by the Perfesser
Hello once again, my studious subjects! I have deigned to descend
my Ivory Tower of Solitude to inform you about three independent
features I have recently taken in at the local art houses. Given
the current dreck festering on the googolplex screens, I thought
it would be nigh on eons before I was dragged out of--er, left
the safety of my not-so-humble abode to see another film. After
several days of scratching and moaning, however, I decided that
yes, a flea bomb was in order, and so I dragged my delectable
carcass outdoors. What I found were three rather enjoyable films
to make a feast for any discerning cinemaphile: The Anniversary
Party, Sexy Beast, and With a Friend Like Harry.
(By the way, if I find out which of you wankers thought it would
be funny to give my precious felines your foul fleas, I will
wreak my wretched revenge upon your lame arses. Hell hath no
fury like the Perfesser forced to wear long-legged pantaloons
during a blistering hot Global Warming summer.)
But, I digress.
My appetizer was an American feature, The Anniversary Party,
written and directed by Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
I don't know much about this Cumming fellow, other than he is
well known for his THEE-ah-tur work, but I find that I quite
like him, and I have always adored the talented Ms. Leigh.
Pseudo-affectionately referred to as a dreaded "WPx2"
("White People With Problems") film by one of my colleagues,
The Anniversary Party shows us one day in the dysfunctional
life of a recently reunited famous couple as their famous friends
show up to wish them well on their 6th anniversary. We learn
that Sally, a not-taking-aging-so-well actress played by Leigh,
and Joe, a hot-shot writer played by Cumming, had split up rather
dreadfully and have only been back together a scant five months
before the party takes place. Naturally, their friends are concerned
that having a party so soon is not such a good idea. Naturally,
it turns out the friends are right, as the party slowly spins
out of control.
The Anniversary Party, shot on digital video and then transferred
to film, makes many trenchantly funny observations about the
private lives of public people--most of Sally and Joe's friends
are actors, photographers, or other people in the "biz."
Truthfully, if I were at their party and the other guests got
up to present skits, songs, and toasts to the couple, most of
which pointedly noted the fact that the split was basically
Joe's fault, I'd be very uncomfortable. But since I was merely
a spectator safely sitting in half-lit comfort, I had no problem
laughing at many of the proceedings while mentally noting that
we academics never partake in such self-absorbed silliness.
The film does take a more serious bent toward the end, and I
felt slightly dissatisfied with the ending (it was far too wide
open for my exquisite tastes), but all in all, I think all you
smart folks will enjoy it. The only possible bad side effect:
After seeing how well digital video transfers to film stock,
any idiot will think s/he can do the same thing. God save us
all from the oncoming deluge of fatally hip indie-ness!
My salad was a British import called Sexy Beast, a not-as-predictable-as-you'd-think
gangster thriller starring Ben Kingsley as a terribly horrid
thug named Don and Ray Winstone as a happily retired criminal
nicknamed Gal. Seems Gal decided to forego his sordid work with
resulting stints in prison, married his true love Deedee (Amanda
Redman), and moved to a remote part of Spain to live in peace.
His best friend and fellow criminal, Aitch (Cavan Kendall),
and Aitch's wife, Jackie (Julianne White), also reside nearby.
As foreshadowed by a tremendous boulder which comes barreling
down the hillside and nearly hits Gal before splashing into
Gal's pool, so comes Don to Gal's to lure him out of retirement
for "one last job." Oops, did I say "lure"?
I mean "force." I mean "demand." I mean,
this guy doesn't accept "No." In fact, what could
have been a ludicrous argument (a rather Pythonesque "Yes!"/"No!"
interchange) between Don and Gal turns into superb scene teeming
with menace as Don's bullying intensifies.
Sexy Beast is both funny and brutal and is saved from sinking
into a morass of cliché by the un-Hollywood ending and
the excellent performances of the two leads, Kingsley and Winstone.
Kingsley injects a massive dose of testosterone into the proceedings,
yet his Don is not simply a beast; he has a vulnerable side,
albeit mostly hidden, but enough to humanize him. Winstone imbues
Gal with a cuddly (yes, I said "cuddly," so just shut
up) cockiness that makes you root for him, even though he's
a crook as well. Also of note is Ian McShane as the nasty-ass
crime boss, Teddy Bass, a man of too-slicked-back hair and subtly
Quick caveat for the language police: Hearing poor ol' Gandhi
and pals prolifically spewing profanity after profanity may
jar some viewers. Don't like that word which starts with an
"f" and ends with an "uck"? Well, too bad.
Profanity doesn't equal stupidity, and if you can't handle a
few curse words, stay home and watch Seventh Heaven.
My main course was a heaping helping of a rich, dark French
dish called With a Friend Like Harry, one of the best films
so far this year. Directed by Dominik Moll, With a Friend Like
Harry quickly immerses us in suspense and never lets up until
its morally ambiguous end.
The story: Michel (Laurent Lucas), his wife, Claire (Mathilde
Seigner) and their three young girls are on vacation and going
to the family's country house to continue fixing it up. At a
stop along the way, Michel meets up with Harry (Sergi López),
a former classmate. Michel doesn't quite recall Harry, but Harry
instantly recognizes Michel, and the two become reacquainted.
Harry, along with his beautiful but vapid girlfriend, Plum (Sophie
Guillemin), wastes no time insinuating himself into Michel's
life and eventually becoming Michel's self-appointed guardian
That's right. I said, "devil."
You see, Harry has a slight problem. He's obsessed with Michel
because in their younger days, Michel was a poet and writer,
and his dark visions appealed to the deeply disturbed Harry--he
even memorized Michel's poems and recites them over dinner to
Claire, who never knew her husband was a writer. Harry wants
to fix Michel's chaotic life so that he can go back to his writing
and complete the science fiction novel he began in school. For
Harry, that means removing all distractions from Michel's surroundings.
Of course, being more psycho than Norman Bates, Harry goes about
removing distractions in rather disquieting ways. First, he
forces a new car onto Michel and Claire because their old one
broke down and had no air conditioning anyway. Next, he notes
that Michel's parents are somewhat overbearing and life-draining
where Michel is concerned. Harry "removes" them as
well (hell, after seeing that pink monstrosity of a bathroom
the parents had fixed up as a surprise for Michel, really, who
can blame Harry here?).
We, the audience, are fully aware of Harry's insanity, which
makes for sustained suspense as we wait and hope that Michel
and Claire become aware of it before it's too late. Credit the
delicious tension not only to Moll's direction and to Moll and
Gilles Marchand's script, but also to the masterful performances
of Lucas and López. Lucas makes the long-suffering Michel
quite sympathetic, even when Michel acts a bit selfishly, and
makes you want to support everything he does, even when that
everything results in his morally ambiguous actions at the end.
López's Harry is one of the scariest bastards ever to
be put on screen. Possibly the most suspenseful moment comes
early in the film when Harry first runs into Michel in a public
restroom. López-as-Harry stands there, hands dripping
wet, a slight smile on his expressive face, intently gazing
as Michel washes his hands and face. Michel doesn't even notice
him, so Harry continues to stare, a sequence of sustained creepiness
that is downright haunting. We don't get a full glimpse of Harry's
complete lunacy until well into the picture, a deft move on
Moll's part because it keeps the audience on edge wondering
how truly demented the man behind the wan smile is. López's
superb acting keeps Harry from becoming a caricature.
As usual, it takes a foreign film to illuminate the true banality
of evil in a way most American films can never touch. The fact
that With a Friend Like Harry has been so successful in its
limited run probably means that a Hollywood re-make is in our
future. Thus, I make the following plea to all creative Hollywood
types who loved this picture: Leave it alone. You can't improve
upon it, so don't bother trying. If you think you can, compare
the truly frightening Spoorloos (a.k.a. The Vanishing), a Dutch/French
film, with its vapid Hollywood clone, simply called The Vanishing.
Where Spoorloos shows that evil can remain undetected beneath
the mundane surface of a so-called normal life, the American
re-make caves in to the Hollywood desire for a clear-cut happy
ending where the hero triumphs and evil is vanquished in a rather
grisly way. The happy ending diluted the message of the original
film into palatable pabulum for the non-discerning moviegoer.
So I'm warning you: Leave Harry alone. After all, Raymond Lemorne
is still out there and ready to step in if you don't <cue
Okay, I know I said three films above, but I recently added
a delicious dessert from Britain to cap off my meal (and wash
the scary taste of Harry out of my mouth, so to speak): the
re-mastered Monty Python and The Holy Grail. All these years
later and that film is still hysterically funny. There are supposedly
a few added scenes--though I only spotted one--but at least
it was pretty funny. Hmm, perhaps if Hollywood does want to
get its stinking paws on Harry and re-make it, I can just say
"Ni" to them until they desist
Well, the Tower is aired out and the felines are eager to return
to their fluffy beds and multitude of treats they get after
each bath. Until next time I am needed, I remain yours in cinema
worship, the Perfesser.
Harry was sexy in a psychotic madman way- Emily Blunt