Movie Sex

•October 20, 2007 • 3 Comments

I was raised to be a nice Catholic girl. I’m still nominally Catholic but I’m also extremely liberal, a fact which tends to put me at odds with a lot of the Church’s teachings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those angry Catholics that goes around ripping up pictures of the Pope (although I really wish they hadn’t gone with the ex-Nazi this time around). I’m just saying, one thing that the Church will always have going for it is the ability to seriously mess with a person’s head.

The problem with me is, and I totally blame this on my Catholic upbringing, that I can’t watch explicit sex in the movies. It makes me extremely uncomfortable, kind of like I’m some kind of voyeuristic pervert watching through someone’s window. I’m not talking about porn, that doesn’t really bother me. I suppose context is everything; porn is OK because there’s a time and place for these things. I just don’t want to see it if I think I’m watching something else.

The ironic thing is that I don’t have the slightest problem watching movie violence. I could sit through Braveheart or Reservoir Dogs a million times and barely flinch, but to this day I still refuse to watch Monster’s Ball. I can’t hang with that.

Of course, there’s movie sex and there’s movie sex. I mean, if someone hot is involved then how bad could it be? On the other hand, I’m still emotionally scarred from Pulp Fiction, specifically the scene with The Gimp. I remember watching it in the theater like it was yesterday…

Movie: Get the Gimp.

Me: The Gimp? Who’s that? Why’s that guy dressed all bondage-like?

Movie: Which one of ‘em you wanna do first?

Me: ‘Do first?’ What do they mean? They can’t mean…nooooo….

As the scene progressed I kept telling myself that they couldn’t possibly be talking about what I thought they were talking about. That is, until I saw Ving Rhames bent over. There was no reason for that. That was just wrong.

I can recognize genius for what it is. Pulp Fiction was a work of genius, Gimp notwithstanding. Still, there are some movies that make this Catholic girl want to self-flagellate. Just for kicks, I thought I’d compile a list of the Most Vile Movie Sex Ever. Enjoy.

Kika (1993) – Just because it’s European doesn’t mean it’s good. And someone really ought to tell Pedro Almodovar that there’s nothing funny about rape.

Caligula (1979)- Supposedly Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud didn’t know that this film was going to contain hardcore porn. Well, that makes three of us, which is how I got roped into watching. Thank goodness I’m not dating that guy anymore. The first three seconds of the movie were OK, but that was before I knew that the two lovebirds were brother and sister. Ew.

Bad Lieutenant (1992)- A nun gets raped in the beginning. Need I say more?

Kids (1995) – If I want to watch kiddie porn I’ll download it from the internet like all the other perverts, OK? I understand that there was a point to this movie (a valid one, even), but Mr. R. had to physically restrain me to keep me from running out of the room screaming.

And finally, the most vile movie in the history of movies…

Happiness (1998) – Where shall I begin? The pedophile protagonist that whacks off to teeny bopper magazines? The pervert that also whacks off while making obscene phone calls (and more to the point, what he does afterwards)? The prepubescent son that whacks off to whatever? Old people sex? Say it with me now…YEESH!

That’s all, at least that’s everything I haven’t repressed. Feel free to add your favorites. You know, now that I look at this list I realize that Mr. Wench. was responsible for making me watch three out of the five. He is so not picking the movie any more.

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Hot Fuzz

•October 17, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Hamlet. Ay, marry; why was he sent into England?

First Clown. Why, because he was mad: he shall recover his wits there; or, if he do not, ‘t is no great matter there.

Hamlet. Why? First Clown. ‘T will not be seen in him there; there the men are as mad as he.

Sometimes watching British movies is a drag, mainly because it’s hard to understand what they’re saying. I have a tendency to turn the volume up, which is particularly bothersome if the movie is on TV because then I get blown through the walls when the commercials come on. For that reason, much to my disappointment, I could never sit through Trainspotting or The Full Monty.

Nevertheless, and please don’t tell my Dubliner co-worker I said this, I like the English. I love their ironic, dry sense of humor. I still dig Monty Python, I love Ab Fab and I adore Shaun of the Dead, the 2004 zombie movie spoof. Besides, as William Shakespeare said so eloquently, English people are nuts. Nuts in an endearing sort of way.

Hot Fuzz is the latest movie from Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. I couldn’t wait to see it, especially since Simon Pegg and Nick Frost return as the two hapless protagonists. So, despite the fact that I had two children dancing a Conga line across my living room, I sat down, cranked up the volume and popped in the DVD.

There are no zombies this time, and Simon Pegg isn’t the retail-working loser he was in Shaun. This time around he plays Sgt. Nicholas Angel, a supercop who fights crime with the enthusiasm of Inspector Javert. When his co-workers fear that he’ll lock up all the criminals in London and put them out of business they transfer him to Sanford, a small village where the most troublesome criminal is the “living statue” that hangs around the town square.

Once Nicholas arrives in town he is partnered with Danny Butterman (Frost). Danny isn‘t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he gets to be a cop because his father heads up the local police department. He also loves cop movies like Bad Boys and Point Break and hopes to learn the tricks of the trade from Nicholas. Nicholas’ philosophy is that everything means something. If a man walks down the street with his hat pulled down over his face it’s because he’s hiding something, not because he’s “fuck-ugly.”

Almost as soon as Nicholas arrives in Sanford mysterious deaths begin occurring. The locals chalk them up to accidents, but Nicholas believes otherwise. As the deaths come more and more frequently and are more and more bizarre, Nicholas becomes more and more determined to get to the bottom of things. His colleagues, meanwhile, wonder why they’re still working cases during happy hour.

Hot Fuzz starts out as an absurdly funny, fish-out-of-water comedy. There are some scenes that are gruesome and violent; in fact at one point you‘ll think you were watching The Omen. Still, there is humor to be found in the goriest of scenes. The village of Sanford seems to be a quaint English town with the usual stodgy characters, but it is really the British equivalent of an American suburb with Draconian zoning ordinances; outsiders best get with the program or suffer the consequences.

At 121 minutes Hot Fuzz runs a little long, but Simon Pegg and Nick Frost give inspired performances yet again as do British character actor Jim Broadbent as Inspector Butterman and Timothy Dalton as the suave supermarket mogul Simon Skinner. Bill Nighy also makes a short appearance as Metropolitan Chief Inspector Kenneth. By the end the movie turns into a shoot-’em-up action flick, but since it’s a parody, and a damn funny one at that, you really won’t care. Just remember to turn the volume up.

Goya’s Ghosts

•October 15, 2007 • 1 Comment

I know Goya is a household name, but I‘ll tell you a secret. Usually when I hear the name I think of a can of black beans. As it happens, I’m not the only one. Just Google “Goya” and see what happens.I may be a troglodyte, but I know Francisco Goya is a famous Spanish painter. I also happen to be an educated troglodyte, in fact I may even have taken a course devoted to Goya in college for all I remember.Since I didn’t have the good sense to bone up on my art history before seeing Goya’s Ghosts, I went in knowing only the bare minimum about the man. When I got home and did some research it all started coming back to me. In the late 18th century Goya worked as the court painter, often performing such Herculean tasks as making the Queen look young and beautiful. His work in this capacity was a little uninspired and flat in my opinion. It was his later work, the “Black Paintings” and the “Disasters of War” series that made an impression on me.

Despite its title, Goya’s Ghosts is not so much about the man as it is about his observations. In life Goya bore witness to the atrocities of the renewed Spanish Inquisition and the Peninsular War that ravaged Spain. Indeed Goya was something of a photojournalist, for lack of a better word, and perhaps an anti-war activist. In the film, Goya (Stellan Skarsgard) takes a back seat to one Brother Lorenzo (Javier Bardem) and a young girl named Ines (Natalie Portman). Goya is merely a bystander chronicling their exploits as the years pass.

When we first meet Brother Lorenzo he is trying to impress upon the church officials, with the help of some of Goya’s more scandalous sketches, the extent of society’s moral decline. The Spanish Inquisition could really use a shot in the arm and Lorenzo is just the man to do it. He trains his inquisitors to be on the lookout for heretics at all times, as even the most innocuous actions can betray a Jew on the down-low.

Meanwhile Goya employs Ines, the beautiful and naïve daughter of a rich merchant, as his model. He is so taken with her beauty that he can’t close his eyes without seeing her. She has the face of an angel, in fact he uses her face as inspiration when painting angels. One fateful evening while in a tavern with her brothers Ines refuses the pork she is served at dinner, a grave error under Lorenzo’s watchful eyes. She is called before the Inquisition and confesses the “truth,” whatever that might be. In an instant loses her innocence, her freedom, her family, everything.

To Lorenzo, issues of guilt or innocence are black and white. If a truly innocent person is “put to the question” God would give her the strength to withstand the torture and she would never give a false confession. In a scene that is at once amusing and disturbing his theory is put to the test by Ines’ distraught father. Lorenzo fails of course, and his failure causes him to seriously reconsider his lifestyle choices.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Years after Ines’ arrest Spain is invaded by the French and the Inquisition is put out of business. Goya has lost his hearing, but thankfully he is still able to see and document the carnage that takes place. Things have changed all over Spain, but Goya, Ines and Lorenzo once again cross paths.

If you really want to get the flavor of Goya’s Ghosts you only have to look at some of his later paintings, such as Saturn Devouring His Son or The Execution of the Defenders of Madrid. These paintings will leave the same taste in your mouth that you have after seeing the film. It is a beautifully conceived train wreck, horrible and alarming, and yet you can’t turn away.

Goya’s Ghosts was directed by the great Milos Forman, who directed such masterpieces as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. Since Goya‘s Ghosts takes place in roughly the same period as Amadeus I’m a little tempted to compare the two, but I left with the same feeling I had when I saw Cuckoo, frightened and sad. (Of course when I saw that movie I was like, seven. I don’t know what my parents were thinking, between that and Midnight Express it’s a miracle I’m not on stronger meds). Mr. Forman tells us what we already know, that he’s the master of keeping it real. He can do pretty along with the best of them, but when it’s time to show life’s cold, hard truths he goes for the jugular.

There’s been a lot of buzz over Natalie Portman taking it all off in this movie. Anyone who thinks he’s going to get his jollies watching that scene is going to be sorely disappointed; there’s nothing sexual about it. The torture scenes are abrupt and brutal, nothing titillating there.

I started out loving this film, but by the end I was a little worked over. In the press materials I read it was said that Lorenzo was supposed to be a “neither good nor bad” sort of guy. Javier Bardem was absolutely brilliant, but if moral ambiguity is what he was going for, it didn’t work. Lorenzo was a scumbag of the highest order, and in a time when men changed political and religious alliances as often as I change my underwear (that would be every day), that’s saying a lot. Natalie Portman’s performance was on point as always, but the film spent a little too much time watching her search for her figuratively lost marbles. Casting Randy Quaid as King Carlos IV was an interesting idea, and believe it or not it worked.

It’s interesting how certain themes will never go out of style. Centuries will pass but there will always be religious zealots, war and corruption. I almost choked on my popcorn when the French soldiers were told that they would be “greeted with flowers and kisses on the streets of Madrid.” Now where have I heard that before? (OK, I wasn’t eating popcorn, but you know what I mean).

By the way, I just remembered that I took American Art in college, so you can take my analysis of Goya’s work with a grain of salt. But just wait until they make a movie about John Singer Sargent.

Ruminations on A Mighty Heart

•October 14, 2007 • Leave a Comment

As God as my witness, I thought Mariane Pearl was black.I soon came to realize that I was mistaken, I must be mistaken, because there is no way that Angelina Jolie could ever pull a Liz Taylor-as-Cleopatra. Not Angelina Jolie, not in this day and age. These were my thoughts as I went cringing into the theater to see A Mighty Heart.

A Mighty Heart is the true story of Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, and his wife Mariane (Angelina Jolie), who spends the better part of five weeks trying to track him down.

To be honest, I was expecting a Lifetime channel-type film that focuses on Mariane and her struggle for “closure” or some such thing after the brutal murder of her husband. Instead I was treated to a bare-bones, yet touching and oddly suspenseful retelling of the search for Daniel Pearl.

I say “oddly suspenseful” because, of course, we all know what happens at the end of this movie. There is no hope for a happy ending; when all is said and done Daniel Pearl is beheaded. I knew this, and yet I still had the same feeling that I had the first time I saw Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Rope. The crime was already done, but I was beside myself to see it play out.

In January of 2002, Mariane said goodbye to her husband for the last time. He was on his way to meet with a source for a story about Richard Reid, the infamous “shoe bomber”. When Daniel doesn’t return home that night Mariane checks the source’s e-mails and phone numbers, all of which turn out to be bogus. She now knows that Daniel is not coming home.

Soon afterward Mariane becomes actively involved in the investigation, as she was a journalist herself and felt that she could provide some insight that the authorities could not. Her home becomes a command post for all those involved: Daniel and Mariane’s friend and colleague Asra (Archie Panjabi), Daniel‘s colleagues at the Wall Street Journal, the FBI, and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). The ISI’s counter-terrorism branch is led by a desperate, politically pressured and sympathetic man known only as Captain (Irrfan Khan).

The ordeal raises a host of collateral issues for the other players. Asra is labeled an “Indian spy” and is shunned by her Pakistani boyfriend and his family. Captain must save his country from international embarrassment, yet he barely breaks a sweat even when he tortures his prisoners. He doesn’t find joy in the act; he softly cajoles the suspects into telling what they know. All of this goes on while Daniel’s family in California stays heartbreakingly optimistic about his chances for survival.

The fact that Mariane is pregnant during this ordeal is a stunning testament to her character. I don’t mind telling you that if I were in her shoes I’d be spending my day alternately puking, staying in bed and being hysterical. No one would have blamed her if she had done that, especially after the two or three false reports of Daniel‘s body being found. Instead she remains calm and resourceful. She only has a few minor, self-contained meltdowns. Eventually she is told that Daniel is dead, and there is no doubt this time because they had all seen the videotape of his murder. Yes, she loses it, but she pulls herself together long enough to give interviews to insensitive reporters and serve a thank-you-for-your-help dinner party to her friends. The woman is, if Jolie‘s portrayal is to be believed, a rock. A little too much of a rock, perhaps, but then again she didn’t really have a choice. After all, bouts of hysteria do not go well with pregnancies, or with motherhood for that matter. In the end she tells us that she had to face everything, to know all the details of Daniel’s kidnapping and murder. Once she had done that she could go on with her life and be the kind of mother she needed to be.

Since this wasn’t a family movie I didn’t bring my usual assistant movie critic, my eight-year-old son. I did bring my 38-year-old brother, who thinks that Angelina Jolie might score an Oscar nomination for her performance. It’s probably too early to tell about that, but I must say that I’m glad she found her way to this film. It serves as a nice reminder that she is much more that a paparazzi-stalked Britney. She obviously wants to be a serious person, and to be seen as a serious person. I hope this movie makes people more interested in her politics and values, and less interested in her tattoos. For my money though, I’d give the award to Irrfan Khan. His performance was beautifully understated and melancholy. If you ever get the urge to hug a Pakistani intelligence officer, Captain is your man.

As I was walking across town to the theater to see A Mighty Heart I was observing the people around me and lamenting the sad state of affairs in New York. It seemed to me that us “real” New Yorkers, the natives, had finally lost the turf war with the yuppified out-of-town transplants. I wonder now if I would have sneered if I had passed the likes of Daniel and Mariane on the street that day. As sympathetic as they were, there was something so horribly colonial about the two Westerners living in a pretty little villa while surrounded by dirt-eating Pakistanis. I also can’t help but wonder what Daniel was thinking when he decided to meet up with a gang of jihadists when the so-called “war on terror” was at its peak. I felt queasy when a local official lectured him on how the Jews were responsible for 9/11; when he was alone in a hotel room with his captors a few hours later, still ignorant of their real plan, my stomach dropped. Was Daniel Pearl brave? Crazy? Naïve? Irresponsible? There is a lot of talk nowadays about embedded journalists and such, and someone does have to report the news, but I’m not convinced that it should be done by a man with a pregnant wife at home.

I suppose we all have our choices to make, which brings me back to Mariane’s ambiguous racial identity. In the grand scheme of things it probably doesn’t matter what Mariane is, but the sad fact is that Daniel’s race could very well have been his undoing. Daniel was a Jew in a country where many people, quite frankly, hated Jews. He was asked at one point if he was a Christian. Should he have denied his culture? Would it have mattered if he had, or was the fact that he was a Western journalist enough to get his head chopped off? Did the thought even cross his mind? Of course this is point purely academic for those of us who couldn’t deny what we are even if we wanted to. Still, I wonder what I would have done.

One thing is for certain, Daniel and Mariane Pearl were cut from an altogether different cloth than I was. Everything that they did during this nightmare was the opposite of what I would have done. I haven’t decided whether or not that’s a good thing.