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Youngstown Ohio8 1/2 Women
Published: 19 August, 2003
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Youngstown Ohio Heaven

Peter Greenaway's films are always interesting. He's got his own provocative style. Whether it was retelling Shakespeare's "The Tempest" with an all-nude cast as in "Prospero's Books" or the nudity in "The Pillow Book" where a woman enjoys having people write on her body, you can rest assured that someone will probably disrobe before the end of the picture. In "8 & 1/2 Women," English actor John Standing whose career has ranged from "The Elephant Man" in 1980 to "V for Vendetta" in 2006 plays the head of a large corporation. As Philip Emmenthal he acquires panchinko parlors in Japan with strong-arm business tactics. Unfortunately, his wife passes away early in the film. This leaves Emmenthal grieving -- not for his wife necessarily but for someone to hold him. His son Storey flies home from Kyoto, Japan to the Emmenthal estate in Geneva, Switzerland. To comfort his grieving father, Storey takes off all his clothes and sleeps with his father. The two then go to see Fellini's film "8 & 1/2" and discuss whether it's normal for a son to sleep with his father. Even for the more liberal viewers, this is pretty strange. Philip & Storey then decide that what they need is a lot of women -- eight and a half, to be precise -- to distract the father. Vivian Wu who was in "The Pillow Book" as well as "The Last Emperor" & "The Joy Luck Club" plays a crazed panchinko addict who agrees to pay off her debts by sleeping with the pair. She flies to Geneva. Simato played by Shizuka Inoh in the only film I could find listed for her plays the Japanese business mind that has some control issues. She flies to Geneva. Toni Collette who was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for "The Sixth Sense" in 1999 plays a nun who shaves her head (and other parts) and tries to gain salvation for Philip while wearing no clothes. In rides Beryl on a horse. Beryl is played by Emmy-winner Amanda Plummer who won her award for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" in 2005. Storey honks the horn, which makes the horse rear up & results in a severe back injury to Beryl. After returning the stolen horse, they adopt her and put her in a sheer plastic brace that allows Philip to massage the private parts on her chest while she recovers. Plummer stays on scene until she rides off like Lady Godiva through the fields. Polly Walker who did a great job in "Eye of the Killer" and was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2005 for the TV mini-series "Rome" plays Palmira, the seductive temptress with a high pain threshold. As odd as it sounds, the major theme I found was about the existence of God. At the end of the film, Philip is getting a nude massage that he equates to heaven and then passes peacefully. Palmira then refers to him as "the Almighty." Thus, for me, the film was about people who worship at the altar of their own bodies rather than seeking eternal truths such as Truth, Beauty & Goodness. That said, the film is beautifully shot. As the son Storey, Matthew Delamere who was in "Under the Skin" with Samantha Morton is a rather flat actor, both in body and emotional capability. If the film is not a success, I think it was because there wasn't more range in this lead actor. However, one must certainly admit that he had no hesitancy in walking around sans wardrobe. This is an interesting film, not entirely likeable, not completely moving, but worth an evening's viewing when the children are NOT around! Enjoy!

Youngstown Ohio Mixed Effort From A Great Filmmaker

Peter Greenaway's films are always a challenge, even for his most devoted admirers. I am a member of that group. I traveled 90 minutes each way to see his new film '8 1/2 Women'. His films are incredibly (really, an understatement) complex, both visually and narratively. Like most filmmakers, he has his ups ('The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover', 'The Pillow Book', 'Drowning By Numbers' and 'The Draughtsman's Contract') and his downs ('A Zed and Two Naughts', 'Belly of An Architect'). Unfortunately, '8 1/2 Women' is not one of his best.

I read a review of the film that stated it was his most accessible in years. Yes, I can see that. This means that Greenaway has stripped away six or seven layers of narrative that usually happen concurrently in his best films. He has dumbed down the visual style while retaining a story that is not very focused.

We seem to be experiencing a bit of a trend. Some of the most intelligent filmmakers are dumbing down their work to reach a new audience while dissatisfying their core audience. Woody Allen's latest film is a farce with none of the depth he is known for. The result? 'Small Time Crooks' will probably be his most successful film in years. Robert Towne created an overly simplistic blueprint for the stunts in 'Mission Impossible 2'. The result? The screenplay works, but the audience is told the core of the mission six times. Now Greenaway directs a film with one layer of narrative, robbing his own film of the richness and depth he has done before. What's next? Martin Scorcese directing Leonardo DiCaprio? Oh, that's actually happening.

If you have never seen a Peter Greenaway film, and most of you probably haven't, a little background is probably in order. Greenaway is a painter and spent some time doing set design for operas. He brings both of these sensibilities to his films. When the film is good, it is a glorious mixture of all of these elements creating truly beautiful films. His longtime cinematographer, Sacha Vierny, is a great asset to the visual style. He also likes to experiment with words and narrative. For instance, the beginning of 'The Pillow Book' combined a layer of film that had Japanese Calligraphy, the writing of the Pillow Book, and two separate scenes going on on top of that. Your eye is always watching something. Your mind is always working. In 'Drowning By Numbers', the numbers 1 through 100 appear in the actual film in some form or another. In 'The Cook, The Thief...', each separate room in an elaborate restaurant has a color scheme of it's own, affecting the color of the character's clothing. '8 1/2 Women' makes a brief attempt at combining various elements, showing pieces of the screenplay with insets of pachinko parlors. The rest of the film is set in a single estate. Frankly, most of the film appeared grainy.

A rich Geneva banker and pachinko parlor owner mourns the loss of his wife. His son tries to comfort his father and suggests, after watching Fellini's '8 1/2', that they fill the house with a harem of women. This will help the father to experience the variety of sexual activity that he has recently discovered and also make the house seem less empty. The pachinko parlors are really a very weak point of the story. It seems to merely serve as a method for Greenaway to introduce Asian females into the story line.

As the father and son populate the harem (with the likes of Amanda Plummer, Toni Collette, Vivian Wu and Polly Walker), they talk incessantly. In most of Greenaway's works, the characters have lengthy conversations, but they were far more interesting. He seems to be trying to shock us with words rather than images in this film. Yes, there is a lot of nudity, both male and female, but it doesn't shock. The discussions they have concerning beastiality, incest, etc., are simply boring.

His films also take a while to make it to the US. Because of this, he frequently can attract up and coming stars to appear in his films, usually nude, before they are really famous. As I mentioned, Toni Collette (Best Supporting Actress nominee for 'The Sixth Sense', 'Muriel's Wedding') appears in the film as a Swedish nun. In 'The Pillow Book', Ewan McGregor played a central part. He has also had Ralph Fiennes and Julia Ormond in his films.

Greenaway has created some of the best films I have ever seen and experienced. Greenaway is a master filmmaker and definitely deserves a larger audience. Unfortunately, this film isn't that good.

Youngstown Ohio Well, it's a Greenway

Peter Greenway's films bore and/or repulse most people. They are probably the not-so-secret favorites of the cultural elitists, the decadently bored bourgeoisie. I'm too plebeian and stupid to be the former and too poor and hungry to be the latter, that's why I don't like his films. Nonetheless, his works are provocative, which either reflects his screwed-up brain cells possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs or both, or his ingenuity of making a name for himself and maybe even a fortune in the financial and carnal senses, too.

In this dark comedy about sexual excess and experimentation, at one point the question is popped:"Do most film directors make films to realize their sexual fantasies?" The sexist, female-excluding nature of this remark aside, even a fool knows what Greenway's answer is. It's as if he were showing his naked body on the silver screen -- projected through his actors -- and then asking the audience "Do you like it? Do you like *it*?" Snobbish? Perhaps. Deranged. Most likely. Stupidly patronizing? Definitely.

As you probably already know, the story is about a father and son's effort to turn the father's estate in or near Geneva into a harem. The most unsettling scene of the film is not about the women they "seduce" (or buy), but an earlier one in which the son gets intimate with his father. To an uninitated viewer of the utterly-sick-and-gross genre like myself, this was just plain stupid, proof that Greenway is an old pervert who's fascinated with sex with anybody, any animal (even pigs, as he so lovingly describes in the film), or anything.

I don't want to come off (no pun intended!) as desireful of attacking Greenway's superficial, sex-ladden artistry, although as I mentioned in the beginning, his films are repulsive to the general audience. Of course, like Robert Mapplethorpe, he shocks to gain fame, so he can make films to reflect his sick sexual fantasies, and, as the film drily observes in that same scene, to get women (or men? or pigs?) into his bed.

The sexual escapades of the father and son are rather boring, and the sad ending does evoke some sympathy. Somehow the ending reminded me of the Hong Kong erotic flick "Sex & Zen" (the original one with Amy Yip), with the same message that "oops, too much sex is actually bad for your health and relationships." It can't get more pretentious than this.

If you are a Greenway fan, you won't be disappointed. This is a black comedy and there are some very funny spots. But overall, it's a film about self indulgence, of self indulgence, and (despite the quake-destroyed ending), for self indulgence.

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