Cleaning Out The DVR: Crime + Punishment in Suburbia (dir by Rob Schmidt)


(Lisa is once again trying to clean out her DVR!  She’s got about 182 films on her DVR and she needs to get them all watched by the end of this year!  Will she make it?  Not if she’s too busy writing cutesy introductions for her reviews to actually watch the movies!  She recorded Crime + Punishment in Suburbia off of Flix on February 25th!)

Oh, dammit.

I have seen some really pretentious movies before but Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is really something else.  As you might be able to guess from the title, the film is supposedly based on the Dosteyevsky novel but it takes place not only in modern times but in suburbia as well.  Oh, and it actually has next to nothing in common with Doteyevsky novel, beyond a murder and occasional religious symbolism.  And by occasional, I mean that there’s a scene where Vincent Kartheiser wears a Jesus t-shirt.

Kartheiser plays Vincent, a teenager who I think we’re supposed to think is dark and disturbed but instead he just comes across like a weird little poser.  I mean, honestly, it takes more than just wearing black clothes to be weird.  I had a closet full of black clothes when I was eighteen and it still never brought me any closer to enlightenment.  Anyway, Vincent is a classmate of Roseanne (Monica Keena) and Roseanne is dating a handsome but dumb jock named Jimmy (James DeBello).  Roseanne’s mother is named Maggie (Ellen Barkin) and Maggie has recently married an abusive drunk named Fred (Michael Ironside).

Fred is a total jerk so Maggie goes out with her best friend, Bella (Conchata Ferrell), to a bar.  It’s at the bar that she meets Chris (Jeffrey Wright), a handsome and charming bartender.  Soon, Chris and Maggie are having an affair and when Fred finds out, he rapes his stepdaughter.  Roseanne convinces Jimmy to help her murder Fred but, after the deed is done, Roseanne finds herself struggling with her conscience.

Now, of course, in Crime & Punishment, the whole point is that the murder itself was largely random and motiveless.  The rest of the book deals with the protagonist’s attempt to come to terms with not only his crime but also with the meaninglessness of it all.  In Crime + Punishment in Suburbia, Roseanne has a good reason for killing Fred.  Fred is such a monster that there’s no real confusion as to why Roseanne did what she did.  One could argue, quite convincingly, that if she didn’t kill Fred, he would have ended up killing her.  That makes the film’s later attempt at moral ambiguity feel rather hollow and empty.

The other problem with Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is that we don’t see the story through Roseanne’s eyes.  Instead, the entire movie is narrated by Vincent.  Now, Vincent Kartheiser is not a bad actor.  Anyone who has seen Mad Men knows that.  And, in this film, he occasionally gets to flash a cute smile that makes the character a little bit bearable.  But the character he plays, Vincent, is so weird and off-putting that you have no desire to spend 100 minutes listening to him portentously talk about his existence.  Considering that Monica Keena actually gives a pretty good performance as Roseanne, the decision to tell her story through Vincent’s eyes feels all the more mistaken.

The only thing more overwrought than Vincent’s narration is Rob Schmidt’s direction.  This is one of those films that uses every narrative trick in the book to tell its story.  Look at the wild camera angles!  Look at the sudden slow motion!  Look at the freeze frame!  This is one of those movies that you watch and you just want to shout, “Calm down!” at the director.

Crime + Punishment in Suburbia is one to avoid.

A Movie A Day #70: Wired (1989, directed by Larry Peerce)


Sometimes, you watch a movie and all you cay say, at the end, is “What the Hell were they thinking?”

Wired is one such movie.  Based on a widely discredited biography by Bob Woodward, Wired tells two stories.  In the first story, John Belushi (Michael Chiklis, making an unfortunate film debut) wakes up in a morgue and is told by his guardian angel that he has died of a drug overdose.  Did I mention that his guardian angel is Puerto Rican cabbie named Angel Vasquez (Ray Sharkey) and Angel drives Belushi through a series of flashbacks?  Belushi meets Dan Aykroyd (Gary Groomes, who looks nothing like Dan Aykroyd).  Belushi gets cast on Saturday Night Live.  Belushi marries Judy (Lucinda Jenney).  Belushi uses drugs, costars in The Blues Brothers, dies of a drug overdose in a sleazy motel, and plays a pinball game to determine whether he’ll go to Heaven or Hell.  While this is going on, Bob Woodward (J.T. Walsh) is interviewing everyone who knew Belushi while he was alive.

There are so many things wrong with Wired that it is hard to know where to even begin.  I haven’t even mentioned the scene where Bob Woodward travels back in time and has a conversation with Belushi while he’s dying on the motel room floor.  Wired tries to be a cautionary tale about getting seduced by fame and drugs but how seriously can anyone take the message of any movie that features Ray Sharkey as a guardian angel?  The scenes with Woodward are strange, mostly because the hero of Watergate is being played by an actor best known for playing sinister villains.  (Seven years after playing Bob Woodward, J.T. Walsh was actually cast as Watergate figure John Ehrlichman in Nixon.)  Considering that this was his first movie, Michael Chiklis is not bad when it comes to playing a drug addict named John but he’s never convincing as John Belushi.  He never captures the mix of charisma and danger that made John Belushi a superstar.  Wired wants to tell the story of Belushi’s downfall but never understands what made him special to begin with.

Wired tries to be edgy but it only succeeds for one split second.  During the filming of The Blues Brothers, a director who is clearly meant to be John Landis walks over to Belushi’s trailer.  Listen carefully, and a helicopter can be heard in the background.

As for the rest of Wired, what the Hell were they thinking?

Back to School #60: Crazy/Beautiful (dir by John Stockwell)


Oh, memories!

I don’t know if I can describe how much my girlfriends and I loved Crazy/Beautiful when it first came out in 2001.  We saw it in the theaters, we rewatched it when it came on cable, and after I bought it on DVD, we watched it at my house.  We loved the movie because we all dreamed of having a sensitive, hot boyfriend like Carlos Nunez (played by Jay Hernandez), who would love us no matter how obnoxious or bratty we may have been.  Even if we sometimes got annoyed with her, we still all related to out-of-control Nicole (Kirsten Dunst), who everyone in the world had given up on but who ultimately just wanted her father to pay as much attention to her as he did to his new wife and his new baby.  We liked the film because we wanted to be both crazy and beautiful.

And, of course, there was all the sex, all of it filmed in beautiful soft-focus with the camera always suggesting that it was showing more than it actually was.  Crazy/Beautiful was one of those films that made you feel grown up while still being very careful not to lose its PG-13 rating.

Yes, back in the day, I loved Crazy/Beautiful.

And you know what?

It may just be the nostalgia talking but I still love it.  I recently rewatched Crazy/Beautiful and, despite the fact that I was now watching as a “critic” as opposed to a 15 year-old with issues, I quickly fell under the film’s spell.  There’s just something about Crazy/Beautiful that I simply cannot resist.

It’s a beautiful film.  Director John Stockwell has made a career out of making movies about pretty people hanging out on pretty beaches and Crazy/Beautiful has a lot of both.  When Carlos, a responsible high school senior who lives in East Los Angeles and who is hoping to attend the U.S. Navy Academy, first meets Nicole, she’s doing community service by picking up trash on the beach.  What Carlos doesn’t find out until later is that Nicole is the daughter of U.S. Rep. Tom Oakley (played, somewhat inevitably, by Bruce Davison).  Nicole is haunted by her mother’s death and feels that her well-meaning but ineffectual father has abandoned her.  At first, her relationship with Carlos seems to be yet another part of her rebellion but soon, both she and Carlos are madly in love.

Can Carlos save Nicole from herself?  Can Nicole love Carlos without leading him down the path of self-destruction?  Will Nicole and her father ever reconnect?  Will … oh, who cares?  You already know the answers.  Crazy/Beautiful is less about the story and more about how the story is told.  Stockwell keeps the story moving along and fills the screen with colorful and romantic images that make Crazy/Beautiful into the perfect teenage daydream.  He also makes perfect use of the undeniable chemistry between Jay Hernandez and Kirsten Dunst.  Both of the stars give such good performances that you really do come to care about the characters that they are playing and hope that things work out for them.  Kirsten Dunst, in particular, gives a brave performance and doesn’t shy away from playing up Nicole’s abrasiveness.  It takes courage to play a character who can be unlikable.  It takes talent to make that unlikable character sympathetic and, fortunately, Kirsten Dunst shows a lot of both in Crazy/Beautiful.

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