Thursday, December 11, 2014


(Belgium/France/Luxembourg - 2014)

With 2010's AMER, the French filmmaking team of Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet wore their love of the Italian giallo on their sleeves, fashioning an extremely stylish film whose visual intoxication was largely smoke & mirrors obscuring the fact that they didn't have much to say other than "We really love early Dario Argento movies." Though it contained obvious homages to Argento and Mario Bava, and eventually featured the belated appearance of a black-gloved killer, AMER wasn't so much a giallo as it was a filmmaking experiment that co-opted the style of the giallo, much like Peter Strickland's frustrating BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2013).  Forzani and Cattet have returned with THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS, and it's an altogether more satisfying experience, even if they let their story unfold with little regard for narrative flow or a coherent plot. STRANGE COLOUR is the kind of trippy descent into madness where everything might be imaginary and almost nothing makes sense, but it doesn't matter. It's a triumph of style over substance, and it would seem that since AMER, the filmmakers are at least attempting to pay lip service to the idea of plot mechanics and committed themselves to utilizing the giallo style for something that could be mostly deemed a giallo. Of course, there's the endless visual references and the appropriation of the era's score cues by the likes of Bruno Nicolai, Ennio Morricone, Franco Micalizzi, Nico Fidenco, and Alessandro Alessandroni, but every scene and every shot is a small masterpiece of dazzling artistry. Whether the filmmakers are using a Brian De Palma split screen, conveying the claustophobic, walls-closing-in psychological terror of Roman Polanski's "Apartment Trilogy" (REPULSION, ROSEMARY'S BABY, THE TENANT), staging an innovative and highly-choreographed Argento-style murder (hearing noises in the apartment above, a man drills a small hole in the ceiling and sneaks into said apartment while his wife listens with a stethoscope and hears the killer's steps approaching her husband as she witnesses the murder through the hole in the ceiling), or simply granting us the sight of a few Lucio Fulci maggots, their love of that era of Italian thrillers bleeds as profusely as the victims onscreen. THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS is probably a love-it-or-hate-it proposition and those unfamiliar with gialli may scoff at the perceived pretentiousness of it all, but even if you're not a fan, it's awfully difficult to not be seduced by the virtuosi filmmaking on constant display.

Dan Kristensen (Klaus Tange, who has a striking resemblance to Willem Dafoe) returns from a business trip to his lush, ornate building and has to break his door in when it's chain-locked from the inside and his wife Edwige (Ursula Bedena) is nowhere to be found in the apartment. None of the neighbors have seen her and instead, they complain to the building manager (Sam Louwyck) about Dan. Incredulous detective Vincentelli (Jean-Michel Vovk) finds Dan's story increasingly difficult to believe, and doesn't buy his claims of a mysterious bearded man (Joe Koener) sneaking into his apartment when none of the other neighbors have seen him. As Edwige's absence goes on and all manner of psychosexual imagery abounds, Dan's grip on reality and sanity slips as he, Vincentelli, and the building manager all have their own neuroses exposed, all involving an alluring mystery woman known as "Laura," while a mad killer makes their way through secret corridors behind the walls, emerging from hiding to stab people in the head. Argento is the chief influence here, especially with the production design of Dan's apartment building evoking Mater Tenebrarum's NYC stronghold in INFERNO (1980), and Dan's discovery of a dark secret behind a false wall and his misreading of a vital clue being callbacks to DEEP RED (1975). But there's more: certain portions recall the fashion gialli of Sergio Martino, whose THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (1971) and YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (1972), along with Giuliano Carnimeo's WHAT ARE THOSE STRANGE DROPS OF BLOOD ON JENNIFER'S BODY? aka THE CASE OF THE BLOODY IRIS (1971) helped coin the film's awkwardly verbose title. Dreamy, slo-mo shots of beautiful women with long, Medusa-like hair draped over pillows are straight from Fulci's A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (1971). THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS does get too obfuscating for its own good on occasion, especially the long, circular sequence where an hallucinating Dan keeps buzzing himself into the building, and there's a few instances where Forzani and Cattet hit a wall and the film has to get itself back on track. They don't break any new ground here, instead mining decades-old material and presenting it in a way that's fresh, alive, and fascinating. It makes little sense in terms of linear plot, but it doesn't matter. Let THE STRANGE COLOUR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS wash over you and cast its spell. It's an enigmatic, nightmarish, and stunningly beautiful film. (Unrated, 102 mins; also streaming on Netflix Instant)

(Norway/Denmark/UK/US/Iceland - 2014)

After licking the wounds incurred from 2013's HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, his disastrous attempt to break into Hollywood, Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola goes back to his roots with an English-language sequel to his 2009 cult zombie hit DEAD SNOW. Intermittently amusing but not nearly as much as it thought it was, DEAD SNOW nevertheless got a lot of love from the horror community with a style that attempted to emulate early Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson as a group of vacationing skiers encountered an army of resurrected Nazi undead. The last thing the world needs is one more zombie movie, but Wirkola surpasses all expectations with bigger-budgeted and wildly inspired follow-up that's got something to offend everyone. Beginning moments after the events of the first film, sole survivor Martin (Vegar Hoel, promoted to co-writer with Wirkola and co-star Stig Frode Henriksen) manages to get away from the horde of flesh-eaters led by zombified Nazi Gen. Herzog (Orjan Gamst) and winds up in a hospital, where he's accused of killing all of his friends and can't convince the cops that the zombies did it. Doctors have also surgically attached what they think is Martin's right arm, which he chainsawed off immediately after he was bitten. The reattached arm actually belongs to Herzog, and now Martin's right arm has immeasurable strength and the ability to reanimate the dead by touch. He escapes from the hospital and makes his way to a nearby town, which is exactly where Herzog's army is heading, still following Hitler's orders to invade and destroy. With the cops on his trail, Martin befriends barely-closeted local museum employee Glenn Kenneth (Henriksen) and adopts an affable and helpful zombie sidekick (Kristoffer Joner) that he can keep putting in dangerous situations and revive if necessary. They're soon joined by a trio of nerdy American siblings calling themselves The Zombie Squad--Daniel (Martin Starr of FREAKS AND GEEKS, PARTY DOWN, and SILICON VALLEY), STAR WARS-obsessed Monica (Jocelyn DeBoer), and brainy Blake (Ingrid Haas)--and they get additional help from a reanimated--and still pissed-off--Russian platoon for a BRAVEHEART-style throwdown where nothing is too over-the-top.

DEAD SNOW: RED VS. DEAD is one of the few zombie comedies that comes close to replicating the anarchic, anything-goes, fuck-you-if-can't-take-a-joke spirit of Peter Jackson's DEAD ALIVE: anyone can be killed in any number of hilariously horrifying yet slapsticky ways, whether they're infants in strollers or geriatrics in scooters; resourceful zombies yank out some guy's intestines so they can siphon gasoline from a bus to a tank; Martin spends the entire film covered in blood and there's no shortage of inventive ways Wirkola has him forgetting to realize his own strength with Herzog's supercharged arm, with a disastrous attempt at CPR on a little kid being particularly memorable and gross; endless impalings, smashed heads, and creative and incredibly gory zombie kills, and in one truly off-the-rails segment, a female zombie coming back to life and screwing her still-grieving boyfriend, all to the tune of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart." I didn't really get all the love DEAD SNOW received from fans, but DEAD SNOW: RED VS. DEAD is an improvement across-the-board, in every aspect. It's the PUNISHER: WAR ZONE to DEAD SNOW's THE PUNISHER. Fun performances all around, and it gets a lot of mileage from its visiting American cast members, who help make this the most oddly-appealing zombie-battling ensemble this side of SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  Back home after an ill-fated Hollywood sojourn, Wirkola gets it right and delivers the gonzo line-crosser that the first film should've been. (R, 100 mins)

(UK/Ireland/US - 2014)

Inspired by Welsh journalist Jon Ronson's brief late '80s tenure as the keyboardist in Frank Sidebottom's band, FRANK updates the setting to the present day and gained some film festival notoriety as the indie where Michael Fassbender spends 95% of the film wearing an oversized papier-mache head. The head is almost identical to the one sported by "Frank Sidebottom," a character played by British comedian/performance artist/musician Chris Sievey (1955-2010) from the '70s well into the '90s. The film, co-written by Ronson (who also wrote the book The Men Who Stare at Goats, and was played by Ewan McGregor in the 2009 film version), centers on Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a would-be songwriter who lucks into a gig filling in with an experimental, avant-garde band called The Soronprfbs when their keyboardist has a breakdown. Fronted by the eccentric Frank (Fassbender), whose own bandmates have never seen him without his mask, the Soronprfbs take off to a seaside cottage in Ireland to work on a new album with manager/producer Don (Scoot McNairy). The rest of the band--theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), bassist Baraque (Francois Civil), and drummer Nana (Carla Azar)--have little use for Jon and his mainstream, pop aspirations, and even though Jon offers them his life savings to work on the album after they run out of money, they allow him no creative input.  Eleven months of isolated living go by before Frank is comfortable enough to begin recording, and Jon, who has been secretly posting their sessions to social media and building the band's brand, has endeared himself to Frank and convinces him to take the band to SXSW. Arriving in Austin on a wave of underground hype thanks to Frank's unique stage presence, the Soronprfbs promptly implode over Jon's increased influence on their sound. This turns the band into the unplugged duo of Frank and Jon as Jon is forced to function as caretaker for the delicate and damaged frontman, who has his reasons for adopting his unusual persona.

Director Lenny Abrahamson keeps FRANK quirky to a fault for most of its running time, and the humor in the defiantly uncommercial, inaccessible, Captain Beefheart-inspired songs quickly runs out of steam. It does gain some significant traction in its late stages once things turn serious as Jon gets to the root of why Frank is the way he is, and Fassbender is such a gifted actor that he can turn nothing into something and create a fully-developed character with his face concealed for most of the film, just on the basis of body language and his muffled vocal inflections. Fassbender is very good and McNairy gets some laughs as the dour, depressed manager with an unusual sexual fetish for mannequins, and while it gets better as it goes along, FRANK is just too aggressive in its bid for prefab cult appeal and too blatantly pandering in its need for the loving embrace of the hipster crowd. (R, 95 mins)

No comments:

Post a Comment