Burning Palms
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Burning Palms

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Like all forms of artistic expression one of the primary purposes of cinema it to reflect the human condition; especially those that may be strange and unfamiliar to the audience. The aspect of this axiom that is often goes unappreciated is the incredible diversity human interactions offer. Stories of some relationship may inspire warm and fuzzy feelings while others may be so entirely foreign to the experiences of the audience that the stories seem unusual, bizarre or even revolting to common sensibilities. Since stories so far afield of the norm may be upsetting they tend to be overlooked by many filmmakers. This should not be inferred that such unusual tales should not be told; they just require an auteur with a twisted view of this weird and wonderful world we inhabit. In most cases one of the more successful methods for handling such peculiar topics is to take the approach of treating the subject as a dark comedy. If you can make the audience laugh, even uncomfortably, it lessens the perception of perversity or at least lessens the perceived unacceptability of the themes. Several filmmakers have established considerable reputations and careers through the exploration of the more undisclosed elements of human associations. Men like John Waters, Quentin Tarentino and Darren Aronofsky have dared to take their audiences were few people have dared to tread. They have done so with a blend of solid reality to mind bending, tongue in cheek black humor. Now, another filmmaker has joined this illustrious albeit off beat group; Christopher B. Landon. I had heard some rather unusual comments about his first feature length film; ‘Burning Palms’ so as a long time fan of dark humor and experimental cinema I was naturally excited when I was given the opportunity to review the film for myself. I found myself enthralled, entertained and a few times even repulsed but one thing is certain, I was never bored. This is a groundbreaking new film that will not only establish Landon in this niche of movie making and will most likely inspire its share of imitators. For those that are in the mood for something that will mess with your perception than this movie should be at the top of your list.

Although this is the first full length motion picture accomplished Landon he has been building up to this feat for awhile. He was the writer and producer for a little television series, ‘Dirty Sexy Money’ that in the two seasons of its existence brought a refreshing black humor slant to the venerable genre of the soap opera. He also penned the screenplays for a pair of unusual films; ‘Another Day in Paradise’ and ‘Disturbia’. Both films were entertaining but ‘Paradise’ provided him with the experience he needed here to examine dysfunctional relationships. One thing that Landon realized that is much to his credit is the fundamental structure of the film. Instead of trying to maintain the quality for the course of a feature length story Landon wisely decided to glue five independent short stories together. This allowed him to vary the focus, maintain the pacing and most importantly keep any one segment from descending too deeply into its particular brand of insanity. I admire a professional that knows how to organically grow slowly, accumulating understanding and honing his abilities rather than giving in to hubris by taking on too much forcing a sacrifice of quality. Landon has achieved this goal readily with brilliant results. Even in the scenes that admittedly made me uncomfortable I never felt Landon diminished in his commitment to the highest possible quality. The purpose of this film was to challenge the social norms and sensibilities of the audience. He was able to do this with his first film making me very anxious to follow his career as he matures in his artist expression. There is an attention to detail and concern with craftsmanship that sets this film above many freshman efforts. Each of the five stories presented here placed odd yet strangely believable characters in situations that start off routine but spiral quickly into the uncharted recesses of imagination. At the core of all five stories is the affect stereotypes generally associated with Los Angles has on interpersonal relationships. As with any good satire there is just enough of a grain of truth to give the stories sufficient credence to make them work. In all cases the camera work, lighting and cinematography Landon has at his command is exceptional. He is one of the most visually adept directors I have encountered in quite a while. He finds angles and lighting that adds to the texture and fascination of the film. His potential in the industry is undoubtedly what drew such a talented cast flocking to this creative project.

The Green Eyed Monster

Dedra Davenport (Rosamund Pike) is engaged to someone she thought was the perfect man, Dennis Marx (Dylan McDermott). He is handsome, intelligent successful and a devoted father. The latter is normally a favorable sign but in this instance Dedra is about to undergo a drastic change in perception. Her first clue that something was wrong was when his daughter Chloe (Emily Meade) comes to a visit. She jumps on her father wrapping her legs around him. Dedra begins to get jealous of the girl as her suspicions that their relationship is inappropriate as evident by constant touching, dirty sexual banter and topless sunbathing. Dedra cannot help but to suspect incest.

This Little Piggy

Ginny Bai (Jamie Chung) is basically a good girl. While not a prude she has never been what you would call sexually adventurous. She was initially shocked when her boyfriend Chad Bower (Robert Hoffman) makes an unusual request while they are having sex. He wanted her to insert her finger in an orifice normally associated with ‘waste management’. In a fetish version of Lady Macbeth Ginny just can’t seem to get the smell off the digit resulting in the rapid decline in her mental stability.

Buyer’s Remorse

Geri (Peter Macdissi) and Tom (Anson Mount) are a well to do gay couple living in the very upscale area of West Hollywood. Always aware of the latest trends they greatly anticipate the arrival of the daughter the ordered from a remote part of Africa. When the seven year old girl gets there the couple gives her the trendy name of Mahogany (
Tiara McKinney). Much to their chagrin the girl appears mute and prefers to lurk hidden in the bushes.

Kangaroo Court

The group of children depicted here may come from a wealthy family but their social skills are several levels below the children in ‘Lord of the Flies’. The neighbor children are rightfully frighten on them and their perchance for lynching their playmates. The parents are typically absent leaving the trio in the dubious care of the perpetually stoned and aptly named nanny, Mary Jane (Lake Bell). When the maid, Blanca Juarez (Paz Vega) loses her most precious procession, the mummified stump of her dead infant’s umbilical cord, the children amuse themselves by holding a court of inquest.

Maneater

This is arguably the most disturbing of the lot Avatar’s Zoe Saldana plays Sarah Cotton, a quite, shy young woman who is brutally raped by a masked assailant (Nick Stahl). When she discovers his wallet was left behind she tracks her attacker down. In any other film the motive would be to extract revenge but here Sarah wants to use the opportunity to find a boyfriend.

The device used to tie the quintet of tales together is presenting them as if they when in an old pulp comic book. This did reinforce the feel that that came from one of the old EC comics like ‘Tales from the Crypt’, known for their strange, macabre conclusions. If you enjoyed them as a kid you are going to love this film.

Posted 05/02/11

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