'Holy Motors' is nonsensical sensory magic

Posted11/8/2012 6:00 AM
  • A limousine driver (Edith Scob) calls it a day after some very weird assignments in Leos Carax's surrealistic cinematic experience "Holy Motors."

    A limousine driver (Edith Scob) calls it a day after some very weird assignments in Leos Carax's surrealistic cinematic experience "Holy Motors."

  • The first victim of a mutated parasite (Jane McNeill) waits for medical attention that will come too late in Barry Levinson's ecological horror tale "The Bay."

    The first victim of a mutated parasite (Jane McNeill) waits for medical attention that will come too late in Barry Levinson's ecological horror tale "The Bay."

Reel Life mini-review: "Holy Motors"
Denis Lavant is a miraculously versatile and courageous actor.

That might be the only thing everyone, especially critics, could agree on in "Holy Motors," Leos Carax's brain-gouging, eye-skating cinematic epic of sumptuous surrealism.

Carax, directing and writing his first film since "Pola X" 13 years ago, plops Lavant into a really, really stretched white limousine driven around Paris, France, by Celine (Edith Scob), confidant and manager to Oscar (Lavant), who we soon discover is an actor of sorts.

Celine drives Oscar from job to job, and each one appears to be lifted from a film genre: film noir, musicals, domestic dramas, kinky soft-core porn, martial arts action, tragic romances. Good thing the limo houses all the costumes and props Oscar needs to become a monstrous leprechaun, a gangster, motion-capture actor and an old, dying man.

Check your logic and common sense at the box office for this one.

"Holy Motors" begins with a man in pajamas (Carax himself) opening a secret passage with a large key that serves as his right index finger. He enters a theater where freeze-framed viewers watch an old King Vidor movie and a giant dog ambles in scary slow motion in the aisle.

Then things get a little weird.

This is an opulently orchestrated movie with Lavant showcasing not only his impressive range, but exercising a supreme sense of physicality in the vastly different parts he's required to play. By whom? For whom?

"Holy Motors" conforms only to the non-rules of dreams, so the rhyme and reason we expect in regular movies do not exist here. Kick back. Let Carax's non-sequitur cinema work its sensory magic.

"Holy Motors" opens at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. Not rated, but for mature viewers only. 115 minutes. ★ ★ ★

Note: After the 7 p.m. showing Friday, Nov. 9, a discussion will be conducted by Michael Kutza, artistic director of the Chicago International Film Festival; Charles Coleman of Facets Multimedia; Jean-Francois Rochard of Chicago's French consulate; and Brian Andreotti, director of programming for the Music Box. Go to musicboxtheatre.com.

Reel Life mini-review: "The Bay"
"The Bay" proves that even an Oscar-winning director like Barry Levinson can create a cheap and silly ecological horror movie on par with something that far less talented filmmakers could produce at a fraction of his cost.

"The Bay" is one of those "there's something in the water" tales merged with a mangled form of the now overused "found footage" format. In this case, Levinson employs so many Hollywood devices -- crosscutting, scary music, close-ups, reaction shots -- that it qualifies less as "found footage" as it does "just a cheap and cheesy horror film."

Tons of chicken excrement loaded with growth hormones have been dumped in the bay around a seaside Maryland town until July Fourth festivities. That's when tiny, mutated parasites in the water begin eating local citizens from the inside out, taking a huge toll on the town's cast of unknown actors.

To be fair, "The Bay" offers three, maybe four, scares stretched out over a mercifully brief 84 minutes.

That's still long enough for our eyes to be battered by the barrage of images snatched from cellphones, security cameras, computer screens, handicams and diagnostic equipment, then edited into "found footage" that was perfectly fine staying lost.

"The Bay" opens at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, Chicago. Rated R for language and violence. 84 minutes. ★

A 007 chat with Cubby
Would James Bond author Ian Fleming approve of what the movies have done to his literary creation?

I posed this question to longtime 007 producer Cubby Broccoli when I met him for lunch in 1979. Broccoli was 70 at the time.

"I think he (Fleming) would have enjoyed the success of it," Broccoli told me. "I don't think he would have been enamored with a lot of things we've been forced to do. I think he would have had respect after we told him why we did this and why we did that, why we went into space (for 'Moonraker') instead of having a piddly rocket flying into London (the plot of the book)."

Broccoli recalled the many English actors he considered while searching for the perfect man to play James Bond 50 years ago.

"They were all good typical British types who could do Hamlet and all that," Broccoli said. "But they didn't have what I thought, and what my partner Harry Saltzman thought, he should have. They were all a bit too polite.

"I went to a Lana Turner supper sort of thing and there was this rather attractive guy. I didn't know who he was. I finally called somebody who knew who he was and he told me he was Sean Connery. He had done (a bit part in) 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People.'

"I wasn't impressed with the way he dressed, or the way he cut his hair and all that. But I knew we could groom him up, and, of course, we did. Dressed him up to look like 007. That was the start of Sean Connery. And we went ahead with 'Dr. No.'"

Reel Life film notes:
• Lombard native Jim Kozar spent the last year shooting a documentary titled "Pete and Dyl: The Documentary," about two real-life Lombard best buds waiting for their Web episodes to be shown at an art show. You can catch Kozar's doc at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 9, at the Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., Chicago. Check it out at on.fb.me/U7dgwe.

• Psst! If you're a schoolteacher, you can get a free ticket to see the new doc "Brooklyn Castle" at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., Chicago, by flashing your valid ID at the box office. Offer valid through Nov. 15. brooklyncastle.com/take-action.

• Bob Peters writes this about my "elect-ifying" movies celebrating our election system:

"Dann: I believe you missed a good one. 'The American President," starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. It is probably more relevant today than one or two you selected."

Dear Bob: I had many good movies to choose from, but I had to whittle the list down to 12. "American President" was a contender, along with "Napoleon Dynamite," "Primary Colors," "Advise and Consent," "Wag the Dog," "Dave," "All the President's Men," and many others.

Dear Dann: On your election movie list, what happened to "Advise and Consent"? A great movie, or did you not see it? Old, yes, but illustrating nasty politics at its worst. Dated perhaps because of the present glorification of gays? Perhaps that is why you didn't add it to the list. I thought it showed just how evil people can be to win at all costs, since his "indiscretion" was so minor. Haunting though, and effective. So what is it? Did you hate the gay reference in "Advise"? -- Connie Pohlman

Dear Connie: No, the film just didn't make the cut.

• Join me and 007 novelist Raymond Benson when we talk about James Bond's new movie "Skyfall" 7 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9, on Mancow's Morning Madhouse, WJJG 1530-AM.

Later at 4 p.m., Benson will join 007 uber-collector Doug Redenius on Roe and Roeper on WLS 890-AM.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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