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Castaway (1986)

Amazing true story

The film Castaway from director Nicolas Roeg reminds me of the saying-‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ Based on a true story, it’s the tale of a British writer Gerald Kingston (played by Oliver Reed) who conceives of the brilliant plan to cart himself off to a desert island–with a suitable woman in tow–with the idea that he will write a bestseller based on his ‘back-to-nature-Adam-and-Eve’ experiences. Good plan, and it certainly smacked of a possible salacious bestseller. So middle-aged Gerald advertises for a wife, and is thrilled when young, blonde, and beautiful Lucy Irvine (Amanda Donohue) responds to his advertisement for “wife wanted.”

A man–a woman–alone on a tropical island in the South Pacific–well one thing leads to another, and Gerald and Lucy are soon lovers. Then the story becomes extremely interesting when the idyllic scenario shifts and the practicalities begin to set in. Both Gerald and Lucy begin to suffer from a variety of health problems related to their deprivations, and soon they are at each other’s throats.

When Lucy Irvine told her story to the British press, it created quite a scandal for some time in England. The irony, of course, is that Lucy Irvine wrote the book Castaway which detailed the plan for the bestseller, Gerald’s behaviour, and the inevitable disintegration of their relationship. The film does a rather nice job of contrasting all the hopes and dreams of the island life with the harsh realities of malnutrition, illness, and isolation. Both Donohue and Reed were perfectly cast in their roles–their initial passion is believable, and the disillusionment inevitable and well done.

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The Driver’s Seat AKA Identikit (1974)

“There are so many lunatics running around.”

In perhaps the most bizarre role of Elizabeth Taylor’s career, she stars in The Driver’s Seat as Lise, a neurotic woman who goes on holiday to Italy. The first scene establishes that there’s something wrong with Lise. She’s trying on a dress and irrationally becomes hysterical when a saleswoman mentions that the dress is stain-free. Apparently, Lise is buying an outfit for her trip to Rome, and she settles on a bizarre combination of a multi-coloured striped coat and a patterned dress. Once at the airport, Lise appears to be vaguely looking for something, and it becomes clear that what she’s searching for is a man. She subjects each man to scrutiny, but in the terminal, no one seems to pique her interest. Then she sits next to a single young man on the plane and makes him feel so uncomfortable, he moves. This leaves Lise sitting next to Richard (Ian Bannen) a randy macrobiotic diet fanatic who insists he must have a daily sexual encounter as part of his programme. Lise brushes off his advances with vague hints that she’s meeting someone at her hotel.

When Lise arrives in Italy she meets a range of people as she searches for the man who is her “type.” She meets a sweet old lady who is so addlepated, she only vaguely notes that Lise is extremely peculiar. With her bizarre, loud clothing, wild gestures, heavy make-up and searching gazes, some men assume Lise is a prostitute–or at the very least, a desperate, lonely women out looking for a ‘good time’. As her search continues for the man who is her “type”, Lise sheds–with relief–parts of her past.

This Italian film (also known as Identikit) directed by Giuseppe Patroni Griffi uses a backdrop of 70s terrorism to create a sense of a volatile, dangerous world, and the plot swings back and forth between Lise and her search for her “type” and the police who question anyone who saw Lise from the time she got on the plane. Some of the dialogue is dubbed, and the picture is a fairly typical 70s production. To add to the film’s bizarre qualities, Andy Warhol has a small speaking role as an English lord. The DVD is produced by Cheezy Flicks, and yes, it’s cheesy, but as a fan of the novel by Muriel Spark, I was very pleased with the quality of the film. Elizabeth Taylor delivers an impressive performance as Lise–she contains just the right amount of distraction, suggested violence, and explosive tension.

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Bollywood Hollywood (2002)

“It’s not a love nest, mother, it’s an apartment.”

As the name Bollywood Hollywood implies, this Canadian film is a blending of Indian film with Hollywood conventions. The result is a lighthearted, frothy parody of Indian cinema laced with over-the-top cliches from both cultures.

Wealthy Rahul (Rahul Khanna) is devastated when his Anglo fiancee, singer and actress Kimberley (Jessica Pare) is killed in a freak levitation exercise above the Hollywood Hills. Rahul’s mother and Shakespeare-quoting grandmother, however, are delighted that now he’s free to marry an Indian girl. A variety of Indian girls are trooped through the house, but none of them appeal to Rahul. As a result, Rahul’s “drama queen” mother (Moushumi Chatterjee) announces that her daughter Twinky’s (Rishma Malik) marriage must be delayed.

Rahul goes to a club to drink and think about his problems when he meets a girl on the next bar stool. He doesn’t ask many questions, but he decides that she looks Spanish and could impersonate an Indian girl just long enough to impress his family thus allowing Twinky’s marriage to take place. He offers the girl, Sue (Lisa Ray) a large sum of money to pose as his Indian fiancee, and she agrees after placing some strict rules in place.

The first half of the film is very strong parody–and there are a couple of delightful dance numbers (including an Indian drag queen scene). Unfortunately, the film slides into the inevitable romance, and most of the story’s bite is lost in gooey love drippings. I loved the film’s parody of Indian cinema–this part of the film was joyful and funny. Unfortunately, the film did not sustain this quality, and the result is a mediocre Indian-boy-meets-Indian-girl romance. Fans of Indian cinema will appreciate the laughs, and the enjoyment factor depends on your tolerance for frothy romance.

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Silver City (2004)

John Sayles films always seem to be a hit-or-miss thing for me. I either love them (Limbo, Casas de Los Babys, Men with Guns) or find them disappointing. I had a lot of hope for Silver City but ultimately, it was a very ambitious film that was packed full of ideas probably best fleshed out for a mini-series.

When Silver City begins, Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) is filming a photo-op campaign ad for his upcoming race for the governorship of Colorado. He’s at a lake, posing for fishing shots with his sleazy campaign manager, Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) when he lands a corpse. Terrified of bad publicity, Raven calls a halt to the shoot, and promptly hires P.I. Danny O’Brien (Danny Huston) to dig around to see if the body has been planted to deliberately sabotage the candidate. The rest of the film, more-or-less, is composed of O’Brien’s search for the identity of the dead man fished out from the lake.

Silver City is primarily a political satire–the character of the fumbling, inept Dickie Pilager is obviously supposed to be modeled on George Bush. And Chuck Raven is clearly supposed to be Karl Rove. But Sayles doesn’t stop there; these two characters are floating in a sea of corruption with lobbyists in bed with developers while the environment is ravaged with relish.

The film’s characterizations are bold but over-the-top. Tim Roth stars as underground journalist Mitch Paine, and Daryl Hannah emerges as the trust fund supported, archer Maddie Pilager in another exaggerated role. A plethora of characters are introduced to the plot without any context, so while certain transactions occur, their significance isn’t realized until several scenes later. The large number of characters, with a loose, rambling preposterous plot dilutes the film’s ultimate political message, and that is unfortunate. There is a certain heavy-handedness to the plot (no subtlety here) that leaves no room for speculation about motivation, the complexity of human nature, or rumination after the final credits roll. Instead the audience is spoon-fed a political position. Ironically, while I happen to agree with many things the film is trying to say (the ravaging of the environment, total corruption of the political system, etc), I do not enjoy a muddled, idea-driven film that shoves that opinion down my throat and leaves me no room for independent thinking.

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Secretary (2002)

In the film Secretary Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental institution. It seems that Lee has a nasty habit of cutting herself on purpose with any number of sharp instruments. She returns to the bosom of her dysfunctional family–alcoholic dad and abused mum just in time for her sister’s wedding. In a gigantic attempt to improve her life, she attends secretarial school, and armed with her new diploma, she applies for a job at the law offices of E.Edward Grey (James Spader). After a series of rather inappropriate questions, Grey employs Lee on the spot. It’s clear that he’s intrigued with her–although he disguises it well. A bizarre sado-masochistic relationship begins to develop between the two, and Lee’s rather odd boyfriend–who is recovering from a nervous breakdown of his own–remains ignorant of the competing relationship.

James Spader has perfected sexual torment to a fine degree, and he delivered a wonderful performance. He was convincing as the sadist who is ashamed of his dark urges, but Lee is so submissive that he can’t help exploiting his position as the employer. And so Lee gets many a spanking for typos, and things progress from there. Maggie Gyllenhaal really is impressive in this–her first–role. She plays Lee as a naive, gentle, and vunerable pupil for Grey’s discipline. Grey’s office–which resembled an erotic boudoir in a brothel–really added to the atmosphere of imminent seduction. There is terrific chemistry between the two, and I found myself looking forward to their next encounter with glee.

However, while the comic overtone of the film was very enjoyable, these nagging little doubts were at the back of my mind. This was not a funny situation, and I couldn’t forget that Lee is supposed to have JUST been released from a mental institution. The implication, to me at least, is that she was released into the big bad world only to fall in the naughty spanking hands of her employer. Due to her vunerable mental state, there are ramifications of exploitation and victimization here that were not explored at all in the film. From director Steven Shainberg.

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Miss Sadie Thompson (1953)

“All desire is sad when it must be bought.”

On a tropical island in the Pacific, a ship arrives bearing Sadie Thompson (Rita Hayworth). She’s on her way to New Caledonia, but when the ship is quarantined, Sadie is stuck on the island for a week. The amorous, enthusiastic marines on the island are thrilled with the news. In many ways, Sadie becomes a mascot to the men–they drive her around, and hang out in her room. The marines are desperate for female company, and her lack of ceremony (unbuttoning her blouse and standing in front of a fan, for example) drives the men wild.

Self-righteous missionary Alfred Davidson (Jose Ferrer) strongly disapproves of Sadie, and revealing her shady past, he arranges to have her deported back to San Francisco. Meanwhile Marine Sgt Phil O’Hara (Aldo Ray) wants Sadie to marry him and join him in Australia.

Based on a story by W. Somerset Maugham, a 1932 version Rain starred Joan Crawford and a 1928 silent version starred Gloria Swanson. Unfortunately, this 1953 version directed by Curtis Bernhardt suffers by comparison to these earlier films. Miss Sadie Thompson toys with morphing into a musical through its several musical numbers dubbed with Rita Hayworth. In one number, the Marines are singing and there are shades of South Pacific, and yet another sweetens Sadie’s image by depicting her singing surrounded by island urchins. There’s one hot dance number with Rita Hayworth dancing in a room packed full of panting marines, and it’s doubtful if she’ll get out alive, but apart from that, the film suffers from the Hays Code restrictions. In this film version, all the bite is taken from Sadie Thompson’s personality, and the finer nuances of the character are weakened. This film loses much of what is in best in Maugham and instead what remains is a pale version of the original story–mutated into a vehicle for Hayworth fans. From director Curtis Bernhardt.

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The Woodsman (2004)

“Sounds like you were banished.”

Walter (Kevin Bacon) returns to his hometown after spending 12 years in jail. An apartment is waiting for him, and according to Walter it’s the only place in town that will accept him as a tenant. He also has a job arranged at a factory, and his new boss quite frankly tells Walter that he “doesn’t want any trouble.” Walter begins his ‘new life’–we don’t really know what his ‘old’ life was. The only trace left of life before jail is a brother-in-law, Carlos (Benjamin Bratt) who comes to visit Walter in his sparsely furnished, depressing apartment. Carlos acts as a messenger to tell Walter that his sister, Annette (Jessica Nagle) doesn’t want to see him yet.

Walter is a pedophile, and in Walter’s scheduled sessions, his psychologist tries to get to the root of Walter’s problem. Walter possesses a deep loathing for his problem, and expresses the desire that he wants to be “normal”. Self-loathing causes Walter to not want to discuss his impulses, and to avoid examining his past. It’s painful for him to even think about it–but think about it he must if he’s ever going to understand why he’s drawn to 12 year-old girls. Walter is so isolated, and the thing he needs most is social contact and support–and yet can we blame those who stay away? But it looks as though things may be looking up for Walter when he begins a relationship with a tough worker at the factory, Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick). Vickie knows that there’s something “wrong” with Walter. Fellow employee, Mary Kay (Eve) sniffs he’s “damaged goods”, and while that’s quite obvious, the nature of Walter’s crimes is not.

Is there a criminal more hideous than a child molester? Placing a child molester at the centre of a film is a bold stroke. The Woodsman isn’t a thriller–it’s a character study of a person who is an outcast from society. If Walter were a vicious child molester, the film would be too much to watch, and it would probably turn into some sort of gory thriller. As it is, Walter’s crimes are puzzling enough for the viewer to stick around and see whether or not Walter ever has a chance at rehabilitation. While it seems hardly credible that Vickie should bother to give Walter the time of day, as her story unfolds, her continued liaison with Walter is believable. The Woodsman is a finely detailed character study, and Kevin Bacon does an incredible job of portraying the damaged, fragile Walter. The script subtly weaves the theme of Little Red Riding Hood throughout the film, and the story works, ultimately, thanks to the generosity shown towards all the characters–those who do not accept Walter–as well as the ones who do. From director Nicole Kassell.

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