Month: October 2009

Frownland (Ronald Bronstein, 2007)

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No matter what their flaws, the main characters in mainstream movies are almost always appealing in some way. If they are nebbishes, their klutziness is endearing. (Look at the work of Woody Allen.) If they are lonely, their alienation is grand and alluring. (Look at the work of Orson Welles.) If they are evil, their villainy is sexy and rakish. (Look at the work of Christopher Walken.) Ronald Bronstein strips away the Hollywood idealizations and asks us to spend time with genuinely unromantic characters leading genuinely unromantic lives. He creates characters we don’t want to see ourselves as, characters we refuse to identify with. There is much lip service paid to the importance of depictions of “otherness” in film; Frownland reveals that the concept of otherness as redemptive and transformative is a romantic myth. He gives us otherness we want to cross the street to avoid; otherness without sentimentality. Or is he just giving us ourselves with our self–deluded idealizations removed? – Ray Carney

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There’s a certain type of person out there…one that we’re all familiar with…who provokes a kind of instant instinctive repulsion in nearly everyone they cross paths with. You run into these ‘off’ people now and again and it’s the social equivalent of pushing two magnets towards one another. By way of example, it’s the kind of person who might stop you on the street and ask you for directions and before you know it you’re claiming that you don’t know the way…even though you do….just to end the exchange as quickly as possible. In life, it’s just so easy to dismiss people like this. They don’t occupy enough real estate in your brain to force you to confront and reasonably gauge whether this instinctive aversion is justified. You simply go about your business and push them out of your mind as quickly as they entered into it. I guess i figured a movie theatre, where people are willing to be held captive for a few hours, is a good environment to make audiences spend time with someone like this, chew em over, swallow em, regurgitate em, chew some more, etc…and hopefully arrive at a more layered response. – Ronald Bronstein

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Fractionally better than spending the evening watching crappy French tele in a Nantes hotel-room… Yes – last night, I had the choice of “Frownland” at Nantes’ Katorza art cinema or an evening of the direness that is currently being dished up for the TV-audience of France… I think “Frownland” was just worth leaving the hotel for. But, really, it is a car-crash of a film… Every character repelled and bored me, nothing happened, there was far too much snot, it looked so dated [despite apparently only having been made last year], etc., etc… I think the acting was OK – as far as it went – and I’m more than happy to turn a blind eye to a slightly grainy picture and an obviously low budget if the film-maker has got something genuinely interesting to say. [In fact, I’d encourage such film-makers, as we really do need an alternative to Hollywood.] But, a film needs to engage me much better than “Frownland” managed to. – badgerking10, imdb comment

At 106 minutes, it is at least 95 minutes too long. You get to watch the main character’s failed and drawn out attempts to communicate, in extended real time. The same grimaces, hand over mouth motions, kinetic and frantically repeated words and syllables over and over and over again – WE GET THE POINT.
One site actually compares this work to early Mike Leigh. What drugs would you have to be on to make that statement? – NJtoTX, imdb comment

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The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968)

UK, 105 min

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The Year of the Sex Olympics is a surprisingly prescient 1968 television play written by Nigel Kneale (Quatermass, The Stone Tape).

Influenced by concerns about overpopulation, the counterculture of the 1960s, and the societal effects of television, the play depicts a world of the future where a small elite control the media, keeping the lower classes docile by serving them an endless diet of lowest common denominator programming and pornography. The play concentrates on an idea the programme controllers have for a new programme which will follow the trials and tribulations of a group of people left to fend for themselves on a remote island. In this respect, the play is often cited as having anticipated the craze for reality television.

Kneale had fourteen years earlier adapted George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as a classic and controversial BBC broadcast and the play reflects much of Kneale’s assimilation of Orwell’s concern about the power of the media and Kneale’s experience of the evolving media industry.

— Wiki

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Considering its salacious title, followed by the Olympics’ interlocked rings transforming into male and female symbols, you might think this is just some weird sex flick.

But with Nigel Kneale’s name on the teleplay, you can only wonder what the Quatermass creator has up his sleeve. Made for British-TV, with production values that make DR. WHO look like DR. ZHIVAGO, Kneale and director Michael Elliott bombard their audience with a sci-fi scenario that’s less lascivious than prophetic, and offers radically original ideas. In the future (“Sooner than you think…”), the live-telecast Sex Olympics are a major draw, since the passive public would rather watch handsome couples screwing on TV than do it in real life — and thus save the planet from overpopulation. Leonard Rossiter (2001, BARRY LYNDON) turns up as pony-tailed TV-executive Ugo Priest, who remembers the early days of unacceptable pornography, long before this enlightened age of televised fuck-fests, which are specifically designed to placate the zombified masses. Hell, even their “Auto-Chess” machines don’t play against a human opponent — instead, it simply plays both sides of the board, as onlookers mindlessly watch. As their audience’s attention begins to wan, Rossiter gets a fresh idea when an actual death is caught on camera and the viewers love it! So in one of the most prescient plot twists, a couple (Tony Bogel and Suzanne Neve) volunteer for a daring new pilot, “The Live-Life Show.” This SURVIVOR meets BIG BROTHER reality-based program strands this pampered pair on a deserted island, minus all modern technology, with 24-7 cameras watching them hunt, plant, love, and face such previously-unheard-of concepts as fire, cold, fresh air, and even death. But while the viewers eat it up (and consider their primitive plight funny!), devious TV-exec Lasar Opie plans to manipulate the show into ever more dramatic territory. Co-starring Brian Cox (MANHUNTER’s Hannibal Lecter) as Opie and Martin Potter as an angst-packed artist who brings “tension” to the stupefied masses, what begins like a simple satire of modern sexual openness turns into a powerful dystopian vision of modern voyeurism and inhumanity, with a surprisingly emotional pay-off. Its sci-fi trappings are often crude, with characters talking into plastic wristbands, eating from toothpaste-like tubes, sporting outlandish hairdos, and resembling an Ed Wood production of THE JETSONS. What it lacks in production values, it makes up for in admirably straight-faced performances and bold conceits, in what has to be one of Kneale’s most unpredictably provocative works.

— Shock Cinema