Saturday, January 12, 2008

kinski returns

It's been a few moons, but I finally managed to lay eyes on another film starring Klaus Kinski. Why such a long break? I've gone through the excuses before- adjusting to the new job, coming down with the flu over the holidays, in truth I haven't been watching as many movies lately (down from 1-2 a day to 2-3 a week), and when I have been watching movies, I've been going for some fairly easily digestible stuff, comedies mostly, that being my favorite genre for just kicking back and relaxing with fun flick. Anysways, my Netflix have been piling up and on my last day off, I finally got the gumption to pop "Venus in Furs" into the movie playing machine. I'd never given this 1969 film much thought, largely because it's directed by Jesus Franco, from Spain, a filmmaker I've generally always avoided. Why? The tremendously prolific Franco (who worked as a 2nd United Director for Orson Welles) is notorious for the uneven quality of his films. I knew he had a few masterpieces under his belt, but the majority of his filmography is made up of master pieces of shit. Anyway, I guess it was time to take the plunge, so with "Venus in Furs," I entered the world of Franco...

Fortunately, this film turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It's strange, dreamy, beautiful, trippy, fun and sexy. The story, largely influenced by Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and Otto Preminger's "Laura" (and in turn, seemingly an influence on Norman Mailer's "Tough Guys Don't Dance" and the more recent David Lynch films), centers on Jimmy, a hipster jazz trumpet player just kind of drifting around Europe, going from gig to gig and lady to lady. Confused Jimmy finds the naked corpse of a woman on the beach, and remembers she might be the same woman he saw murdered at a party (a swinging party, as a matter of fact, held by kinky Kinski, playing a rich pervert, natch) sometime earlier.

Jimmy continues his aimless European tour. He shacks up with foxy Rita, but is still haunted by the murdered woman, at first figuratively, but then literally, when he meets Wanda, who bears a striking resemblance to the murdered woman. Jimmy is infatuated with Wanda, naturally, and at first Rita seems cool with it, but eventually she splits the scene and Jimmy and Wanda shack up. Meanwhile, Wanda has her own agenda, tracking down the killers of the murdered woman she may or may not be, and pretending to seduce them, while ultimately killing them or getting them to kill themselves.

This is all making the movie sound much more linear than it actually is. "Venus in Furs" has a languid, dreamy quality and for the most part the story takes a backseat to the atmosphere and frequently fairly psychedelic visuals. This could have been annoying, a slice of scummy 60's Eurosleaze masquerading as an art film, but it all works quite well as a slightly sleazy, slightly arty murderously mysterious mood piece. Jimmy is well played by James Darren, the original Moondoggie (in the Gidget films). African-American singer Barbara McNair is Rita, and Franco regular Maria Rohm, from Austria, is the Venus in question, Wanda. Both are quite beautiful and good actresses. UK actor Dennis Price, a one-time leading man who went on to do a number of horror films, also appears, as does Manfred Mann, briefly, as a jazz musician. Kinski only has two scenes and speaks very little, but they're both wonderfully perverse, and as usual he lets his crazy eyes do most of the talking. Price died in 1973, McNair last year. Franco is in his 70s but still making films.

As long as I'm on the scene, I might as well mention two other good films I caught recently, the first being "the Brothers Solomon." This didn't make much of an impression at the box office, I don't think, I believe I saw it on some critics worst films of the year list, but I found it hilarious. It's directed by Bob Odenkirk, of Mr. Show fame, who was similarly ignored for the nearly-as-hilarious "Let's go to Prison" two years ago. Both films show Odenkirk as a filmmaker with a particular comedic vision, one that is definitely off-kilter and unique, often quite subtle, occasionally more broad, but ultimately very unconventional and original. I suppose it's not humor for all tastes, being pretty unabashedly vulgar, but I find both films' blend of wide-eyed naivety with crass cynicism kind of perfect. Will Arnett of "Arrested Development" and Chi McBride of "Pushing Daisies" appear in both films and are excellent comedic actors.

I can feel my ability to make words go lessering as my tiredness gets more, so I'll also briefly say nice things about "Eagle vs. Shark." I ignored this New Zealand film when it played for a minute in theatres, despite favorable reviews, because critics compared it to Napoleon Dynamite, a film I didn't really care for. The comparison is fair, as the character played in "Eagle vs. Shark" by Jemaine Celment (of Flight of the Conchords), is a gawky nerd obsessed with kung-fu, who often lashes out when frustrated, and exaggerates and lies to impress the people around him. But Napoleon Dynamite was a cartoon, lacking any real humanity or depth, two things that "Eagle vs. Shark" has in spades. This is a very compassionate, often somewhat difficult, extremely human film, and fortunately, it's also very funny. The acting is uniformly great, with female lead Loren Horsley coming off completely irresistible, and equally great turns by Clement, as her loser boyfriend who takes her on a trip to his hometown so he can beat up his high school bully, and Joel Tobeck, as Horsley's good natured older brother. I dunno, I'm tired and words can't make not more, but watch these films and be happier for a while, or something. Sleeping.

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