S-H-A-M-E-L-E-S-S

A Dirty Shame
I’ve been a fan of John Waters ever since my friend Dan sent me a video copy of Desperate Living back when I was in high school. Dan was a huge John Waters fan, and after experiencing the total fucked-up-ness of Desperate Living, I had to see more.

I’m not sure what order I watched things in, but I have since seen Pink Flamingos, Polyester, Serial Mom, Pecker, Cecil B. DeMented, and, now, A Dirty Shame. I guess you could say that ever since the totally grotesque and unbelievable chicken-fucking of Desperate Living, I’ve been addicted.

So as for A Dirty Shame, I’m not going to do a full-fledged Jason-type review. All I can say is that it is great and that, depending on who you are, I recommend it. This film is definitely “John Waters-esque.” For sure more so than his recent movies like Cecil B. DeMented and Pecker. Very disgusting and sexual. And, in a way, somewhat political. I’m not sure how, but Waters totally confronts the anti-sex movement (is there one, though??), but I’m not sure how.

I want to say that A Dirty Shame exposes hypocrisy or something, but I’m not sure it does. If nothing else, it strongly emphasizes the fact that everyone is a sexual creature and that no fetish (i.e. humping strangers’ legs, vomiting on your partner, rubbing food on your “private parts,” getting off on licking dirt, etc.) is too abnormal or strange and that everyone has a little kinkiness in them.

This is, obviously, a very pro-sex movie, but more than that, it’s a pro-sex movie! I mean, more than sex as something to turn people on and get you off, but sex as in a way to get in touch with your inner-self and explore life and all of that. Although there is nudity and “disgusting stuff” in the film, I actually think it’s pretty tame and that its message is pretty simple: Sex is good.

I wish I could say that Walters’s is pushing all sorts of boundaries, but I’m not sure he is. I think I’ve read this in other reviews, but in an age of cinema where sex is as common as condoms, it’s hard to be really artistic and edgy. Sure, A Dirty Shame is way more out-there sexually than Pecker and Cecil B. Demented, but it’s still sorta cute in its message. And not too shocking. Nothing violent, nothing too extreme — just good, ol’ fashioned kinky sex!

Damn Dirty Apes

Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes
Surprisingly enough (to me, at least), I just now watched Planet of the Apes (the original 1968 version). Why do I think this is surprising? Well, I like sci-fi stuff in general, and Planet of the Apes is such a classic, but oh well. I’m not sure why I’ve never watched it.

My initial reaction was: Why did Charlton Heston choose to be in this movie? Maybe I am reading too much into/stereotyping his NRA activism, but I always figured he was a super conservative person — and i still do assume that. But if that is the case, why has he selected roles in movies like Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green which have fairly progressive social themes. My guess: He is oblivious.

(Side note: When I watched The Celluloid Closet there was a discussion of the homoerotic aspects of Ben-Hur [I cannot remember who discussed it which is why I wrote that statement passively — to conceal my ignorance which I just now admitted to] and how they intentionally had one of the actors act sort of “gay” toward Charlton but without telling Charlton so he wouldn’t freak out. So this little story also supports my theory that Charlton is oblivious to the social message of these sci-fi dystopic films.)

My second reaction was: Wow, this film could be presenting a pretty progressive message. I love the idea of doing a complete 180 on subjectivity and not-so-obliquely setup the apes to represent humans in order to question/critique the way “civilized” humans treat others (be it animals, apes, people of other skin color, etc.). Further, the film also does some pretty serious questioning of religion and faith and addresses scientific issues such as evolution (which still seems to be a hot topic).

At the end of the film, however, I didn’t feel that the story was overly preachy or advocated one philosophy over another. It showed the “danger” of scientific inquiry (i.e. do we really want to know about the past; are we really ready to believe the darker aspects of our history) as well as the “danger” of blind faith (i.e. why is questioning and presenting new ideas automatically called heresy; why does faith prevent us from acknowledging this “animal” as sentient).

I’m not sure I want to see the sequels to the film — from my brief research it sounds like they deviate from these social issues. But I am intrigued to check out the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes by Tim Burton (which is actually why I wanted to watch the original in the first place). I’ve heard that Burton’s has a different “twist” ending, so I am curious to see what that might be.

Dead or Alive OR ABSURD?

Capture from the finale of Dead or Alive
While watching Dead or Alive by Takashi Miike (who also did Izo, Audition, Visitor Q, etc.), I kept saying to myself, “Hmm, this is missing the absurdity that I love so much in Miike’s films!”

Then I got to the ending. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but it’s great. And absurd. And very Miike (as far as I can tell based on the three or so movies of his that I have seen already). Good times. I do recommend.

Moloch!

The Machine-Man and Rotwang
I watched the Kino Video version of Metropolis last night and I have to say that it is one of the best film restorations I’ve ever seen. The quality of this version of Metropolis rivals a lot of the Criterion Collection DVDs I’ve watched. For a movie made in 1927, the print was super-crisp (almost too crisp, if that is possible). In addition to the great quality, this version claims to be the most complete version of the film and even where the original negatives have been lost (so as to create missing scenes), the creators of the restoration included brief textual explanations about the missing sequences.

As for the film itself, I wish I wouldn’t have waited to long to watch it. I mentioned the Time magazine “9 Great Movies From Nine Decades” during my review of Bad Education, and while Talk To Her was the most recent (for 2000s), Metropolis was the first (for 1920s). Apparently that article has been on my mind lately.

Anyway, I totally understand why Metropolis would make the list — the movie was brilliant.

From my understanding, the lasting legacy of Metropolis has been its dystopian vision of the future, but I think the social and feminist themes it raises are also worthy of praise. This was quite a progressive film — and if I can be saying that in 2005, I wonder how it was received in 1927. (Perhaps it is more shocking now since, in my opinion, we have, in many ways, become more conservative in the past 20 years or so — maybe in 1927 people expected films to be more artistic and abstract and tackle philosophical and political issues…)

I definitely want to watch the film again, preferably with commentary. Since the film is silent, I can imagine that having people talk during it would help keep my attention — though I will say that the score for this film is quite gripping, and I am fairly certain that John Williams ripped off a few of the musical themes for Star Wars.

Sometimes when I watch these old “classic” movies, I do so with a little resentment — why should I have to watch such and such film if I want to consider myself to be someone who really appreciates good film. And why should I believe some old critics as to what makes good film and take their recommendations seriously since they tend to hate films I love such as Doom Generation and Lost Highway (okay, I guess some critics do like Lost Highway, but hopefully my point remains…). With Metropolis, I must admit that the critics and history of film criticism are correct — this is a great, must-see, important, artistic film.

Quizàs, Quizàs, Quizàs

Zahara
I now know of at least two instances when songs appear in films by Wong Kar-Wai and Pedro Almodóvar. It seems that Almodóvar is borrowing from WKW, but I can’t say for sure. All I know is that “Cucurrucucú Paloma” showed up in both Happy Together (WKW) and Talk To Her (Almodóvar) and that WKW used Nat King Cole’s version of “Quizàs, Quizàs, Quizàs” in In The Mood For Love and Almodóvar had a drag queen mimicking Sara Montiel perform it in Almodóvar’s latest, Bad Education (Spanish title: La mala educación).

I really am not sure what is going on with this back-and-forth, and I somehow doubt that Almodóvar and WKW know each other, but I love the fact that these two “difficult” and visually stunning directors are similarly inspired by the same music.

I hate to admit that I wasn’t very impressed with Talk To Her — generally considered to be Almodóvar’s masterpiece and one of the best films of the decade (according to Time magazine). Honestly, I think the movie was too hyped up for me and I plan to revisit it in the future.

Prior to Talk To Her, Almodóvar created All About My Mother, a movie I do genuinely love. It takes a lot for a movie to make me cry, but I vaguely recall crying when main character’s son is killed within the first fifteen minutes of the movie. That says something, if you ask me.

I’m not quite sure whether I like Bad Education more than All About My Mother, but I will say (immediately after watching it) that I do like it more than Talk To Her. Like Talk To Her it has a story-within-a-story thing going on, though I think what was toyed with in Talk To Her was more fully realized and better executed in Bad Education.

Another thing I love (in case you cannot tell by the title of my blog) is the idea of doubles. Sometimes I think my desire to “double” everything makes movies seem unnecessarily complicated to me (i.e. 2046), but overall I think it makes movies much more enjoyable for me. I loved that in Bad Education there were doubles and doubles of doubles and sometimes the person you though someone was a double of was in fact the double of someone else. Although it sounds confusing, Almodóvar knows what he’s doing and the movie is shockingly easy to follow.

Seeing Bad Education inspires me to check out some of Almodóvar’s earlier films and to re-watch All About My Mother. It also makes me want to give Talk To Her another chance — maybe in a couple of months or so. I’m not yet ready to call him one of my favorite directors, but I think the possibility is there.

Join the Club and Mail Me!

Genesis in the Suicide ClubLast night I watched Suicide Club. I would place it in a genre of Japanese films (see also: Audition, Visitor Q, Izo, etc.) that are strange and shocking for the sake of being strange and shocking, but still seem to reflect on serious issues that less strange and less shocking American films delve into.

Suicide Club was sort of like a few types of films in one — although I called it a sub-genre, it really resists fitting under any genre.

The first half of the film is like a thriller/mystery: first, a group of school girls kill themselves by jumping in front of a train. The scene is totally over-the-top gory and actually rather humorous. I appreciate that style of violence in movies (ala Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill) where the blood and guts are so unrealistic that they parody the more violent and offensive Hollywood-stylings. After that initial suicide, more follow, including a group of high school students who form a “Suicide Club” in an attempt to be more famous than the girls who jumped in front of the train. We can’t really tell what’s going through the kids’ minds, except that they suddenly think suicide is cool and have no fear of jumping off their school building.

A group of cops begin investigating the suicides — initially labeled as “accidents,” not “murders.” They receive a mysterious phone call from a woman calling herself “The Bat” who claims that a web site tracks the suicides and that each time someone kills themselves as part of the Suicide Club that a dot appears on the page — orange dot for a girl, white dot for a boy. “The Bat” doesn’t claim to be involved with the site — she just finds it interesting.

Other weird things happen (a girl’s boyfriend kills himself by jumping off a building and he hits her ear [??? yes — her ear!], the cops discover a coil made up of pieces of human flesh, one of the cop’s children love the song “Mail Me!” by the group Dessert, the cops receive another mysterious call from a young boy or girl, the cops get a tip to look at the 6th chain, the family of one of the cops’ all commit suicide, etc.) and then “The Bat” and her friend are abducted.

Then the movie goes all-out strange. “The Bat”‘s abductors are a gang that calls themselves the Suicide Club, which is lead by a flamboyantly bizarre character named Genesis. He does a song and dance number about suicide and being lonely and wanting fame. He claims that he uses the internet to convince people to kill themselves — he doesn’t explain how, exactly, he does this, and I’m pretty sure that, as an audience, we’re supposed to be skeptical of his claims.

Eventually “The Bat” is given access to a computer and she sends an email to the police telling them where she is being held. The police arrest Genesis and his gang (Genesis notes that ever since he was a kid he’s wanted to be famous and that he is the “Charles Manson of the Information Age”). Everyone is lead to believe that with the arrest of the Suicide Club, the rash of suicides will stop.

Of course, they don’t.

The movie then shifts to follow the girlfriend whose boyfriend killed himself and hit her ear. She goes back to his apartment and notices all of the Dessert stuff he has (posters, books, ring tones, etc.). After examining one poster up closely, she decodes (via a telephone number and the word that the numbers spell) the word “suicide” being signaled by the group. She calls the number and is vaguely invited to tomorrow’s Dessert show.

Once she arrives at the stadium, things get even weirder. She finds lots of little kids who speak to her in cryptic, probably metaphoric, phrases. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that if I knew more about Japanese culture/history and some of the original language these scenes would have more meaning. Or, maybe they are intended to be oblique. I don’t know.

Ultimately, the girl basically joins the new cult (created by little kids?? so that people can connect with themselves??) and a piece of her back sliced out (so that the kids can make another one of those coils of skin). When the cop recognizes a piece of her tattoo in the newest coil, then sees her on the subway track, he assumes she is going to kill herself, but doesn’t — so Dessert and their videos and the little kids aren’t really behind all the suicides? Who knows?

The movie ends with a Dessert video about jigsaw puzzles and fitting in, which echoes a statement that Genesis made during his arrest.

Honestly, the movie was whacked but had my total attention.

One last bit: I’ve noticed that there are quite a few Japanese “horror” movies in which the internet is used to spread some sort of social virus — suicides, etc. In addition to Suicide Club, the role of the internet was sort of like Pulse, and to some extent, the idea of technology transmitting evil is also present in The Ring/Ringu. I’m guessing these films address a social anxiety (and not just unique to Japan, but the world in general) about the growth of technology or something like that. I’m sure this could make a great essay or something, but for now I’ll save it for this aside.

Bat in the Begining

Batman and Dr. Crane (Scarecrow)
Last week I saw Batman Begins: The IMAX Experience at the Pacific Science Center IMAX Theater. As far as the whole IMAX experience went, I’m not sure I would recommend it. Lately I’ve been coming to the realization that I like watching movies in my own apartment under my own conditions more than seeing them at a theatre with a huge screen, amazing sound, and lots of people surrounding me… so due to my bias, I don’t feel it’s fair for me to say, one way or the other, whether it’s worth it.

Like the IMAX experience, the movie itself left me with mixed feelings, as well.

Back when the Tim Burton version of Batman came out in 1989, I was really into it. I remember getting a comic book version of the movie and trying to use it to read more into the story (conspiracies about the Joker, etc. etc.) and to give things more depth. It was one of the few “summer blockbuster” movies that I remember as a kid. I even had the promotional tie-in big plastic cup from Burger King.

I don’t remember as much fanfare about Batman Returns, though I do remember liking it. During junior high and high school went through a Tim Burton and Danny Elfman phase so that added to my love of Batman Returns — plus it was really dark and I liked that.

As for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, I don’t remember any specific details. I just know that I loved U2’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” theme for Batman Forever (and bought the soundtrack, which is totally amazing, by the way, due to that song) and the Smashing Pumpkin’s “The End is the Beginning is the End” for Batman & Robin.

Point of the story: I loved the first Batman movie. I loved the darkness of the first two. I loved the music in the last two. I’m not anywhere near a hardcore Batman fan. But I have seen all of the movies. I guess when I was a kid I did watch quite a few episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series” after school.

My biggest problem with Batman Begins was the lack of Elfman’s dark, brooding “Batman Theme” music. Not that cheesy music from the ’60s show, but the gothic, triumphant theme from the ’90s incarnation of Batman. I honestly cannot remember if they used it in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, but I really felt like Batman Begins needed it. The music for the movie was overall rather unnoticeable — which can be good in some movies, but bad in an epic like Batman.

The pacing of the movie was strange, too. In a way, it was three movies in one: Bruce Wayne’s training in Asia and the whole Ra’s Al Ghul villain, the back story about Wayne’s childhood and his return to Gotham and his eventual transformation into Batman, and the confrontation with Ra’s Al Ghul for the second time via a story with the Scarecrow via a story with Carmine Falcone. Overall, I think the story was rather complex and layered (for a movie like this), and I was really impressed with it.

Personally, I wasn’t very interested in the Asia bit. I loved the back story involving his childhood (because I love that sort of mythology stuff), but I could’ve done without the Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) love interest. The Scarecrow story was great, and I wish it wouldn’t have been overshadowed at the end by Ra’s Al Ghul.

Also, since I am reading Foucault’s Madness and Civilization, my interest in anything having to do with psychology, psychiatry, insanity, asylums, etc. has been very piqued, so the fact that one of the villains was an evil psychiatrist overseeing a madhouse was totally awesome. I could try to apply some of Foucault’s research into the social implications of madness, but I will wait until I watch the movie again…

As for the acting, I thought Christian Bale did a great job as Batman. Ever since reading Salon.com‘s “The Magic Christian,” which essentially argues that Bale is the best actor alive today, I’ve been more aware of his range and trusting of his roles.

Finally, I have to say that if the sequel to Batman Begins (presumably continuing this “franchise” of Bale as Batman and Christopher Nolan directing) has the Joker as a villain, I might be really sad. Jack Nicholson was brilliant as the Joker in the 1989 Batman and it would suck to see that iconic idea of the Joker replaced. (Side note: in second grade I dressed up as that version of the Joker for Halloween — that’s how much I loved him.)

One last note (which I’m not sure where to fit anywhere): The coloring of the film threw me off. The whole brownish orange tone was not how I pictured the Batman world. It felt too organic. In fact, the entire palette of the film was rather earthy — from Batman I imagine a world more industrial (probably due to Burton’s influence).

Overall, after seeing five Batman movies now, I really want to take bits and pieces of them to create the ultimate Batman franchise. I would have Burton and Nolan co-directing somehow, I would have Bale play Batman (maybe Keaton could take over one Batman gets a little older?), I would have Danny Elfman do the music, but also have a soundtrack that featured pop music from the likes of U2 and the Smashing Pumpkins, and I would limit each film to one villain so the film could really focus on the intricacies of that villain (since most comic book villains are rather complex, I think?). I know most of these “asks” aren’t possible, but it’s fun to imagine nonetheless.

Closer

Clive Owen, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, and Jude Law in Closer
Watching the movie Closer tonight seemed to tie together a lot of thoughts I’ve been having about various things lately. Allow me to elaborate (in a bit).

First, I’ll say that I loved the movie. I wasn’t sure whether I would, given that the movie had some non-hype hype… that is, although I guess it wasn’t a huge mainstream success, it seemed to do pretty well in the theatres (i.e. it wasn’t a total indie art film). Though, after seeing that this is the director that did Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (which, yes, I really love), now I understand why the movie was so good.

As for the acting, after seeing Revenge of the Sith the other day, it was nice to be reminded that Natalie Portman (Alice) can act (which, I know, is probably the #1 cliché written by critics reviewing both Closer and Garden State, but whatever) and I forgot how much I love Julia Roberts’ (Anna) voice. Oh, and I loved Natalie Portman’s hair and how it changed so often.

I can’t/won’t say much about Clive Owen (Larry) and Jude Law (Dan). I guess their performances were okay (though Clive Owen was nominated for his role, so others must have been impressed). I didn’t like their characters at all, and I thought it was bizarre that both of the male characters were British, but oh well.

In regard to the two themes that this movie touched on that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

Love as a Coincidence/Temporal Anomaly

I think 2046 really got me started on this whole thought process, but Closer really reassured me that maybe all love is is timing. All of the times that the four characters meet one-on-one are all a matter of chance — Dan seeing Alice get hit by a car, Dan meeting Anna at a photo shoot, Dan tricking Larry into meeting Anna, and Larry finding Alice at a strip club. Nobody had a lot in common with each other. Love was just something that happened to them.

When Dan in Closer and Chow in 2046 try to “outsmart” love, or don’t really accept the reality of it, they end up getting burned. Dan is a hypocrite in Closer for cheating on Alice with Anna and then getting angry at Anna for sleeping with Larry again. Then after ruining his relationship with Alice only to ruin the subsequence relationship with Anna, he assumes that Alice will always love him and that he can return to her. In the end, however, he’s left alone and rather pathetic. I wouldn’t say that Chow is necessarily pathetic, but the fact he never gets over Su Lizhen from In the Mood for Love and doesn’t realize the temporality of the relationship leaves him, in the end, alone.

Jude Law as Dan and Natalie Portman as Alice

Wanting All the Details After Being Cheated On

When I re-watched Short Cuts the other week, the scene in which Julianne Moore’s character’s (Marian) husband Ralph questions her about a time years ago when she got with some artist named Mitchell Andrews reminded me of something that has bothered me about men for a long time: whenever they are cheated on, they want all the details, as explicitly as possible along with a comparison of “was he better than me?”

After seeing Short Cuts, I actually started a post and saved it in draft so I could work on a larger post about this idea, but Closer totally broke it into the open.

When Anna first cheats on Larry, he wants all the details (“Did he make you cum?”, “How many times?”, “Was he better than me?”, etc.) when she decides to tell him that her and Dan had been seeing each other for a year. Likewise, when, at the end, Alice tells Dan that she slept with Larry, Dan demands details about their encounter.

In both movies, the men seem to want to know everything. Also, in both movies, the women don’t want to reveal what happened. They believe that either the details don’t matter or don’t want the men they are with to know in the first place. But, as seen in Closer via the actions of Larry and Dan, when they don’t know the details it drives them nuts, and then when they do get the details, it drives them more nuts.

I know there are tons more movies where this happens (sorta in Lost Highway when Peter demands that Alice tells him about how she met Mr. Eddy), and I am also sure there are cases where the women want to know everything from their men. If anyone has more examples, that would be awesome.

From a critical theory standpoint, I would situate this phenomenon into my one of my favorite topics: the presence of an absence. The absence, in this case, is the knowledge about the hookup. The men know that it exists, but they don’t know anything about it. Instead of being filled with concrete details, the absence remains an empty shell into which they can project whatever they want. And the fact that it remains in such a state, means that they can project the most extraordinary and bizarre details into the situation. I’m sure that the men, castrated by the presence of the unknown, imagine the sex to be mind-blowingly good. Even when they women assure them that they regret the hookup or that it was only sex, the men are not satisfied. They hope that, somehow, by gaining knowledge, they will be able to face the unknown and turn the absence into something they can understand and reject and be angry about.

From a non-critical common-sense standpoint, I would situate this phenomenon into one of my least-favorite topics: competition/jealousy. I’m sure this is a more easily understandable concept, so if my presence of an absence description is whack, just realize it’s a fancy way of saying jealousy.

Overall, Closer was a great movie. I’m not sure about all these reviews commenting on it’s explicit and “brutally honest” portrayal of sex (compared to other films I’ve watched, it was tame), but whatever. The acting was great, the directing (I imagine) was also superb, and the writing was “write”-on. I would love to see the stage version of Closer if ever given the chance. I also love that the film helped me go deeper into some things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately — it got me closer to coming up with some more solid conclusions and more thought-out studies.

It’s All Lies!

J and Y having sex
I’ve watched some pretty sexual, taboo-breaking movies in my day (The Dreamers, In the Realm of the Senses, Visitor Q, etc.), so I would say that I’m pretty used to explicit and strange sex on film. Now I can add Lies (Korean title: Gojitmal) to my list of sexually-intense movies.

I would also add that all of these movies (in addition to tamer American ones such as 9 1/2 Weeks and Secretary to the list) seem to have the same moral message: If sex becomes the primary focus of your life and you forget about things such as your job and friends, only trouble will come. In the end, it is impossible to sustain a hyper-passionate physical relationship with someone… So while these movies may seem subversive and whatnot on the outside, I think that they ultimately suggest a more conservative message and theme.

That said, on to Lies:

This movie was based on (what is, as far as I can tell) an autobiographical story that takes place in South Korea and is about two lovers involved in an sado-masochistic relationship. The man, J, is 38 years old and married (though his wife is a non-character, as she is off-screen in Paris all the time — except for J’s infrequent visits to her). The woman, Y, is an 18 year old school girl.

The film opens with the director telling (in a documentary-like format) that the film is based on a story and that he wanted to make it into a movie — or something like that. When I first saw this part, I wasn’t sure if it was a making-of before the film started or whether it was part of the movie or a disclaimer. To be honest, it made me uncomfortable — a perfect setup for a movie like Lies.

Y meets J because Y’s friend Woori somehow knows J (it’s never clear how they met, though it is clear that they didn’t have sex). Y speaks to J on the phone and is so enamored by his voice that she tells him that she wants to fuck him. She then takes the train to wherever he lives and they awkwardly meet.

Again, the film cuts-away to a documentary-styled interview with either Y or the actress who plays Y. An off-screen male voice asks her how she feels about doing the film. She says that she doesn’t like to be naked. She also says that regardless of her fears, she will go ahead with the movie because she doesn’t want to let the crew down and ruin the movie.

Then the interview ends and we return to the film.

Back in the motel room, J and Y begin to have sex. When they first kiss, it’s somewhat disgusting and juvenile. J uses way too much tongue and Y obviously doesn’t know what she’s doing (as a virgin, I’m guessing she hasn’t ever kissed, either?) — or maybe they are both uncomfortable? They make it over to the bed quickly. J asks Y if she is sure that she wants to do this, and she says yes — he is making her feel good.

The first time they have sex, he penetrates three holes: first her vagina, then her mouth, and finally her asshole. The sex during the first encounter is the most explicit in the film. There is no background music. All we see and hear is them having sex. He licks her body, he eats her pussy, he licks her ass — we see it all. We even see his penis, which is pretty rare for any movie containing nudity — and we see it often. His penis isn’t present in one dominating and dramatic shot (like penises usually are when they appear in film), but it’s soft and very typical looking. I was, obviously, surprised by this.

Also, at one point during the sex scene, while J is licking Y’s armpit (and he tells her that it doesn’t smell), there is a strange self-aware moment where the director (or someone) says to J: “She doesn’t smell, like the devil. Maybe she is the devil?” The whole thing was very weird, and isn’t really addressed anywhere else in the film. It’s worth mentioning and noticing, though, because I do think that one of the goals of the film was to blur the boundaries between art film, pornographic film, and documentary.

Following the sex, there is an “interview” where J asks Y why she wanted to have sex with him. Her answer was maybe one of the most shocking parts of the movie: she explains that both of her sisters lost their virginity through rape. She reasoned that she didn’t want to lose her virginity by rape, so she would choose her first sexual partner. Wow. Just the reality of thinking that way struck me. What an awful way to decide to have sex for the first time.

After their first encounter, Y returns home and is beat-up by her friend Woori, who is very jealous. Eventually they make up, and Y tells Woori all of the explicit details of her sexual encounter with J.

So turned on by their first meeting, J and Y continue meeting. Eventually, during one of the times J is fucking her up the ass, he slaps her. The narrator (who is sometimes J and sometimes the director [I think?]) notes that J used to slap his wife until she said she had enough of it and moved to Paris. Unlike J’s wife, however, Y seems to take pleasure from J’s slaps.

The slaps quickly escalate to whipping and flagellation. Originally, J always takes the sadist role and Y takes the masochistic one. I guess you could say that the pain inflicted during the sex escalates. Y has some pretty nasty cuts and scars on her ass and thighs. We also learn that J used to whip his wife and ultimately wanted to turn her into a sculpture basically. That is when she left for Paris.

Although their relationship starts with Y always taking the masochistic role, the tables turn and J is eventually the one getting whipped by Y. The switch is prompted by Y making a comment that she doesn’t take pleasure from the whipping, per say, but rather in the fact that it gives J pleasure — giving him pleasure gives her pleasure. When Y whips J, however, it is obvious that receiving the pain gives him pleasure — not the fact that Y enjoys giving him pain.

Their sexual exploits continue until J has to return to Paris to visit his wife. When he returns three months later, Y reveals that while he was away she gave another man a blowjob. When he gets angry, she argues that she missed his cock and that he was fucking his wife anyway so why could he have sex and she couldn’t? Finally, she suggests that he should punish her for her transgressions.

The scene that follows is, I think, the most violent and difficult to watch scene of the film. When she bends over to receive a whipping, J slaps her in a very non-sensual way (yes, there is a difference). He is taking out his anger and frustration — not trying to enjoy pleasure or give her pleasure. Y is privy to this fact. She cries out and falls over and tries to block the whipping with her hands. He continues to beat her despite her pleas for him to stop and her cries of pain.

After beating her, J proceeds to rape her anally. When she begs that he stops and warns that she needs to take a shit, he continues anyway. As warned, she defecates while he’s fucking her. He takes his dick out and tells her to suck it and clean it off. She hesitates, but obliges, fearful, I’m sure, by his new turn toward violence. After giving a blowjob to his shit-cover cock, J tells her not to swallow and to kiss her. A narrator’s voiceover tells us that he (J) realized why shit was disgusting: it didn’t have a taste (sweet, spicy, salty, bitter, etc.).

The next scene finds J and Y in a subway acting flirtatious and lovey with each other again. Y tells J that she now realizes that he truly loves her. In what has to be one of the best lines ever, she says: “I know now you really love me. Who else would eat my shit?” (or something to that effect). So ask yourself, if someone tells you that they love you, can you really be sure until they eat your shit?

From that point on, basically, J and Y tumble into a life of nonstop sex. J looses his house and spends all of his money paying for places for him and Y to fuck. Y drops out of school and abandons her family. The two of them live only to have sex with each other — nothing else matters.

This path, as I mentioned early in this review, is not sustainable, and ultimately things don’t really work out. I won’t go into too much detail since it’s interesting to see what happens (and, really, from the beginning you must know that they can’t spend the rest of their lives fucking without abandon). I will say, however, that the end, for me, was pretty disappointing. In the last scene we find out what the title of the film, Lies, refers to, and it isn’t deep or profound or very meaningful.

Overall, I think Lies is worth watching because it’s so shocking. The first sex scene is like nothing I’ve seen in contemporary film — it is explicit and awkward: not sexy at all. There are also a few intertextual moments (like the interview of the actress playing Y and the director and the “The devil doesn’t smell” comment) that really force the audience to ask whether the movie is exploitative or what.

You Spun Me Right Round, Baby Right Round

John Leguiazmo in Spun
I’ve been Spun. Jonas Ã…kerlund‘s “ode to crystal meth” (I’m not sure if “ode” is the proper word…), Spun, is the junkiest of all druggie movies I’ve seen (and I consider myself a fan of drug movies…). Not only did the movie totally make me feel like I was on crystal, but it also made me want to be on crystal, which I’m not sure is quite the goal of the movie. (Which is why I initially called the movie an “ode” to the drug.)

Prior to seeing Spun, I only knew of Ã…kerlund due to his music video projects, most notably “Try, Try, Try” by the Smashing Pumpkins (he also did “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera and “American Life” by Madonna [among others] — so it’s safe to say that he’s into controversial videos). On the Smashing Pumpkins’ Greatest Hits Video Collection there is quite a bit about the video. It basically follows two heroin junkies in Amsterdam (or somewhere in Europe). The DVD contains the “music video” version of the song as well as an extended “director’s cut” (or short film version) that goes more in-depth with the couples lives. The video is extremely graphic and realistic — and, as I recall, there were, of coures, issues with it being played on MTV and other music video channels.

While most art relating to drug-use comes off moralistic and very anti-drug, I would have to say that Ã…kerlund’s stuff is rather sympathetic — and I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. The “Try, Try, Try” video really captures the genuine love the two addicts have for each other and how scoring becomes about trying to make the other happy and whatnot. One of the scenes from Spun that I found really interesting was toward the end when Ross and Nikki were in the car on some all-night drive and having a meth-induced conversation — they were really connecting at this strange, primal level that I think only comes via drug use. I’ve never really seen anything like that captured on film before because it seems to be one of the most “positive” (eh, again, I hesitate on the word usage, here…) aspects of using drugs.

Another thing I found really interesting about Spun was the white trash aspect. I’ve realized that my perception of crystal meth is rather skewed because I consider it to be a party drug, when it originated as a “blue collar”/”working class” drug, so I wasn’t expecting the movie to be about a bunch of really ugly, nasty looking people using the drug. In most drug movies I’ve seen, the users start off looking really attractive and eventually end up looking gross by the end — but from the very begining, the characters in Spun were nasty.

I also have to comment on the cast of the movie: it was bizzare. First, we have Jason Schwartzman playing Ross. Now I’ve only seen Schwartzman in Rushmore and I Heart Huckabees, where he plays basically the same type of character (nerdy, off-kilter, etc.). Well, he plays the same type of character in Spun, except this time he’s a meth addict… oh, and he likes to have freaky sex with strippers. Seriously: bizzare. Then we have Brittany Murphy playing Nikki. I guess her playing this role isn’t so bizzare because, to me, she looks like some drug addict (all thin, sunken face, etc.): so nevermind the fact she’s in it. But then John Leguizamo player “Spider” Mike. Now the first time I saw him in a movie was Summer of Sam, in which he plays an angry, fucked-up guy. So I’ve always thought he was twisted. But then I saw him in Moulin Rouge and Spawn and realized he was in Super Mario Brothers: The Movie and is basically considered a comedian. Well, to those who consider this guy to be a comic actor: see Spun and Summer of Sam where he plays fucked up funny guys. Anyway, Mena Suvari was also in the cast, and she looked like shit, which I wouldn’t have expected from her. But the real treat was Mickey Rourke who plays The Cook (the guy who makes all the meth). Now I know lots of critics say that ever since Nine 1/2 Weeks he’s gone downhill, but I’m not sure. This dude is deranged and it shows in movies like Spun and Sin City and even, to some extent, Once Upon a Time in Mexico. I really think Rourke has fun acting and likes to take strange roles just for the hell of it. Maybe I’m trying to give him more credit, I dunno. I just know he’s fun to watch.

So those are the “main characters” of the movie. But like any artsy/entertaining movie, this one has some interesting cameos. First we have Debbie Harry of the group Blondie playing the lesbian neighbor of Ross. I’ve only seen Debbie Harry in two roles, and they were both cameos. She also played a minor part in the movie The Fluffer, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. (When Jolie and I saw the movie, I think she was the only non-gay boy in the theatre). In addition to Debbie Harry, Ron Jeremy of pornography (and Surreal Life Season Two) fame plays the bartender at a strip club. Ohh but it gets stranger because Billy Corgan (from the Smashing Pumpkins) plays a doctor. Oh, and Billy also does the music for the film, including a few songs with vocals. I never associate Billy’s soft, feminine voice with crystal meth use, but whatever.

So overall, I think the movie was decent, but I’m not sure about its message — if it even had one. Rather than being grossed out or greatly disturbed, the movie entertained me and sort of made me laugh. The whole cameo-filled thing made the movie a lot less serious than it could have been. The acting was good, but I maybe have issues with fairly well-known actors parodying/playing/pretending to be white trash crystal meth users, but whatever — that’s film for you.