Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Renée Humphrey, Alicia Witt, William R. Moses, Leslie Hope, Ania Suli
Director: Rafal Zielinski
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
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Horrific and disturbing
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 08/26/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"On May 14, 1985, a fifteen year old girl named Paula Cooper committed a particularly vicious crime that eventually landed her on Indiana's Death Row. After skipping school for an afternoon of fun--which included drinking and drugs--with a few friends, Cooper and her pals arrived at the home of an elderly woman named Ruth Pelke. The girls managed to get inside the house by inquiring about Bible classes taught by the older woman. Once inside, Cooper stabbed Pelke over thirty times so she and her friends could steal ten dollars and the woman's car. The subsequent trial, supposedly marred by the bad advice of a public defender, resulted in a death sentence for Cooper. As the youngest individual on Indiana's Death Row, it was inevitable that Cooper's case would draw attention from liberals. Millions of pleas for leniency poured in from around the world, and even members of Pelke's family eventually supported the idea that the girl should receive a commutation from the governor. On July 13, 1989 Cooper escaped her fate, but received a sixty-year sentence in the process (eligible for parole in twenty-six years). As far as I know, she still resides in prison somewhere in Indiana.
It's important to begin a review for the grinding experience that is the film "Fun" by recounting the specifics of the Paula Cooper incident because it's obvious the film takes this horrific incident as its starting point. The movie, directed by Rafal Zielinski, concerns two young girls and a crime terrible beyond reckoning. Most of the central elements of "Fun" come down to us through a series of flashbacks told by the two girls to a reporter named John (William R. Moses) and prison counselor Jane (Leslie Hope). These two young ladies, Hillary (Renee Humphrey) and Bonnie (Alicia Witt), couldn't be further apart in demeanor. Hillary is a dark haired beauty with a chip on her shoulder against the whole world, a sullen girl who rarely cracks a smile except when she's talking about Bonnie. Witt's character is over the top, to say the least; a non-stop spasm wrapped up in the form of a teenage girl. She prances, she dances, she lies, and she talks a million words a minute, yet she too becomes morose whenever the topic of Hillary comes up--mainly because the authorities keep them separated. It's obvious the two share a weird connection, a connection that John and Jane suspect has something to do with a physical relationship. They both prod the girls to discover exactly what happened.
What happened is, in a word, repulsive. The flashbacks, which are in color versus the dull black and white of the prison scenes, show us how Hillary and Bonnie meet at a bus stop. The two quickly form a strange bond based on a history of family troubles, and it's not long after this meeting that the girls are running around town causing trouble. As they're wandering through a peaceful suburban neighborhood in which one of the girls claims she once lived, they decide to ring doorbells, yell profanities at whomever opens the door, and then run off. Hillary and Bonnie are just having fun, but then one of them suggests carrying the game a bit further. They approach the house of an elderly woman--remember Paula Cooper's crime--and talk themselves inside by claiming illness and the need for a telephone. Once there, the nightmare unfolds in vivid, unflinching detail as Bonnie stabs the poor woman to death. Then it's off to the local gas station to clean the gore off in the bathroom, followed by a trip to Hillary's house where the two girls lie in bed chatting about what they've done. It is here where the police find the two killers.
Zielinski's film is massively disturbing in several key ways. One concerns how the girls don't seem to care about the crime as much as they do about each other. In the prison, all the two can think about is reuniting. Two, the behavior exhibited by Hillary and Bonnie is sickening and shocking. "Psychopathic" and "sociopathic" are two terms that come to mind while watching these two lie, throw fits, and do just about anything to confound John's and Jane's efforts to learn the truth. Third, and finally, the actual crime turns the stomach. I've seen hundreds upon hundreds of horror films, yet I've never seen an onscreen murder that disturbed me as much as Bonnie's killing of this poor old lady. The amount of blood involved--and there's a huge amount of blood--isn't nearly as upsetting as Bonnie's shrieks of animalistic madness mixed with the moans and groans of the victim. Yet something odd happens as the memory of the crime emerges: the same emotions exhibited by the girls earlier seem to assume a second dimension, namely one of tentative shame and even remorse. Or perhaps not. The challenge of "Fun" revolves around discovering what makes these two girls tick. Are they compulsive liars and sociopaths? Or is there a sense of wrongness about what they did somewhere down deep? Zielinski's film works so well because the viewer can interpret the film in different ways.
Zielinski is an oddball director. He's made films like "National Lampoon's Last Resort" and "Screwballs," but he's also lensed the pro-Christian "Hangman's Curse" based on the best-selling novel by Frank Peretti. When you throw "Fun" into that mix, it makes for a strange filmography. As for the DVD release of this movie, it's nothing to write home about. All we get here are trailers for this film, "Meet the Feebles," "Down For the Barrio," "Stripshow," "Dark Obsession," and "17 & Under." This is the sort of film that fairly screams for a commentary track from the director, writer, and actors. "Fun" is dark, disturbing, and complex--and I for one would like to hear if my interpretation of the film is the correct one.
Not a great DVD, but the film is superb.
D. Mok | Los Angeles, CA | 04/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been looking for this film on a good format for years. I even shelled out first-run prices for a rental VHS copy years ago, just to have a good copy for keeps. So I was very happy upon discovering this release of Fun on DVD.
My response to the DVD itself is mixed. Not much in bonus materials -- this is of course a by-product of how low-budget the production was. I had interviewed a key member above the line who said that this shoot was literally scrapped together, so it's a marvel the film came together at all.
Though director Rafal Zielinski is known mostly for trashy exploitation flicks (Screwballs, Jailbait), this was his moment of greatness. Much credit, however, should go to writer James Bosley. The screenplay was adapted from his stage play and the dramatic scenes and characters are so compelling that the film was already halfway there. The dialogue moves with a relentless forward momentum and there's never a boring moment with the characters' internal life. The vital central scene between tough-as-nails counsellor Jane (24's Leslie Hope, giving her career-best performance) and hyperactive teen Bonnie (a staggering performance by Alicia Witt) literally crackles with life and pathos.
Fun was rightly celebrated for its acting (two acting awards at Sundance Film Festival), for it's the four performances that hold this film together. Witt is a marvel, a whirlwind of energy that gives way to unexpected intensity and sorrow. Renee Humphrey gets the more conventional brooding role and does a fine job, but it is Witt's erratic, lovable, yet internally seething Bonnie which embodies the spirit of the film. She had brought many elements of herself to the role (Witt herself was the one who had learned to speak at the age of one month), and while that strays from the original play (where the character was far less precocious and much more of an everygirl), it works wonderfully in the context of the film. Hope has never been better, her steely resilience anchoring the film's perspective, and William R. Moses is great as visiting journalist John, and the audience's way into the psychological world of Bonnie and Hilary.
One more honorable mention to cinematographer Jens Sturup, who executes the dual visual style of the film beautifully. The scenes in colour look assured, warm and expressive, making it hard to believe this film was shot in a matter of days. And Sturup's handheld camera work in the black-and-white sequences is superb, where he executes a degree of "editing in camera" which made me believe, for the first several years since seeing this film, that there was far more intercutting in those dialogue scenes than there actually was.
The gripes I have about this DVD is that though the film was made low-budget, the release is really a bit too cheap. The DVD sleeve, for example, looks like a low-res colour photocopy, and the layouts are quite amateurish as well, far worse than the VHS release from the mid-'90s. That wouldn't have been a problem, but the DVD itself also suffers from jumps and lapses. While this could be a one-off problem on my personal copy, I somehow got the feeling that this release wasn't done by pros.
If another superior edition of this film comes out on DVD, I'll definitely be first in line. In the meantime, I think it's still worth owning this DVD, if only to see one of the best, most emotional independent films made in the '90s, made against the odds in true guerilla fashion."
Staggeringly involving black comedy/drama hybrid.
D. Mok | Los Angeles, CA | 03/05/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Two girls, a transcendantal friendship of mutual understanding and attraction culminating in murder...before you can yell "Heavenly Creatures", be aware that Fun is at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum both stylistically and dramatically.That said, I find this film even better than the Peter Jackson masterpiece on the strength of less pretension, even better acting, and an earthiness that was the only thing missing from Heavenly Creatures. Melanie Lynskey of Creatures may have nailed the sexual distress of her Pauline Parker role, but she is much less fun to watch than Fun's Alicia Witt, who somehow manages to blend manic romping (her Bonnie character jumps all over rooms, courtyards, suburb neighbourhoods and all over the screen) with true emotional evocation. Her performance to me is more impressive than Renee Humphrey's more straight-forward, brooding one; nevertheless, their fire-and-ice chemistry (aided in no small part by the no-nonsense Lesley Hope and a gallant William R. Moses) make this film impeccable.Hard to believe director Rafal Zielinski's resume began with Screwballs. Here, his exploitation-film roots actually help the film. His no-holds-barred use of black and white and colour, handheld camera vs. smooth dollies, and pogoing visual styles were accused of being "showy" by Martin and Porter; I find the styles necessary and, indeed, very expressive.Exhilirating and deeply disturbing."
A Few Words... Of Warning? Of Enthusiasm?
Angela | Boston, MA | 01/12/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am both driven to warn people about this movie, and to be enthusiastic about it. Definetly not for the faint of heart, it is terribly disturbing. I watched the film with my best friend and we both kept staring at eachother in amazement, which could be a true sign of how masterful the piece is. Great characters and story line. If you think you can handle the psychological implications and chilling plot of this movie, then go for it!"