This summer, we are counting down our 25 favorite movies that didn’t connect with audiences on their initial release! View the whole series here.
3. Showgirls (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1995)
I often wonder if the genius of Showgirls lies in its ability to polarize an audience. I love pop culture “trash” and I love Las Vegas. It’s my favorite place. Losers parading around as successes. I’m rarely interested in prestige pictures and I’d rather see something take a big chance and fail spectacularly than stay the boring course. Showgirls takes all the swings. Between the thrusting we thought was sexy in the 90’s and performances spanning from strained (poor Elizabeth Berkley) and sickening (Gina Gershon eats every scene she’s in) it’s a wildly uneven 2 hours. But maybe that’s the point. Nomi isn’t any good, that’s why she cheats to get ahead. The ONLY nice person in the entire movie gets brutalized. The bad people constantly win. They are corrupt, they are connivers, and they are assholes.
The reason this film works for a lot of people is because it has become something beyond what it was intended to be. I do believe the cast and crew intended to create some sort of biting commentary on the unreal expectations show business puts on women looking for stardom in seedy nightclubs and strip clubs. The fact that the movie stays so serious and SO earnest in this “mission” is what makes it so hilarious. If anybody on set went into the project with the mission being “camp” it never would have worked. Camp succeeds when it’s earnest. It makes the viewer sit back and say “this CAN’T be serious” and allows the film to work as a piece to be laughed with, even if you’re laughing at it.
The reason this movie doesn’t work for some? The drama of the piece is pretty difficult to be invested in. The dialogue is wildly stilted. The ONLY good character in the film (Molly, played by Gina Ravera) gets BRUTALIZED. The movie isn’t sexy. At all. Oh, and the marketing is questionable at best. They tried to sell the movie to women by saying it was an honest portrayal of injustices girls on the Vegas strip… but at the same time they were trying to sell it as a cheap sexploitation film.
Did they succeed with either? Questionable
I’ve seen this movie a number of times now and I just let it wash over me. It requires no brain power to participate as an audience member. And honestly? Often that’s the best way to experience film.
I love this movie because it requires no work on my end.
Hollywood. Gotta love it.
Re-post from Cinema76.com
This summer, we are counting down our 25 favorite movies that didn’t connect with audiences on their initial release! View the whole series here.
10. Shoot ‘Em Up (dir. Michael Davis, 2007)
A live action, R-rated, Looney Tunes episode, Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) and Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) are a Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in the middle of a bloody gun control debate.
The movie isn’t too concerned with plot, but for those who need a refresher: a mysterious gunman delivers a baby in the middle of a gruesome shootout. With the baby’s mother dead, Mr. Smith is on a mission to save this mysterious child from a group of mercenaries, lead by Mr. Hertz, who want to harvest the baby’s organs to keep and old, crusty, presidential hopeful alive. Aided by a lactating prostitute named Donna Quintano (Monica Bellucci), Mr. Smith spends 86 fast-moving minutes destroying every person after him in new and gruesome ways.
It doesn’t get more complicated than that. We know who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. The baby is named Oliver after Oliver Twist, because orphan. There are a lot of “carrot kills” and they are all giggle inducing. The conspiracy at the heart of the conflict is found out quickly and the film plays as a jump cut from action scene to action scene. Each new location brings new kills into the equation. It’s gross and extreme and corny, and because of that it is darkly funny. I laughed a lot in the way that only things pushed to 500 million can make you laugh.
The characters are caricatures. The hero with super-powered gun slinging abilities. The sociopathic evil boss who will stop at nothing to kill our hero and his helpers. Our hooker with a heart of gold. The two women in the movie are treated like mothers or symbols of maternity and not much else, although Donna is a playful badass. There’s even a shoot out while Smith and Donna are having sex. Donna doesn’t seem to mind.
Sometimes these symbols are subverted. For example, Donna gives a back-alley blow job to make some money and buy little baby Oliver a bullet proof vest instead of a blanket. Oliver sleeps to the soothing sounds of heavy metal music. Mr. Hertz fields phone calls (set to the ringtone of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” aka “Kill the waaaabbbit, kill the waaabbbit, kill the waaabbbiiit”) between blowing dude’s heads off to tell his wife he’ll be home for dinner. Giamatti is also not the imposing figure we expect from a movie villain. He’s just some dude. He could be anybody. That makes him all the more terrifying.
This movie is certainly not for the faint of heart. If you’re looking for thoughtful cinema about gun control and the harm extreme violence can do in society, this isn’t it. If you’re looking to see the kind of garbage the world can become if we have no compassion and allow the rich to control the gene pool to save their crusty selves, the movie kind of explores that. If you’re trying to turn your brain off and let something wash over you, this is that movie.
Re-post from Cinema76.com
With Hamilton dropping on Disney+, sans fucks, I have decided to give all the fucks to movie musicals. To see Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Renee Elise Goldberry, Philipa Soo, Christopher Jackson, Oak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda do their dang thing in #hamilfilm… I’m feeling nostalgic for theatre. I’m an actor by trade and the COVID “pause” of theatre and film sets leaves me looking for the jolt good live theatre can give to a day. If you’re also missing the theatre, let me steer you towards some musical gems in the film world.
1. West Side Story (dirs. Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, 1961)
If you went to public school, you probably saw this movie in middle school music class. Stephen Sondheim considers it his most embarrassing work as a lyricist, but it’s hard to not feel moved by the Shakespearian sentiments of this 1961 take on Romeo and Juliet. You know the story. The Jets and the Sharks are two rival gangs. The Jets are white, the Sharks are Puerto Rican, and one member of each side of the schism falls in love, resulting in unnecessarily violence shaking the core values of the two groups. This film won 10 Academy Awards, including acting accolades for the legendary EGOT Rita Moreno and George Chakiris as Anita and Bernardo. Russ Tamblyn also gives a fantastic performance as Riff, the Mercutio stand in.
Special shout out to choreographer (and co-director of the film) Jerome Robbins for making the transition from stage to screen seamless. The Prologue is one of the most beautiful examples of wordless character set up.
2. A Chorus Line (dir. Richard Attenborough, 1985)
Never has a show explored the disappointment and dehumanization of auditioning for a Broadway show than A Chorus Line. As a working actor, disappointment and rejection is the name of the game. For every 1 Yes you hear 500 Nos. Hard work, passion, experience, and skill does not always equal a job. The show was on Broadway in 1975, Michael Bennet, the show’s creator and choreographer, won the Pulitzer Prize in drama and explores the insides of the industries only the way an insider can. The movie is SO 80’s and has a very stiff performance by Michael Douglas at its heart, but the heart is there. The characters are endearing, the songs are catchy, the choreography is amazing, and I dare you not to want to get up and dance with them at the end. Oh, and it’s directed by Richard Attenborough. Yes. Jurassic Park’s Richard Attenborough.
3. Tommy (dir. Ken Russell, 1975)
A movie, based on a concept album, that was then adapted into a stage musical. If it sounds like a lot, wait until you see the movie! The film is full of wild performances by A list stars. Highlights include an incredible Tina Turner as The Acid Queen, Elton John as a high-platformed pinball wizard, Oliver Reed grumbling and calling it singing, Eric Clapton as the Hawker, and Jack Nicholson as a doctor. Ann-Margret and Roger Daltry, as Mrs. Walker and Tommy, give great performances and the visuals of the piece are fantastically fun. They even have an extended instrumental sequence where Ann-Margret rolls around in a bunch of chocolate, looking like a fresh poop. It’s perfect.
4. Dreamgirls (dir. Bill Condon, 2006)
Loosely based on the story of The Supremes and the Shirelles Dreamgirls follows The Dreams (Beyonce, Anika Noni Rose, and Jennifer Hudson) as they ride the wave of stardom. This colorful adaptation of the 1981 stage play boosts powerful performances by Jennifer Hudson, winning her a Supporting Actress Oscar, and earning Eddie Murphy his only Oscar nomination, which is insane to me. Justice for Dolemite Is My Name. The movie follows the stage play pretty closely, but omits songs to make way for new ones, and the new songs are also bops.
The QUEEN, Jennifer Holliday in the original production.
5. Little Shop of Horrors (dir. Frank Oz, 1986)
A Frank Oz film is always a rip-roaring good time, and Little Shop of Horrors, the 1986 film, based on the 1982 broadway musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, based on the 1960 Roger Corman black and white movie, is no exception. Seymour (a nerdy Rick Moranis) and Audrey (Ellen Green, who originated the role on broadway) live on skid row with no way out of their hopeless situations. Seymour will never escape working in a flower shop. Audrey will never escape her never-ending parade of terrible men who are terrible toward her. Suddenly, a plant arrives to the shop (Levi Stubbs voices “Audrey II”, and also has the best singing voice known to man) and while this new plant seems to be turning Seymour’s luck around, it starts requiring blood to live. Human blood. And it demands to be fed.
In a fun cameo, the newest asshole in Audrey’s life is Steve Martin, huffing some gas as Orin Scrivello, a sadistic dentist. One of the folks he tortures is Bill Murray, making this the only movie they ever appeared in together.
There was a revival of the musical at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2019 with Be More Chill’s George Salazar, Pose’s MJ Rodriguez as Audrey, and Amber Riley voicing Audrey II. This ran the same time as Jonathan Groff (Hamilton’s spitty King George) and Tammy Blanchard were about to lead a COVID-canceled revival on Broadway, showing just how immediate elements of the musical can be when performed by people who don’t look how we “envision the characters”.
6. Fiddler on the Roof (dir. Norman Jewison, 1971)
The musical follows traditional Tevye, a Jewish dairyman, attempting to preserve Tradition as his three oldest daughters find love and marry in a pre-revolutionary 1905 Russia.
The 1971 film naturalizes the action of the musical in ways that ground Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein’s 1964 story. When Tevye (a legendary performance by Topel, who still performs the role to this day), talks to the screen, it feels natural. The music exists as a companion to the action, as opposed to stopping momentum to sing. Like, they’re just doing their chores. Feeding chickens and shit. But singing.
The characters in Fiddler are real and three-dimensional. It’s a joyous and shattering to spend time and experience a changing world, for better and for worse, alongside them.
7. Chicago (dir. Rob Marshall 2002)
Did you know that Chicago is still running on Broadway? The same Bob Fosse-inspired revival that opened in 1996 is (was? Thanks COVID) still playing, making it the longest running revival in Broadway’s history. Set in the murder obsessed 1920’s Chicago, two death-row murderesses Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger, pouting) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones, doing splits at 3 months pregnant) compete for publicity, fame, and a super star lawyer (Richard Gere) who will save their lives at the price of their fame. Directed by Rob Marshall, the film won 6 Oscars, including Supporting Actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Best Picture. In stark contrast to Fiddler on the Roof’s naturalistic tone, Chicago instead decides to spotlight the stage within a screen aspect of Roxie’s personality to varying degrees of success. Queen Latifah as a hard-nosed prison warden and John C. Reilly as Roxie’s sad sack husband are delightful as the best singers in the bunch.
8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (dir. Jim Sharman, 1975)
It’s the pelvis thrust that really drives you insay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ayn and your sexuality probably took a turn for the better if you were a human who discovered this movie at a formative age. Based on Richard O’Brien’s deliciously weird 1973 The Rocky Horror Show, this movie is one of the best things that has ever happened to film. Newly engaged Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick, ASSHOLE) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon, HOT) breakdown in a strange area and have to seek shelter at a castle in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by Dr. Frank ‘n Furter (Tim………..SAY IT….. Curry), a sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania. An exploration of kink, seduction, and some banging (lulz) songs follow. If the Disney-fication of Hamilton’s fucks bothered you, give yourself over to absolute pleasure and experience this movie for the first time or the five millionth time. It’s a cult classic and was one of the first popular musicals to depict fluid sexuality in a positive way. The 1975 Broadway run closed after 45 performances. They weren’t ready. The show is rarely produced now. Maybe because the movie regularly comes equipped with a shadow cast. Maybe because people are still prudes.
9. Cabaret (dir. Bob Fosse, 1972)
Bob Fosse was known for being a dickhead, but he was also a master at musicals and let that mastery spill into the world of musical movies. Cabaret is an example of that mastery. Joel Grey and Liza Minelli give game-changing performances in this musical about a crumbling Cabaret in the middle of the rise of Nazi Germany. It’s terrifying, seedy, and there are no good guys. Kander and Ebb set the scene with some of the most famous music to come out of the theatre. Sam Mendes directed a seedier revival starring Alan Cumming as the Emcee. The production kept its punch in 1993 and was touring the country until the COVID shutdown.
10. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
Internationally ignored songstress Hedwig Robinson, is left questioning who she is in the world. With a botched sex change operation and an ex-lover getting famous of her songs, she is left giving A+ dive bar performances while searching for her other half. John Cameron Mitchell and Miriam Shore reprise the roles they created off-broadway and Mitchell steps into the director’s seat. The result is a fast, funny, and heartbreaking, experience. It’s my favorite musical movie about finding yourself in a sea of loss and unfulfilled potential. It gave a place for all the misfits, and the losers, and the strange rock and rollers to know we’re doing alright, listening to the midnight radio.
11. Hair (dir. Milos Forman, 1979)
We follow Claude, a wannabe rebel, as he is embraced by a group of hippies protesting the draft and embracing free love and drugs during the time of the Vietnam War. The movie, directed by Milos Forman, is vastly different than the 1967 musical. The musical is more of a collection of vignette style protest songs, as it was supposed to be a contemporary celebration of the hippies at the time. Every once and a while we get some plot, but for the most part, we are following a movement and an energy. No, Hair is not intended to be a “period piece”, but it’s been set in the 70’s ever since. The movie reorganized the songs and sharpens the characters into movie stars. We’ll see if a true to the source version of the musical ever gets adapted to film, but for now, we have this goosebump inducing final scene.
12. Cats (dir. Tom Hooper, 2019)
The first rule of Fight Club is… you don’t talk about Fight Club….
Well. I’m about to TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB.
The first time I encountered Tyler Durden was in high school. Me, a rag-a-muffin garbage person interested in counter-culture and things that are kinda flashy and gross. Enter Chuck Phalaniuk’s book Invisible Monsters. From Brandy Alexander, I found Fight Club. I ripped through the book and walked to the local Blockbuster to purchase a used VHS of David Fincher’s Fight Club.
I was hooked. Masculine and highly stylized, but hyper focused, Fight Club quickly became the movie on a constant loop in my bedroom television’s VHS player. I’d fall asleep somewhere around Project Mayhem most nights, but I still have most of the front half of the film memorized. Marla Singer was the ideal and Tyler Durden was the coolest of the cool. Also, did you know the fictional world of Fight Club is supposedly set in Wilmington? One drive through Wilmington’s city center, with all its credit card companies looming about a poor city, you see the likeness. Apparently, Fincher wanted to film in Wilmington, but the city said no because the same credit card companies Fight Club blows up are the ones paying the city’s bills.
My love for this movie is…. Impressive. It’s endlessly quotable. The performances are next level. The world is fully realized, and David Fincher is at the top of his game. You can smell the churches, the meeting rooms, the cigarette smoke clinging to Marla’s jacket.
Speaking of jackets…. I could write an entire dissertation on Brad Pitt’s leather jacket. I love it so much. Pitt’s contribution this film, besides displaying a six pack of abs that could cut glass, is also a lesson in how far charisma can push a performance into the “iconic” category. Edward Norton has the thankless task of being the audience surrogate, and he carries that burden well, but Brad Pitt is allowed to let loose and have fun. His recent Oscar winning turn as Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time…. In Hollywood borrows some swagger from Fight Club, but without as much of the edge.
Then there is Helena Bonham Carter. Marla is the best character. Perhaps the hardest bitch of them all, she stays steady and consistent in a world filled with little boys punching each other in the face.
Let me speak on those boys. I hate that this film gets a “boy’s club” reputation…because why wouldn’t it….it is LITERALLY about a boy’s club and the destruction that comes from that exclusivity.
Chuck Palahniuk, as a gay man, wrote a book that shows how dumb it is to keep everything inside. He wrote about how terrible it is to not be able to live your truth and have to retreat underground. Capitalism destroyed the narrator at the heart of Fight Club, and so Tyler appears in his life to destroy capitalism and make “toxic masculinity” a brand he can capitalize on.
Without support, a society can turn to violence. Our narrator seeks comfort in support groups. Fight Club becomes a support group without diverse inputs or individuality. Fight Club becomes a destructive unit, and what starts as consenting violence turns into something worse. A rebellion of assholes. The turning point is when Tyler gives the club homework: “Pick a fight with somebody in the real world. But you have to lose.” None of the normie folk consent to this treatment. It’s assholes versus regular people. Tyler says it early on. “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.” Punching a stranger in the face or blowing up a credit card company does not make you a hero.
Tyler takes advantage of the angry men (mostly white, yes) he appeals to, making the movie more and more disturbing and more and more desperate as it goes along. The film doesn’t glorify this. It’s creepy and fucked up. “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything” is tempting, but it isn’t substantial. It’s self-indulgent, it’s selfish, and it’s soul sucking. It’s a way for the men at the heart of Fight Club to shake off responsibility and be terrorist fuck faces.
The movie doesn’t make this a pretty sight. They’re psychopaths and Marla, the only person in the movie who criticizes this behavior, is the only person our narrator can trust and connect with in the end. Connection and affection (alone with the combination of a bullet to the skull) sets him free of Tyler. The movie doesn’t end with a clean “the end”, instead we watch the world burn as Marla and the Narrator watch. Scared, but ready to rebuild. Together.
Palahniuk has gone on record to say the movie is better than his book.
The book is excellent.
The ending of this film is iconic.
If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person? Well, yeah, I guess. But it doesn’t mean that different person is a nice person.
I love films without easy answers. Fight Club is funny and fucked up. That place between a giggle and a panic attack I search for in all of the work I, as an actor and an artist, attempt to create.
I love it.
Re-post from Cinema76.com
The year is 1951 and Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker is the name on everybody’s lips in John Water’s musical, mad cap, do-wop movie Cry-Baby. He also happens to be my favorite bad boy, Johnny Depp. Cry-Baby is a bad boy in Baltimore and a rebel without a cause, leading his gang of “drapes” through a Square’s world. Of course, Mr. Baby (Depp) falls in love with one of the squares, sweet Allison (Amy Locane). Peril, jailtime, musical numbers, and chicken competitions ensue as our modern Romeo and Juliet fight to be together in a world trying to tear them apart.
It spawned a Broadway musical, hurled Waters into Hollywood budget territory, and broke Johnny Depp’s matinee idol reputation, shepherded him into the weirdo, queerdo, mainstream. It’s a celebration of everything corny, stupid, and romantic about the 1950’s.
In typical John Waters fashion, there is a collection of colorful characters and awesome outcast actors. As the Drapes, the perpetually pregnant Pepper (Ricki Lake), the aptly named Hatchet-Face (Kim McGuire), and too sexy for her own good Wanda (Traci Lords), Ramona and Belvedere Ricketts (Susan Tyrrell and Iggy Pop) are as delightful as they are scary. There’s a cameo from a young Willem Dafoe as “Hateful Guard” and Mink Stole as Hatchet-Face’s iron lung bound mother.
Stole particularly shines when her entire performance is filmed through a mirror while she chain-smokes cigarettes. And don’t forget Lenora (Kim Webb), who is obsessed with Cry-Baby and will stop at NOTHING to stop him and Allison from being together.
Waters, our Pope of Trash, is notorious for casting folks on the fringe of society. It’s why we love him and it’s what makes his movies so successful. They’re honest and without pretense. Real life weirdos embracing movies as a creative outlet. Because of that, I’m here to celebrate some of the strange surrounding Cry-Baby.
All this month, we are counting down the 31 best horror movies of the decade and taking a closer look at why each one earned a spot on our list!
6. Raw (dir. Julia Ducournau, 2016)I’m a fair-weather horror fan. I always enjoy when I sit down to watch, but it’s never been my number one genre when I sit down to watch a movie. I’m not a big fan of “bump in the night” horror. Movies that attempt to shock you with loud noises and jump scares. I find them cheap, even though they get me Every. Single. Time. I generally don’t get grossed out by things. The Saw movies make me giggle.
Raw made me want to barf.
The film, written and directed by Julia Ducournau, in a masterful debut, follows Justine (Garance Marillier) a young vegetarian in her first year at veterinary school. Everybody in Justine’s family is a strict vegetarian. While attending vet school, Justine is bullied by her older sister (Ella Rumpf) and participates in a hazing ceremony involving eating raw meat. From that moment, her appetite for flesh grows and grows.
Raw is punk as shit. It’s shot beautifully and stylistically, however stays rooted in the concept of learning who you are at your core beyond familial expectations, education, lifestyle choices, and dietary restrictions. It takes these big concepts and filters it down to a gorgeous horror film that is much more accessible than what these large concepts look like in text form.
Raw is deeply Feminist without being overtly FEMINIST. The film revolves around two sisters who are fully realized humans grappling with real identity issues. Identity issues such as losing your virginity, peer pressure, living up to a family legacy, and disordered eating in the form of an insatiable appetite for human flesh. It grapples with accepting the good, the bad, and the ugly inside all of us.
As the hungry sisters, Garance Marillier and Ella Rumpf are sensational. Despite the heightened circumstances of the movie, they remain rooted in realism and truthfulness. You care about Justine and Alexia, which makes their journey and competitive nature so much harder to watch.
Raw is also one of those movies that has such a shockingly good twist at the end, you need to watch the film again to catch hints you missed throughout. It’s not a twist that cheapens the movie or makes you feel cheated because you just invested time and energy into this film and the twist undercuts that time and energy. Instead, it deepens the film. It’s okay to sacrifice a large chunk of yourself to love somebody. The ones we love will take a chunk out of us, regardless. We might as well volunteer that chunk.
Watch it twice, if you dare.
Re-post from Cinema76.com
How does one make a documentary about Woodstock that improves upon the legendary Woodstock documentary from the 70’s? How do you capture that kind of energy on screen again? Haven’t we seen everything there is to see about Woodstock already?
Well, Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation doesn’t reach the groundbreaking heights of the 1970 film. This modern Woodstock is more interested in the folks behind the scenes and the organization of the festival itself, and it’s better for it.
The whole film plays like a solid PBS documentary… because it is. It was made with PBS to release as a companion piece celebrating 50 years from the original Woodstock. We never see the narrators of the film, they remain behind the scenes, like they did during the festival. Woodstock brought peace and love at a time when young people were unsure and scared for their future. The Vietnam War was a dark shadow over their lives, and Woodstock gave them a chance to escape. To tune in, drop out, and drop into the vibes from some the greatest rock, folk, and blues bands of all time.
This Woodstock film is a celebration of the human kindness the festival brought into the world and a celebration of the mundane. For instance, there is a whole section dedicated to timing bathroom trips at Madison Square Garden to see how many bathrooms they would need in the Woodstock field.
The most touching moment is when the town of Waskill heard the kids of Woodstock were out of food. The community of farmers and self-described “hicks” gathered together and started giving free food to the “hippies” attending the festival. They took care of a community that was disrupting their regular way of life, but it didn’t matter. People were good to one another. They shared.
When choosing between fences and a stage, the creators chose a stage. They chose a stage because, while a lack of boundaries causes cacophony, a lack of entertainment causes a riot. Those “kids in the field would have nothing to do.” In stark contrast to the failed Fyre Festival, and the crazy documentaries about that mess, the creators of Woodstock (also overwhelmed by the Festival turn out) gave the festival away. Money became secondary and executing the damn thing became the reason for the moment.
This documentary is even paced and calm. For every catastrophe, every flash flood warning, every threat of electrocution, every hint of death by substances, there’s a silver lining. Only two people died at Woodstock. A person sleeping under a tracker trailer, and one overdose. There were 500,000 people attending, and only two casualties. Doctors volunteered their time, did their best, and the music played on.
Watching Woodstock: Three Days That Defined A Generation may not have profoundly moved and changed me like the original Woodstock documentary did when I first saw it as a precocious pre-teen, but it did make me feel a little less cynical about our own scary times.
“If 400,00 people could get together have absolutely no violence, absolutely no conflict, I felt like we could change the world.”
TICKETS TO WOODSTOCK WERE $6.00.
YOU COULD GO FOR THREE DAYS FOR $18.
BONNAROO COULD NEVER.
Repost from Cinema76.com
Let’s be very clear: I was excited to see this movie. Robert Mapplethorpe is an interesting figure. Patti Smith’s sometimes lover was extraordinarily polarizing during his time on the art scene. Everybody knows at least one of his images, even if you weren’t sure who shot the shot. Ondi Timoner’s documentary-style filmmaking (this is her first narrative film) includes actual footage of Mapplethorpe and co. spliced between the narrative, as well as footage from the gorgeous 70’s/80’s Bohemian, Heroin chic, New York City. Timoner embraces the phallic nature of his art. There’s peen in a movie about peen! And lots of it!
So why is this movie so lame?
Why wasn’t it an actual documentary, since those moments are the most successful parts of the film?
The movie is the stuff of straightforward biopics:
Man starts one way (straight laced, Christian, in the army), changes and adapts as he finds himself (discovers drugs and photography), falls in love along the way (with many different partners, men and women), struggles with family (said straight laced Christian dad and brother who idolizes him), and dies in a tragic, but ultimately inevitable (AIDS complications), way. I wish it didn’t boil down so cleanly, as the real Mapplethorpe’s life was anything but paint by numbers.
At the center of the movie, Matt Smith (boasting an incredibly convincing New York accent), is an almost picture-perfect Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith’s performance is multi-layered and well-studied. Robert is a gangly character with big eyes and an endearing slouch and half-hazard way of moving through the world. It isn’t until a camera is put into his hands that he feels truly alive and able to commit to the person he wants to be. Smith is simple and isn’t acting too hard, which makes it easy to follow him, but as the movie goes on, it becomes clear his performance belongs in a better film.
Marianne Rendon’s Patti Smith (famous Rowan University, my alma mater, drop out) is not even a shade of the real Patti. Her and Mapplethorpe’s “meet cute” is better suited to Garden State than the Just Kids memoir stars. Robert is pouting on a bench, and Patti bounces over to him, puts her arms around his neck and tells him to pretend to be her boyfriend. She has nowhere to stay, you see, so they go back to his apartment and she dances around in a striped shirt with no pants on and they have sex, so she stays.
They pretend to be married so his parents accept him, and when she meets them, she wears wacky shirts because “wooooaaaahhhh, she’s just so DIFFERENT and STRANGE.” But then one day Patti, the love of his life, storms out because she’s upset that he’s taking pictures of men and not of her. Robert persists, stating “If you leave me, I’ll turn gay.” This happens because the truth (Patti staying by his side for most of their young lives, through thick and thin) isn’t dramatic enough?
Robert is left on his own and quickly meets a whole bunch of people who only exist as plot devices. Eventually, Robert finds a rich boyfriend in Sam (John Benjamin Hickey, in a performance that is simple and affecting). Sam gives Robert the camera he uses throughout his art world rise, as well as an apartment. So, kids, get a rich partner and you’ll be aight.
Then the photos begin. The men pulled off the street. Robert’s cocaine addiction and his super sketchy ways of seducing young men (particularly young, beautiful, black men) and sweet talking them to undo their pants so he can take pictures of their penises. The abandonment of everybody, including his little brother (Brandon Sklenar) who is trying his best to be a famous photographer like his hero brother. It’s hard to watch while our society is enveloped in “me too” culture, and I hope that’s a connection Timoner is making but I’m not 100% certain the connection is on purpose.
Mapplethorpe is only 102 minutes and feels a lot longer. When flashes of Mapplethorpe’s actual pictures appear onscreen, the movie becomes alive and immediate. We’re reminded of what made him so incendiary in the first place. His work was kinetic and intense. It was dangerous and taboo. Robert was an enigma. He was quiet and temperamental, the type of person folks who love “tortured artist” stereotypes are drawn to. Robert died of AIDS related illness at age 42, but before he did, he spread the disease to a lot of unknowing people. I appreciate embracing the subject matter’s less than desirable traits, I just wish this movie was better at capturing the things that made Robert special in the first place.
Read Just Kids if you’d like an intimate portrayal of the man behind the camera. Patti Smith captures a time and a place in much more vivid imagery than this plodding tale suggests. But if Mapplethorpe is any indication, Matt Smith will be putting out more beautiful performances and Timoner is a stylish filmmaker with a bright future. I hope the movies in their futures are more on par with their talents.
-What is the MPAA’s beef (heh) with front bits? Butts are cool. Boobs are usually fine. Penis and vagina is out. (Unless they’re Viggo Mortenson or Michael Fassbender and your contract insists you must show pee-pee.) Matt Smith’s front bits are always tastefully hidden, even as he gets up from a naked rendezvous. Does Robert never showing us his privates act as the filmmaker’s way of metaphorically, and literally, showing that he is always in hiding? Or is it because movie stars are reluctant to show bitsies? Food for thought.
-From Just Kids by Patti Smith:
“Robert trusted in the law of empathy, by which he could, by his will, transfer himself into an object or a work of art, and thus influence the outer world. He did not feel redeemed by the work he did. He did not seek redemption. He sought to see what others did not, the projection of his imagination.”
This paragraph describes Robert Mapplethorpe in more detail and specificity than the movie Mapplethorpe.
Repost from Cinema76.com
In the opening moments of Lorna Tucker's Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist Vivienne Westwood sits alone in a velvet chair, and moans "I will get into it, but it's soooboring." In the next 80 minutes we get a greatest hits rundown of Ms. Westwood's successes and setbacks. We also see glimpses of the woman behind the movement, but Westwood is always keenly aware of herself. Tucker's documentary shows us how punk, and one of the leading labelers of punk, is able to re-invent the wheel while selling the public the wheel covered in graffiti and spit.
We follow Westwood's history from early days as a single mother, smitten by Mr. Westwood at a young age, and then increasingly bored of him and his dreams of a Leave it to Beaverhome life. She left him for Malcolm McLaren, an art student at the time, and history was spray painted in the sky. McLaren and Westwood took up residency in Camden Town (a strange little pocket of a town, filled with underground stables and music venues) and sold records for a time in a little store called "Let it Rock". Over their partnership, "Let it Rock" changed names a handful of times (Notable legendary names include: "Too Fast to Live, Too Young To Die", "Sex", "Seditionaries", and now it is the beautiful "World's End") and customers came and went. Some customers, as is the case with Johnny Rotten, were handpicked and styled into superstars. As Westwood became increasingly interested in fashion and selling sex and destruction through fashion, McLaren because jealous. As she did with her husband before, Westwood out grew their relationship and moved on.
In this documentary, Westwood is uninterested in talking about the Sex Pistols and the pair's time together. The subject is dropped fairly quickly to focus on Westwood's own legacy, but if you are interested in those formative days of Punk Rock, read Please Kill Me: An Uncensored Oral Historyby Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. It's fire.
The second half of the documentary focuses on Westwood's humanitarianism and her rise to popularity. Nowadays, Westwood and her husband, fellow designer Andreas Kronthaler, are working diligently to make sure the brand she built from nothing is quality assured. Westwood is concerned that her brand has gotten too big, and is more interested in her humanitarian efforts than making money by brand expansions. There are more than a few shots of Westwood marching against fracking with fashionable shoes, smash cut with clips of her accepting Designer of the Year awards.
It's a little upsetting to see the designer's humanitarian efforts skated over when Westwood so clearly wants that to be the focus of the film's runtime. The Westwood camp put this on twitter in regards to the documentary: "The Vivienne Westwood documentary set for release this year, Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist has been made and produced by a third party and as it stands is not endorsed by Vivienne Westwood. Lorna Tucker asked to film Vivienne's activism and followed her around for a couple of years, but there's not even five minutes of activism in the film, instead there's lots of old fashion footage which is free and available to view online. It's a shame because the film is mediocre, and Vivienne and Andreas are not."
At its heart, I believe Tucker's documentary tried to get us closer to a woman who is not very interested in letting us get close, and in doing so, the film is just as frustrating and fascinating as fashion and punk was at the time of Westwood's rise. It's a straightforward movie about a woman who is anything but. Westwood certainly led a wild and weird lifetime, but underneath the safety pins and the cigarettes, there is a heart of good will and true artistry. To get a true sense of the icon, watch standalone interviews with Vivienne Westwood. She's incredible.
Punk has always existed in a strange in-between of culture and consumerism. There is a hilarious cut away where a museum curator is carefully steaming and folding an iconic Westwood/McLaren piece: A ripped to shreds, dirty sweatshirt, covered in swastikas and "Anarchy in the UK" lyrics. That moment defines the documentary. Westwood has become high art to be observed and cared for, but also, ya know, Get pissed. Destroy.
Re-post from Cinema76.com