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Monday, January 12, 2015

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY


By D.E.Levine

Two lesbian entomologists live in a beautiful villa surrounded by gorgeous gardens.  The viewer is never told exactly where the villa is located but it seems to be some.  They like to play mistress and servant.

The two women enact submission and domination on a daily basis.   Evidently, the thrill has gone out of the relationship and they are searching for some new and interesting sadomasochistic

The younger and apparently shyer of the two, Evelyn, (Chiara D'Anna), plays the part of a beautiful maid.  Although she appears to be the submissive one she actually plans elaborate scenarios and leaves precise directions on handwritten.  The tasks, the dialogues and the punishments are all part of an elaborate sex game dictated by Evelyn.

The mistress of the house, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) inflicts kinky humiliating punishments for any and all transgressions and apparently the younger woman can do nothing right.  Although punishments are meted out commensurate with the transgression, Evelyn always winds up locked away in an old wooden trunk.  With explicit directions about when to "surprise" her, and a safe word to stop the proceedings, if necessary the two women attempt to put a spark back into their relationship.

The women attend each other's scientific lectures at the local entomological institute to which they are both in some way connected.  When Cynthis throws Evelyn out and starts dressing in comfortable pajamas instead of laced corsets and wigs, Evelyn starts looking for a new playmate for her game.

Shot in Hungary, the cinematography is wonderful and the scenery is incredibly beautiful, but the world seems unreal and perhaps even from a different historical era.  The characters reveal an emotional dependence but it is, as well as the film as a whole, is laced with humor.

Even the closing credits list all the common and Latin names for all the featured insects.  There are many cases and displays of these insects featured in the film.  In addition to visual effects, sound is very important and contains a mixture of music by Cat's Eye, the sound of insects and source noise.

Director Peter Strickland provides a film rich in feeling and texture, although intense physical scenes do not appear onscreen.


Friday, January 9, 2015

BLACK AND WHITE


By D.E.Levine

Kevin Costner believed in this story so much that he financed the film himself and his portrayal is outstanding.

Elliot (Costner) is a successful, hard-drinking Los Angeles attorney.  He and his wife Carol (Jennifer Ehle) are raising their biracial granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell) the product of a union between their daughter, who died at 17 in childbirth, and a black boyfriend who has since disappeared.

When Carol is killed in a car crash, Elliot sinks into a deep, drinking depression but devotes himself to his granddaughter.

At this point Eloise's paternal grandmother , Rowena (Octavia Spencer) decides to seek custody of the child and bring the girl to live in Compton with her extended family.  Rowena's brother Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie) takes her case and there ensues an ugly court battle.

When Eloise's absentee father returns to Los Angeles and tries to start a relationship with her, Elliot, feeling that the drug-addicted man is a bad influence, gets into a contentious battle with him and the rest of his family.

This is a thinking film.  It tackles racial issues, family disfunctionality, personal biases and legal parameters.

Well cast and acted, the film was more than I hoped for and intricately weaves both humor and pathos into the story and performances.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BIG HERO SIX


By D.E.Levine

This is a wonderful film for children and adults alike.  Although adapted from a comic book, Disney has improved the story and combined a tale of morality with entertainment.  Naturally, the animation is fantastic because it's done by Pixar, a Disney subsidiary.

The main characters are 14-year old Hiro (Ryan Potter), his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) their Aunt Casa (Maya Rudolph) and Tadashi's invention Baymax (Scott Adsit).  Living in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo (based on San Francisco and Tokyo), an Asian infused Golden Gate Bridge co-exists with trolley cars, dumpling shops and a Tokyo-like skyscraper skyline.

Hiro is a genius who doesn't see the point in attending university, although he already has his high-school diploma.  Instead, he designs electronic robots and enters back-alley robot fights.

After a brush with the law, Tadashi takes Hiro to his college robotics lab where Hiro becomes intrigued with the people he meets (the "A" Team) and the projects they're working on.  Now obsessed with enrolling in the school, Hiro enters a science competition to prove he's a desirable candidate.  Winning acceptance because of his microbot project from Professor Callaghan (James Cromwell), Hiro is elated.  But a devastating fire kills both Tadashi and Professor Callaghan and causes Hiro to retreat to his bedroom and grieve.

When he discovers Baymax in a suitcase in the bedroom, Hiro activates him and allows Baymax, who is programmed to ease all types of pain, to ease his pain.    Along with Baymax and the A Team, Hiro becomes an avenger dedicated to find and apprehend the villain responsible for setting the fire and stealing Hiro's invention.

This is an animated feature that imparts an anti-violence message, emphasises education and using the brain and celebrates friendship and family.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR


By D.E.Levine

I had the good fortune to speak to writer/director/actor Desiree Akhavan at length and it's interesting that everything she previously worked on and submitted to film festivals was rejected.  However, with Appropriate Behavior, a low budget film where she utilized friends and film schoolmates, Sundance accepted it and it made quite a hit when it was shown at the festival.

Shirin (Desiree Akhavan) storms out of her girlfriend's apartment after an explosive argument.  This was her first girlfriend and she fills in the background of the relationship through a series of vignettes..

Seeking to find a place to live and rebound from the relationship Shirin is hampered by hurt, cycnicism, lack of a job and money, and the fact that her traditional Iranian family has no idea about her sexual orientation (she's bisexual).

With her girlfriend she lived in Park Slope, a pretty nice area.  Now, with limited funds and options, Shirin moves to Bushwick and the viewer watches as she attempts to navigate her new environment. Shirin just isn't motivated by anything.  She's on the fence about most things and doesn't appear to have any real passion for what she wants to do with herself.

Akhavan shows great promise in both her writing and directing.  She's also generous in sharing her success, insisting that her collaborators are in large part responsible for the accomplishments she's achieved.

Appropriate Behavior is largely biographical and an interesting start for a new talent from whom we can expect more to come.


Friday, January 2, 2015

SELMA


By D.E.Levine

Fifty years after Martin Luther King won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, Selma opens with a scene between Dr. King (David Oyelowo) and his wife, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo) in a hotel room in Oslo, Norway, just prior to being awarded the prize.

Oyelowo looks and speaks amazingly like the Martin Luther King we see in newsreels.  It's almost as if his portrayal is channeling the civil rights leader.

King returns to America just as President Lyndon Baines Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) has pushed the Civil Rights Act , ending legalized segregation, through Congress.  He now intends to concentrate on the War on Poverty.  But, King insists that the next step should be a voting rights act that will abolish the literacy and civics tests that are used in the South to legally prevent African-Americans from voting in elections.  These tests are preventing millions of citizens from participating in electing officials.

The film portrays King fighting Johnson over the matter in the Oval Office.  King knows that a protest march is planned for the 50 miles between Selma, Alabama and the state capitol in Montgomery.  King is also aware that when the marchers demand their right to vote, white racists who are backed by Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) will provoke violence in public where it will be seen by TV and newspaper reporters.  Johnson understands how damaging such an explosive confrontation can be and wants to avoid it.

Originally scripted in 2007, the project went through numerous "name" directors such as Spike Lee,  Lee Daniels. Stephen Frears and others.  Oyelowo advicated for a little known black female director named Ava DuVernay.  Finally, with producing and financial support from Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, Pathe U.K. agreed to finance the project and Paramount agreed to distribution.

Getting it done on only 20 million dollars, DuVernay has produced a very good film that recounts the events leading up to the march from Selma to Montgomery and the march itself.  Avoiding the normal biopic concentration, DuVernay instead concentrates on the political machinations and King's ability to dominate logistical strategy session.

Many of the scenes portrayed, such as the attack on marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, with tear gas, whips and clubs, were staged from actual TV archival footage.  On that day, March 7, 1965, there were many injuries.  But out of that attack came action by the government to protect the marchers during a future demonstration.

There has been some controversy over whether the scenes between King and Johnson in the White House are accurate.  We'll probably never know for sure since no recordings have surfaced.  We do know that Johnson was motivated to push the Voting Rights Act through Congress and open the doors for millions of African-Americans to register and vote.

Many of the organizers and marchers are still alive today and are prominent in this country's political system.  Some are noted at the end of the film.  What is taken for granted today, was won through tenacity and the spilling of blood only 50 years ago.