THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
One of the great unintentional comedies in movie history, my friends and I saw this complete and utter disaster eight times theatrically – and it kept getting funnier every single time we saw it. Much of this is due to the insane circumstances under which the film was produced; double-live gonzo director Richard Stanley (he of the screwy, derivative, and not-very-good Hardware and the truly terrible Dust Devil) spent four years developing the film – and was fired from it after four days. John Frankenheimer stepped in, interested in working with a stellar cast that included Marlon Brando, Val Kilmer, and Ron Perlman. Kilmer and Frankenheimer and Brando and the studio fought like warrior poets about the tone and tack the film should take…while original director Stanley watched from a neighboring island, plotting revenge (which, legend has it, involved him being made up like one of the island’s hybrid natives and skulking about). He needn’t have bothered. The film was an utter failure – largely due to a stunning miscalculation of an audience’s willingness to trust in complete batshit. You can sell them a batshit character, setting, or event – even a batshit premise – but here it’s setting and plot and tone and especially character and performance that are just some of the most astonishingly wrong-headed things to have ever happened on a film set.
David Thewlis. Oh…David Thewlis. Do you guys know how amazing Thewlis is? Have you seen Naked (Criterion sale at Barnes and Noble people – get on that shit)? Thewlis is a lot of things. Man-of-action isn’t one of them (originally, his role belonged to Kilmer – who may have been a better fit, but Kilmer balked once shooting began, for reasons that remain nebulous – but mostly owe to him being Val Kilmer in the mid-nineties). Then Fairuza Balk exists as a cat girl monster…love interest. Fairuza Balk…she’s a lot of things, too. Mostly she’s a Fairuza Balk. But she’s no seductress. No matter how monstery she is.
And Brando…oh, Brando. He is the gift that keeps on giving in this film. Clad in sun bonnets and mu-mus and whiteface kabuki makeup…slipping effortlessly between a hacky Richard Burton impression and and his own take on a hacky comic doing him as Don Corleone in The Godfather, the bloated goof trades his legacy and his dignity for a performance so audacious in its misguided ineptitude that I feel like he had to know exactly what the fuck he was doing, and he intended to sink the film and his reputation. And yet…he’s so awful here that he comes out the other side absolutely electrifying. There’s a little birth defect guy done up in grotesque makeup sharing the frame with Marlon in every shot, but Brando is the thing you can’t take your eyes off of.
This is something you’ve got to experience once. Or eight times. Your mileage may vary.
THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO (CRITERION)
Just in time for the Criterion sale at Barnes and Noble comes Whit Stillman’s finest hour. He’s doing what he does best here, chronicling the lives of young urbanites in love – but the period and the attitudes make it sparkle, as it features the wit of his other films, but not the ennui (well, at least not all of it).
As a child during this time, disco annoyed me – mostly because I associated it with adults too fucked on cheap blow to function (yeah…I was six, but I wasn’t stupid). But Stillman sells the allure (for the most part – no one should fill the frame with Drew Barrymore’s mom like that unless they intend on being portentous. Woman looks like she escaped from the set of fucking Santa Sangre) – and casting two of the most luminous little girls possible certainly helps. Holy Mother of God, Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale are radiant beings here. When the office girls cut loose, you almost get why this was such an amazing time. The ugliness we know came later creeps around the fringes, but seems to be kept at bay by the pulse of NYC’s nightlife. Sevigny is the smart, soft-spoken, introspective being – and Beckinsale plays…a girl I dated. Hard to watch the movie with her sitting right there. Everytime Beckinsale’s ruthless little shit of a character carelessly dumps on everyone around her, I laughed at how much she was like the girl I was watching the film with – who would madly protest that she would never treat people like that (ironic, since the fact that she treated people exactly like that was what made her extra hot).
Since you guys seem to like it when I tell stories like this: At a nerd-con appearance supporting, of all things, Van Helsing – I told Kate Beckinsale that I loved her in The Last Days of Disco. She was surprised. Said that she doesn’t get that a lot. I wondered why that was, since it’s such a great performance. She said it probably owes to the character being such a snot. I told her the attitude just makes her more alluring – “though I’ve always had a thing for breathtakingly beautiful, attitudinal women who would would never give me the time of day.” This made Hugh Jackman laugh. It was kind of a cackle – like if he was drinking something, he’d have hit a spit-take. He slapped a hand on my shoulder and said, “This guy’s smooth!”
You know how you know you’re a prick? When Jason Statham calls you a prick.
You know how you know you’re smooth? That’s right.
Of course, Jackman might have meant the same thing Statham meant…
Criterion also releases Stillman’s Metropolitan this day.
People often say that a film that didn’t connect with an audience is “ahead of its time.” Usually, that’s a load of face-saving shit. But with Mystery Men, a loose adaptation of the few spinoff books featuring Bob (Flaming Carrot) Burden’s inept team of superheroes, it really is true. Today, this film would make its cake. An all-star (ugh) comic cast comes together to make a what amounts to an opulent, gorgeous parody of Watchmen masquerading as a lighthearted – if screwloose – adventure. With Ben Stiller’s trademark self-loathing cruelty creeping in around the edges, this film was never going to be cutesy. I saw this movie three times in the theater. I dragged friends. I took a date (fucking chick magnet, lemme’ tell you). I bought the toys. I sold this film to whoever I could – and now I sell it to you.
100th Street Haunting: The Ghost of Richard Speck
Age of the Dragons
Beautiful Planet: England & The Low Countries
Beautiful Planet: Germany & Austria
Big Easy Express
Boss: Season One
The Deep Blue Sea – Wait – this isn’t the Renny Harlin film? Then forget it. I’m kidding. I’ve heard great things
Dracula Vs. Frankenstein
Inspector Lewis: Series 5
The Island Of Dr. Moreau
Jiro Dreams of Sushi – I’ve been told this is fantastic, but I’ve yet to see for myself. Soon…
The Last Days Of Disco
The Last of England
Los Angeles Kings: 2012 Stanley Cup Champions
Nature: Cracking the Koala Code
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Americana
On the Inside
Peter Gabriel: Secret World Live
Queen & Country
Star Trek The Next Generation: Season One – This looks gorgeous…but there’s a lot of crappy television to suffer through here
They Made Me A Fugitive
WWE Undertaker: The Streak – Is this referring to the one in his underwear? Guy’s moved like he has diarrhea since 1999. Hang it up please, Zombie Biker Badass in a Pilgrim Hat. Your gimmick is that you have a pilgrim hat and you don’t sell. Christ, I hate you
THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM – HANDWRITTEN
It’s another mark of Bruce Springsteen’s generosity of spirit that he’s always been gracious and welcoming to his army of imitators/wannabes/ripoff artists, whether low-rent hacks like John Cafferty, underrated pros like Joe Grushecky, or bland, well-meaning acolytes like Brian Fallon, for whom the idea of the 45 rpm vinyl single as a life metaphor would still seem to have some validity.
MIKE KENEALLY – WING BEAT FANTASTIC: SONGS WRITTEN BY MIKE KENEALLY & ANDY PARTRIDGE
Second most fascinating team-up of the week as the ex-Zappa multi-instrumentalist/vocalist moves into XTC’s garden-shed studio of pop, with resulting skewed riffs and smart psychedelia.
MIKE PATTON (narrator), WITH ICTUS ENSEMBLE – LABORINTUS II
Most fascinating team-up of the week: Patton meets the spirit of 20th century progressive Luciano Berio, tackling his challenging amalgam of instrumentation, voices, and tape treatments, with settings by Dante, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, aided and abetted by conductor Georges-Elie Octors, leading the Ictus Ensemble, with the Nederlands Kamerkoor.
OTHER NOTABLE 7.24 RELEASES:
John Frusciante – Letur-Lefr
Peter Green – Blues Don’t Change
GZA/Genius – Liquid Swords: The Chess Box
Reverend Horton Heat – 25 to Life Box Set
Passion Pit – Gossamer
Purity Ring – Shrines
Slipknot – Antennas to Hell
miCOACH BY ADIDAS (360, PS3)
Me Coach? My Coach? Mission Impossible Coach? From the publishers of the Michael Phelps game and Naughty Bear. From what little research I’ve done (none) – I think this is a game that has some sort of tracking device so if you get fat Dwight Howard can yell at you. I’ll probably avoid it; my phone (and my ex girlfriends) already tells me I’m fat all the time.
And that’s it for retail releases this week. I guess game publishers want us to enjoy the weather. Tuff luck – I’d rather play miCoach by Adidas.
Well, that’s it. I’m going to go listen to Handwritten now. An album I love, Jebbins – you hear me?! LOVE!!
Did I just give Jeb a nickname? I’m an idiot.