Category: 1985


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In 1986, William Hurt (One True Thing) won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Luis Molina, a flamboyantly homosexual prisoner serving time in an Argentinian prison, in the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Along with the novel by Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman became an important entry in the canon of LGBT cinema. Though there is no denying the bravura ferocity of William Hurt’s performance and commitment to his role, as viewed through a modern lens, this film’s characterization of homosexuality borders almost on camp caricature, and were the novel not written by a gay man, it would almost be offensive.

Imprisoned for having sexual relations with an underage prostitute, Luis Molina is toiling away his days in a horrifically managed prison overflowing with petty thieves and political prisoners of the oppressive Argentinian regime. Molina passes his time by recounting the details of his favorite movies to his roommate, Valentin Arregui (The Addams Family‘s Raul Julia), a hardened Marxist political prisoner. As Molina tells Valentin of a favorite German romance (that also happens to be a Nazi propaganda film), the pair become closer despite their differences although betrayal and lies threaten to undo the fabric of their new relationship.

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An evening of sleep removed from my viewing of Kiss of the Spider Woman and I still can’t decide whether or not William Hurt’s performance is brilliant or extraordinarily offensive to the modern LGBT community. It’s probably both. He loses himself in the role. Hurt is a famously intense character actor, and it shows in this performance. There isn’t a second where he isn’t Molina. But, the writing of Molina is so flamboyant and stereotypically “camp gay” that it’s hard for me to take him seriously. So, William Hurt becomes this wounded, sensitive, desperately lonely man, but the writing of his character often turns Molina more into a stereotype than a real man.

I have no complaints about the characterization of Valentin Arregui or the performance of Raul Julia. In fact, I was actually far more impressed with Julia’s subtle, restrained intensity as Valentin than I was with the over-the-top (though in line with the character) camp of William Hurt. Valentin is a man consumed by anger and his political passions. But, he is also a lover. He misses his girlfriends. He misses his freedoms, and he respects the openness with which Molina lives his life. And Raul Julia captures the slowly eroding layer of toughness and hatred that are all Valentin seems to be when the film opens as he becomes more sensitive in the shadow of Molina.

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Kiss of the Spider Woman can be heartrendingly intimate. Though it may not have the sheer power of Sunday Bloody Sunday or A Single Man, the film paints a detailed portrait of the lives and loves of its two heroes. And through the unique framing device of the film within the film, Kiss of the Spider Woman is allowed to weave a symbolic and allegorical web (pun possibly intended; I’m not sure) rife with the angst and longing both our heroes feel so deeply. The film accomplishes so much with the mostly two-star set up, that the moments where the film strays and introduces other characters actually living in Molina and Valentin’s real world (as opposed to the Nazi film characters) seem woefully deficient compared to the relationship of Molina and Valentin.

I’m going to keep this review really short (though I swear I enjoyed it quite a bit) because I have some other things that I need to write about today. I want to apply for a fellowship, and I’ve sort of realized that I haven’t worked on any of my screenplays for nearly two months now if not longer. It’s time to remedy that. If you enjoy intimate character studies and important films in the LGBT canon, Kiss of the Spider Woman is a must see. The ending drags on a little too long, and not every scene winds up winning (and Molina’s campiness may be a turn-off to some), but for the 1980s, this film was remarkably prescient and insightful.

Final Score: B+

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So, the other day at work, I bought a shit ton of records on vinyl. Actually not that many. Just six. But some lady sold back like 140 records to our store and she had some really good stuff in there. I bought Prince’s Purple Rain, Billy Joel’s The Stranger and his An Innocent Man, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., Men at Work’s Business as Usual, and Phil Collins No Jacket Required. With that last one, I can finally act out the famous “Sussudio” scene from American Psycho (I’m joking before somebody tries to have me committed). No Jacket Required was a big commercial and critical success for Collins and really marked the beginning of him breaking away from Genesis (although lord knows why he’d want to do that). I’ve always loved the song “Take Me Home” (even when Bone Thugz-N-Harmony used it for one of their songs), and so that’s my Song of the day for today. Enjoy.

 

 

As soon as I finish doing this quick Song of the Day post, my very next blog post is going to be a review for Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve had it at home from Netflix for a while (my DVD copies of the film are at my dad’s not with me in college), and I finally found the time to get around to watching it today. I’ve been doing something this week that’s been taking up most of my free time and I’ll explain what that is in my write-up of Empire Strikes Back. Anywho, for fans of the Star Wars franchise, there’s pretty much a general consensus that Empire Strikes Back is the best film in the series. I’ll explain more about why I think that in my actual review of the film, but watching the film immediately made me think of Weird Al Yankovic. “Why?” you ask. Well, he created his own ode to everyone’s favorite green alien (whose species has never actually been given a name even in the expanded universe. fun fact), Yoda. It’s set to the tune of “Lola” by the Kinks, and it’s a pretty awesome/hilarious parody song. I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to get to a Weird Al song since I’m a pretty big fan.

Like most kids from the 80s onward, I have a special place in my heart for the Brat Pack. Mostly in regards to the John Hughes films (although I also like the Cameron Crowe projects like Say Anything or Fast Times at Ridgemont  High), if you can look past the garish 80s fashion, there’s just something timeless in those films that still resonate with a lot of young people today. They can be cheesy and predictable and occasionally a tad disingenuous, but for everybody who had a real teen experience with all of the emotional melodrama inherent in those years, it speaks to you. I’m not ashamed to admit that at one point I knew all the words to Pretty in Pink. But what happens when the Brat Pack grows up? What happens when a known franchise ruiner (although Batman was a decade off) like Joel Schumacher steps into a good thing? You get the addled mess, St. Elmo’s Fire.

Whoever signed off on this film at Columbia should have been terminated from their position. While the premise is intriguing enough, it’s execution is an almost uniform failure. Roughly a year after graduating from college, seven best friends navigate the turbulent reality of adult life. The highly successful Alec (Judd Nelson) and Leslie (Ally Sheedy) have just moved in together, and although Alec regularly hints to Leslie that they should get married, he regularly cheats on her. Their friend Kevin (Andrew McCarthy), a struggling journalist, is madly in love with Leslie, to the point that the way he ignores all other women makes his friends suspect he is gay. Billy (Rob Lowe) is dating Wendy (Mare Winningham) even though he’s married with a kid and sponges all of her money. Jules (Demi Moore) is a party girl whose out of control spending is only matched by her coke habit, and Kirby (Emilio Estevez) starts an unhealthy obsession with a young doctor (Andie MacDowell).

Before I eviscerate the film for its cliche characters, cheesy dialogue, wildly uneven acting, and utterly unsympathetic characters, let me shine a light on its redeeming points. Although Pretty in Pink makes me instinctually dislike Andrew McCarthy (“His name is Blaine!? Oh! That’s a major appliance, that’s not a name!”), he’s by far the most compelling character in the film. As one of the few characters whose sympathetic side greatly outweighs his flaws, his story of unrequited love is something that everyone can relate to. And Andrew McCarthy makes Kevin into a warm but wounded figure that is often the glue holding his group of friends together. Similarly, Ally Sheedy has her moments to shine as the beleaguered Leslie. Though she doesn’t have much to do most of the film, when she finally confronts Alec about his infidelity (and share’s her pain with Kevin afterwards), she shows Leslie’s sensitive side.

Unfortunately, the rest of the performances are less than impressive. Judd Nelson was only behind Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club for the best performance in the film (well, if you don’t count the principal), but he reads his lines as Alec as if there is something essentially off in Alec’s brain, which makes no sense since he’s a successful campaigner for politicians. Mare Winningham portrays the only other sympathetic character in the film with Wendy, but Wendy is such a doormat (and Winningham’s performance is so dull) that you never really make yourself care that she is constantly being used by the rakish Billy. Rob Lowe may have won the Razzie for this film (although he wasn’t great, I didn’t think he was actively bad), but that honor should have been bestowed to the lifeless and stale Demi Moore who provided no emotional context for the continual self-destruction of Jules.

Then there’s Emilio Estevez. His performance is fine, and he actually taps into a great bit of passion and occasionally rage that recalls his father, Martin Sheen, who he bears an almost freakish resemblance to. It’s his character. Although the film makes it obvious that his feelings for Andie MacDowell’s Dale are unhealthy, it doesn’t do a good enough job of reminding the audience that he is essentially a completely crazy stalker. The film even rewards his creep behavior with a scene that I don’t want to ruin for those who potentially haven’t seen the film. It’s a flaw with much of the film because there aren’t enough real consequences for the narcissism and selfishness at the core of most of the film’s characters. The film, instead, is far too eager to offer pat lessons and overly simple conclusions.

It’s also just incredibly difficult to sympathize with these people. If this film were to be described with a twitter hash tag, it would be #WhitePeopleWithProblems . Nearly everyone in the film originally comes from a high socioeconomic background, and through stubborness, pride, mental instability, and flat-out stupidity, they wreck things themselves. As a college student who has made his own share of errors concerning his education and life, this could be relatable, but the film gives you no reason to emotionally invest in these individuals other than the power of investing in the actors and archetypes of the stars. The potential is out there (and HBO has recently begun exploring it with Girls) to make a great piece about the terror that is transitioning from college to the real world, but St. Elmo’s Fire assuredly isn’t it.

Final Score: C+

 Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that the Bard of Avon has left an indelible imprint on fiction ever since he put quill to parchment. While I don’t know how it’s possible not to enjoy the works of Bill Shakespeare, I do accept the fact that he has his fair share of detractors, even by those I respect intellectually. Like I said though, I’m a big fan and have been ever since I saw the Mel Gibson film production of Hamlet in middle school (a production I ironically don’t think is all that great these days). My favorite play by Shakespeare though is King Lear. There’s something about its immense darkness, mixed against an epic family drama with perhaps the greatest villain Shakespeare ever wrote, that makes for a play that I can read again and again and again and always find some new passage or scene that’s infused with immense meaning.

The wonderful thing about Shakespeare’s plays is that they are so timeless and universal in their themes that they can be freely adapted as new artists and visionaries see fit. West Side Story, Baz Luhrman’s modern take on Romeo and Juliet, the Ethan Hawke Hamlet, Mekhi Phieffer’s O. It’s a terrible film but even 10 Things I Hate About You is an adaptation of Taming of the Shrew. You can change the era, the setting, and even some characters, but his stories still shine through and still make for entertaining escapes to this day. Akira Kurosawa is the premier auteur of Japanese film-making and no one from those tiny islands has come close to dethroning him. Rashomon, Yojimbo, and Seven Samurai still stand as some of the most famous films in the history of foreign cinema. I just finished his adaptation of King Lear, his magnum opus, Ran (which is Japanese for Chaos). It is now the single best foreign language film I’ve reviewed for this blog. Sorry, Fellini.

Ran, as I said, is a semi-loose adaptation of King Lear. Set in feudal Japan, Ran follows the demise of the once-powerful Ichimonji clan. The head of the clan and leader of Japan, is the now old and sickly Hidetora. After gathering his three children together (and his advisors), Hidetora announces that he is ceding his authority to the throne, and leaving his eldest son, Taro, in charge of the nation. He also leaves a castle and land to his middle child, Jiro. His youngest son, Subaro, was supposed to inherit land and a castle as well, but he spoke honestly and bluntly to his father about the dangers of dividing the land this way and the impending destruction. For his honesty, Hidetora banishes Subaro. At the behest of his Lady Macbeth wife, Kaede, Taro eventually banishes his father from the castle and Jiro quickly follows suit. Eventually fratricide and all out war breaks out in the kingdom as brother turns against brother and Hidetora descends into total madness.

The cinematography in this film is beyond breathtaking. Much like Fellini, Kurosawa is one of the undisputed masters of visual artistry in his films, and this film puts his particular skill set on display like no other picture. Whether its the use of color during the beautifully orchestrated battles or simply the masters use of background and location shoots, nearly every scene in the film is full of the kind of visual grandeur that most directors are lucky to capture in their best scene in their best films. For a film full of such artistry and beauty, it’s astonishing how horrifying and and barbaric the battle sequences are. Even though the blood looks suspiciously like red paint, it doesn’t change just how intense every single fight was. All of Kurosawa’s experience with historical epics came into play during each of the exquisitely choreographed battles.

In the original play, Edmund stood out as one of the best villains that has ever been written. He is so perfectly manipulative and ambitious that despite being a lowborn son of bastard birth, he nearly centralizes all of the power of England around himself. Ran flips around the genders of most of the major players of the play, and Edmund becomes Lady Kaede. She is definitely one of the best female villains in the history of cinema. When she coldly asks for the head of Jiro’s previous wife and insists that it is properly salted, you know she has more ice in her veins than any of the men in the film. The Fool in King Lear also distinguished himself as one of Shakespeare’s more cleverly written supporting characters, and Hidetora’s androgynous fool, Kyoami, steals every second that he’s on screen. It is actually the scenes between Kyoami and Hidetora that I felt Kurosawa was most completely channeling the style and power of Shakespeare.

You need to watch this movie. There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about this. It combines the best of the historical epic genre with the visual artistry of one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema with one of the greatest tragedies ever written. It’s samurais meets Shakespeare. I’m not really sure how you can possibly go wrong there. I think this was my 95th movie for this blog. This is going to be one of only 5 movies to get the score that I’m about to bestow on it, so that should hopefully speak leagues about its quality. The only person that I can’t recommend this to are those who can’t sit through foreign films with subtitles, but then, you probably aren’t into good movies in the first place as it is. So, rent this movie from where ever you rent movies from. You need to do it right now.

 Final Score: A+