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Photo courtesy of Criterion
The 2015 film, "The Lure."
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Founded in 1984, Criterion and their eponymous Criterion Collection have made it their missional duty to license and distribute “important classic and contemporary films” for the discriminating film viewer and, of course, collector. With brilliant remastering, often from the original negatives, to a wealth of supplements to help further the education past passive movie watching, Criterion is, for the most part, the echelon of home cinema and, for this week’s Fowler’s Flix, I’m going to delve into a few of their most recent and, more importantly, most interesting titles.

Far more hopeless and disenfranchising than any dystopic sci-fi flick at its most muck and mired could be, Mike Leigh’s 1984 drama Meantime is a cold and cruel look at a few days in the life of a family on the dole at the height of Thatcher’s Britain. Barely living in a squalid public-housing flat that is literally falling apart, put-upon mother Mavis (Pam Ferris) is the only one in the house with a job, while feckless father Frank (Jeff Robert) and sons Colin (Tim Roth) and Mark (Phil Daniels) mostly lounge about watching television, occasionally popping around to the pub to score drinks off pals and bum a few smokes while doing it.

The lack of motivation—or even any prospects for it—is day by day, turning these blokes into disaffected time-bombs, filling every second of every encounter with a fearful tension that this might be the breaking point, especially in the case of neighborhood skinhead Coxy (Gary Oldman, in his debut). With films like Four Days in July and High Hopes, Leigh cemented himself as a master of brutally honest social commentary but never was it as truly bleak and fearfully prescient as he is here with Meantime.

Tim Roth and Gary Oldman in Mike Leigh's "Meantime." (Photo courtesy of Criterion)

When it comes to emotionally stunted characters that are often so disaffected and destroyed by unnamed life traumas that they become effortlessly cold and cruel themselves, no one has more of a firm grasp on that emotionally antiseptic style of storytelling the way German auteur Michael Haneke does, the methodical hand behind such maddening exercises in audience manipulation as Funny Games and Time of the Wolf. His absolute masterpiece, I believe, at least, is The Piano Teacher, a 2001 adaptation of the devastating, downbeat novel by Elfriede Jelinek.

The transcendent Isabelle Huppert stars as Erika, the titular piano teacher, a brutally repressed—both emotionally and sexually—woman who lives in a caustically abusive codependent relationship with her monster of a mother. She spends her days scolding—and, shockingly worse—her students and her evenings performing increasingly perverse acts of self-debasement, almost as a form of conformist rebellion. When she meets a younger student who challenges her malformed instincts, the sadomasochistic relationship she longs for is instead replaced with a singularly destructive form of obsession that takes her to the edge and throws her right over.

Obsession is definitely one of the many nightmarish personal vices on display in the extremely challenging 2015 Polish horror-musical The Lure. Set in an alternate universe’s version of the 1980s, a pair of mermaids comes ashore to work their musical magic at a sleazy Eurotash club, one of whom loses her voice when she falls for a dude in this grim and grimy reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Don’t get it twisted though: this catch of the day ain’t no child’s bedtime story by any means. With various trippings through the darker side of this neon-lit glam Poland, including a stint in the sex trade, the man-eating mermaids in The Lure are charmlessly perverse adventurers that languish in a mixture of Cronenberg body-horror caught and released to dank Radiohead-style musical numbers. It may be a “whole new world,” but it’s also one that you’ll definitely never want to return to.

However, with a promising upcoming slate of releases that include titles as eclectic as Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky, John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, it’s really impossible to not return to these cinematic heirlooms over and over again, proudly displayed in a well-earned feat of cinephiliacs arrogance. Believe me, they’re worth it and, you know what champ? So are you.

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About the Author

Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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