah has a compelling but flawed execution but is light years ahead of this. And don’t believe the reviews that mysteriously hail Aash Aaron as some kind of Australian genius on IMDB.com, because frankly, that he is not.

The Invisible Killer: the merciless virus of Contagion, and its foretelling of Covid-19

Marion Cotillard in Contagion, a movie that has become all-too relevant in 2020.

No one could anticipate how prescient Steven Soderbergh’s un-pretentious, low-key yet harrowing thriller Contagion would ten years later affect the global population. Yes, we had had several outbreaks before, and shortly after his movie came out. However, nothing came even close to the scope of the sudden birth of the novel virus Covid-19 that has already cut a sieve through the global populace and is still set for a very unwanted resurgence rather soon.

True, the events depicted in Contagion don’t mirror what has actually transpired — there has, thankfully, been no societal breakdown typical of pandemics in which people decide to go “fuck it” and loot the hell out of stores, rob homes, and revert to near primitive behavior. However, we have seen panic sweep throughout the country as toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, alcohol, bleach, and peroxide have all but disappeared from the markets and pharmacies, returning only sporadically. We have seen a food crisis, but nothing as close as to what happens in the movie. Rioting over the refusal to wear masks doesn’t get shown in the movie but the anarchy that ensues, does, which is just as chilling, Even so, Contagion serves as a mirror for us to view ourselves in as we stay indoors and quarantine, practice social distancing, and lay low while the storm rages.

At the heart of the story, we have Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), and Dr. Ally Wextall (Jennifer Ehle). Each has their own narratives, although Wextall’s transpires in a net of safety as she becomes the first scientist to discover an antidote to the pandemic. In the meantime, Mitch sees his life shatter into a thousand pieces as the disease takes the life of his wife Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) and son (Griffin Kane) in rapid succession. Mitch himself gets a slight form of it, but after a period of quarantine, is considered safe. Dr. Erin Mears, a DHS Epidemic Intelligence Officer, gets tasked to find who Beth was in touch with during the days leading to her getting infected and attempts to raise funds to create resources for a public health response. Wextall, a CDC scientist, races against time to find an antivirus to combat the virus. Dr. Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) traces Beth’s movements caught on video which led to her infection. Meanwhile, global concerns that the virus may have been a bioweapon surface, chaos starts to shatter communities, and conspiracy theorist Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) starts to rack up views when he posits that forsythia may be an herbal treatment against the virus.

Perhaps in 2011, this would have been treated as a thriller plain and simple but for those of us who have lived through the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for anyone working in hospitals, this movie may be their reality, every day. Soderbergh has crafted a powerful piece of fiction that resonates today and will leave you shaken to the core. His opening and closing scenes tell you everything you need to know about how a pandemic starts and how fast it can move when set loose on an unsuspecting society. I don’t think there will be a scarier picture to watch this year as Contagion, now widely available on DVD and streaming,

Seeking into the past and finding no answers in Ms. Slavic 7

Image from BFI. Deragh Campbell stars as Audrey in Ms. Slavic 7

As someone who has a heritage that goes back to the Caribbean, and, if I pursue it even deeper, all the way to Spain and China, I understand what it is to peruse through the past in order to find a narrative that may represent a rosary of sorts into my present. Of course, I am not defined solely upon who my parents, and their parents were, but some of that always manages to come through in the details.

Watching Sofia Bohdanowicz’s and Deragh Campbell’s joint feature film Ms. Slavic 7, I felt a bit of kinship with the lead character Audrey (also played by Deragh Campbell) who has been appointed as the literary executor of her deceased great-grandmother, the poet Zofia Bohdanowiczowa’s book of letters to Nobel-prize winning author Josef Wittlin. The title of the movie refers to the file Audrey accesses at the library that houses them under mega-strict orders to adhere to their usage of the material they keep.

It is during Audrey’s exploration of Zofia’s letters that she starts to build a narrative largely based on language and tone. While this may not seem cinematic enough — who cares, really, what the author meant when using a word a specific way? Bohdanowicz, however, builds an entire scene around it between Audrey and a fellow friend who explains that a specific word, “mint”, which could be interpreted in various ways, simply meant a term of affection in Polish. It’s an interesting development to watch; I just wished that it had come with a bit of motion so as to keep the action going even if the bulk of it was strictly in the intellectual.

Because no movie would be complete without some level of antagonism at its most basic, here the opposition comes in the guise of an Aunt Ania (Elisabeth Rucker, her face frozen in a perpetual rictus of anger). At a family gathering, the first conversation between Audrey and Ania is amicable but not warm. You get that these aren’t two relatives who are on intimate terms and only see each other at family gatherings. From the word go there is a sense of entitlement in Ania, a thing that starts to morph later on the deeper Audrey delves into her great-grandmother’s letters and wonders what to do with them.

Ms. Slavic 7 is the type of “little movie: that will appeal to anyone seeking new narratives that blend genres. This could very well fall under docu-fiction, being that it involves a story that actually took place ages ago and still lives on through the existence of letters. Intimate in scale, Bohdanowicz develops her compact story with elegance and economy, never yielding to rage and confrontations but conversations fraught with the need to know, and the need to resolve, even when perhaps we may never truly know the truth behind the pen.