Not Priscilla

queenofthedesert

 There are golden periods of history, usually ten or twenty years when everything is just perfect, or as perfect as is possible in this vale. I lived through one: 1958-1968, when being a kid in America was marvelous. Sorry you guys missed it. Werner Herzog’s movie, Queen of the Desert, is set in another one of those golden periods, from the end of Victoria’s reign to the First World War, when the Brits ruled practically everything, the sun never set on the Empire, pip pip cheerio stiff upper lip wot wot, and fin de siècle English upper crust lower middle aristocrats could traverse the tottering Ottoman Empire with quite a degree of impunity…until it all changed, as golden decades are wont to do.

The movie depicts Gertrude Bell, a real life lower middle aristocrat who gets it into her head between cotillions to go do something adventurous. Given the bunch of lower middle aristocrat idiot suitors her Mum keeps throwing at her, I am sympathetic. (By the way, Mum is played by Jenny Agutter. Jenny Agutter! Remember her from Logan’s Run, An American Werewolf in London? Oh yeah, you remember. Seen her popping up quite a bit lately, including Captain America: Winter Soldier. Nice). Gertrude’s Dad suggests a trip to Tehran, which isn’t the crazy idea it would be today; back then it would be like a trip to Rio: exotic, interesting, an incomprehensible language, somewhat dangerous, but civilized.

So, she goes, sponsored by her quite delightful British Consul uncle, portrayed by Mark Lewis Jones, who has the best lines in the movie (except for one short stint at the beginning when Nick Waring as Sir Mark Sykes delivers a series of insults worthy of Peter Capaldi in In the Loop). There, she falls in love with Henry Cadogan (portrayed by James Franco in the wooden, non-expressive acting style he perfected as Green Goblin), who ends up killing himself, and then Gertrude falls in love with Major Charles Doughty-Wylie (played by Damien Lewis…you know, Captain Winters in Band of Brothers) who volunteers for Gallipoli, which is pretty much suicide…hmm. Mayhaps those idiot suitors back in merry ole dodged a bullet?

Anyways, grief-stricken because of driving men to suicide, she takes off for the deserts of the Middle East, meeting Druze and Bedouins and Lawrence of Arabia and Ottoman Lieutenants and single-handedly changing the course of Arab history…well, no. As much as Herzog wants you to believe that, just ain’t true. Bell was one of many persons involved in the modern shaping of the Arab peninsula, including at least one other woman, Lady Anne Blunt, who reached the city of Ha’il before her.

Nicole Kidman portrays Gertrude from about age 17 to well into her forties with nary a whiff of extra makeup or softened lens, at least that I could detect, and that’s nice. She’s a queen in her own right and does a rather excellent job of idealizing and overblowing the heroic woman-hear-me-roar aspect of Bell that director Werner Herzog is obviously intending. Which is a lovely 21st Century notion, but Pax Britannica was more responsible for Bell’s safe travels than anything. That, and the tolerance–and amusement–of the Druze and Bedouins.

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Not Priscilla

Bells Are Ringing

handmaiden

The Handmaiden is a Korean movie based on the English novel Fingersmith. I’ve always understood a fingersmith to be a Dickensian pickpocket or someone else similarly light-fingered, but, apparently, the term is also a popular one with the LGBTQ community. You could use your imagination to figure out why but the movie saves you the trouble.

This is a double cross of a double cross, with the ‘fingersmiths’ of the title attempting to pull a con on the young, naïve, and fabulously rich Lady Hideko (played by Min-Hee Kim who is oh-my-God beautiful), whose uncle wants to marry her. What? Yes, the oh-my-God horrid Uncle Kouzuki (played by  Jin-woong Jo) intends to wed the Lady, his niece, in order to inherit her fortune, which he needs in order to pursue rare 14th Century Japanese pornography texts. What? Yes, 14th Century Japanese pornography. Quite rare. Quite explicit, and quite priceless to a small but very degenerate group of Japanese businessmen in occupied Korea during the early 20th Century. The fingersmiths, local Koreans, hatch a plot for a fake member of Japanese nobility named Count Fujiwara (played by Jung-woo Ha) to sweep in and offer the Lady a chance to escape by eloping with the good Count to Japan, taking her fortune with her, naturally. After about a week of marriage, commit her to a nuthouse, make off with the cash, life is good…so how’s a Korean going to pull off Japanese nobility? Eh. Not at issue, because the uncle is a Korean, too, who is turning Japanese oh yes he’s turning Japanese I really think so. It’s a thing.

So, in order to pull this improbable plot off, the Count gets a member of his fingersmith gang to pose as the Lady’s handmaiden of the title and urge her to accept the Count’s suit. But the handmaiden, Sook-Hee (played by Tae-Ri Kim. No relation. I think) is not only a fingersmith of the Dickensian connotation but also of the LGBTQ one (figured it out yet?) and falls head over heels with the Lady, which I can understand because she is oh-my-God beautiful and so innocent and pure and naïve and…

No she ain’t.

And this is where the double cross of the double cross comes in, which I don’t want to say very much more on because it is dee-lightful. In more ways than one, especially when bells are ringing.

What?

Go see for yourself.

And be prepared. Because, hoo boy, you’ll be treated to some excellent exhibitions of 14th Century Japanese pornographic techniques not once, not twice, but at least five times. In detail. And bordering just this side of an X-rating. You’ll wish the director, Chan-wook Park of Old Boy fame, had added six or seven more examples. But I guess you’ll just have to watch the movie again. And again. And again…

 

 

Bells Are Ringing

Lost Weekend V: Men Go to Battle

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This is not a Civil War movie. It is a story about two idiot brothers who happen to live during the Civil War. The former does not so much inform the latter as the latter allows the former to seek a kind of redemption. Which is fortunate for the brothers; otherwise, they would drown in their idiocy.

Actually, only one of the brothers is an idiot: Francis, an out-of-his-depth farmer who fancies himself a financier and master horticulturist and raconteur and he is not any of those things. Not even close. Henry, his long-suffering brother, is continually beaten down by his idiot brother’s schemes and plots and cruelties and finally, FINALLY, says the heck with it and lights out for the Union Army. After making a fool of himself at an out-of-his-depth social engagement, that is.

Maybe he’s as big an idiot as his brother.

But, no, he’s not. He’s blessed with gallons more commons sense than Francis, but cursed with filial duty which requires him to defer to the idiot, which ruins what few opportunities Henry has. Hence, the running off to be a soldier, the only chance left for Henry to find a life of his own. Which he blows.

Maybe he’s as big an idiot as his brother.

Who knows? Who cares? Both characters are forgettable, like the background denizens of small, unnoticed byways barely glimpsed from an interstate exit. A flash, a recognition, then gone.

Just like this movie.

 

Lost Weekend V: Men Go to Battle

Lost Weekend V: Men and Chicken

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Scandinavians. They’re an odd lot. Blame it on seeing the sun maybe two days a year, or, depending on where in Scandinavia you are, never seeing it set and having to dig your way out of the house every week or so, but those guys are a bit over the top. Remember Viking raids? The Thirty Year’s War? Ikea? It shows in their movies. Their detectives are more morose, their serial killers more ruthless (a hyperbaric chamber? Hannibal Lecter is green with envy), their Christmases more Krampusy. Even their comedies are a bit out there: The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Rare Exports (okay, okay, not really a comedy but weird enough to be in the neighborhood), and now, Men and Chicken.

Best elevator pitch for this movie: HG Wells meets Monty Python. A couple of brothers, Gabriel and Elias (played by David Dencik and Mads Mikkelson, both of them under severe attack by the make-up crew), discover that their Dad is not their Dad. Turns out their real father is an obscure scientist living on an even more obscure island, so they set out to find him and get some answers because, hoo boy, are these two guys messed up. Gabriel makes the oddest throat-and-nose clearings while Elias…guy needs to be shot with a tranquilizer dart. They find three half-brothers living in an old sanitarium and, hoo boy, are those guys messed up. Some of the subsequent insanity includes assault by taxidermy, an ill-conceived pre-school employment effort, and the worst attempt ever to pick up women.

And, hoo boy, is it hilarious. Over-the-top hilarious. Like Finland.

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Lost Weekend V: Men and Chicken

Lost Weekend IV: Finders Keepers

finderskeepers

Finders Keepers is a documentary but you won’t believe that because there’s no way this is real. Just no way. A film covering a dispute over an amputated leg found in a barbecue smoker? C’mon, stop it. But, it’s true. God help us.

While “amputated leg found in a barbecue smoker” sounds suspiciously like the first few moments of a Monty Python skit, that’s what happened: John Wood, destitute from a substance abuse problem, abandons a storage unit in which he’d left a barbecue smoker containing his amputated leg…his actual leg: not a wooden one or a prosthetic. He’d  asked the doctor to give it to him after it was amputated. Sentimental value, I guess. That he thought to keep it inside a smoker opens up other subjects but let’s stay focused. A guy named Shannon Whisnant buys the storage unit at auction and discovers the leg and, well, finders keepers.

F**kery and shenanigans ensue.

Whisnant attempts to make money off the limb by selling tickets, T-shirts, and appearing on a reality show, while John Wood goes through increasingly desperate measures to recover the foot. It all ends up before Judge Mathis. I kid you not.

It is a bizarre story, all true, all crazy, and you’ll spend half the film with your jaw dropped. But, you will be vastly entertained.

God help us.

Lost Weekend IV: Finders Keepers

You Better Watch Out: A RARE EXPORTS Review

Rare Exports is the punch line of a very long joke, one that runs pretty much the whole length of the movie, the payoff coming in the last thirty seconds (or the last five minutes for the particularly savvy). It’s not a knee-slapping-guffaw fall down and-lose-a-spleen kind of punchline, but it will make you chuckle. That is, if you ignore the human (?) trafficking implications.

rare-exports-a-christmas-tale

Continue reading “You Better Watch Out: A RARE EXPORTS Review”

You Better Watch Out: A RARE EXPORTS Review

F*ckery and Shenanigans: A Review of Drafthouse Films’ THE WORLD OF KANAKO

The World of Kanako follows former police detective Akikazu Fujishima as he searches for his missing daughter, Kanako. Akikazu is a “former” because, a few years ago, he slammed his vehicle headlong into the side of the car in which his wife was getting it on with another policeman. Turns out that slamming his vehicle into other vehicles (and people) is his favorite way of dealing with antagonists. How that car made it to the end of the movie is a testament to Japanese engineering.

kanako

Continue reading “F*ckery and Shenanigans: A Review of Drafthouse Films’ THE WORLD OF KANAKO”

F*ckery and Shenanigans: A Review of Drafthouse Films’ THE WORLD OF KANAKO