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Films I Neglected To Review: Wild, Wild Frontiers.
by Peter Sobczynski

An omnibus of sexually-themed stories offering far more than fifty shades of grey, a frontrunner for an Oscar this weekend and the latest work from one of the world's great filmmakers are among the titles to be found in the latest roundup of short reviews of films that I was not able to tackle at length. Enjoy

Even though we are now at a point in popular culture where things like badly-written S&M-themed erotica and television commercials hinting at bestiality are commonplace, there are numerous elements in "Fourplay," an omnibus film examining the subject of sexual intimacy, that are likely to raise eyebrows and hackles, among other things. Ranging in tone from dark comedy to intimate drama, the film's four stories involve a closeted lesbian whose barely sublimate desire for the wife of her church's minister takes a highly unexpected turn when she offers to babysit their dog, a frustrated couple tries to reignite the spark in their relationship in the wake of a pregnancy-related misunderstanding, a religious man finds himself indulging in his curiosity regarding homosexuality during an eventful trip to the mall and a transvestite prostitute finds her notions of sexuality challenged after being hired by a woman to provide services to her quadriplegic husband.

Although some of the material may come as a shock to more timid viewers, director Kyle Henry handles it in a refreshingly straightforward and adult manner that keeps it from devolving into mere smuttiness and while some of the vignettes are better than others (with the finale involving the transvestite and the quadriplegic being the best of the bunch), there is not a single complete dud among them, a higher batting average than usual for a movie of this type. While "Fourplay" may not be the perfect first date movie, it is safe to say that for people comfortable with films that deal with sexuality seriously, this one pretty much has something for everyone.

Although it is widely assumed that the crowd-pleasing "Searching for Sugar Man" will win the Oscar for Best Documentary this weekend, it is facing some of the stiffest competition that the category has seen in a long time. One film that might have been the clear winner in a normal year is "The Gatekeepers," a fascinating look at the history of relations between Israel and Palestine since the Sixties through the eyes of the six living men who at one time headed up Shin Bet, Israel's top-secret counterintelligence agency. Although broken up from time to time with elements ranging from archival material to chilling footage of bombing missions, director Dror Moreh anchors his film with the interviews with his six subjects and is able to paint a compelling and highly detailed look at their success, failures, hopes and regrets with nothing more than the looks on their faces and the sounds of their voices. Although there are times early on when it seems as if Moreh is trying a little too hard to follow in the footsteps of the great documentarian Errol Morris, he quickly proves to be a gifted filmmaker in his own right and no matter where you stand in regards to the Palestine-Israeli conflict, "The Gatekeepers" should prove to be a real eye-opener.

Throughout the course of his celebrated career, filmmaker Werner Herzog has thrived on presenting viewers with sights that they have never seen and stories that defy all conventions and with his latest documentary, "Happy People: A Year in the Taiga," he has done it once again, In this film, which Herzog co-directed with Dmitry Vasyukov, viewers are transported to Bakhtia, a remote village in the Siberian Taiga region of no more than 300 people, and follows a few of them over the course of a year as they slowly and methodically prepare for the winter sable hunt, on which their entire livelihood depends, using the same tools and traditions as their ancestors (though they do allow for the occasional chainsaw).

Even if you are not exactly the outdoorsy type, watching these people as they build create everything from traps to skis to insect repellent almost entirely from the woods surrounding them is completely engrossing and, as he did with the Antarctic in "Encounters at the End of the World," Herzog finds the extraordinary beauty in a landscape that others might rightly describe as "godforsaken." As harsh as the film may sound, there are also moments of great humor to be had as well, including one man's unique approach to fishing, the arrival of a politician who turns up unexpectedly to try to win support with bags of wheat and even a song or two and, best of all, Herzog's wonderfully mordant narration. Considering just how many great films Herzog has given us over the years, there is the chance that some many regard "Happy People" as a lesser effort but even though it may not have quite the same impact as the likes of the recent "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" or "Into the Abyss," it proves that even second-tier Herzog is far more fascinating that the best efforts of most other moviemakers working today.

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originally posted: 02/22/13 13:32:03
last updated: 02/23/13 01:23:42
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