With most of the film talent and the bulk of weekend attendees out of town now, it’s time to start catching up on buzz movies and taking in the new lineup this week. I caught the much talked about Holy Motors and American Mary, and chose Cold Blooded and Taped for myself. This was a great day of films.
For those of you who always found “nip/tuck” a little too tame, American Mary has all the graphic body modification surgery you couldn’t see on FX. Mary (Katherine Isabelle) is a struggling medical student who earns some quick cash doing a backroom surgery. That leads to referrals. There are more horrific surgeries, and then other horrors befall poor Mary. American Mary isn’t actually as graphic as it is expert in suggestion of horror. The Twisted Twins – Jen and Sylvia Soskia – have a sensual eye. They’re not vulgar. They compose some nice widescreen frames and they have an artful eye for the surgeries too. Certainly seeing a pretty girl in high heels and lingerie doing backroom surgeries is hot. What’s even more striking are the brief moments of pride Mary gets to take in her sick work. It’s also relevant in these economic times as students deal with insurmountable loans. But don’t hire them for surgeries, people. Let them finish school first. Isabelle is great and some of the freaky clients she has are captivating. Some of her tormenters aren’t quite believable but it’s all a good effort and definitely makes me want to see the Twins’ first film, Dead Hooker in the Trunk.
I’m being kind to an upstart filmmaker here, because Cold Blooded is very rough with minimal resources, but writer/director Jason Lapeyre goes to some impressive hardcore places and really satisfying escalation. A cop (Zoie Palmer) has to guard a diamond thief (Ryan Robbins) in the hospital when his cohorts come looking for his stash and information. Lapeyre only has as many actors as he absolutely needs, only the major players in the story, no extras whatsoever. There’s only one security guard at the hospital, and no other patients. There’s no production design to speak of, but maybe that’s more realistic to what a sterile, barren-walled hospital really looks like. Lapeyre’s filmmaking is meat and potatoes. He shows the story and action, cuts shots together to show things progressing. It’s not wrong. It’s clear, but it’s all by the book. The villain talks too much, the supporting characters are stereotypes like the A-hole doctor and the dialogue blatantly reveals exposition we need to know for later, but damned if Robbins and Palmer aren’t likable. I don’t want to ruin the good parts but in spite of all of the above, you’ll be cheering Palmer’s perseverance and cringing at some of the villains’ depravity. Cold Blooded is far more satisfying than some "Seven" or "Eight"-rated movies because it does so much with so little.
Holy Motors is awesomely, beautifully, and most importantly, sincerely weird. The festival programmers say telling the audience anything about the movie would be a spoiler, but I disagree. We can tell you what’s in the movie and you still won’t imagine the context or just what the visual manifestation of that is. Plus, it’ll make you want to see it more. My synopsis is that it’s about Mr. Oscar (Denis Lavant), who puts on different makeup and costumes for different meetings he has. Each meeting is a different genre, a different performance, a linear or abstract but always meaningful episode. Then Oscar gets back in the limo and transforms for the next one. Now come on, did that spoil anything? You still get to find out what each segment is. The makeup is beautiful and Lavant’s body language is amazing. Just when you think you’ve figured out the rules of this world, it turns again. Nothing is a gimmick though, every artistic notion is sincere. There’s no “Look how artistic this is” braggadocio. Writer/director Leos Carax means everything that’s in this movie. I smell franchise here. I want Holier Motors, Holiest Motors, then a prequel and eventually a reboot. There’s a whole world of people who have this job, plus I want to see more Mr. Oscar.
This Dutch thriller keeps the suspense palpable and the momentum moving. Sarah and Johan go to Argentina to try to patch up their marriage and accidentally tape a corrupt police shooting. The police pursue them around the streets and they really have nowhere to go for help. The Dutch pull no punches like the inevitable U.S. remake will. No one gets out easy and the traumas they endure affect the characters’ behavior. You really don’t know how they’re going to get out of this, and it’s a foreign film so there’s no guarantee they will. But Taped is not just suspense, it’s emotional too. Sarah and Johan air out all their problems and it’s real, juicy and dramatic. They capture the vulnerability of foreigners in an unsafe land, or maybe it’s just that we don’t recognize the actors so there’s no safety in familiarity.