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Saturday, Nov 11, 2006


Gillian Kaites is one of those undercover cops who only looks believable in a low-budget action picture. Long and lanky with no visible physical or law enforcement aptitude, she is still the most highly decorated member of her force. This means that within minutes of the movie’s start, she ends up weeping over the corpse of her dead partner/boyfriend/fiancé. An arms ring sting goes ka-ping when a raw rookie starts making like Starsky, and before you know it, Gillian is lost, forlorn and depressed. Taking a drive on a road to nowhere, she is harassed by a couple of creeps in a black van. Then, out of the blue, she picks up a hysterical hitchhiker dressed in a swanky evening dress (thumbing rides reached its fashion pinnacle in the mid-‘80s). The sheriff comes along and assures Gillian that the rambling runaway will be safe and sound. All he needs is a statement from her.


Before she knows it, Gillian’s been drugged, dragged into a dingy prison cell, and set upon by the sassy barracks broad, a pissed-off convict named Vicky. Soon, Gillian gets to know the “don’t drop the soap” ropes. Doc Bass comes along to give the girls “examinations,” mostly consisting of Mr. Blackwell-style beauty consultations. Mrs. Pusker, the head matron, roughs up the detainees to keep them under control. And when she’s too busy, she gets her lover/lesbian behemoth Big Eddie to do the debauched dirty work. But Warden Maxwell is the worst. Selling the sullen ladies to the highest bidder, he takes a few of the captive gals to his secret hideaway to make incredibly disgusting snuff porn. The violation of a young innocent named Sharon finally gets Gillian off her rigid rump to find a way to escape. But it will take all the detained dames to help realize this fantasy of fleeing. But since they all have a Lust for Freedom, it should be as easy as a jailhouse romance.


You only need three words to understand why Lust for Freedom is such a fantastic freak-out of a film: three simple pieces of the English language that say so very much while remaining so basic and pure. Trapped within their vowels and consonants are the tone, the timbre, and the type of cinematic sensation you’re in for. And what is this lexis of lunacy, you ask—this triumvirate of telltale phonics? Why, women in prison, of course.


That’s right, ripped from the storehouse of stalwart exploitation genres and given a 1980s hair band rebirth, Lust for Freedom is that wonderful standby of innocent babes behind bars, forced to fend for themselves and their femininity against a corrupt system of guards, hacks, henchmen, hired help, wardens, judges, doctors, and police. As old as cinema itself and jam-packed with as many examples of outrageous big house badness, nothing quite compares to a ribald, ridiculous tale of ladies locked up for no good reason. But in the case of Lust for Freedom, the fiction is taken to a whole new level of the preposterous. The Georgia County Correctional Facility is home to rape, torture, drug dealing, nude frolics, white slavery, pedophilia, and all manner of plot-padding perversions. The warden sells inmates to the local doctor, who grades his purchases on a sliding scale of his own device. (Bad overbite and split ends? She’s a 5!) The prison head also grabs some of the more unwilling members of the Gen Pop and forces them to make butt bongo bonanzas. And when the aardvarking is done, it’s time for a celluloid two-fer: sex scenes turn deadly as snuff becomes the stuff of the warden’s miscreant moviemaking.


Indeed, Lust for Freedom is so ripe with seedy shenanigans and despicable ideas that makers of autopsy porn look down on its delicious tawdriness. Conceived, created, and directed by Troma cult icon Eric Louzil (responsible for such other unexpected delights as Sizzle Beach, U.S.A. and Class of Nuke ‘em High II), this is one exploitation gambol that takes the tired conventions of the jailbird genre and pumps them full of radioactive iniquity. From the jaded Geronimo named Judd—about as American Indian as Val Kilmer and equally insane—to the bleary, booze-eyed doctor who dresses like the Colonel Sanders of snatch, this movie unleashes its demons of depravity for the entire world to gloryhole in. Who cares if Melanie Coll can’t act her way out of a wet baby wipe? And the rest of the cast appears to have gotten their acting chops (and low, throaty voices) from the Mercedes McCambridge Correspondence School of Sour Dispositions.


Lust for Freedom makes you understand instantly why films of this genre—namely gals in gulags—are so cotton-picking pleasing. One sequence in particular will have your sordid sensations high-voltaged over to 11. While two hot honeys get a little better acquainted in their cell (Sappho would be so proud), one of the warden’s henchmen rapes a dumb dope-smuggling doll at crossbow point. To top things off, Mrs. Pusker gives a potential breakout bimbo the business end of a whip. As all three scenes intercut and interconnect, the storm clouds of filth begin to gather. Soon, rains of vulgar randiness are falling all over the screen, and folks at home with a pandering proclivity for smut are a lot like Loverboy—lovin’ every minute of it. There is nothing wrong with wallowing in the den of sin that is a hilarious hunk of hoosegow hijinx. Lust for Freedom delivers in shivers.


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Friday, Nov 10, 2006
by Ian Murphy


James Ellroy’s unnerving 1983 crime novel Blood on the Moon presented a humdinger of a protagonist in Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins. A homicide detective with the LAPD, Hopkins is obsessively workaholic, as tough as Dirty Harry Callahan, and possessed of ethics which could best be described as dubious. He enjoys stealing evidence, breaking and entering, and seducing witnesses. It’s all in a day’s work for him. He has, as his boss tells him, “a wild hair up his ass about murdered women”, and is at pains to puncture his eight-year-old daughter’s illusions about the world because, as he sees it, innocent women are the victims of “a terminal disease that comes from way back when they’re fed all the bullshit about how they’re entitled to happiness like it’s their birthright”. He’s also fiercely intelligent, with a genius-level instinct for deeply entering the minds of killers.


It was only a matter of time before Blood on the Moon was adapted for the big screen. Generically retitled Cop to dispel sci-fi aficionados expecting an intergalactic horror rather than a hard-boiled urban policier, it was adapted and directed by James B. Harris, a onetime Stanley Kubrick producer who had a generally unremarkable, improlific directorial career (and who recently revisited the shady world of Ellroy by executive-producing Brian De Palma’s movie of The Black Dahlia). It was co-produced by its star, James Woods, no doubt because it afforded him such a potent performance vehicle.


The film opens with Lloyd discovering the corpse of a woman who’s been horrifically mutilated and strung up from her kitchen ceiling. Observing the victim’s unusual taste in feminist literature (titles like The Womb Has Teeth adorn her bookshelf), he weighs up the vague evidence and soon convinces himself that this is the latest in a string of serial murders of young women dating back fifteen years. Using his rather far-fetched intuitive skills in piecing together seemingly unrelated clues from unsolved female homicides in the Los Angeles area during that timespan, Lloyd comes into contact with a feminist poet and bookstore owner (Lesley Ann Warren), who harbors naïve romantic delusions about a mystery man who sends her love poems and pressed flowers. Over the course of his investigation, Lloyd’s personal and professional life unravels. His long-suffering wife (Jan McGill), pushed to breaking point by his penchant for telling their daughter gritty bedtime stories about police busts, leaves him with a note diagnosing him as “deeply disturbed”. His unorthodox work methods alienate his friend and superior officer Dutch (Charles Durning), and his mass murderer theories get him stripped of his gun and badge at the hands of his uptight captain (Raymond J. Barry).


Cop is a flawed effort. The plot traffics in coincidences, loose ends and clues that seem to drop right out of the sky. Warren’s feminist poet, who at one stage implores Woods to “make love” to her, is the sort of flaky, panicky daydreamer who could single-handedly carpet-bomb the feminist movement back to the dark ages. And, unlike Ellroy’s novel, little attention is paid to the motivation of the killer, whose identity feels almost incidental to the story.


But Cop is really the James Woods show, and he doesn’t disappoint. Arriving hot on the heels of his Oscar-nominated portrayal of real-life photojournalist Richard Boyle in Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986), Cop consolidated the notion that Woods’ hyperactive nervous energy could sustain a movie on its own. He twitches, crackles and chain-smokes his way through this film with an intensity that demands you keep looking at the screen and then punishes you for doing so. He acts with his face, his voice and his whole body. His lean, wolfish visage, with its thick lips with wary bug eyes, communicate everything we need to know about Lloyd’s imploding state of mind. Woods gets us to feel his caffeinated, insomniac paranoia, his bull-headed stubbornness in the face of authority, and the maverick intellect with which he’s been both gifted and cursed. Above all, he gets us to feel Lloyd’s increasingly desperate need to silence his own inner demons by saving other innocent lives. He nails every shading of Hopkins, from sensitivity to sleaze, and he makes Cop as much a disturbing character study as a Dirty Harry-style thriller.


The film’s centerpiece is a simple scene where Lloyd stakes out the sparse, dimly lit apartment of a vice cop he suspects has some involvement in the murder case. Sunken into an armchair, with his thousand-yard stare boring a hole in the opposite wall and his mind wired and weary from meditating on human evil, Woods presents a chilling portrait of a man at the end of his tether. It evokes such a queasy dread that it almost derails the movie, and simultaneously raises it to a higher plateau.


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Thursday, Nov 9, 2006


Remember how, a few weeks back, we here at SE&L warned you about getting a hobby and avoiding the weekly offerings posted by your favorite premium movie channel? Well, we hope you heeded said sage advice since the selections up for grabs this weekend are about as poor as the Republicans’ showing on election night (rimshot, if you please). From another chance to see how Hollywood views the South to incredibly bad kid vid, it’s a bad bet all around. Those who still believe that there is magic left in a certain Mr. Lucas’ slowly evaporating space operatics, will probably be pleased by the day long celebration of his fiscal fame on Cinemax. And believe it or not, a certain German director who is more than happy to put his boxing gloves where his talent isn’t, has a few demented defenders as well. But when it comes right down to it, unless you’re willing to wait until mid-week to see some stellar presentations on the lesser-known pay cable channels (read; IFC and Sundance), you’re stuck with some mighty mediocre fare. The flaccid foursome making your Saturday, 11 November night noxious are:


HBOThe Dukes of Hazzard*

Ouch! Here’s a film so painfully pathetic that SE&L has a hard time even THINKING about it, let alone discussing it. Marketed to make money by trading on Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass fanbase, as well as Jessica Simpson’s dumbass personality, the end result was a one note novelty that proved the potential of the adolescent male demographic to show up for almost anything. Following this formula, it won’t be long before someone supes up Nanny and the Professor with the Pussycat Dolls as a determined group of barely dressed babysitters, and Bam Margera as the lonely widower teacher desperate for help raising his wee ones. Now just add Li’l Jon as the nutty next-door neighbor and you’ve got another hap-Hazzard style payday. After soiling Cinemax, it’s now HBO’s turn. (Premieres Saturday 11 November, 8:00pm EST).


 


CinemaxStar Wars – a.k.a. Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope*

Apparently, Cinemax has stumbled over to the dark side of the filmic Force, joining up with that money-grubbing maniac George Lucas in the continual raping of the entire Star Wars legacy. Not only will the channel by showing all SIX of the Wars films, in order, in HD, for the first time ever, but they are apparently featuring the “Special Edition” versions of the original trilogy, confirming that, when it comes to cinema, commerce supplants before art every time. If you love the latest prequels in all their hideous Hayden Christensen hackwork, by all means, break out your simulated light saber, a package of sugar-coated midichloreans and your Chewbacca underoos and settle in for some lame sci-fi escapism. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars made some movie magic. Now, its creator is just concerned with merchandising this mythology to death. (Saturday 11 November, 10:00pm EST).


 


StarzDoogal

How does an independent film company without its own animation department compete with the studio big boys in the ultra-competitive (and costly) world of computer generated junk? Why, you import a sappy French revamp of a British kiddie ‘classic’, re-dub most of the voices to maximize the mandatory stunt casting conceit of the genre, and fool the wee ones into thinking its another Shrek sequel. This mediocre mumbo jumbo about magical diamonds that can freeze the sun and a dog-led gang of heroes hoping to thwart evil is so faux hip, so wannabe cool that it collides with its own pointlessness to create a black hole sized void of ineptitude. It is possible that some of the more mentally challenged members of the intended demographic could look at this lousy CG cartoon and find something to celebrate, but with so many superior efforts available elsewhere, why even bother? (Premieres Saturday 11 November, 9:00pm EST).


 


ShowtimeBloodRayne

Dr. Uwe Boll may be able to kick some online film critic buttocks, but he is still incapable of making a professional grade film. Part of the problem is that he continually focuses his careless cinematic efforts on adaptations of subpar video games. The other reason, however, is that Boll is basically inept when it comes to putting a narrative together. This scattered, slipshod attempt to fiddle with the vampire mythos contains nothing but lame action sequences, non-existent characterization, and enough disinterested acting nods (from Ben Kingsley, Billy Zane and Michael Madsen, specifically) to guarantee a bad time at the movies. Then Boll works his own Teutonic talentlessness on the entire process, and what was merely a bomb becomes an abomination. Making House of the Dead look decent is a hard feat to accomplish. BloodRayne manages to do that…and not much else. (Saturday 11 November, 9:15pm EST)


 


 


The Cream of the Crop

In honor of IFC’s month-long celebration of Janus Films, SE&L will skip the standard daily overview of what’s on the other movie-based cable outlets and, instead, focus solely on what it and the Sundance Channel have to offer. Beyond that premise, however, we will still only concentrate on the best of the best, the most inspiring of the inspiring, the most meaningful of the…well, you get the idea. For the week of 11, November, here are our royal recommendations:


IFC

: Every Tuesday in November is Janus Films night. For the 14th, the selections are:



The White Sheik
Before he was the master of the absurd, Fellini was creating, warm, witty fables like this one, revolving around a newlywed, her honeymoon, and the actor she idolizes.
(9PM EST)


Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
Combining slapstick with satire, French film legend Jacques Tati created the classic title character for this unflinching comedic look at how the leisure class lives.
(10:30PM EST)


Loves of a Blond
As part of the “Czech New Wave” future Oscar winner Milos Forman came to the attention of the West with this wonderful ensemble comedy.
(12AM EST)



Sundance Channel


11 November - Fahrenheit 451
Though somewhat flawed, François Truffaut’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s topical sci-fi novel still has plenty of prescient bite.
(11PM EST)


13 November - Pink Flamingos
The film that turned director John Waters into a Midnight Movie icon, this masterpiece of contemporary cynicism is just as joyfully jaded 34 years later.
(2:40AM EST)


14 November - Brazil
Mired in studio politics and misunderstood upon its initial release, Terry Gilliam’s future shock send-up is today one of the director’s most beloved and brave works. 
(10PM EST)


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Wednesday, Nov 8, 2006


Sometimes, it’s hard for a critic to sum up his or her feelings about a film. It usually occurs on those rare occasions – and they are indeed few and far between – when a movie literally makes you forget all the reasons why you are viewing – and eventually reviewing it - in the first place. The narrative catches you completely off guard, the plotting provides more intrigue and enjoyment than you could have possibly imagined. Even better, the themes and emotional underpinnings which motivate the expertly drawn characters are so involving and deep that, before you know it, you’ve completely forgotten about deadlines, word count and being a clever cinematic scholar. All you care about is the spellbinding experience in front of you. This is indeed what happened to me as I settled in to take on Christopher Nolan’s latest mindblowing masterwork, The Prestige. After 135 minutes of nearly flawless filmmaking, it is safe to say that I had lost all concept of critical impartiality. This film is, without a doubt, one of 2006’s greatest artistic achievements.


Nolan, a motion picture non-entity nine years ago when he arrived on the scene with his whimsical short Doodlebug, argues for his place among the seemingly small class of post-modern, post-millennial auteurs with this fascinating, finely tuned effort. With only five full length feature films under his belt – 1998’s Following, 2000’s Memento, 2002’s Insomnia, 2005’s Batman Begins and now The Prestige – this amazingly gifted Brit continues to baffle as well as make believers out of fans who just can’t figure out how he does it. Before he came along, the murder mystery was seen as an old fashioned b-movie subject. But Memento‘s backwards narrative audacity avoided obvious gimmickry to redefine the genre and become an exceptionally fine film. Similarly, big budget superhero movies were a dime a couple dozen in the free-spending Hollywood of the last decade, and yet Nolan managed to make Batman viable again by positing The Dark Knight with a real and recognizable psychological underpinning. The result? One of last year’s best efforts.


And now we have The Prestige. How does one begin to describe how delicate and demanding this movie is? How to be respectful without resorting to full bore film geek love. It is safe to say that the remarkable ensemble cast that Nolan compiles – including award worthy turns from Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and, believe it or not, David Bowie – is matched in majesty only by the brilliant script adaptation that the director and his screenwriting brother Jonathan carved out of Christopher Priest’s prized novel. This is not a film about how certain tricks are accomplished (though we do learn a few secrets along the way), nor is it merely the tale of an increasingly antagonist rivalry between two talented magicians. Instead, The Prestige takes its title literally, asking us to believe in the power that stature and esteem has over two dark, desperate men, to witness how far both will go to achieve it for themselves…and more importantly, prevent it from happening for the other. The plot is complex, weaving in and out of obsession, doubt, ovations and despair. In Nolan’s completely capable hands, what could have been muddled or melodramatic is monumental – and quite moving.


This is indeed the kind of experience one goes to the movies for. It’s escape, but not the pure popcorn and eye candy kind. Like a rich meal or a decedent desert, The Prestige is the kind of motion picture meal you savor, a movie that requires your utmost indulgence to deliver maximum satisfaction. If a cutthroat competition between two incredibly multifaceted men that skips across time and place to deliver its layers of intrigue and eventual decisive denouements leaves you cold, if you would rather see a pretty period piece, unevenly executed and lacking a real feel for the era in question, then by all means avoid The Prestige and pick out something else to spend your hard earned leisure lira on. But if you don’t mind a test, if you’re up for experiencing the sights, the smells, and the sensations of a turn of the century world, if brilliant acting by performers getting completely lost in their characters fills you with the kind of cinematic joy that’s rare in this pre-packaged and focus grouped entertainment environment, then this is the film for you. It is indeed rare when a movie can make your forget the very reasons why you came to the theater in the first place. Like all the elements that make up this stellar motion picture, it is all part of The Prestige‘s amazing magic.


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Wednesday, Nov 8, 2006


In my opinion, wasted potential is at the top of the list of a filmmaker’s greatest disappointments. When a great director, or at least a director of great potential, seizes a topic - especially one filled with richness and vigor - it is assumed that he or she will dive into it greedily, basking in its power. The result should be the creation a cinematic vision that will remind the viewer of the power of film. But when that individual instead takes such sound subject matter and prefers only to graze the surface, favoring sloth to imagination and assumed self-importance rather than deference to the craft, it is truly a tragedy. And in this particular case, the disaster in question is called Heading South (“Vers le Sud”), Laurent Cantet’s French/English film from 2005 that explores sex tourism in 1970s Haiti.


More specifically, the film follows Brenda (Karen Young), Sue (Louise Portal) and the queen bee herself Ellen (Charlotte Rampling), middle aged white women who come to Haiti annually. There, they provide cash and gifts to young, impoverished Haitian men in exchange for sexual favors and their company. Legba (Menothy Cesar), the resident hottie and particular favorite of both Ellen and Brenda, becomes caught (naturally) in between the growing feelings of each woman. As I watched the story unfold, I became increasingly disillusioned as Cantet. Here was a filmmaker quite content to create a story set in late ‘70s Haiti, and yet never once did he even attempt to explore the nation’s rule by Jean Claude Duvalier.


A determined despot, Duvalier and his crew ruled the island with a violent, bloody fist. Colonialism, poverty, class, race, and political oppression are all salient themes for a film of this nature. Sadly, each is barely addressed within the confines of the story. It makes me question why Cantet would prefer to sell his subject short, creating a film that is in many ways equally insensitive and offensive to Haiti’s heritage. He could have made a film that created a nuanced portrait of a topic riddled with dimensionality. Instead, he chose the easy way out.


Not only did Cantet - whose previous films Ressources Humaines (“Human Resources”) and L’Emploi du Temps (“Time Out”) received immense critical acclaim - feel content to bask in the glaring omissions in his art but so did The New York Times. In a review of the film, Stephen Holden makes no mention of the issues of race and class, when he should recognize that said subjects are implicit in the very nature of the film. Neither is there a mention of the overriding issues of colonialism. What then is the duty of the filmmaker to his/her subject? Can art fail? What is the burden of the creator? Heading South is only one example of many of promise wasted and inherent richness taken for granted.


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