A Lavish, Lyrical and Poetic Folk Tale

Using old age, life and death as its engine, Keisuke Kinoshita’s The Ballad of Narayama is a lavish, lyrical and poetic folk tale.

Implementing a kabuki-style feel, Narayama is a multi-dimensional tale that uses its stunning sets ranging from gorgeous to haunting to tell its timeless fable about a 69-year-old woman named Orin and the practice of ubasute – or “abandoning old woman” – in her traditional Japanse village.

Just one example of Kinoshita's haunting and stunning visuals.

Just one example of Kinoshita’s haunting and stunning visuals.

The traditional practice of ubasute, which was said to be done in Japan’s past, was when an elderly relative was carried to a specific mountain and left to die of starvation, or some other cause. Kinoshita’s 1958 take on the fable is a discussion about the relevancy of traditions and customs and their relation to our modern cultures.

Because Narayama is about such an in-your-face topic like the acceptance of death and coming to grips with it, no matter what your age is, Kinoshita’s film becomes an intense and honest discussion about life. Orin, a mother and grandmother full of pride, is eager and ready to experience ubasute, much more so than your average elder (her older neighbor being a great example of the conflicting feeling about this tradition). Her son, who has just lost his wife and gained a new one, feels differently.

And while there’s this very real matter to think about and watch play out, what makes Kinoshita’s film standout so much is its surreal atmosphere and unconventional staging. Both can credit Kinoshita’s use of kabuki elements for that. By using lavishly created and designed set pieces and by manipulating the lighting, Kinoshita is in ultimate control of his elements. Everything is the way he wants it, and that’s important to remember. With the flick of a switch or the placement of a light, Kinoshita manipulates his story, his sets and his characters. This is totally under his control and he displays a masterful approach.

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Color dominates on many of Kinoshita’s sets.

When Narayama is most effective it is combining a dramatic and important moment with Kinoshita’s unbeatable style. I’ve never seen another of his films, and I can’t imagine many being like this, but his touch certainly seems almost forgotten in the grand scheme of innovating filmmaking from that decade. For this film to have been made in 1958 and look the way it does is almost unbelievable.

The folk tale that is at the heart of Narayama, despite being something grounded in a fable many of us aren’t familiar with, is actually enough to be relevant today. There are still a lot of traditions and customs, perhaps not soaked in mortality like this one is, that could be questioned. In relation to our cultures and our lives do these traditions fit? Kinoshita leaves us with an open-ended conclusion that, while only being a few seconds long, absolutely turns the entire film on its head and introduces a new discussion.

The Ballad of Narayama is one of the most unique and downright good-looking Japanese films I’ve ever seen. With a lot of images, sounds and ideas to take in, Narayama‘s majesty will leave you in awe of Kinoshita’s ability to stage a film and its chilling moments will haunt you.

Lavish lighting and sets is a key element of Kinoshita's storytelling.

Lavish lighting and sets is a key element of Kinoshita’s storytelling.

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‘Shock Corridor’ As Psycho-Journalism

Shock Corridor is psycho-journalism.

That label, which might exist already or I might have made up, describes journalist Johnny Barrett and his quest to win a Pulitzer Prize. With the help of his boss, his girlfriend and a doctor, Barrett plays psycho and imbeds himself in a psychiatric hospital to get the answers to an unsolved murder that took place within those walls.

Welcome to "the street," where mental patients are welcome to make new friends...if they want.

Welcome to “the street,” where mental patients are welcome to make new friends…if they want.

It’s best to get this over with now. There’s a lot about Samuel Fuller’s dark and pulpy descent into madness. A man’s girlfriend shouldn’t be able to pretend to be his sister and, with one complaint, get her “brother” thrown in a psychiatric hospital, whether he complies or not. No background checks, no investigation, no nothing. At least not for the viewers to see. Fuller doesn’t seem to be pre-occupied with details like that. It doesn’t matter, really, because the realism of the situation isn’t what’s important: it’s the societal impact the film, its events and its portrayal of mental health that is.

Barrett, played by the wonderful and dramatic Peter Breck, is a disgusting and unlikeable human being. Yes, someone deserves to be punished for the murder that took place inside the mental hospital. But Barrett’s attitude about the entire thing, especially towards his girlfriend Cathy, and his sickening desire to win an award, makes his trip to the hell that is a psychiatric hospital almost enjoyable.

I could imagine that Fuller’s portrayal of a bunch of loons in the bin would be offensive today. Actually, me saying loons in the bin probably just offended someone. I’m not sure what exact response Shock Corridor received today, which slaps some dark humor on its mental patients that Barrett is trying to get close to for information. You’ve got Trent, an African-American, who thinks he’s in the KKK. Dave Chappelle sorta did a sketch based on a similar concept a few years ago, didn’t he? You’ve got Stuart, who thinks he’s a general in the Confederate army. And then you’ve got Boden, the brilliant scientist who now thinks he’s a six-year-old. Along with the insignificant characters, these are melodramatic and laughable caricatures of what an insane person might be. Their issues aren’t taken seriously, which could be a commentary on mental health care in 1963.

Barrett (left), with [],  quickly finds that sane or not, the conditions will rub off on you.

Barrett (left), with Stuart, quickly finds that sane or not, the conditions will rub off on you.

But what really makes Shock Corridor tick is the way Barrett, a very sane man, becomes too close to insanity for his own good. As his girlfriend predicts the insanity begins to rub off on him. Madness seeps into his and the viewer’s skin. Fuller, or perhaps a higher being, punishes Barrett for his selfish and almost exploitative motivations. Will Barrett find the killer? Will he then be able to escape from insanity and madness? Should we care or even sympathize with him?

Fuller directs this unconventional and pulpy melodrama as pure psycho-journalism. It’s part investigative thriller and it’s part psychological thriller but it’s all driven and fueled by insanity. No, this isn’t Gonzo journalism. Barrett isn’t imbedding himself for an expose on the harsh treatment and potentially dangerous conditions a mental hospital presents. He’s psychotically seeking out a killer to win an award, to justify himself and his career. This is, at its heart, a dark profile of a dark man.

Pretty much as good as this film's use of black and white gets.

Pretty much as good as Shock Corridor‘s use of black and white gets.

The Best Films of 2012

Choosing 10 films from the exceptional list of nearly 60 films from 2012 I saw was difficult. And even when I found the 10 I wanted to include, putting them in order was even more of a challenge. It’s hard to say something is better than something else, especially when it comes to art. Like most top 10 lists, there’s a lot of personality and personal preference to be found within mine.

THE TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012

10. Amour

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Michael Haneke’s stark picture about life and love is mostly about death. The greatest of films are able to challenge us, without looking the other way, and make us think about the existence of our own insignificant selves. Haneke, like so many great auteurs before him, does just that in the depressing and dark Amour. Functioning as a chamber play, Haneke locks us in the drab home of a loving elder couple and encloses us into their life, their problems and their sickness. With two of the best and most heartbreaking performances of the year Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are the nail in the literal coffin of Haneke’s chilling and exceptional film.

9. Django Unchained

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Quentin Tarantino whips up a spaghetti western dish that’s very stylish, very funny and very influenced. A lot of extracurricular discussion surfaced after the release of Tarantino’s film, which channels some of the greatness left on the spaghetti western battlefield by Sergio Corbucci (Django, The Great Silence) and others years earlier. Folks want to discuss what, if anything, Tarantino brought to the table in terms of race relations, slavery and emancipation. They want to relate it all to white folk and black folk and entitlement. They, in my opinion, are trying to find things that aren’t necessarily there. For me Django Unchained is nothing more than high fantasy and exceptional violence being brought into the disbanded spaghetti western genre. Sure, Corbucci’s films, and other spaghetti westerns (like A Bullet for the General) had some political and other messages. So does this film. And while I don’t like to decide what another person’s motive was, it seems like Tarantino wanted to live one of his dreams and make a fucking awesome spaghetti western. So he did.

8. Elena

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I first became introduced to the Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev through the heavy and grim The Return. That film’s discussion about morality and ethics, as well its ability to impart a particularly dark and existential mood on me while grabbing me by the throat with a cold mood and not letting go left me with chills. In only his third film Zvyagintsev returns with yet another discussion about the morality of simple, everyday people. The titular character, Elena, is not in a position to succeed. Elena is presented with options. This is a film about life, death and moral decisions. Emmanuelle Riva got the foreign Oscar nomination for Amour but it wouldn’t be out of line to argue how much Nadezhda Markina would deserve a similar outcome for her engaging and impressive performance as Elena. Zvyagintsev’s gorgeously bleak film has cold Russian blood running through it but not without a clear element of humanity to counteract it.

7. This Is Not a Film

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The only documentary to make an appearance on my list is Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film. This Iranian film certainly isn’t going to be the most appealing or attractive film you’ll see considering it’s a few people sitting around and talking while Panahi, under house arrest, awaits his verdict from an appeals court. But there might not be a more important documentary released in the last five years. There’s certainly nothing else like this. As Panahi worries about his own status (he faces a six-year prison sentence and 20-year ban on filmmaking) what he captures as he documents his own life on a handheld camera, and sometimes iPhone, is essential. Panahi, a veteran filmmaker, begins to blur the line between his reality and his drama. What is happening outside of his secured apartment provides the perfect storm for his more intimate conflict that is about so much more than his personal outcome. It’s about his society, his culture, his family and his friends. The final moments of the film build to some of the most stunning images captured on film in 2012. So rarely is a film, through such simplicity, able to leave a mark like This Is Not a Film is able to leave on its viewers.

6. Holy Motors

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It’s been easy to see how Holy Motors has become one of Leos Carax’s most successful and, strangely enough, accessible films, as far as North America’s reception is concerned. Holy Motors is a multi-faceted feast that offers a challenging and enigmatic story to keep up with combined with strong, powerful visuals. Combine all of that with Denis Lavant’s intense and morphing performance (one of the best of the year) that spans through a number of mutations and you’ve got something that, as strange as it is, would grab the attention of most who decide to watch it. Holy Motors, or any other Carax film, is no easy task to take on but this is ultimately a rewarding experience.

5. Cosmopolis

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Leaving the theater after my first Cosmopolis viewing was confusing. I didn’t know what to think. I knew I liked what David Cronenberg, one of my favorite filmmakers, had just shown me. I knew I was captivated, I knew I was stunned and I knew I was absolutely in a sweaty trance from it all. I’ve yet to read Don DeLillo’s book, even though it’s been siting to my left for a couple of months now. After much thought, some discussion and a second viewing I know exactly what to think. Cronenberg’s film, said to be just about a word-by-word adaptation, captures DeLillo’s economical and societal commentaries with fever and terror. Robert Pattinson slips into his character, delivers a stunning performance that is very much unlike his previous endeavors. And after being mostly trapped in a limo, Cosmopolis ends as a suffocating dramatic episode and that will probably confuse and divide audiences as much as anything has in 2012.

4. Tabu

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Even if Tabu wasn’t one of the best films of the year it would get points for its clever execution. Divided into two parts, Miguel Gomes’ film is one of the most unique pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in a long time. I often appreciate well-executed narrative techniques that I’m not accustomed to. Being challenged by storytelling is refreshing and I like when a filmmaker tries to challenge himself with storytelling. Tabu does just that. It’s a classical and poetic love story full of conflicting warmth and tragedy. Instilling a feverish and dreamlike quality in total black and white, Gomes’ absolutely throws out every preconceived notion of how a story should be told by dazzling with a challenging two-part narrative of dreams and memories. It’s not an easy watch, as it slowly yet effectively builds itself into your consciousness, but Tabu is something special and the kind of film that will gain even more appreciation over time.

3. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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If I were basing my top 10 films purely on technical achievement Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia might have been number one. Ceylan first grabbed my attention in 2008 with Three Monkeys. His other films, like Climates and Distant, also have an uncanny ability to leave my mouth gaping in astonishment. He’s one of the best working directors right now and Anatolia is perhaps Ceylan’s best work yet. It is certainly the grandest and greatest example of how proficient Ceylan has become at evoking emotions from the viewer through his cold approach. On the outside Anatolia is a police procedure film. But in the end, like Ceylan’s other films that stress relationships, family, heartbreak, struggle and so much more, Anatolia becomes a human story. This isn’t just about finding the guy who committed a crime, it’s about understanding why it happened. Anatolia twists and winds, both literally and figuratively, through a number of moments that are highlighted by some of the most captivating and jarring sequences of darkness that make minor explosions feel major.

2. It’s Such a Beautiful Day

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It’s been called Terrence Malick with stick figures. I think it’s so much more. Getting turned onto Don Hertzfeldt’s work in 2012 has been a revelation for me. He’s done for me what no other work of animation has ever done before. Bill, our worrying, retrospective, thoughtful stick figure of a main character, is perhaps the most relatable character of 2012. Hertzfeldt’s creative and powerful execution, with a unique art direction and killer sound design, is what makes It’s Such a Beautiful Day stick with the viewer and linger in their mind. It’s both a challenging exploration of our own personal human souls (life, death, happiness and depression) and our entire giant but suffocating universe. Not many films can lay claim to successfully confronting that and Hertzfeldt does it with one hour of animation. With that upfront approach it’s the most honest film of 2012.

1. The Master

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It almost seems cliche for me to choose Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master as the best film of the year. It was my most anticipated viewing going into the year. I saw it twice in theaters and that wasn’t nearly enough of an opportunity to digest all of the ideas PTA threw at me. Some stuck, some didn’t. It isn’t the perfect film, with faults much like its main characters. There’s been some divisive discussion about whether or not people can relate to PTA’s sprawling vagabond journey and its characters. Some say they can’t, while others absolutely can. On both occasions The Master launched discussions absolutely worthwhile of the best film of the year. I haven’t seen two characters with a more interesting and well-utilized dynamic than The Master‘s Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. On camera together Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman deliver two of the best performances of the year, together, in a confrontational and evolutional fashion through both power and humor. The ideas that were presented, the characters that were developed, the performances that were delivered and the total visual and aural experience that encompassed the audience is one for the ages. It’s presented itself into a divided audience in 2012, but I think The Master will be remembered as one of the best films of its time.

EXTRAS:

And ten more great ones: Barbara, Berberian Sound Studio, The Cabin in the Woods, The Kid with a Bike, Magic Mike, Moonrise Kingdom, Oslo August 31, Rust and Bone, The Turin Horse, Zero Dark Thirty.

And five that flew under the radar: The Color Wheel, Klown, The Paperboy, Sound of my Voice, This Must Be the Place.

Best Performance (actor): Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Runners-up: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Jean-Louis Trintignant (Amour)Denis Lavant (Holy Motors), Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone)

Best Performance (actress): Nadezhda Markina, Elena
Runners-up: Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), Cécile De France (The Kid With a Bike), Nina Hoss (Barbara)

Best Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Runners-up: Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Miguel Gomes (Tabu), Michael Haneke (Amour), Leos Carax (Holy Motors)

Best Screenplay (original): Miguel Gomes and Mariana Ricardo, Tabu
Runners-up: Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master), Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty), Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

A Successful Experiment in Terror

The opening moments of Blake Edwards’ Experiment in Terror almost don’t belong in the early 1960’s. It’s more than 50 years later and the initial meeting between Kelly Sherwood, a unsuspecting victim, and Red Lynch, a psycho with a list of criminal charges too long for this review, is still unsettling, effective and uncomfortable.

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Kelly Sherwood? It’s time to meet your mouth-breathing creep of a psycho.

The film, based on the 1961 novel Operation Terror, quickly identifies itself as a not-so-nice suspense thriller with an emphasis on police procedure. The immediate involvement of the FBI and Agent John Ripley (Glenn Ford) give cause for conflict outside of the immediate encounter. And despite some far-fetched elements, Experiment in Terror is a realistic and jarring approach that goes beyond the dark depths most film noirs, a style which Edwards employs into the 1960’s, managed to cross in the 20 to 30 years before this film

Lynch, who remains unidentified for about half the film, wants Sherwood to rob the bank she works at. He uses threats, fear and intimidation, as well as Sherwood’s (Lee Remick) younger sister Toby (Stefanie Powers) as his main negotiation tactics. What makes the initial encounter so frightening, aside from the suffocating visuals, is Russ Martin’s sheer on-screen demeanor that, even though you can’t see his face, is so off putting. He dominates from a distance as Red Lynch for most of the film. His awkward speech impediment, deep breaths and laboring asthmatic delivery are chilling.

Ross Martin's asthmatic delivery as the psycho Red Lynch is chilling.

Ross Martin’s asthmatic delivery as the psycho Red Lynch is chilling.

Because Experiment in Terror is ultimately a police procedure film built on noir tendencies there’s a lot of running around, a lot of phone calls being made, a lot of tips being given and a lot of other similar moments that, luckily, Edwards breathlessly directs and organizes into a quickly paced but still intensely dramatic film. Without it, we might be bogged down in a bore. Edwards also makes great use of his black and white and shadows, using them to frame key moments between Sherwood, Lynch and Ripley.

But I find myself directing attention back to the performance of Martin and the Red Lynch character. Two years before this film’s release an at least equally and perhaps creepier Norman Bates, from Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho, was thrown at American movie-goers. To me there is something so much more real about Lynch. Both are violent against women, both employ dressing in women’s clothing to at least advance their plot and both are generally downright disturbing. Still, I view Experiment in Terror as being an almost anti-Psycho, the opposite of what Hitchcock directed, for better or worse.

Hello, Kelly.

Hello, Kelly.

I’ve always been in love with these types of films that make use of their locales. Like The Naked City did for New York, Experiment in Terror does for San Francisco. In fact, Dirty Harry‘s serial killer investigation might owe a thing or two to this masterpiece. The film’s conclusion takes place at Candlestick Park during a Giants/Dodgers game, and as Vin Scully’s legendary voice graces our ears, we’re welcome to an edge-of-your-seat type of finale.

Speaking of influences, I think there’s a lot of other similar films, some more modern, that owe a lot to Edwards effort. One that comes to mind is David Fincher’s Zodiac. Both are masterpieces of manipulating suspense, albeit in different styles, that isolate characters close to the central conflict and discuss and evaluate motives. They both contain a number of elements far beyond their shared city of San Francisco.

I knew nothing of this film before reading a review of the recently-release Blu-ray from Screen Archives Entertainment and now that has saddened me. I don’t know of many contemporaries of this film that are as bold as this one. And to think, Edwards directed this dark foray right after Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Framing. Execution. Blake Edwards is on top of his game with this film.

Framing. Execution. Blake Edwards is on top of his game with this film.

The Paperboy: Steamy, Sweaty and Dirty Southern Pulp

Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy, based on the 1995 novel by Pete Dexter, would feel more at home during a midnight screening inside a dingy and dark theater in the 1970’s than anywhere else.

It should come as no surprise that The Paperboy, which Daniels directs as a bizarre and feverish pulpy film noir hybrid, has mystified many with an unusual approach and style. It took me a couple of hours, maybe even days, to digest whether I enjoyed watching it or not.

The Paperboy sets the melodrama gears to high and takes hold of sex, race and crime by telling story of two newspaper reporters, one returning to his small Florida hometown, to investigate the potentially wrongful imprisonment of death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) at the request of his new love Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman). The two have fallen in love through letters and have never met.

Nicole Kidman goes a bit full on the sultry in ‘The Paperboy.’

Miami Herald reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), returning to his small hometown, enlists the help of his younger brother Jack Jansen (Zac Efron) to help him for the time being. Jack, as any good melodramatic southern pulp story would have it, of course falls in love with Charlotte.

This, to me, is the kind of film that is going to grow great with age. Like Martin Scorsese behind the camera for Boxcar Bertha, a similarly dirty and steamy southern romp, The Paperboy isn’t a perfect or sometimes even good film but manages to drug your mind and capture your attention with its eccentric story, performances and characters that you’re hooked into its sweaty approach. Cusack is out of his mind as a convicted murderer and Kidman is sultry and fantastic as the misguided and pretend southern sweetheart Charlotte. Every actor delivers, like they’re making an important film, but with a twang of hot sauce added to the mix. These kinds of bizarre and unconventional performances from these types of actors absolutely enough to make The Paperboy something of worth.

But what gives The Paperboy its true life and spirit goes hand in hand with the identity that Daniels, who also adapted the novel into the screenplay, knows the film deserves. It’s campy and it’s dirty and Daniels doesn’t downplay that side of the film one bit, which probably made me appreciate, respect and like the film even more. It doesn’t make any excuses and it doesn’t hold back to make itself more viewer-friendly, which could easily have been the case when trying to execute a film with actors like Efron, Kidman and Cusack. There’s nothing stopping this from being as over-the-top as it deserved to be.

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McConaughey and Efron deliver in ‘The Paperboy.’

And while The Paperboy might not add too much new to the always delicious topics of sex and racism, the film does have a very tactful approach at sex and racism, using them to springboard the story and manipulate the characters in dizzying ways. There’s very much a focus on what’s right and what’s wrong about the two topics, even if it doesn’t approach the two subjects with much care. It doesn’t treat them like the fragile topics of debate most might, it treats like them the detonator to a set of explosives.

There’s no two ways about it: The Paperboy is pure camp and pure cult. It’ll enter the minds of some as a waste of time and it’ll enter others as one of the more unique, challenging and simply satisfying tales. The film’s conclusion, which helps offer more credence to the fact that McConaughey has had a banner year in 2012 with this film, BernieMagic Mike and Killer Joe, is the final stamp of camp approval on The Paperboy, a divisive but very much alive piece of pulp.

Wake in Fright: Ya Mad, Ya Bastard

Near the end of Wake in Fright sensible schoolteacher John Grant refuses a beer.

“Ya mad,  ya bastard!” responds the offended local. He couldn’t believe Grant, after getting a free ride, would turn down an offer for beer.

Until that point every beer that Grant was offered was drank. Whether he accepted it or rejected it, he put it down his pipes. Grant (Gary Bond), a teacher in the remote outback town of Tiboonda, finds himself stuck in a twisted, downward spiral in Bundanyabba – the Yabba to the locals – after only intending to spend one night in the wretched town while on his way to Sydney.

Drink it up ya bastard!

Drink it up ya bastard!

I’ve seen Wake in Fright before. The film initially stunned me with its quick descent into madness – a quality that even after multiple viewings still remains a shocking turn of events.

Bet after bet and beer after beer, Grant finds himself out of money, out of luck and out of a place to stay. Taking residence with a few locals, one being Doc Tydon (which turns out to be one of Donald Pleasence’s greatest performances), Grant is seen drinking himself into unconsciousness and is faced with challenging his own morals as both a man and as a teacher.

It would be easy to dismiss Wake in Fright as dismal exploitation. It’s a raw, gritty, sometimes funny and dark episode. But located at the heart of the film is a man’s fight against his own beliefs and morals. He’s trying to make it to Sydney to see his girlfriend. He was only supposed to be in the Yabba for a day. Grant decided to gamble it all away – trying to earn enough money to dismiss himself from his isolated and depressing job in Tiboonda – but instead he lost it all.

Heads or tails?

Heads or tails?

The film, directed by Ted Kotcheff and written by Evan Jones (based on the novel by Kenneth Cook), has us watch this very lost and tortured man make decisions – like killing a baby kangaroo with his own bare hands – that certainly compete with his morals, ethics and sensibilities. The statement the film makes about alcoholism and the damage all this drinking can do to your life is enough to jar a nerve lose in your body.

Aesthetically Wake in Fright is bizarre, vivid with disparaging color and in-your-face. It turns the town of Broken Hill into a dread-inducing hell that makes you feel as stranded as the main character. You feel like Grant can’t escape the intensely hospitable locals and their offers to buy you a beer, make you some food or take you hunting. Grant, trying to distance himself at almost every moment, instead finds himself spiraling into an alcohol-fueled binge that distracts him from his problems of not having any money or a place to stay. It reduces him from a sensible man who teaches children into a drunken Yabba man – a clear distinction presented by the film’s narrative. This isn’t your “everyman” city. It’s the most isolated city. You can’t help but be captured by it’s soul-sucking personality. As Doc Tydon says about the Yabba: “It could be worse. Supply of beer could run out.”

Donald Pleasence.

Donald Pleasence.

Wake in Fright is without a doubt a one of a kind film. It creates discussion and controversy. It reigns as a champion of Australian cinema and leaves an impression that weighs on you much more than just some shocking exploitation romp. What a dizzying and bizarre trip into a simple man’s soul.

Whatever Larry David Can Do, Frank Hvam Can Do More Demented

Curb Your Enthusiasm is one of the funniest shows of all time. Larry David, our favorite social assassin, complains about everything we complain about. With no filter, he fights back against the unjust and the stupid, no matter how small and inconsequential.

But in many ways, Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, the creators and stars of Danish sitcom Klovn, have outdone David’s brilliance. No, it might not be as funny or as neurotic as Curb Your Enthusiasm, but Hvam and Christensen are certainly the purveyors of truly dark situational comedy.

Frank Hvam in ‘Klovn’ is often subjected to getting punched in the face.

Klovn, which recently struck it big with spin-off film Klown (a fine entry point into the series), is no doubt inspired by Curb. Hvam and Christensen play characters of themselves, just like David and friends play outlandish versions of themselves. Like David, Hvam and Christensen are both comedians and are heavily involved in the production of TV series. The two shows live and die by the awkward sword and the whole idea that what goes around will eventually come around.

But what Klovn gets away with Curb wouldn’t even dare try – even on HBO. Example: Hvam, a big goof of a main character, signs up to play soccer with Christensen’s soccer team. After being instructed to stop the opposing team’s star player by doing whatever it takes, Hvam shoves him into the bushes. The player lands a used needle. Turns out, that needle gives the player HIV. The situation is funnier in context when you consider who the player is: the new boyfriend of a friend’s ex-girlfriend. A grimace from Hvam, followed by a mental shoulder shrug, and we’re cleared of that.

Even though Klovn has riled up consistent laughs from me, the show is not for everyone. Even fans of Curb will find the humor extremely dry and subtle. But the subtitles shouldn’t discourage anyone. Things can be funny in another language and the show isn’t successful with clutch one-liners, but the context of the situation, and it doesn’t matter what language the show is in to understand that.

The real prize of Klovn is the friendship between Hvam and Christensen. Hvam is the uncool and almost dorky partner to Christensen’s good looks and celebrity nature. The substantial difference between the two pays dividends for the avenues the show can travel down and its ability to make even the darkest of situations – rape, death and serious handicaps – perfectly funny.

Hvam and Christensen.

In one episode, Hvam, who along with Christensen find themselves tempted to cheat on their girlfriends time and time again, flirts with and begins to court a black woman after Christensen tells him he needs to experience it. Under false pretenses Hvam tells the woman he’s a very big advocate for the Tibetan people. The woman, part of the Danish refugee program for runaway Tibetan monks, asks Hvam to let a monk stay with him. Hvam takes the monk kayaking in the ocean with him, Christensen and another friend and while the three argue, the monk drifts out to sea because the group forget to give him his paddle. Hvam is stuck with the option of either calling the police and having the monk sent back to Tibet after being caught or just letting him drift on. Hvam chooses the latter and when explaining to his girlfriend and the woman what happened, justified his decision by saying he’s probably in Sweden by now.

It’s situations like those that Hvam burns and crashes his way through his awkward and confrontational life. And even though the show bears so many similarities to Curb (all in honor, nothing of a ripoff variety), the show is utterly its own, bringing hilarious light to dark situations that most comedies wouldn’t want to touch at all.

A note aside from this post: For some reason, Danny McBride and Todd Phillips are going to remake the film. Oh, America.

Here’s the trailer to the VERY FUNNY film that they’ll be remaking, which is not very safe for work.

You can watch the entire first episode of Klovn with English subtitles on Youtube: Part 1 || Part 2.