2003 Milk Plus Droogies

Best Picture
Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Director
Quentin Tarantino, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Actor (tie)
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean

Best Actor (tie)
Bill Murray, Lost in Translation

Best Actress
Uma Thurman, Kill Bill Vol. I

Best Supporting Actor
David Hyde Pierce, Down With Love

Best Supporting Actress
Miranda Richardson, Spider

Best Screenplay
Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation

Best Foreign Film

Best Cinematography
Harris Savides, Gerry

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Brick Dollhouse

Maybe I was too hard on "A Sweet Sickness".

As I've mentioned before, I love bad movies and I love Something Weird. Their tireless work in unearthing the strangest, sleaziest, stupidest cinema in existence is an inspiration for all us bad-movie addicts. I'm determined to watch pretty much anything they release in some sort of lunatic quest to find the great unknown Bad Movie Masterpiece. The downside to this is losing countless hours wading through exploitation also-rans that, while entertaining in fits and starts, prove to me nothing more than mediocre wastes of time. And, every now and then, the boys at SW will slip up and unleash a real turd -- the kind of film that, though brief, makes me question my sanity and my will to live.

"The Brick Dollhouse", as you might have guessed, is a film like that.

If I may, I'd like to tell a story: Five years ago, I had the misfortune to stumble across an empty-headed waste of videotape titled "Bikini Traffic School". You may be thinking, "Why would you waste your time on a film with a title like that?" My only response is why wouldn't I? That's an awesome title. Anyway, about 45 minutes into the film, my cat discovers a cockroach in our apartment. She starts chasing it around and I end up missing portions of the bikini movie because I'm too busy watching her do something infinitely more entertaining. "Bikini Traffic School" was less interesting than my cat's pursuit of vermin. So understand the depths of my feeling for today's subject when I say that I would rather watch "Bikini Traffic School" again while bleeding from the head than suffer through the evil demon cock named "The Brick Dollhouse".

Now, I've seen films that were complete and utter failures before. We all have. But most films are usually failures on artistic or moral grounds. "The Brick Dollhouse" falls into a thankfully rare third category: Like "Zero in and Scream" and "Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy" before it, this film is a failure on the most basic level of cinema. It simply cannot be called a movie except in the sense that it's comprised of a series of moving pictures. To call it a failure of artistic intentions would be to suggest that it had such intentions to begin with. Critics bemoan the lazy, cynical, no-brainer ripoff summer-movie actionthons of today, but even something like "Bad Boys II" has nothing on the breathtaking contempt for the audience a film like "The Brick Dollhouse" displays. This film was made to cheat people out of their money, plain and simple. No care or effort went into it -- it's product meant to fill out the lower half on a drive-in double bill. Observe:

- The film runs 57 minutes and is ostensibly concerned with the shooting death of a stripper. Of those 57 minutes, maybe 15 is spent on the framing device (including an insultingly simple wrapup) and the rest is nudie-cutie footage. However, no attempt to make any of it sexy or erotic has been made. At one point, we watch a character shower, dress, undress and redress... in real time from one fixed medium-length shot. I don't know about any of you, but to me there ain't nothing sexy about that. There's a point where nudity, when handled incorrectly, stops being indecent (and thus exciting) and starts being just another fact of life: Here I am, here is my body, here is what I look like unclothed.

- The framing device doesn't even make sense: There's a detective interviewing the roommates of the dead woman, and when they all go to tell about what they knew about her, the film jumps to flashbacks... of events that have nothing to do with anything other than they show girls partying and getting naked.

- The wrapup seems to happen almost by accident. What happens is one character whom we've seen maybe three minutes of wanders into frame and spits out what could be very loosely interpreted as a monotone attempt at a confession, then he's hauled away and it's over. Pick up your popcorn and go home, there's nothing else to see here.

- Near the end of the film, there's a scene that has the sound of crickets chirping on the soundtrack, indicating it's taking place at night. Problem is, whoever was supposed to put the day-for-night filter on the camera plum forgot about it, as we can see a shining sun and blue skies. A couple minutes later, it happens again.

I could go on, but I think I've gotten enough out of my system. (It's not like you're likely to see this anyway.) This is godawful even by the low low standards of '60s sexploitation. It may indeed be the worst example of the genre I've seen so far, and for those of you acquainted with David Friedman, that's a sad statement indeed. What scares me is the possibility that I may one day be burned even worse by this genre. God, I hope not.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Alfred Kinsey was a zoologist at the University of Indiana who, in the 1930's, began his career methodically studying gall wasps. He then moved into sex research on humans. And not the kind of sex research on humans included in most of the movies I see. The dull, interview-heavy kind.
Basically, Kinsey interviewed thousands of subjects about their sex lives, and was shocked (shocked!) to discover that most American males regularly masturbated, had extra-marital affairs and pre-marital sex, and even homosexual encounters.

According to the new Bill Condon film that bears his name, Kinsey viewed sex methodically, coldly, the way any scientist views the subject of his intense study. He loved his wife, but cheated on her repeatedly, with both men and women, including some of his younger male colleagues. He was also prone to sexual experimentation that might strike even open-minded, easy-going, non-Puritanical persons such as myself as extreme. Examples, you say? Well, how about puncturing his foreskin to see what it would feel like? That do anything for you?

Based on my description, you might think Kinsey a strange movie, and you would be absolutely correct. It's strange, and difficult, and unfortunately not as interesting as it should be, considering how often people are openly discussing vaginas. Most of my problem with the film lies with Liam Neeson, who plays Kinsey as a sort of bizarre, perverted dork, utterly unable to connect to any of the people around him and yet obsessed with human sexuality.

Neeson already has a kind of large, lumbering, awkward presence in some films. It's why I thought he was all wrong to play a smooth, in-tune-with-nature Jedi (one of the rare instances when I was displeased to be proved correct), and why he was a natural choice for Condon when casting the film. But, he overplays the part. His Alfred Kinsey is so disconnected from reality that it's very difficult to follow him as a lead character. More examples? Okay, well, he encourages his male staff members to sleep with each other and one another's wives, and is later surprised (even dumbfounded) and disappointed when this causes tension in the office. I mean, he's a sex professor, you know? Imagine Dr. Ruth giving that kind of advice.

All of these sequences struck me as particularly odd, considering that the real Kinsey must have had quite a way with people. He managed to get grants for his sex research from the Rockefellar Foundation, built a community of aides and graduate students who traveled with him around the country conducting his research, and, of course, managed to get thousands of strangers to tell him they liked vibrating anal thumbs.

Yet, watching Neeson ramble endlessly about the minutae of his collected sexual histories (around the dinner table, no less!) it's hard to imagine anyone could tolerate this guy for extended periods of time. Provided, of course, they were not currently contestant's on MTV's hot new game show, "You've Got a Friend."

It doesn't help matters that Laura Linney, one of my favorite working actresses, plays Kinsey's wife, Clara. She's wonderful as always, providing Clara with an earthy kind of humanity that is the stark opposite of Neeson's calculated nerdiness. We're supposed to be touched by her devotion to this brilliant genius, but instead we're wondering how she tolerates living with such a creepy bore.

It's the same problem I had with the "courtship" scenes of Ron Howard's abysmal A Beautiful Mind. We're supposed to be taken by Jennifer Connelly's ability to see through Russell Crowe's quirks to his inner beauty, but instead we just think there must be something seriously wrong with this girl, because this dude is a SPAZ. I can think of plenty of movies about weirdos or losers who earn the love and devotion of the pretty girl, but generally the losers earn the hottie through hard work, devotion, sweetness or some 80's-teen kind of magic.

Other than the forementioned issues with Neeson's performance, everything goes along alright for a while, but the movie kind of falls apart after a stronger initial hour. John Lithgow has a nice scene about an hour in as Kinsey's stern, sex-and-God-fearing father, who provides valuable insight to his son while giving an account of his own sexual history. After he exits, it's all downhill.

There's a pretty dreadful scene with Bill Sadler as a sick child-molesting sex-crazed maniac who provides Kinsey with a particularly vile narrative for his records. I think it's supposed to demonstrate the end result of Kinsey's methods: if he is to study the sexual behavior of all people without bias, his research must therefore include even those with the most aberrant behavior. And to study and report such behavior grants it some level of legitimacy, at least statistically. His otherwise permissive attitude towards what was considered outrageous by a prudish society, then, has to have limits.But, really, the scene plays as exploitation. It's gross and disturbing, and not in that good way, like, say, Barbed Wire Dolls. In that uncomfortable way.

Then, there's some tear-jerking melodramatic nonsense with Lynn Redgrave. It's really embarrassing stuff that I won't reveal, because I've already told you way too much about this movie. But it's surprising coming from Condon, whose Gods and Monsters was so restrained. That movie was tender and affectionate without being pedantic. If you're going to check out a Bill Condon movie, I recommend that one highly.