TV Party is a Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
Blue is the Warmest Color
Abdellatif Keciche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color has had to field no shortage of debate due to the fraught circumstances under which it was made, but if you can put aside the legitimate concerns about Keciche’s voyeuristic eye in both production and execution, he also managed to make as sweepingly romantic and haunting a screen romance as has been made since the turn of the millennium. The story of Adele (Adele Exarchopolous) gets right what so few movies about love do: that while it’s usually one of the most uniquely powerful facets of any life, it’s not the only thing a person is ever living through at one time. Love informs life, but when encountered healthily, doesn’t usually dictate it.
So goes the film’s stark but pitch-perfect approach to sexuality as well. Once Adele meets Emma (Lea Seydoux) in a lesbian bar in Paris, they spend the next several years in and out of love, drifting through one another’s lives even as they’re together, at turns passionate with one another and tentative about what happens when raw passion in and of itself isn’t enough to keep a relationship going. Blue Is the Warmest Color is frank without being exploitative (at least in this writer’s estimation) and understands that love and sex and all the messy business that comes from one or both of those things is relative. It’s not a love story so much as it’s a story of how love can rotate a life off its axis and what that might mean. And it’s exceptional.
Like Water for Chocolate
In my youth, whenever I looked at the artwork on the video box (yes, the video box) for Like Water for Chocolate, it came off as a kind of melodramatic soap I would have no interest in seeing. This went on for years, even decades. The box shows a young man and a young woman together in the shadows — the man pressed against the woman, the woman clearly digging it. Below them: a plate of food. I thought it was some lame 9 ½ Weeks or Wild Orchid B.S. and would rent the likes of Bushwhacked or Night of the Demons 3 instead. I had great taste even then.
It took a while to discover Like Water for Chocolate, but I’m glad I did. The promotional art does the movie a disservice, because while it is a very sensual film, the fantasy and comedy elements separate it from the pack. The story revolves around Tita, the youngest of three daughters. Because she is the baby of the family, tradition demands that she remains single and takes care of her mother for the rest of her days. This inevitably leads to familial strain and secret love affairs, which are often found in melodramas. However, Tita is an expert cook, and without realizing it, she is able to infuse her emotions with the meals she makes. People get sick, sick, aroused, etc.
Like Water for Chocolate is ultimately a tragedy, but I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun watching one. And you won’t believe this: director Alfonso Arau played the “infamous” role of El Guapo in Three Amigos. Random.
Exit to Eden
Ever watch late-night softcore porn and think, Damn, this could use a little Dan Aykroyd and Rosie O’Donnell? Well, here’s your answer: Garry Marshall’s 1994 critical and commercial flop Exit to Eden. I happened to catch this film on HBO when I was 10 or 11 years old, and I remember being initially lured in by the opportunity of seeing, in my mind, “Dr. Raymond Stantz and that funny woman from A League of Their Own.” To my surprise, I was introduced to BDSM and the heavenly body of one Dana Delaney.
Let’s just say I didn’t have a full VHS tape of SNICK episodes anymore.
Really, it’s a stupid movie: Marshall adapted the film from Anne Rampling’s novel of the same name, only he forced a detective narrative (enter Aykroyd and O’Donnell) into a love story (Paul Mercurio and Delaney). The action’s all set on a mysterious island called, you guessed it, Eden, where everyone can live out their dominant and submissive fantasies. You do remember earlier when I said “softcore porn”, right? That’s what makes this film so weird and, ultimately, so hypnotizing.
Questions bobble around endlessly here: How did this happen? Why am I watching Aykroyd and O’Donnell in leather? What the hell was Marshall on when he agreed to do this? Was this his own sexual fantasy? Did he think he could take part, too? Wait … did he take part? If so, did he bring Penny with him? Okay, that’s enough. Basically, if you need to see a film that owns up to its stupidity, especially after checking in with Mr. Grey, consider this your exit.
Don’t Look Now
The love scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now is infamous and for good reason. In fact, the first time I saw it, it made me wince. It’s long, it’s voyeuristic, and it’s weirdly graphic in that 1970s art-house way. But more than anything, it feels too real — so real that rumors surrounded the film for decades, with fans and critics alike wondering just how method the actors got for their roles. Part of the reason this scene still shocks and confounds viewers is its bizarre editing. Director Nicolas Roeg intercuts the sex scene with images of the couple getting ready for dinner, getting dressed, sipping a post-coital scotch. It humanizes them, and it makes the sex scene seem even more intimate.
But if on-screen hanky-panky makes you squirm, there are still countless reasons to watch Don’t Look Now. This artsy, supernatural horror flick tells the story of the Baxters (Sutherland and Christie), a married couple who escape to Venice after the death of their daughter. Italy has much more than pasta in store for the twosome, who encounter blind psychics, decrepit churches, and one of cinema’s most shocking serial killers along the way. It’s beautifully shot, masterfully edited, and contains images that will haunt you for years. Oh yeah, and you get to see Donald Sutherland’s naked ass. Again.
I Am Love
Love at first bite? Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love is an intensely erotic film. It’s the confounding journey of one middle-aged woman’s intimate awakening, and it’s almost entirely brought on by food.
Emma (the uncommonly beautiful Tilda Swinton) is married into Milanese wealth. She’s Russian by birth, surrounded by opulence and old money and is just so full of malaise. She’s got the look of porcelain, nicely presented and totally dead inside. She yearns for more; she just doesn’t know it. It’s unbearable. But something deep within is about to be unlocked over lunch.
Emma is at the recently opened restaurant of her son’s good friend. She’s given a special dish. Prawns with ratatouille and sweet-and-sour sauce, with mixed fish and crunchy vegetables. Emma looks down in fascination at the meal; we look over her shoulder at the colorful and gorgeously decorated plate. The white noise of the restaurant fades into tonal thumps as the classical composition of John Adams begins to percolate. There’s almost a heavenly glow that comes from the plate and we hear the distant sizzle of the kitchen and the sharp clicks of her silverware slicing the prawn. Suddenly, she’s covered in an overhead light as the rest of her table and party darkens.
A raised eyebrow.
Smiling in ecstasy.
And, and … I’m sweating like George Costanza.