The BFG, The Legend of Tarzan, The Purge: Election Year, Swiss Army Man, Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, Our Kind of Traitor, Belladonna of Sadness

THE BFG 3CR-Steve at the Movies-newTry as I might, I could not wrap my heart around director Steven Spielberg’s latest, The BFG, based on the Roald Dahl book and the final screenplay from Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial writer Melissa Mathison, who died in November. I couldn’t get past the nagging feeling that what was meant to pass as charming and wondrous comes across as precious in the most aggravating and very British way. When it comes to children’s stories, I’ve never subscribed to the school of thought that a series of funny names and a vague, ever-changing set of rules and mythologies was all that captivating as entertainment. Whether this is a flaw in the script or the source material, I don’t know, having never read the book. But I’m not reviewing a book; I’m talking strictly about a movie that, sadly, doesn’t work as a whole. And any film (or a play) is an independent work of art separate from its source material. The BFG (short for Big Friendly Giant) is the story of 10-year-old Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), an orphan girl who tends to stay up late and wander the grounds in and around the orphanage while the other children sleep. By being an observer of all things dwelling in the night, it doesn’t take long for Sophie to spot a 24-foot giant stealthily moving through the streets in the dark. Recent Oscar winner (for Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies) Mark Rylance is actually quite endearing as BFG, apparently the only non-child-eating giant in the land of giants where he lives. He brings Sophie to his home (where she is in an incredible amount of danger) to show her what he does all day—he collects and implants all manner of dreams into the heads of people. Dreams in this film are not unlike the memory balls in Inside Out, only instead of collecting them after they happen, BFG gathers them from a land where dreams float in the air and places them into your head while you sleep. We also meet several other giants who are far larger and more dangerous than BFG, but the only one who really stood out to me was the leader, Fleshlumpeater (voiced by Jemaine Clement), a particularly nasty character who is certain BFG is hiding a human in his home and nearly destroys his entire workshop to find her. I’m fairly certain I spotted Bill Hader’s voice in the giant mix, but I couldn’t tell you who he played without looking it up. When the film feels dangerous is when it functions the best, and there’s certainly more of that in the second half, when Sophie takes BFG to London (circa the early 1980s) to meet with Queen Elizabeth (Penelope Wilton) to warn her of the threat of the bad giants and send troops to destroy them. Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall play attendants of the Queen who also make certain that BFG and Sophie are fed and taken care of while visiting Buckingham Palace. If it sounds odd, it really is, but some of these scenes are actually quite funny, especially the sequence involving BFG's breakfast feeding. There’s also a special drink that he loves that everyone decides to try, and it leads to a symphony of farting that is pretty special. As mentioned, there is something in Rylance’s motion-capture performance (that leaves his face relatively intact except for enlarged ears) that is truly special and sweet. His broken and misspoken English made me laugh for a time, but once you more or less figure out what he’s trying to say, it loses its appeal. But there is a hint of sadness behind his eyes, perhaps because he is forced to live among these other, far more brutish giants, and he knows there’s a better world and class of people out there. In the end, it boils down to the simple truth that I was never swept away by The BFG, despite Spielberg turning on the awe-factor afterburners to make it happen. The John Williams score swoops and swells, and it feels like everyone is overselling the magic. My biggest issues with the film center around Barnhill (in her first film role), who spends most of the film with her arms slightly outstretched at a 45-degree angle, twirling about, doing the very things BFG and others tell her not to do. I can only take precocious children in small doses, and after a point, her behavior becomes predictable and only serves to move the story forward rather than explore the character’s inner world. The BFG isn’t even a close call in my mind; except for Rylance, there’s little to recommend from the clumsy action sequences to the shockingly subpar special effects. It’s one of Spielberg’s true letdowns. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN God almighty, did I loathe this movie—nearly every second of it is worthy of some level of spite, but most of my complaints seem to circle around its lazy filmmaking. That makes it all the more surprising that the director is David Yates, who gave us the last handful of Harry Potter films, all of which are quite good. Based on the Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs (adapted by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer), the story takes place after all of the classic Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) adventures are long in the past, in a sort of “After MASH” version of his life story that picks things up years after he has left the jungle for a more conventional life in London, with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) and a gaggle of admirers still wanting him to tell stories of his jungle years. Now known as John Clayton (or Lord Greystoke), Tarzan is convinced to return to his old home in the Congo, when deceptive prospector Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is digging up the diamonds of the land using secretly gathered slaves to do his digging. Tarzan is persuaded to remove his shoes and head back to Africa by American investigator George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who is more curious about confirming the return of slavery than anything else, but the two make a worthy team, as they revisit Tarzan’s old haunts and old friends (both human and animal). But when Rom shows up and starts kidnapping and/or killing Tarzan’s loved ones, he strips down to his torn jungle pants (sorry ladies, no loin cloth for Skarsgård) and begins letting the nature boy side of things take over. The Legend of Tarzan is so generically flat that it feels desperate. What is the point of this film? Is it to present vast, largely artificial jungle-scapes? Or give us computer-generated animals for Tarzan to cavort with? Nothing about either of those options comes across as necessary once you see them in glorious 3-D. I happen to find Alexander Skarsgård a fairly compelling and solid actor, going back to his work in the HBO series “Generation Kill” and “True Blood,” through to such varied works as Melancholia, Straw Dogs, What Maisie Knew, The East, and last year’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl. He’s got another film coming out later this year called War On Everyone, in which his deadpan delivery is so funny that he steals man scenes from Michael Peña with just a lift of an eyebrow. But he’s giving us nothing as Tarzan beyond a finely sculpted set of abs (which I’m well aware is enough for some people). Robbie doesn’t fare much better. Although Jane isn’t quite the damsel in distress that she’s been in the past, the character is still relegated to becoming someone who needs to be saved, while she wisecracks her way in the face of danger. Perhaps the strangest character in the mix is that of Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), a tribal leader who wants Tarzan delivered to him by Rom before he’ll agree to sign over certain lands for diamond excavation. His hatred for Tarzan is something of a mystery for a time, but when it’s revealed, it’s not really anything we couldn’t have guessed, and probably did. I’m already bored discussing this gross misstep into the world of Tarzan. We weren’t forced to watch a great number of flashback sequences that show us the Tarzan origin story, for lack of a better phrase, as well as his first interactions with Jane. Spoiler alert: He might have been naked. It looks like the filmmakers spent a lot of money to make The Legend of Tarzan, and the only thing I got out of it is that the Belgians at the time were a low-down people for introducing slavery to the Congo. If you discover anything beyond that, please let me know. Feel free to skip this one. THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR The good guys in the Purge movies always seem to be taken by surprise, as if they didn’t know the exact date and start time of this annual crime-ridden event until six hours before it begins, which is, of course, nonsense. Meanwhile, the marauding bands of killers roaming the streets have such elaborate costumes, tricked-out vehicles and flashy weaponry, it’s like they’ve been preparing since the year before, like a murderous Mardi Gras. The whole exercise is exceedingly tasteless, but that’s essentially the point of these films—even more so with this one. The Purge: Election Year attempts to capture a bit of the ragged, bitter rivalry of our current election cycle and transform it into a national debate about whether The Purge should be continue. In other words, this is The Purge movie we have earned by being a ridiculous nation right now. Just as a reminder, The Purge is a 12-hour event that happens once a year, during which all crime is legal. According to the history lesson we’re given with each film, the result of allowing the nation to vent in such a way is that crime is down considerably for the rest of the year. In the years prior to Election Night, certain high-ranking government officials and other rich and powerful people have been exempt from being killed. However, because of the events in The Purge: Anarchy, where it was uncovered that the rich were using The Purge to thin the poor masses and make their numbers more manageable, there are no exemptions. All of this has resulted in two candidates moving to the front of the pack: the pro-Purge Edwidge Owens (Kyle Secor), a minister turned politician who has allowed the practice of the Purge to warp his religious beliefs; and Sen. Charlene Roan (Elizabeth Mitchell), a defiant voice of reason whose only real platform seems to be ending The Purge once and for all. Her head of security is returning character Leo Barnes (Frank Grillo), who repeatedly manages to keep the senator from being killed by soldiers working for the religious disciples of Owens. Set two years after the last film, when The Purge begins this time around, traitors in the Roan security team make it necessary for her and Barnes to leave the house almost immediately and seek shelter in the midst of some nasty goings on. For a time, they hide out in a corner convenience store run by Joe Dixon (Mykelti Williamson) and his right-hand man Marcos (Joseph Julian Soria); they also get help from a first-aide vehicle driven by Laney (Betty Gabriel); and take shelter with an underground, anti-Purge group, led by Dante Bishop (Edwin Hodge, the only actor to appear in all three Purge movies). Writer-director James DeMonaco (who has made all the Purge films) has done an admirable job of find a new aspect to The Purge to showcase in each new film. In the first chapter, the emphasis was on a single family in a far more personal and claustrophobic story. In Anarchy, focus was shifted to capture more of the national phenomenon. It’s more of a traditional action film with our heroes racing from (relatively) safe spot to safe spot, giving us a sense of the “nowhere to hide” aspect of the tale, as well as the hidden political agenda of the event. And now, DeMonaco has included religious and political angles to the ever-expanding scope of his work. He clearly doesn’t trust religious leaders or public servants, and who can blame him? The second and third Purge movies are about the ugly, ragged, hyper-violent aspects of this cleansing event. They’re about pure survival at any cost, and you can never be sure who will live or die. Inner squabbling about maintaining a code of ethics while trying to protect the senator seems overplayed. At the same time, it feels hopeful beyond hope that such a person would even exist in this environment. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a roving band of teenage girls who torment the storeowner just before The Purge starts, and not surprisingly come back for him in Purge mode. How they are dealt with feels almost anticlimactic. The Purge: Election Night is a well-paced work that barely gives you time to settle into the film before another danger pops up like so many moles in need of whacking. Grillo is a star in the making. After a fiery performance in Anarchy and meaty supporting roles in the most recent two Captain America films, he has established himself as a great choice to play tough-guy parts (good or bad), while allowing us to believe, there’s something going on inside that brain that can be reasoned with. In a way, he’s a stand-in for the film itself. There’s something going on in this series that is tapping into a basic entertainment need for audiences (and I believe this third installment fits that will quite nicely); I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing—it just is. It’s easy to hate the Purge movies. They’re fairly low-rent concepts that appear to appeal to a certain demographic that thinks toting guns on the street is a good idea. But they’re also escapist entertainment that hopes to put all of our worst fears on the screen so that we aren’t tempted to bring them down into the real world (time will tell). So far, to varying degree, I’m still on board with the series and curious to see where DeMonaco takes it. To show us the final Purge? Or do they go back to The Purge: Year One? I'm curious about the so-called New Founding Fathers who kickstarted this practice, but mostly I’m just hoping the filmmakers hold steady on their risky vision. SWISS ARMY MAN The first film by Daniels (the collective banner under which acclaimed music video directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan work) almost feels like a dare. In the beginning, it’s daring us to like it at all. And by the end, it’s daring us not to get emotional about its endearing characters and their newfound joy about living. Swiss Army Man is a collection of things we don’t talk about or do in polite company—farting, vomiting (mostly water, but still), masturbating, suicide, falling in love with a stranger, things we dispose of (like garbage or people who don’t have a place in the world)—thrown together into a story about two men who must relearn what it is like to be alive. One of them is a corpse; the other has just given up on life. But by the end, this movie made me feel better than I’ve felt in ages after a movie, and it’s a feeling that has lingered in the months since I first saw it at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Swiss Army Man opens with an attempted suicide—cheery, I know. Hank (Paul Dano) simply doesn’t fit in, and according to him, he can’t find anyone to love him. As he’s about to hang himself on a deserted island where he’s trapped, he spots a dead body recently washed up on the nearby shore. The rather gaseous corpse (played by Daniel Radcliffe) seems to be super-charged with fart power, enough that Hank can climb on his back, pull the body’s pants down a bit, and ride the farting machine like a jet ski back to the mainland. Still lost, but at least somewhere somewhat familiar, Hank wanders an expansive forest, dragging this body with him. After unlocking some more of this wondrous body’s abilities (including turning it into a human water fountain by pressing on its stomach and forcing water out of its mouth), Hank discovers that the body has limited speech abilities, and pretty soon the corpse reveals its name, Manny. Manny has no recollections of being alive or what living humans even do or feel, and the film becomes an exercise in making sense of everyday behaviors, thoughts and feelings and then conveying those to a being that is so eager and desperate to be “normal” that he often over-compensates. But the deeper we get into Manny’s education, the more is revealed about Hank’s life before being stranded, which was no picnic, especially in the company of his overbearing, berating father who made him feel like such a loser than he stripped Hank of any chance at being able to communicate with anyone to whom he felt a connection, especially women. One woman in particular, Sarah (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), is the object of many wonderful feelings and dating scenarios that will likely never play out. But Manny is convinced that he, too, loves Sarah and insists that Hank teach him how he could approach her and what their dating life would be. Never going halfway, Hank not only lays out these hypothetical situations; he acts them out with sets, props and costumes made from the trash scattered around the woods. And it’s in these re-enactments of scenes that never actually occurred that Swiss Army Man walks the lines between comedy, drama and fantasy. Daniels never quite confirm or deny the fact that this entire story is taking place in Hank’s head, perhaps creating the fiction of a dead-body best friend to keep him from going insane; or perhaps he’s dreaming these things as he starves to death; or maybe these are a collection of his final thoughts as he successfully hung himself. We never know for sure, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter because however we interpret this fable, the themes don’t really change. This is about a man digging himself out of raw despair by filling this empty shell of a person with as much raw material about life as he can, and in the process he learns how to better express himself with his words (and his own farting, at times). As they often did in the music videos, Daniels find mind-blowing ways to dazzle us with their visuals, particularly as they pertain to using Manny’s body as an all-purpose tool, weapon, means of transportation, and puppet, for entertainment purposes. In another example of making the audience feel just a little awkward, when Manny gets aroused, his erection (still in his pants, thankfully), points them in the direction of civilization, and its this unique brand of compass that ultimately is their greatest tool toward reaching the world again. Swiss Army Man is a love story, buddy picture, road movie and action film—there’s a bear attack sequence that is nearly as engaging as the one in The Revenant. Much like Manny, it’s all-purpose. If you’re in a good mood, it’s a tremendously funny comedy; if you’re feeling down, you’ll likely appreciate its therapeutic qualities. Or if you’re tired of the same sort of formula film, trust me, this one is so far afield from anything you’ve seen before, that it might reset your benchmark for how creative a film must be for you to enjoy it. Radcliffe and Dano are an impossibly wonderful pairing. Both have shed any pretense of maintaining their dignity through the making of this movie, and we’re all better for it. But they have a chemistry that makes it very easy to accept them as best friends with notable agendas on what they need from the other to achieve a certain degree of happiness. Radcliffe is especially noteworthy since Manny is effectively a creature capable of only slight vocal variations, no independent gestures and limited facial expressions. Yet somehow, the former Harry Potter manages to convey a range of emotions despite having nearly all the tools of acting taken from him. Bonding Manny and Hank still deeper is the gift of music. Nearly all of the music cues in Swiss Army Man are sung by or a riff on tunes one or both of our heroes sing to themselves as they explore their surroundings. Also, the use of the Jurassic Park theme will make you grin for days and miles. As the prospect of finding the real world becomes more of a likelihood, Hank begins to panic, and Manny starts to have visions that are both haunting and deeply rooted in his emotional instability. Their hopes and fears seem to sync up momentarily, and the result is a pressure cooker of emotions. Make no mistake, Swiss Army Man’s mission to have you celebrate your own life. But it’s not simply going to hand you a happy ending; any good feelings you have by the time the end credits begin to roll are hard earned. The filmmakers are going to remind you of every missed opportunity you had for happiness and didn’t take before they begin presenting you with possible ways of building your confidence and good vibes back up. It sounds like work, but most good things come to us as the result of work. This film is the work of visionaries who possess both a sense of humor and a profoundly clear sense of what makes us function as feeling creatures, influenced by those who raised us and often in desperate need of course correction. At the halfway point of 2016, this is one of my favorite films of the year. The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema EAT THAT QUESTION: FRANK ZAPPA IN HIS OWN WORDS I won’t pretend I have ever quite bought into the music of Frank Zappa (with or without his band, The Mothers of Invention), and god knows, I’ve attempted to. But my standard for whether a music documentary is worth seeing or not doesn’t have much to do with whether I’m a fan of the artist or style of music being profiled. My criterion is simple: if the film convinces me that its subject is worth exploring, I’m on board. And first-time feature director Thorsten Schütte’s Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words is a captivating collection of archival footage that give us prime examples of Zappa’s recorded music, live shows and spoken ideas that add a great deal of depth to a musician who confounded so many and opened up and artfully warped the conventions of 20th century music in a way that today seems vital and necessary. Never deflecting the label of “genius,” Zappa seemed to make music as if someone dared him to, often infusing complicated rock song structure with explicit lyrics. Later in his career, he’d often turn to politics as his muse, which resulted in a type of avant-garde protest music. He was also a dedicated classical composer and conductor, as well as a front-line soldier in the battle for free speech when Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center were threatening to slap warning labels on albums with sexual or violent content. Zappa’s Congressional testimony against such a system of labeling (which ultimately did happen) are reasoned and well argued, so of course he was destined to be ignored. If you only ever caught Zappa in small doses over the decades, he was a bit difficult to figure out, often coming across as a curmudgeon and knee-jerk contrarian (it didn’t help that the parade of people interviewing him were often idiots attempting to label him to his face—something he clearly deplored). By immersing us in his life and music, Eat That Question allows us to form a more complete picture of Zappa through some quite rare archival material. Director Schütte doesn’t bother identifying song titles or any timeframe for what we’re watching. Often, it’s only Zappa’s hair style that provides context, and this can be frustrating for those of us trying to spot the progression and evolution in his music. There are also no new interviews with family members, fans or current musicians who were influenced by Zappa’s approach to melody. We don’t really require the adoration; Zappa probably wouldn’t have approved of such swooning. Although the film was sanctioned and approved by the Zappa family, there’s hardly a place where meddling might have occurred. The musician seems as appropriately and unabashedly unedited, unapologetic and critical of the establishment as you might hope. As you might expect, the film dabbles in specific songs and albums that brought Zappa the most notoriety, but since those interviewing him seemed more interested in getting him riled up, the emphasis of the film is more general. The exception being some of his classical compositions, which are detailed quite extensively, and we see a far more positive and excited Zappa when he’s surrounded by a full orchestra. Much like its subject, Eat That Question is ragged, unadorned, without polish, but there’s a wisdom and sense of genius that rises through the muck, and as strange as it might sound, it’s easy to love. Perhaps the most shocking part of the film is the few clips of Zappa in his final months, when he’s exhausted and showing signs of the prostate cancer that ultimately killed him. He’s almost without spirit in these interviews, but the wicked sense of humor remains, as he claims that he has no interest in what his legacy might be. The movie lacks the usual pedestal placement of its subject, but it in no way feels disrespectful. Quite the contrary, the slightly detached aura of the work feels appropriate and allows the music and the ideas to take center stage. I’m fairly certain that’s all Zappa ever wanted. The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre. OUR KIND OF TRAITOR In the wake of the far superior AMC series “The Night Manager” or more recent film adaptations such as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and A Most Wanted Man, John le Carré’s novels are revealing themselves to be as relevant and intriguing today as they were in the 1960s and ’70s. But they can’t all be winners, as is evidenced by Our Kind of Traitor, an intriguing story about a young(ish) British couple who befriend a Russian mobster and get pulled into a world of spies, politics and treachery. And despite all of that and a little bit of globe-hopping to boot, the film falls flat and seems second tier, at best. Ewan McGregor plays Perry, on vacation with wife Gail (Naomie Harris, James Bond’s Miss Moneypenny) in Marrakech. The couple is not getting along well, as she is always answering her phone to deal with work issues, and he’s being generally uninteresting as a teacher of poetry. When he is in a restaurant alone, Perry is approached by a wild and crazy Russian named Dima (Stellan Skarsgård), who ends up showing Perry the night of his life, drinking and gambling, both in the company of beautiful women. By the end of their trip, Dima has asked Perry to take a small package with him back to the UK, and Perry, of course, gets caught in customs. Perry was caught because MI6 has had their eye on Dima for some time. Agent Hector (Damian Lewis) seems especially obsessed with bringing down Dima’s money-laundering scheme, which involves the Russian mafia bringing cash into Britain through legal channels and financial institutions with the help of paid-off government officials, including powerful player Aubrey Longrigg (Jeremy Northam). Adapted by the fine screenwriter Hossein Amini (Drive, Snow White and the Huntsman), Our Kind of Traitor takes the admittedly unusual approach of turning civilians Perry and Gail, as well as Dima himself, into spies for MI6 in order to coax out exactly which Russian and British types are a part of this scheme. In return, Dima and his family will get witness protection in England. Lewis is especially fine here as the agent who will promise anything—even things he knows he can’t deliver—just to bust up this ring. He has a particular vendetta against Longrigg, and it blinds him to who else he might be hurting or endangering in the process. Director Susanna White (Nanny McPhee Returns, the “Parade’s End” miniseries) doesn’t miss the fact that the married couple at the center of this story is in the best shape they’ve been in in years as a result of feeling invested in this spy mission. The problem is that McGregor and Harris don’t have much spark, either as a couple or as crime fighters. Granted, they are supposed to be something of a lackluster pair at the start, but even when they start down the dangerous path of busting up a Russian mob, they don’t get more interesting. There’s far more adversarial fire between Lewis and Northam. On a side note, I’m thrilled to see Northam in so many films of late (The Man Who Knew Infinity, Eye in the Sky). He was a staple in British and American cinema in the 1990s and early 2000s, and after several years of doing mostly television (including “The Tudors”), it’s good to see him so strong in new films, albeit in supporting roles so far. As for Our Kind of Traitor, it’s subpar as both a spy film and an action piece and even as a love story about a married couple attempting to rekindle their marriage. It takes too long to get going, it never truly convinced me that there was an imminent danger, and some of the spy machinations didn’t ring true. The film simply lacks intrigue, and while I certainly don’t need my spy stories (especially those by le Carré) to be sexy, I’d love to actually care about what’s going on in them. There are some good performances here, but it’s not enough to save the movie’s decidedly limp presentation. The film opens today at the Landmark Century Center Cinema. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS I promise you, you’ve never seen a film quite like this, especially in the animation world. You might have seen album covers of ’60s-’70s psychedelic bands like this before, but nothing that combines early Japanese anime with 19th century provincial French life, and even an unexpected sprinkling of Joan of Arc folklore—all spun together is a hyper-sexualized package that includes artfully rendered rape scenes, as well as sequences of the devil taking advantage of a young woman’s terrible life, in the hopes of stealing her body and soul. Until recently, 1973’s Belladonna of Sadness had never played in the United States, although we’ve seen evidence of other films that it influenced or films that influenced it. The final installment in the adult-themed Animerama trilogy, produced by the godfather of Japanese anime/manga, Osamu Tezuka, and directed by long-time collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto (“Astro Boy” and “Kimba, the White Lion”), Belladonna of Sadnesss barely counts as what you might consider animation, and that’s not a putdown. Many of the images are charcoal sketches, line drawings or watercolor paintings that don’t move or have limited movement, relying more on the great voice work, including Ran’s Tatsuya Nakadai as the Devil and Aiko Nagayama as Jeanne, who is raped by a local lord on her wedding night to Jean (Katsutaka Ito). She is so distraught that she secretly wishes for great power to take revenge on those who hurt her, and before long, the Devil appears (in the guise of a phallic gnome) promising to grant her request in exchange for her soul. In the meantime, he gives her enough power to turn her into a witch, which gives her the ability to challenge the authority of the leadership of this village, but also begins the slow and painful process of driving her insane and making her very horny. The newly restored 4K restoration includes nearly 10 minutes of graphic footage that was cut from the negative, and it gives the trippy, bombastic score from jazz composer Masahiko Satoh a real boost, kicking it into almost rock-opera territory. I fully admit, as much as I didn’t find much in the way of artistic redemption in Belladonna of Sadness, I also had a tough time keeping my eyes off of it. The movie is more of an exercise is guessing what the filmmakers are going to hurl at us next in the strange and sometimes distasteful world of blended Japanese-French eroticism. If you have fully entrenched yourself in a politically correct world, you probably should avoid this odd little monster. But as someone who still dabbles in the world of anime when it gets a shot at the big screening, I enjoyed delving back into its kinky origins, which in this case, includes a bizarre epilogue that includes a sexy Joan of Arc burned at the stake, as if to say, “Some things never change.” Some of you may dig this one, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. The film opens today at the Music Box Theatre.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.