Films I Neglected To Review: Many Are Cult But Few Are ChosenBy Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/23/20 19:50:36
Please enjoy short reviews of "1 BR," "Porno," "Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time--Vol. 1 Midnight Madness," "To the Stars," "The True History of the Kelly Gang" and additional assorted arthouse offerings.
Chicago's Music Box Theatre and the Gene Siskel Film Center are continuing their partnerships with independent film distributors to bring the movies that they normally would have been screening into homes via streaming arrangements that will give them a portion of the proceeds as a way of helping to keep them in business during these trying times. Via the Music Box, you can now stream "Someone, Somewhere," Cedric Klapisch's inversion of the typical romantic comedy template in which two people (Francois Civil and Ana Girardot) seemingly destined to be together keep missing each other, the wildly over-the-top horror-comedy gross out "Porno" (discussed at more length below) and the documentary "What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael." Through the Siskel Center, you can watch "Eating Up Easter," Sergio Mata'u Rapu's documentary about his home of Easter Island and the threat being posed by its expanding tourism industry, a reissue of "A Thousand Pieces of Gold," a 1990 dramatic Western about a Chinese woman (Rosalind Chao) who is trafficked to an Idaho mining town and won in a poker game by a man (Chris Cooper) who proves to be more than he initially seems. "Vitalina Varela" is the latest work from celebrated Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa in which Vitalina Varela, the co-star of his previous film, "Horse Money," returns to Lisbon to reunite with her husband after a long absence only to discover that he has passed away, leaving traces of a mysterious life she is compelled to follow up on. Rounding out the lineup is a pair of films released earlier this year--the eye-opening anti-gerrymandering documentary "Slay the Dragon" and "Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band," a look at the rise and fall of the seminal rock band as seen through the eyes of primary songwriter and lead guitarist Robertson and commentators such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Martin Scorsese and Eric Clapton.
"1 BR," which marks the debut of writer-director David Marmor, is a film where viewers may find themselves getting frustrated with its unevenness as some parts hit home with real force while others wind up missing the mark. The deliberately paced setup that follows Sarah as she sweats out the application process and then settles in to her new place will resonate strongly with anyone who has been forced to look for an apartment completely on their own and the point where the true nature of her neighbors is handled in an effective manner. Likewise, the climactic moments of the film are staged in a strong and sure manner and end with a sly and provocative final twist that is both amusing and shudder-inducing. The performances are also good as well, especially Bloom as Sarah and Taylor Nichols as the manager of the building and so much more. The problem, and it is one that seems to be afflicting a lot of genre movies these days, is that it takes a story that would have made for a powerful one-hour episode of an anthology show like "The Twilight Zone" or "Black Mirror" and tries to stretch it out for an extra half-hour to achieve a conventional feature length. As a result, there is a certain slackness to the material that not even the sheer unpleasantness of some of the cruelties inflicted can quite overcome. Despite that, "1 BR" is still an intriguing, if undeniably uneven variation on standard horror movie trope--imagine "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" in which all the terrors are locally sourced--and I am now officially curious as to what Marmor comes up with next.
So at this point, I suspect that many of you have already written off the idea of ever watching "Porno" and I concur that if this doesn't already sound like your cup of tea, there is virtually no chance that there is anything in it that is going to win you over. For the rest of you, the real question is whether or not the film, essentially an amped-up mashup of Lamberto Bava's "Demons" and Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo," actually delivers on the lurid and grotesque promise of its premise. Those looking for straight-up scares will probably want to search elsewhere because while the film is definitely a horror-comedy, it clearly leans towards the second part of that combination and when it does move into more horrific territory, it is more interested in grossing viewers out with its decidedly over-the-top visuals than in scaring them by more conventional means. The grossest scenes are appropriately disgusting but the repeated focus on mutilated penises gets a little tiresome after a while. The young actors populating the cast are entertaining enough to watch and there are just enough clever and funny moments on hand to make you stick it out until the end in the hopes that it might actually become the grisly genre classic that it is clearly striving to be. At its best, "Porno" is a reasonably entertaining way in which to kill 90 minutes, not to mention numerous brain cells, and even if it never quite manages to become the horror-comedy classic that it is striving, at least it keeps trying until the bitter and bloody end.
Those viewers who already have a working knowledge of cult cinema probably will not get too much new information here--this is essentially an intro class--but it is fun to watch Bridges and Turturro discussing the endless array of fascination surrounding "Lebowski," David Lynch (in an old interview) trying to discuss "Eraserhead," and Penelope Spheeris talking about the tumultuous premiere of her controversial punk rock documentary "The Decline of Western Civilization." The only real hiccup to the film is the use of the co-hosts--aside from the moments when Waters discusses "Pink Flamingos" and his well-documented love for "Faster Pussycat!," they are used so infrequently that they end up coming across like an afterthought than anything else. (This is especially dispiriting because they are knowledgable enough about screen history that you really want to hear what they have to say.) Nevertheless, "Time Warp" is still an entertaining look at the crazier corners of screen history and it couldn't come at a better time--all you will want to do after watching it is watch (or rewatch) all the films under discussion and lord knows that most of you have plenty of time to do that right now. (Volume 2, focusing on horror and science-fiction titles, will be arriving on May 19 while volume 3, which looks at comedies and camp offerings, will premiere on June 23.)
What works in "To the Stars" are the performances. Hayward and Liberato both turn in strong and sure performances as the two girls and they are backed up by an equally strong supporting cast that also includes Tony Hale, cast way against type as Maggie’s cruel father, and Adelaide Clemens as a self-proclaimed "war widow" who works as a hairdresser while maintaining a secret of her own that winds up having a number of unanticipated repercussions. These are all good actors who do the best with what they have to work with but cannot quite overcome the triteness of ShannonBradley-Colleary's screenplay. The story clearly wants to present itself as a slice of life but it ends up coming across as both wildly overcooked and sadly underdone. The various plot developments come across as contrivances and it too often presents a modern-day sensibility towards some of the developments that simply do not convincingly jibe with the time period it is halfheartedly trying to establish. Director Martha Stephens, who previously co-directed the not-uninteresting Icelandic road film "Land Ho!," is adequate without ever really being inspiring and she has also made the odd decision of presenting the film in color instead of the black-and-white that it was originally presented in and which the material fairly cries out to be seen in. That said, even if it had been presented as it was initially conceived, "To the Stars" still would have been little more than a somewhat misfired coming-of-age drama that squanders a good cast on less-than-inspired material--it just would have been a better-looking one.
Needless to say, the film is very odd and for the first hour or so, it is a relatively interesting approach to what is fairly familiar material. The decision to focus this section on Kelly's early influences--sort of his origin story--offer up a new perspective that is further underscored by strong performances from Schwerdt, Davis, Crowe (in a too-brief role) and Charlie Hunnam as another British soldier who bedevils Ned's family, and a striking visual style. While the visuals continue to hold up throughout (the climactic standoff between Ned's gang and the British is a knockout), the second half proves to be much less interesting. Part of this is that the part is inevitably covering more familiar territory and no amount of psychosexual swagger (including portraying Kelly and his gang in overtly homoerotic terms that go so far as to have them riding into action while wearing women’s dresses) or deliberate anachronisms can overcome the narrative cliches as they begin to pile up. A bigger problem is that McKay is just way too bland and formless to be believable as someone as presumably charismatic as the real Kelly must have been—there was a reason that Jagger was cast in the role once upon a time and it was not because of his pure acting chops. This is a shame because there are stretches of "The True History of the Kelly Gang," especially in the first half, that are undeniably compelling but as it goes on and on, it just feels more like a missed opportunity than anything else.
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