“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.

How weird to be watching the DVD extras before the film – I can’t tell if the distributor thought this was necessary, or if Netflix fucked something up (they’ve done worse before)… no, a Cinema Scope review confirms that the 50-minute movie is meant to be preceded by 40 minutes of promo fluff interview material. I lasted less than 10 before skipping ahead.

Not sure if the rest of the promo fluff covers this, but I read online that this was somewhat of a failed experiment. Control freak Verhoeven decided to solicit movie scripts from the public based on a short intro scene, then film segments piecemeal with amateur actors… but he wasn’t happy with the story submissions, so he wrote his own script, cast professionals, and shot it. We’re left with a 50-minute light infidelity comedy that ends with a couple of main characters zipping off to a Rammstein concert. I suppose instead I’ll try Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy or Mysterious Object at Noon to get my fix for disjointed, crowdsourced stories.

Remco (an actor from Black Book) has a long-suffering wife, horny son and Rammstein-loving daughter. His business partners are trying to sell out their company, using Remco’s pregnant mistress to blackmail him into agreeing. Meanwhile the daughter and her best friend Merel (who is sleeping with Remco) figure out the mistress is faking her pregnancy.

Ignatiy in AV Club:

The fact that it’s fast-paced and diverting (rather than, say, a god-awful mess) is a credit to his skill at black comedy … Bereft of subtext and shot in a largely handheld, TV-ready style, it lacks Verhoeven’s usual deep bite, despite the cynical punch line of the ending.

Michele (Isabelle Huppert) is raped by a home invader at the start of the movie, and downplays the incident. It appears at first that she’s trying to stay strong and not feel victimized, but her intense sex/power issues (and reasons for not calling the police) are increasingly revealed – along with the somewhat lesser sex/power issues of every single person in her inner circle. An ensemble piece of perversion swirling around Huppert’s mighty center, it’s like a Chabrol thriller written by Todd Solondz (but better, obvs).

Was looking up articles online and deciding what to say and found a really nice writeup by Aaron on Letterboxd. So instead of bothering to repeat him, I’m gonna have fun looking up actors on the ol’ imdb. Need to watch this again anyway. Premiered at Cannes with The Handmaiden and a bunch more I’m hoping to see soon.

Michele’s son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) has awful pregnant girlfriend Josie (Alice Isaaz), Michele’s ex Richard (Charles Berling of Demonlover, another sex-and-videogames thriller) has new girl Helene (Vimala Pons of In the Shadow of Women), her “botoxed cougar of a mother” (per Aaron) Irene (Judith Magre of Malle’s The Lovers) is dating weird Ralf (Raphaël Lenglet), and the new neighbors are Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and his very Christian wife Rebecca (Virginie Efira, star of last year’s Victoria). Michele is sleeping with the bald husband Robert (Christian Berkel, returning from Black Book) of her business partner Anna (Anne Consigny, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly transcriber), also has fawning employee Kevin (Arthur Mazet, young Jean Reno in 22 Bullets) and disgruntled tattooed employee Kurt (Lucas Prisor). I think the mom dies (and Ralf turned out to be trolling her), her mass-murderer dad dies in prison, Kevin is caught creating pornographic automata videos with his boss’s face, Michele admits the affair to Anna, and she has a complicated revenge/affair thing with the rapist neighbor, before he’s killed by her son.

A. Nayman:

It’s not necessarily confidence that drives her so much as a flinty inscrutability that is by turns amusing, disturbing, admirable, and absurd … she’s not a pathological case, nor is she any sort of symbolic figure. Michèle evinces a variety of post-feminist stereotypes … without fully inhabiting any of them, and her ability to take in stride both serious trauma and workaday annoyance feels like its own form of bristling defiance.

Verhoeven:

I’m much more interested in people than I was before. I look more at people, and the way that characters treat each other, and betray each other — it was all in my movies before anyhow, but more so now. I would love to move in that direction, and I would love to stay there … I won’t sit for ten years until something like this comes again.

Black Book (2006, Paul Verhoeven)
Nice, twisty little nazi suspense drama. Watched on the plane, a little drowsy, so IMDB will help remember the plot details: “When the hiding place of the beautiful Jewish singer Rachel Steinn is destroyed by a stray bomb, she decides with a group of other Jews to cross the Biesbosch to the already liberated south of the Netherlands. However, their boat is intercepted by a German patrol and all the refugees are massacred. Only Rachel survives. She joins the resistance, and under the alias Ellis de Vries manages to get friendly with the German SS officer Müntze. He is very taken with her and offers her a job. Meanwhile, the resistance devise a plan to free a group of imprisoned resistance fighters with Ellis’ help. The plan is betrayed and fails miserably. Both the Resistance and the Germans blame her. She goes into hiding once more, with Müntze in tow. Together they wait for the war to end. Liberation does not bring Ellis freedom; not even when she manages to expose the real traitor. ‘Every survivor is guilty in some way.'” Edit April ’07: saw again in theaters – a real interesting movie. I definitely like it, glad Verhoeven is directing his talents away from stuff like The Hollow Man these days. Awesome final shot, with Rachel living in Israel, having moved from one besieged state to another. I don’t think Jimmy or George liked it much.

Jackass Number Two (2006, Jeff Tremaine)
Watched in the plane right after Black Book, when everyone around us was going to sleep. KLM didn’t censor it as far as I know. Completely awesome, hilarious movie. A masterpiece in its own way. Katy says I laughed too much/loud and annoyed my fellow passengers. Most other people watched that Kevin Costner movie with Ashton Kutcher for some reason.

Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick)
After a few days at the World Social Forum, finally one evening Katy and I were both awake enough to sit through a movie. I suggested Badlands, which we both ended up enjoying. Sheen kills Spacek’s father (Warren Oates) and they go on a little shooting spree before getting captured. Another quiet and beautiful movie by Terrence Malick. EDIT: JUNE 2007: after reading a great Adrian Martin article in Rouge, I realized that Malick is the only director I’ve seen whose EVERY film I would consider great… Charles Laughton excepted.

My Migrant Soul (2004, Yasmine Kabir)
On the last day at the Forum, I found the movie tent. Watched this half hour doc about a guy from Bangladesh who got a job in Malaysia in order to send money home to his family. But the guy who sends him gives him a forged passport, and he gets hard work for short periods of time, then sits idle the rest of his weeks, unable to find other work or complain to anyone without a legitimate ID, finally gets sick and dies. Sad.

Words on Water (2003, Sanjay Kak)
They’re building dams in India that destroy small towns, I guess. I fell asleep in the first ten minutes, then left the movie to wander the Forum and listen to the drumming, so I can’t tell you much more than that. Got back just before the credits when some protestors from the village are being arrested. Sad.

7 Islands and a Metro (2006, Madhusree Dutta)
I was drowsy and it didn’t make a strong impression. Some overlong shots (because the longer you hold a shot, the artsier it becomes) and some disconnected stories about Mumbai/Bombay. The director came out and said the movie reflects how people from all over got together to form this big city, and now the city is splintering into smaller communities again, without a firm focus or center (which of course reminded me of Atlanta), and told many stories of displacement, of trying to make a home in an overcrowded metropolis. I was disappointed that so many of the stories were made-up, and some of the actors were really overdoing it, as if in a soap opera. Decent enough movie I guess. Sad.

Early in the Morning (2006, Gahité Fofana)
The next day we went to the Alliance Francaise, checked out an excellent photo exhibit and saw some free movies. This one retells the true story about two kids from Mali who froze to death in the landing gear of a plane to Europe, having written a letter to Europe’s heads of state explaining that they’ve got it bad in Guinea and need some help. A well done movie, underplayed, not sensationalistic, quietly calling attention to the country’s problems without setting up some overbearing horror of war. The kids don’t even experience the war firsthand, so we don’t see it either, just hear about it in a single scene. Sad.

Bamako (2006, Abderrahmane Sissako)
Next up at the French Alliance was this awesome movie, which we wanted to see all week and surprisingly made it out to. Good thing the Alliance was walking distance from our hotel. A (mock?) trial is being held in the center of town and broadcast on the radio, with the people of Africa (Mali in particular) versus the European powers (the IMF and World Bank). A plea for debt forgiveness, for Africa to maintain its identity and stop to think how it wants to deal with foreign countries without getting exploited. Meanwhile small-town life carries on around the trial, the central story being about a family with a husband who can’t work, a wife who sings at a nightclub and their sick child. Wonderfully and humorously shot, with strange collisions of culture and a much talked-about bit where a TV movie starring Danny Glover suddenly takes over the screen. Must see again.

Garden State (2004, Zach Braff)
Katy watched on our last night in Nairobi, after the safari. I was just listening to the dialogue and music, and finally watched the second half with her. It’s an easy movie to make fun of after the fact, but while it’s playing, it’s very convincing.

Fighting Elegy (1966, Seijun Suzuki)
An action/comedy from Suzuki! Extreeeeme sexual tension leads Kiroku (lead actor from Tattooed Life) to join a fight club, and finally form his own gang and have huge fights with other groups of kids. IMDB guy says “a satire of the militaristic attitude that eventually lead Japan into WWII”. Wonderful. Watched this and 39 Steps on the portable DVD player on the flight home.

The 39 Steps (1935, Alfred Hitchcock)
Watched twice in a row, the second time with commentary. Robert Donat, a very capable leading man, gets caught up in a plot to smuggle government defense secrets out of the country when a woman he meets at a show is murdered in his apartment. He runs all over, never believed or trusted, Hitchcock’s original “wrong man”, predicting North By Northwest in structure and the final theater scene of the Man Who Knew Too Much remake during the great ending when, about to be captured again, he shouts to Mr. Memory onstage “what are the 39 steps”, revealing the plot to everyone. Very easy to watch… one of the better Hitchcocks I’ve seen, even if completely unbelievable.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
For some reason, I thought about this one during the whole safari. Is it the boar’s head that Royal rehangs on the wall? I don’t know, but I was itching to see this again, and watched it as soon as we got home. One of my favorite movies ever.

The Lion King (1994, Allers & Minkoff)
Of course we thought about this one too, and watched it the next night. Didn’t finish it, though. Best not to.