Poor Things - Photo Searchlight Pictures
Poor Things – Photo Searchlight Pictures

I’m told that Yorgos Lanthimos’s films (“Dogtooth,” “The Lobster,” The Favourite”) are an “acquired taste,” meaning that – at first viewing – they are unpleasant, but after being experienced repeatedly, they’re, perhaps, likeable and can be appreciated.

Unfortunately, I have not found that to be true, particularly as it applies to his newest sci-fi dramedy “Poor Things,” a strange, surreal satire that just won the Best Musical/Comedy Golden Globe and features Golden Globe-winner Emma Stone’s full-frontal nudity.

Adapting Scottish author/artist Alasdair Gray’s 1992 dementedly comic novel, screenwriter Tony McNamara focuses the late-Victorian-era story on the bizarre evolution of Bella Baxter (Stone), a suicidal pregnant woman reanimated by reclusive, facially-scarred mad-scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), who transplants into her cranial cavity the brain of the baby in her womb.

With the inquisitive, impulsive mind of a child and a beautiful woman’s body, hedonistic Bella loves sex in all its permutations – from joyful masturbation to Parisian prostitution. She finds it enticing and empowering. Which is why – eager to experience all the wonders of the world – Bella runs off with womanizing con-artist/lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (mustachioed Mark Ruffalo), much to the consternation of her ‘fiancé,’ medical student Max McCandless (Remy Youssef), Dr. Baxter’s research assistant.

After learning to pleasure herself with a bowl of fruit, Bella tells Max, “Let us touch each other’s genital places!” Then, having discovered fornication, which she calls “furious jumping,” she wonders: “Why do people not do this all the time?”

Following her “La La Land” acclaim, Emma Stone filmed Yorgos Lanthimos’s “The Favourite.”  So she’s developed total trust in the Greek auteur, fearlessly citing nymphomaniacal Bella as “the greatest character I’ll probably ever get to play.” 

“Bella is a bit of a Frankenstein, but she’s also an experiment in the sense that everything is happening very rapidly on her,” Stone told W Magazine. “Her hair grows about two inches every couple of days.” And it’s no coincidence that ‘Godwin’–the first name of the doctor portrayed by Dafoe–was “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelley’s maiden name.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan refers to the evocative artificiality of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) as his inspiration, using early cinematic techniques like miniatures, bizarre lighting and false perspectives. He films the early scenes in London in black-and-white, not introducing jewel-toned color until Bella embarks on her seductive journey of self-discovery.

Whether or not the absurdist perversity – with its many grotesquely explicit carnal scenes – appeals to you, it inevitably sparks controversy. 

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Poor Things” is a formidable, flamboyant, fantastical 7, playing in select theaters.

If racing cars is your passion, perhaps you might enjoy Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” but I found it frustrating in so many ways.

It’s ostensibly a deep dive into the pivotal summer of 1957 when Italian industrialist Enzo Ferrari (Adam Driver) almost lost control of the prestigious race car manufacturer he and his wife Laura (Penelope Cruz) founded in Modena.

Scripted by Troy Kennedy Martin, based on motorsports journalist Brock Yates’ 1991 biography Enzo Ferrari: The Man, The Car, The Races, The Machine, it’s disjointed and – at times – barely coherent.

Enzo Ferrari is still in mourning; his 24 year-old son died the previous year. Given the opening montage of careening cars, one might assume he died in a fiery crash but – no – eventually, it’s revealed that Dino had muscular dystrophy. Crashes consume other characters later on.

Called ‘Commendatore’ (‘Commander’), Enzo is consumed with every detail of the mechanics and design of his fleet of Formula 1 ‘racing red’ cars, their hoods adorned with a prancing black stallion emblem that he’d seen on the downed SPAD S.XIII fighter of Italy’s greatest World War I ace, Count Francesco Baracca.

Downshifting to home, Laura simmers with sorrow and anger. She’s aware of Enzo’s philandering yet, given her stock majority and freehold on the factory, she wields the upper hand in business decisions. 

But when a banker inadvertently refers to Enzo’s two homes, Laura suddenly realizes that Enzo is also living with his longtime mistress Lina Lardi (miscast uber-American Shailene Woodley) and their 12-year-old son Piero (Giuseppe Festinese).  Laura’s resentment and rage surface with a vengeance.

Meanwhile, stoic Enzo is focused on the upcoming Mille Miglia, an annual race spanning a thousand miles across Italy’s bucolic countryside – with cars careening through towns – their streets lined with bales of hay to protect spectators.

Enzo is depending on veteran Piero Taruffi (underutilized Patrick Dempsey) and ambitious Spaniard Alfonso de Portago (Gabriel Leone), whose entourage includes actress Linda Christian (Sarah Gadon), just divorced from actor Tyrone Power.

There are spectacular set-pieces, chronicled by cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, who notes: “All the racing is real there’s no green screen. One of the things that was very important to Michael (Mann) was that the cars should go the speeds that they are prescribed.”

The horrifying accident that claimed several lives, including children, was shot in a continuous take utilizing six cameras. A special effects team rigged a self-driving car that could hit the required speed, launch into the air and tumble before landing in a ditch. 

On the Granger Gauge, “Ferrari” flags in with a 5, playing in theaters.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.