"Valerie and her Week of Wonders" is a Wondrous Experience

Valerie and her Week of Wonders

Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a coming of age film like no other.  This Czechoslovakian film from 1970 is a little know cult classic that was recently restored and released by The Criterion Collection.  Its a strange and surreal fairy tale that will keep your eyes glues to the screen for the entire 73 minutes.  The film is more of a painting or an experience rather than a traditional narrative story.  Rich with metaphor and symbolism its an art house film with a capital A.

Valerie is a young girl of about 13 or so whose transition into womanhood is a scary and dangerous proposition.  Her parents are dead and she lives with her grandmother, who may or may not be a vampire or a witch.  Valerie is friends with a local boy, Eaglet, whose father may or may not be a vampire or even the devil.  He is also known as the polecat, a weasel of a man who is always up to no good.  Throw in a sleazy lecherous priest and Valerie must defend her mind and body for what awaits her in adulthood.  Her bedroom however is a gleaming white sanctuary for which she is free and safe from the outside world.  While Valerie's grandmother fears of growing old she makes a deal with the polecat for everlasting youth, Valerie yearns for love, safety, and security.  She hopes this will come from Eaglet and a magic pair of pearl earrings.

Her journeys are like hallucinations charged with either sex or violence.  She sees a groups maidens bathing in the river, as well as men whipping themselves.  When the priest seemingly returns from the dead, Valerie is taken and burned at the stake

The imagery and cinematography of the film are simply amazing. The image of a blood stained daisy makes for the perfect cover art for the Criterion release.  The film takes on many fairy tales but would most resemble "Alice in Wonderland".  Its a truly unique vision for this girls very strange week of wonders.

Play "Hide and Seek" with Fanning and De Niro

Hide and Seek

You could say 2005 was a pretty good year for up and coming actress Dakota Fanning as she starred opposite Tom Cruise in the Summer blockbuster "War of the Worlds" directed by Stephen Spielberg.  Earlier in the year she was front and center in the psychological thriller "Hide and Seek" co-starring Robert De Niro.  Here she plays yet another precocious little smarty pants dealing with the suicide death of her mother.

After his wife's death David decides it would be best for him and his daughter Emily to move out of the city and into a quite country estate to deal with things.  David is a psychologist who despite the advice of his colleague Katherine, played by Famke Janssen, thinks it is in the best interest of his daughter.  Katherine has been treating Emily and now more than every feels she needs a strong motherly influence and someone other than her father to talk to.  Never the less they arrive at their new digs, a big Summer house in the middle of Fall. They are greeted by the town sheriff Dylan Baker, who will most likely die a horrible death, since cops never fair well in scary movies.  They settle in for what will hopefully be a new beginning, but that would make for a pretty boring movie, wouldn't it.

The quiet and introspective Emily investigates the grounds and finds an ominous wooded area with a cave, just before being called to dinner.  Emily's relationship with her father is a rather typical one except for the fact that he could easily be her grandfather.  How many men in their sixties have kids under ten?  She is kind of a mystery to him.  He knows a few things like her favorite foods and her dolls name but together they're a bit awkward, which does help with the suspense and tone of the film.  When Emily starts acting out she blames everything on her imaginary friend named Charlie.  David struggles to control his daughter while also trying to grieve for his wife.  Her suicide was a complete shock to him and the unanswered questions keep piling up. 

David does find some friendship in the form of a single mother named Elizabeth (Elisabeth Shue) who he meets at the park.  She is invited to dinner and they have their "Taste the Sauce" moment, but Emily is not as inviting as she throws a hateful bitch fit at the table.  As Emily continues to act out in more extreme ways (poor kitty never had a chance) David is overwhelmed as what he should do next.  Up to this point in the story everything has been done to make you believe this is an evil kid movie and Emily is obviously disturbed.  But wait a divisive third act twist in the vane of "Cape Fear" with the exact same actor none the less.  We learn more about Charlie and a different view of all of the crazy things that have been happening.  Although this movie is filled with numerous genre clich├ęs and twists it is an entertaining watch if nothing else. 

Even though Dakota Fanning was only about 10 or 11 when this was made she looks to be an adult playing a kid which also adds to the creepiness factor as she is only actor that can pull this off. The movie is what it is and I would still recommend seeing it.

P.S. The sheriff does die a horrible death.

Dakota Fanning in the Controversial "Hounddog"


Dakota Fanning was one of the great child actors of her generation, from her film debut opposite Sean Penn in the 2001 film "I am Sam" to "Hounddog" in 2007.  Appearing in over 10 feature films in that period and working primarily with A-list directors and upstaging many of her older co-stars, like Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington and Robert De Niro.

Directed by Deborah Kampmeier "Hounddog" was a turning point in her career, at the ripe old age of 12.  The independent film about a preconscious young girl living in the rural American South in the mid to late 1950s drew criticism and controversy for scenes of sexual abuse involving Fanning's character Lewellen.  The whole atmosphere of the film has a lingering lusty feel to it.  It's the stereotypical gothic fairytale view of the South.  Lewellen lives with her brutish drunken father (David Morse) for whom she has a love/hate relationship.  She even says she would like to kill him one day. She also lives with her grandmother, who acts as sort of a surrogate mother but still doesn't give her the attention she needs.  When her father has a falling out with his latest girlfriend (Robin Wright), he leaves his daughter to go on a drunken bender for a period of time.  Lewellen grew close to her and took the split harshly.   He only salvation is in the music of Elvis Presley and running around with Buddy, the neighbor boy.  She also strikes up a friendship with a local black man, who introduces her to Blues music.  This allows her to cope with her situation and later on brings her back from a terrible event.  When her father finally returns, she is all to happy to see him but shortly after their reunion he is struck down by a bolt of lightening turning him into a kinder gentler giant with a mind of a 5 year old.  Lewellen now  has to take care of him.  Lewellen's yearning to leave her situation blinds her from some real danger that's up ahead.

Word spreads around town is that Elvis will be giving a concert nearby and she will do anything to get her ticket to see him.  Her naive and trusting nature soon leads her into a situation that will scare her for life.  She seems surrounded by boys and men all to willing to take advantage of her from her father, the teenaged milkman and eventually even Buddy.  Her father's old girlfriend swings around again, but this time only to see Lewellen, in the film she is credited as "Stranger Lady", but is this her biological mother? and more importantly her ticket out?  "Hounddog" is decent movie with a few good performances including that of Fanning, but as a whole is a little too mellow dramatic and a bit unreal, it's like a storybook or fairy tale with tall tales and larger than life characters.  I do however recommend you check it out and give it a chance.

"Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present"

Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present

With over 200 reviews in the rear view this is the first documentary to be featured in long history of the Rockport Review.  It took a doc like "Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present" to break in.  It is simply an event to behold.  Its simplistic, bizarre, and extremely moving.  It's the world performance art.

This film documents the MoMA retrospective exhibit of Marina Abramovic a controversial and boundary crushing Eastern European performance artist.  Now at 63 she launches her newest performance, also the name of the exhibit, The artist is present.  For the whole length of the exhibit which is 3 months she will be sitting silently across from members of the audience in a shared experience.  6 days a week, 7 hours a day in a squared off space.  Two chairs facing each other with a table in between them.  An electric and bizarre atmosphere envelopes the two strangers who lock eyes in a sort of starring contest for an indeterminate amount of time.  It's a monumental achievement in self discipline and how she can control her own mind and body for such long periods of time.

We are also given a retrospective on her career as well with videos and interviews.  She has been performing since the early 1970s and her work explores a wide range of human dynamics and the relationship between the artist and the viewer.  She has performed many works with her now former lover Ulay and these are prominently featured here.  Her work leaves many people asking "Why is this Art?" Ah the question that has plagued mankind for centuries, What is art?

Her massive exhibit features other performance artists recreating many of her previous works, but at the heart of it all is Marina herself in that chair staring back at you.  The exhibit, which took place in 2010, looked to be quite the cultural phenomenon with people waiting for hours are even days for their chance to sit across from her.  It was like she took on this Christ like figure, as people where weeping and worshiping her.  Marina's eyes gave out a sort of unconditional motherly love that drove many of the people to tears.  As the exhibit wore on people got more and more desperate to see her.  It also brought to light the nature of celebrity and how groups of people can be enchanted and mesmerized by a single person.  I'd highly recommend taking a look at this film as it is quite the experience, it was produced by HBO and can be found on DVD.

"White Bird in a Blizzard" a Gregg Araki Film

White Bird in a Blizzard

A little while ago I reviewed the film "Mysterious Skin" by indie auteur Gregg Araki that stared a young Joseph Gordon Levitt in his latest film "White Bird in a Blizzard" another hot young actor in Shailene Woodley of "Divergent" fame takes center stage.  Araki's films are character driven dramas that push the boundaries of mainstream Hollywood.  This film also stars a number of great actors in Eva Green, Christopher Meloni and Angela Bassett. It currently can be found on Netflix Streaming.

This film is all about Woodley's character of Kat Connors a 17 year old girl whose mother, Eve (Green), ran out on her when she was young leaving her to deal with her uptight milquetoast father Brock (Meloni).  The first line of the film is from Kat saying "Mom are you Okay" which is absolutely perfect, it says so much about the upcoming narrative in a mere four words.  Although Kat had a rather stormy relationship with her mother, she still loves and misses her.  As mentioned before Brock is an emotional blank slate working a menial job, completely unavailable for anyone.  Even when she was around her parents were constantly at odds with each other.  Eve looked to be trapped as an unloved under appreciated housewife dying a slow suburban death.  When she disappears Kat drifts further away from her family and intensifies her relationship with the only person that pays any attention to her, the neighbor boy Phil (Shiloh Fernandez).  It was actually quite surprising to see multiple nude scenes from Woodley who has built her career on big budget family friendly movies.  Its great to see her taking risks and putting her self out there, something that most actors her age would normally turn down.  Although that being said it is a Gregg Araki film so pretty much anything goes.

Kat graduates from High School and goes to Berkley where she meets new people but is still in a sort of mental funk.  "The future bores me" she says at one time.  Upon coming home for spring break her dad has landed a new girlfriend, that she could care less about.  Kat and her friends start to wonder what really happen to her mom and some pretty wild theories pop up, but exactly how wild are they?  Could Brock have killed his wife?  The film then turns into a kind of strange Nancy Drew novel as Kat begins to suspect that her father know more that he is telling her.  He starts to show a more angry dark side, but he's already kind of strange to begin with.  The ending unleashes a twist that is perfect for an Araki movie.  It's shocking and a bit funny at the same time.  Hopefully Kat can move on from her tragically damaged family life and create a peaceful existence of her own.  Hopefully she won't disappear in that blizzard.