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“Our rooster's dead, our rooster's dead,
He'll no longer sing kokodi, kokoda,”

Koko-di, Koko-dull… that was dreadful, but then again so was my soul-shattering disappointment at this film. Actually, maybe I need to take it down a notch a little; after all, there was no real cause for such intense optimism for this Swedish Surrealist Fantasy/horror by Johannes Nyholm. Also, 'dreadful' is a bit much... It’s just that I love myself some off-beat horror, the less-mainstream (apparently) the better. I had seen the trailer once or twice for Nyholm's film. Maybe eyed the cover of the Blu-ray even more so, taken as I was by such a freaky, yet simple piece of poster-play. The rest was likely my own fabrication. Or not.

Following tragedy, a couple goes on a trip in attempt to reconnect. Whilst camping deep in the woods, a dapper gentleman all in white emerge from the trees, accompanied by a bizarre entourage including a silent woman, a giant man, a dead dog and a louder, more alive one. In a series of humiliations, psychological tortures and mischievous games, the characters wreak havoc on the couple.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

Screened at the Sundance Film Festival to a relatively positive reception in 2019, Koko-di Koko-da looked to be another addition to the often scorned breed of high-brow horror that has graced the silver-screen in the last few years. It’s a genre that panders to me, once a Slasher chick, I have to take the stigma on the chin now that I have become massive snob now when it comes to horror cinema; I am of the Hereditary kind of pretension and I love it. Described by some as a Funny Games meets Groundhog Day, that would suggest that Koko-di Koko-da was as good as either of these; it isn’t. Compelling though the premise seems the format grows tedious rather quick. There are only so many ways to be terrorized in a clearing, or so the film shows.

Spliced with genuinely interesting puppetry to convey the psychological and emotional journey of the couple, in fact the very thing that prefaces the main body of the story, it only leads to more disappointment. Once we’re in the woods, it proves to be the least engaging part. On top of this is an attempt at black comedy that does little to amuse or discomfort instead falls rather flat (having just come of a self-indulgent splurge through Julia Davis’ BBC series Nighty Night, I have a whole new respect for the genre). Script or performance, the sense of humour in this piece fizzles out where it claims to revel in it most, its first act carrying much of the advertised sharpness.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

The nursery rhyme sung by the creepy side-show artist, and the melody produced by a rather narratively significant music box, lends the film its interesting title and adds to an air of discomfort if for a time. But this could only build so much atmosphere before even I forgot the significance of the tune and the film lulled into its intentional repetition. Technical choices are made that overall robbed the film of tension in some of its more intriguing moments. It also, in attempt to seem off-kilter, a little other-worldly, possibly through the use of manipulating frame-rates or some snazzy editing, had a tendency to look kind of ugly. Was this also intentional? At this point, one can make any excuse for art but we have to be frank about some things.

Not to say it was all terrible. Its first thirty minutes are genuinely engaging. Perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier that would then explain my severity on its final hour. The set-up is some good stuff. In fact, the humour can be found here; in the exchanges between the couple, the wife’s food-poisoning, the later argument about ice cream flavours. Their faces painted as cartoonish rabbits, the tragedy that followed was genuinely hard-hitting to watch whilst uncomfortable. If that tone had been maintained, I could rate this as a film worth remembering.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

With these early scenes, and a pretty good final scene that ties it all up nicely – gosh is it a slog to get there though – I could see the merits in its portrayal of a couple in crisis. It explores grief in a unique way with the concept that if you can go back and change one thing, would it make any difference at all. This gimmick makes for incredibly compelling storytelling, to relive events and alter it and learn from it and ultimately find it fruitless in each attempt is the human calamity that makes for true nightmares. It is our perverse desire to regret. But Koko-di Koko-da does not manage to grip with this concept; its talons are too blunt. Maybe this would have benefitted from being a short film.

I liked the fixed camera in the car, the headlights lighting the way when they turned off the road and weaved their way through the trees along the little used path. The appearance of the white cat, the way the forest looked at night, which the cinematographers best moments were captured, the initial isolation that certainly enhanced the atmosphere briefly were all interesting at first. Honestly, there were plenty of little things to like bookending the experience.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

It’s the sort of film I really want to love. A fable like tale interwoven with a stark examination of grief, metaphors and fantasy shrouding the harsh reality of the subject matter as it creeps into unsettling worlds. I love Swedish cinema, too. Sweden has an incredibly fascinating film repertoire, not to mention the vast and rich folklore they often exploit to marvellous effect. It’s hard to not think of the works of Ingmar Bergman or Victor Sjöström, or latterly Roy Andersson or Lukas Moodysson when recalling some truly fantastic filmmakers (I am so sorry that I can’t think of any great female directors…). Though often bleak, they can take the rich culture of their country and examine the state of the human psyche, pushing it to the extremes in various fascinating ways. Ya see? I had some really high hopes.

It is a frustration I felt throughout the film and this review. I wanted more and never got it. I wanted to love this. The spectator should always be guessing, a step behind the story they’re seeing and maybe that was the case here. Following the storyteller into the forest at first was fun, but it became rather obvious that there wasn’t much to see the deeper we went, the trees were all the same, the vegetation was sparse with not even a freaky-looking toadstool to snap a picture of and before I knew it we had both been wandering in unintentional circles. I have nothing against woodlands, have in my time trod many and found each one uniquely compelling, but it’s easy to grow bored when you’ve seen the same stump a hundred times.


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  • Writer's pictureKerry Chambers

This blog is two years old. What is proving to be the most expensive diary I have ever owned, I avoided an article conception simply because it overwhelmed me. Should I list something, should I review something; that meant watching something and I couldn’t recall anything. Series that I have watched were great but felt out of place – what I felt was all I had left, no remnants of anything that held the show or the movie together. I don’t understand it.

The Lily Pad (Logo by Megan Chambers)

Two years… The advent failed to come with any sense of accomplishment I assumed I would be capable of feeling by this point in my life. Somehow it's not panned out that way. What I feel is something uncomfortable. It's a lack of anything. This sensation has been in place for some time, one which has been trumped on occasion by brief creative outputs, indulgences short lived and general enjoyment found within living. Yet, day by day, it gets more stifling.

Things I apparently need to succeed in my life goals:

  • Discipline

  • Motivation

  • Confidence

It's quiet clear without any of this that whatever this dream is that I have, that I have believed I have had for the many years I have now inhabited this earth, will be all for nothing. That for the longest time that there was a belief that this was more than just a pipe dream, something concrete and possible seems as much a filthy lie I've told myself as the lie that I can have an original thought at all.

What is original thought? It's often cited as no longer existing. This, I suppose, I can concur, but beyond that, the voice of the individual is what separates writers and should inspire them to grow. Yet with each word I write, each thought I allow to pass through my mind without the insidious virus of self-doubt, over-thinking heaped with a whole slab of laziness to boot, clinging anxiously to each one, I begin to acknowledge that my own twist on that very thing is as much derivative. I simply cannot win. This voice of mine, it has nothing good to say for itself. It's self-involved, nihilistic and lacking in the humour it once prided itself on. A scream without an echo.

For I am frustrated at my own complacency and lack of motivation, and it is such a specific collection of things that must take place, be seen, felt or experienced for me to feel an ounce of motivation. Yet I avoid even those things as though I should be doing something else. I'm at cross-purposes with myself. Even more likely, I'm a saboteur. My life had been compromised by me being in it.

Gotta Knock a Little Harder... Cowboy Bebop (Watanabe, 2001)

I love nothing more than getting lost in a story for hours on end. Be it novels, manga, anime or film, it should be an unadulterated pleasure. When I'm working though my to-watch pile and it doesn't feel like a chore, as though what I am seeing is genuinely great works of fiction, that the world vanishes as much as it swallows me up and into this thing we call living, makes me alive in the very definition, it totally uproots me. The world is so ugly. It's the stories and the connections, the distances and the longing, it shapes reality that can be so very stunning. This makes me believe in my own storytelling. With music blaring in my ears - Dandy in Love, Gekkou, Von, Blue - lost to soundtracks and songs that score the stories I write, I work away at my inspiration and try to shape something of my own. This consumption of art helps me overcome my inner hesitations and arrive at this site to share my views with confidence on these great stories... that feeling is fantastic.

But I avoid it as much as I crave it. Maybe I hold it up as a mirror sometimes. I'm guiltier of simply avoiding such engagement and stimulation. I turn to the internet where I receive short bursts of pointless joy, which does nothing and leaves me forgetful of whatever I have seen, done or experienced in the immediate hours surrounding it. I'm not Alice down the rabbit hole; way down there where it never makes sense, at least she is challenged, a witness to the incomprehensible. I can barely comprehend an average day.

“I wish I could've lived my life without making any wrong turns. But that's impossible. A path like that doesn't exist. We fail. We trip. We get lost. We make mistakes. And little by little, one step at a time, we push forward. It's all we can do. On our own two feet.”- Yuki Sohma, Fruits Basket (Takaya, 2006)

I sit at my desk; it is here I eat, I procrastinate, I complain. I'm rotting, wilfully and vehemently. It is a grotesque act of neglect, an attempt to dismantle all that could be worked upon until there is nothing but the Junji Ito style sludge of my remains. From its bubbling brew, like the texture of fermented mushrooms, as it dribbles down the seat upon which I once sat, the muffled sounds of an opinionated, self-entitled crone babbles as though upon the ocean floor.

I never thought myself to be someone to give up, but when I look back on things, I don't know if I see things through to the end with a longevity that one can be proud of. With reckless, nerve-shattering abandon I would throw myself into one thing until there was nothing left and retire to the shadows where I would continue to watch each passing day, waiting for when the sunlight was no longer so blinding, pretending that I was trying to recover my being. Most of the time, I have lived in the shadows because it's very safe there, I can take no form there until there is nothing to see. All the while willing myself to be noticed. A phantom is there, that one can scarcely forget, something that can drag others into my own sphere of dread and fear.

What am I scared of?

This fear is so interwoven with my personal and so-called professional life that I can’t define which one it should be dealt in most. Proof that I don’t' want to live a dual life, I suppose I could see it as such a thing, but to exist as a whole in both areas of living, as genuine and honest as I can be. This in itself scares me. That truth is right there. I want to be me, always. But that means showing me, being me; that's terrifying. Time has cemented that I also don’t like me. There is a version of me who is not me at all that should take the place of the real me, and wipe the floor with all she encounters; well-read, charming and pretty, she fights through her fear and puts herself out there, good-humoured and even better natured. This me, can't. This me is unstable, mercurial, unreasonable, jaded, irritable, insufferable... I have all these opinions and absolutely no faith that I have a leg to stand on with anything that passes my lips because everyone I meet knows better than me. For that I am certain. They are smarter, better informed, whole people who have more right to a voice than me.

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.” - Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance (1988)

Maybe I will need to treat this post as a celebration of what I have achieved in this past years, I think it may be needed.

I've written at least one article a month on this blog. I finished a first draft of a romantic comedy novel. I have completed a short story that I would like to find a home for. I would like to pursue a masters in Film next year, so as to possibly find a money-making route for myself in something I claim I love. I do love. When I'm not intimidated by it.

When I reflect on the first incredibly productive months on this blog, during an indefinite lockdown, I battled some, what I now have come to acknowledge, serious mental health issues that could have ended pretty badly. In the midst of that muckiness, under the influence of the mellow of early-days medication and the comfort of no end in sight for the return to normalcy, where I could stay at home every day and watch whatever, find creative and nice ways to spend time with supportive housemates, speak to family when I could for as long as we all wanted... I managed to make this site and talk about stuff I loved. It wasn’t seamless; often things were still hard. But on this blog I was happy. I think.

This space was treated as a portfolio all the while indulging myself; talking about foreign film, anime and writing it was as much fun as it was a release. That got lost along the way. The old posts I made, ranking these great movies I got to see, my master post about filmmakers (Akio Jissôji’s Buddhist Trilogy really did cherry-top that category - it's spoiled me), I can see myself pouring heart and knowledge into it with such enthusiasm. Dare I say it, even with confidence? I could channel my criticism there; meanwhile I began work on that aforementioned novel, all the way back then. Some magic will sprinkle down on myself, and I’ll swoop into that screenwriting software I pay for each month and jot ideas down that I can see with some clarity.

Now I feel like I have no ideas. Not that this is a totally abstract thought, I‘ve had the feeling for far too long, but it subsided. It’s come back. Those thoughts that no one wants to hear about it. I keep dragging everyone in, I let them in, leave the door unlocked, wide open most days and then wonder why my house if full of strangers and people I would rather forget. These people, I need to simply pass and get on with myself. Do what I want. See how that reflects in my output, see where that output goes with sureness. Yet I want to spend no time with me at all. The life I have led leaves me uninspired and embarrassed, what I could write about makes me only more ashamed.

I want to be inspired, not compare. These little things that have formed my life, to wear them as badges of pride instead of something to brush aside when others medals appear so much more worthwhile, meaningful. I want to be able to enjoy Attack on Titan and not think of how incompetent I am that I could not think of that sort of story, ever. I want to forget about the fact that I can’t work a film camera, but can see that opening sequence of Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild is perfection. I want to read a Haruki Murakami novel and not hate myself for being incapable of writing such a simple sentence that cuts so deep, as defined as my wording is bloated. I want to see what I can do, not what can’t.

An anniversary article that is perhaps outrageously depressing is no way to enter a new tenure as a blog runner. Maybe I just had to purge myself to get realigned. Well… even that feels repetitive and predictable. Enjoy the things I love, live in my head and make something from it – give it flesh and bones. I want to go back to what I liked, and I need to work harder to do that, I think. Be me, endure it. Screw 'fake it until you make it', accept that there is stuff I’m never going to like and work with what I have; life is too hard, too cruel to not have something beautiful come out of it, if this is all there is... well I'm not ready to believe that yet. Underneath it all, there is something; there has to be. If I’m the one holding me back, I need to be the one to move forward. Sabotage my saboteur; she’s asking for it.

What It Means... Violet Evergarden (2018)

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  • Writer's pictureKerry Chambers

That drawl, that stillness, that gaze. He is a fascinating watch, is that James Spader. Sometimes he seems like an entity trying to figure out what it is to be human; sometimes he is something more than human. His severity blended with his precociousness makes for unpredictable and hypnotic performances every time. He’s an underrated cult icon, in everything, and nothing, a phantom, a larger than life personality that slips and snoops and lives for the characters luring in the side-lines.

Crash (Cronenberg, 1996 - Arrow Video)

A guy impossible to really pigeon hole, Hollywood never knew what to do with him. With minor roles as various yuppie-types during the eighties in films such as Mannequin (Gottlieb, 1987) and Wall Street (Stone, 1987) or entertaining arseholes in The New Kids (Cunningham, 1985) and Less Than Zero (Kanievska, 1987), Spader’s career has been marginalized and yet uprooted by the actor himself over the years. He never just plays a yuppie; he never just plays an oddball. Romances, thrillers, dramas; Spader does his own thing. In his Hollywood, he is anomaly, one I always find a joy to see on screen, always capable of doing something different with a character who in another’s hands could be dull or generic. I mean, this guy was brilliant as Ultron in an Avengers film that is not remembered too fondly., the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre entry. He was my favourite part of Steven Spielberg's rather bloated Lincoln.

White Palace (Mandoki, 1990 - Universal Pictures)

In later years he has become a small screen legend with amazing turns as Alan Shore in The Practice and a personal much binged favourite, Boston legal. He’s surprised all in The Blacklist (the first series was peak) and divided fans with his turn as the slimy, sex-obsessed oddball Robert California in The Office’s season eight. As a member of the approving side, I still believe that some of the best scenes of that season were carried by this weird character. In this list I will refrain from including these roles, for this is place to celebrate his cinematic output, because if there is anything I have obsessively invested in, it is Spader’s unusual career. The films have not always been great, but there has never been a doubt that he is the best thing in them.

Sex, Lies and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989 - Premium Collection)

10. Bad Influence (Dir. Curtis Hanson, 1990)

Following a stream of obnoxious antagonists and weasly pains-in-the-arse, Spader had a chance to play against type and so did co-star Rob Lowe in Bad Influence, following his own tenure as misunderstood bad boys and loveable rogues. Not so much as a role swap but as a twist on their usual casting, we see Spader, a nerdy and shy suit whose life is turned upside down when he meets a mysterious drifter who teaches him to step out of his comfort zone and enter a world of garish parties, risqué sex with women and high-octane antics. However, things go too far one night and he discovers that the new figure in his life is not quite what he seems. The movie is a lot of fun. Of course it’s not high-brow; it’s a nineties thriller that I have an irrational nostalgic fondness for. But it’s a great display of Spader’s range in a semi-mainstream film.

Bad Influence (Hanson, 1990 - MGM Home Entertainment)

9. The Pentagon Papers (Dir. Rod Holcomb, 2003)

A little seen film but a striking one at that, it is an assured performance from Spader. Based on the true story of Daniel Ellsberg who uncovered the deception of the US government to downplay the dire situation in Vietnam during the war, he leaks the information to the press whilst also battling his own perception of the war he once supported and the nation he once had faith in. More serious than many of the other entries on this list, it still displays a mature transition, an ability to hone a grounded character through a harrowing narrative. It is a breath of fresh air from some of his stranger roles, a man faced with his shame and rectifying it by doing the right thing, at the risk of everything else.

The Pentagon Papers (Holcomb, 2003 - Paramount Home Entertainment)

8. White Palace (Dir. Luis Mandoki, 1990)

Many of Spaders’ films of the nineties were Erotic something-something’s. Some of them were questionable, a little over-the-top, a little weird (1993’s Dream Lover, I’m looking at you). He’s really good at them, the more perverse the better. But others were capable of being surprisingly touching. A meeker type he embodies in White Palace, but sparks fly with marvellous co-star Susan Sarandon. A widowed Jewish advertising executive in his twenties falls hard for a forty-something diner waitress; their class and age differences come between them as friends and family doubt their relationship, however their chemistry is unquestionable, and in one another they find a comfort and trust that they had been seeking.

White Palace (Mandoki, 1990 - Universal Pictures)

7. Wolf (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1994)

Definitely one of the weirdest films Mike Nichols ever directed but it’s fitting that Spader would happen to be in it and now, upon reflection, Wolf is kind of an underrated gem almost thirty years on. It’s a Horror Romance from the nineties; that gets brownie point from the get go. Supporting a main cast of Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeifer and Christopher Plummer, the story follows a publisher, Will (Nicholson), whose life is re-invigorated when he is attacked by a wolf, gaining supernatural powers and heightened senses. However, he must hide wolfish tendencies under the intense scrutiny of his rivals and the woman he has fallen for; meanwhile mysterious animal attacks are happening across the city. Spader, as Stewart, was once his protégé, now office rival, sleeping with Will’s wife, and a total sleaze; he nails it too.

Wolf (Nichols, 1994 - Columbia Home Entertainment)

Encapsulating the smarmy duplicity of his character, he is still genuinely holding his own in every scene with a great like Nicholson and is absolute proof of Spader’s often underrated talent. He also enjoys some of his own scene-chewing moments. His confrontation with Pfeiffer in the police station really is eccentric, playing up the farcical elements of the film – in no way a bad thing either, the best parts are when it embraces its werewolf-in-the-office premise – yet so utterly hypnotic, and not just because of his freaky contacts and freakier sniffing. Countless times, my sister and I have re-enacted his ‘What an odd question’ scene, it’s just highly entertaining.

Wolf (Nichols, 1994 - Columbia Home Entertainment)

6. Crash (Dir. David Cronenberg, 1996)

Remember when I mentioned ‘perverse’. I didn’t even like this film the first time around. Nor the second or the third but I kept watching it. Yes, my Spader obsession had a huge part to play - he looks great, he performs great – yet the whole experience is so weird you have to kind of remind yourself that it existed. Over time I kind of grew to love it, some overexposure and Stockholm syndrome like indoctrination for sure, but now it’s one of my favourite Cronenberg flicks and kind of a party piece for me (The Greasy Strangler another favourite to break to the ice).

Crash (Cronenberg, 1996 - Arrow Video)

Based on JG Ballard’s 1973 novel of the same name, considered un-adaptable and too taboo for the time, of course Cronenberg found something cinematic in the depravity. Following car crash survivors who develop a sexual infatuation with motor accidents, they enter an underworld of eroticized danger, the stakes getting higher and higher as they seek the ultimate pleasure. This kind of role somehow suits James Spader, the otherworldliness, the strangeness, the grotesque; he captures the descent into this world magically. He also gets to star in what is still considered one of the freakiest sex scenes of all time involving a gaping scar; iconic.

Crash (Cronenberg, 1996 - Arrow Video)

5. Stargate (Dir. Roland Emmerich, 1994)

Of all the ‘Star’ franchises, this was always my favourite. The most Hollywood leading man Spader ever got to be and an attempt to make him conform to a nerdy meek persona, even that he does endearingly, utterly sincerely, and different. The first to helm the iconic sci-fi character Dr. Daniel Jackson, it’s his performance that provides the heart of the film, certainly what brings me back again and again. In fact, the music, the atmosphere, the fantastical (the suspicious similarities to Disney’s Atlantis – not a bad thing, I love that too), its’ an escapist adventure that I adore indulging in. Sometimes I forget that Kurt Russell is there…

Stargate (Emmerich, 1994 - Momentum Pictures)

Scientist Daniel, rarely taken seriously in his field, is approached by a military facility to decode an ancient Egyptian artefact. The hieroglyph harbours important information, which reveals the possibility of Stargates, portals between worlds. The springboard for the rest of the franchise and considered by many fans as a lesser entry in the canon, I simply can’t shrug it off. Spader really is great and so likable. I love that his career became so unpredictable and diverse, but I often wonder what would have been if he had entered the world of Hollywood blockbusters; what kind of films he would have made as a leading man.

Stargate (Emmerich, 1994 - Momentum Pictures)

4. The Music of Chance (Dir. Philip Haas, 1993)

As a huge fan of the original 1990 absurdist novel of the same name by Paul Auster, I can say that this is probably one of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen committed to screen. So it’s a huge shame how little seen it is. When I think of different, impressive performance in Spader’s career, I will think of this. As the twitchy, obsessive card-shark Jack, he alongside Mandy Patinkin’s Jim partake in a high stakes poker match with two eccentric millionaires. When they lose, they are put to work on the property building a never-ending stones wall.

The Music of Chance (Haas, 1993 - Boulevard)

It’s that kind of storytelling I simply love in cinema. A strange premise, a stripped back cast, an unusual pairing. The story is infused with element of Godot; its terrifying banality making room for some immersive characterization becomes strangely hypnotic. Spader’s Jack is self-assured but a total mess, restless and aggressive. He paces like a caged animal, animated beside Patinkin’s reserved lead. He’s allowed to let loose and inhabits the weird story, he’s heart-achingly fragile, a man destined to spiral in his pursuit of money and success, for a life of wandering, of hollow dreams. An amazing performance overall.

The Music of Chance (Haas, 1993 - Boulevard)

3. Pretty in Pink (Dir. Howard Deutch, 1986)

I don’t want to hear about how disappointed John Hughes was in this interpretation of his screenplay. I don’t want to hear how 1987’s Some Kind of Wonderful was better, the rewrite and truer to the original vision. I don’t want to hear about who Andie should have ended up with. Pretty in Pink is iconic. It is one of my favourite brat pack flicks; the soundtrack, the mood, the lines, the cast. It has Steff too. Spader’s Steff is the best eighties teen villain of all time. His unprovoked bitchiness, his aesthetic, his unspoken backstory that in the twenty-first century would have filled pages upon pages on fanfiction sites (four years he has lusted after Andie, he admits this, they would have a field day with the premise, angst upon angst, lusty lemons…); you love him as much as you hate him. That voice, that indestructible hair, his crass gestures. He’s glamorously grotesque.

Pretty in Pink (Deutch, 1986 - Paramount Home Entertainment)

Andie (Molly Ringwald) is in her final year of high school, an outcast whose mother left home when she was young and caring for her depressed father, she is determined to make it through with the support of her friends including the lovesick Duckie (Jon Cryer as arguably one of cinemas most irritating sidekicks). She didn’t expect to fall head over heels for a guy, Blane (Andrew McCarthy) from the right side of the tracks. Meanwhile, their social circles are trying to drive them apart. Spader is Blane’s best friend, Steff. A self-entitled rich bastard who hates Andie more so because he lusts after her; rejected over and over, he cannot fathom how he can like such a poor girl, and how a poor girl can so confidently dislike him. Now is it Spader’s performance or the writing, I don’t know? There seems to be dynamism in the character that makes him one of the most interesting in the whole thing. Perhaps it’s just years of relentless viewings and obsession that has made him into a fabled mystery I must unravel.

Pretty in Pink (Deutch, 1986 - Paramount Home Entertainment)

2. Secretary (Dir. Steven Shainberg, 2002)

I’ve spoken about this film before in my article Top 10 Love Stories to Indulge in on Valentines Day, exploring my favourites from around the world. I’ve yet to see anything that can match it for energy or mood; it touches my heart in ways that sometimes can be hard to explain. It’s weird and shocking, funny and moving and still one of my favourite romances of all time. James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal helm this quirky love story in what I still consider amongst some of their finest films. Together they are sweet, sexy and terrifying; I can imagine no one else in the roles. Mr. E. Edward Grey and Lee Holloway are perfect. Spader’s Grey is so odd, sensual but unsettling, obsessive and unreasonable beside Gyllenahaal’s blossoming wallflower, finding herself and sexuality under the gaze of her boss.

Secretary (Shainberg, 2002 - Tartan Video)

Lee has been released from a mental institution where she was admitted following a severe self-harm incident; she must now adjust to daily life even as her family falls apart at home, forced to portray a manufactured perfection that conforms to her family’s world. Meanwhile, she is treated as a child. When she finds an advertisement for a position as a secretary with a local lawyer named Mr. Grey, she attends a strange interview, eventually landing the job. But an untraditional relationship unfolds, as both emotionally stunted find a way to express themselves through BDSM office games. Awkward as they are, it is a beautiful portrait of an unconventional romance, of finding oneself and voice and exploring women’s desire.

Secretary (Shainberg, 2002 - Tartan Video)

1. Sex, Lies and Videotape (Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 1989)

This is it. The film that I am repeatedly enthralled with upon multiple re-watches. The film that brought independent cinema to the mainstream, that transcends it’s controversy and tells a raw, unusual tale of sexual repression and intimacy. That each time the films asks more questions, that with my own personal growth I take more and more from the film yet find the familiar anxieties and heartaches I related to all those years ago upon my first viewing, is proof that the story has a certain universality that maintains its relevance. Maybe not as taboo as it once was, there is still a sense of daring, provocative and titillating in its subject; something that still tugs at my heart in that final act which traps me in its spell. One of the major attributes besides the writing, beside the direction, besides Cliff Martinez’s engaging score is James Spader’s powerful, Cannes winning performance as Graham.

Sex, Lies and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989 - Premium Collection)

Ann (Andie Macdowell), a prudish, housewife, is put out when her lawyer husband John (Peter Gallagher) invites an old college roommate to stay. Unawares to her, her husband is having an affair with her outgoing sister, Cynthia (Laura Sa Giacomo) whilst she is at home keeping house and attending therapy sessions where it is revealed that she struggles with her sexual life and identity, conforming to her pure, straight-laced image. When Graham arrives, to John’s disappointment he is much changed from the man he knew in school; once a scheming lothario, he now is a soft-spoken nomad living from the boot of his car. Choosing to settle in the town, he lives a life he deems more honest whilst engaging in a strange hobby; interviewing and filming women discussing their sexuality, pasts and fantasies.

Sex, Lies and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989 - Premium Collection)

On paper it seems like a typically odd Spader role. But he never pulled anything quite so understated and convincing, vulnerable and impenetrable. Graham is eerie in his stillness, honest yet deceptive. The delivery, the timidness, the control in Spader’s movement, tone, he remodelled himself in this character. Equal parts attractive and repellent, he’s an eternal question mark. ‘I’ve got a lot of problems, but they belong to me…’ is one of my favourite scenes in American cinema (bold statement I know, and vague as hell but I get that line stuck in my head a lot), and in the hands of Spader is something so frightening and real. It’s beautiful cinema. Go watch it.

Sex, Lies and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989 - Premium Collection)

Honourable Mentions: Bob Roberts (Robbins, 1992), True Colours (Ross, 1991), Storyville (Frost, 1992)


There we go, my obsession with James Spader put into a maniacal article. But let’ get more exposure on this underrated star, the guy who even after all these years is exciting to watch. I hope you found a new favourite and enjoyed the exploration into the cinema of his work.

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A Space for Reviews, World Cinema Appreciation, Essays and Reflections by Writer Kerry Chambers

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