'Ms. 45' Makes Its Blu-ray Debut; or, If the Nun Has a Gun - Run!

 

web of violence

O sister: Zoe Tamerlis

the nun has a gun...

"Violation is a synonym for intercourse," Andrea Dworkin wrote in her influential and controversial 1987 book, "Intercourse."

Did Dworkin mean to suggest that all actively heterosexual men are by definition rapists? She denied that interpretation, but such an extreme notion hardly would surprise the habitués of the drive-ins and grindhouse cinemas of the 1970s and '80s, who may not have been familiar with "radical feminism" but certainly were aware of "The Last House on the Left," "I Spit on Your Grave" and -- on a more prestigious level -- "Straw Dogs."

Zoe Tamerlis and one of the dirty/trashy locations of 'Ms. 45'

In maverick auteur Abel Ferrara's pitiless yet also acidly satiric "Ms. 45" (1981), a young, mute woman -- played by knockout movie neophyte Zoë Tamerlis -- is raped twice within the opening 20 minutes, first by a masked psycho in an alley, then by the burglar already lurking insider her apartment when the dazed woman returns home. (The first rapist is played by Ferrara, who also cast himself in the title role of his 1979 thriller, "The Driller Killer.")

innocent no more

The woman, Thana (derived from "Thanatos," the Greek god of death), fights back against her second assailant, crowning the intruder with a clothes iron (a significantly "feminine" weapon). She drags the corpse to the bathtub, dismembers it, and distributes the pieces in various scuzzy New York neighborhoods; Ferrara's evocative and economical location shooting -- the budget was less than $70,000 -- presents a thematically apt annd now historically invaluable portrait of the Big Apple at its wormiest. (The dialogue also has a time-capsule element, as when one of Thana's co-workers reacts with disgust to the sight of a couple making out in a diner booth: "This is a restaurant. It's not Plato's Retreat.")

'The Raid 2' is muddy as well as bloody

"Movie." The word originated a century ago as a slang abbreviation of the term "moving picture," and while memorable movies have been made about conversations and about people who barely move at all, few things are more exhilarating onscreen than human bodies in rapid, expert, thrilling motion, whether the bodies are dancing, as in a musical, dueling, as in a swashbuckler, or beating the ever-loving tar out of each other with hammer, bat, fist, foot and, yes, car, as in the ultraviolent Indonesian martial-arts film that has inspired these thoughts, "The Raid 2."

'The Unknown Known' - A Review: Talk Talk Kill Kill

 

the many sides of Donald Rumsfeld

Errol Morris' "The Unknown Known," a documentary constructed around a conversation with two-time Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, is rated PG-13 for what the Classification and Ratings Administration of the Motion Picture Association of America describes as "some disturbing images and brief nudity."

Those citations seem rather unlikely until you see the movie and realize the references are to the infamous pictures of abuse taken a decade ago at the U.S.-controlled Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

'Nymphomaniac: Vol. I' - A Review: Sex & Pain & Fly Fishing

 

mouth-wiper: Stacy Martin in 'Nymphomaniac: Vol. I'

In 2000, the electronic dance music artist who calls herself Peaches recorded a song that for purposes of this review we'll call "Fornicate the Pain Away." The directness of its message -- the actual song uses a verb other than "fornicate" -- appealed to filmmakers as well as to clubgoers, and it has been placed in numerous movies and television programs, often as a humorous or sorrowful commentary on a character's actions.

first-class ladies? Sophie Kennedy Clark and Stacy Martin

It's tempting to suggest that writer-director Lars von Trier, in his sexual odyssey "Nymphomaniac," requires four hours to say what Peaches said in four minutes (plus eight seconds). Von Trier's title character, Joe -- played as a teenager and young adult by lovely and courageous newcomer Stacy Martin, and as our bruised and battered adult narrator by Charlotte Gainsbourg -- is addicted to lust, but she hardly ever seems happy, even when she's wearing shiny red plastic hot pants and seducing train commuters in a count-the-conquests contest with her best friend, B (Sophie Kennedy Clark).

Scheherazade in borrowed pajamas: Charlotte Gainsbourg with Stellan Skarsgaard

Since age 7, Joe has felt "completely alone in the universe," she confesses to the apparent Good Samaritan (Stellan Skarsgaard) who offers the beaten woman a cup of tea and a novel body part, his ear. Joe describes loneliness as "my constant companion... as if my whole body was filled with loneliness and tears." Who else is this sad? Emily Watson in von Trier's "Breaking the Waves" (1996), perhaps, or Bjork in von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark" (2000). When Joe comments on being "alone in the universe," von Trier cuts to an image of nebulae and stars; one imagines the planet Melancholia among those lights, coasting toward Earth to overwhelm and destroy it, as happened in von Trier's previous film, "Melancholia" (2012), in which Kirsten Dunst was the most inconsolable to date of the director's doomed, damaged heroines. 

hot for teacher: Stacy Martin

If "provocauteur" isn't a word, it ought to be, at least in reference to von Trier, the fiftysomething enfant terrible of Danish cinema and persona non grata of the Cannes Film Festival (thanks to some unwelcome Nazi jokes) whose value as an auteur generates contentious debate but whose genius as a provocateur, marketer and self-promoter is beyond doubt. As a two-part sexually explicit movie, "Nymphomaniac" may not be an easy sell, but von Trier knows few companies would take a chance on a four-hour movie titled "Depression."

'The Face of Love' - A Review: Annette Bening Sees Double

 

Ed Harris stares into 'The Face of Love,' Annette Bening

Does "The Face of Love" belong to Annette Bening? If you're speaking of an ideal, the answer is debatable; if you're speaking of the new movie with that name, the answer is most definitely yes.

'Frankie & Alice' - A Review: Halle Berry's Psycho a Go-Go

 

every schizo movie needs mirror shots: Halle Berry in 'Frankie & Alice'

"Frankie & Alice" may be "based on true events," as an opening title promises, but it seems more truly inspired by star-producer Halle Berry's desire for an ostentatious showcase to demonstrate that her Best Actress recognition for "Monster's Ball" didn't Jinx (ouch) a career notable for such post-Oscar calamities as "Gothika," "Catwoman" and "The Call."

Something obviously went wrong with the plan. I still have in my possession a studio-supplied screener copy of "Frankie & Alice" touting Berry for Best Actress and the movie for Best Picture -- of 2010. A very brief Oscar-qualifying engagement that year apparently led nowhere, so "Frankie & Alice" disappeared, to re-emerge 40 months later as a "new" Berry film, as if it had blacked out and forgotten its checkered past, much like the Frankie of the title, a go-go dancer who is go-going crazy.

Frankie: cold chillin in the crib  

Like "The Three Faces of Eve" (an Oscar vehicle for Joanne Woodward in 1958) and "Sybil" (an Emmy-winner for Sally Field), "Frankie & Alice," set in 1973, is the story of a woman suffering from what a psychiatrist played by Stellan Skarsgaard refers to as "dissociative identity disorder" or "simulatenous co-prescence" -- multiple personalities, to you. The primary personality is Frankie, a bad-grammar-talkin' "stripper from Watts" who likes her liquor and her pot but announces: "Frankie got rules -- no smack, no blow, no speed." No nudity, either: In the tradition of movies that cast name actresses as professional peelers, Frankie keeps her clothes on, even when she's shaking her moneymaker in a golden go-go cage in front of a gaggle of google-eyed droolers.

a 'mud-spattered' image from 'The Great Flood'

"Noah" is the talk of the movie industry this week, but it's not the only deluge in town. At 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, April 3), the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art will screen "The Great Flood," writer-director Bill Morrison's film about the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States, the Mississippi River flood of 1927, which covered 27,000 square miles -- from Cairo, Ill., to New Orleans -- and displaced a million people.

The term "documentary" doesn't seem quite right for "The Great Flood." Rather, call it an experimental nonfiction film, or -- to borrow a phrase from the advance publicity -- "a film and music project." Unlike most documentaries, the 78-minute movie contains no narration, no talking heads, and no helpful graphics or charts. Its minimal text includes only brief bits of explanatory information ("In April 1927, the Mississippi breached its levees in 145 different locations") and chapter titles that transform the story of the flood into an urgent haiku ("Evacuation," "Aftermath," "Migration," and so on).

refugees from 'The Great Flood'

Eschewing words, Morrison constructs his film almost entirely from vintage black-and-white footage of the event, complemented by a jazz score composed by guitarist Bill Frisell, and performed by Frisell's quartet. (It's possible not all the footage used by Morrison originally was shot without sound, but we hear no soundtrack noises or voices here.) One might expect sinister or apocalyptic music to accompany these images of flooded streets, upended houses and refugees camping in railroad box cars, but the score is contemplative and sometimes whimsical, with frequent interpolations of "Ol' Man River." (As you watch and listen, your mind almost  automatically supplies the lyrics: "Colored folks work on de Mississippi/ Colored folks work while de white folks play...")

Like the people who inhabit the frames, much of the film stock is heavily distressed. The damage gives the images an appropriately mud-spattered, post-disaster appearance; sometimes the splotchy, jumpy degradation transforms these smalltown flood scenes into abstract animated splatter paintings, like the ameobic light shows at a sixties psychedelic rock concert. Such imagery has a timeless beauty, but the movie is nothing if not timely; you'll think of Katrina, a decades-later flood that affected many of the same poor neigbhorhoods, or maybe remember back a season or two when the foot of Beale Street and other areas of Memphis were submerged.

the water recedes, the music rises: 'The Great Flood'

Like the other flood movie alluded to earlier, "The Great Flood" eventually lifts its head above the waters to find hope. The film suggests the migration caused by the rising tide spread blues music and Southern culture to the North with greater speed than otherwise would have happened. The film's final chapter collects footage of musicians and dancers in Coahoma, Miss., and in the famous Maxwell Street district of Chicago. The final image, a long take of a women dancing to a mystery rhythm we can't hear, is ecstatic. (Appropriately, the movie is a production of Hypnotic Pictures.)

Admission is $8, or $6 for museum members or students. For advance tickets or more information, look here.

Memphis International Jewish Film Festival Begins Thursday

 

yet another Skarsgaard: it's Bill, in 'Simon and the Oaks'

Beginning Thursday (April 3) and continuing through Sunday (April 6) with a modest but thought-provoking program of three features, the first International Jewish Film Festival of the Memphis Jewish Community Center is the latest additon to the city's small but increasing number of niche or theme film events.

face of fear: 'Simon and the Oaks'

Others of these mini-fests include the concurrent Italian Film Festival USA, held for four years now at the University of Memphis; the Tournées French Film Festival, which in January completed its seventh year here and second at Rhodes College; the 16-year-old Outflix Film Festival, home to "films from around the globe by and about gay, lesbian, bisexual and trangender people"; "Bikesploitation," an appropriately mobile short film fest and celebration of pedal-philia; and last year's newcomer, the Unreal Film Festival, devoted to international fantasy, horror and science fiction, and set to return in September to Midtown's Evergreen Theatre.

identity crisis: Mehdi Dehbi is 'The Other Son' (or one of them, at least)

With a focus on films of "Jewish identity," the MJCC International Jewish Film Festival also is intended to become an annual event, according to organizers.

'Bad Words' - A Review: Jason Is a J-E-R-K

 

J-E-R-K: Jason Bateman in 'Bad Words'

As the difference of only one word in the titles suggests, the deservedly R-rated "Bad Words" is a "Bad Santa" relocated from the context of Christmas to the culture of spelling bees.

More cleancut and suburban in appearance than Billy Bob Thornton ever could be, Jason Bateman is our antihero, Guy Trilby, a petulant and foul-mouthed spoilsport and "insolent child" of an adult who takes advantage of a technicality to become the grown-up terror of the spelling bee circuit, cutting down the pint-sized competition through a combination of longtime professional copy-editing expertise and cruel psychological bullying.

'Enemy' - A Review: The Two Jakes

 

who am I? the two Jakes in 'Enemy'

"We have met the enemy and he is us," said Pogo in 1970. An exercise in foreboding and mystery, "Enemy," the new movie from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, strips the comic-strip possum's famous maxim of the comfort of its plural pronouns and thus reduces its communal dismay to a singular nightmare. "I have met the enemy and he is me" -- that might be the insight of Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a glum history professor who discovers he is sharing not just his planet but his city (and eventually more) with an identical lookalike, a cocky third-rate actor named Anthony St. Claire (also Gyllenhaal).