Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Project 365: Movies 105 - 108

105 / 365: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)
© Miramax

I've long been a fan of Spanish director, Pedro Almodóvar's work . His signature use of vibrant colors, reds and greens and turquoise dripping from the screen—female-centric, sexually charged stories that turn convention on its head. The Criterion Collection recently re-released this controversial film, and I couldn't resist its call, having never seen it before. Known as the "Stockholm Syndrome" movie, I wanted to see if it really was as sensual and captivating as I'd heard.

Ricky (Antonio Banderas), a charming and passionate playboy—who also happens to be mental patient—is released back into society with the hopes of having a normal life, beginning with a family to call his own. That means first commandeering a wife, so when he spots former porn star, Marina (Victoria Abril), in a film magazine, his pins her to be his bride. Slipping casually onto her film shoot, her watches her work before following her home and nonchalantly taking her hostage. Of course, she's not happy about it. In fact, she's justifiably terrified. He, however, is convinced she will fall in love with him, despite him having to tie her up all day and all night to ensure she doesn't run away. All the while, he tries to play house, taking care of her needs and trying to respect her boundaries—a noble quality perhaps? Or maybe just the continual signs of a delusional person.

From the many advertisements for this film, we know that Marina is bound to fall, in some twisted way or another, for Ricky's unconventional approach to woo her. And so we wait... wait for that moment when the key turns and the romance clicks into place—but it never happens. For Marina, it does, overcoming her so suddenly, it comes as a shock to everyone that he endeared to her at all. While the film tries to set us up for it, the transition from fear to hatred to lust to love is shoddy at best. Ricky is just too cuckoo-bananas and scary to be considered an appropriate lover, no matter how sexy he seems on the surface.

There are lovely moments between the two, like when he tries to score her some black-market medicine, putting himself in danger just to provide her what he thinks she needs. And of course, the loosening of those ankle and wrist restraints is a sure sign of true love. But it's all a big stretch. I consider myself pretty on-board with the Stockholm Syndrome / BDSM trope when the story adds the right amount of "oomph!" and the chemistry between the leads is off the charts... but this one just didn't do it for me. I couldn't get on the Ricky ♥ Marina Forever bandwagon. As beautiful as Almodóvar designs this world, it couldn't breathe life into their romance, and that's really all this movie is about.

Rating: ★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Hulu Plus
Seen Before: No

106 / 365: Cabaret (1972)
© Allied Artists Pictures

This movie was the #63 film on my AFI Top 100 countdown challenge. Read my full review here.

Rating: ★★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: DVD
Seen Before: Yes

107 / 365: The Blob (1957)
© Paramount Pictures

How can you hate a movie that starts with a beach-boogie theme song? Unless you're a scaredy-cat nine-year-old kid (like I was the first time I saw this), you're more than likely going to enjoy the hell out of this inventive and terrifying sci-fi alien-invasion flick. But this time, the alien life-form looks nothing like what you'd expect—in fact, it's nothing more than a pulsing, mass-absorbing BLOB! I'd always thought that if aliens were ever to come to our planet, they'd look more like this creepy-crawly than anything anthropomorphic we'd see in Species or whatever else.

One of Steve McQueen's earliest films (when he was still going by "Steven"), and its set in small town America, at a time when teenagers spent their nights cruising, necking in the woods, and making trouble for local law enforcement. All seems to be going according to plan for Steve Andrews (McQueen) and his pretty girlfriend, Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut), that is until they spot a streak of light across the sky and something crash into the middle of the woods. When they go in search of it, they come across a woodsman who had the same idea: the man found a rock cracked open with a rubbery, viscous blob inside! When Steve and Jane find him, its latched to the man's arm, growing bigger every minute. In an attempt to help him, the kids bring the man into town, where the Blob begins to grow in size as it consumes not only the man, but any life-form in its path! It's up to Steve and Jane to convince the police—and the entire town—that an alien blob is on the loose before its too late.

While the script and acting feel stunted at times, the concept of this horror tale is perfectly executed. The Blob is terrifying and seemingly unstoppable. The key is its emotionless state. It cannot be reasoned with, or dissuaded, or killed—by depriving it of human qualities, we're left with an instinctive killing machine. The film's special effects are spectacular, especially as the goopy-blob gets larger and larger. The story doesn't get distracted (for too long, anyways) with this "teens versus authority" sub-plot, which gives it that upfront relatability, making us sympathetic to Steve and Jane as they tear through town trying to convince anyone who will listen, but makes a nice shift to everyone working together.

It took me 20 years to re-watch this movie, remembering how traumatic it was for me as a little girl. What's scarier than a creepy blob that can squeeze right under your bedroom door?!? This is quintessential nuclear-area sci-fi gold, with that delicious kind of ominous ending that promises to deliver so much more. A classic tailor-made for giving little kids nightmares.

Rating: ★★★ / 5 stars
Watched: Hulu Plus
Seen Before: Yes

108 / 365: White God (2015)
© Magnolia Pictures

After catching the trailer for this Hungarian film, the country's official submission for Foreign Language Oscar consideration last year, before a screening of Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter, I couldn't get the visuals out of my head. Touting the love between a young girl and her dog, and the trauma of separation, I was gripped by emotion and no small amount of trepidation. Films about animals, particularly dogs, tend to bring on the tears in a visceral and unpleasant way—but my curiosity could not be sated. I had to see it.

When 12-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is sent to live with her stoic father, Dániel (Sándor Zsótér), one summer while her mother goes to a conference in Australia, she brings along her beloved dog, Hagen, much to her father's dismay. Faced with paying a tax on the mixed-breed dog or taking him to a shelter, Dániel ignores Lili's request to keep Hagen safe and drops him off on the street in an abandoned part of town, forcing the pup to fend for himself. At this point the story splits into two parts: Lili's desperate but fruitless attempts to track down her best friend all while rebelling against her uncaring father, and Hagen's exploration of the frightening under-belly of society that rejects or takes advantage of unwanted, "un-pure" dogs. What starts as a fight to survive quickly becomes an uprising of epic, vengeful proportions as Hagen discovers that the only way to get back home is to fight his way there.

This is not your childhood Homeward Bound. Don't be fooled by the promise of a heartfelt reunion, at least not one without a lot of upsetting blood-shed—dog and human—in between. To say this movie riddled me with anxiety would a gross understatement of the facts. The moment Hagen, who is played by twin dogs Body and Luke, is cruelly left on the roadside, I could only watch with bated breath, peeking between my fingers. Despite my fear of what would happen to Hagen, however, the film is transformative in so many unexpected ways. While Lili's story is integral to how the film ends (and a necessity to show that there's still someone out there who gives a crap about what happens to this dog), the film belongs to Hagen. Gentle and affectionate, he is not meant for a life on the street, but to survive, he must adapt. Between escaping from dog-catchers (in a scene reminiscent of Lady and the Tramp, including an adorable sidekick) and enduring the escalated trauma of training to be in the dog fighting ring (a sharp shift in the vein of Amores Perros), Hagen learns the way of the world—and it's a world he doesn't like.

The gift of the film is the transition to the fantastical element, which bookends the story. The opening sequence, a frantic Lili racing on her bike through the abandoned streets of Budapest, with 200 barking dogs, led by Hagen, in hot pursuit, is a glance at the film's climax and sets the stage for the violent escalation of things to come. Laced with a stark political perspective, a clear condemnation of the city—and the world's—treatment of innocent animals, the tables turn when the victims become the victors... and they victimize their captors. From beginning to end, the story of White God is difficult to watch—but it feels like a necessary twist of the knife to endure. As a protagonist, Hagen might be one of the strongest live-action animal characters ever to grace the screen; his story so rich with growth, personality, and trials. I was compelled by him, but also terrified. We're reminded how the brutality inside an animal is learned from humans, the most corrupt animal of all. While I may never be able to watch this film again, it would be a disservice to what it accomplished to not recommend it to everyone I possibly can. See White God, but accept right now that it won't be easy.

Rating: ★★★½ / 5 stars
Watched: Theater
Seen Before: No

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