Saturday, April 27, 2013

Once Again Down Sunset

April has been a good month, invisible audience.  The first week, I returned to the beautiful state of California (unfortunately without my wife, as she was too tied up with work) mainly for my sixth audiology convention, this time held in Anaheim.  There is not a lot to report on that, other than I got a plethora of continuing education hours I needed and The Bangles played one of the hearing aid parties, where signs warned that each attendee was only allowed 2 free drinks from the bar, and which were not enforced. Cool bonus: during the band's finale, "Walk Like An Egyptian", they broke mid-way through it into The Who's "Magic Bus." Entirely unexpected and surprisingly good.  Three of the original 4 ladies played that night. Singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs (on whom I had a healthy crush back in the 80s) still looked amazing.

As usual, I saw many of my old professors and a few former classmates at the Convention. The learning sessions were mostly enlightening. I was inspired by one of them to do a tinnitus presentation of my own, but "stay tuned" is all that I can say at the moment.  The Convention Center is directly across the street from Disneyland. You can see the tops of roller coasters and hear the occasional scream as you walk down Katella Ave. I did not play hooky.

The first part of the week was R & R and I stayed at the Park Plaza Lodge on 3rd and Martel in Los Angeles. It is an old, somewhat musty, and very reasonable hotel that apparently once had circular beds and suited me just fine. I'm very frugal when it comes to lodging, as I'm not there to lounge and luxuriate in amenities but to enjoy the city I'm visiting. And the neighborhood behind the Lodge was just sublime - I walked (yes, sometimes "walking in L.A." does happen) through it several times down to Beverly Blvd. to marvel at homes I couldn't hope to afford. But these were not  the ranch house mansions like you see in the Hollywood Hills. They were what appeared to be early to mid 20th century (some Southwest) style stone and brick structures with nicely manicured yards.

On the Blvd. I stopped at The New Beverly Theater, a great revival house that screens many traditional and not so traditional classic films in 35mm.  The night I peeked in there was a triple feature of DUCK SOUP, IT'S A GIFT, and HORSE FEATHERS, which was awfully tempting but I was too tired for it.

Interestingly, there were also hordes of Orthodox Jews strolling the area day and night.  There was something very comforting about that.

My walking continued the next day as I made my way towards Wilshire Blvd. and the La Brea Tar Pits. I unfortunately got a bit of the ancient substance on my fingers as some rascal used it to announce his or her love for another on the handrail overlooking the pits. Took nearly 20 minutes to wash it off.  After awhile I wandered over to LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) but it was not to open for another few hours. I'm kicking myself for not going back; there was a Stanley Kubrick exhibit there!

Dining? The first night I selected Lucy's El Adobe Restaurant on Melrose, very close to Paramount Studios. It's a longtime running Mexican restaurant that was very dark and very quiet - the way I like it. Above my table was a wall filled with head shots of actors and notables from a few generations, all exclaiming how much they loved the joint. It really was all about the atmosphere.  I read some unfavorable reviews online but was undeterred. Though, they were right about the watery salsa and stale chips. But the taco platter was quite good.
 Even better was my lunch the next day at Musso and Frank, another famous local haunt that dates back to 1919. A real Hollywood tradition, frequented over the years by too many to mention. It has been featured in several films, including GREENBERG and SUSAN'S PLAN. I spent an hour at the bar downing a vodka martini and Rob Roy (house specialties) and chatting with a very friendly bartender before I sat down to a lusty, damned near fatal meal of a porterhouse and twice baked potato (and a few glasses of red wine). The waiters - some of whom have been there for decades, wear red coats and are cordial but not into the small talk.  It was a great old school experience.

That evening, not very hungry, I found Crossroads, a vegan place that had opened a few weeks earlier. I had three small dishes: grapefruit salad, quinoa, and cauliflower pureed into an amazing soup. I sat at the bar with several Angelenos (some of whom were solo, like me) and thoroughly enjoyed the small meal and (mercifully free of pretense) ambience. And, I had my one and only celebrity sighting on this trip - James Cromwell, best known for his roles in BABE and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL was at a table to my left. I knew it was him as he is quite an outspoken vegan.

Breakfasts were also memorable and hearty - Fiddler's Bistro (which was attached to my hotel) and Blue Daisy Cafe in Santa Monica, which served zucchini hash browns.

This L.A. trip also allowed 2 must-do activities: driving west on the Sunset Strip (I did not "turn that jungle music down") at night and hugging the curves on Mulholland Drive in the Hills.  Both drives can be a bit treacherous with their curviness. I think I took a few turns a bit too hard and fast on Mulholland but you just have to. It's a rush. I stopped at a lookout point to gave down on Universal City.

Lot of history there, and of course on Sunset. I had to check to see if the Viper Room was still there.  You may remember that River Phoenix died out front in 1993.

The only disappointment was Hollywood Blvd., a long stretch of Tourist Hell. I was only there to get to Musso and Frank, which was built long before all the tacky shops and Walk of Fame were erected around it. There were hordes of people jamming the sidewalk and looking around cluelessly. I had been there before but this time it seemed especially obnoxious.  To add insult, I read that they're changing the name of Grauman's Chinese Theater again (and doing some ill advised renovations).

But...there's always at least one curious moment on the Boulevard.....
Looking forward to the next adventure in La La Land!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Luna


"Censorship is a weakness. We should just move forward and be audacious"- Paul Verhoeven


Bernardo Bertolucci would not argue with Mr. Verhoven. His 1979 feature LUNA is most certainly an audacious film, though quietly audacious, unlike many of the sort Verhoeven made (FLESH + BLOOD, BASIC INSTINCT, SHOWGIRLS). Bertolucci has explored many sexual taboos throughout his career, most famously in the execrable LAST TANGO IN PARIS. The censors were all over his films. The chorus of disapproval possibly louder than the applause. But I have to give the director some points for fearlessness. He is very interested in the sorts of fetishes and frustrations most of us would rather not discuss or see onscreen. Of those, the implication of incest must rank highly.

Caterina (Jill Clayburgh) is a once famous American opera singer who had spent a significant amount of her younger life in Italy. The opening scene is a flashback to the 1960s with she and her young son, happily dancing to silly pop tunes. There are glimpses of a young man with her. And who is that serious woman playing the piano in the living room? The title credits then track Caterina as she rides her bike down a hill under a fat Italian moon, La Luna.

Flash foward to years later, Bertolucci's camera restlessly tracking Caterina in her swanky NYC apartment as she packs to return to the motherland to try to revive her career. Her son Joe (Matthew Barry) is now 15. Caterina's husband, the aloof seeming Douglas (Fred Gwynne) is set to go with her but dies of a heart attack moments before their departure. Cut to mother and son blankly staring at hordes of zombie-like mourners accosting their hearse.

Things hardly improve overseas, at least for Joe, who hangs with kids who get him hooked on heroin. But newly widowed Caterina eventually feels revitalized, free. She even verbalizes this to her colleague backstage. There is only a passing trace of guilt regarding her feelings, it seems. Maybe it was only because of her son. As LUNA slowly progresses, through the murk it becomes clearer how attached to her son she really is. Her guilt increases as she watches her son drift without a father figure. She's aware enough to realize how deficient she is a role model. But her affection is strong.

Joe's confusion leads him through awkward experimentation with a young girl and maybe as a victim of a pederast (rumors abound a confirming scene of this was edited from U.S. prints). He seems to desire his mother with increasing urgency. But is it sexual? Or does he just crave her attention? Her time? Someone to fund his drug habit?

So loving/desparate is Caterina that she indeed buys more heroin from Joe's dealer, a man who doesn't drink alcohol because it is against his religion, something she finds incredulous. Mom comes home to find that her son (who just spent a day of agonizing withdrawal) even went through the trouble of cooking a meal for her. It seems so sweet and innocent. She offers him the drug, but, oh shit, she forgot the needle! Joe goes ballistic, so jonesing for a fix that he plunges a fork into his arm to deliver the H.

Clayburgh somehow manages this difficult role with just the right resolve. If you're familiar with her work in other late 70s/early 80s films like AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and IT'S MY TURN you'll recognize her style here: mature, uncommonly intelligent, but just a hairline crack away from complete breakdown. Bertolucci puts her through the wringer, and it's a choice showcase for her talents. Even in the most mundane of life's everydays she displays a strength that sustains her, and that we can see right through.

As the whiffs of incest become more apparent in LUNA, the actress reveals an ability to exude sexiness and maternalism simultaneously, no easy feat. During a road trip, Joe shows no interest in his mother's childhood home, or even helping her change a flat tire. The little brat drives off and leaves her stranded in the countryside. They reunite in a tiny restaurant later: Caterina sits and flirts like a schoolgirl with the man who rescued her while Joe sits at another table, squirming with jealousy and obnoxiously drumming with cuttlery. This scene is key in that the sexual and emotional games mother and son play here are so vital to Betolucci's points, the reason for this film's existence, in my opinion. What eventually happens between them is left for you to discover. I found nothing of that to be over the line or necessarily tasteless. Controversial, no question.

I don't imagine many reading this will drop what they're doing to see LUNA. It's a long, tedious, uncomfortable film that seems to have been made to evoke those feelings. There are some hypnotic passages of beauty, of gorgeous Italian vistas, of powerful operatic solos. There is an adoption subplot that feels half baked, and a conclusion that feels likewise. LUNA is a tricky project that succeeds and fails in equal measure, but I have to admire the director's willingness to even tread these waters. Not everyone would agree, including director Andrei Tarkovsky, who called the film "cheap, monstrous rubbish". The pursuit of audacity has its risks.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lost Treasures, Part One

Imagine a rummage through your parents' attic. Amongst the perphanalia and keepsakes you find an object wrapped in Christmas paper. It's clear that it had been wrapped many years ago, 30 perhaps. How had it been missed? You tear into like you might've when you were a teen and discover something really cool, a gift that your 14 year old self would've really dug. Here you are, so much older, yet feeling 14 again.

This is how I've felt with 2 fairly recent musical discoveries.  Here's the first: "Shambelle" by the Police.......



 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Landlord


 
You rarely see movies like 1970's THE LANDLORD anymore.  Even in that decade, with so many ground-(and taboo-) breaking films gracing theater screens, Hal Ashby's directorial debut was an unusually candid and honest social drama.  A real taking to task of cultural hypocrisy. Strangely enough, it disappeared from consciousness very soon after its limited release.  To this day, the film is rarely screened or discussed.  It is all but lost among the director's other, far more well known works like COMING HOME and BEING THERE. But THE LANDLORD should not be missed; it contains some of Ashby's most masterful, unobtrusive direction.

Beau Bridges is Elgar Enders, a privileged Long Island brat, almost 30, who continues to lounge around his parent's mansion. His siblings are far more ambitious, and his father is greatly embarrassed. His mother (Lee Grant) balks when her son abruptly decides to purchase a crumbling Brooklyn tenement. His plan is to drive out the current residents, 100% black, most of whom are well behind on their rent, and convert the dump into a bachelor's paradise, complete with a huge skylight and chandelier. The neighborhood is Park Slope, at that time of filming still a very working class, African-American area. Today, the gentrification this film predicts has long since come about.

It's no surprise that Elgar's plans begin to derail after he gets to know his tenants. THE LANDLORD, however, does not play into a cozy fantasy of "getting to know you" or "Hey, we're all the same!" feel-good pap. Elgar's first meeting with Marge (Pearl Bailey) is at the wrong end of her shotgun. But within minutes, he's upstairs, enjoying her ham hocks and conversation. Marge loves to cook. She even later invites Joyce up for the same and some pot water.

Elgar also meets Francine (Diana Sands, who is wonderful), a friendly but melancholy middle-ager whose troubled, confused activist husband Copee (Lou Gossett) is often in prison. Professor Duboise (Mel Stuart), who teaches very advanced youngsters also lives in the building and seems to see through Elgar's facade from the beginning. If there was ever acting in the eyes, Stuart achieves that.

One night at a club, Elgar meets Lanie (Markie Bey), a dancer he mistakes for being white. Lanie explains her origins and the frequent discrimination she suffers from blacks and whites over her appearance. I can't recall too many films which explore the light-skinned black issue with as much insight, other than Spike Lee's JUNGLE FEVER. Elgar and Lanie begin a relationship which will be tested after it is revealed that Elgar got Francine pregnant after a one nighter (following a "Welcome the Landlord" party).

THE LANDLORD, at the risk of trotting out a cliche, is a real breath of fresh air. An adult film that deals with adult issues. These days, films examining similar events are very contented to have neat, easy resolutions. What's especially revealing about this movie is how self-observant it is. While many barbs are directed against "the Man", that Man may well be a liberal. To wit, Joyce sums up the point by stating how it's all fine and good to have progressive views, but not to get all in it, too close. The Enders family are shown to be real buffoons, but never just caricatures. Some scenes jump head first into scathing, uncomfortable satire, particularly a dinner which ends with a bowl of soup dumped over the butler's head.

Another illustrative moment: the tenants at the party face the camera and discuss what it means to be black, how it is not merely the new fad, presumably directed at Elger, one of those liberals who endorse integration because it's of the moment. Each comment is more lacerating than the last.

THE LANDLORD should be screened for a group ready to discuss the evolution of race relations. It was shot in an era when school integration was finally reaching the South, when many mainstream attitudes were still rigidly in the old school. The movie may shock some latter day viewers. But the story moves confidently and logically, right to its abrupt and uncomfortably realistic finale.

P.S.: THE LANDLORD would make an interesting double feature with STAY HUNGRY, another insightful film on class relations, with Beau's brother Jeff playing the upper class child.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Remembering Mr. Ebert



NOTE: I would have preferred to have posted this in a more timely manner, but was away at the annual audiology convention in California (entry to follow).

I had watched, listened to, and read Roger Ebert since I was 9 or 10 years old. The PBS show Sneak Previews featured him and co-hort/nemesis Gene Siskel debating the latest releases with great urgency. I had never seen anything like it.  The first critic I remember watching was Herbert Swope on the local news, but he came off as a stuffy fart. Siskel and Ebert were similarly caustic and cutting, but great fun and quite endearing. It was my introduction to considering movies as more than simply diversions. I loved the opening to Sneak Previews, with its spirited scoring and movie house slapstick. Watching the video on YouTube gives me warm feelings. Heck, just seeing the spot for WTTW Chicago at the beginning almost makes me tear up right now.

 

Especially since Mr. Ebert joined his old partner in that aisle seat in the sky last week. Siskel passed away in 1999, ending an era of the "Thumbs up, thumbs down" duo who went on to become cultural icons. It was crushingly sad. These guys were largely responsible for encouraging my interest in film and the critical thinking I would increasingly employ in my viewing. I had also begun to purchase Mr. Ebert's annual almanac of  full length reviews (prior, I had exclusively digested Leonard Maltin's capsule reviews in his annual) and felt a connection to the man. His "voice" was so distinctive that it would continue right to his announcement, published a few days before his death, that he was taking a sabbatical due to his continuing failing health. I wanted to respond to his reviews and blog entries many times over the years. I did toss off a few comments on his Facebook page.

Crushing sadness hit me again when I heard it. I was sitting in a lecture at the convention when I received a text from the New York Times announcing the terrible news. To say it was hard to focus on audiology and statistical models after reading that is a given.  I felt that awful, hollow pit. It cast a pall on what was a very productive and enjoyable week away. Folks always speak of how they feel they "know" a famous person. I felt that way with Roger Ebert, and often wondered, as I watched a film, what he thought of it (I tried to avoid reading his reviews ahead of time). Now I will forever wonder what he would've thought of all those films to come: good, great, and unspeakably bad. It will leave me feeling sad, but grateful that such a creative and influential man was known to me. 

R.I.P., Roger.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Killers (1964)

In 2003, Criterion released the 1946 and 1964 filmizations of Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers" together in one cool set. We'll begin with the newer.


If director Don Siegel's THE KILLERS fails with its storyline, it more than compensates with...everything else. By the way, I don't really believe the screen-, er, teleplay (this film was originally shot for TV, but released to theaters after NBC deemed it too intense and violent) is poor, or lacking in any significant way. It's just very potboiler, "B", exploitation, guilty pleasure. With Hemingway source material and a solid film adaptation nearly 20 years before, this version just seems sorta one dimensional. Dames will double cross you. Powerful gangsters will keep an iron fist (and sometimes use it across your face) over their lackeys and molls. Good, essentially honest folks will suffer. Heists will go bad because people get greedy. And crime (eventually) won't pay. We know all that, we've been to the movies and maybe even read a pulp novel or two.

But Charlie, a hitman played by the great Lee Marvin, is more inquisitive than your average stone-faced noir assassin. After he and partner Lee (Clu Gulager) easily waste a man named Johnny North (John Cassavettes), a former race car champ, Charlie is nagged. Nagged by why Johnny just stood there and took it, why he didn't try to run. Most of his victims tried to run. The payoff was more than twice his usual fee; that doesn't add up, either. Lee, a brutal yet often smiling psychopath who also watches what he eats, is content with just taking the dough and not asking questions. Charlie convinces him that whoever hired them has a lot more money. They decide to unravel a mystery. For the money, yes, but Charlie's satisfaction will come more from learning why Johnny stood and resigned himself.

Through their interrogations of a mechanic named Earl (Claude Akins) and mob underling Mickey (Norman Fell), the hitmen learn Johnny was involved in a million dollar heist, masterminded by an uppity gangster named Browning (Ronald Reagan), gone sour. Contributing largely to Johnny's downfall: a stunningly attractive woman named Sheila (Angie Dickinson) who's just too alluring for the poor lug to resist. A shame that she's also Browning's mistress.

THE KILLERS plays the noir game deftly, with many nice directorial touches by Siegel, who would go on to make other lean, tough dramas (several with another cinema icon, Clint Eastwood). Siegel manages to work in some nimble camerawork (note the jazz club scene) even within the constraints of a made-for-TV production, with its restriction of scope and laughably fake sets (plenty of overlit backlots for some outdoor scenes, too). Most laughable are the rearscreen projection shots (very common in earlier films) of Johnny and Sheila during a go-cart race and the stock footage of racecar crack-ups.

The hijacking of the mail truck (and the caper itself) is as elementary as your average TV drama. The artificiality of it all actually works in the film's favor. There's lots of crackling dialogue, lines like "If I knew you were coming, I'd of burned the place down." THE KILLERS is hugely influential. Watch PULP FICTION again and tell me otherwise.

It's especially fun to see such a diverse cast, some of whom would later find their biggest success on television, at work. Cassavettes acted in many films to fund his idiosyncratic, as-far-away-from-Hollywood-melodrama-as-you-could-get pictures like FACES and A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE. He's just fine as the average joe whose only real crimes are love and trust, two things that will definitely spell doom for a man in a story like this. Dickinson is just plain sexy in the femme fatale role, though she may not exactly erase memories of Ava Gardner. And of course, it's entertainingly odd to see Reagan, in his final screen appearance before his entrance into politics, playing such a cruel character. He's perfect, really, expressionless in face and voice, and not above slapping his mistress. Right after, we get a moment that is pure pop culture gold: Cassavettes pops Reagan right in the kisser.

That leaves Marvin, whose unique persona is on full display in this movie. His curiosity is what makes THE KILLERS a bit more thoughtful than other similiar films. He's menacing, but almost philosophical. In some ways, he's both the Greek chorus and a participant. He'll hang Sheila out a window by her ankles to get answers, then comment not only on what he's learned here, but perhaps on the whole crime genre itself. He's not just muscle and silencer. There's something about his voice, not gruff, almost soft, and his cool demeanor that can boil over in a second. But he's no brute. He was a tough guy with a brain, not merely some killing machine that fires off wisecracks. He would go on (with Dickinson) to play an even more seminal role in POINT BLANK (playing even more of a Greek chorus in that one), as well as several war and other pics. He was one of a kind. His last moments in THE KILLERS are absolutely unmissable. Watch that final hand gesture.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Heathers

There's a quick shot in Danny DeVito's dark as night comedy-drama THE WAR OF THE ROSES that tells viewers, "Yes, you're watching a ruthless satire, but.....not totally heartless." Barbara and Oliver Rose are in the midst of an extraordinarily ugly divorce. They both refuse to leave their picture perfect mansion. Barbara tells Oliver, who had recently urinated on a special dinner for a group of her important clients, that the meal she just served him contains the family dog. Oliver springs up and chases his wife out of the kitchen. Cut to a shot of the dog, safe and sound outside on the lawn.

But that's not how DeVito wanted it. He was allegedly forced by the studio (and maybe test screening reactions?) to insert this shot to reassure the audience. I wonder if a particular cutaway in the black as coal 1988 film HEATHERS was created under similiar circumstances?

The scene is emblematic of the overall tone of this acidicly funny movie: double funeral for two high schoolers, star football players who are viewed side by side with their helmets on in an open casket. Mourners have been lead to believe the 2 boys were homosexuals and committed suicide in a love pact. One father, chokes tears through his eulogy..."I love my dead gay son!" The scene is played for laughs. The murderer, J.D. (Christian Slater, doing his best Jack Nicholson) sits in the congeration with his unwilling accomplice Veronica (Winona Ryder). He cracks wise during the service, making Veronica giggle. Cut to a young girl, one of the deceaseds' little sister, in the front row, who tearfully turns back to look at her. The next shot shows remorse on Veronica's face.

I can look at that choice in director Michael Lehmann's film in one of 2 ways: it is either the filmmakers revealing they have a conscience, or it is a compromise. HEATHERS concerns a high school clique of ultra-snooty girls, three of whom share the first name Heather. They are ruthless, cutting, sadistic bitches on wheels who wield their sexuality like weapons and are feared by much of the student body. Veronica is their newest member, who quickly becomes disgusted with their attitudes and cruelty. Like them, she's physically attractive and popular, but actually has a soul. Veronica is at heart just like one of the geeks. She does not win favor with the #1 Heather (Kim Walker) when she refuses to make it with a boy at a fraternity party they attend.

Enter new student J.D., the sort of guy you may remember who usually dressed in black and rebelled against every authority figure while sneering at the debutantes and jocks. He wastes no time in exacting revenge on the popular kids who terrorize the nerds, firing blanks at 2 particularly douchey Neanderthals. Veronica is dazzled by this newcomer's fearlessness. He stands up to bullies! Is he an advocate for the less cool? Or just a self-centered anarchist?

Soon, J.D.'s methods become lethal. The beautiful people start dying, including a Heather, whose death is also made to look like a suicide, complete with impassioned letter. HEATHERS then approaches another, darker level of satire, having this death inspire many other students to follow suit 'cos it's gotta be the cool thing to do.

Veronica is conflicted. Attracted to this brazen stranger but repelled by his nihilism. She meets J.D.'s dad, a demolition expert who enjoys watching, over and over, videotapes of the buildings he's destroyed. He only wishes there had been people inside. Eventually, Veronica tries to break away from her beau. Will the school blow up at the end?

HEATHERS is almost an absurdist essay on teen politics. We all knew that high school was a microcosm for life, right? The strong prey on the weak and set the standards. Daniel Waters' screenplay spares no one, portraying the adults as total boobs, especially a teacher who encourages everyone to join her for a "love-in." Veronica's parents speak entirely in cliches. In a recurring scene that is perhaps a bit too obvious and precious, she speaks the exact same dialogue with them at breakfast, each time with her saying, "Because you're an idiot, dad." The dad nods and returns to his paper.

J.W. is presented as the molotov-cocktail clutching outsider who seeks the destroy the bourgeoius status quo, but is even more narcisstic then they are. The plotline bares a strong ressemblance to a 1976 film called MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH, another film which observed the terrible nature of high school social order and vigilantism. While that film was a straightfaced exploitation cheapie (albeit with things on its mind), HEATHERS is a caustic parody that makes strong (if overstated) statements on teenage life, while reveling in dark humor.

The film is a razor sharp observatory of behavior, sometimes even moral, but at the same time revels in black humor, maybe a bit too much at times? I'm thinking of the scenes wheere J.D.'s father sits and cheers while watching those videotapes. I found it silly and over the line, as if the filmmakers really wanted us to understand where J.D.'s behavior derived. Other scenes are just right, even the throwaways such as when Veronica tries to commit suicide by pressing a car cigarette lighter against her wrist. J.D. grabs her arm and...lights his cigarette off of it.

But that funeral scene? I have not read otherwise or seen any making-of documentaries, but I feel Waters and Lehmann intended it, and it gives the film a conscience, which in its grimmest moments it may seem to lack.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Holy Motors

Spoilers

2012's HOLY MOTORS is without question one of the most unusual movies I've ever seen. It's one that I admired more than enjoyed, though there were stretches where I was wildly entertained. In many ways, the film seemed designed specifically for my sometimes peculiar sense of what is "quality".  A movie that is ultimately about movies, audaciously staged and acted. It is not recommended for the literally minded or plot hungry filmgoer. I can tell you right now, you will be bored and perhaps even pissed off within minutes of trying to watch it.  You know who you are.  Trust me on this.

So what to make of a film that opens with a man wandering from his bedroom through a secret passage into a movie theater showing THE CROWD, King Vidor's classic? Who is this man? The remainder of the film is spent with Oscar (Denis Lavant) as he is driven around Paris by his loyal chauffeur Céline (Édith Scob). There will be many stops on this busy day. Before each, Oscar reviews a missive and changes into a variety of outfits, wigs, and make-up. Sometimes he sighs before the next act.  He will transform at different times into a bag lady, an elderly man on his deathbed, and a psychotic street urchin who kidnaps a model (Eva Mendes) during her photo shoot. He does this after biting off another young woman's fingers.

Oscar is obviously an actor, but what of his mission?  Director Leos Carax teases with every image, making large statements of Art Imitating Life and vice versa. Oscar is seen, before his workday begins, leaving his house and saying goodbye to his children. At the end of the day, he retires to a different house with another family...of chimpanzees. In between? Some scenes make it clear that we're watching a thesis on film appreciation - Oscar dons a CGI suit on a soundstage, and later a man (director?) shows up in the limo and criticizes Oscar's work - while others seem more steeped in realism, as when Oscar reprimands a young girl who calls him "Dad".

Carax disorients us further the deeper we get into HOLY MOTORS. By the time Oscar shoots dead a Chinese gangster that looks just like him, then finds himself in a pool of blood on the floor next to him, we have abandoned any sense of normalcy. Don't forget the accordion interlude or the poignant tune sung by Oscar's fellow pretender, Eva (Kylie Minogue).

The more you know about films and their history, the more likely you will appreciate HOLY MOTORS. It is quite difficult to describe it, and words won't illuminate it in any effective way. If you're adventurous in your film viewing, not easily offended, and harbor a taste for the truly bizarre, this is a ride worth taking. It breathes life into an increasingly anemic medium, where most movies are merely filmed deals, investments, or another tiresome franchise entry or reboot. HOLY MOTORS is a heavy meta exercise that will truly weed out the hackers and poseurs. Though it may also bring out the insufferably pretentious among cineastes who love to fill the air (and cyberspace) with their theories.  God bless 'em.

Oh, what of the film's title? The last scene will explain. A scene that is as absurd as anything I've seen recently. But it will keep your mind racing....