Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '97 - Leanne Kubicz ""

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Underrated '97 - Leanne Kubicz

Leanne Kubicz is a former Jersey Girl now living the sweet life in The Paris of the Plains, Kansas City, MO. She is president of 1898 House 5-FREE Nail Lacquer and is a guest contributor to Pinnland Empire, The Pink Smoke, and the Wrong Reel podcast. Her writing can also be found on her sporadically updated film blog LMK Film Picks.
She can be found on Twitter @lianemarieK .

Hana-bi (Takeski Kitano)
Hana-bi/Fireworks has the hallmarks of the usual Beat Takeshi film; tough men, shady dealings with the criminal underworld and horrible violence. It's also serene and lyrical, assured to leave you sobbing at the conclusion. Kitano stars as the near-silent Mr. Nishi, a former cop dealing with an unimaginably tragic chain of events. After a shoot-out one of his partners is dead, another wounded, and another left paralyzed, which he feels great guilt over. At the same time he is also caring for his wife who is terminally ill with cancer. The sorrow of his wife's illness is compounded by their communal loss of a child a few years previous. Mr. Nishi rarely utters more than the cursory 'yes' or 'no' phrase; the weight of his depression is such that you can sense a bleak aura weighing him down.
Depression is embodied by Nishi, as well as his paralyzed partner Mr. Horibe(Ren Osugi), a broken man struggling with his loss of mobility and his family, who left him after the shooting. Tenderness in the film blossoms as Nishi, in his stoic man way, tries to lift Horibe's spirits with a huge box of art supplies and Horibe lets the ink express his pain on canvas. Nishi displays quiet warmth and a touch of whimsy when traveling with his wife on a trip to Mt. Fuji. The contrasts of sweetness by Nishi with his opposite vicious behavior build layers around this contradictory man.
The editing in Hana-bi is expressive, using Horibe's paintings to mirror the depression running throughout. Paintings of animals with flower heads, happy families, and troubling images of suicide are interspersed throughout to inform on the character's inner feelings. An uncertain time line with shocking cuts deftly parses out the tragic events which left Nishi and Horibe irreversibly damaged. Takeshi's turn as shattered man compelled to transgressive acts in order to grasp onto a finite fragment of simple joy is an unassuming performance boosted by his warm direction of his supporting cast's sorrow. Hana-bi is a film which revels that on the reverse side of anguish can be grace.
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Lolita (Adrian Lyne)
What an unsettling time it is to review Lolita. To shy away from the social and political upheavals which are occurring presently would be a disservice to this story and myself as a woman and former girl. Nabokov's 1955 novel, though at times droll, was direct about the explicit evil of men who prey on girls. There is never a way for an adult to justify a “romantic” longing after a minor. It is a criminal act in every sense which cripples the victim throughout their life. Nabokov and subsequent directors who adapted the text understood this; why in 2017 is there even a debate?

Lyne's take on Lolita is much less lively adaptation than Kubrick's classic. Humbert Humbert's(Jeremy Irons) dialogue is taken directly from the novel and used in voice over to share Humbert's twisted inner logic. The irksome problem I've always found with Kubrick's Lolita of being a tad too entertaining, with the brilliant performance of Peter Sellers as Quilty and the smoothed edges of the plot, is corrected in this version. This film is not for the faint of heart. It is spoken in no uncertain terms that Humbert rapes Lolita repeatedly. She even says so at one juncture, with a smile on her face, as her 14 year old mind is still trying to learn what appropriate boundaries are. She knows that something is off and soon understands the unjust position she has been placed in.

Dominique Swain's performance as Lolita is girlish and fierce. When clarity of her dire situation is realized, she lashes out at Humbert in wild rage. One particularly upsetting sequence, which used an adult body double, finds Humbert flinging a fistful of silver dollars onto the bed in which is he raping her as a bonus to her “allowance”. She scrambles to collect the coins, to save for her future escape, as a sinking feeling falls into your stomach. No child should ever be exploited like this, it is the ultimate evil.

This adaptation was filmed on the open road in America, the vast landscapes magnifying how alone Lolita is. In 2017 girls are still abused and often feel they have nowhere to seek help or feel that no one will believe them. The cinematography emphasizes that in the late 1940s Lolita had absolutely nowhere to find refuge. A sweeping score by Ennio Morricone pairs well with the lonely expanses of the US. For those who want to delve into a more upfront adaptation of Lolita, this film is a gut-wrenching story of one girl who sadly represents a heartbreakingly large amount of abused girls past and present.
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Orgazmo (Trey Parker)
Why, oh why, oh why was this film rated NC-17? There is absolutely no reason for this insane decision. Yes, this is a film about a Mormon on mission who becomes the star of a smash hit porno movie, but no, this should not have been given a NC-17 rating. I'm going to disappoint a lot of people right now: there's a blurry flash of a pair of breasts and the rest of the nudity consists of men's butts. Not even shapely or sexy butts, just plain old dude butts. Yup, it's a very silly comedy with a few butts and it gets an NC-17 rating!?! A total travesty and completely unfair to Trey Parker, Matt Stone and their crew.

In this light comedy Parker and Stone showed an obsession that would follow them throughout their career; a fascination with Mormons. They have never been disrespectful of the religion; mores o tickled by their cultural norms. Excessive politeness, positivity, and a chaste lifestyle are embodied in the hero Joe(Trey Parker), who only agrees to be in a porn movie to save for his wedding and on the condition that a body double is used. The VHS of his porno becomes a worldwide phenomena and Joe must wrestle with his beliefs and the money he now has for a better life. Loony subplots and zany supporting characters(Ron Jeremy!) make this a goofy romp and a glimpse into the very successful future of Parker and Stone.
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Fever Pitch (David Evans)
Paul (Colin Firth) the lead in Fever Pitch is a man I empathize with immensely. He's a soccer (or football in the British parlance)fanatic. He believes that soccer is the most important thing in the world and that there's nothing wrong with your life revolving around the beautiful game. Full disclosure, I was an official statistician for the MetroStars/New York Red Bulls and countless international matches from 2001-2013. I planned my wedding around World Cup 2010 and visited Amsterdam on my honeymoon to see an Eredivisie match(Ajax 4 – 2 Vitesse). Paul's bafflement that anyone would not care about soccer is a struggle I can relate to and the crux of his story.

Paul is akin to other men out of Nick Hornby novels; in a relationship with a smart woman who does not hold the equal amount of enthusiasm for his passion. Paul meets fellow teacher Sarah(Ruth Gemmell) in the hallway outside their classrooms; Paul's students are raucous and Sarah needs quiet for her class. Their initial differences change to romance and Sarah starts to enjoy Paul's soccer-centric world. After the tragic events of the Hillsborough disaster, which killed 96 people and injured 766 in a crush of bodies caused by the gross negligence of the police who allowed an unlawful overcrowding of the stands at the April 15, 1989 Liverpool – Nottingham Forest match, Sarah is understandably distressed and done with soccer matches. Allowing new passions to find balance with long-held passions is a journey that Paul and Sarah must then face with clear eyes. Fever Pitch is a pleasant romantic comedy with a young, less-refined than usual Firth, a tender heart, and my favorite, lots of soccer talk.
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Kundun (Martin Scorsese)
Due to a lack of traditional Scorsese flash and gore many have disregarded Kundun and given it a lukewarm reception. The art direction and costume design are both exquisite and tell a large part of the story. Watching the every day life of the monks at Lhasa and the religious rituals gives the audience a sense of their lifestyle without explicitly explaining. When viewed with the correct reverence for it's grand scale and importance, this can easily hold a place with Scorsese's best.

Extraordinarily, nearly the entire cast of the film are Tibetan non-actors and some are even relatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His grand nephew (Tenzin Thothub Tsarong) portrays him as a teen and one would not guess that he's an untrained actor. The performances are natural and delicate, creating an impressionistic view of His Holiness' life. The largest conflicts are met with contemplation not confrontation. Reverence for the struggle of His Holiness's life story and the Tibetan fight for freedom flow throughout the film, never cloying or diluted. This is not a standard bio-pic; the weight of history hangs heavy and produces a moving experience. The compassion which the Dalai Lama exudes winds through this lush picture of perseverance and dignity.
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