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Weekly Review
A not-so-eventful week in the theater meant I had some time to consume some serious film this week at home. Hitting wide release this past weekend were the aggressively underwhelming Focus and The Lazarus Effect. I also caught screenings of Disney’s new Cinderella and Wild Tales but can’t yet talk about them beyond alluding to the fact that I enjoyed them both. At home, I took in some top-notch erotica, an Oscar-nominated documentary, a David Lynch mindf*ck, a faltering, gimmicky horror and a classic in the theater. All in this issue of Weekly Review.

 

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2015)

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On the tail of Fifty Shades of Grey, any onscreen erotica would seem elevated by proxy. But Peter Strickland‘s The Duke of Burgundy succeeds not only by compassion but by its own ubiquitous merit. Sensual, erotic and mesmerizing, Strickland’s sensational sensual sexploration is the anti-Fifty Shades of Grey for its fair treatment of the dominant-submissive lifestyle, its apt character development and singular cinematic flair. The score from Canadian group Cat’s Eye is a hot water bottle of sound, blanketing Strickland’s carefully hypnotic visuals with a beautiful but uneasy sonicscape. Performances from Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna help sell the drama as Strickland’s script amplifies their emotional connection in increasing clarity as the minutes tick onward, mining the depths of sexuality and love in this tonally unique yet totally relatable bond to striking, poignant effect. (B+)

VIRUNGA (2014)

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Netflix‘s first horseshoe toss into the Academy Awards game might not have been a dead ringer but it scored a nomination and was a dark house for the win behind Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour. Virunga tracks the harrowing political situation unfolding in the Congo’s Virunga National Park. One of the last homes of the mountain gorilla and a sanctuary for those animals orphaned or injured, Virunga has been a hotspot of rebel conflict in large part due to British Corporation Soco International exploiting the situation for its oil. Documentarian Orlando von Einsiedel exposes the extent of the corruption in wire-wearing scenes of hot tension though partially fails to connect all the yarn on the cork board. But von Einsiedel’s film thrives in the beauty of Virunga and its gentle warriors, the selfless park rangers, willing to put their lives on the line to defend it. (B-)

MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

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David Lynch
‘s vision of Hollywood starlets and duplicitous murder has been a source of debate, study and speculation for more than a decade. To think that I could add anything to the discussion would be presumptuous (even for me) so I won’t try to get into the heavy themes so much as express my enjoyment of the flick. Naomi Watt‘s gives half of a brilliant performance with Laura Harring matching her step-for-step as a distraught amnesiac with a purse full of money and a blue key. Mulholland Drive is deeply surrealistic and narratively wishy-washy adding up to a pocket full of “Whaaaa”. Meaning, this is not your grandma’s expressionism. Dark, cryptic, episodic and engrossing, Mulholland Drive is Lynch’s puzzle without a key and, for better or worse, it’s truly something to behold. (A-)

SEVEN SAMURAI (1954)

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The assembling of the heroes has become such a narrative standard that it arrives on our modern day screens unquestioned and without much fanfare. Akira Kurosawa did it first in Seven Samurai. Imagine a world before the misfit heroes joining together for a singular cause. You can’t, can you? Kurosawa also introduced the idea of the central hero embarking on a mission unrelated to the central narrative before they launched into the meat of the story, a trope that has been duplicated in everything from James Bond to Indiana Jones to The Dark Knight. The effect of Seven Samurai is so vast and so all-encompassing that it’s hard to imagine what film would look like today without it. In fact, Seven Samurai is such a cultural cornerstone that just today, Antoine Fuqua announced that he would be remaking Magnificent Seven (the 1960 Western remake of Samurai) with Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawke and Chris Pratt. Even without its extensive butterfly effect on film culture en masse, Kurosawa’s landmark film is an epic to behold, especially on 35mm in Seattle’s Cinerama Theater (now one of the most advanced, hi-tech theaters in the world.) At 202 minutes, Seven Samurai invests time in characters worth investing in, offering a meaty narrative that builds its cast in the first act and then sets them to war in the second (complete with intermission). Takashi Shimura gives a masterful performance as Kambei, the elder leader of a ragtag team of ronins, banded together to stave bandits off from a village of peasants and his final moments in the film are as effective and affecting as any Oscar-nominated performance this year. (A)

OPEN WINDOWS (2014)

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Elijah Wood
continues a string of experimental, misconceived, poorly written horror thrillers. Maniac saw the entire film from Wood’s POV to ill-effect, Grand Piano sat him in one location and forced him to stab at black and white keys lest an explosion make a fortune go poof and 2014 Sundance premiere Cooties had a bunch of TV actors try their hand at grander schemes. It didn’t work. The grand scheme here all takes place within Wood’s laptop with Nacho Vigalondo‘s “camerawork” prying between various computer windows. A hacker conceit comes to head with a kidnapping plot with Wood racing to save actress Jill Goddard (porn star Sasha Grey) from a malicious internet hacker with devious intents. The proceedings are as bad as you might expect from such a premise with the dull “in screen” gimmick running its course quickly and leaving the piss-poor writing and cruddy acting on full, embarrassing display. It seems that even with her new acting career, Sasha Grey has found a whole new glory hole. (D)

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