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Films I Neglected To Review: Ow--Quit It!
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Piercing" and "They Shall Not Grow Old."

As the pitch-black comedy ''Piercing'' opens, new father Reed (Christopher Abbott) stands over his infant daughter with an ice pick and only barely manages to quell his unexplainable urge to do something truly horrible to her. In an effort to purge the violent feelings that have built up inside them and become a good and loving father, he devises what he is convinced is a foolproof plan--he will rent a hotel room and hire, murder and dismember some unlucky prostitute before returning home to his wife (Laia Costa) a brand-new and well-adjusted man. Once ensconced in his immaculate but bloodless (though presumably not for long) suite, he practices his moves over and over, even testing the effectiveness of the chloroform he is employing on himself, before making the call for the prostitute to come over. She turns out to be Jackie (Mia Wasikowska) and without giving too much away, let it be said that Reed's immaculately conceived plot does not go quite according to plan and spirals into unanticipated and increasingly grisly areas. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the film is based on a novel by Ryu Murakami, who also provided the equally nasty source material for the infamous Takashi Kitano cult classic ''Audition.'')

For many moviegoers, just the brief description that I have provided above will be enough to put them off the idea of ever seeing ''Piercing.'' That would be their loss because while the film is undeniably weird and bloody as can be, there is lot more going on with it beyond the gruesome stuff. Writer-director Nicolas Pesce, whose previous film was the grim horror exercise ''The Eyes of My Mother,'' demonstrates an intriguing formal control over the material that provides a nice contrast to the increasingly bizarre and chaotic events he is depicting. Even though most of the scenes consist of little more than two people alone in a room, Pesce keeps things interesting throughout thanks to his interesting visual strategy (including some effective use of split-screen imagery), quirky art direction and a killer soundtrack filled with cuts taken from a number of classic Italian horror films from the Seventies and Eighties. He also gets two very strong performances from his lead actors, both of whom do excellent work at playing their deeply disturbed characters in ways so that we can sort of empathize with them even as they do ghastly things to each other. ''Piercing'' isn't perfect--it provides some backstory to help explain Reed's behavior at one point that is both awkwardly inserted and fairly unnecessary and it ends just a little too quickly for its own good--and it may prove to be ultimately too ugly for many viewers (suffice it to say, this is not exactly the ideal first date movie). That said, it is indeed a one-of-a-kind movie--alternately funny, creepy and maybe even a little sexy in a very bizarre way to some eyes--and if any of what I have said about it has intrigued you in any way, there is a possibility that you may find it as compelling as I did.

''They Shall Not Grow Old'' stems from a commission that Peter Jackson received from the Imperial War Museums and the BBC to create a documentary commemorating the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of World War I that would make use of their combined archives of audio interviews with those who took part in the war and over 100 hours of original film footage spanning the entire history of the conflict, much of it unseen by the public for decades. After reviewing what he had to work with, Jackson decided against doing a traditional documentary and elected to combine the material together in a way that would eliminate the emphasis on specific dates, events or people in order to given a more general overview of what a British soldier experienced during that time, from recruitment and training to the throes of combat to the struggles to once again adapt to the regular rhythms of the world once the fighting had finished. To help create a more immersive effect for viewers, Jackson has even played around with the footage as well--while the opening pre-combat sequences are presented in the expected manner with black-and-white footage brought up to somewhat awkward sound speed and shown in the squarish Academy ratio, the war material itself has been digitally colorized, optically reframed to fill the wide screen and retrofitted in 3-D while lip-readers were hired to give an approximation of what the people captured were saying so that actors could later record what they were saying.

For some purists, the idea of doing all of these alterations, even digitally, may seem like anathema and I admit that as I sat down to watch it, I was worried that it might turn out to be little more than a well-meaning but garish curiosity, sort of like this generation's ''All This and World War II'' (that thankfully long-forgotten Seventies mess which conveyed the entire saga of WWII through a combination of old film material scored to covers of Beatles songs sung by then-current pop stars). I can see where the cineastes are coming from but while I have not seen the 3-D iteration of it, I must admit that Jackson and his behind-the-scenes army have done a fairly spectacular job from a technical perspective--what they have created is so impeccable that it could indeed fool people into thinking that the color and sound was all a part of the original footage. And yet, as astounding as the technical accomplishments of the film are, they don't really register as much while watching it because the story that Jackson has weaved together out of the mass of footage is so absorbing that it is all that you will find yourself thinking about while watching it. Covering everything from the giddiness of the young recruits eager to prove themselves as men to the world-weariness of men who have seen and done terrible things in the service of their country and are still struggling to process it all, it is funny, sad, horrifying, stirring and never less than utterly absorbing. ''They Shall Not Grow Old'' is more than just a history lesson brought to life through the miracle of cinema technology, it is a living and breathing testament to the efforts and sacrifices of the men who fought World War I that should help to keep their stories alive for generations to come.

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originally posted: 02/02/19 03:12:56
last updated: 02/02/19 04:43:50
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