Thursday, March 8, 2012


For his third feature, Fear X, Danish-born director Nicolas Winding Refn brings his uniquely effective eye for cinematic violence to America.  He couldn't have chosen two more appropriate symbols for the country than the film's setting--a shopping mall--and the violence with which the plot concerns itself; it's located in the past, connoting a history of violence, as well as the dark potential for future mayhem.

Harry Caine (John Turturro) spends his days as a rent-a-cop in a Midwestern shopping mall.  He squanders his nights pouring over vhs tapes filled with security footage.  What Harry is looking for is an answer to his grief; his wife was murdered in the parking lot of his workplace.  He says he's not in search of "who" as much as "why."

With a tightly-wound script written by Refn and novelist Hubert Selby Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream), the film offers little solace to the viewer that such questions will be answered, focusing instead on the obsession and repetition that has supplanted the vitality that one assumes once constituted Harry's existence.

As in Drive (as well as other works by its director), the influence of David Lynch is palpable in Fear X.  Refn's co-opting of Lynchian atmospherics doesn't attempt to replicate the great surrealist's works, necessarily.  Whereas Lynch employs his stylistic excesses to explore the extremes of human nature, Refn is less interested in the analytical than he is in scenarios and environments that sort individuals into the roles they are compelled to perform.

We're not talking Joseph Campbell here, though; Harry is neither a hero, nor particularly suited to the task that he must complete.  He does undertake a journey that, depending on how you read the ending, is either frustratingly literal or symbolic in nature.

And that ending is a humdinger, I tell ya.  It's likely to upset the same people who strongly disliked the conclusion of No Country for Old MenBut adventurous film goers (you know who you are); those who love nothing more than a post-screening breakdown of a movie, will be thrilled by what's offered up here.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I enjoyed Fear X more than DriveBOOM!  I said it.

Fear X will screen at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on March 11th at 5pm & March 14th at 7pm.  The film is part of the retrospective series, Driven: The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn.

Related links:
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher II: With Blood on My Hands 
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Pusher III: I'm the Angel of Death
The Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Drive

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POWFest 2012 serves up a double bill of documentaries on fertility-related issues for its Saturday (3/10) afternoon screenings.  One film, Angel for Hire, takes more of a historical perspective on its topic, adding perspective and focus to a story being told in the present, while the other, Ei Voor Later (Eggs for Later), is more in the mold of  Ross McElwee (Sherman's March) piece; a personal story told by its filmmaker, overflowing with charm and easy identification.

A still from Ei Voor Later

Ei Voor Later (Eggs for Later) picks up just as its director/subject Marieke Schellart is about to celebrate her 36th birthday.  She candidly addresses the camera about her growing anxiety as a woman who wants children but hasn't yet found herself in a situation that has produced them.  Schellart allows us to tag along with her as she investigates having her eggs medically frozen, granting her options for conception beyond her natural window of opportunity.

A still from Ei Voor Later

Unlike in the U.S., the scientific community of the Netherlands, where Schellart lives, is only beginning to come to grips with the technology and social implications of the procedure.  As such, Ei Voor Later becomes just as much involved in discourse around these issues as it is about one woman's journey.  The most entertaining moments in the film center around the debate as it occurs in Schellart's own circle of family and friends.  Ei Voor Later is a fun and involving take on a subject that might have been dry and impersonal in less capable hands.

A still from Angel for Hire

Mary Flynn and Nina Goodby's Angel for Hire locates its dramatic arc in the story of one woman's fears that her surrogacy contract with an infertile couple may force her to have a cesarean section, due to complications with the pregnancy.  The film intercuts its primary tale with the background of Noel Keane, a lawyer who in the mid-70s became a pioneer in surrogacy practice.

A still from Angel for Hire

Keane's story adds a necessary historical layer to the film that enriches the entire piece.  And, even though the presentation of Angel's present-day application of Keane's work is impressive, I couldn't help but wish that the film had spent even more time on chronicling the struggles of the past, such as the story of Baby M.  As it stands, Angel for Hire shifts from a very good documentary to completely absorbing one each time it delves into the history of its topic.

Angel For Hire (Trailer) from Nina Goodby on Vimeo.

Festival passes can be acquired at this link and tickets for individual screenings can be purchased here.

Ei Voor Later (Eggs for Later) & Angel for Hire will screen together at POWFest on Sat., March 10th at 3pm at the Hollywood Theatre.

Related links:

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