Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July Quick Picks and Pans

The Wall (aka: Die Wand) (2012) This contemplative mood piece from writer/director Julian Pölsler, based on a novel by Marlen Haushofer, concerns a woman (Martina Gedeck, in an affecting performance) who suddenly becomes cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible wall.  We never learn how or why the wall originated, but her narration chronicles the pragmatic and psychological concerns about her day to day existence, alone in the Austrian wilderness.  Along with her animal companions, she must rely on her wits and fortitude to survive.  The wall itself serves as a metaphor for her mental and physical isolation.  As the days and months wear on, and she arrives at the conclusion that no help is available, she must confront the harsh realities of her survival.  The Wall doesn’t dwell on idle speculation, but chooses to keep us shrouded in a mystery with no solution. 

Rating: ****.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

Bettie Page Reveals All (2012) Bettie Page, who passed away in 2008, provides the narration to a documentary about her rise and fall as a ‘50s pinup model and rebirth as a latter-day counter-culture pop icon.  Told through photos (the older Page is heard, but not seen) and interviews with artists, models and friends, Bettie Page Reveals All is an amusing, informative and touching portrait.  Filmmaker Mark Mori takes a balanced approach, counterbalancing Page’s own words with first-hand accounts from the people who knew her best.  We learn about her seven-year stint as a photographic model, as well as her history of sexual abuse, failed marriages, legal troubles and mental illness. The film also explores one of the most curious aspects about Page, as a woman with strong religious conviction, but a relaxed attitude about nudity and sexuality.  Even with the inclusion of so many biographical details, it still seems as if there were some missing pieces from her life story, but it’s probably as complete as we’re going to get.  It’s a fascinating profile that should satisfy Bettie Page enthusiasts, as well as anyone wondering what all the fuss was about.

Rating: ****.  Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) Frank Pavich’s documentary is a big “what if,” covering filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel Dune to the big screen in 1975.  The 84-year-old Jodorowsky is incredibly lucid and energetic as he recounts his travails to create something that would have been a truly mind-blowing experience.  Every aspect of the film would have been larger than life, with a cast that included Orson Welles, Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger.  In addition to music by Pink Floyd, artists H.R. Giger, Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Brian Foss were brought onboard, with Dan O’Bannon providing special effects.  Despite this impressive assembly of talent, short-sighted Hollywood studios were reluctant to back the French production.  Much has been said about how this version of Dune would have been the greatest science fiction film of all time, but I’m unconvinced that the production, if it ever received the green light, wouldn’t have imploded under the collection of massive egos involved in the film.  What ultimately could have been, the world will never know. 

Rating: ****.  Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Gentlemen Broncos (2009) ”Polarizing” is probably the best way to describe director/co-writer Jared Hess’ train wreck of a movie, which appears to be set in the same alternate-reality ‘80s universe as (his better film) Napoleon Dynamite.  The basic story involves teenager Benjamin (Michael Angarano), who attends a camp for young writers, only to have his science fiction novel plagiarized by his literary idol Chevalier (Jemaine Clement).  Surrounding this central hub are several sub-plots, involving Benjamin’s fashion designer mother, a pseudo-father figure, and an inept filmmaker.  Generally, I enjoy films that depict unconventional individuals, but in this case a little restraint would have gone a long way.  In a film that feels burdened by an overload of quirky characters.  In its eagerness to please, Gentlemen Broncos borders on contempt for the subject matter, choosing to have us laugh at, not with, the characters, and taking a condescending approach to the science fiction genre.  The movie is not without its fleeting charms, however, especially when we witness a couple inspired iterations of Benjamin’s protagonist Bronco (Sam Rockwell) fighting mutants in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Angarano is also good as the young writer – the only character who doesn’t seem contrived.  These moments elevate the film enough to give it a mild pass.

Rating: ***.  Available on Blu-ray and DVD


  1. Very cool list of movies you have there Barry. That "Jordowsky's Dune" has got my interest. Even though I can't really say for sure whose version would have been better. I would have loved to see "Lynch's Star Wars" which would tell David Lynch's version of "Return of The Jedi"( Lynch was asked to direct that movie but dropped out to to make "Dune" instead) The Wall looks like an interesting acting peice but not a good title. That Bette Page Doc looks interesting

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Vern. I highly recommend the top three films - all very different. I agree that "The Wall" isn't a particularly compelling title. It almost slipped by my radar.

  2. Keep on top of those documentaries for me, Barry! I watched Jodorowsky's Dune a couple of weeks ago, but I haven't seen Betty Page Reveals All. I think you're right that Jodorowsky's version of Dune would have been a massive, fascinating clusterf**k. While we're talking about movies that could've been, how about David Cronenberg directing Total Recall? I would give me left nut to see that.

    1. Thanks Brandon! Glad you liked Jodorowsky's Dune. Bettie Page Reveals All was great too.

      Didn't know that bit of trivia about David Cronenberg. What a difference that would have made. Ah, to dream...