I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP, YOU KNOW–reviews of Taxidermia, Thirst and Cold Souls

I have gotten so behind on my blog, but I have a ton of good reasons and I’m sure I can come up with a few more if these don’t satisfy. I spent seven days in jury duty (and then this week got another notice for jury service which I didn’t think was funny one bit). After that I needed to earn a living and do coverage work and then I needed to do some work on a screenplay I’m writing with a writing partner. I’ll also blame the hot weather.

So, I’m going to concentrate on catching up on my movie reviews starting with these three fascinating oddities that I’m grouping under a title that is a homage to Anna Russell’s satiric summary of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle: “I am not making this up, you know”. All three are examples of the kind of movie I tend to look forward to, the ones that I’m eager to see while everyone else is talking about the next Batman and Transformer movie. These are smaller, more personal films, all audacious and often foolhardy, made by artists who have a vision; something that feels left out of U.S. films lately, possibly because such a trait is often ground down by film school and books on screenwriting.

Taxidermia is best summed up by the plot: a lowly and incredibly thin soldier who can shoot fire out of his penis has sex with his commanding officer’s heavyset wife; their very overweight son becomes a major competitor in the Olympic sport of speed eating (that’s okay, I never heard of it either); but the son’s son then regresses to being ultra thin like his grandfather (and therefore a disappointment to his father) and spends his time in taxidermy and taking care of his father who is so grotesquely overweight he can’t leave his basement apartment (the movie is sort an after, before, then after ad for a weight loss clinic). Fascinating for awhile on its own terms of utter weirdness, but from a story telling point of view, it feels like a number of scenes were left out between the second and third generation to explain what happened to that relationship. It’s written by Gyorgy Palfi (who also directed and who has gotten a slew of awards and nominations for this and his movie Hukkle) and Zsofia Ruttkay based on some short stories by Lajos Parti Nagy. It’s reminiscent of such movies as Delicatessen, Eraserhead and films by Peter Greenaway, best summed up with the phrase “for those who like this sort of film, it’s just the sort of film they’ll like”. I can’t say I liked it, though; but it certainly held my attention.

Thirst: if someone can write the book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, then I don’t see why someone can’t make the movie Theresa Raquin and Vampires, which is what this South Korean movie is. Theresa Raquin is a 19th century novel by Emile Zola about the wages of sin being death; Thirst takes that idea a step further by turning Raquin’s central character, a bourgeoisie roué, into a devout Catholic priest. In this vampire version, a priest, because of his faith, undergoes an experimental treatment for a disease and ends up craving blood. He has an affair with a married woman and together they drown her dull and bland husband, but are haunted by their crime. It’s exciting, unapologetic, violent and at times ridiculously so over the top it reaches camp (though how does one do a vampire Theresa Raquin without some camp sneaking in). It was written by Seo-Gyeong Jeong (who also wrote a movie called I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay) and Chan-wook Park, who also directed and is known over here for the soon to be remade in the U.S. Old Boy.

Cold Souls, written and directed by Sophie Barthes, is one of those movies one describes as intriguing, which is fine with me, though I know a lot of people who consider that the kiss of death (like describing a script as existential to a Hollywood executive). It’s a very clever European type of movie (though its inspiration is Russian writers like Gorky, Chekhov and Dostoevsky) in which an actor named Paul Giamatti played by Paul Giamatti (I know, I know, type casting; but wouldn’t it have been hysterical if he hadn’t got the part and Philip Seymour Hoffman had been cast instead) can’t find the soul of Uncle Vanya, the character he is playing in the Anton Chekhov play of the same name, so he has his soul removed and substituted with that of a Russian poet (by way of a business headed by David Strathairn that seems straight out of a Charlie Kaufman movie). Giamatti finds the soul of Vanya, but loses his own. When he wants his back, he finds it’s been sold on the black market and he has to go to Russia to retrieve it. Ridiculous and absurd, yes, but also ultimately moving and insightful into the human condition (yes, it’s one of those movies; so deal with it).

So tell me what you think.

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