As Piercing opens, Reed (Christopher Abbott) is a man with murder on his mind. About 30, nondescript, slightly schlubby even, with a receding hairline, five-o-clock shadow, and a troubled, unsure demeanor, Reed is first seen hovering over his infant daughter with an ice pick in hand. He’s not making a cocktail. Riddled with anxiety and insomnia, Reed is a wreck. His work isn’t fulfilling him. His wife can’t calm him. And then at one point, as he gazes down into the dark pools that are his daughter’s eyes, the infant speaks to him: “You know what you have to do, right?” The moment is chilling, yet absurd. In a very dark way, it’s hilarious. And with that, Piercing is off to the races. Continue reading
Breaking the Waves can make you queasy from its opening moments, when director Lars von Trier’s name appears with the title superimposed over it, the title card swaying gently on screen as if it were photographed at sea. The effect is less subtle on home video than it is on a big screen, where you’re not as aware of the edges of the frame, but the message is the same: suddenly, you’re adrift, unmoored, alone. Continue reading
Director Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is, most of all, a study in imagery. Its science-fiction status is hinted at by visual design, as in the film’s opening moments, when concentric circles appear out of the darkness on screen, then are seen to separate, inhabiting three-dimensional space, from left to right, with a bright light blazing on one side. The figure suggests a diagram of a solar system, all its planets in perfect alignment, or (more on point) the glass elements of a lens.
Out of the previous silence, we start to hear fragments of a woman’s voice on the soundtrack, and the elements on screen, clean and fresh as something out of the Apple factory, are resolved as the workings of an eye, iris and pupil appearing on screen in startling close-up. The film then cuts to images of nature, water rushing by, and a jagged road slicing across the screen like Dali’s razor blade slashing an eyeball.
Amid the American horror boom of the late-1970s and early-1980s, when everything old was new again and once-dormant studio properties like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing from Another World, and The Fly were suddenly valuable franchises, the script for a remake of Cat People, one of the most subtle of all horror classics, somehow ended up on Paul Schrader’s desk. Why Schrader? Dumb luck, mostly. Certainly he had no great love for the source material, a 1942 horror film directed by Jacques Tourneur that Schrader famously (and charmlessly) claimed “isn’t that brilliant.” But he must have seen in the raw material the opportunity to make a deeply weird movie, one that fused a new mythology with a contemporary melodrama of fear, desire, and violence. The result is not just a personal expression of Schrader’s own sex-and-death preoccupations, but a sort of high-water mark for the quixotic attempt to meld visually sophisticated erotica with commercially savvy narrative storytelling.
I’ve been aware for years of this movie’s reputation as “that X-rated Richard Dreyfuss film” but until I spun it up on a whim via Netflix — which is streaming a 720p encode of MGM’s surprisingly nice HD transfer — I didn’t realize that it was also a very early Bob Hoskins film, nor that Veronica Cartwright co-starred. Further, if you had told me that Jessica Harper (now of Suspiria fame) spent most of the film’s second half topless, well, I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken me this long to find time for it.
There’s a tradition among purveyors of BDSM pornography to append a coda to their project in which the participants in various potentially alarming scenarios are finally glimpsed, all smiles, reveling in the afterglow of a clearly consensual exercise. I assume this practice has very practical benefits — for one thing, it might help stave off prosecution for obscenity or sex-trafficking. But it’s also a signal from the community making the videos to the community watching them that the performances are undertaken with high spirits, lest there’s any misunderstanding about the actual circumstances of their making. Despite any apparent unpleasantness, dear viewer, all involved (top and bottom, dominant and submissive) are working toward the ultimate goal of pleasure, not pain.
I think my iPhone is a great piece of hardware, but here’s the kind of thing that makes me think twice about giving Apple my money. In this interview from Print magazine’s Imprint blog, Kim Munson talks about an iOS and Android app she developed called Comix Classics: Underground Comics based on Underground Classics: The Transformation of Comics into Comix, a book and exhibition on the history of underground comic-book art. The Android version is complete; there is no review process for apps published in the Android marketplace. The iPad version, happily, is also complete. But the iPhone version is missing 16 specific images that Apple demanded be removed before the app could be approved.
First-tier documentarian Errol Morris finds himself slumming a bit with Tabloid, a clear departure from his recent tendency toward rigorous, serious-as-a-tumor inquiry. He describes it as “sick, sad and funny.” His attention has somehow been drawn to Joyce McKinney, a former Wyoming beauty queen who fell in love with Kirk Anderson, a young Mormon from Utah. Anderson’s family (and the church) disapproved of the relationship. Anderson left the states to work as a missionary in Britain, and McKinney eventually followed him there. That much, at least, is not in doubt. What happened next is open to some question.