December 31, 2014: Strange Days (1995)

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December 27th, 2014: Touch of Evil

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December 26th, 2014: Diva (1981)

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Cast and Crew: Jean-Jacques Beineix (Director); Irene Silberman (Producer); Frederic Andrei, Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez, Richard Bohringer, Thuy An Luu

What It’s About: Diva is a purely aesthetic experience.  It is about so much: art, honesty, friendship, love, corruption; it is about so little: accident, death, unbelievable plot coincidences.  Young motorcycle postman Jules has a borderline-stalker-grade obsession for opera diva Cynthia Hawkins.  While surreptitiously recording her performance and stealing her dress, he unknowingly comes into possession of a recording by a prostitute implicating the chief of police in the management of a large drug and human-trafficking ring.  Witnesses are eliminated one by one by a couple of distasteful homicidal pimps who aspire to look like Depeche Mode.  Our spineless hero randomly befriends a young Asian shoplifter and her mildly creepy meditating sugardaddy Gorodish, a gent who looks like the mythical offspring of a union between John Belushi and Robert Downey, Jr.  Jules and Gorodish each inhabit excruciatingly cool lofts, where one can park junked cars or go rollerskating.  Apparently director Beineix had some issues with the French film establishment, but for international audiences, Eighties Paris never looked so alluring as in this film.  Alternately satisfying and infuriating, it is a memorable experience.

Why Watch it Today?: On this date in 1770, Mozart (aged 14) premiered his first opera seria, “Mithridates, King of Pontus.”  It was six hours long.  As a genre, opera seria was not long for this world, but the visceral power of opera more widely has not dissipated.  Diva features two highly discordant musical genera.  On the one hand, you will experience the pure tones of Wilhelmenia Wiggins Fernandez’ operatic range, lovingly recorded.  If you are even mildly musically sensitive they will send chills down your spine.  On the other hand, much of the soundtrack is primitive synthesized electronica, jarring and discordant.  This juxtaposition is actually quite suitable to the plot of the film, where art crashes headlong into crime, meditation into racketeering.

To get a feel for the movie, take a look at any YouTube film of the diva singing; or this odd bit from the guru, Gorodish, on bread:

Alternately, watch the trailer.  I must warn you, however: this movie may, possibly, have the worst trailer ever made.  It manages to give away spoilers for some major plot points without giving any hint of what the movie’s “about,” and is sonically discordant and obnoxious where the film’s soundtrack is actually well put-together.

December 20th, 2014: The Hebrew Hammer

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December 19th, 2014: The Chase (1994)

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Cast and Crew: Adam Rifkin (Director), Cassian Elwes (Producer); Charlie Sheen, Kristy Swanson, Henry Rollins

What It’s About: Truth in advertising is the word of the day here: all but the first five or so minutes of the film, and the last five or so minutes, is an extended high speed car chase.   When people talk about “Nineties movie car chases,” the film that often comes to mind is Ronin (1998).  That movie is certainly worth watching (if nothing else, to confirm your stereotypes of Sean Bean characters), but no other film captures the crazy circus of the O.J. Simpson chase, replete with obsessive newscasters, quite like this one.  In a bizarre twist of life imitating B-movie art, the O.J. Simpson chase happened four months after this movie hit theaters.

Besides the basic fact of “it’s a car chase,” you should also know that The Chase is a Charlie Sheen vehicle.  So, approach it with some trepidation.  In a bizarre twist of life imitating B-movie art, we’ve all learned that Charlie Sheen is a $#^*^@ who treats women with less than a full dose of respect; in The Chase he steals a teen’s car and holds her hostage, while she gradually loses her initial distaste for him in a situation that has become (for the Internet at least) a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome.

When I first saw this film, I identified with the hostage on some level: I, too, was a teen girl whose dad had kindly provided her with a red sports car (no, not a Beemer).  The film just seemed like a tedious catalog of “bad ideas for teen drivers.”  Now that I’m an adult, I can appreciate the hearty dose of satire.  Henry Rollins excels as a policeman who’s driving some second-rate reality-show producers around in his cop car when the chase begins, and as things get real he gets increasingly testosterone-fuelled and preposterous.

The film also features lots of odd cameos.  You’ll see half of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as stoner rednecks in a monster truck (that explodes!!!).  You’ll see Cary Elwes (of The Princess Bride), whose brother produced the film, as a newscaster.  And more.  It’s a bad movie.  But it’s funny bad, and embraces its B-movie role.  In the “ultimate consummation of Stockholm Syndrome” scene, the green-screen that’s been showing pursuing police vehicles throughout the movie changes to show cheesy ’90s sunsets and clouds.  But you’ll laugh in spite of yourself — at least I did — when the “PMS Medical Supply” truck spills frozen cadavers all over the highway and Rollins drives over them.  Take that, zombie fans!

Basically what I’m saying is, if you’re a decent chap who just wants to watch a car-focused B-movie starring a son of Martin Sheen, watch Repo Man (which we kindly reviewed for you two days ago).  If you want to watch Charlie Sheen charm the pants off a woman who respects herself even less than he does, you can use the excuse that… it’s her birthday:

Why Watch it Today?: Kristy Swanson, who plays the teen-girl-whose-dad-provided-her-with-a-red-sports-car in the film, celebrates her 45th birthday today.  She’s better known for her role as Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the original 1992 film of that name, though Sarah Michelle Gellar has eclipsed her fame in that regard.  Her acting in this movie is not amazingly great (hey, at least it’s better than Sheen’s wife, Denise Richards, in The World is Not Enough), but as mentioned above, the ride is a good time.

 

December 13th, 2014: Inside Man (2006)

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