Tag Archives: Edward Furlong

A JOHN WATERS RETROSPECTIVE, PART THREE

Previously on 366 Weird Movies…

A John Waters Retrospective, Part 1

A John Waters Retrospective, Part 2

And now, today’s feature presentation…

After a two-year hiatus, returned to the big screen with Cry-Baby (1990), a nostalgic follow-up to Hairspray (1988). Although commercially a flop, Cry-Baby was mostly a critical success and did better overseas. Eventually, like Hairspray, Cry-Baby spawned a Broadway musical. Its mix of camp, sweet-toothed cynicism, and 50s nostalgia are ripe for choreographic treatment, and “Cry-Baby, The Musical” has seen two revivals. It seems inevitable that a big screen adaptation is not far off.

1994’s Serial Mom was a 13-million dollar budgeted cousin to 1974’s $25,000 Female Trouble (probably Waters’ best film). Like Cry-Baby, and every post-Hairspray Waters’ film, Serial Mom lost money, barely making back half of its cost. Like , Waters hones in on the white picket fence, not-so-discreet charm of the American bourgeoisie. His recipe calls for equal parts exploitation, celebrity crime spree, and satire on the hypocrisy of American etiquette, all on a Martha Stewart endcap display, dripping with battery acid.

In Serial Mom, Waters shifts the focus of horror away from doublewide trailers and into suburbia. Naturally, that change of palette has been criticized for taking away Waters’ edge, but this is hardly the case. Waters presents Serial Mom in a visually acceptable package, but even mainstream audiences knew it to be a facade, which is why it lost money. It is easy for middle class WASPS to jeer at and mantle an attitude of superiority towards low income Baltimore Catholic trailer trash. Hell, that approach was the appeal that filled aisle seats in all those midnight showings and made Waters a cult icon. However, nothing is more unnerving than a mirror, which Waters brandishes to his audience, and nothing is resisted like the reflection of hypocrisy.

Still from Serial Mom (1994)Star Kathleen Turner is a virtuoso as Betty in this quintessential parody of suburban family values. She should have received an Oscar for her performance as a matriarchal Norman Bates (could Norman have slaughtered Philistines so creatively with a leg of lamb, to the song ‘Tomorrow’? ) Alas, she was not even nominated in a year of woefully lame Academy choices. This ranks as one of her best performances, and the best acting in any Waters film.  A toe-licking dog (choregraphed to a VHS scene from Annie), a son masturbating to , a noisy infant doused in snot, some swooning to Barry Continue reading A JOHN WATERS RETROSPECTIVE, PART THREE

CAPSULE: CRAVE (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Charles de Lauzirika

FEATURING: Josh Lawson, Emma Lung, ,

PLOT: A freelance crime-scene photographer romances a younger woman in his apartment building, while suffering delusions and fantasizing about becoming a vigilante.

Still from Crave (2012)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This movie is trying so hard to be like its big brother Taxi Driver that it’s embarrassing to watch at times; it has a certain grotty charm and good performances, but needs a huge wallop of subtlety. Its hallucinations are so clearly marked off as fantasies that they never threaten to swallow up the viewer, leaving its weird effect highly attenuated.

COMMENTS: An internal monologue of a disaffected white guy who’s convinced that humanity is rotten. The antihero drives aimlessly through the city at night, searching for scenes of depravity to reinforce his misanthropic vision. He awkwardly romances a beautiful woman who’s out of his league. He plans a crime, practices the exact words he will say to his victim. The delusional self-appointed vigilante eventually wreaks a gruesome vengeance on an absuer of women. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Taxi Driver was the deconstructed, arthouse revision of puerile crime-anxiety thrillers like Death Wish; Crave is an unneeded, on-the-nose reconstruction of Taxi Driver for the modern age. Crave‘s chief problem, for a movie whose promotional material promises that its photographer protagonist Aiden will be a hero whose “dark imagination starts to leak into reality,” is that the line between fantasy and reality isn’t blurry for the viewer—when redheads tear off their blouses and fall to their knees and Bill Gates shows up offering Aiden bags of cash, it’s fantasy. The clarity of that line and the lack of a radical subjective perspective removes a lot of potential tension that might result if we are wondering if what is happening is really inside Aiden’s head. Nor is Aiden delusional enough to create suspense via the gap between the dangers the audience recognizes and what our protagonist comprehends; he not only realizes his grip on his emotional throttle is slipping, he agonizes about it endlessly in voiceovers and heart-to-hearts with his tough-but-wise stereotype cop buddy. And some of the stuff that clearly is intended to happen in reality doesn’t make a lot of sense, like his hot neighbor’s spur-of-the-moment decision to screw Aiden senseless one afternoon just because he’s not terrible-looking and not obviously a psychopath. That’s bad writing, though, not dark imagination.

The script’s lack of originality and subtlety is a shame, because there is a lot of talent here. Josh Lawson is not bad as Aiden, although he lacks the scruffy anti-charisma necessary to take the role over the top. The supporting players fare better. Adorable Emma Lung somehow comes across as a real person, despite the fact that the only character trait the script gives her to work with is a baffling bad taste in men. Edward Furlong, who we last saw in the miserable This Is Not a Movie, redeems himself here as a hipster cad who nonetheless doesn’t deserve his torturous fate. Ron Perlman’s square mug is, as always, a welcome sight; inhabiting his character with ease, he lends instant credibility to any project. The movie’s technical qualities are pro throughout. The neon-noir vistas of Chicago streets at night are memorable, as is the shot of spinning pinwheels reflected in Aiden’s eye. De Lauzirika, who has previously specialized in directing special features for major DVD releases (including Alien, Blade Runner, and three of the extras on the “Twin Peaks” Gold Box set), is a talented director who shoots a good-looking film and elicits fine performances from his actors. But, he may better serve his career in the future by directing scripts written by someone else.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[The performances are] undermined by not just the clichéd story but director/co-writer Charles de Lauzirika’s misguided tone, which veers from straight-up impotent fury to a clunky humor that’s just not funny in the story’s overall context.”–Maitland McDonagh, Film Journal International (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THIS IS NOT A MOVIE (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Olallo Rubio

FEATURING: Edward Furlong, Peter Coyote

PLOT: A man checks into a Las Vegas hotel room on the eve of the apocalypse to ponder the meaning of his fading existence.

Still from This Is Not a Movie (2011)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not good enough. Although it’s technically well-made considering its budget, it’s full of stoned, faux-profound ruminations and (often explicit) references to much better, more original movies.

COMMENTS: Peter Nelson is holed up in a suite at the Dante-themed Apocalypse Resort and Casino “…trying to solve a deep existential conflict before I drink myself to death. It’s a very ambitious and pretentious goal.” Writer/director Olallo Rubio is at least aware that his own movie is “ambitious and pretentious,” and tries to deflect criticism by making his movie self-aware of its own limitations. The gambit doesn’t work, but we do have to grudgingly admire his roundabout honesty and sincerity. The script plays like a series of incidents and revelations jotted down in notebooks by couple of sophomore English majors during an all-night bull/sensi-smoking session. This one room chamber piece made up mostly of a single actor conversing with different versions of his own split personality, tied together by a weathered metafictional conceit and interspersed with movie trailer parodies, is the kind of pitch any Hollywood producer would immediately nix unless  and Angelina Jolie were already attached. But that fact alone makes the movie interesting as a curiosity; pot-smoking humanities majors bursting with ideas their forebears already came up with years ago comprise a legitimate demographic, and their visions almost never reach the big screen. Pete Nelson worries about “the System,” a vaguely conceived capitalist conspiracy composed of politicians, corporate propaganda, and general American vulgarity (a spoofy propaganda film-inside-a-film suggests that the conspiracy encompasses the Catholic Church, the Beatles, Hitler, and Gene Simmons of KISS). He argues with his drunken cowboy alter-ego that the System is responsible for his memory loss, until a surfer dude version of himself pops up to supply a more metaphysical explanation for his dilemma. The first part of the movie is unpredictable (who saw the ghost coming?), which is its biggest strength. Unfortunately, a finale that is even talkier than the rest of the film lays all the cards on the table, with disappointing results. Visually, the movie is interesting, with large portions shot in arty black and white, liberal use of split screens, and psychedelic CGI; the soundtrack (by Slash) is also pro. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Leaving Las Vegas (mentioned by name), 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and The Holy Mountain (seen on TV), among other films, are all referenced either explicitly or implicitly: Rubio clearly has good taste in influences, but constantly reminding your audience of similar but vastly superior movies is seldom a good idea. I can see why many people hated This Is Not a Movie, and it’s hard to argue with them, except to aver that at least it achieves its badness by being infuriating rather than by being boring. Late in the movie, Rubio again anticipates his critics through dialogue, when Pete describes what he thinks a movie is (and isn’t): “…it’s a form of entertainment that enacts a story based on a dramatic arc. It has plots, subplots and storytelling devices to maintain the interest of the viewer. It needs a story, not just moments of conflict, witty talk, activity, and fucking symbols.” Characterized that way, This Is Not a Movie is not a movie; but Pete’s constricted definition is a challenge to the viewer to expand their own notion of “movie” to something beyond a mere carrier for a story. So, This Is Not a Movie is a movie—it’s just not a very good one, because its solipsistic conceits aren’t novel, fresh, or particularly clever. Still, This Is Not a Movie illustrates my pretentious movie theorem: an intellectually ambitious failure is more interesting than an unpretentious failure. I may not have been impressed by this film’s grandiose ideas, but I was happy to see it at least had some.

This Is Not a Movie (2011) should not be confused with This Is Not a Film (2011), the documentary shot by Iranian director Jafar Panahi while under house arrest for propaganda against the state, which was smuggled out of the theocracy on a flash drive hidden inside a birthday cake and screened at Cannes.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“To call This is Not a Movie weird is disingenuous. Rubio’s film is a simulacrum of weird, a copycat approximation of what the mass public perceives as being so… True visionary weirdness comes from creating original iconography and doing something no one else could ever conceive of. That’s what all the people Rubio is ripping off did.”–Jamie S. Rich, DVD Talk (DVD)