Movie Reviews - 2014 postsSunday May 25, 2014
Movie Review: Klumpfisken (The Sunfish) (2014)
The most macho thing I expect to see in the movies all year happened in “Klumpfisken” (“The Sunfish”), a slice-of-life Danish film from first-time writer-director Søren Ball.
Kesse (Henrik Birch), a third-generation fisherman from Hirthals, a provincial town in northern Jutland, is moving around on his boat at night too quickly, and falls and cuts his hand. Badly. Later he gets 20-25 stitches in it but now he doesn’t have the time. So what does he do? He duct-tapes it.
Take that, John Wayne.
Kesse, by the way, is moving around on his boat at night too quickly because he’s been illegally fishing over his quotas and selling the rest on the black market. Not because he’s shady but because he’s upstanding. He’s a decent man being squeezed by forces beyond his control: international economics, government regulations, and big fisheries.
A dying way of life
The movie opens on a typical day. Here’s Kesse on his boat on the ocean. Here he is telling first-mate Lars (Lars Torpp Thomsen) to watch the lines. Here’s the catch, the transfer, the inspection, the clean-up. He gets a meal, the same meal, goes home, watches TV, goes to bed, starts over. He’s a hard man to know. He also owes 100,000-150,000 krone. Because he’s a gambler? An alcoholic? Nope. It’s just what we’ve seen. He doesn’t make enough money to support the making of it.
Kesse’s real problem, besides being squeezed by all of the above, is Lars. He can’t afford to have him on but he can’t let him go, either. Lars’ father had been Kesse’s first mate, and he’d died in the nets, right in front of Lars when the kid was 13. There’s a sense that more than 150,000 krone is owed.
Kesse, in fact, doesn’t just not fire Lars; he takes on another hand, Gerd (Susanne Storm), a biologist from a university in Copenhagen doing a study on fishing populations. Initially he views her as the enemy: Someone who cares more about fishing populations than fishermen. But he warms to her, and she to him, and eventually a romance develops. He’s got charm but he’s truly provincial—rarely having traveled 15 km from Hirthals. They go for walks (where he misses all her signals), go to an aquarium, and scuba dive there. They watch the Ocean Sunfish, a huge, ghastly-looking creature, swim slowly by.
But the money he gets by having her temporarily on board won’t save him, so he succumbs to the inevitable: He lets Lars go. The precariousness of their situation apparently comes as news to Lars, who curses him, gets drunk, curses him some more. Lars is truly a waste of space; he’s there to make Kesse look good. Then Kesse makes a bad choice. Does he agree to take Lars back because he’s fishing over the quotas or is he fishing over the quotas in order to take Lars back? I assume the latter. He’s going to save his friend, or “friend,” and his business, by embracing illegality. The downfall of every good man.
This works well once, twice. The third time, his contact doesn’t show, and he’s forced to move the extra fish to his home, where Gerd awaits. “I thought you were better than this,” she says, leaving. So did he, he realizes, and lets Lars go again. With the illegal fish still in his garage? Bad move. That night, instead of his contact, it’s the inspectors who arrive, tipped off by Lars. Kesse is fined and temporarily loses his license. But he can’t afford temporarily so he loses it all.
These are the circumstances that finally propel him out of Hirthals and onto the train to Copenhagen. To be with Gerd? Will she take him? Who knows? The point for writer-director Søren Ball is to get him out of town. Fin. No pun intended.
The Ocean Sunfish is apparently the biggest, heaviest bony fish in the world, but ... Is it also supposed to be Kesse? Something that shouldn’t exist anymore? Something almost prehistoric? Early on, Kesse’s friend calls him a dinosaur. So maybe that’s it. Even so, as a metaphor, it hardly resonates.
“Klumpfisken” is a quiet, matter-of-fact film that’s altogether too quiet and matter-of-fact. It’s interesting only in a “National Geographic” kind of way. For me, there’s just not enough story there. The better story—what does a man who has lost everything, including the only home he’s ever known, do?—begins exactly at the moment we leave.
Movie Review: Dior and I (2014)
Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary “Dior and I,” whose title is a play on Dior’s own memoir, “Christian Dior and I,” concerns the first haute couture collection from Belgian fashion designer and new Christian Dior S.A. creative director Raf Simons in the summer of 2012. It’s a behind-the-scenes look, a “How things get done” documentary, that misses, or glosses over, or assumes we know, the high drama surrounding it all. But we don’t. At least I didn’t. I had to look it up. I had to keep asking Patricia.
It’s rare when anything in our culture does this, by the way: ignores the gossipy drama for the quotidian detail. I feel like I should applaud.
Will the couture be haute enough?
Here’s the drama: In February 2011, Dior creative director John Galliano was recorded spouting anti-Semitic remarks to a Jewish woman, including “I love Hitler,” and “People like you would be dead today.” Two days later, the House of Dior suspended him. A week later, he was fired. Bill Gaytten was hired as head designer interim but his first show (for Fall-Winter 2011) was poorly received, and into this mess Raf Simons was hired to save the fashion house. He had eight weeks in which to create his premiere fashion line.
Most of this backstory is glossed over. One wonders if there was a quid pro quo. Sure, kid, you’ll get access to the House of Dior ... just don’t mention Galliano.
The drama in the doc is much less scandalous. Raf (he’s always Raf) is hired away from Jil Sander, which makes ready-made rather than custom-designed clothing, so there’s some concern that his couture won’t be haute enough. He likes simpler designs than the more flamboyant Galliano. He’s also a bit distant, with doubt and concern in his eyes. He reminds me of some combination of a shorter Daniel Day Lewis and a minor James Bond villain. Plus he’s Belgian but doesn’t speak French? You don’t quite know what to make of the guy.
His right-hand man, on the other hand, Pieter Mulier, has big, wide-set eyes, and a quiet, friendly manner, and you find yourself warming to him even before the various Dior ateliers reveal their love of Pieter and their own doubts about Raf. For a time, I wondered if the Raf/Pieter dynamic would be like the Anna Wintour/Grace Coddington dynamic in R.J. Cutler’s excellent 2009 documentary “The September Issue”: the assistant who makes things work for the haughty boss. Nope. No one ever warms to Anna Wintour—it’s not encouraged by her nature or name—but by the end of this doc we warm considerably to Raf. Even before he breaks down. Even before he reveals his heart.
We get bits of the fashion-house history—Dior’s post-World War II “New Look” that took the world by storm—but nothing on when Dior died (1957), or how many creative directors the House of Dior has had (Raf is the seventh), or what premiere fashion shows generally look like. But this tendency to film the present rather than regurgitate the past reflects Raf’s own philosophy. “The past is not romantic to me,” he says at one point. “The future is romantic to me.”
Spray paint and duct tape
Shouldn’t it be “Dior and Us”? Early on, Raf says fashion is about dialogue, it’s a collaboration, and we get a long-running exchange between Raf, Pieter and the various ateliers who make it all work. (A direct translation of atelier, by the way, would be seamstress, but that’s a more loaded word in America, conjuring up immigrant drudgery rather than couture artistry.)
Dior has two head ateliers, both of whom manage large staffs and take care of not only the demands of Dior’s creative director but its many wealthy clients. At one point, for example, days before his premiere, Raf can’t find one of his head ateliers. Turns out she’s in New York. A client, who spends €350,000 a year at Dior, wants a personal fitting and gets one. That’s a fascinating dynamic. Which client do you serve: the wealthy patron or the creative director? Raf, at this point, feels short-changed.
There are other frustrations for him. Parisian engravers can’t give him the fabric he wants when he wants it. He recreates Dior’s classic Bar jacket in white but days before the show he wants to see it in black. Can’t be done, he’s told. So they improvise: they spray-paint it black. It may be high fashion in Paris, but we’re only a step or two above duct tape here. One of his more outlandish requests is a wall of flowers in the beautiful old French building where the premiere will take place. It seems absurd in theory but magical in practice. Maybe that’s what fashion is all about.
So? Is Raf’s premiere show a hit? It is, but I can’t tell you why, anymore than someone from, say, Togo, can tell you why the Seattle Mariners won last night. The skinny models are dressed up in Raf’s designs, they walk up the stairs and past the walls of flowers and the various studious celebrities in attendance; then there’s applause. And that’s it. Success! The new New Look.
Je n'adore pas “Dior and I” but I appreciate it. It’s about people who work. It’s an unglamorous look at the creation of the glamorous life.
Movie Review: Jimi: All Is By My Side (2014)
John Ridley’s “Jimi: All Is By My Side,” a biopic of Jimi Hendrix starring André (3000) Benjamin, is a bit like touring with a rock band: You get flashes of electricity and excitement amid long stretches of tedium.
The movie gives us the life and times of Jimi Hendrix in the year before he broke at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. That alone got me interested. A biopic that’s not the whole life? That’s not this reductive childhood scene, and that reductive teenage scene, and then the long slow rise leading to the burst of fame and recognition? Ah, but then the problems. Drugs? Exhaustion? Family strife? All of the above? The fall from grace. But then the speech! The resurrection! The return! And the final concert scene. And the star ascendant in his or her glory.
Ridley, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “12 Years a Slave,” has created a movie that is of its time in form as well as content. He uses the cinematic tricks of the New Wave, ascendant in ’66, to tell Jimi’s story: quick cuts and overlapping dialogue and silent flashbacks creeping bit by bit into a character’s consciousness. It gets in the way, to be honest. I became overly conscious of it. Ridley kept jolting me out of the story to tell me he was telling me a story.
And what is the story anyway?
In 1966, Jimi Hendrix, with Ike Turner bangs, is backing King Curtis at the Cheetah Club in New York when Keith Richards’ model girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) sees him and is stunned. Backstage, they talk and listen to music: Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan. She talks anyway, he barely says a thing. When he does, it’s about Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde.” Not the music but the album cover. “I dig his hair,” he says. So he lets his own go. He develops that Jimi frizz.
Is he talented? The Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham (Robbie Jarvis) is unimpressed. “He’s nothing,” he tells Linda. “He’s rubbish.” But Chas Chandler, bassist for the Animals, sees Jimi and his jaw drops. Is this because Chas knows something Andrew doesn’t? Or because Jimi is a volatile artist who is dull one night and brilliant the next? I assumed the latter. After he blows it with Oldham, for example, Keith chastises him like a mother: “I am asking you to go up there and take the stage like you actually want to amount to something!” But Jimi doesn’t seem to get it.
Does he? Most of the movie takes place in Swingin’ London in ’66 and ’67, as a band is put together and Jimi trades one white groupie for another—Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), a volatile redhead—but throughout he’s a man more acted upon than acting. White people see things in him and push him on stage even as he seems comfortable within his own cloudy thoughts. It’s less “Are you experienced?” than “Are you driven?” He has drive, of course, it’s just understated. He wants to meet Clapton, then he wants to play with Clapton, then he blows a condescending Clapton off the stage. For a show at the Saville Theater, with Paul McCartney and George Harrison in attendance, he opens with the just released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and kills it. He’s telling the best of British rock: I’m here. Make room or get out of the way.
These scenes, and the confrontation with British Nation of Islam leader Michael X that dissolves amid Jimi’s good vibes, are the best part of the movie. But if you want to hear Hendrix’s music you’ve got to wait until you get home. His estate refused to license it without script approval, which Ridley refused to give. So there’s no “Foxy Lady,” “Fire,” or “Purple Haze.” We never make it to Monterey, either, just back to the San Francisco airport. To be honest, the movie ends well for ending suddenly; for ending not on a high note but a grace note. “You have an annoying way of being quite simply profound,” Etchingham tells him.
Haze, purple or otherwise
Benjamin, by the way, is stunning in the lead. He’s got it all down: the languid, sexy charm onstage, the amused, mumbled voice offstage; the gum-chewing cool that John Lennon appropriated for the “All You Need is Love” video. There’s also a shattering moment when he beats up Etchingham with a phone. It’s one of the better portrayals of a rock star I’ve seen.
But the movie suffers from the same problem as Hendrix: a lack of drive. It’s cinéma vérité stuff: this, then this, then this. Most of the conversations aren’t profound, simply or otherwise, and far too much screentime is devoted to his relationship with Etchingham, which is dull business. Ridley seems to want to explore the enigma that is Jimi Hendrix but Hendrix keeps eluding him with a smile.
Movie Review: Fading Gigolo (2014)
In an eighth-season episode of “M*A*S*H,” a beautiful war correspondent (Susan St. James) ignores the advances of Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) because she’s completely smitten by, and keeps making passes at, B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell). The episode was written and directed by Farrell. Nice work if you can get it.
I flashed back to that long-forgotten episode while watching “Fading Gigolo,” a light comedy written and directed by John Turturro. In it, Turturro plays Fioravante, a part-time florist/bookseller in Brooklyn, who, at the behest of his friend and mentor Murray (Woody Allen), becomes a gigolo, and winds up being paid to have sex with, among others, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara.
Nice work if you can get it.
Should we worry about the ego it takes to create this kind of story? “I will write and direct a character, whom I will play, who is unassuming but considered sexy by everyone around him; and who will have sex with many sexy women and fall in love with one beautiful woman.” Or should we just consider whether it’s worth our time?
It’s not really worth our time.
Woody on trial
The best thing about “Fading Gigolo” is Woody Allen. He’s funnier than he’s been in years.
At one point, for example, members of the Shomrim, a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood watch group, take Woody/Murray into custody, and he tells them, in his hapless, stammering manner, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy—I’ve already been circumcised.” I burst out laughing. Later, as they lead him into a basement tenement, he says, “Why are you taking me here? What holiday is this?” Are these Turturro’s lines? Did Woody improvise? Whatever, it worked.
To be honest, this should’ve been the movie, or at least the framework for the movie. Murray is being put on trial for crimes against … the neighborhood? His faith? His lack of? What power does this Hasidic court have? Woody’s lawyer, Sol (Bob Balaban in baseball cap), seems to take it seriously. But it would’ve made a great framing device: Woody on trial, and flashbacks to how he got there: the crimes real and imagined and non-existent.
Instead, in the movie, he starts out simply as a guy losing his business: M. Schwartz & Sons: Rare and Used Books. “These days,” he laments to his assistant, Fioravante, “only rare people buy rare books.” In nearly the same breath, he mentions that his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Stone), wants her and her friend, Selima (Vergara), to engage in a ménage a trois with someone, but they can’t find that someone. So Murray tells Fioravante that he suggested him. And thus the world’s oldest partnership begins.
I didn’t buy it. Turturro as gigolo, yeah, whatever. But women like Stone and Vergara can’t find a man to engage in a ménage? Honey, open a phone book.
But I particularly didn’t buy the rest of it. Murray winds up in a Hasidic neighborhood, where he visits Avigal (a stunning Vanessa Paradis), the wife of a deceased rabbi, who’s still in mourning, and who exudes loneliness. So Murray hooks her up with Fioravante.
Does he mean for sex? Paid sex? This woman who can’t show her hair to another man and must wear a kerchief or wig all the time? Does he communicate this to Fioravante? Does Turturro as writer-director communicate it to us? It was both unbelievable and obvious: unbelievable the way it’s set up and obvious the way it turns out. I immediately assumed Fioravante would help open up Avigal, and they would fall in love, and he would give up the gigolo business.
And that’s pretty much what happens.
A sop to Spike
Dovi (Liev Schrieber), a member of the Shomrim, is the wild card. He’s in love with Avigal, and he follows her to make sure nothing bad happens to her. And she leads him to Fioravante, who leads him to Murray, which leads us to the trial. Another sex-crime trial for Woody Allen.
Ultimately, Avigal helps exonerate Murray, and near the end, Dovi drives Avigal to Fioravante’s place, where, instead of embracing Fioravante, she says her good-byes. Because she’s to be with Dovi. Does she love Dovi the way he loves her? We never got a sense of it before. But it wraps things up neatly. Like stays with like. The Mediterranean is again used to open up, sexually and spiritually, the repressed northerner.
There are other oddities throughout. For some reason—a humorous sop to Spike Lee?—Woody, who is 78, is married to, or living with, a middle-aged black woman, Othella (Tonya Pinkins), and they have … five kids? Are they his? How old is Murray supposed to be anyway? During the gigolo montage—women being pleasured, money changing hands—Fioravante has an encounter outside a hotel with a beautiful prostitute (model Eugenia Kuzmina), who is trying to solicit him, and he turns her down. Not nicely, either. At the end, in the neighborhood diner, they meet another beautiful, unattached woman (supermodel Loan Chabanol), who is the Autumn to the Summer of Avigal; she’s the future fish in the sea for Fioravante. Because that’s how filmmakers like to end these types of movies: with the unattached supermodel just waiting for the unremarkable guy to say a few unremarkable words. As in life.
“Fading Gigolo” has a certain soporific charm, and it does well by its mostly Brooklyn locations, and it has a nice soundtrack of not-bad, soporific standards. But … yeah. I found myself nodding off halfway through. I wanted to tell Turturro, who was working so hard, “Wake me up when you’re done.”
Movie Review: Jodorowsky's Dune (2014)
It starred Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, David Carradine, Mick Jagger, and the director’s 12-year-old son in the lead role. The director, Mexican, had directed the cult avant-garde western “El Topo,” while the producer, French, would produce “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Burnt by the Sun.” Others on the crew would help make “Alien” and “Total Recall.” The movie itself would influence everything from “Star Wars” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “The Matrix.”
It was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Dune” and according to several talking heads in this documentary, it was the greatest movie never made.
It has competition, of course. Would it have been better than Terry Gilliam’s “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” or Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “L’Enfer”? Or the thousands of really good ideas brought by talented people that not only never got made but never got made into documentaries about movies that never got made? Tough call. We don’t agree on movies that exist; imagine the arguments for this.
Gilliam’s “Don Quixote” died because its star, Jean Rochefort, got sick, and Gilliam refused to compromise with anyone else. Clouzot? He suffered from too much money, too much ambition, and a heart attack after his leading man walked out.
Jodorowsky was certainly ambitious—he wanted to make the greatest movie of all time—but “Dune” died for the opposite reason of Clouzot’s film: Hollywood’s money men weren’t interested.
Not in the subject. In him.
We’re the opposite. We’re fascinated by Jodorowsky because he’s endlessly fascinating. At 84, he’s enthusiastic and boisterous and still has a gleam in his eye about this project. He’s a great storyteller. He’s politically incorrect—joyfully so. He talks about the liberties he took with Frank Herbert’s acclaimed novel by comparing the situation to a husband with a new bride. You can’t respect or idolize her too much. You need to get in there. He mimics tearing open a dress. You need to rape her, he says. He needed to rape Frank Herbert, he says. He says it all with the most joyous smile.
You know those movies where the protagonist assembles a team of professionals to pull off the perfect crime? That’s “Jodorowsky’s Dune.” The doc, directed by Frank Pavich, is about the assembling of a great team.
We get a bit of Jodorowsky’s background. Too little, to be honest. He was an avant-garde theater director in Mexico in the early 1960s but how he got there, and interested in that, we haven’t a clue. But from there he went into film. He directed “Fando and Lis” (1968) which caused near riots at screenings; then “El Topo” (1970), which became the original cult midnight movie; then “The Holy Mountain” (1973). His reputation grew. Producer Michel Seydoux, the grand uncle of Lea, gave him carte blanche. He told him he could make any movie he wanted to make. Jodorowsky said he wanted to make “Dune.” But first he had to read it.
He spent two years assembling his team of “spiritual warriors.” To be on Jodorowsky’s team, you needed more than talent; you needed vision and soul. He wasn’t messing around. Everyone told him he needed Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects guru behind “2001: A Space Odyssey” (and later “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Blade Runner”), but during a meeting Trumbull kept answering his phone and Jodorowsky walked out. Instead he hired French comic-book artist Jean Giraud, a.k.a. Moebius, and British sci-fi cover artist Chris Foss and American artist-writer Dan O’Bannon (“Dark Star,” “Alien,” “Heavy Metal”). He wooed Orson Welles with food, Salvador Dali with wit. Dali recommended a German artist named H.R. Giger, who had never worked in film before.
Serendipity, to hear Jodorowsky tell it, also played a role. He wanted Mick Jagger and suddenly there he was at a party. For the music, he hired Pink Floyd for one planet, X for another. They assembled one of the most extensive storyboards ever into a big book and brought it to Hollywood.
And it didn’t sell.
The studios were interested in most of it; they just weren’t interested in him. They liked the package but not the packager. He was too avant-garde. He was too avant-garde for 1975, which is saying something. So the project died.
Why? I’m curious about that. Did it have to be Hollywood? Couldn’t it have been France? Couldn’t it have been independently financed? No one had $15 million to risk in 1975? And if so, didn’t Jodorowsky and company realize at some point in the process that they needed someone to sell Hollywood on the project? Couldn’t Jodorowsky have found that person, too, the way he found Jagger and Dali and Giger? But of course that person wouldn’t have had the proper spirit. They wouldn’t have been spiritual warriors. Jodorowsky would have dismissed them.
“Dune is a deadly trip,” a character in the movie says. Indeed.
Becoming part of everything
Another question: Would it have been good? Jodorowsky’s version? His vision?
It sounds intriguing. There are elements of a god complex here, and not just in the script. In “El Topo” Jodorowsky plays the title character who says the line, “Soy Dios”: I am God. Here, he talks about the two years he had his son, Brontis, training with a martial arts master to play Paul Atreides. “Why I did that?” he asks now. “Sacrifice my son?” He sacrifices his son in the movie, too. Unlike the novel, Paul dies; but in dying he becomes part of everything. “I am Paul,” the other characters repeat over and over. It’s like a spiritual Spartacus moment. It’s a Jesus moment. It’s Obi wan Kenobi. Being struck down, he becomes more powerful than you can imagine.
Brontis, the son, who must be about my age (51), makes the connection between Paul and the stillborn “Dune.” In dying, in being struck down, it became part of everything. Giger’s work wound up in “Alien,” storyboard shots wound up in “Blade Runner,” the great long opening Jodorowsky envisioned wound up as the great long opening shot of “Contact.” What he envisioned wound up influencing the culture anyway.
Is this a good thing, by the way? Some of the film-critic talking heads in this thing say that if it weren’t for Jodorowsky there wouldn’t have been ... name it. “Blade Runner,” “Masters of the Universe,” “The Matrix.” But would this have been a bad thing? Are those movies really worth our time? Others suggest that if Jodorowsky’s “Dune” had gotten made and released before “Star Wars,” then it, with its more auteuristic vision, would have influenced movies and the culture instead of Lucas’ film. We might not have gone the way of the popcorn blockbuster. Director-driven movies might not have died. Our culture might not have gotten so dumb.
I doubt it. Jodorowsky, for all his influence, never made a popular movie. But we’ll never know for sure.
Ten years later, “Dune” wound up being made anyway, and with the one director Jodorowsky could see making a masterpiece of it: David Lynch. Initially he refused to see it. But his son dragged him to the theater, where he sat, he says, with eyes closed as it began. Gradually, though, he began to watch more of it. And more of it. And he became so happy. Because it was so awful. It was a disaster. It’s an awful feeling, he admits, wanting someone else to fail. But: “It’s a human reaction, no?”
I love him for that, and for the attempt. He’s 84, he tells us from his study, surrounded by his books and memorabilia—including all the trinkets left over from the doomed “Dune” project—but he has the ambition to live to be 300. Why not? “Have the greatest ambition possible,” he tells us. “Do it. ... If you fail, it is not important. You need to try.”