“Exotica” revisited

“Exotica” is not the film you think it is.


If you look at the box art, or watched the trailer, you might come away thinking this is a dumb stripper movie. You could even be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing to see here because you’ve seen it all before.


Well, if that’s the movie you’re looking for, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

“Exotica,” written and directed by Atom Egoyan, is really more of a mystery. In the opening scenes, you’ll meet a shy pet-shop owner (Don McKellar), a jaded but emotional stripper (Mia Kirshner), a creepy but sad DJ (Elias Koteas) and a world-weary auditor (the stunning Bruce Greenwood).

Their relationships are unclear, their motivations hidden, but if you pay attention and let the movie unfold, this layered and moving drama will draw you in and not let go until it fades to black.


Really, I’ve got nothing more to say after that. It would be a crime to give more plot details away, and I could rail against the marketing team for eons over their mistreatment of such a fantastic piece of art. But I won’t; trust me, “Exotica” is worth your time. It’s even better the second time around.


Exotica” (1994)

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan

Starring: Bruce Greenwood (Frances)

Don McKellar (Thomas)

Mia Kirshner (Christina)

Elias Koteas (Eric)

One Hour Photo

One of the many reasons I don’t like horror films as much as other genres is how formulaic they are. Put a group of people in a tight space, release a monster, watch them die until one or sometimes two heroes emerge to quell the beast, at least until the sequel. Repeat until the franchise runs out of money.


It was an old formula when I was young, and it’s only gotten more irritating as time has gone on. At this point, even when one film shines (“28 Days Later”), I’ve basically given up on the genre. But like the sucker that I am, I can’t help going back when I hear good things about a film.


So, along comes this week’s film “One Hour Photo,” a “horror” film in the Hitchcock tradition from writer/director Mark Romanek, all suspense and build-up leading up to some horrific climax.

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The Secret in Their Eyes

Sometimes, certain directors can suck you in to watching anything. Sure, you probably haven’t heard of him, but Juan Jos Campanella is one of those directors for me.

I first saw his name attached to some episodes of my other favorite television show, but if you take a look at his filmography, that dude shows up everywhere, and every time I’ve watched a “Law and Order” episode and seen his name, I immediately perked up and paid attention to what I would otherwise ignore.

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The Ghost Writer

Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Roman Polanski is a frakked-up man. He’s lived through a lot of horrors, but well, he raped a child, and that’s something that’s not forgivable. That said, the man does have a way with a camera (and a script). The bastard.

Anyway, “The Ghost Writer” is the story of a disgraced politician, Great Britain’s Former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan in fine form as a Tony Blair homage), whose first draft of his memoir has been rejected by his editors. His publishing house has called in a new ghost writer (Ewan McGregor) after the previous ghost writer’s bizarre suicide.

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In the late 1960s, a killer calling himself Zodiac claimed responsibility for a series of murders in Northern California; he taunted investigators with a series of codes and clues sent to newspapers and made threats against the public that mostly freaked people out.

While there were a good deal of suspects, Zodiac was never brought to justice.

In 2007, director David Fincher decided to make a movie about this bizarre and grisly crime story starring Robert Downey Jr. as Paul Avery, a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle; Mark Ruffalo as the lead Inspector David Toschi; and Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist at the Chronicle (and if you pay attention to the credits, he wrote the book the movie is based on).

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In 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 took off from Montevideo, Uruguay, bound for Chile. The chartered plane was carrying the Uruguayan rugby team, along with their friends and family members, 45 people in total. Cloudy weather and navigation errors led to the plane crashing in the Andes Mountains and stranding the survivors with little food, no heat, and little hope of rescue.

Everyone knows this story (even though I always heard it was a soccer team); everyone has thought about what they would do if forced into that situation. It’s a nightmare scenario that happened to people in real life.

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Kitchen Privileges

“Kitchen Privileges (aka ‘Housebound’),” written and directed by Mari Kornhauser, is quite a mixed bag of a movie; on one side, you have a fairly well done drama about a woman recovering from a brutal rape. On the other side, you have a mishandled horror film that fails where it succeeds.

Confused yet? Back to the beginning.

Marie (Katharina Wressnig) has become an agoraphobic after being raped in an elevator about a year before the film begins.  She has adjusted her entire life to staying indoors, to the frustration and concern of her friends and her boyfriend. To supplement her income (and to help her feel safe), she takes in a tenant, Tom (Peter Sarsgaard), a cook on an oil rig who mostly comes and goes.

After a failed attempt at ‘outside’ leads her to a panic attack, Tom helps her through it, and the two of them begin the process of healing her, but like usual, not is all what it seems with this guy. He’s intensely private, he even locks the kitchen door when he’s cooking, and Marie is always hearing weird noises from behind his door. Could he be the mysterious freeway killer who dumps dismembered bodies before moving on to his next victim?

It sounds lame, and it does take a little time to get interested in these characters, but it does happen, thanks to the performances of Wressnig and Sarsgaard. If the movie had just been a psychological drama/horror film with just those two, I suspect I would have liked it more. However, there a number of bit players (most notably Marie’s odious sister Mignon, played by Angeline Ball) that show up to just ruin all the fun.  

(We’re moving in to spoiler territory after the jump; don’t click if you want to be surprised.)

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Night Moves


That was my general reaction to 1975’s “Night Moves,” a little known detective film from director Arthur Penn.

It begins with a private detective, Harry (Gene Hackman); he’s hired by a former starlet Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) to track down her missing teenage daughter Delly (Melanie Griffith). Delly’s a wild child, who either flirts with danger or sleeps with it, and Harry quickly figures out her moves.

Some more plot happens, we meet some more characters, but the story really doesn’t go anywhere and nothing amazing happens. Solid performances all around, even one from a disturbingly young James Woods as Delly’s loser boyfriend Quentin, but there really isn’t enough of interest to really praise or damn the film.

But not all is lost.

Watching “Night Moves,” I kept thinking of (and longing for) another Hackman film that came out a year earlier: “The Conversation.”

Now there’s a movie to write home about. It’s a mystery that keeps evolving. It’s a character piece about the kind of person who makes a living from spying on others. It has a shocking ending that is thoroughly earned. It what Francis Ford Coppola’s worked on between “The Godfather” and “The Godfather II,” and holds its own with those masterpieces.

“Night Moves” and “The Conversation” would make for a decent double feature; just make sure you watch “The Conversation” second and end on a high note.

“The Eye” (2003)

As I said before, I’m not a big fan of horror, but here I go again, endorsing another horror film, the Pang brothers’ “The Eye (2003).”

The story is nothing new; a young blind woman, Mun (Angelica Lee), gets some cornea transplants, but the donated organs come with a little something extra. While still in the hospital, she begins seeing a shadow follow dying patients around. In ordinary life, she keeps encountering people who disappear or run through her. Then things get even freakier for our heroine.

Nice setup there; the atmosphere is appropriately spooky, and Lee delivers the right notes as a confused and isolated re-sighted woman. We feel her pain and her confusion; she doesn’t remember sight, and for all she knows, this is what it’s like. And her freakouts when she realizes her eyes come with a higher price are equally believable.

One spoiler-free note on the ending: I can recommend this horror film because while it indulges the supernatural side, it’s fully grounded in the characters and the story. Like “May” or “Let the Right One In,” you give a damn about what happens to her. No higher praise for any movie, horror or not.

PS: Yes, I haven’t seen it, and I’m completely guilty of pre-judging a movie (something I try to avoid, with mixed results), if you want to enjoy “The Eye,” get the original and not the American remake that stars Jessica Alba. She is beautiful and an utterly hypnotic presence on screen, but she can’t act to save her life. I can’t imagine her bringing any depth or feeling to the role or even coming close to Lee’s performance. Save yourself some pain and skip the substitute. Subtitles aren’t that bad.

“The Eye” (2003)

Directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang

Written by Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun

Starring: Angelica Lee (Mun)

Lawrence Chou (Dr. Wah)