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Archive for March, 2010

Four Rooms is … an interesting experience.

Four Rooms is not for everyone.    Made up of four segments directed by four different directors, there’s no major story other than following a bellboy, Ted, as he works his first night at a rundown hotel.   Each segment has a different flavor, a different style but it also makes an uneven viewing experience.

The Missing Ingredient is the first and the weakest of the segments.   A coven of witches camps in the honeymoon suite and they are desperate to resurrect their goddess.   One of them has forgotten a much-needed ingredient that she can get from Ted.   You’d think a piece about a coven of witches would be interesting but The Missing Ingredient can’t even be awful, just boring.   It has a bit of inspired stunt casting in Madonna, but she’s not any good here either.

The Wrong Man centers on a man and a woman in one of the rooms who may be either playing at some sort of sexual role-playing game or…not, and Ted’s not really sure which is which and what is what.   All he can tell is that the man’s got a gun and is pointing it at him.   Most of this one relies on Tim Roth and Jennifer Beals using some precision timing and while it has a few laughs, the short wears out its welcome quickly.

Robert Rodriguez’s The Misbehavers is easily the best of all of them.   A husband and wife pay Ted $500 to watch their children while they’re gone for the night.  The kids turn out to be pint-sized, foul-mouthed tyrants who give Ted no end of grief.   By the time their parents return, they have managed to set the room on fire, discover a dead hooker in the bed, stab Ted with a syringe, smoke, drink and generally destroy all manner of property and drive Ted nearly to the brink of insanity.   It’s as though Rodriguez melded his Spy Kids sensibilities with the same sick humor in Planet Terror … just before all that.

The Man From Hollywood is directed by Tarantino and it’s got an awful lot of Tarantino trademarks in it.   What sinks The Man From Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino casting himself.   His character is Jimmie Dimmick from Pulp Fiction dialed up to eleven.   Tarantino’s fine in small doses (a la Desperado) but here it’s insufferable, obnoxious and asks way too much of the viewer to be patient as Tarantino manically bumbles along.   The Man From Hollywood is about a bet that really doesn’t end well and it feels longer than it actually is.

So what’s the guilty pleasure in Four Rooms?  Tim Roth, hands down.   Roth combines silly, well-timed comedy with slapstick and comes out with a neurotic bellboy who’s over the top but still believable.  This is a guy poorly equipped to handle the night at this hotel and reacts badly to most of the insane situations in which he ends up.

Roth is the connection between the four pieces, and even when Four Rooms is bad you hope you can still keep watching for Tim Roth and what he might do next.   I suspect The Missing Ingredient was placed first solely because it’s just not that good, and Roth’s performance is the one good thing about it.   Four Rooms would have been atrocious without him, primarily because it runs as a movie without any real sense of direction.  In fact, Four Rooms feels like four people got together on a lark to have some fun, not present stories and characters they had any investment in, so Roth has to bear a heavy weight in making things work.   He does, as best he can, and he’s the best part of it all.

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On Four Rooms (no!  I am speaking the truth!  I am half-way through the write up, Allison, I have not forsaken you), I thought I’d take a bit to let you know I’m expanding the blog a tiny bit.

Not much, you see – but the problem is that for various reasons, I am feeling like I’m always running out of time.   I really am like the White Rabbit, running late more often than not, but now I feel really behind, like my watch has stopped or broken or I forgot to do a BC/AD changeover* or something and I should probably stop this metaphor and this sentence because I know where neither is going.

What I’m really trying to say is that basically, there’s more to life than movies.  There’s food and books and movies and music and fun things!   So in the interest of doing all fun things and not just one fun thing, I’m going to be blogging about some other things besides movies.   This will stay primarily a  movie blog and the non-movie stuff I will try and relate back to les films, but we’re expanding a bit, here, okay?   And if you don’t like that, then you can skip the non-movie posts and stick to the movie ones.

Just to give you the heads up.  Carry on, carry on!

___________________________

*The BC/AD changeover is an Eddie Izzard joke, so I’m giving credit where credit is due and not assuming everyone knows that.  Also, if you have not seen Dressed to Kill please Netflix it.   It’s … culturally enriching.  Also:  hilarious.

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Uh, not the Sean Penn version.

Jack Burden is a young newspaper reporter sent out to the small town of Kenosha to cover a story that’s interesting to his editor because it’s about “an honest man”.   Willie Stark is a Kenosha man tired of the corrupt politicians, so he runs for county tax collector.   Burden is intrigued; Stark does seem honest and righteous, the kind of guy who doesn’t drink and refuses to bow to the local good old boys who terrorize his family, throw bricks in his windows and prevent him from passing out handbills and talking to the townsfolk.   Stark warns of corruption in the contracts issued for building the new school.  He loses the election, but a group of slick politicians show up and convince Stark to run for governor.   It is their hope that he’ll split the vote between the two major candidates, thereby allowing a specific candidate to win.

Burden goes back to his newspaper job, but quits after a while, disillusioned with the fact that the paper owners want him to write stories that support a candidate other than Stark.

After Burden and campaign worker Sadie Burke inadvertently reveal to Stark the brutal truth of why he’s in the governor’s race, all bets are off.

Stark unleashes rage and fury at the men who set him up and at the establishment in general, appealing to his fellow men, the poor and the downtrodden — the “hicks”, as Stark calls them.   He goes ballistic.    He does not, however, win the election.

He spends his time preparing for the next election while Burden watches from a distance, Stark striking shady deals with corporations and spending money like its going out of style on circuses and barbeques for voters.    Stark gets elected the next time, with Burke at his side and now, in his bed.   He gives up the teetotaling in favor of drink and leaves his wife at home to spend time with Sadie and later, another woman.   His zeal for the common man turns ruthless and brutal, self-serving and greedy.   Jack Burden is hired as his hatchet man, and after that, everyone Burden knows that comes in contact with Willie Stark is painfully destroyed in some fashion.

Ideas are often noble and carry with them some sense of purity.    The problem is that once human beings must act on ideas, such concepts are left to the fallibility of human nature.   Ideas might be noble, but there is no such thing as a perfect human being.

Willie Stark starts out with a very noble goal:  to take back the government from the corrupt politicians in power.   He appeals to the very best of human nature while unleashing the absolute worst in himself.   Stark justifies some very brutal actions – bribery, blackmail, even murder – by telling himself that it is for the good of the people.   When Stark’s son kills a girl in a drunk driving accident, Stark attempts to bribe the girl’s father with a lucrative contract for the truth to remain hidden, something Stark himself railed against.   The father turns him down, disgusted, and later, the man disappears.  It is only when the man’s badly beaten body is discovered that Stark’s staff realizes the man was murdered for standing up for the right thing.   All those in Stark’s path lose their innocence or possibly even more.

Stark promised the people of his state certain things, things that he did deliver – a new hospital, museums, universities – but at what cost?    He destroys lives for the right vote or for a pair of eyes set to look the other way.   Indeed, Stark’s own reliance on the justification that he is doing all this for the little guy is just a smooth veneer on Stark’s need to feed his own ego, line his own pockets and solidify his power base.

It’s a cautionary tale, one based on Huey Long’s life, which Robert Penn Warren (the writer of the book All the King’s Men) witnessed first-hand.    The axiom absolute power corrupts absolutely might be a bit tired to trot out, but it’s nonetheless true.   Stark starts out as perhaps the best of men and ends up the wretched worst.   Broderick Crawford is perfect as Stark, a mix of righteous indignation and self-serving interest.    It’s a movie that doesn’t leave you easily, since Stark is so eerie and creepy, his staff and hangers-on so readily compliant and the crowds cheering him on.    All The King’s Men is the telling of a story of the worst of human nature, a warning, a lesson on what we choices we make to when it comes to the terrible side of life.

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I know, I skipped February.
But March belongs to the one, the only, Henry Rollins.

Rollins is one of the few guys I discovered that I was younger that has stuck with me into adulthood.  Whereas I dropped bands and groups from my teen years for a variety of reasons – the music no longer resonated with me, I had outgrown and no longer found it comforting or powerful, or just plain that it held bad memories for me – Rollins is the only one, I think, that has stuck with me into adulthood and become more powerful to me, if that’s possible.

Henry Rollins entered first into my life at thirteen, when someone that I’ve forgotten since handed me a mix tape with Black Flag on it.   Later on, I discovered Rollins’ spoken word and his later work with The Rollins Band, but really, it was his spoken word that always captivated me.   Henry Rollins is funny, incisive, brutal and honest about what he believes, and if you have the chance to go get tickets to a show, it’s well worth the money you spend.   I went for his previous tour and he spent three glorious hours on stage, all of it interesting.

If I am having a very bad day, like today, when it’s tempting to just give up on your fellow human beings, when you feel cynical and bleak, there’s actually no one better to listen to.   Rollins is, if nothing else, hopeful (believe it or not) and has always been – to me, at least – refreshingly honest and inspiring.  I don’t think anyone grinds out their life quite like him.   The word ‘motivated’ isn’t anywhere near close enough to describing how insanely dedicated Rollins is to his chosen work in life.

Cheers to him.   I needed some Rollins today and I’m glad he’s around.   And I certainly wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers.  (And that’s all the shameless objectification I have in me today.)

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The Coslow family reside in the quiet town of Tarker’s Mills.   Marty and Jane Coslow are brother and sister, with Jane bearing a heavier load than most siblings, since she’s tasked by her parents to constantly assist Marty, who is paralyzed and requires a wheelchair.   Jane and Marty’s normal sibling rivalry carries with it an undercurrent of resentment, since Jane feels her parents give Marty special treatment.

Also popping up is the gregarious Uncle Red, the kind of guy who blows into town and out again, the only constant presence in his life being a bottle of booze.   It is he that encourages Marty to be a “normal” kid, gifting him with fireworks and what is essentially a motorcycle modified to fit a wheelchair instead of a saddle for Marty’s amusement.   He adores his nephew, in particular, but Red is the kind of guy who doesn’t take anything seriously at all.

Tarker’s Mills begins to experience grisly murders, something which begins to change the Coslaw family.   At first, the town believes the murders are accidents, but after a young boy is ripped to shreds, the town mobilizes into a vicious mob to seek some old-fashioned vigilante justice, only to have some of the mob attacked by the werewolf.

Marty’s new motorcycle, dubbed Silver Bullet thanks to Uncle Red, is shiny and fast, which is why Marty sneaks out in the middle of the night to ride on the back roads of Tarker’s Mills.  Naturally, he encounters the werewolf and only survives by shooting one of Red’s procured fireworks into the eye of the werewolf.  When he shares this information with Jane, they hunt for a townsperson with only one eye.

The werewolf turns out to be the most unlikely suspect – the local preacher, Lester Lowe, who is both tortured by his conscience and rationalizes his own set of murders.   Marty and Jane band together with the reluctant Uncle Red to fight the menace to Tarker’s Mills.

If you view Silver Bullet against the collected adaptations of Stephen King’s works, it falls  far to the bottom of the list.  It lacks a lot of the emotional punch of King’s other adaptations and the special effects are a bit dismal, even if you view them in the context of 1985, when the movie was made.

The King book this is based on is Cycle of the Werewolf, one that I’ve never read, but I was inspired to revisit Silver Bullet after finally finishing King’s newest book, Under the Dome.   The batshit crazy preacher of Under the Dome reminded me so strongly of Silver Bullet‘s Lester Lowe that I moved the movie to the top of my Netflix queue.   In an odd, sad sense of timing, I received Silver Bullet around the same time that Corey Haim, who played Marty Coslaw, died.  In many ways, the movie has some movement and power solely off the performances of Haim, who played sweet and innocent so very well, and Gary Busey as fun-loving Uncle Red.

Silver Bullet is flat and not very sharp; I have better memories of it from my childhood than it deserves.   It’s important to note Stephen King has been a large part of my life and was a large part of my childhood – quite a few of my childhood fears were shaped and molded by Mr. King himself.   I still shudder remembering parts of It, The Tommyknockers, The Stand and The Mist – either their film adaptations or the books themselves.   Stephen King has been sort of synonymous with horror for much of my life and I think it’s worth it to point out that I was never scared by a damn thing in Silver Bullet.  Perhaps the most lasting image is Lowe in his eyepatch, and that’s about it.

It’s a film that doesn’t carry much weight that I only viewed for the nostalgia factor, really, and I don’t know that I could wholeheartedly recommend it unless you’re longing for a movie from your childhood.  I can’t comment on how faithfully they adapted King’s book since I never read Cycle of the Werewolf, but hell, give me The Langoliers any day over this.

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