April Summary

Once again, less reviews but hopefully more substance...one can always hope

Fantasia (1940)
Orchids: My Intersex Adventure
Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Best: "Delicatessen"
Worst: "Orchids"...just as a movie.

Tootsie (1982) (PG)

There's always been something comedic with men dressing up as women that cannot be said of the reverse. The amount of times in cinema and stage when a man puts on a dress for laughs cannot be met with a woman wearing a tuxedo...the situations aren't as humorously compatible. That's kind of besides the point, but it does generate the topic of gender that "Tootsie" plays with so forcefully.
It's no great secret that Dustin Hoffman assumes a female alter-ego in a middle aged southern lady who doesn't sweet talk from misogynistic men.
Michael Dorsey (Hoffman) is an actor who's incredibly hard to work with. He is so invested in his craft that sometimes he can be a bit, how shall we say it, "impolite". For Michael, who always introduces himself as a character actor, it is all about the art of convincing, it's all about the sheer dedication.
Sandy (Teri Garr) is one of Michael's friends and she is an actress on the verge of an emotional breakdown. The film treats it for laughs, but there is a vein of thought concerning the unemployed actors...she is one of them. On one audition for a soap opera, she gets rejected and in trying to comfort her Michael learns that a part that was promised to him by his agent has been given to some other guy.
Dashing off to confront his agent, Michael is faced with the truth one more time: no one is willing to work with him, no one wants him.
So in a rapid cut, we see Dorothy Michaels (Hoffman again) walking down the street to audition for a small part in a soap opera—that's right, the same one that Sandy tried out for. Ron (Dabney Coleman) is the director of the show and he thinks he has the right to sleep with all the women, because they are obviously irresistibly drawn to him. Although his female co-workers let his chauvinistic quirks be, Dorothy is not so caring to let them slip by and here the film reinvents itself.
As a woman, Michael/Dorothy is discovering how difficult the world can be to women; but as a man underneath, he also is willing to take chances to better suit himself, his character, and Dorothy. He will stand up for himself, he will fight for his rights (most of this time, this has to do with the show and his character on the show; but still...)
Michael's time as Dorothy brings him in contact with Julie (Jessica Lange), a sweet blonde girl who plays a nurse on the show. She's currently involved with Ron and Michael's anger can barely be contained and the injustice of the situation. Well...maybe that's exaggerating; but he's certainly not happy about it.
From here on out the comedy sets in with how Michael navigates the two worlds he's constructed: man and woman. The film gives him insight into womanhood; but I find it awkward and kind of insulting that his insight triggers the changes that all the other women were just going to let slip by. The insinuations are therefore that he can bring change because he's actually a man and proactive or women are content to wallow in misery. Perhaps that's reading too much into the movie...oh well.
Director Sydney Pollack does a terrific job summarizing that experiences into the funniest and most charming moments as well as making sure that the film never loses its heart.
"Tootsie" is a fun, light-hearted, and ultimately perhaps too fluffy piece; but its emotional core is solid and it is nuanced. It's the kind of comedy whose humor will never go out of style, even if its politics does.

Score: ★★★½

Delicatessen (1991) (R)

"Delicatessen" shares a lot in common with "Underground"...or maybe that should be vice versa. Chances are, if you've heard of either film, it would be this one rather than the 1995 Palme D'Or winner and let's face it, this is probably the more digestible of the two, and I use that word with all the irony and stomach twisting nuances it implies.
This movie is unlike anything you will ever see, unless of course you watch either "Amélie" or "Underground". The point being, this little French gem is why film critics enjoy foreign cinema and its why the average audience—and sometimes myself included—finds a certain amount of "avant-garde bullshit" mixed in with the plot. This is one such movie that my foreign cinema BS detector was going off on; yet not in the usual way. The movie doesn't feature long shots and whispered musings, or the quirk of the fast-paced emotionally draining meltdown. This isn't tragic or too comedic...I guess what I'm saying is foreign cinema doesn't really have a definition and this wouldn't fit it even if it did.
"Delicatessen" is about a post-apocalyptic world, or an apartment building rather. After the world, rightfully unexplained, dried up, a group of curiously quirky individuals eke out an existence above a butcher's shop in the middle of no where. They trade corn for meat and survive just by the skin of their friend's teeth. You see, the meat that they're eating isn't ordinary...it's human.
The butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) makes a habit of dispatching a person every so often and then the tenets will eat off of that for a few weeks. It's not exactly pretty; but the film makes an effort to not really allow the viewer to ponder just how gruesome it really is.
Change arrives when Louison (Dominique Pinon) shows up looking for a job. The butcher gives him a few tasks to do around the building and we get the feeling that this is just a lamb being fattened up until it's slaughtered.
What ensues is perhaps the moment that most viewers will find hard to choke down: the introduction of the other members. These other people are each so individualized and all of them have such bizarre quirks that it's almost impossible to not laugh at the movie. There's a woman who hears voices and is trying desperately to commit suicide, yet always fails at it. There are two presumed brothers that are making noise makers, and then there's an elderly man who lives in a room that is so damp that it allows him to house frogs and snails, which he then eats.
But our main story include Louison and the butcher's daughter, Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac). This is already a recipe for disaster as the two fall slowly in love and the butcher tries to put his hooks into Louison for good eats. Yes, "Delicatessen" is just about as wacky and as insanely mad as you could possible imagine.
It is the work of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who would go on to direct "Amélie", and what is most impressive about it its visual style. The movie looks superb and the camera tricks are always enjoyable.
The movie ramps up energy until it reaches a boiling point and then it crashes down in one of the most enjoyable third acts in recent memory. This would be Tarantino directing an indie film in France, it has that certain humor and violent tendency that we would expect from Quentin.
"Delicatessen" is a steampunk action drama. The movie is less so interested in the setting it occurs and much more in how its characters react to it, which I really appreciate because it feels more genuine that way.
Dreyfus is a load of fun to watch as the obsessed butcher and Pinon and Dougnac make a cute if bizarre couple. The film does take a long time to get used to and some scenes just feel too weird for their own good, like a musical saw and cello performance that is repeated.
Still, if we're giving points for originality, which we are, "Delicatessen" is way high on the list of films to see. And if you dig this, then watch "Underground" because it deserves a viewing too.

Score: ★★★½

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1998) (PG)

I think people who just see "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" as a cartoon/live action movie are missing a lot. There's a deep struggle in "Roger Rabbit"—alcoholism, death, betrayal, adultery, schemes. It's all one giant, colorful mockery and air-blown kiss to the noir style of the golden age of Hollywood, in which it is sent and that makes its humor that much funnier, its sentimentality that much more potent, and its zany-ness (totally a word) all the more digestible.
The movie begins with a certain acknowledgement that this is not going to be your typical kid's movie. Slapstick comedy that defies physics in cartoons is replaced by a human appearance and the viewer begins to understand: cartoons and humans are here existing in the same world. Except that cartoons are still cartoons and humans are still humans. Perhaps a parody of racism in the age of film, "Roger Rabbit" has the toons living in Toonville while humans still basically run the city.
Enter P. I. Eddie Valiant, (Bob Hoskins) a man with a troubled past and a taste for whiskey. He has been asked by a studio head to do an investigation on the wife of Roger Rabbit—one of the studio's biggest stars. This investigation takes him downtown and he catches Jessica Rabbit, famously voluptuous and sensual, in an awkward position.
The photos of her are thought to end the entire situation until dead men start showing up, Roger Rabbit is being pursued for murder, and a last will disappears.
The set up for "Roger Rabbit" is brilliantly noir and remarkably tongue in cheek, but that's not the movie's strongest moment. If you really analyze the plot, you may be disappointed by the holes in it or the narrative discrepancies that are actually fairly uniform with the noir genre. Instead, the joys of the movie are actually in its special effects. The way animation and live action are paired with each other is no joking matter. The stunts are pulled off so perfectly that it becomes believable that toons and humans are interacting with each other.
As Valiant tries to dig deeper into the conspiracies, he butts heads with Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), an anti-toon man who likes order. He has developed a potion that will kill toons, who were previously thought to be invincible.
As Roger, Charles Fleischer does a great job with voice acting (he's a talent that is used multiple times in the movie) and sets himself apart while still paying homage to the Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse like characters.
Speaking of such animation icons, this is one of the few times that you'll see Warner Brothers and Disney characters sharing the same place, particularly because they are so iconic. I cannot imagine such a movie taking place today, because it would require all sorts of merchandise and then marketing, it would be a mess. Seriously, think about it, Shrek and Elsa meeting...that's never gonna happen.
This lightning in a bottle uniqueness to "Roger Rabbit" makes it all the more special and Robert Zemeckis spared no expense. This is him at the peak of his powers, even probably sleeker than such crowd pleasers as "Forrest Gump". Zemeckis knows how to make a blockbuster and "Roger Rabbit" shouldn't be anything else.
It's very smart, it's very aware of itself and it's a ton of fun.

Score: ★★★½

Fantasia (1940)

"Fantasia" is the experimental movie in Disney's canon. This is after "Snow White and the Severn Dwarfs" but before Disney's name became synonymous with magic, princesses, or childhood. Instead, consider "Fantasia" to be Walt's attempt at high society or catering to the adult, cultured crowd. I'm not sure it worked quite as well as he would have hoped; but "Fantasia" does prove its worth simply in the history of cinema because without this piece we wouldn't have "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "The Tree of Life".
The movie is comprised of eight vignettes, each one tailored to a specific piece of classical music. We have music that tells a story, music that evokes images, and music for music's sake. The first piece we hear is a Bach piece and it takes a little bit to get going since the animators seem to want to ease us into the style that will be taking us for the rest of the movie.
But when it comes to Tchaikovsky and "The Nutcracker Suite", nothing is more enjoyable than seeing it brought to life.
For that's what the movie is about, bringing interpretations of music to life. When you hear a song and it evokes a mental image, why not draw that? Of course, certain liberties are made and I found myself disagreeing with certain choices, particularly concerning the film's most famous moment: "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".
Mickey makes his appearance here and I can't help but wonder if the film lost some of its experimental power with this move because no longer does it seem like an adult's movie about soundtrack design mixing perfectly with visual cues; but instead, it's a kid's movie.
I don't know who decided that animation was a child's genre; but they did and now it's impossible to reappropriate that idea, so we're stuck with it. "Fantasia" goes in a split second from being this avant-garde and abstract movie, to being a kid's flick and that speaks volumes.
Still, it's an enjoyable little sections, but it's sandwiched between two other moments of bizarre trial.
The animation here is some of Disney's finest and "Fantasia" is one of the studio's most adult and scary movies, which makes Mickey's appearance all the more curious. This is a movie that has centaur love, naked breasts, and the devil himself. It seems kind of naive to label it only as a kid's movie; but oh well, I digress.
The film can drag at times, because for relying so heavily on visual image, sometimes the soundtrack can be forgotten and when it is, we keep it locked away so that when the moments come when we're really supposed to pay attention to the music, it just feels like a snooze-fest. The most obvious of these moments is the last song, "Ave Maria" in which there's just a bunch of silhouettes walking down a road, across a bridge, into a church-looking building, etc.
Still, the movie has its fun moments like a ballet that involves ostriches, hippos, elephants, and crocodiles—yet you can't mistake the whole movie for one of its moments because this is also a film that features the death of dinosaurs, the beginning of time itself, and the day of gods and their playthings.
It's almost like if Andy Warhol had made "The Wizard of Oz"; but that's probably not a helpful likening.
"Fantasia" is so important because it stresses music so much and without it, we wouldn't have the powerful films of today that feature classic music. Think of "The Tree of Life" and then the similarities between the animated 1940s movie and Terrence Malick's meditation on grief doesn't seem all too dissimilar anymore.

Score: ★★★

Orchids: My Intersex Adventure (2010) (Not Rated)

Buzzfeed recently released a video about intersex people, part of the increasing LGBTQQIAAP acronym and a topic that is rarely talked about. In the open dialogues about gay rights, gay marriage, and sexual orientation, gender identity often slips into the background. Transgender activists and intersex advocates are trying to make the conversation more universally available, but the lack of support and small numbers of that involved make this an extremely hard task.
Now mix in the personal story side of it. Phoebe Hart is a documentarian who is intersex. She has many questions from the doctor's treatment of her condition to her parent's reactions to how it is viewed in society. "Orchids: My Intersex Adventure" tells the story of Phoebe traveling through Australia on a quest for self-realization and fulfillment. Maybe it's a little too cliched and campy for its own good; but consider "Orchids" to be one of the first. Though its construction is so often too amateur, its emotion cannot be questioned.
For "Orchids" is much more than a story about intersex visibility. The movie is about self and, yes, the quest; but it's also about film itself. It would be an impossible story to tell without Phoebe and her sister Bonnie's appreciation of making little movies. It acts as a window to both of their pasts that we can peer through.
As the movie begins, we are introduced to the terms: the medical terms and the emotional terms; but also the terms of the film itself. It feels like a work in process because much of "Orchids" is eaten up with the thought of making the documentary. It's not quite as—for lack of a better word—meta as something like "Adaptation" but there is a keen acknowledgement of the creation of the movie. We understand it more as a labor of love than a desire to view people on equal grounds; yet this is a byproduct of the movie.
Phoebe and her sister travel through Australia and meet other intersex people while talking mostly about the medical issues that are raised with this. Some people may not want to have surgery and yet in this area the film (and Buzzfeed did as well) views the doctors as more medieval in their understanding.
Besides being one of the least visible subsets of our society, there seems to be a place of perceived medical aggression that intersex people have to overcome, for the movie is also about overcoming as well.
The knowledge of her gender identity was not made public to Phoebe by her parents until she was 12. She tells the story of her friends developing into their female bodies while she was left behind, wondering what was wrong. When the revelation finally occurred, it's hard to not assume that its impact would be enormous.
Phoebe appoints herself as the voice of herself. There are moments in which she tiptoes the lines of widespread assumption; but "Orchids" should not be and is not a movie hinging on political correctness. It is rather, an education into something you may not have heard of and a personal battle for appeasement.
Much of it seems constructed on the spot, with little thought put into it; yet its honesty in this fashion is greatly appreciated.
It's exactly what it wanted to be, which is fairly rare for some movies.

Score: ★★★