"Alps" is Brilliantly Bizarre and Surreal


Greek director Giorgos Lanthimos's second feature film "Alps"  is just as thought provoking and bizarre as his Academy Award-nominated debut "Dogtooth".  He paints a very surreal picture that can be hard to understand but somehow is still very engaging.

"Alps" is the name of a clandestine group of four people who offer a service to impersonate the recently deceased in order to help their clients through the grieving process.  This group is comprised of a nurse, a rhythmic gymnast and her coach, and another man who is their leader.  They are called the "Alps" because it is ambiguous and doesn't say what they do, as well as being irreplaceable.  They meet in a gymnasium and don't go by their real names but are referred to by mountain peaks associated with the Alps.  The leader is Mount Blanc, the Nurse and the stories main character is called Mount Rose.

The film is mainly focused on Mount Rose, played by Aggrelikki Papoulia who also starred in "Dogtooth" as the Eldest daughter.  It is about the loss of identity and losing your connections to reality.  Mount Rose is a nurse who lives with her elderly father, but also seems to be a playing the part of his late wife.  She has several Alps clients and it is hard to find who the "real" Mount Rose is.  The Gymnast and coach are another things altogether, she is always in training and never seems to be ready.  Mount Blanc is sort of a mystery.  He is the quiet and stoic leader of the group who during a game of who would you most like to impersonate chooses Bruce Lee.

When Mount Rose breaks one of the rules of being an Alp she is cast out, this is where she loses her proverbial shit and has a complete mental breakdown.  Like trying to describe the meaning of a Salvador Dali painting, both "Alps" and "Dogtooth" just need to be experienced and usually more than once. 

"Turn Me On Dammit!" is Worth Getting Exited About


When it comes to teen sex comedies it is usually from a guy or group of guys perspective.  Very rarely do you get a story that deals with the female side?  American films have trouble talking about female sexuality, especially in teenagers.  Our repressed society likes to keep things hidden from the so-called impressionable people that it is affecting because it is just so uncomfortable.  Really?  The Norwegian film "Turn Me On Dammit!" is brilliant in its frankness and honesty without being exploitive or gratuitous.  This film is comprised of non-professional actor and touches on themes and issues that are very universal when it comes to teenage life.

 Alma is a 15-year-old girl, who lives with her mother in a very small Norwegian town called Skoddeheimen.  Like many small towns all over the world, it is incredibly boring and she can't wait to leave and start a real life.  It is so boring in fact that her mother works at a local turnip processing factory.  She is friends with Sara, a dark-haired anti-establishment type girl who dreams of moving to Texas and abolishing capital punishment.  Sara's sister Ingrid has an addiction to lip gloss and doesn't really care for Alma since they like the same guy.  The guy in question is Artur and he is the most popular kid in school.

 We venture into Alma's mind and see her fantasies played out on screen, but then are jolted back to reality.  During a party at the community center, everything changes when Alma and Artur are alone outside and he pokes her with his ding dong.  Alma goes back inside and blabs to her friends about what happens and they think she is making it up, then Artur denies the whole thing.  This makes Alma a perv and an outcast at school.  It doesn't take long for the news to get around town and to her mother.  Alma's mother also confronts her with a huge phone bill that has Alma calling phone sex lines.  The scene that opens the movie involves one of these calls and is very reminiscent of the opening of "American Pie" except from a female angle.  Alma is dealing with issues common to all teenagers no matter where you live.  So she runs off to Oslo and meets up with Sara's older sister and her friends where she is able to take everything into perspective and realizes that this will all pass and the day will come when she will become her own woman.  Filmmaker Jannike Systad Jacobson, in her debut film, brings a real heartfelt honest to the story and its characters.

"Ghost World" is definetly Wowsville


Before "Art School Confidential" Director Terry Zwigoff adapted another one of Daniel Clowes graphic novels, the satirical "Ghost World".  About longtime friends Enid and Rebecca as the graduate high school and try to decide what to make of their lives.

The story focuses more on Enid, played by Thora Birch, and her quest to find herself.  Her mother is no longer around and she lives with her very conservative and nerdish father.  They have an average relationship as he is oblivious to her problems and she just kind of puts up with him until she can move out.  All of the characters in "Ghost World" are a bit quirky, to say the least, but they are very real and relatable.

Enid and Rebecca wander their small town spouting out various opinions and random thoughts.  They pass by Norman, the old guy who is always sitting on a bus bench waiting for a bus that never comes.  They visit the sidewinder convenience store to pester and torment their friend Josh (Brad Renfro, R.I.P.), then end up at a 50s diner called Wowsville.  While reading the "missed connections" section of the local paper and laughing at all the losers they decide to call one of the numbers and leave a message.  This brings us to another eccentric but down to earth character in Seymour, played perfectly by Steve Buscemi.  Seymour is a single middle-aged "sad sack" kind of guy who says " He has difficulty relating to 90% of humanity" He has extensive knowledge and collection of old 78 records.  He is a guy who seems to have been born a few decades too late.

The Girls set up a blind date with Seymour just get a look at him and to observe him. Enid always carries around her sketchbook and fills it with drawings of all the weird people she comes in contact with.  After they stand up Seymour at the cafe they unexpectedly run into him at a sort of garage sale/swap meet.  Enid finds him fascinating and buys a record from him.  Enid and Seymour then develop this friendship based on old jazz musicians and the fact that Enid wants to find him a girlfriend.  They are both lonely souls in a world of people they can't stand to be around.  Rebecca, on the other hand, is the more "normal" of the girls, she works at a coffee shop and is pretty put together.  She doesn't understand Enid's fascination with Seymour and they start to drift apart as friends.  They always dreamed of getting their own apartment together, but now that the time has come, they keep drifting further and further apart.

The ending is very hopeful but uncertain.  It remains true to life and doesn't give any easy answers.  Difficult decisions have to be made whether we like it or not.  Some would call it living your life.