Saturday, November 15, 2014

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in WHIPLASH

Recently I've been seeing films, from this year and other ones, where it's not about simply one thing. And a movie shouldn't be that, it should be about things that can touch us and move us and entertain us in different ways. Whiplash is one of those - possibly the most intense/best film of the year - where it appears to be for a 'niche' audience.

Who rushes out to see movies about jazz drummers? (Well, aside from me with my father, who's been a drummer all his life, but I digress).  Indeed that was the obstacle that faced writer/director Damien Chazzelle when he went ahead to try and make this film (a short was produced first, also featuring J.K. Simmons as the band instructor), and finally when he got his funding together he was clearly ready to go with it - shot in 19 days and executed with an intensity that is reminiscent of Scorsese pictures: fast cutting, intense and dramatic camera movements, and a fiery language and soundtrack.

If you make one J Jonah Jameson joke I will make you eat that fucking cymbal!  (I can't confirm if that's dialog in the movie)

Though this is about people who play music and play jazz, it's about more, much more. It's a protégé/mentor relationship, with a guy who, for most of us, would not want this guy, Fletcher, as an instructor, especially if one is trying to be the very best like the hero, Andrew (Miles Teller). It's a tale of artistic drive and motivation, pushing past the limits of what's expected - think The Red Shoes, or think in sports movie metaphors Rocky (and in ways this is shot and formed like a sports movie, including a finale that is like the "Big Fight" or the "Big Game" or whatever) - and how this can take someone to places that are at best uncomfortable and at worst totally and, by nature logically, self-destructive. And it's a tale of... love, actually (another reviewer pointed this out, but I feel it must be stated again). Love of art, love of life, love to keep going. And the flipside of that: anger, hatred, resentment. This could be a drummer or it could be a friggin' Jedi! And the task-master... well, you seen Full Metal Jacket?

I make all of these comparisons, and they come to mind when such a tremendous work of art is presented before me - I like to try and put it into a greater context, because it is good and strong enough to join those ranks. Chazzelle's film follows Andrew as he joins Fletcher's jazz group at a prestigious music school (no, not like Fame, get that comparison out of here). Fletcher seems like he shouldn't fit into a 21st century educational environment; when he gives later in the film his reasons for doing what he does, it comes down to a railing against what George Carlin called the "P*ssification movement". Why tell someone "Good Job?" That's not enough, certainly at the school this takes place in - or, at least, that's how Fletcher posits his class, and Andrew, who wants to get that good, who has Buddy Rich as his idol, and who may be a nice guy and he wants to have relationships with girls (a she does a nice one who works at a movie theater). 

But to get there... it's rough. It changes you, if you make it your point to go. that. far.  And in this case, the jazz that's played in the film keeps up the tempo that the filmmaker is going for, and it's electrifying, astonishing, and FAST, super fast. Hell, there's a moment involving the speed of playing that could, if, say, marijuana in the 1930's were involved, could be comical. Maybe it is. There are many moments where Simmons, going for it like nobody's business with a character that is so no-BS that you can't take your eyes away, IS funny in a blackly comic way.

Other reference.... Back to School?
Or just by his salty language. Or that it should be absurd. But it's deadly serious - this music, for him, for Andrew, is very serious, could be 'life or death'. It gets to the point where drumming makes the hands bleed. This movie plumbs the depths of "bleeding" for one's art, physically and mentally (usually physically) while creating this absorbing portrait of two men at odds - and yet, in a way, total agreement - with one another.

Whiplash has excellent music, though even for people not usually into jazz; there's almost an element of rock (again, going back to Scorsese and how everything moves to such a rhythm that you're along for the ride), because of the intensity and the pitch. It may be TOO intense. There's certainly a point, let's say right before the third act, it could be incredulous and unrealistic. Chazzelle's reasoning here is to say: who cares? It's a tale of someone reaching for Larger-Than-Life status, so why not go there once or twice.


And the performances are a major asset for the filmmaker, with Teller going further than he's had with The Spectacular Now (the character here is likable, to a point, but his drive turns him into a kind of monster that, in part, just wants to be noticed or stand out in some way), while Simmons gets the role of a lifetime. He's been around and working for so many years, one of those character actors that you can just grin seeing him pop up (or, on Oz, get terrified to see), and here he gets such a meaty character.

It could even be dangerous to play, to go over the top - only Kubrick could usually find the tone for such a performance as with Ermy in the FMJ comparison. But Simmons finds those subtle moments too, where he becomes vulnerable or down to Earth (they're few and far between and, in his character's way, not really part of his make-up).  It may seem reminiscent of other 'Big Bad Instructor' roles, but Simmons finds the grooves and focus to make it his own.  Fletcher is one of the towering, sometimes eerily relatable monsters in modern movies.

And yet there's another level too: the old cliché is "those who can't do teach." The man talks about going beyond greatness - the Charlie Parker anecdote - and yet here is teaching others. The self-hatred is there too, and Simmons taps into that for sure. So that every interaction he has with the people in this band, with Andrew especially, we know where he's coming from and can hate him as the antagonist and driving conflict of the film. And by the end, the question comes: has he met his match?

No confirmation if that's a Blue Velvet ear later on in life...

There's so much to this movie, not to mention the climax which takes two right turns and a left to become one of those masterpiece-climaxes you love seeing in movies, that I hope to return to it for many, many years to come. Chazzelle is now a director to watch, like, for now on.

PS: As for Buddy Rich:

PPS: and the song Whiplash, this is what I thought of first when I heard the title (aside from it being the name of my production company by the way..)

Friday, November 14, 2014

FRIDAY NIGHT CLIP FIX: Dumb & Dumber (1994)

Saw Dumb & Dumber To.  It was missing things like you can see here - comic timing, ingenuinty, original moments, and actual heart.

And yeah, he was pretty old.

PS: It's interesting to think that my first exposure to Nick Cave was when I was ten, before I even knew who he was.  Another reason the sequel sucks - no Nick Cave! 

JODOROWSKY'S DUNE (or: 'The Joyous Attempted-Rape of Frank Herbert')

(Originally this review was written for another site.  Somehow, it never got there.  Like what this film is about!)

A lunch with Alejandro Jodorowsky would be an interesting prospect.  I picture sitting down with him and him being all smiles and cordial, especially if he is someone who senses just the slightest artistic trace in another person, and will leap off into a million different directions and with fervor, zeal and a kind of charm and charisma that comes with true freaks of the avant-garde. 

And I don’t mean ‘Freak’ in the demeaning sense – unless you’re a mindless Hollywood hack who only sees the middle-ground in the top dollar.  Which, of course, was a bit of a problem when Mr. Jodorowsky presented his proposal for a film from Frank Herbert’s Dune series - in a giant book that basically acted as a cornucopia of unique, odd but nonetheless groundbreaking visuals – to executives at studios in 1975.  Not soon after, sci-fi movies became the biggest thing in the world.

Few men can hold such a cat and not look evil

This documentary traces how this man, who is still one of those cult-film icons that will be here to stay long after his death (his films El Topo and The Holy Mountain play regularly at midnight at the IFC Center here in New York, always to big audiences wanting to re-experience things like a man in black on horseback with his naked (!) son, and a diorama of small lizards reenacting Christian satire in a diorama), came to try and make Dune.  He was approached after his early cult successes – he also had a mind-bending run in the theater in the 60’s – by producer Michael Seydoux to make a “big” project next. 

Jodorowsky picked Dune… because why?  He admits, almost gleefully, to have not read the book but had heard about it from friends as it had become itself a phenomenon.  And he wrote a screenplay that he admits also as if at times laughing about it that in the course of adaptation it was like “having a wife” (paraphrasing best to my ability), and that he, for lack of a better word “raped” his wife, that being the Dune book. 

Indeed fans of the series may see some differences just from what Jodorowsky presents to us, and what director Pavich shows to audiences for the first time as excerpts from the Dune workbook – countless drawings, as supervised by French comics legend Moebius, with such changes as, um, the protagonist Paul Atreides, was conceived by his castrated father Duke getting his finger pricked and that blood impregnating his wife.  Oh, and the all-powerful spice that is a major driving force in the books is a, well, blue substance of some sort.  Ultimately it was all an excuse to, as its director put it, would be the cinematic equivalent of “taking acid”. 

This was JODOROWSKY’s Dune, however, not Frank Herbert, and in this immensely entertaining and absorbing documentary, a lot of humor comes not just from the Chilean director himself (and odd flourishes like in an interview his cat just comes up and he takes it into his hands and pets it while talking!) it’s from how he got this ‘team’, or as he called them his “Warriors”, together for pre-production. 

Yes, warriors!  Like.... this proto-Gimp right here!

After just not getting the right vibe from special effects guru Douglas Trumbull, he moved on to a young film student who somehow scored with a B movie called “Dark Star”, Dan O’Bannon, and he was brought on for visual effects.  Pink Floyd was approached, and initially agreed, to do the music for one of the “planets” in the film.  HR Giger, a semi-obscure European artist who had a radical style, came on board to design the evil Harkonnen planet.  And aside from Moebius, who was already a major figure at the time, artist Chris Foss was brought on to design as well. 

Oh, and did I neglect the cast?  Oh boy.  How does this sound: David Carradine, who agreed to do the part after ingesting a whole lot of Vitamin C in Jodrowsky’s presence; surrealist Salvador Dali, who only agreed to do the part for $100,000 dollars per hour (though Jodorowsky, in an interview segment so funny it made my sides hurt, talked about how he decided to offer him even more money – a hundred grand per minute – but to get him off set within a few minutes and use a robotic Dali for the rest of the film); Orson Welles, who agreed on the basis of having a great chef on hand to cook meals.

I think every artist says this at some point...

So much of Jodorowsky’s Dune has the flavor of ‘too good to be true’, which could be a detriment to the proceedings - 'too much' of anything is such, and the movie's pre-production was a testament to that.  What makes the film almost a bittersweet experience as it comes to its final twenty minutes, when we learn about, naturally, every studio in Hollywood rejecting the film proposal in part due to budget (short $5 million) but also as Jodorowsky planned it to be a six hour epic at a time when science fiction movies were almost always 90 minutes. 

YET Hollywood execs still seemed to like that production book that he and his talented team had put together, which included a detailed storyboard that almost acted like a pre-visualization of the entire film.  Not so soon after we got Star Wars, Alien (written by O’Bannon, designed by Giger and Foss), Blade Runner, The Matrix, even David Lynch’s own Dune (which is another funny part – Jorodowsky cheerfully explains how he was afraid to see it… and loved the experience because it was so terrible a film!) 

When you see the film, you may be mixed about how to feel with this experience that Jodorowsky had, of the Great Project Not Meant to Be.  In a moment where he stops being a kind of happy old man, he holds up a dollar bill and proclaims it to be ALL about this, which lacks art and emotion.  At the same time one could argue Jodorowsky, high off of his previous cult successes, didn’t compromise for a moment and saw the production crumble before it could truly begin.  On the other hand, many of his good ideas ended up being filtered back into Hollywood and used by the liked of Lucas and Scott.  The film poises a good question worth exploring: how far can original, innovative ideas go, and at what point do they become part of the marketplace.

 Though there are still silver linings, even for its beleaguered creator (who until this past year at Cannes with The Dance of Reality had only made three films since The Holy Mountain in 1973); he ended up using several visuals and ideas from his Dune project for comic books illustrated by Moebius; an animated series take-off on his Dune script and workbook would be interesting; and by doing this documentary, he reconnected with producer Seydoux, leading to the production of ‘Reality’.  At the age of 84 it could be his last film... and yet, once again on the other hand, to look at a man so vibrant, weird and fantastical making up such radical visions, who ever knows? 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fritz Lang's DR. MABUSE (1922)

Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (aka Dr. Mabuse: The King of Crime) was not an original creation from Fritz Lang and his collaborator/wife Thea von Harbeau, but rather a novel by Norbert Jacques. Or was it a novel? I'd like to think it was more like a serial, or it had to be. This is the kind of material that lends itself to those pulp fiction serials that were to become the thing among people who dug writing that reveled in tales of crime and the bizarre, of people in the underworld getting by with nefarious means, and the cops trying to get them. It's in this realm that Fritz Lang's film of Dr. Mabuse comes from, and he would later go on to make it into a loose trilogy with Testament (1933) and, his swan song, 1,000 Fingers (1960).

In a sense, for me, this unfolds over the course of four and a half hours like some kind of epic comic-book. And I don't mean the ones with Batman (if he was here in this German town, Mabuse wouldn't last an hour). It's more akin to the hard-boiled crime fiction from the past twenty years in the medium - think, for those initiated, Ed Brubaker or the likes of Brian Michael Bendis might do - where a cat-and-mouse game develops between the cop going after the criminal, and the criminal being such a mastermind to always be one step (or more) ahead of the game. Hell, why not craft the game to one's will? And in this sense the good Dr. Mabuse is a classic comic-book ARCH-villain (in caps), complete with a mind-control/hypnosis/'will'-bending power that no one else can take on but him.

Bulls?  Bears?  No - only MABUSE'S BRAIN!

Over the course of this story we find that Dr. Mabuse has this ability, usually through just a cold-dead stare with those blazing eyebrows and varying from different faces (he's also a master of disguise), to get what he wants. This includes, early on, manipulating the stock market to such a degree that he gets fat rich off of a day that goes way down and then way up in quick time. Why he doesn't do this again isn't explained; maybe he just did it to show he could really do it to himself. It's also that he's a megalomaniac, as all great super-villains are, though he doesn't see it. How can he, when he cheats at cards by making the other guy (such as the good Edgar Hull) not see the hand he's got? Or repeating the same Chinese phrase to make someone actually cheat at cards? Matter of fact, he doesn't always have to be right at the table, just in the vicinity like with the poor sap of a Count.

What's impressive, in an odd way for me, is how Lang lays it out in large part in straightforward style. There may be the expected 'German Expressionist' style here and there, but it's mostly just a solid crime story, with the leads going cold, the moves advancing, the supporting players under Mabuse like the fiery Carozza (a sensuous, sorrowful Egede-Nisson) who starts off alive and enchanting dancing on stage and becomes a jail-bird for Mabuse, and the various plays to find out just who this person IS that keeps going from game to game playing people. The only downsides that come up story-wise really is that, in parts, one wonders how this Inspector really can't see some of the signs that things are fishy earlier on (i.e. when the Count and Countess, some of his closer allies, at least with the Countess at a couple of crucial points and scenes, disappear and he doesn't follow up on it right quick).

Hair by Mabuse-and-Shoulders
Maybe it was just the times though, when things were more innocent. I don't think Lang is really that foolish though with his narrative; he's too smart for that. And the epic has plenty of time for subtext for sure; Mabuse comes right out and declares that love cannot be - there's only WILL, and people will follow it when they are called to it. This may be more prophetic of things to come years later - a certain 'Triumph of the Will' may come to mind - but Lang is crafty to make his big fat burger of a crime epic (maybe the first in cinema history like this I wonder) about the rising of power, and what comes when desperation rules. Why even gamble? Well, why not when the game is fixed? It's not that Lang makes Mabuse exactly the 'hero' of the film, very far from it, in conventional terms it's more of a 'team' effort of the Inspector/Prosecutor and those he tries to get to help him.

But Mabuse, with his dark magic and costumes, is the most magnetic thing about the movie, and I'm sure Lang knew in the back of his mind that audiences in Germany could see it as a parable for the times: in desperation, what will people do? Of course, Lang doesn't disappoint with giving some wild images though. His visual tricks and flourishes come when the occult and the Chinese voodoo super-powers come into play; when the Inspector is in disguise - as is Mabuse - and they're playing cards and he repeats the phrase, Mabuse's head becomes disengaged from his body as Lang's camera goes from far away to close, and it's a shocking sight to behold, like a demon, all the more harrowing as neither man knows who the other is.

Either he's your antagonist, or watch the fuck out because he's about to score one helluva symphony!

Also, when the Count, under the hypnosis to stay indoors while his wife, the poor, good-hearted Countess, is being held captive by Mabuse (for what reason is unclear exactly, perhaps the 'sex' question is just never posed, maybe one of the few real flaws for me). He is getting worse, due to drink and desperation, and starts to see Ghosts at the table. It's a wonderful effect, in a way made even more potent because of the means it was done at the time in 22, as each member appears in super-imposition and the slight shakiness of the beings adds to the ghastly effect. And, of course, near the end as, without giving away too much, machines come ALIVE around a particular character.

It must also be noted how magnetic a presence Klein-Rogge is (he'd return as Mabuse in the 1933 sequel/follow-up). He is having the time of his life playing this guy (or one would hope, given Lang's notorious slave-driving tactics on set with his actors). He gets to play an ultimate bad-guy in shades sometimes subtly sinister, like when he makes a surprise visit to the Inspector - and that's one of those scenes which you can point to as 'holding up' over centuries for pure tension between predators - but more-over when he has to really go BIG.

True story, women used to look like this.  What's another word for classy?  I... got nothing.

The make-up and hair changes help, to be sure, especially when (to quote another comic book) he goes all Doctor Strange when being the fake persona of the one who 'invented' this technique of his on stage. That sequence alone would make Dr. Mabuse a must-see, for the staging, for Klein-Rogge, for the tension beat to beat. And this isn't to discount the other actors, either: an aforementioned scene between the actresses playing the Countess and Carlozza in the prison cell, where one may try to 'turn' the other, is delicious in how tables go from one side to the other, and stays kind of sophisticated in how it all goes.

This first Dr. Mabuse isn't perfect, and I'm sure there could be other holes or moments that stand out as unlikely. But for what it is, for its time, for how much energy and passion and guts and action and devilish drama that Lang and company put into this, it's irresistible genre cinema, silent or otherwise. It takes its characters and situations seriously, but is crafted not as some serious polemic about good vs evil - though if you want to take it that way, Lang won't stop you - it's a gigantic "popcorn" movie of its time and place. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Collected Focus-Film

So here's a little something: for about the last year and change, I've been writing off and on for the UK site, Focus-Film.  The good people there brought me on (as an intern in the latter part of my time in grad school) to write news, reviews, and coverage for a whole host of stuff - for a while I even had an awards corner called "Jack's Award Focus" (GET IT?! ::FACE::)

I more often than not did the news pieces, but I got some coverage on films as well there.  How long I'll continue writing for the site, and/or producing reviews for them, I'm not sure.  It's been a while since I sprung my "Classic of the Month" or one of my "Remake Risk" categories where I did an 'Old Vs New" thing with movies.  I could've certainly continued both of those, as well as the regular reviews I did.  Trouble was, there just wasn't that much time with the job I had.

But here I list the films I have reviewed for them.  Hope you enjoy my time having a 'swing' with this British lass...

Classic of the Month:
Henri-Georges Clouzot's DIABOLIQUE


The Marx Brothers in DUCK SOUP

Wim Wenders' PARIS, TEXAS

Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT

Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP

Remake Risk:

Park Chanwook vs Spike Lee: OLDBOY

Brian De Palma vs  Kimberly Pierce: CARRIE

Everything Else:






LIFE ITSELF (kind of a reprint of my review on this blog back in July)

Papa Mike's Video #9: The Monkees in HEAD

'Written' by Jack Nicholson and featuring wildman actor Timothy Carey AND Frank Zappa in the same movie.'  'nuff said, right?

In Head, Bob Rafelson, who had been producing and directing the Monkees TV show for the BBS production company (later to put out Easy Rider, Last Picture Show, his own film Five Easy Pieces and King of Marvin Gardens among others), anything goes.  That's the prevailing attitude, anyway.  Musical numbers are chock-a-block, and for someone like me who is not a Monkeeys fan - nothing inherently against them, I didn't grow up with them is all really - it's actually a great place to go to for not even their mood exactly, but a lampooning of it... ney, a harpooning, exploding, transmogrifying, any way you want to shake at it.

Some of the movie is uproariously funny too, with a few fun songs (and some kinda lame).   Actually, it might just be better than telling you exactly WHAT the movie is about to just show you clips.  I can tell you I dug the movie all I want (I did), but it's hard to put this movie into words.  It's a freak-out, it's a happening, baby.  It's lots of commercial satire and girls screaming and random dream sequences and anything you can shake an LSD stick at kind of filmmaking.

(Oh, and this is a genuinely charming dance sequence, and for me the highlight of the film among many):

You could also put it on double bill with Brian De Palma's Greetings and get a crash course in late 1960s absurdism, tossed with circus-style theatrics (did I mention Zappa has a talking donkey with him?) and with Vietnam as the omnipresent spectre of doom. All the while, the Monkees - Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Mike Nesmith- are still charming throughout the picture, as they are - and this is close as I can get to making this actually sensical - in the midst of filming crazy segments for their TV show, which includes disrupting (at the start of the film) a bridge opening ceremony).    It's all OF a piece in a way and not at the same time.

Nicholson and Rafelson wouldn't make a movie like it again, including the sense of rabid and almost dada-ist montage, and if nothing else, whether you actually DESPISE the movie (and I'd hope not), it is a unique document of a time when Columbia Pictures - a major studio - would green-light this all because of the name of the band.  Head is the kind of movie you smile while having your head tilted at, like a dog looking at a couple of humans fucking.

Oh, and did I mention they're sometimes (or always?) imprisoned by a big black box?  No kidding.

Also, the moral of the story is um.... if you're wandering through the desert and you come across a Coca Cola machine, it better not be empty or that thing is being blown up by a tank!  OR SOMETHING!

Madadayo, Used DVD's! - #5: Lee Daniels' THE PAPERBOY

(Note: the actual title wasn't released *as* The Paperboy, Lee Daniels directed it but he doesn't put his name on ALL his films, sad to report - imagine if that was the case!)

This won't be a long review.  Here's what I have to tell you about The Paperboy, if you want to seek it out - and why shouldn't you, in theory anyway: it's one of the movies made amid the "McConnaisance" where Matthew McConaughey, since I think around William Friedkin's Killer Joe, has been hooked up with a string of movies that are making him one of the biggest stars in the world all over again, preferring directors to subject.  This movie is... weird.  Bizarre.  And it has meaning to it.  And sweat, lots of sweat.  I feel like there must have been outtakes where Daniels' DP had to come in and wipe the brow of the lens.

The story is basically a murder mystery and legal drama, with McConaughey as a Miami report going back to his hometown - this all takes place in Florida or parts around there, it's the South - to investigate a man who is on death row for murder (John Cusack, quite a plum role which he eats up for all his scenes by the way, but I'll get to that more in a moment).  He has a younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron), who is fairly directionless and, of course, got sexual energy to burn.  Ward (McConaughey) puts Jack on his payroll as a driver, and they go about re-tracing the steps of the case alongside reporter partner David Oyewolo.

... and then comes the 'Dame', in Film Noir parlance.  This being Nicole Kidman's character, who is the fiancee of the death row guy.  She uh... has the hots for Efron.  Or maybe he does for her.  In either case, there's a lot of sexual tension in the air, and at one point it comes out in the form of Kidman peeing on Efron... yeah, that happens.  How does it happen?  Should I tell you?  Would you care to know or do you HAVE to know?  

(Seriously, it's not really for a full-blown sexual reason, you might just THINK it is, you sick pervert you..)

In any event, this is all sleazy material deep down, despite there being a story about this guy and did-he-or-didn't-he with McConaughey keeps as the one sort of 'normal' character in the bunch (everyone else is high-strung, too loose, or too crazy to care).  Daniels may actually be creating a really potent, strong atmosphere for the sexual tension in this film - again, sweat, lots of sweat, and sometimes Scott Glenn pops up, too - but it's all just this side of morbidly done in terms of acting.

The 'Oh' face.  I mean... geez.  How about those earrings, huh?
Kidman, it should be said, is having a ball though.  In the past few years, let's say going back even ten years, she's had some characters who are hard to play in the sense of a lot of deep-dark-dramatic emotions (think Rabbit Hole for example).  In this, in gaudy make-up and platinum-blonde hair and heels and a trashy Southern twang, she gets to let loose with a character who doesn't give a flying fuck.  She struts around and makes the men who notice her rather crazy - for Oyewolo's partner character, he's the only one to fully go 'No, thanks' - and this goes for Cusack too, who ends up rubbing one out in a scene.  No, that's not a misprint, he actually masturbates!  (Ok, ok, the actor doesn't, but the character does, during a 'conjugal' tease as it were).

I don't like the movie, on a logical level.  Stuff  in the plot, especially the ending, sometimes doesn't make total sense, some of the dialog is stupid (there's no other word I can find for it), and it's compulsively lurid.  It's the kind of movie I can't say is worth watching, but it is, too.  It's a lurid misfire, and it's hard not to take your eyes off of what Daniels and his actors do here with this hogwash.  But maybe they know it's hogwash, you know.   And it's got Kidman, who steals the show away from McConaughey, who is usually acting in a 'real' movie.  So...

Hmm...  this review did go longer.... huh-huh-huh, 'long'...

Oh, and Macy Gray... damn.  That's some narration there.

PS: That 'ladies' reference is courtesy of Rifftrax.

Madadayo, Used DVD's! - #4: Bret Easton Ellis' THE INFORMERS

Oh what a web we weave, when we live in Los Angeles...

The Informers is drenched in the 1980's; mostly in the synth/techno-driven music but also in the clothes and some (though not all) of the hair, and the dedication to debauchery, drugs, sex, and everything that else comes with the high life when you got money.  Well, let me rephrase this then: the 1980's from a certain point of view.  Reaganomics, baby! 

That of course is from Bret Easton Ellis, the man who has two of the masterful, black-death satirical, quintessential 80's books, Less Than Zero and American Psycho, albeit the latter came out in 1991 it concerns that decade and a mind-set and way of living.  He wrote the book this film, which was directed by Gregor Jordan, was based on but also (co)wrote the script.  Later he had some harsh words about the adaptation and how it was brought to the screen.  Can't blame him.

Ok, naked Amber Heard smoking weed, we good?  Let's move on.
It's one of those multi-story-line type of movies, kind of like Short Cuts if you took out 2/3rds of it and left it out to bake in the LA heat for a few days.  Among the lines (some pun intended) that are laid out here: Billy Bob Thornton as a sleazy movie producer (mostly in his adultery and the movies he makes, Thornton plays him straight) and what his affair with a newscaster played by Winona Ryder is doing to his marriage with Kim Basinger's pill-popping depressive wife.  Their kids are also in the loop of a drug culture, and among this (as the film opens) a young man gets run over by a car while... just standing around getting into shit with another pretty-looking yuppie 20-something, and dies.

In the midst of this, Amber Heard is a party girl - she's mostly naked through the whole movie for you "fappening" assholes out there - but getting too close to the edge of going over-board.  There's a hotel bellboy at one of these places, the late Brad Renfro's final performance (he's good but not much used), and he's connected to Mickey Rourke's super-sleazy criminal who kidnaps a kid for some sort of... well, don't want to get into too much here.

Suffice to say Rourke is Rourke, playing it tough and stoic and not much else.  Which is fine, up to a point.  But did he just wander on set to play the role, or could Jordan give him sufficient direction to broaden the character at all, who knows, it could be the script?  He gives enough presence just to make the scenes go by, neither his finest nor worst work. 

Oh, and there's a rock star in the midst as well, coming from England to perform in a concern, shoot lots of heroin, and be miserable as he listens to over-blown movie pitches for gaudy rock spectacle movies - and the young people in the movie are fans of his.  There's also other relationship stuff, Basinger at one point fucks one of the yuppie guys with the wild-and-whatever 80's hair, and someone shoots a music video.

So a lot of THINGS happen in the movie.  And some of the actors are actually game for this.  Basinger really brings her all to the material, in scenes where she tries her best to hold back - a family dinner where the intentions of estranged husband and wife getting back together after a separation nearly comes apart due to tension on all sides - and when she explodes and confronts her husband for being such an asshole.  She goes for broke in that scene and a couple of others, but I felt like the script could have been stronger, that she had to go that much harder into the melodrama to make it click at all.  Same for Winona Ryder's few scenes, though she doesn't have as complicated a character to play (her big moment is actually at a restaurant confronted by obnoxious fans).

Well... at least Ifans isn't the Lizard from Amazing Spider-Man...
It actually starts promisingly, with this group of young people and their drama, some 'soap' some 'melo' in nature, involving the aftermath of this guy dying.  What are they to do?  Does it matter?  Oh, and there's another side involving Harry Connick Jr (I think - no, Chris Isaak, sorry) and his son and him being a womanizing jerk... And then... more things.  Like, get this you guys: AIDS!

Well, maybe it IS an accurate portrait of Reagan era 80s, with all its aimless LA people unsure what to do if it doesn't mean fucking up or fucking others or fucking over or all kinds of 'fuck'.  But it flails about in its second act, and the director see-saws too much between this material becoming soap opera and actual penetrating drama.   It's frustrating, and I think it may be more on how Jordan gets these people to go in a scene, to work with material that if not played for the icky satire it is deep down can be just ugly stuff on practically all irredeemable characters/situations.  Like, pick one and stick with it guy!  It also doesn't help when people who COULD be better, like Amber Heard, don't have anywhere to go - by the end the thought I had was: who cares?

Twin Peaks: 90210
In other words, it's a fine line to tread, reveling in the decadence and bawdiness and errors of people who have a lot of money and a lot of time and have lost their ways and hearts and minds completely, and criticizing it, or finding new interesting ground to probe.  The Informers doesn't get there.  

And with that rock star... is he fully a vampire?  I thought that was the idea in the book, but I digress, sort of.