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Retrospective Look: Oscar-Winning ’12 Years A Slave’ Review

Retrospective Look: Oscar-Winning ’12 Years A Slave’ Review

Retrospective Look: ’12 Years A Slave’ Movie Review

Steve McQueen’s Oscar winning 12 Years A Slave is based on a book by former slave Solomon Northrup, which is based on events in his life. The piece takes place from 1841-53. Northrup is a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery for, as the title suggests, 12 long and torturous years. The film is an unflinching piece of art sparing the audience of little notions of the grotesque nature of slavery in the time period, while amazingly only hinting at the despicable acts that were committed to slaves over time.

Solomon is captured by two travelling artists who use him for his considerable musical skills for a week, give him money, get him drunk and after nurturing him through throwing up say “there is nothing more we can do for him.” The multi-weighted meaning of this line suggests that he will soon become a slave, the captors having done their part to give him a good time, use him and provide comfort for him in his debauched state, meanwhile he leaves a family of three and life of freedom behind.

As Northrup, Chiwetel Ejiofor was certainly deserving of his nominations as he carries nearly every scene of the film. You can see his posture and demeanor change from tall standing free man to a slouching whipping boy for plantation owners. His resolve is reflected in his eyes, which McQueen fortunately captures often enough to stir us beyond the chilling events of the story.

12 years pics

There are no false notes from the Oscar-nominated Ejiofor. Great work.

Brad Pitt, smartly cast as a Canadian man rather than American, with different notions of what laws and being a man mean, offers a pivotal cog in Solomon’s life. Paul Giammatti (slave trader), Paul Dano (the pitch perfect slave runner – a man with a face born to do this type of piece sadly), Michael K. Williams (miniscule slave role for talented actor) and Michael Fassbender (as a drunk, maniacal plantation owner) all help round out the ensemble. That goes without mentioning Oscar-winning Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, a talented cotton picker who serves as a sexual haven and routine torture victim in the film. (Note: She was excellent though doesn’t have a huge role, but is given the type of character that awards voters love to root for). This is top-flight casting for a film of this caliber.

McQueen, who helmed the critical import darling Hunger and the top-notch sexual addiction piece Shame, departs a bit from his past efforts to make something oddly at once more commercially acceptable while still being within his zone of boundary pushing. It’s a worthy addition to his expanding oeuvre. 12 Years A Slave takes no prisoners and should be commended for showing us the wretched past of our history in America. It’s a maddening and challenging film and essentially a must-see.

 

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Scarlett Johansson’s Literally Killer Body Stars in ‘Under The Skin’: A Movie Review

Scarlett Johansson’s Literally Killer Body Stars in ‘Under The Skin’: A Movie Review

Scarlett Johansson’s Literally Killer Body Stars in ‘Under The Skin’: A Movie Review

“Under the Skin” and the Sexualization of Scarlett

The opening essay in Chuck Klosterman’s 2006 collection, IV, is about an interview the author (him, not me. I only refer to myself as I, me or my (hell, you got three examples in the last sentence and a half)) did for Esquire with Britney Spears. The year was 2003, and only 36 hours prior to the interview, Spears had announced that she had sex with Justin Timberlake when she was 18. Prior to then, she was sold to the American public as the virginal sex kitten. It’s the same trick Jessica Simpson’s handlers used for their client, but to lesser success. Spears was the girl you wanted to touch, but never could. Even, supposedly, if you were her pop-star boyfriend. Strangely, with her cat (so to speak) out of the bag (she was photographed pantless for the cover), she spent the entire interview denying she was any kind of sex icon or that there was anything overtly sexual about her music, her videos or her personality. It’s impossible to believe even an infant could be less self-aware.

I happened to read this entry the day before I saw “Under the Skin,” the latest film by director Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast,” “Birth”), which stars Scarlett Johansson as an alien traipsing around Scotland in attempt to seduce men into an apparently mobile pool of liquefied blackness. If that sounds bizarre, I’m not here to dissuade you from your initial reaction. To be honest, I wouldn’t be 100% confident in the alien thing if it weren’t mentioned by other critics and there wasn’t a short shot of three pinkish lights in the sky – which you assume to be UFOs – shortly after Johansson’s character arrives on Earth. It seems like the kind of thing that would’ve been put in the press kit, just to make sure critics were certain of at least that much. It reeks of something spelled out in a way the film never bothers – nor needs – to do.

The extraterrestrial Johansson roams around the Scottish country- and city-side in a white van, attempting to lure lone men into her vehicle, by doing that most stereotypical of female driver actions, asking for directions. Though that sentence would make the film seem sexist, it’s done with a nod toward empowerment. It’s like a gender-reversal version of the long-running pornographic trope of a man picking up a girl on the street to have sex with him in his van (Why do I know this? Let’s just say it’s because I’m smart). In the film, the alien Johansson at least has the decency to pull off to an abandoned home for the next step of her plan. She’s the one who wields the power.

Unlike Britney Spears, Johansson has never struggled with her sexuality, at least on-screen. In a what-would-like-to-be-believed-by-young-boys-as-apocryphal story from “The Island,” Johansson wanted to be shown nude, and it was the film’s director, Michael Bay, who dissuaded her. This is the same Michael Bay who cast a longing camera at Megan Fox’s glistening torso in “Transformers,” after an almost-certainly-not-apocryphal story about her audition for the film, in which Bay forced her to wash his Ferrari in a bikini, while he filmed the affair. Doesn’t quite sound like the same guy. Nevertheless, the first time I’d ever laid eyes on Johannsson, she was offering to give Billy Bob Thornton a blow-J (© “Superbad”) in the Coen Bros.’ “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” That’s something not even a “Slave 4 U”-era Britney was doing.

under the skin pic

One of the chief discussions around Johansson’s prior film, “Her,” was of the actress’ ability to solely use the sultry tones of her voice to convey sexiness. The simple idea of not having the easiest conveyance for this ideal – her body – at her disposal was, for most, worthy of calling for an Oscar nomination. “Under the Skin” gives her a British accent, her body back and also lets her finally do the nudity she was supposedly so willing to present to Bay’s cameras back in 2005. I normally wouldn’t note this, but I imagine it’s the producers’ only hope of competing with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and they’d want the word out if it could lead to any additional box office take. Johansson’s E.T. role allows the actress to flex every muscle she has and use every weapon at her disposal in a way she’s never fully been granted. She’s seen as a seductress. Let her seduce some men. Like Charlotte Gainsbourg seems perfect for the weird world of Lars von Trier, Johansson fits in exquisitely in the Earth of “Under the Skin,” at least as Glazer has depicted it.

The director strips the connective tissue of comprehension bare, leaving not much more than chronology. Even the male victims of the alien speak in a Scottish brogue so thick the company hired to create subtitles for home video will have difficultly deciphering the meaning of every word. But his images are both haunting and glorious. The Salvador Dali-esque inky darkness swallowing the alien’s victims, transporting them into a swimming pool, bloating – then dissolving – them of their insides is a nightmare worth reliving. However, he also manages to capture whole scenes of complete captivation, like the alien’s soft appeal to a wary, facially-disfigured young man. Though we know what the end-game-to-come is, it’s hard to not be touched with the tenderness by which she treats him. Glazer presents scenarios that will linger in the recesses of my brain like the alien’s victims in their post-seduction/pre-skinning state.

The film is based on a 2000 book of the same name, by Michael Faber. My first instinct is to try reading it to get at some answers, much like my initial reaction to seeing “2001: A Space Odyssey” was to find out what Arthur C. Clarke was willing to provide us in text that Stanley Kubrick wasn’t on film. I never did and probably never will. Only part of the reason being there apparently aren’t many more answers contained within the book. There’s a similar mysterious quality to “Under the Skin” that makes the allure of explanation potentially more fulfilling, but at the same time lending fear to knowing the perhaps better off unknowable. If things are straightforward, a work of art loses its ability to provoke debate. It’s what keeps the Mona Lisa the most discussed painting ever created (I’m not saying this film is on par with the Mona Lisa, I’m saying it’s better. Only Dan Brown has made me care about Da Vinci’s “masterpiece”).

“Under the Skin” is not an easy film. But sometimes, as a viewer, it’s good to be challenged. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Some films are slices of life. My films are slices of cake.” In this case, Glazer’s is a slice of brain you were forced to eat in a dream you once had. But it’s a dream you wish to have again. However, if you’re the type that needs the extra incentive, you get to see Scarlett’s boobs (hey, if it can be pointed out in an Academy Awards opening number, it can be pointed out here). For those crying sexism, there’s also more male genitalia between this and the “Nymphomaniac” films than I’ve seen in the mirror the past month. Though Britney Spears may have been unaware of her appeal, Johansson and “Under the Skin” know how the bills are paid and you might just get something unique out of the experience.

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Lukas Haas & Madeline Zima Led ‘Crazy Eyes’ Movie Review

Lukas Haas & Madeline Zima Led ‘Crazy Eyes’ Movie Review

Lukas Haas & Madeline Zima Led ‘Crazy Eyes’ Movie Review

Adam Sherman’s 2012 “just another love story” Crazy Eyes is a classic example of how to blow money on a film. The Lukas Haas and Madeline Zima (Californication) led vehicle is about two twenty-somethings looking for love in all the wrong places. Haas’ Zack is a millionaire with a sick bachelor pad in the Hollywood Hills. His spare empty home hides the fact that he is continuously lonely and therefore seeks out companionship from his vast network of trollops a dial away on his cell phone.

crazy eyes pics

Potentially interesting leads go to waste in the dismal ‘Crazy Eyes.’

One such dame is Rebecca (Zima), who like most young adults, particularly in a city that can be as disconnected as L.A., can’t make up her mind about what she wants. Thus, Zack and Rebecca may be perfect for eachother, if we (or they) really cared to find out. Crazy Eyes, Rebecca’s nickname as well as the title of the film, is a series of alcohol-fueled attempts to get laid between Zack and Rebecca. Zack endlessly pursues her (for no discernable reason, other than possibly physically, though he has several others to fill that void) and continuously comes up short. The film is supposed to be fun, real or both, and while it serves a slight glimpse at dating in the modern era in a big city, the script and execution is such a mess it’s a head-scratcher at best.

Crazy Eyes cost a reported $10 million to make. It’s shot in LA and New York, but with the vast majority of scenes filmed in a bar and a house, it’s hard to envision where that money went. Alas, this film is a classic example of “the script, the script, the script” rule, where no amount of money or talent can overcome a bad screenplay. The film earned a whopping $6,106. Yes, you read that right, a massive $84 earned in its “2nd weekend,” consider it a blown cost and a frustrating example of things gone terribly wrong. How the producers and filmmakers could come to an agreement that this was a quality penned film is beyond me. For those wanting to waste 90 minutes and learn what not to do in a movie, feel free to feast your own crazy eyes on this one. Ugh.

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Director Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac Vol. II’ Movie Review

Director Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac Vol. II’ Movie Review

Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac Vol. II’ Movie Review

“I am whatever you say I am.” – Eminem “The Way I Am”

A self-fulfilling prophecy is that if you believe something to be true, it will likely result that way. It’s one of the key points from “The Secret,” the video/book/key-to-happiness that was all the rage a few years ago. It gave people the belief that if they just concentrated hard enough on a certain goal, they would achieve it. The selling point behind “The Secret” concept was more wish-fulfillment, like a mental magic lamp, but the theory behind it was sound. After all, this guy wanted to go out with Drew Barrymore, so he made a movie about his pursuit called “My Date with Drew” and his stalk was granted.

When last we left Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) from “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1,” she was in a state of battered rest, sipping healing tea and recounting her sexual transgressions to the professorial Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), who happened to find her semi-lifeless body outside his abode. He listens intently to her stories, which she recalls prompted by the surroundings of the room in which Seligman has brought her to recover. However, unlike most of the men Joe has told these tales to, Seligman is not titillated. His interest is only from a theoretical standpoint, as he has no way to sexually relate. He describes himself as asexual. The Mr. Glass to Joe’s David Dunn.

But his non-arousal enables to Seligman to withhold any judgment about Joe, which is what she’s expecting. Before her, she sees a man. And men only view her as a sexual object, especially after her described experiences. She believes herself to be a bad person and is therefore pre-disposed to doing bad things. Alas, she’s just a human being.

At one point, Seligman and Joe discuss the philosophical idea of how people develop perversions. She’s looking for an answer to explain how she’s come to be. She believes it stemmed from a lonely moment lying among the grass as a twelve-year-old when she had her first orgasm and a vision of what she assumed was The Virgin Mary. Seligman assures her based on the description, the vision actually contained the wife of Emperor Claudius as well as the Great Whore of Babylon. He tells her Freud’s theory of the development of sexual perversion, that when a child is born, all kinds of perversions exist and that through childhood, some of them drop off, as opposed to the child being initially bereft and acquiring them through other means. Nevertheless, Joe insists she is a “nymphomaniac,” even against the preferred nomenclature of the leader of an employer-prescribed sex addiction meeting.

As much as the first half of the film (“Nymphomaniac Vol. 1”) belonged to the portrayer of Young Joe, Stacy Martin, “Nymphomaniac Vol. 2” is all Gainsbourg’s. If Leo DiCaprio is Martin Scorsese’s muse (yes, I’m aware that role belonged to Robert DeNiro at one point), Gainsbourg is surely director Lars von Trier’s dirty clay to mold to his basest desires (one’s that according to Freud and Seligman were probably there since birth and just never left him behind). With this now her third collaboration with von Trier, it’s practically impossible to imagine Gainsbourg as an actress in anything that’d be roundly deemed non-risque. Not that any of that matters, of course. At least not to viewers.  Though she’s nobody’s definition of “classicly beautiful” (or probably any definition of the word), her willingness to put herself in any position von Trier asks makes her indispensable in an art form where vanity typically trumps value (I’m reminded of a scene in “Project Greenlight” where Bonnie Hunt tells the director of “Stolen Summer” how she should be lit). Just because there may not have been another soul to actually take on the role of Joe, doesn’t mean Gainsbourg isn’t perfectly fit for it.

Nymphomaniac Part 2 pic

I described “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” as being as close to a romp as von Trier gets. “Vol. 2” certainly puts him back in a familiar position. If “Vol. 1” were “Under Siege,” “Vol. 2” is certainly its sequel. This is “dark territory.” At 18, Joe loses the ability to orgasm and ventures into the seedy underbelly of addiction, seeking to once again find the high of climax. She encounters a sadist named K (Jamie Bell) who delivers punishment so harsh it’s soon to be adopted up by disgruntled Marines to be administered to trouble-makers in their barracks. Their intercourse is nil. Instead, he slaps her with a leather glove stuffed with quarters, binds her to a couch and whips her ass not in the competitive way, but in the Roman-punishment-sense. He checks her for lubrication like removing a dipstick from a car’s engine and degrades her to a degree where he refers to her only as “Fido” in lieu of ever learning her name. I like to imagine K’s backstory as actually having been Billy Elliot, suffering a ballet-career-ending injury and having to toward sadism to get any satisfaction (hell, maybe that would’ve also answered the Rolling Stones’ problems).

This bout with the mar-K de sade is just a step in the dark direction on Joe’s journey to self-discovery in Seligman’s bedroom. Her stories come in the form of verbal chapters, taking cues from her surroundings. The last chapter is provoked by an image of a gun, but I’ll let her tell you that story, just as she tells it to her would-be savior.

Though the visual flourishes of “Vol. 1” didn’t entirely carry over here (aside from the dueling nymphos vision and a recurrence of the 3+5 graphic) there were moments when I found it impossible to watch the film without my mouth agape. This is a film-viewing expression I usually reserve for bouts of how-did-they-think-of-that brilliance, like so many moments in Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.” Here, my awe was for audacity. These fly-catcher-causing scenes mainly occurred with K and Joe. There was something about the mixture of the pain-pleasure threshold and the painstaking patience the actors, characters and camera had in creating the situation and having it play out to maximum effect. I can’t say I didn’t miss some of the visual ingenuity from “Vol. 1,” but this was a harder-edged half of the story to tell. All fun was out the window. Even so, we’re still in the good hands of a master manipulator.

As a two-hour film, “Nymphomaniac Vol. 2” had some gaps in storytelling where Joe seemed to leap into a new part of her recollection, instead of telling a nice throughline, which “Vol. 1” pretty much maintained. Prior to release, there was talk of a five-and-a-half hour cut of the film, which needed to be trimmed to four hours and thus split into two halves. I wonder if some of these holes would be filled (pun might as well be intended) by the extra footage, which we supposedly someday may see. Udo Kier is in the film as a waiter for one brief scene, whom I don’t think has any lines beyond “did you get a spoon?” Certainly seems like a cutting room casualty.

“Nymphomaniac Vol. 2,” like its star, her character and its director is nothing if not self-assured. Though Joe expects Seligman to judge her, the film would prefer you to do as Seligman does and withhold any prejudice. One of the highest compliments you can pay a film is that it knows what it wants to be. There are no qualms here.

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50 Cent Vehicle ‘How To Make Money Selling Drugs’ Review (2013)

50 Cent Vehicle ‘How To Make Money Selling Drugs’ Review (2013)

Movie Review: How To Make Money Selling Drugs (2013)

Who doesn’t want to learn how to make money? Who doesn’t want to learn how to sell drugs? Why not combine the two? How To Make Money Selling Drugs is a documentary that purports to be able to do just that. What results is a film that is high on promise and middling on execution. Drugs features Hollywood stars like Susan Sarandon, 50 Cent and “The Wire” creator David Simon waxing on drugs and the politics behind them. The film centers around a structure of how you or I can sell drugs to make money from beginning as a small timer to becoming a mogul/czar who’s worth millions, if not billions. I’m in!

There is a multi-step methodology (something like 8 steps) which serve as chapters in the doc, essentially. The film begins with someone who started out as a kid in his teens looking up to guys who took and sold drugs, getting involved as a runner. Then the runner gets his own stash, then the man with the stash gets a corner and learns how to dodge/deal with the cops, eventually becoming a local star dealer then going overseas and importing and finally becoming above the law, or something along those lines. Various personalities, read: dealers and the like, talk about their experiences in the process at different levels. For instance, a Compton gang member is a focus on an earlier level, whereas a Mexican cartel-type dude is at the final level.

Detroit drugs

A Detroit dealer weighs some dope for quick sale. Easy ca$h.

Some of this is comical and ridiculous, while other parts are certainly eye-opening, if not entirely entertaining. Then there is Susan Sarandon, speaking on her experiences with drugs and how some should be legal. A cop turned activist features prominently on how to game the system and catch corrupt cops. Then David Simon waxes on how government and lawmakers are abusing the system for political gain costing the country billions of dollars. Some of this is maddening and scary, quite frankly, while other parts amusing or glossed over.

The film tries to do too much and goes too many places, eventually finishing with Eminem talking about his drug addiction, which while semi-interesting to me as a fan, has little to do with the promise of the premise so to speak. In the end, there is considerable food for thought, but if this was broken down into a 4-part mini-series (for example) by a more talented filmmaker, there would be more meat to chew on ultimately. It is an eye-catching title and you may want to buy in, but in practice a little too thin in the meat and potatoes areas that are described. It’s worth seeing but asks far more questions than it answers. I guess I won’t be slanging crack rock soon, however tempting it may be.

 

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Spike Jonze’s Award Winning ‘Her’: 2013’s Best Film – A Retrospective Review

Spike Jonze’s Award Winning ‘Her’: 2013’s Best Film – A Retrospective Review

Her: 2013’s Best Film – A Retrospective Review

Ed. Note: Film was seen months ago so this is going based off of memory 

What will love look like in the future? How will human interactions change with the increasing emphasis on computer interfacing in the digital age? These are just some of the basic questions asked in Spike Jonze’s Her, which is my pick for the best film of 2013.

Her stars perhaps the best actor working today in Joaquin Phoenix, as Theodore, a man who works at an agency that scripts letters. Theodore’s thoughtful words for others; love letters, letters of sorrow, letters to express longing, all serve as a backdrop for his own desires. He is a top writer who receives praise for his skills at the company. In his private life, Theodore is coming off a marriage that didn’t work with his divorce (to wife played by Rooney Mara) being finalized. His spirit exudes loneliness and isolation, until he installs a new computer operating system.

His new OS, as it’s referred to, is capable of interacting on a very human level. Once installed, the OS, who’s voice is captured and rapturously portrayed by Scarlett Johannson, learns about Theodore through his computer files and soon becomes his best friend and more. Their relationship takes on great depths and levels of interactivity far beyond what one could ever expect. Or is that true?

Jo Pho in Her

Jonze’s foresight of the seemingly near future asks many questions about how people interact with technology. If you look closely enough, he also hints at some answers. Our increasing use of social media and decreasing interest in face to face contact is leading us down a potentially difficult, dire and challenging path. Jonze shows how technology and our use of it may change and affect us going forward from bizarre but hilarious video games to even love making. The growing power of Theodore’s OS and his reliance on and closeness of “their” relationship is so real and vivid, it can’t help but win audiences over.

Those in denial about the way technology shapes our lives both positively and negatively may have a harder time connecting with this deeply satisfying piece. Pitch perfect performances by Phoenix – and amazingly Johannson, who rightfully should have been considered for end of year awards – only deepen the connection. Jonze’s futuristic and beautiful vision of LA (the epicenter of filmmaking and place where I reside) excites and intrigues. Don’t miss Her, it’s a film that’s funny, moving and thought-proving – what more can one ask for in a film?

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Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomanic Vol. 1′ Review: Journey vs Destination

Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomanic Vol. 1′ Review: Journey vs Destination

Lars Von Trier’s ‘Nymphomanic Vol. 1′ Review: Journey vs Destination

The pursuit of sex is what drives romantic relationships. Even abstinent ones are adhered to with the promise that the pursuit will one day be fulfilled. For them, marriage is just an obstacle toward getting there. It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, only usually less illusory. A sitcom called “Mixology” recently debuted (and may be cancelled by the time you read this) on ABC, all about the characters’ desire to have sex with one another. The dramatic hook of the show is whether they will or not. If that sounds horrible, it apparently is. If art indeed imitates life, “Mixology” is the douche-bro you’d be wise to avoid. I’m sure the show can proudly count Richie Incognito among its 1.1 million person fanbase. As long as sex is on the horizon, who cares about the through-line? The destination is all that matters to these people.

Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” opens in a moist, brick-lined courtyard. Water slithers down the concrete façade. A foreboding and foreshadowing necklace of nuts (of the “and bolts” variety) adorns a pipe, like a pelt of ears serrated off a scalp. Sprawled out in the center of the area for display, is a battered, bruised and barely conscious Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). A man with a “ridiculous name” (as Joe tells him), Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), discovers her near-corpse and after her steadfast refusal of accepting an ambulance or police arrival, suffices to invite her inside for some tea and recovery.

When Seligman inquires about Joe’s state of physical duress, she professes herself to be a bad person. He immediately dismisses the notion that anybody is preternaturally “bad” and proceeds to approach Joe as a psychologist would, fascinated with her life to this point in time. Joe declares her reasoning for feeling this self-assessment is due to her nymphomania and proceeds to regale him with tales of her sexual past and how she came to be the picture of ill-health in front of him. If sex is a destination, her life is a series of skipping the journeys.

Though Joe is played by Gainsbourg, her character’s flashback portrayer is embodied by an according-to-IMDb fresh face audiences have never seen before, named Stacy Martin. “Nymphomaniac” (Volume 1, at least), is Martin’s movie. She’s fearless and uncompromising. Not in the “nudity equals fearless” way, as any porn actress would deserve to have that label slapped on them like a frat-boy-paddle to the ass, but she is assured. A literal man-eater (in a sense). Martin’s Joe is the portrait of a woman who cares little about anything but herself, although she waxes poetically about her love for her father (Christian Slater) in the least Oedipus complex way.  Though sex is supposed to consist of two-way pleasures, Joe is one-track minded.

At fifteen, Joe takes her virginity not literally into her own hands, but at least hand-selects her suitor. He’s a mechanic named Jerome (Shia LeBeouf), who thrusts such a minute amount of times that Joe can recall the exact number years later to Seligman and director Lars von Trier posts them on the frame in fit-to-screen sized font. He doesn’t do this to belittle the character, but to weigh the impact the event would have on Joe’s life. Jerome turns out to be the only recurring sexual partner Joe relays to her caretaker.

Nymphomaniac Pic

The “only sleep with the same person once” mantra is something developed by Joe and her friend B for a club they found for like-minded ladies. Their escapades begin in a quite literal metaphor of the journey versus destination ideal, as Joe and B challenge each other on a train trip to bed as many males as possible before the train reaches its destination. They’re measuring their journey based on how many destinations they can meet. The wager? A bag of chocolate malt balls. To them, that’s the ultimate destination. Or at least the object of marking a fun time. If Joe wasn’t conscious of the power she potentially wields with her body, this sequence is where she becomes self-aware. She devises tactics to increase her “score” and learns how to get what she needs to satisfy her selfishness. If the question for Joe is “love or lust,” the answer is “neither.” At least according to her, she’s not doing it to fill some type of void in her life. She’s doing it because she’s just “a bad person.”

Von Trier, has become known as a bit of a provocateur as of late (if he wasn’t always labeled as such) and crafting a four-hour epic named “Nymphomaniac” in which the “O” is composed of two parentheses designed to look like a woman’s labia majora is not the simplest way to dismiss that notion. But the film, at least through these first two hours, is not designed to ruffle feathers, regardless of the reactions it elicits from the types of people who picket theaters for exhibiting movies they’ve never seen. It’s a character study about a woman with an addiction that a lot of society views as a joke. Tiger Woods can use it as an excuse for his philandering and it’s used for primarily comic effect in Chuck Palahniuk’s “Choke,” but von Trier provides little giggle room.

Though I wish the film had a few more laughs, this isn’t the sex addiction version of “Leaving Las Vegas,” either. I’ll happily endure repeat viewings with pleasure (written with the least titillation in mind as possible). Joe hurts people and ruins lives. Just watch for a standout scene with Uma Thurman, as Mrs. H, a wife and mother with a husband Joe victimizes with her addiction.

Though darkness abounds, von Trier brings some spunk (don’t test me) to the images. With the aforementioned thrust-count posted in the virginity scene with Jerome, von Trier also cuts to a chalkboard scorecard in the train game between Joe and B, equates Joe’s addiction with fly fishing through intercut images between those juxtaposed acts, draws a diagram onscreen for Jerome to show Joe’s preciseness in which she’s able to park his car (not a euphemism) and finally provides close-ups of flaccid members as Joe describes the parade of penises she’s pulsed upon. It’s as if he took David Fincher’s IKEA price-tagging from “Fight Club” and Quentin Tarantino’s (“Don’t be a”) square (Uma Thurman again!) from “Pulp Fiction” and applied it to a darker-themed film in order to alleviate it. It’s as close to a romp as von Trier gets.

Unlike previous depictions of sex addiction in art as portraying someone needing to “get their rocks off” (as Chuck Palahniuk would put it), “Nymphomaniac Vol. 1” is really about love versus sex. As she exits the club she helped co-create, B tells Joe that love is the secret ingredient that provides sex with an extra feeling she can’t capture until she experiences it. Until then, Joe’s chasing a high she’s never really felt in the first place. She’s trying to get to the destination by skipping past the journey. Luckily for us, we have to wait another month before “Nymphomaniac Vol. 2” is released before we reach our destination (although I have to doubt love is the conclusion to which our protagonist is coming (okay, that one’s for you)). For now, we get to enjoy the journey, even if Joe can’t. “Mixology” characters and fans need not apply.

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Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ Re-make Mimics, Tweaks Original Classic

Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ Re-make Mimics, Tweaks Original Classic

Spike Lee’s ‘Oldboy’ Re-make Mimics, Tweaks Original Classic

Hollywood’s continual lack of originality is on full display with yet another in a long line of Asian cinematic remakes with Spike Lee’s take on Park-Chan Wook’s Korean masterpiece Oldboy. In the new American version, Josh Brolin takes on the role of the lead character, Sharlto Copley steps in as his tormentor and Elizabeth Olsen his love interest. If you are unfamiliar with either film and don’t want to consider spoilers, move along now.

Lee’s riff is nearly a shot for shot remake in many ways, at once the most sincere form of flattery while also building to a twist on the epic climax of the original. If you thought you knew and loved the original film, you may not find enough here to engage you fully. If you haven’t seen the Korean original, Lee’s version will probably do the trick for those into crazy, twisted, dark thrillers.

It’s hard not to recall Infernal Affairs and it’s remake by Scorcese, which led to his directing Oscar with his muse, Leo DiCaprio-led film, The Departed. Infernal was an epic film in it’s own right and upon first viewing of The Departed, one can’t help but ponder if there was any furthering of the original done. It’s only upon repeated viewings that Departed becomes its own film with its own nuances, despite the stark similarity to its source material. Lee’s Oldboy plays along the same lines, if not quite to the same levels.

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I couldn’t help but see Wook’s strong original in almost every scene. Wook’s film is riveting from start to hair-raising finish. Lee takes almost Park’s entire visual vision and brings it to American audiences here. What saved the pic for me in the end was the twist on how the film finishes. Without giving too much away it bears a strong resemblance in parts to one of Lee’s other great works The 25th Hour as well as the aforementioned Scorcese’s Shutter Island. It’s this slight variance that gives the film it’s credence for existing, beyond just the hope the Americans will see the film (which to this point isn’t really occurring, although the bowing out of once prime cast candidate Will Smith couldn’t have helped matters there).

Brolin doesn’t quite match Min-sik Choi’s brilliance as Oh Dae-su in the original, but he’s strong and manic enough to be believable in every scene. There are a few moments of awkward dialogue and a stretch or two in plausibility, but overall the film stands on its own for those that haven’t experienced Wook’s original vision. For those that have, I can’t say that this will move you much, but my viewing companion said “If I hadn’t seen the original, I’d be fired up at what I just saw.” I expect that to be a relatively common refrain for viewers of a film that is bound to divide girls and boys, young and old.

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