Monday, April 28, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Yes, this is that movie about the guy who’s completely paralyzed except for one eye. No, it isn’t boring; in fact, it’s completely enthralling. How is that possible? A solid script, an adventurous director, and an immediately involving concept unite to fully immerse viewers in the protagonist’s locked-in world, driving home the futility, hope, and triumph of the situation. Best of all, it never succumbs to movie-of-the-week pathos, avoiding any trite saccharine melodrama in favor of a well-balanced, logical progression that allows viewers to intimately identify with the subject and his fate without really pitying him.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) is a successful magazine editor leading a fulfilling life until his world is shattered by an incident that leaves him a virtual vegetable. He’s still completely cognizant, but unable to speak, move, or in any other meaningful way interact with the world around him. As a shut-in at a hospital, he’s plagued with his inability to communicate until he’s trained to “speak” with his eye. His watchers painstakingly write down his words by reciting the alphabet until they reach the next letter he wants, signified by the blink of his eye. In this extremely cumbersome manner, he’s granted re-entry to the world of the living and eventually completes his memoirs, becoming a published author while still trapped in his immobile body.

So how did Schnabel make such a compelling film out of a seemingly impossible subject? To start, he opened the film completely from the perspective of Bauby, filming at least the first 15 minutes solely with the camera acting as Bauby’s first-person view. Characters move in and out of Bauby’s limited eyesight and advise us of the situation with their words and reactions, giving the film a “you are there” sense of immersion that works wonders. He treats the camera like an eye, moving it around from a fixed perspective and showing blinks and occasional fuzziness. We never even see Bauby until well after the peripheral characters and his situation have been completely established, so by the time the camera finally focuses on him viewers have already been hooked. He also limits flashbacks about Bauby’s former life, eschewing a look at what Bauby has lost in favor of focusing on what’s yet to come.

As Bauby, Amalric puts in a bravura performance that’s far, far more that just lying around rolling his eye. Surprisingly, he’s able to convey the futility of Bauby’s condition with his extremely limited body language and voiceover narration, but also makes the most of his scant flashback time to paint a full portrait of Bauby’s life. He’s surrounded by mostly female co-stars, chiefly Emmanuelle Seigner as the loyal mother of his children, but for the most part the film rests fully on his largely immobile shoulders.

The DVD release includes a couple of featurettes on the film’s production, as well as an interview of Schnabel by Charlie Rose and a full audio commentary track with Schnabel. The DVD is now available, for more details visit

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons

Because zombies and robots just aren’t enough, this new graphic novel ups the ante with Amazons too. And not prim and proper Wonder Woman Amazons. Oh no, these are some fierce, nekkid, primal biotches with a laser focus on survival. This new story is a sequel to the earlier “Zombies vs. Robots” that seemingly ended with a nuclear holocaust, but as immediately shown here, the key combatants aren’t so easily destroyed.

As evidenced by the title, this is an all-out war between the three tribes, although to be fair it’s not really all three battling against each other since the robots team up with the Amazons. Also, there’s not really much of anything in the way of character development as the tale by writer Chris Ryall is solely focused on mayhem, not plot. However, there’s plenty here to recommend, primarily thanks to the out-there imagery from iconic artist Ashley Wood.

Wood’s signature loose brush style liberally adorned with ink splatter is in full effect here, adding a surreal layer to an already outlandish concept. He seems to pay the least attention to the zombie horde, but lavishes added detail on the sexy Amazons and their robot allies and makes his biggest splash with a zombie minotaur. The color palette is nearly monochromatic, eschewing any vivid choices in favor of muted, dull shades that suit the dark nature of the story. Wood’s page layout is fiercely fluid with little attempt at convention, but it all works together well to propel the meager tale and delight the eyes of readers with the art’s myriad wonders.

IDW Publishing has released the collection in a lush oversized hardcover that’s far more art book than graphic novel. As a result, it really feels more like an Ashley Wood art portfolio than a comic book. Fans of Wood’s work will clearly enjoy this new collection from a perspective of art lightly cobbled together with a basic story framework, but graphic novel lovers may feel a bit shorted due to the collection’s focus on art over exposition and brief length of only 80 pages.

“Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons” is now available. It includes all three chapters of the original miniseries, Wood’s multiple original covers, and exclusive Wood art. For more information, visit

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Guatemalan Handshake

Don’t be fooled by this film’s misleading and incongruous title; it’s a slice of corn-fed, whimsical Americana that quite certainly couldn’t take place anywhere outside of our borders. Populated by a cast of remarkable, colorful characters and structured with some odd elliptical storytelling that keeps viewers engaged trying to figure out where it’s going, it’s at once an ode to small town life as well as a comedic examination of the oddballs allowed to flourish there. Although not as accomplished as the quirky standard bearers it emulates, there’s a strong influence by the works of David Lynch and Wes Anderson, leading to a film that nearly defies explanation.

Donald Turnupseed (Will Oldham) is an eccentric young man in a rural Pennsylvania town who goes missing one day after a power interruption at the local nuclear power plant. His father doesn’t seem too distraught, instead showing far more concern for his unique electric car that also went missing with Donald. Meanwhile, Donald’s very pregnant girlfriend is training for a demolition derby, while another young man named Stool tries to keep a job and find a girlfriend, the latter usually accompanied by his habit of whipping off his shirt at completely inappropriate times. Then there’s the lonely old dog lady desperately searching the town for her missing poodle while also taking time out to attend her own funeral, as well as the young girl named Turkeylegs searching for her friend Donald. The Turnupseed electric car seems to tie everything together, changing ownership multiple times and traveling through the intersecting lives of the characters. The central plot is the search for Donald, but that’s little more than a ploy to cobble together the rest of the characters.

While the film is enjoyable throughout and carries a distinctive new voice, it’s ultimately a bit too precious for its own good as it wallows in the bizarre tics of its characters and scattershot chronology rather than coalescing into any clearly defined focus. It’s little more than an examination of oddballs on parade, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for viewers in the right frame of mind as its characters are admittedly charming and eminently entertaining. As long as viewers don’t go in expecting any deep insight into the human condition or logical plot progression, they will find a memorable little film that bears the hallmarks of a cult classic in the making.

The DVD release is an elaborate two-disc effort that includes over two hours of bonus features such as deleted scenes, casting sessions, interviews, outtakes from the film’s theatrical premieres, and six short films directed by members of the cast and crew. The Guatemalan Handshake is available on DVD on April 29th, for more information visit

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Inside initially captured my attention for only one reason: Beatrice Dalle. Although her new film is clearly a horror movie, Dalle holds a fond spot in the minds of many Gen X art house fans thanks to her steamy debut performance over twenty years ago in the tragic romance Betty Blue. Her wildly unconventional beauty and completely vulnerable performance seared her in my memory back then, and although I haven’t seen any of her other projects in the intervening decades she’s one of those rare actors you never forget. Thankfully, her new role adds even more mystique to her aura and stands as a fully worthwhile effort on its own merits.

The film’s heroine is Sarah (Alysson Paradis), a young expectant mother who nearly lost her baby during a horrific car accident that claimed the life of her husband. As she nears her delivery date and copes with her grief, she’s approached at her home one evening by a mysterious older woman (Dalle). The woman quickly and brutally makes her goal known: she has come to take Sarah’s baby by any means necessary, even if it means cutting it out of Sarah’s still living body. It’s a classic game of cat and mouse with a nearly newborn life on the line, all taking place in Sarah’s claustrophobic and frighteningly dark home. That’s the sum total of the plot, but it fails to convey the expert building of terror and exponential explosion of gore in store for viewers.

The unnamed assailant is an unstoppable force with seemingly ninja-like stealth skills, deadly talent with a pair of scissors, and more lives than a cat. She’s momentarily hindered when Sarah barricades herself in a bathroom, but as other unexpected guests like the police and Sarah’s mother make appearances at the house, she finds a way to lure Sarah out of her hole. It’s unclear who will be victorious until the final frames, but unlike the similarly French, similarly intense and graphic High Tension, it manages to arrive at a completely satisfying if somewhat abrupt conclusion.

The film was written and co-directed by rookie Alexandre Bustillo along with fellow newcomer Julien Maury. Mark them down as names to watch, just like Dalle was in the '80s. Their approach to horror is extremely graphic and gorey, and the effects are top-notch throughout, so the squeamish should definitely sit this one out. However, the gore never becomes so all-consuming that it drifts into parody, as they smartly keep the focus on ratcheting up the terror level and allowing their fine lead actresses to deliver powerful performances.

Inside is now available on DVD, and fully earns its “unrated” status.

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