Embracing the Melodrama Part II #88: Dream Lover (dir by Nicholas Kazan)


Dream_Lover_FilmPosterThe 1994 film Dream Lover is almost as strange as Zandalee.

Dream Lover opens with Roy Reardon (James Spader, giving a very James Spaderish performance) in the process of getting divorced.  Sitting in court, he announces that he’s fired his attorney and that he’s no longer contesting the divorce.  The judge informs him that, if he did contest the divorce, the final judgment would be in his favor.  Roy says that doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t want to contest the divorce.

In the next scene, Roy’s ex-wife tells him that he’s a great guy and that it’s too bad that they couldn’t make the marriage work.  They agree that they were just too different.  She apologizes for cheating on him.  Roy apologizes for hitting her.  They agree that Roy has trust issues.

Over the next few minutes of the film, we follow Roy over the course of his new single life.  We discover that Roy is a successful architect who is always attracted to brunette artists with troubled backstories.  We also discover that Roy’s best friend is an obnoxious yet strangely likable guy named Norman (Larry Miller, who brings some unexpected depth to an obnoxious character).  Norman begs Roy for money.  Roy refuses to give it to him.  Norman invites Roy to an art gallery and offers to set him up with a woman he knows.  Roy agrees.  And, seriously, the first 20 minutes of the film are so dominated by Norman that you’re kind of surprised when the film moves on and he’s no longer in every scene.

(But then again, that’s the type of film that Dream Lover is.  Characters appear and vanish at random.  Plot points are raised and then abandoned.)

Anyway, Roy’s date is disastrous.  (“You don’t like me,” the woman says as tears stream down her face.)  However, during the date, Roy meets Lena (Madchen Amick).  When first they meet, they fight.  Then they run into each other again at the grocery store and they hit it off.  They go to dinner and, despite having a good time, Lena makes a point of not inviting Roy up to her apartment.  The next night, Roy shows up unannounced and Lena does invite him up.  At first, she’s cold towards him.  Then they’re making love.  And then they’re getting married.  And then the clowns show up…

Oh yes, there are clowns in this movie.  Roy is haunted by visions, where he’s at a carnival and random clowns pop up and say cryptic things to him.  “How’s the family?” one asks.  Another one continually reminds him that he doesn’t know much about Lena.

Years pass by.  Lena and Roy have two children but it continues to nag at Roy that he doesn’t know anything about her.  He worries that she’s cheating on him.  He fears that the children are not his.  Roy’s friends tell him that he’s being paranoid.  Roy argues that paranoia is just a heightened form of consciousness.

Roy starts to investigate Lena’s past and here’s where I really laughed out loud.  Roy finds out that Lena is from North Texas and goes down to her hometown.  As Roy arrives in this tiny country town, the camera reveals a huge mountain in the background.  Really, Dream Lover?  A mountain in North Texas?

Anyway, for me, this film never really recovered from that mountain but, if you can overlook that geographic mistake, Dream Lover is occasionally enjoyable because it is such a weird film.  James Spader is hot, Madchen Amick is beautiful, and the entire film features one of those huge and improbable twists that you simply have to see for yourself.

And you can see it because it’s currently available on Netflix!

San Andreas Has A Lot To Live Up To


2012

I was just reminded by pantsukudasai that this weekend was when San Andreas premieres.

It stars Dwayne “Not Just The Rock Anymore” Johnson going up against his toughest foe yet. Who will win in the grudge match of the century between The Rock and the San Andreas fault? We will just have to see and find out this weekend.

Yet, for all the disasterific destruction porn shown in the trailer for San Andreas it seems quite quaint when put up against the King of All Disaster Porn: 2012.

One would think that filmmakers would just look at 2012 and just give up when trying to make a disaster film. The trailer below just lists everything which made 2012 the greatest disaster film of all-time and puts it up there as one of the greatest feat of art ever conceived.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #87: One False Move (dir by Carl Franklin)


One_false_moveWho doesn’t love Bill Paxton?

Seriously, he’s just one of those actors.  He’s appeared in a countless number of films and he’s played a lot of different characters.  He was a psycho vampire in Near Dark.  He was the underwater explorer who got stuck with all of the worst lines in Titanic.  In Frailty, he was a father who was driven to murder by heavenly visions.  He was the sleaziest of sleazes in Nightcrawler.  And, of course, in Big Love, he was an unrepentant polygamist.  In all of these roles, Paxton showed the quirkiness that has made him so beloved to film lovers like me.  Much like Kevin Bacon, it doesn’t matter what role Bill Paxton is playing.  You’re going to like him and you’re going to be happy to see him onscreen.

And yet, considering just how many popular films that he’s appeared in, it’s interesting to note that Bill Paxton’s best performance can be found in a film about which not many people seem to have heard.  That film is the 1992 Southern crime drama, One False Move.

Actually, it does the film a disservice to refer to it as merely being a crime drama.  I mean, it is a drama and it even has a properly dark ending to prove that fact.  And it is about criminals and police officers.  But ultimately, the film’s plot is just a starting point that the film uses to examine issues of culture, race, and guilt.  In the end, One False Movie is an unexpectedly poignant and penatrating character study of 5 very different people.

We start out with three criminals.  Ray (played by Billy Bob Thornton, who also co-wrote the script) is a career criminal, a white trash redneck who is not particularly smart but who is dangerous because he’s ruthless and he’s willing to whatever he need to do to survive.  (If you’ve lived in the country, you will recognize Ray’s type as soon as you see him.)  Ray’s girlfriend is Fantasia (Cynda Williams), a beautiful but insecure woman.  And finally, there’s Ray’s partner and former cellmate, Pluto (Michael Beach).  Of the three of them, Pluto is the most menacing, a knife-wielding sociopath with an IQ of 150.  Even though he’s working with Ray and Fantasia, Pluto always makes it clear that he considers himself to be both separate from and better than both of them.

Ray, Pluto, and Fantasia have just brutally murdered 6 people in Los Angeles, all of whom were friends of Fantasia’s.  Now, they’re making their way to Houston, planning on selling stolen cocaine.  Pursuing them are two LAPD detective, Cole (Jim Metzler) and McFeeley (Earl Billings).  When Cole and McFeeley come across evidence that the three criminals might have a connection with the tiny town of Star City, Arkansas, they call up the local sheriff.

And that’s where Bill Paxton shows up.

Paxton plays Sheriff Dale Dixon.  Dale’s nickname is Hurricane and it’s soon obvious why.  Like a hurricane, Dale never stops moving.  He’s a well-meaning but hyperactive good old boy who has a talent for saying exactly the wrong thing.  When he first talks to Cole and McFeeley over the phone, he amuses them with his enthusiastic bragging and briefly offends them with his casual racism.

Cole and McFeeley eventually end up taking a trip to Star City, so that they can investigate how the three criminals are connected to this tiny town.  When Dixon meets up with them, he asks them if they could help him get a job with the LAPD.  The two cops initially humor Dixon and laugh at him behind his back.  When Dixon’s wife (a wonderful performance from Natalie Canerday) asks Cole to keep Dixon safe, Cole assures her that Ray, Fantasia, and Pluto are probably not even going to come anywhere near Star City.

However, Dixon soon reveals to the two cops that Fantasia’s name is Lila and that her family lives in Star City.  What he doesn’t tell them, however, is that he and Lila have a personal connection of their own…

One False Move is a twisty and intense thriller, one that’s distinguished by strong performances from the entire cast.  (Even Metzler and Billings bring unexpected shadings to Cole and McFeeley, who, in any other film, would have been portrayed as being stock characters.)  But the film is truly dominated by Bill Paxton.  When we first meet Dixon, he seems like a joke.  We’re sure that he’ll somehow end up being the film’s hero (because that’s what happens in movies about small town sheriffs being underestimated by big city cops) but what we’re not expecting is that Dale is going to turn out to be such a multi-layered and fascinating character.  Just as Dale eventually starts to lower his defenses and reveal who he truly is, Paxton also starts to reign in his initially overwhelming performance and reveals himself to be a subtle and perceptive actor.  It’s a great performance that elevates the entire film.  Al Pacino won the 1992 Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Scent of a Woman.  That award should have gone to the unnominated Bill Paxton.

It wouldn’t be fair to reveal One False Move‘s secrets.  It’s a film that you really should see for yourself.

Neon Dream #11: Kinski – Semaphore


I will never summon ethereal fire spirits to rend my foes, and unless the unknown reaches of physics politely comply with Hollywood, I will never receive a post card from the dark side of the Milky Way. I will also never applaud a director’s effective use of taste and smell, or upload a backup of my memory to external storage in between breakfast and a morning shower, but there is a difference here…

Nearly every cyberpunk story I have encountered begins with an apocalypse shortly after its publication. I guarantee you someone is writing one right now in which, in 2020, either Putin or radical Islamists nuke the shit out of everybody. Now it is 2060, and all of a sudden everyone is rocking cybernetic implants, babies grow in artificial wombs, and Lunar Colony Beta just declared independence. It’s not an absurdity. It’s not as if people just go “it’s the future; of course it will be futuristic!” and ignore the context. The assumption is that a cataclysmic act of destruction will somehow propel technology towards radical progress.

This makes sense, if you think about the forces that drive technology forward. In capitalism, there is always an incentive to stagnate. The longer you can milk a product, pumping out new models with superficial “upgrades”, the less you have to invest into research and development. Especially in oligopolies like America, once you establish a monopoly you can dig in your heels for years, even decades, before competition on other fronts undermines your turf. Technology is also hardballed by the western world’s incoherent, slapped-together code of ethics. Since the 1980s, our society has been pretty thoroughly convinced that free will is an endangered species preservable only in captivity. Half of the potential at our fingertips is illegal to research let alone implement, on the grounds that it somehow violates our sanctity.

The post-apocalyptic setting washes us clean of our old ethics and oligarchs. The society that emerges might be a terrible place to live, but it may well be a technocracy. When capitalism undermined the old aristocracy, revolution created bourgeois democracy. The First World War birthed all sorts of hyper-industrial dictatorships, even at the far fringes of the Industrial Revolution’s sphere. A catastrophic event in the information age should, if the trend holds, generate Google empires. How long can conventionally mechanized warlords withstand against soldiers modified to receive live satellite imagery of their terrain and fully regenerate major wounds in a matter of months? Is 45 years too soon for all this? Mother Russia went from de facto feudalism to Sputnik in fewer. And we have to make some allowances for fiction…

There is nothing fundamental preventing massive progress towards biological enhancement–at least nothing we are commonly aware of. The Cyborg Age won’t emerge in our lifetimes, realistically, but only because of entrenched social, political, and economic conditions. The fictional cataclysm is compelling for a lot of bigger reasons, but plausibility still hangs in the air. Our cozy modern lives won’t take us anywhere, but maybe a little pandemonium will usher in the paradigm shift to a society which praises integration of digital technology into our biological systems.

Kinski are a post-rock band from Seattle that formed in 1998. “Semaphore” appears on their 2003 Sub Pop release, Airs Above Your Station. I am pretty sure that the opening two minutes contains a formula to reconcile quantum mechanics with general relativity, but I am too old to do acid. At any rate, I hear it as some sort of major shift in perspective inaugurating an era of progression.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #86: Zandalee (dir by Sam Pillsbury)


Zandalee

“I want to shake you naked and eat you alive…”

— Johnny (Nicolas Cage) in Zandalee (1991)

As you can probably guess from the quote above, Zandalee is a crazy little movie.

Zandalee takes place in New Orleans, which means that there’s a lot of rain, a lot of jazz, a lot of flamboyant accents, and a lot of sweat.  Zandalee (Erika Anderson) owns a boutique and spends most of her time jogging across the city.  (Zandalee has reddish hair, comes from a Catholic background, and runs a lot so naturally, I related to her.)

During one of her runs, Zandalee happens to pass a thief who is being chased by the police.  The thief flirts with her even while he’s being arrested.  The thief, interestingly enough, is played by a surprisingly hot Steve Buscemi.  Even more interesting is that, though his character makes a dramatic entrance and gets a lot of good lines, Buscemi doesn’t appear again until near the very end of the movie.  There’s really no point to Buscemi being in the film but somehow, it just seems right for him to suddenly be there.

And really, that’s the type of film that Zandalee is.  Odd characters pop up and then disappear.  Plot points are raised and then abandoned.  Events play out almost at random, as if Zandalee’s morning runs are taking her further and further into a dream world.

(It’s all a bit like Lost River, except for the fact that Zandalee is actually memorable in its weirdness, as opposed to just being annoying.)

Zandalee is married to Thierry (Judge Reinhold), a former poet who has abandoned his literary ambitions and taken over the family business.  Now, he’s mostly a figurehead who spends all of his time hanging out with drunk and uninteresting Philistines.  Thierry is so guilt-ridden over giving up poetry that he’s been rendered impotent.  Try as he might, he cannot make love.  As he puts it, while standing naked and staring out into the dark night, he is “a paraplegic of the soul.”

And then Johnny (Nicolas Cage) shows up.  Johnny was Thierry’s childhood friend.  Johnny is a painter and, from the minute he arrives, he’s giving Thierry a hard time for selling out.  Johnny also has long, stringy hair and a mustache and goatee.  He speaks in Nicolas Cage’s trademark muffled monotone, muttering lines of philosophical pretension.  When we first meet Johnny, he’s with Remy (Marisa Tomei, who much like Steve Buscemi, pops up and then vanishes and yet somehow it still seems totally appropriate that she’s in the film) but soon, Johnny has decided that he wants Zandalee.

Or, as he tells her when he approaches her during one of her runs, “I like it when you don’t wear anything underneath….”

Soon, Johnny and Zandalee are having a passionate affair.  Much as Zandalee once inspired Thierry’s poetry, she now inspires Johnny’s art.  Of course, Johnny is also inspired by cocaine.  Along with selling it and snorting it, Johnny also mixes it with olive oil and dips his fingers in it before fingering Zandalee.  And, as effective as some of these Johnny/Zandalee scenes are, it’s still impossible to watch all of this without thinking, “What the Hell, Nicolas Cage!?”

(Even by the standards of Nicolas Cage, Zandalee is a strange film.)

Anyway, eventually, Zandalee breaks it off with Johnny and Johnny’s paintings starts to suffer.  Thierry realizes what has been going on and it all leads to the scene below.

And, believe it or not, that all happens during the first hour!  Even after that epic dance off, there’s still another half hour of melodrama to go!  Zandalee is a seriously odd movie.

Zandalee can be viewed, in its uncensored entirety, on YouTube.  Usually, I’d embed the film at the bottom of this review but Zandalee is so extremely NSFW that it’s probably safer if you just go to YouTube and search for it yourself.

niccagezandaleeSeriously, Nic Cage wants you to do it.

So, I Finally Watched Grace of Monaco…


Grace_of_Monaco_PosterWell, I finally saw Grace of Monaco and…

Oh God.

Seriously, I am sitting here right now and I am just thinking to myself, “Oh God, do I really have to try to think up something interesting to say about this movie?”  Grace of Monaco is not a good movie but, at the same time, it’s bad in the worst way possible.  It’s not so bad-that-its-entertaining.  Instead, it’s just a dull misfire.

In fact, probably the only really interesting thing about Grace of Monaco is that it is the first film to go from opening Cannes to premiering on Lifetime.  Though it may seem impossible to believe now, there was a time in 2013 when everyone was expecting Grace of Monaco to be a major Oscar contender.  It seemed like everyone was saying that Nicole Kidman was a lock for a best actress nomination and maybe more!

Then the film’s American release date was moved from November of 2013 to June of 2014.  Rumor had it that the infamous Harvey Weinstein was chopping up the film and destroying the vision of director Olivier Dahan.  “Bad Harvey!” we all said.  (Of course, having now seen the film, I can understand why Harvey may have had some concerns…)

Okay, we told ourselves, Grace of Monaco probably won’t be a best picture contender.  But surely Nicole Kidman can get a nomination.  Surely the costumes and the production design will be honored…

And then the film played opening night at the Cannes Film Festival and it was greeted with less than appreciate reviews.  In fact, the reaction to the film was so negative that it has since become somewhat legendary.

And so, the American premiere was canceled.  The film opened in Europe, where it made little money and received scathing reviews.  But it was destined to never play in an American theater.  Instead, Grace of Monaco was sold to the Lifetime network.

And, after all of the drama and the waiting, I finally got to see Grace of Monaco tonight and … well, bleh.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a pretty movie.  I loved looking at what everyone was wearing.  I enjoyed looking at the ornate settings.  Whenever Grace Kelly stopped to look out at the view from the palace, I appreciated it because it was a beautiful view.  If I had hit mute and simply enjoyed the film as a look at beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes and living in beautiful houses, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.

But, unfortunately, Grace of Monaco has a plot that gets in the way.  The evil French, led by Charles De Gualle (played by Andre Penvern, who gives a performance that would probably be more appropriate for a James Bond film), want to take over Monaco because the citizens of Monaco don’t pay any income tax.  (I was totally Team Monaco as far as this was concerned.  Everyone should stop paying their taxes.  If we all do it, we’ll be fine.  They can’t prosecute all of us!)  Only Princess Grace Kelly can stop them but first, she has to convince her headstrong husband, Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), to listen to her opinions.  She has to convince her subjects that she’s more than just an opinionated American.

But Grace doesn’t just want to keep the French out of Monaco!  She also wants to return to her film career.  Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) wants her to star in Marnie.  (Hitchcock is always filmed as being slightly out-of-focus.)  Rainier doesn’t want her to return to acting.  And neither does a priest played by Frank Langella…

What was Frank Langella doing in this movie?  I have no idea.  He was some sort of advisor.  I understand that he’s based on a historical figure but honestly, the film was so boring that I can’t even bring myself to go on Wikipedia to find out who exactly he was.

But really, the main issue with Grace of Monaco is that it tells us absolutely nothing about Grace Kelly.  The film doesn’t seem to know who she was or what it wants to say about her.  And Nicole Kidman is a good actress and I hope that I look as good as she does when I’m 47 and after I’ve given birth to two children but seriously, she seems to be totally lost in this film.  Olivier Dahan fills the film with close-ups of Kidman’s face but for what reason?  Never for a minute do we believe we’re looking at the face of the star of High Noon, Rear Window, or To Catch A Thief.  Instead, we’re always aware that we’re looking at Nicole Kidman and she doesn’t seem to be sure just what exactly she’s supposed to be doing.  We learn nothing about Grace, Monaco, France, royalty, or movies.

And it’s a shame really.  Because the story of Grace Kelly would make a great film.  But Grace of Monaco doesn’t really tell you anything about her life.

It’s just boring and a film about an actress like Grace Kelly has absolutely no right to be boring.

Late To The Party : “Ouija”


ouija-movie-poster

 

I was thinking of sub-titling this review “What To Expect When You’re Expecting Nothing,” or something equally less-than-clever, but it just seemed too damn obvious — I mean, how many of us were expecting 2014’s Ouija to actually be any good?

Let’s face it — Hasbro inking a deal with Michael Bay’s Plantinum Dunes to make a series of movies based on their various board games is probably a pretty stupid idea for a number of reasons — not the least of which is that Clue probably just plain can’t be topped in the “best-board-game-movie-of-all-time” category — but what can I say? While there was no way in hell I was going to spring to see Ouija when it was out in theaters, I added it to my Netflix DVD queue when it came out simply because I like to punish myself from time to time by sticking my head into the toilet bowl of PG-13 “horror.” I guess I’m just masochistic like that.

All that being said, director Stiles White (who co-wrote the film’s screenplay along with Juliet Snowden) manages to under-perform here even though the bar was set exeptionally low. We’ve all seen the “malignant spirit haunts teenagers” trope done to death, to be sure, but rarely is everyone so clearly and plainly going through the motions as they are in Ouija. It’s like somebody figured out how to put celluloid on Xanax and then sat back to see what the end result would be.

download (1)

Speaking of Xanax,  Olivia Cooke, of sleazy prime-time soap Bates Motel, certainly looks and acts like she’s on it — she absolutely can’t carry a film, as she ably demonstrates in her starring turn here as nominal heroine Laine Morris. She has precisely one facial expression — the “concerned as shit” look — and can’t even manage to get away from it entirely when she’s supposed to be smiling and looking happy. Not that she’s got a whole lot to be happy about, mind you, given that her best friend, Debbie Galardi (Shelley Hennig) apparently just killed herself after playing around with a Ouija board (hint to Hasbro, by the way — if the primary goal of your newfound motion picture enterprise is to move more of your product, as I’m assuming it is, suggesting that said product actually works in terms of conjuring up evil ghosts maybe isn’t the smartest idea). So, like any intrepid young protagonist, the charisma-free zone that is Laine decides that she’ll get her boyfriend, Trevor (Daren Kagasoff), their friend Isabelle (Bianca A, Santos), and dead Debbie’s (now ex-, I suppose) boyfriend,  Pete (Douglas Smith) together to hold a seance at the scene of the crime. When her perpetual-pain-in-the-ass younger sister, Sam (Ana Coto), proves once again that she can’t be left home alone while their dad is out of town, she gets dragged along to the party, as well.

I fucked around with Ouija boards plenty when I was younger, but one thing this flick taught (a term I use very loosely, I assure you) me is that if you look through the plastic-coated hole in the center of the planchette, you’re supposed to be able to see whatever ghost it is you’ve disturbed from their slumber. Laine certainly sees one, and from there on out, our plucky young crew is put through the dullest, most un-involving “living hell” you’re ever likely to see play out before your eyes — suffice to say, the haunted shit they’re all being subjected to ties in to a (yawn!) ghastly crime committed at Debbie’s house many years ago. And in order for the spirits to rest, they’ve gotta (yawn again!) put things right.

ouija-movie-1-720x380

Further details are probably pointless here, but that’s okay — so is the movie itself. I’ve been sitting here scratching my head trying to think of one thing Ouija has to recommend in its favor, but I gotta be honest — I’m drawing a complete blank. The acting’s bad, the story’s stupid and predictable, the “scares” are anything but scary, and the whole thing is a rancid mess.

That may sound harsh, but trust me when I say that, if anything, I’m actually underselling how genuinely lame this thing is. I almost didn’t even bother to review it because it was too easy a target, but I figured that if I could warn off at least one other person from seeing it, then I could chalk it up as my good deed for the day.Sure, the picture and sound quality on the DVD are both fine (I can’t really comment on the extras because the disc I got from Netflix was one of those “bare-bones” rental versions, sorry), but so what? It’s a brand new movie, the technical specs should be flawless.

olivia-cooke-in-ouija-movie-7

So — what do you get when you go into a movie expecting nothing? In the case of Ouija, precisely that.