What Lisa Watched Last Night #167: The Killing Pact (dir by John Lyde)


Last night, I watched The Killing Pact on Lifetime!

Why Was I Watching It?

Because it was on Lifetime, of course!  Y’all know that I can’t resist a Lifetime movie, especially one that has the word “killing” in the title.  At the very least, I figured The Killing Pact would feature the over the top melodrama and tasteful interior design that we’ve all come to expect from Lifetime movies.

(That said, The Killing Pact was advertised as being a premiere but, actually, it aired on the Lifetime Movie Network last month.  I DVR’d it when it first aired but I hadn’t gotten around to watching it yet.  By watching it on Lifetime last night, I was able to clear a little more space on my DVR.  Yay!)

 What Was It About?

Strangers In An Uber!

Strangers In A Train Without The Train!

Take your pick, they’re both adequate descriptions of what was going on in The Killing Pact.  When Hayley (Emily Rose), a single mother and Uber driver, gives a ride to two weirdos (Melanie Stone and Brandon Ray Olive), she is drawn into an unexpected situation.  It turns out that all three of them have people in their lives that they wish were dead.  So, why not agree to a killing pact?  At first, Hayley thinks it’s all a joke but then her sleazy loser of an ex-husband is brutally murdered.  Hayley’s new friends have kept their end of the bargain.  Now, it’s time for Hayley to do her part…

What Worked?

I liked the look of the film.  Almost every scene was drenched in this moody, overcast atmosphere and, as a result, the film was almost always interesting to look at, even if the plot didn’t always work.  There was one scene — of Hayley pulling up in front of a cheap motel — that I thought was especially well put together.  The dark clouds, the wet pavement, the dilapidated motel — the whole scene was full of menace.

What Did Not Work?

For the most part, this film just didn’t work for me.  At first, I was a little confused as to why the movie was doing so little for me but, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the film just moved way too slowly, especially for a movie that was frequently interrupted by commercials.  The typical Lifetime film has 8 acts.  That means that, over the course of a typical Lifetime movie, there are at least 7 cliffhangers, all designed to make you stick around through the commercials so you can see what happens during the 8th act.  The Killing Pact, however, felt more like a three or four act movie.  There was no forward momentum to hold your interest even through the commercial breaks.  The film’s pacing was definitely off and Lifetime films are all about maintaining a steady pace.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

One of the murders involved an autocratic theater producer.  It reminded me of all the murders that nearly occurred during a community theater production of Little Shop of Horrors that I was once involved with.

Lessons Learned

Pacing is everything!

4 Shots From 4 Fulci Films: Beatrice Cenci, Four of the Apocalypse, Contraband, The Beyond


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Today is the birthday of the Italian film director, Lucio Fulci!  In honor of the big day, here are 4 shots from 4 films!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Beatrice Cenci (1969, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Four of the Apocalypse (1975, dir by Lucio Fulci)

Contraband (1980, dir by Lucio Fulci)

The Beyond (1981, dir by Lucio Fulci)

 

4 Shots From 4 Underground Films: Vinyl, Beauty No. 2, Kitchen, Chelsea Girls


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

We survived Tuesday the 13th!

To celebrate, here are 4 shots from 4 underground films!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Vinyl (1965, directed by Andy Warhol)

Beauty No. 2 (1965, dir by Andy Warhol)

Kitchen (1966, dir by Andy Warhol)

Chelsea Girls (1966, dir by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey)

Film Review: Factory Girl (dir by George Hickenlooper)


Oh God.  Factory Girl.

Released in 2006, Factory Girl was a biopic about Edie Sedgwick, the tragic model/actress/artist who was briefly both Andy Warhol’s muse and one of the most famous women in America.  Before I talk too much about this film, I should probably admit that I’m probably the worst possible person to review a movie about Edie Sedgwick.

Why?

Allow me to repost something that I wrote when I reviewed Edie’s final film, Ciao Manhattan:

“In the late 60s, Edie Sedgwick was a model who was briefly the beautiful face of the underground.  Vogue called her a “youthquaker.”  She made films with Andy Warhol, she dated the rich and the famous and for a brief time, she was one of the most famous women in America.  But a childhood full of tragedy and abuse had left Edie fragile and unprepared to deal with the pressures of being famous.  She was fed drugs by those who claimed to care about her, she had numerous mental breakdowns, and, when she was at her most vulnerable, she was pushed away and rejected by the same people who had loved her when she was on top of the world.  Edie died because, when she asked for help, nobody was willing to listen.

 

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

I guess I should explain something.  I don’t believe in reincarnation but if I did, I would swear that I was Edie Sedwick in a past life.  Of all the great icons of the past, she, Clara Bow, andVictoria Woodhull are the ones to whom I feel the closest connection. (Edie is the reason why, for the longest time, I assumed I would die when I was 28.  But now I’m 29, so lucky me.)”

(Incidentally, I wrote that two years ago and I’m still alive so, once again, lucky me.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m always going to be a hundred times more critical of a film about Edie Sedgwick as I would be about any other film.  If you’re already guessing that I didn’t particularly care for Factory Girl, you’re right.  However, there are some people whose opinions I respect and some of them love this film.

Anyway, Factory Girl is a biopic that’s structured so conventionally that it even opens with Edie (played by Sienna Miller) narrating her story to an unseen interviewer.  I can count on one hand the number of successful biopics that have featured someone telling the story of their life to an unseen interviewer.  It’s a conventional and kind of boring technique.  Anyway, the film follows all of the expected beats.  Edie arrives in New York.  Edie is spotted by Andy (Guy Pearce).  Edie makes films with Warhol.  Her famous dance in Vinyl is recreated.  Edie becomes Andy’s platonic girlfriend but then, she meets and falls in love with Bob Dylan…

Oh, sorry.  He’s not actually Bob Dylan.  According to the credits, his name is Folksinger.  He says Bob Dylan type stuff.  He rides around on a motorcycle.  He carries a harmonica.  Oh, and he’s played by Hayden Christensen.

See, the first half of Factory Girl is actually not bad.  Sienna Miller gives a pretty good performance as Edie, even if she never comes close to capturing Edie’s unforced charisma.  Despite being several years too old, Guy Pearce is also credible as Andy Warhol.  The film itself is full of crazy 60s clichés but, even so, that’s not always a terrible thing.  Some of those 60s clichés are a lot of fun, if they’re presented with a little imagination.

But then Hayden Christensen shows up as Bob Dylan and the film loses whatever credibility it may have had.  Hayden, who gave his best performance when he played a soulless and largely empty-headed sociopath in Shattered Glass, is totally miscast as a musician who once said that if people really understood what his songs were about, he would have been thrown in jail.  The film attempts to portray Dylan and Warhol as two men fighting for Edie’s soul but Christensen is so outacted by Guy Pearce that it’s never really much of a competition.  Even though the film makes a good case that Edie’s relationship with Andy was ultimately self-destructive, Guy Pearce is still preferable to Hayden Christensen trying to imitate Dylan’s distinctive mumble.

Anyway, Factory Girl doesn’t really work.  Beyond the odd casting of Hayden Christensen, Factory Girl is too conventionally structured.  In its portrayal of the Factory and life in 1960s New York, the film never seems to establish a life beyond all of the familiar clichés.  (Before anyone accuses me of contradicting myself, remember that I said that the old 60s clichés are fun if they’re presented with a little imagination.  That’s a big if.)  At no point, while watching the film, did I feel as if I had been transported back to the past.  If you want to learn about Edie Sedgwick, your best option is to try to track down her Warhol films.

Edie!

Film Review: Basquiat (dir by Julian Schnabel)


Basquiat.  I love this movie.

I Shot Andy Warhol was not the only 1996 film to feature Andy Warhol as a character.  He was also a prominent supporting character in Basquiat.  In this film, he’s played by David Bowie and Bowie gives a far different performance than Jared Harris did in I Shot Andy Warhol.  Whereas Harris played Andy as a detached voyeur, Bowie’s performance is far more sympathetic.  (Of course, it should be noted that Harris and Bowie were playing Andy Warhol at very different points in the artist’s life.  Harris played the younger, pre-shooting Warhol.  Bowie played the older, post-shooting Warhol.)

Then again, it’s not just Andy Warhol who is portrayed more positively in Basquiat than in I Shot Andy Warhol.  The entire New York art scene is portrayed far more positively in Basquiat.  Whereas I Shot Andy Warhol was a film about an outsider who was destined to forever remain an outsider, Basquiat is a film about an outsider who becomes an insider.  On top of that, Basquiat was directed by a fellow insider, painter Julian Schnabel.

The film itself is a biopic of Jean-Michel Basquiat (very well played by Jeffrey Wright), the graffiti artist who, in the 1980s, briefly became one of the superstars of the New York art scene.  However, it’s less of a conventional biopic and more of a meditation on what it means to be an artist.  Throughout the film, Basquiat looks up to the New York skyline and sees a surfer riding a wave across the sky.  The image itself is never explicitly explained.  We never learn why, specifically, Basquiat visualizes a surfer.  But then again, that’s what makes the surfer a perfect symbol of Basquiat’s artistic sensibility and talent.  It’s a reminder that, while we can appreciate an artist’s work, only the artist can truly understand what that work is saying.  All attempts to try to explain or categorize art are as pointless as trying to understand why that surfer is in the sky.  Ultimately, the why is not as important as the simple fact that the surfer is there.

The film follows Basquiat as he goes from living on the streets to being a protegé of Andy Warhol’s and, until he overdosed on heroin, one of the shining lights of the New York art scene.  Along the way, Basquiat struggles to maintain a balance between art and the business.  In one of the key scenes of the film, an empty-headed suburbanite (Tatum O’Neal) looks at Basquiat’s work and whines that there’s too much green.  She just can’t handle all of that green.

Basquiat’s friendship with Andy Warhol provides this film with a heart.  When Bowie first appears — having lunch with a German art dealer played by Dennis Hopper — one’s natural instinct is to assume that Bowie as Warhol is stunt casting.  However, Bowie quickly proves that instinct to be wrong.  As opposed to many of the actors who have played Andy Warhol over the years, Bowie gives an actual performance.  Instead of resorting to caricature, Bowie plays Warhol as being mildly bemused by both his fame and the world in general.

Basquiat also develops a close friendship with another artist.  Gary Oldman may be playing a character named Albert Milo but it’s obvious from the moment that he first appears that he’s playing the film’s director, Julian Schnabel.  If there was any doubt, Schnabel’s studio stands in for Milo’s studio.  When Milo shows off his work, he’s showing off Schnabel’s work.  When Albert Milo introduced Basquiat to his parents, the nice old couple is played by Julian Schnabel’s actual parents.  It’s perhaps not surprising that Albert Milo is presented as being one of the most important and popular artists in New York City.  In a film full of bitchy characters, Albert Milo is unique in that literally everyone likes and respects him.  And yet Gary Oldman gives such a good and heartfelt performance that you can’t hold it against the character that he happens to be perfect.  There’s a small but touching scene in which Albert Milo and his daughter share a dance in front of one of Schnabel’s gigantic canvases.  Of course, Milo’s daughter is played by Julian Schnabel’s daughter.

The entire cast is full of familiar actors.  Willem DaFoe appears as a sculptor.  Christopher Walken plays a hilariously vapid interviewer.  Courtney Love plays a groupie.  Benicio Del Toro plays Basquiat’s best friend.  Parker Posey shows up as gallery owner Mary Boone.  Michael Wincott plays Rene Ricard, the somewhat infamous art critic who was among the first to celebrate the work of both Basquiat and Schnabel.  For once, the use of familiar actors does not sabotage the effectiveness of the film.  If anything, it helps to explain why Basquiat was so determined to make it.  There’s a magical scene where a then-unknown Basquiat peeks through a gallery window and sees Andy Warhol, Albert Milo, and Bruno Bischofberger.  However, the film’s audience sees David Bowie, Gary Oldman, and Dennis Hopper.  What both Basquiat and the audience have in common is that they’re both seeing bigger-than-life stars.

Basquiat is an often magical and poignant film and I absolutely love it.

Film Review: I Shot Andy Warhol (dir by Mary Harron)


When did Andy Warhol die?

The official date of death is February 22nd, 1987.  The 58 year-old artist died in his sleep of a cardiac arrhythmia.  He was at Manhattan’s New York Hospital, recovering from gallbladder surgery.  The surgery itself had been a minor procedure and, in the days before his death, Warhol was reported to be making a good recovery.  Warhol himself was scared of doctors and had continually put off having the procedure done.

Others, however, argue that Warhol might as well have died on June 3rd, 1968.  That was the day that the world-famous pop artist was shot, at point blank range, by a woman named Valerie Solanas.  Warhol barely survived the attack, spending five hours in surgery and carrying both the mental and physical scars with him for the rest of his life.  It’s debatable whether Warhol ever physically recovered from being shot.  It’s been theorized that the reoccurring gallbladder problems that led to Warhol entering the hospital were directly the result of being shot.  If that’s the case, then Solanas murdered Andy Warhol.

But even beyond the lingering physical injuries, the shooting left Warhol mentally shaken.  The artist who, in the 60s, was famous for hosting a never-ending party at The Factory became far more reclusive and paranoid.  No longer could anyone from anywhere show up in New York and, if they were interesting enough, become a member of Warhol’s entourage.   No longer would Warhol direct films that challenged the assumption of what film had to be.  Warhol spent most of the 70s doing portrait commissions and finding new ways to make money.  (As he wrote in 1975, “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.”)

It can be argued that, with the pull of a trigger, Valerie Solanas changed the course of history and yet, she has always remained an obscure figure.  (Many would argue that she deserves to remain an obscure figure.)  After the shooting, when Solanas turned herself in, she said that she had no choice but to shoot Andy because “he had too much control over my life.”  Others theorize that Solanas was upset because Andy hadn’t helped her get her book, The SCUM Manifesto, published.  Solanas was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and, for nearly a killing an artist, she spent three years in prison.  While she was in prison, The SCUM Manifesto was finally published.  Ironically, she died in poverty and obscurity, just a few months after Warhol, as forgotten as Andy as was celebrated.

So, who was Valerie Solanas?  That’s the question that 1996’s I Shot Andy Warhol attempts to answer.  Lili Taylor portrays Valerie, giving a performance that is both frightening in its intensity and empathetic in its portrayal of Valerie’s desperation to be heard as a human being and respected as an artist.  Wherever Valerie goes, she’s an outsider.  As a lesbian, she’s been rejected by conventional society.  When she appears on a local talk show, the audience boos her and the host has her thrown off the set.  As a writer, she is rejected by publishers and readers who view her work as being, as one person puts it, “too sick even for us.”  When, like many aspiring artists and lost souls, she arrives at the Factory, the members of Warhol’s entourage reject her because she’s neither beautiful nor glamorous.  Valerie is stuck in a winless situation.  It’s her intensity that makes her a memorable writer but it’s the same intensity that guarantees that almost no one will be willing to read what she writes.

Valerie has written The SCUM Manifesto.  (SCUM stands for Society of Cutting Up Men.)  Throughout the film, we see black-and-white scenes of Valerie reading from the opening of her book:

“Life” in this “society” being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of “society” being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and eliminate the male sex.”

Today, of course, Valerie could just start a tumblr or maybe get a job teaching at Evergreen State.  In the 1960s, though, Valerie believes that the only way she’ll ever be heard is by getting her work to Andy Warhol.  When she first meets Andy (Jared Harris), he seems to be receptive to her but we soon see that this film’s version of Andy is receptive to almost anyone.  I Shot Andy Warhol portrays Andy as being an emotionally detached voyeur, a master of passive aggressive behavior.  Instead of personally rejecting Valerie, he lets the more bitchy members of his entourage do it for him.  In fact, at times it seems as if the reason that Warhol surrounds himself with such angry people is so he’ll never have to get angry himself.  It’s actually a rather interesting interpretation of Warhol and the Factory, though it does rely a bit too much on the clichéd image of Andy Warhol as a passive voyeur.  Whenever Jared Harris is onscreen, you never forget that you’re watching someone imitate Andy Warhol as opposed to feeling like you’re watching Warhol yourself.

(When Andy Warhol died, he was worth 220 million dollars.  That alone should be enough to debunk the image of Andy Warhol being a passive voyeur of his own life.)

I Shot Andy Warhol is a frequently fascinating film, one that is sympathetic to both Solanas’s artistic ambitions and her desperate need to be acknowledged as a writer, while also not shying away from the fact that she was a very sick and dangerous person.  At the same time, the film does leave out one very important detail of Solanas’s later life.  After she was released from prison, she still continued to stalk Andy and other members of the New York art world.  That’s an important detail that should have, at the very least, been acknowledged.

Finally, after Andy Warhol’s death, Lou Reed wrote a song called “I believe.”  The song dealt with his feelings towards Valerie Solanas and it’s reasonable to assume that Reed spoke for many of Warhol’s associates.  Here are just a few of the lyrics: ” “I believe life’s serious enough for retribution… I believe being sick is no excuse. And I believe I would’ve pulled the switch on her myself.”

Film Review: Cocaine Cowboys (dir by Ulli Lommel)


Two million dollars worth of cocaine has gone missing in Long Island and Andy Warhol is on the case!

Believe it or not, that’s actually a fairly accurate summation of this 1979 film.  The film does feature a plot about several people looking for a lot of missing cocaine and Andy Warhol does play himself.  And Andy does discover what happened to the cocaine!  He even leaves behind some helpful Polaroids of the cocaine’s location, all of which he signs, “Good Luck, Andy!”

But, here’s the thing.  This is an 80 minutes film.  Though Andy appears at different moments throughout the film, he really only has less than 10 minutes of screentime.  He spends most of that time lurking around with a camera and muttering the occasional word of wisdom.

What’s goes on during the rest of the movie?  Not much.  While waiting to make it big with his band, Dustin (Tom Sullivan) has been making ends meet by smuggling cocaine.  Even though Dustin and the rest of the band want to get out of the drug business, their manager (Jack Palance … wait, Jack Palance!?) sets up one last score.  Unfortunately, while the cocaine is being flown out to Long Island, it falls out of the plane and lands in the water!  Uh-oh!  The drug dealers want their cocaine.  Jack Palance wants the cocaine.  The band wants to find the cocaine and they’re even willing to ride around to horses to look for it.  Some other people want the cocaine but I’m not sure who they were supposed to be.  Andy Warhol does not want the cocaine.  He just wants to talk about Interview Magazine and take pictures of the band.

Almost everyone wants to find the cocaine but, interestingly enough, they’re all pretty laid back about it.  Sure, the band might spend some time looking but they’re just as likely to be found performing a song.  To be honest, the band’s not that bad.  I went to the University of North Texas, which is famous for its music school, and the band definitely has a UNT sound to it.  They’re good without being so good that you’d ever expect them to become stars.  The band’s best song features Dustin going, “We’re cocaine cowboys,” over and over again.

According to The Warhol Diaries, the film’s star, Tom Sullivan, was a real-life drug dealer.  This movie was his attempt to recreate himself as both a film star and rock star.  It didn’t work.  This was Tom Sullivan’s only film credit and he died two years later, at the age of 23.

So, maybe you’re wondering how Jack Palance and Andy Warhol ended up in this obscure little film.  Well, I don’t know what Palance was doing there and, judging from his performance, he didn’t know either.  Warhol was in the film because 1) it was filmed at his Long Island estate and 2) he was friends with director Ulli Lommel.  Today, Lommel is best known for directing crappy true crime horror films but, at the start of his career, he was a protegé of both Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s and Andy Warhol’s.

(Lommel’s then-wife and financial backer, Suzanna Love, also appears in the film.  Horror fans will immediately recognize her from her starring turns in Lommel’s The Boogeyman and The Devonsville Terror.)

Particularly when compared to Ulli Lommel’s later, better-known films (like the unwatchable Curse of the Zodiac), Cocaine Cowboys isn’t that bad.  It’s pointless but it’s pointless by design.  Everyone in the film is so detached and out-of-it that the film becomes a portrait of ennui.  It’s a film that very much shows the influence of Fassbinder and Warhol, taking a popular genre — in this case, the drug rip-off film — and then tearing away at all of the artifice.  “Really?  The French Connection had a car chase?” the film seems to be saying, “Well, Cocaine Cowboys doesn’t have anything!  Just like real life.”

Of course, that’s not totally true.  Cocaine Cowboys does have something.  It has Andy Warhol solving a mystery and that’s got to be worth something.