Thursday, July 10, 2014

From The Dispatch:
In the end, it is humanity that will always be the agent of its own destruction, but what makes “Snowpiercer” so unique is its refreshingly non-whitewashed vision of the future. Bong understands that while the ground outside may be white, the future certainly isn’t. The barriers of race and class are destined to fall, even if human nature continues to try to force those divisions on itself. This is a rare kind of adventure, a smartly directed and thrilling film that never once panders to its audience. “Snowpiercer” has the power to restore faith in this kind of genre filmmaking. It’s a totally unique, delightfully weird romp that offers a spark of imagination that is sorely lacking in so many of our summer movies. For anyone tired of the same old, same old at the multiplex, this is a film well worth seeking out. 
Click here to read my full review.

Monday, July 07, 2014

It's a bit surprising just how mainstream the idea of sadomasochistic sexuality has become in the wake of E.L. James'  inexplicably popular best seller, Fifty Shades of Grey. But fans of James' insipid version of "mommy porn" will likely be disappointed in Roman Polanski's new film, Venus in Fur, which is far more sexy and sophisticated than any of the Fifty Shades novels could ever hope to be.

Based on the play by David Ives, which in turn was based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel of the same name, from which the term 'masochism' draws its name, Venus in Fur is a small, self contained film, featuring only two characters in one room, that absolutely crackles with erotic energy. Thomas (Mathieu Amalric) is a renowned theatre director getting ready to stage his own adaptation of Sacher-Masoch's work on the stage, but has been unsuccessful in finding his female lead. He is on the verge of giving up, when the seemingly frazzled and flighty Vanda waltzes into the theatre late, demanding to be auditioned.

Emmanuelle Seigner (Vanda) and Mathieu Amalric (Thomas) in Roman Polanski’s VENUS IN FUR.
 Courtesy of Guy Ferrandis. A Sundance Selects Release.
He is reluctant at first, then begrudgingly allows her to perform, if only to shut her up. He is shocked, then, to find out that she is actually talented, and he agrees to read the role of the submissive male protagonist. What ensues is a fascinating sadomasochistic tete-a-tete that explores ideas of power and sexual dynamics as the line between fantasy and reality, theatre and real life become increasingly blurred. There are times when it becomes almost impossible to tell when the characters are in character and when they deviate from the script into their own true selves. It is reminiscent of Abbas Kiarostami's Certified Copy, and while it never quite reaches the same heights as that film, Venus in Fur is still a sly and engaging film that is sensual and sexy without ever being overtly explicit.

Polanksi suggests rather than shows, which makes for a far more alluring experience. The limited space betrays its theatrical roots, but Polanski adds a new more cinematic dimension in its transition to the screen by exploring exploring the relationship between performers and audiences, manipulating our own perceptions as the line between the world of the play and the world of the film become increasingly blurred. Mimed actions and objects suddenly become more tangible by adding sound effects, allowing the audience to accept the artificiality of its central construct, getting lost in a world where we can no longer tell the difference between what is real life and what isn't.

Emmanuelle Seigner (Vanda) and Mathieu Amalric (Thomas) in Roman Polanski’s VENUS IN FUR.
 Courtesy of Guy Ferrandis. A Sundance Selects Release.
That's what makes up the real core of Venus in Fur. It isn't a film so much about sexual gratification as it is about power, of a feminine reclaiming of objectification by a patriarchal society by turning the tables against the source of their oppression, even if the oppressor doesn't even realize he's being oppressive. Even as the two of them switch roles, Vanda still retains power, and Thomas finds himself willfully submitting to the woman he calls goddess - his Venus. It's interesting to watch how the roles play out, even as they constantly ebb and flow, exploring sexuality as well as theatrical artifice in increasingly clever ways.

It may feel a bit sterile at times, but it's always engaging, thanks mainly to the riveting performances of Seigner (Polanski's real life spouse) and Amalric, who bring a fire to the screen that keeps the film crackling. It's an erotic firecracker of a movie; at once coy and vivacious, fascinating and mysterious. The 80 year old Polanski feels nimble and rejuvenated here, a master director who, while maybe not at the top of his game, is still displaying more verve and wit than many much younger directors. If you're going to film such a potentially claustrophobic play, this is absolutely how it should be done.

GRADE - ★★★ (out of four)

VENUS IN FUR | Directed by Roman Polanski | Stars Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric | Not Rated | In French with English subtitles | Now playing in select cities.
One of the funny things about magic shows is that they very rarely contain any magic. Oh sure, they have plenty of magic tricks of varying quality, but how often do you get to sit down in a magic show and see something you've never seen before? How many magicians do you know of that actually take the time to craft a fully realized experience, rather than just show off a few tricks with some tired old light cues and cheesy music?

Enter Caleb Sigmon, who with each passing show looks to give the audience something completely new. In his most recent endeavor, Caleb Sigmon Live! Magic in Concert, combined Caleb's unique blend of magic, comedy, and motivational speaking with the wonderful music of the Berry sisters, whose violin and piano accompaniment added a beautiful new dimension to the show. Reviewing a show like this isn't always easy, because no two shows are alike. Each one is distinguished by new guests, new dimensions, and new laughs - and Caleb is always on his toes. His quick wit and his easy charm make for an effortlessly entertaining evening, even if you've seen his show and his tricks before.

Each show is a unique animal, a living, breathing experience, which is part of what makes them so much fun. This isn't all about Caleb - it's a shared experience with the audience in which the audience is very much a part of the show. He manages to make everyone feel comfortable, even if they end up in the spotlight. There's a kind of shared understanding that we are all in this together, and that we are somehow a part of the magic. That's real magic. These aren't just cheap parlor tricks, in fact the actual magic tricks really aren't even the star of the show. Caleb blends them together his incredible gift for storytelling, easily transition between high comedy and more tender inspirational moments. It is this deft showmanship that sets Caleb apart from other magicians. And I don't just say this because he is one of my best friends (full disclosure time), but because he is one of the most talented people I know. Even people who aren't fans of magic shows will find something to enjoy here. Each show is an evening of good, clean family fun of a quality that is hard to find nowadays. There's something charmingly old fashioned about what Caleb is doing. He isn't trying to wow you with lots of flash and dazzle, he wants you to feel a sense of awe, a childlike wonder that is sorely missing in this fast paced world. Under his spell, we are all children again - and that is the real magic of Caleb Sigmon.

His next show, Caleb Sigmon LIVE! Nothing Up My Sleeve is Friday, July 25 at the Old Post Office Playhouse in Newton, NC. For more information, visit