One more Criterion musical watched after last month‘s spree, and this one has the most interesting story. Envisioned as an On The Town sequel with Gene Kelly, but Sinatra and Munshin got replaced by Michael Kidd (choreographer of Seven Brides) as a short burger chef and Dan Dailey (Ethel Merman’s partner in There’s No Business) as a tall corporate sadsack. The three play war buddies who promise to reunite after ten years, and they come through but don’t like each other/themselves much anymore. Through Dan’s advertising job their story catches the attention of Cyd Charisse (her boxing-ring song is the best scene), who tricks them into appearing on live TV with overbearing host Dolores Gray (Kismet the same year). The show coincides with boxing promoter Gene Kelly’s ambush by some gangsters angry that he has messed up their fixed fights, the cameras catch the ensuing brawl and confession, and the guys realize that they still like each other/themselves as long as violence is involved. A drunken dance with trashcan-lid shoes goes on for hours, and Kelly shows up Melvin with a roller skate dance where you can tell the skates aren’t locked.
“You fuck ’em without fuckin’ ’em”
Such a cynical movie, made by Verhoeven in the middle of his 1990’s prime. When it was over I checked something online and was suddenly reminded of its campy so-bad-it’s-good reputation, which definitely scanned in the first few scenes when Nomi (Elizabeth Berkley) gets a ride to Vegas from an Elvis-haired scam artist, but I got on the movie’s heightened wavelength and enjoyed greatly – I doubt I’ve said “oh my god” more times in a two-hour period than when watching this.
Nomi is prone to tantrums and seems like a real pain in the ass, but people keep helping her… though I guess the Elvis-guy stealing her suitcase at the end of the opening sequence teaches us to be on guard. She dances at a shitty club until Kyle MacLachlan walks in with his dancer-gal Gina Gershon (looking ready for her breakout in Bound the next year), who buys Kyle a Nomi lapdance. Kyle then gets Nomi an audition at a fancier hotel where she takes over as understudy and gets her big break (by pushing Gina down some stairs). Meanwhile her supportive roommate Gina Ravera gets raped by her celebrity crush, and some dude from Nomi’s past is threatening to tell everyone about her pre-Vegas criminal life.
Nomi and Gina R:
Nomi and Gina G:
From the writer of Flashdance and Basic Instinct… it feels like one of those decadent. doomed 1980s-90s studio films. Everything looks 20% too studio-fake – or maybe that’s just Vegas. At least one Prince song. Okay this is stupid, but earlier the same night I watched Hang the DJ, directed by Timothy Van Patten who once played “Max Keller” in Master Ninja… and Robert Davi, Nomi’s boss Al at the strip club, played a “Max Keller” in Raw Deal a couple years later. Nomi’s boyfriend/bouncer/choreographer Glenn Plummer (also of Strange Days and Menace II Society) is one of the few who returned for Showgirls 2: Penny’s From Heaven. Elizabeth Berkley trained in ballet and was clearly wasted on Saved by the Bell, but supposedly this movie ruined her acting career, while Kyle, who claims to be embarrassed by it, was unaffected.
I keep thinking I haven’t watched a Gaspar Noé film since I Stand Alone, but that’s because I forget about Love, which if I’d remembered, I might not have gone out to let this movie mess up my mind on an especially heavy weekend. But Love is forgiven, because this totally worked for me, as horror and a filmmaking exercise and an ensemble dance piece and an extended collective freakout. Every player gets their own solos (in interview, dance and neurosis), and their interactions after the spread of the drug punch (and/or the collective paranoia) prove horrible, sometimes fatal. It’s all shot with a confident, formalist flair, unafraid to get ugly.
Blake Williams in Filmmaker:
The film ends up reaching, or at least approaching a state where it can’t even decide itself who is fucking and who is dying — the camera, now upside down, even loses its own bearings on gravity and horizons. It’s a monumentally liberating film, and so what if it offers us nothing other than the pleasure of being entirely there with it for the time it’s in front of us.
Only a couple minutes after Buster Scruggs ended, the opening titles of this movie announced that it’s a story told in six chapters – what are the odds? Unexpected suicides in both movies too. It’s not that I wanted a faithful remake, since the plot is the weakest thing about Argento’s Suspiria, but what made them turn a bonkers Italian horror about witches in a dance studio into a 2.5-hour movie set in Berlin during the Baader-Meinhof hijacking, with long sections about a psychiatrist who lost his wife in the Holocaust? What’s the meaning of Tilda Swinton playing both Evil Mothers in charge of the studio and also the psychiatrist? Nice plot twist with Dakota Johnson (the older sister in Bad Times at the El Royale) appearing to be the fresh-meat new girl with especially good dance-murder skills, later revealed to be the reborn Mother Suspiriorum come to cleanse the school by killing one or both Tildas. I mean, this was a lot of movie for a single weeknight, so I think that’s what happened. I have mixed feelings, but pretty sure I need to keep watching all of Luca’s movies (this is my second of the year).
Chloe Grace is a paranoid escaped dancer in the opening scenes, then disappears forever, followed shortly by suspicious Olga, who gets gnarled up in the practice room. Mia Goth (A Cure for Wellness) is the dancer who shows Dakota around, and Jessica Harper cameos as the psychiatrist’s dead wife. Most unexpected name in the credits: The Turin Horse cinematographer Fred Kelemen as one of the cops who Psych Tilda asks for help. Writer David Kajganich has also done a Body Snatchers remake and a Pet Sematary remake.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky compares it to “the movies Nicolas Roeg was making around the same time, confounding mosaics of predestination and psychoanalysis … It’s a movie where most of the characters are liminal figures, mid-phase between identities. It is packed with doors, mirrors, ceremonies, rehearsals, shared secrets, and make-up, suggesting commonalities between the backstage world and the supernatural through collage.”
The first fifteen minutes of this ninety-minute movie was one long story about when Hampton Fancher was out of work, dating Teri Garr and getting into trouble. I was worried, but I’m here because of Experimenter, and don’t know who Fancher is, really, and I’m home alone on a snowy day, so let’s see where this leads. This segment is heavily illustrated with clips of performances by Garr (who I recognized) and Fancher (who I didn’t, because we don’t see him until part three).
Part two is text on screen and still photographs, covering Fancher’s family life, running away at 15 to become a flamenco dancer, marriage to Lolita star Sue Lyon, and acting career. Next, we see him in the present, and it’s another fifteen-minute, barely-relevant story, ending with his cheating death because he felt bad about dumping a girl while on a press tour.
“Actually, this story is so terrible I’m not gonna tell it.” Fancher’s best friend Brian Kelly (star of Flipper) is paralyzed while out with Fancher and has to quit acting. Then a short segment about Fancher’s attempted screenwriting career, a failed meeting with Phil Dick. All of this finally comes together majestically in the final segment, as a series of coincidences, friendships, bizarre interests and weird life choices culminates in Fancher writing Blade Runner. In the end, this doc was better than Blade Runner 2049 (which Fancher also wrote!)
The Punk Singer (2013, Sini Anderson)
Anyone can cut a kickass opening title montage to Rebel Girl and interview a bunch of participants about Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrl movement, so I was curious whether this was going to get any better than your standard talking-heads rock-doc. Fortunately I had no idea that Kathleen Hanna dated and married the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horowitz, her polar opposite in terms of lyrical message, and the stories about their relationship before and after the diagnosis that has mostly kept her from touring, warmed my heart.
Kim Gordon in a van:
Girl Walk: All Day (2011, Jacob Krupnick)
Just a feature-length dance choreography to an entire Girl Talk album, that’s all. I watched this twice, because after the first time I had to show it to Katy.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: High Grass Dogs (1999)
I put this on the night Petty died, for the first time since buying it. All of his concert releases are essential, and this one, despite its ugly SD appearance, is no exception.
Maybe a weird choice when my parents were visiting, but everyone loves sexy dancing. I guess it’s about friendship and forgiveness, following your dreams, and sexy, sexy dancing. Good movie, unusual looking in the usual Soderbergh style, all muted colors except inside the club.
Mike (Tater Channing) works at McConaughey’s strip club while saving up to open his own furniture business. He picks up a protege (Alex Pettyfer, star of spy-kid flick Alex Rider) at his construction day-job, who turns out to be a fuckup, and Mike loses his savings bailing the dummy out of trouble. Mike gets a semi-happy ending with the fuckup’s sister (Cody Horn) and the rest of the gang is moving to a new club in another city – despite this, it looks like Tater and all the dancers, but not the fuckup or his sister or McConaughey, appear in the sequel.
Chloe Sevigny (early-career, between Gummo and Boys Don’t Cry) works in publishing with her coworker/roommate/frenemy Kate Beckinsale, and they frequent the disco run by Chris Eigeman (Metropolitan). Kate dates ad-man Mackenzie Astin (star of The Garbage Pail Kids Movie a decade earlier), and Chloe dates Matt Keeslar (Waiting for Guffman, Rose Red), who turns out to be a district attorney investigating the club owners. Not being Stillman obsessives (yet) we didn’t recognize cameos by the Metropolitan and Barcelona casts.
M. ditched the movie halfway in, because she hated all the characters, but I thought hating the characters was part of the point (maybe not, since it’s based on Stillman’s own experiences) and greatly enjoyed. This came out a couple months before 54, less than a year after Boogie Nights, and I skipped it at the time, which was maybe smart since it’s more to my tastes now than in 1998.
A John Carter-like attempt to film an influential comic which many sci-fi movies (including Besson’s own Fifth Element) have been ripping off for decades. I’ll bet this was better in 3D. The movie seems to want to be in VR, having Valerian put on special glasses when he wants to see into other dimensions (recalling Freddy’s Dead).
The Pearls, a peaceful race of white Na’vi, live on Shell Beach with their pets who can shit dark matter, until their planet is destroyed as collateral damage in a space war led by Commander Clive Owen. Survivors have invaded the International Space Station (now a massive free-floating city of a thousand alien races) and learned all the alien techs to built themselves a supership Shell Beach simulator. Commander Clive sees all this as a threat, and sends soldiers to stop them, or something.
But first, Major Tom Valerian (Dane DeHaan: Lawless, A Cure for Wellness) is sexually harassing his coworker Laureline (Cara Delevingne: London Fields, Paper Towns). According to my Alamo Drafthouse waiter, their relationship made some kind of sense in the original comics, but human behavior isn’t Besson’s strong suit, so he’s botched it. These two are sent to interrupt a trade between Pearls and a Hutt unmistakably voiced by John Goodman, and during their escape a bulletproof rhinobeast wipes out their team.
Valerian’s boss, the General, looks like a Weasley but is actually Sam Spruell of Snow White and the Huntsman… then there are a series of higher-ups played by Rutger Hauer and Herbie Hancock who we barely see. Our team is eventually separated, and Laureline goes underwater with a beardy submariner named Bob (Alain Chabat of The Science of Sleep) while Valerian gets help from a shapeshifting Rihanna (after murdering her pimp Ethan Hawke), who does a dance which will be my most-watched scene on netflix once it comes out.
Some effects shots are very cartoony, not fooling anyone, and the action choreography is quite bad when viewed the day after Atomic Blonde. The very long info-dump ending is bad, the plot is mostly bad, the teaching Valerian about the meaning of love is bad, so I spaced out in the last half hour and tried to figure who Dane DeHaan reminds me of – is it Nicolas Cage? He’s fine, don’t get me wrong – all the acting and filmmaking is generally spot-on, just in service of a poor script. There is one great bit in the ending: Laureline is left alone with Commander Clive and just keeps punching him.