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Films I Neglected to Review: Brimstone & Tassels
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of ''Brimstone'' and ''Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe.''

Although I have seen plenty of bleak, brutal and borderline sadistic westerns over the years--and even enjoyed a fair number of them to boot--I cannot immediately recall one bleaker, more brutal and further past that borderline than ''Brimstone,'' an epic-length study in misery that forces its heroine to endure such unimaginable miseries over the course of its 2 1/2 hour running time that even Lars von Trier himself might be taken aback. That unfortunate soul is Liz (Dakota Fanning), a mute woman who lives with her husband, his son and their daughter in a remote frontier town where she serves as the midwife. One day, while trying to help with a birth in the church following services, she is forced to choose between saving the life of the mother or the child and opts for the former. This does not set well with the town’s new preacher (Guy Pearce sporting a Dutch accent straight outta ''Goldmember'') and he stops by her home later on to wreak brutal vengeance that sends her and what remains of her family fleeing into the night. As it turns out, this is only the first section and that subsequent segments will be set earlier and earlier in the chronology and show that there is indeed a long, dark and twisted history between Liz and the preacher that has brought death and suffering to practically anyone unfortunate enough to stumble between them over the years.

If you are looking for a collection of bloody, on-screen atrocities, then ''Brimstone'' is definitely the film for you--Dutch-born writer-director Martin Koolhoven offers up the usual array of shootings, stabbings and burnings and then throws in several strangulations (including one utilizing the victim’s own intestines), whippings (including a young child at one point) and no fewer than two moments featuring a woman getting her tongue cut off (don't worry, the second one is self-inflicted) and that isn't even counting the perverse stuff that crops up once we learn the real relationship between the two main characters. If you are foolishly looking for something else besides the intolerable cruelties on display, you will be left wanting because other than the ''Betrayal''-like gimmick of telling the story backwards (aside from the final section that takes us back to the beginning, such as it is)--a narrative trick that is interesting at first but becomes fairly reductive once we figure out the relationships (a realization that will probably come to most viewers long before the film properly gives it up)--there is nothing much else to it other than the blood, the guts and the sight of good actors struggling to make something out of the increasingly grisly and increasingly pretentious goings-on of the screenplay. Astonishingly enough, Koolhaven even has the nerve, after making everyone on the screen and in the audience wallow in misery for so long, to tack on an epilogue that tries to end things on a slightly uplifting note that seems utterly divorced from the story preceding it, except that even to get to this requires yet another shot of misery and death. ''Brimstone'' has been made with no small amount of technical skill and style but the end result is so pointlessly sadistic in its violent content that only the most masochistic of viewers will actually make it to the bitter end and even they will doubtlessly realize that it wasn’t worth it at all.

Sadly not a sequel to the film featuring Christina Aguilera’s finest dramatic acting to date, ''Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe'' is yet another documentary that takes us on a tour of a particularly exploitable subculture, the contemporary burlesque industry in this particular case. Focussing on a Portland, Oregon-based burlesque troupe known as ''The Glitter Tribe,'' the film offers up plenty of footage of the performers doing their intricate dance routines (which are not, they continually stress, just stripping) interspersed with interviews with them as they talk about themselves, their craft and what it is about the art of burlesque that inspires then to put in the long hours devising and perfecting their routines despite knowing that the financial rewards will be minimal at best. For people who are curious about the world of modern burlesque but do not possess much working knowledge about it, the film will serve as a more than adequate introduction but others may find that, despite the potentially titillating subject manner, the film is so polite and well-mannered that it could pass for an extended version of a ''CBS Sunday Morning'' profile. The best scenes are the one involving the performer known as Babs Jamboree, who spends her days wielding a chainsaw in the trees as an arborist and her nights conceiving and executing routines that, due to her relative lack of certain physical attributes (her opinion, not mine), stress goofball humor over overt sexiness--at one point, we see her perform a dance as a stripping burrito that is somehow actually both funny and sexy. ''Burlesque: Heart of the Glitter Tribe'' is not a bad movie--at worst, it is just kind of forgettable--but if anyone decided to make a full documentary revolving around Babs Jamboree, I would line up for it in a heartbeat.

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originally posted: 03/11/17 04:13:38
last updated: 03/11/17 04:16:56
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