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Quint takes in the hypersexual misfire SLEEPING BEAUTY at the NZFF!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the first of a few reviews of flicks I’m catching here at the New Zealand Film Festival. I’m in Wellington for a couple weeks and this stay just so happened to coincide with the NZFF. As luck would have it a ton of Cannes hits are playing the festival and since I didn’t go to the South of France it feels like I’m getting served up a “best of” list of fest flicks I may have missed.

One such film is Sleeping Beauty. Going into the movie the only things I knew about it was that it tends to split audiences, Emily Browning starred in it and there was supposed to be a ridiculous amount of nudity.

 

 

Put a check mark next to all three. The predominantly older Kiwi audience was not quite prepared for this one, I think, as there were a large number of loud walkouts starting at about 5 minutes in and happening at regular intervals until the end credits.

Funnily enough this was the same theater I saw Irreversible in way back in 2003. Now that one had a ton more walk-outs, but I’d say it’s a better movie. There’s nothing in Sleeping Beauty that packs the punch of the ending of Irreversible. At least for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I like character study movies and that’s exactly what this is. The plot is threadbare, focusing on the experiences of a struggling college student named Lucy (Emily Browning) who has trouble paying her rent although she seems to have a few dozen part-time jobs. Oh, and she picks up men of all ages every night just because.

I may re-examine this movie as I write because if I waited until I had the movie comfortably figured out you would probably be reading this 10 years from now. As I mentioned, plot-wise it’s very simple. A promiscuous, sexy young woman is used to selling her body (the opening shot has her doing minor medical testing, which involves a very graphic insertion of a tube down her throat) and answers an ad that begins her journey into a rather hyper-sexual Eyes Wide Shut-esque world of prostitution.

That’s about it as far as plot. This prostitution starts off as show only, with Browning in lingerie (a virginal white lace number while all her co-workers are older and in a more revealing S&M black leather outfit) pouring wine for rich old white men, who pay exorbitant sums of money, yet seem to completely ignore the woman around them as they talk business and pleasure around the dinner table.

But there comes a chance to upgrade to the more mysterious, high paying gig, which is where our title comes into play. Browning is assured that her vagina (which she is told repeatedly is sacred) will not be penetrated, but she must drink this unnamed drug in her tea that will make her pass out for a block of time. When she wakes up she’ll be woozy, but have no idea what happened to her. She’s told to ask no questions, take the money and use her utmost discretion.

What feels like a thriller set up turns out to be something else all together. Maybe I was trying to compartmentalize the film, which is unfair, but I really wanted there to be more to the mystery, more to the threat of discretion. Instead we’re shown exactly what happens to Lucy each time she’s unconscious and while it isn’t the most pleasant of things to witness it’s hardly the horror of what the audience would imagine if it was left up to us to fill in the blanks.

 

 

In my opinion it’s a misstep in the storytelling and I’ll tell you exactly why. Browning’s character becomes obsessed with what happens to her when she’s unconscious. She even buys a spy camera to find out at one point. Lucy gets no answers from her boss (Rachael Blake) and that only makes her more curious.

But by showing us what happens to her before this curiosity streak effectively puts us, the audience, way ahead of her as a character. We’re not experiencing the story through her anymore, which had been the case up to this point, but instead waiting for her to catch up with us.

I think it’s a blunder, but it’s not a movie-killing problem.

If any one person can take credit for keeping this story afloat it’s Browning, who bares her soul (and just about everything else) here. In an odd way, her character in Sucker Punch is more hyper-sexualized than her often very, very, very naked nympho character here. That’s more in the difference of shooting styles between Zack Snyder and Julia Leigh, but some of it is indeed how Browning approaches the two characters.

Browning’s Lucy is someone who I could easily hate and if I hated her then I’d hate the movie. I’m big on having someone I can either like, love to hate or identify with in the films I watch. It’s the fact that I hate every single character in Bellflower that makes me unable to focus on the badass car and crazy gritty tone and homemade flamethrower. I get caught up with the fact that I have no entry point into the story and can’t enjoy the movie for that reason.

Browning’s character in Sleeping Beauty is quiet and not all that likable on the surface, but Browning gives Lucy a vulnerability that is easy to sympathize with. There are cracks to her assured exterior. It’s a brave performance emotionally and physically.

 

 

Rachel Blake is also quite good as the proper Madame. She plays this woman more sad than threatening, but her very prim dress and strict adherence to her core rules make her a little off-putting.

I don’t have a problem with any of the acting in the movie, but the issues I have with the choices made in the storytelling really do hobble what could have been a great film. Not only the point of view shift I mentioned above, but the ending, while a little messed up, isn’t nearly the gut-punch it’s clear they wanted it to be. In fact, considering what we’ve been seeing I found it to be the only moment Browning overacts in the movie.

On a technical level the film is outstanding, with very nice, long takes that let the actors dictate the pacing and stark cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson (Shine). The big downside to the film is that it feels like it’s trying to be more important than it actually is and isn’t willing to forgo the art film for the thriller which it clearly tries to set up and then just drops… or at the very least executes horribly.

If all you’re interested in is the skin, there’s plenty of that, you’ll get your money’s worth. If you want a great movie to back it up, I’m sad to say that’s not there. What is a flawed misfire that I’d just barely give a recommend to just because of the central performance and throwback style of the filmmaking. Kubrick this isn’t, but it feels like it wants to be soooooooo badly.

 

 

I have a few more films to hit at the NZFF, including Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, French crime movie Point Blank and Miranda July’s The Future, which I missed at Sundance. I’ll also be continuing my coverage of the Fantasia Film Festival with some reviews of the craziness that went down up in Montreal. Stay tuned!

-Eric Vespe
”Quint”
quint@aintitcool.com
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Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:22 p.m. CST

    the only ridiculous amount of nudity

    by mick vance

    is none!

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:23 p.m. CST

    Sounds interesting enough..

    by Darth Valinorean

    .. but mehh...

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:24 p.m. CST

    Well said, coolhandjuke! Well said...

    by Darth Valinorean

    Cracking up here

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:27 p.m. CST

    Until I read Sucker Punch

    by Bass Ackwards

    It didn't even click to me that was the same girl from Sucker Punch. And I agree, her vagina is sacred.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:35 p.m. CST

    What? This isn't an adaptation of Sleeping Beauty...!

    by Johnno

    I want my money back...

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:36 p.m. CST

    As long as she doesn't taste shit when she wakes up...

    by Linguo_IS_Dead

    I'd advise her to take the money run (ooh ooh)!!!

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:46 p.m. CST

    Why do they keep making Emily Browning

    by BillEmic

    a blonde? I don't get it. She's a natural brunette, isn't she? And she looks so lovely with dark hair. Hollywood needs to stop lightening her tresses. Yes, I said tresses. Otherwise, Miss Browning is quite the lovely nymphet with those large, bee-stung lips of hers. Yeah - I'll be seeing this movie!

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:47 p.m. CST

    Emily Browning...

    by the_box_drone

    She was amazing as an actress in A Series of Unfortunate Events, It's kind of unfortunate that all she seems to play are tragic sex kittens now. Kind of a waste of talent. That being said, I'll be first in line to see her naughty bits all the same!

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:51 p.m. CST

    Re: hanyoyo

    by BillEmic

    Yeah, but look at this way: men are way more turned on by the idea of seeing a Hollywood starlet like Emily Browning naked than they are by your average fake/plastic-looking porn star. However, an actress like Browning is only going to get naked if the film has the pretense of being an "art picture." Thus, this whole little subgenre of movies is born (and usually profitable).

  • So the only difference between this flick & a douchebag-filled club/keg party is that she gets paid and is aware she is taking something.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 6:55 p.m. CST

    oh it says it was a Festival of Cannes selection and it has

    by KilliK

    a lot of nudity directed by a woman director. Got it,it's 'artsy'. Does The Hairdresser's Husband have a cameo too?

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:01 p.m. CST

    !!!!!!

    by KilliK

    i am sorry.Browning is the little girl from that Lemony Snicket movie with Jim Currery?????.and she plays in Sucker Punch?? and there is a lot of nudity of her in this movie????????? HOLY FUCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:03 p.m. CST

    I'm heading over to Mr. Skin for a proper review.

    by fustfick

    Right now I'm angry at words and need more details.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:06 p.m. CST

    Kiddie porn?

    by Kevin

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:10 p.m. CST

    I'd have a hypersexual misfire

    by Geektard_Smasher

    all over her pouty face. Some would get on the pillow too...it's hard to aim that stuff when it's flying out of ya..

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:14 p.m. CST

    Do you suffer from Hypersexual Misfiring?

    by MooseMalloy

    There's a pill for that.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:17 p.m. CST

    So when she wakes up

    by Geektard_Smasher

    Her ass, nostrils, ears, and mouth hurts? "Well, we promised we wouldn't put anything in your hootananny, so we didn't.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:24 p.m. CST

    so what your saying is...

    by Noddy93

    Jane Campion makes yet another character-based movie based on characters you couldn't give two shits about.<br><br>i had an ex-girlfriend tell me, after my diatribe on the crapfest that was the piano, that 'her movies are about real people with issues' and my response was if i want to see these people i can go to walmart at 2am and get it for free.... outside of that i wouldn't give these fuckers a cup of coffee on a sub-freezing day.

  • I guess she's all grown up now.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:51 p.m. CST

    Her snatch is sacred...

    by Linguo_IS_Dead

    I'd like to get on my knees to it right now!

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 7:57 p.m. CST

    It’s a brave performance emotionally and physically."

    by Linguo_IS_Dead

    Does she have more than 10 lines of dialogue in this film? If so, it's a role that alread trumps Sucker Punch.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 8:41 p.m. CST

    So we got this, and Kirsten Stewart in "Snow White"

    by ReportAbuse

    Interesting double-header.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 9:02 p.m. CST

    Touch my spindle!

    by THE_CHOPPAH

    TOUCH IT I SAY!!!

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 9:13 p.m. CST

    Touch my spindle!

    by THE_CHOPPAH

    TOUCH IT I SAY!!!!!

  • this could be good though. I wish filmmakers would be as willing to explore human sexuality as they are human violence. Intelligent adults should have some kind of option outside of pornography for erotic material with actual merit and artistry to it. It doesn't mean it can't be saucy and fun and get the job done. But it can also have good acting and directing and cinematography. Porn is just mostly close ups of gross peoples organs mashing together, it's like watching surgery, and women are all skanks and the guys all douches. Most porn, especially the north american stuff doesn't really do it for me. But there have been some really good erotic films over the years. The original 'story of O' is quite well made. And UDO KIER is in it!

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 10:59 p.m. CST

    Emily Browning is an actress I trust

    by James_Camera_On

    to take very big risks. Do we ever need that! It is so rare and something we should celebrate. Personally, I look forward to seeing this movie. Probably won't see it as much as "Sucker Punch," may not even like it particularly, but whatever she is in, I'm there.

  • What? Where've you been? They've been doing that for awhile now... How good they are is another story entirely... In fact they should probably just stop. I just finished playing a videogame called 'Catherine' that explores mature themes of sexuality and relationships better than most things I've seen come out of the cinema in recent years. And it does it in the most entertaining style I've yet seen, and it never even needed to get all risque and nude! Explicit nudity is just a crutch and vain attempt to get the perve asses in them seats and garner attention fro that E! and Hollywood Access crowd. Real filmakers do more with less and gets points across better through suggestion. There are some times where some explicitness works to be sure in order to get a better impact across, but these are rare indeed and only very few have actually managed to make use of them. Other times it's just "Oh! Look, we're getting naked! We're having extreme sex! Now you know we're adult and mature! We're buckling that puritan trend with our liberal showiness! It's sexytime mixed with human tragedy people!Give us an Oscar!"

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 11:17 p.m. CST

    Noddy, Campion didn't direct this one.

    by Lenny Nero

    Poster. Gander. Return.

  • Aug. 8, 2011, 11:32 p.m. CST

    johnno

    by Rebel Scumb

    I'm not suggesting there needs to be blantant nudity or exploitation, infact much to the opposite. So much of what can make a moment sexy is the tease and anticipation. But considering the amount of ways, and hundreds of millions of dollars hollywood has managed to spend (and earn) showing people getting blown up, chopped up and shot to pieces, a surprisingly little amount of time/energy/money/talent is put towards QUALITY films that explore our erotic side. There's also the double standard that we allow children to watch all manner of violent things without much cause for concern, but the idea of sexuality is always considered 'wrong' I remember working at a movie theatre when Starship Troopers came out, and parents always complaining afterwards that they had brought there 8 year old sons to see it, and were horrified that the movie had bare breasts in it. I would always respond 'but you didn't have a problem with your son seeing people screaming as they're limbs are torn off?' I got a lot of angry scowls from middle aged mothers for that.

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 12:01 a.m. CST

    Stanley Kubrick Presents?

    by diseptikon

    This trailer reeks of stan the man....

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 1:47 a.m. CST

    Help

    by Shit_Skribbler

    I seem to recall a movie very much like this one. For money, the girl willingly took something that put her out and had no idea what happened during that time so she eventually snuck a camera into the room. It wasn't all that good. If it had been, I would remember the title. Anyone have a clue what movie I'm half remembering?

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 1:47 a.m. CST

    Yummy

    by dukeroberts

    My God, that girl is sexy. I can't wait to see her naked.

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 2:04 a.m. CST

    MY JOY... you HAVE to see MY JOY

    by jazzdownunder

    Ok, it has bugger all in common with Sleeping Beauty, but if you want to see some thought provoking, insightful cinema that will have you discussing metaphor and historical allegory into the wee small hours after enjoying a visually rewarding and finely executed piece of story telling, then MY JOY is where you should be. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtXBgozu4C4 The trailer makes it look a bit like the Coen brothers made a HOSTEL movie, and it does have it's surreal moments. But ultimately it's far more TAXI DRIVER than HOSTEL. (Connection to Quint's post: I saw NZFF during the Auckland leg of the NZFF)

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 3:03 a.m. CST

    Whoa, I didn't realize she was in Lemony Snicket

    by Jaka

    I agree that she looks better with dark hair, and I agree the The Piano is shit. But she's still fine, and if she was naked a bunch in The Piano I would probably like that film more. In short, I'll be checking this one out for sure.

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 4:01 a.m. CST

    So the vagina is off-limits...not really reassuring

    by DynamixRo

    Because you know most of those men aren't paying top dollar just to spoon with her while she's unconscious. Also, Lemony Snicket's \ Sucker Punch \ Sleeping Beauty would pretty much be a pedo's dream triple-feature, right? They'd just have to ignore the fact that she's legal in the latter two.

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 4:46 a.m. CST

    Kawabata!

    by Abhimanyu

    Quite a bit of the central setup sounds like Yasunari Kawabata's 'House of Sleeping Beauties', with the 'brothel' with sleeping women men pay to sleep next to. Superb book - I wonder if that has any connection here or it's just coincidence (sure, sure).

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 6:54 a.m. CST

    The Piano is a great movie

    by D.Vader

    Take that!

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 7:03 a.m. CST

    Eh, she peaked with Ghost Ship

    by Mugato5150

    ...hold on, there's a Dateline van in the driveway. That was fast.

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 9:48 a.m. CST

    Give us some SPOILERS!

    by Jake Pantlin

    I ma not going to watch this at the show. Maybe on DVD. It sounds pretentous and dull so far. If someone has seen it, give us some spoilers so we at least know what the good parts are! (if any)

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 11:47 a.m. CST

    Man, I love Futura.

    by blackwood

    It's really coming into its own now. Blame Wes Anderson. Anyway, fonts.

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 1:14 p.m. CST

    Can't wait for the AVENGERS!

    by DoctorWho?

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 1:23 p.m. CST

    all I can think of is the "Misfire!" line in Unforgiven

    by durhay

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 2:36 p.m. CST

    Kubrick

    by Cory849

    If you're trying to be Kubrick you don't try to be fucking Eyes Wide Suck.

  • Aug. 9, 2011, 6:46 p.m. CST

    Sleeping Booty

    by v3d