Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ten Statements About....CHOOSE ME (1984)

"Yep....I'm taking naked photos of Rae Dawn to be me."

"You can't go around asking every woman you kiss to marry you."
"Why not?  I only kiss women I marry."

1) One of the reasons why I feel this is one of the examples--if not the example--of Alan Rudolph's art is how artificial it looks.  Even though this is supposed to Los Angeles, the streets outside of Eve's Lounge and elsewhere are obviously studio backlots...and it adds into the stylization in the look and the emotional feel of both the setting and the characters herein.  And this artificiality extends to some of the interiors, like the movie-poster laden loft of Rae Dawn Chong's Pearl.  This conscious artifice helps make the unreality of an L.A. that apparently is occupied by only these sextet of people seem more real.

2) I can see why Keith Carradine was something of Rudolph's male muse.  Yes, he's a handsome man, but there's a certain darkness in his eyes (something that Rudolph exploits fully in his next film, Trouble In Mind) that is disquieting.  His face is the perfect avatar of the Rudolph aesthetic.

3) One of the most amazing conceits of the film is how we're told that Carradine's Mickey is incapable of telling the truth...and yet, we get evidence halfway that maybe Mickey's various stories are the truth.  The concept is introduced very carefully, very subtlety, and then never brought up...which leads us to another reason why I love Rudolph as a writer/director--he trusts us enough that he allows us to come to our own conclusions.
"Yep...Genivieve Bujold makes me lunch and
then sleeps with life is soooo bad."

4) Carradine gets to kiss in order Lesley Ann Warren, Rae Dawn Chong, and Genevieve Bujold.  He gets to see Chong naked and sleeps with Bujold....

Yeah, Keith.  Tough life.

5) As interesting as Mickey is, Bujold's Nancy is even more so--probably because we know even less about her.  She professes to be incapable of falling in love, insists on talking to her therapist only on the phone...and yet there's that bizarre scene where we see her dressed up to the nines and caressing her very exposed thighs while her therapist tries to stop her from....something.  It's one of the most disquieting scenes because we don't understand how exactly Nancy's mania expresses itself.  And when she does transform in the third act, it's relavatory.

6) ...which leads me to wonder if Nancy and Lesley Ann Warren's Eve aren't meant to represent two aspects of the same person--to be precise, two extremes of the same person.  Eve looks to put her sexual past behind her, whereas Nancy seems to want to use some expression of sexuality as a way to abandon her emotional repression.  There is the sense that one of these two women would gladly become the other.

7) Alan Rudolph should be ranked with Quentin Tarantino as a director who knows how to use music, although he approaches his music use differently.  In this film, he has Teddy Pendegrass do the whole soundtrack, which results in a score that's as sensuous and smoky as the film itself, a score that comments on the action and is more than just background noise.
"Yep...I make out with and marry Lesley Anne
I hate my life!"

8) Once you get past the sight of him with a full set of hair, Patrick Bachau's Zack is at turns both the villain and the comic relief, the one hint of true menace in a world of artifice and randomness.  While we get the impression he's a gangster (you can't have an Alan Rudolph film at this point in his career without there being a gangster), he's not an effective one; and since his main purpose in the film is to be frustrated at every turn by Mickey's talent for finding and romancing all his women --leading up to his dead spot perfect, hilarious last line, it works.  It looks so weird seeing him in this film.

(And the same goes for seeing John Laroquette as Eve's bartender...particularly because he seems to tower over everyone else in the film.)

9)  If there's one regret I have about Rudolph's career, it's that he seems to resist giving into the magic realism his world seems tailor made for.  There are some very sparse moments when he indulges in the practice, like when we see Nancy physically appear behind Eve for a second during a phone conversation the two are having, or when the prostitutes who hang out outside Eve's Lounge start doing what appears to be ballroom dances.  I think if Rudolph had embraced this tendency, he may be better remembered today

10) I love the fact that even though this film seems to have a happy ending, Rudolph refuses to go all in--there are brief moments, especially the last shot of the film, that hint at both Eve's and Nancy's stories haven't resolved themselves in a positive way.

Overall...very moody and stylized (I will always contend that Rudolph films aren't romantic comedies so much as romances where strange and funny stuff sometimes happen), this is a prime litmus test for whether you will like his idiosyncratic oeuvre.  I happen to love his work, and consider this one of the crown jewels of his career.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


"Raaaahr!  Were's monstas!"

"I shall be charging you with gross neglect of duty. The passengers should be your first concern, yet I find you drunkenly looking on as they are attacked and killed. Well?"
"They're only economy class; what's all the fuss about?"

1) This is the last serial written by Bob Baker, the writing partner of David Martin....and if I wrote this, it'd be my last serial as well because it's thoroughly and absolutely wretched.  Even if we have to assume that the story was, like others in this season, heavily rewritten by Douglas Adams, Baker's tale is so messed up I can't imagine anyone salvaging it.

2) I am absolutely convinced that Lewis Fiander was doing an imitation of Peter Sellers' Dr. Strangelove when assaying the role of much so that between the weird 'vest-with-John-Lennon-specs' outfit and that bizarro accent, Tryst stops the story dead every single time he opens his mouth.

3) What the Hell is Lalla Ward wearing throughout this story--a maternity dress?  That thing is so loose-fitting and so volumous that Romana looks positively lost in that ugly violet thing.

4) You know how I'm convinced that Adams rewrote this script?  There are a whole slew of ideas--the whole crux of the drug running storyline revolves around a matter storage/projection machine--that are given, ummmm, less-than-solid scientific rationalization.  The one quality of the matter projector, namely the way people are able to move back and forth into the projected window, is never explained at all.  We just see The Doctor and Romana jump into the projection of Eden and are asked to accept this.
Monsta Hug!  Monsta Hug!

5) And then there's the monsters....grumblemutter...or should I say 'da monstas.'  The Mandrils are amazingly bad designs, not the least because they sport what looks like big-ass black sausages for a mouth (which, I guess, means they're related in some way to those dorky sea creatures from The Horror Of Party Beach....).  It doesn't help that the cumbersome outfits make moving difficult, and that the zipper and the odd flash of side-flesh when the shirt pulls out from the pants can be clearly seen at points.

6) I will give this one small thing to the serial--there are some tiny moments where the Doctor and Romana actually act like, you know, The Doctor and Romana.  I particularly liked the moment where the Doctor is told he has to traverse a stretch of space liner rife with Mandrils sans K-9 and guns, and Tom Baker grins happily and says, 'I'll have to use my wits.'

7) And while we're on the subject of K-9....David Brierly assays the voice of the little tin dog and as such, this iteration does.  not. work.  The character is actively annoying from the moment it opens its 'mouth.'  And since its co-creator is writing this script, K-9 gets loads to do--most of it embarassing (particularly the moment where K-9 'sniffs' a character when the Doctor introduces him as a friend).

8) Okay, so you want to make this story about the dangers of drugs; I get that.  But do you have to do the Full Reefer Madness to depict how terrible a drug this vraxion is?  I mean, David Daker's Captain Rigg downs just one spiked drink and becomes this lazy, giggling numbnuts instantly.  The choice Daker makes to play this, which all campiness and Adams-esque 'comedy,' detracts from the supposed seriousness of the vraxion threat.
"....and I anticipate a ratio of 10 women for every man...."

9) For a series known for lame and tatty micro-budget designs, this serial hits a new low.  For a supposed luxury liner, the scenes of people in foil jumpsuits in a cardboard corridor manages to break the suspension of disbelief.  There is nothing--not the corridors, not the labs, not the engine rooms--that look like anything other than hastily designed sets.  Usually there's enough interesting things going on we can overlook the cheapness, but given how awful the story is....well.....

10) On the whole, the cliffhangers are subpar.  However, the third episode cliffhanger, where the Doctor seems to evaporate into nothingness when he successfully separates the two ships is pretty good thanks to some really good optical effect.  It doesn't convince us for a second, but at least it's neat.

Overall...One of the worst stories during one of the worst seasons in Classic Who, this serial fails on almost every level.  Avoid at all cost.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ten Statements About....SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS (2001)

This woman has just shot a man to death...and she's your hero.

"These cats don't have nine lives."

1) Even though it doesn't fully fit into the purview of 'found footage,' this is one of the most effective examples of that subgenre.  It tells a compelling story, it justifies why we're getting all the footage that we might not otherwise expect to see, and it hints at a larger tapestry that shores up the world the film is set in.

2) ....and that might be the most intriguing thing about the film--the fact that the story, ostensively episodes from the seventh season of this demented reality show, takes place in this weird alternative nightmare universe that implies our society has gone down a very dark, very unpleasant path.  And yet nowhere does writer/director David Minaham spell it all out for you.  We know that the government has a hand in this reality show, we know that they manipulate the results, and we know there's a darker purpose behind all this--but we never learn the truths behind these circumstances.

3) Of course, this film would not work without strong performances, and the strongest performance is by Brooke Smith as our central character Dawn.  We see Dawn do some truly brutal things--there's a brief sequence where Minaham contrasts Dawn's interview with footage of many of her previous kills that is ruthless in its violence--and yet she manages to get a great deal of humanity and sympathy at points, particularly when she takes a moment to comfort the wife of a just-murdered contestant.
Don't pity this woman despite her deer-in-the-headlights
expression...because she won't pity you....

4) ....and on the other end of the spectrum we have Marylouise Burke as Connie, who is a horrific monster of a character--and yet believes one hundred percent that she is not evil, that she is motivated by her Christian values.  And Minaham never presents Connie as anything other than a ruthless killer, right from her first interview where she admits to 'helping' people who suffer pass on to the next world ('This happens more often than you think,' she adds after this confession!).

5) This is a violent film that comes by its R rating thoroughly honestly, and yet the violence onscreen is relatively restrained.  That being said, the brutality and intensity in the way Minaham presents this violence throughout makes some of it rough to watch, particular the film's biggest setpiece set at a suburban mall.

6) The film is hard to categorize.  Even though it doesn't have any gruesome elements, I'd almost categorize it as a horror film for the pitch black view of society it has....but the film is also richly and darkly comic.  Minaham knows he has to give us a release valve and peppers the film with some moment of genuine, twisted humor.  Even the narration--ably provided by Will Arnett, of all people!--gives us some lines that allow us to laugh nervously between the horrific elements.

And what would a reality show be without a car chase?
7) I do like how Minaham does play with our expectations when it comes to the reality show 'script.'  The person we expect to be the first to be picked off is the one who commits the most henious act of violence; the person who we expect to be the mildest is the one who is the most venomous contender.  And since Minaham worked as a story editor for newsmagazine shows prior to directing this film, he's managed to perfectly recreate the way these shows can deceive the public and bend the narrative.

8) ...and that might be why the film didn't do well in its theatrical run.  Minaham is too precise in his recreation of The Contenders TV show, resulting in us not having that slight distance that satire sometimes need.  Even though we're given absurd moments (Dawn being unable to register a kill because a cameraman gets in the way; hostages cheering when a character announces 'people will die'--not realizing that the people that are being referred to are themselves; etc.), they don't feel like commentary; they feel like an example of the thing Minaham is commenting on.  And as such, sometimes the comments don't through to the viewer.

9) ....although I will admit that the 'recreation' of the film's denoument is wonderfully lame, featuring actors who look uncannily like Smith and Glenn Fitzgerald, who plays Jeff....if you looked at them sideways.  As with the rest of the film, the recreation of reality show tropes is uncanny, but unlike elsewhere, Minaham manages to create that little separation so we can appreciate the half-assedness spin control the producers of the show try to achieve.

10) Can I say I love Girls Vs. Boys' soundtrack, which mananges to subsume their noise rock qualities when they need to to recreate cheesy reality show muzak muck, and are able to take a back seat to other composers when they have to (like that hilarious usage of Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' when it comes to delineating Dawn's backstory).

Overall...even though it may fail as a pure satire, this film excels as a really frightening extrapolation of what our present society's obsession with reality TV can result in.  Held together by a magnificent and ruthless performance at its center, it also serves as a great example of how you can use 'found footage' tropes to tell a really great story.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Tom Baker and Lalla Ward try to run away
from a heavily rewritten script....

"Dead?  I do not die.  Mark this moment, Doctor.  In the history of the universe, this moment is unique.  Davros lives!"
"Yes, well I can see your long rest hasn't done anything to cure your meglomania.  Have a jelly baby."

1)  And here we begin Lalla Ward's two and a half season tenure as Romana....and we begin it in typical Graham Williams/Douglas Adams fashion with a comedy sequence which shows Romana being very cavilier in her usage of her regenerations to convince the Doctor she should just mimick Princess Astra's form.  It's a tiresome scene that takes up too much time in the first episode of this serial, and it's a definite harbinger of the the way the Williams era will spiral out of control.

2) That being said, I rather like the visual appearance of Romana in this story.  With the long white scarf and the pink suit, she serves as a sort of female mirror image of the Doctor while also retaining her own identity.

3) This is the first of the Dalek stories that begins the devaluation of the characters as villains, primarily because they are subservient to Davros.  As of this moment, they're pepperpot-shaped henchmen to a man in a bad mask.

4) You know, after the series spends a chunk of the last serial devoted to setting up the new status quo of The Randomizer shifting the Tardis, ummmm, randomly with the Doctor having control of where they will end up....they pretty much crap on that by having them show up on Skaro, a place The Doctor has shown up on several times before.
It's the invasion of the cosplaying rasta fashion models!

5) The problem with the Movellans is simply that outside of being another race of robots, they've got nothing going for them.  They're just robots who are pure-d-evil, and that's that.  There's nothing that makes them interesting or scary or even notable, which means the tension the story is counting on never develops.  It doesn't help that those mopheads make them look like a bunch of people going trick-or-treating as a rasta disco band.  

6) This is the beginning of the year where the highly overrated Douglas Adams takes over as script editor (who heavily rewrote the script)...which means that Graham Williams' tendency to treat the show as a comedy runs rampant.  The forced humor begins with that regeneration sequence at the top of the story and continues throughout, the low point being the Doctor mocking a Dalek for not being able to climb up a steep incline--which absolutely invalidates the Daleks (already becoming a bit naff due to their subservience to Davros) as scary threats.

7) You know, while there is a legitimate germ of a good idea as to why the Daleks are seeking Davros out....the moment Davros shows up, that germ is discarded save for some stray mentions in dialogue and that endless 'rock/paper/scissors' scene that is supposed to explain why the Daleks need what Davros is supposed to provide them so much.  For that matter....

"I am ready for my close-up, Mr. DeVille...."
8) Is it just me, or does the whole plot disappear thoroughly around the end of episode three?  The second we get the introduction of that atmosphere-burning bomb, the whole thing just degenerates into a lot of silliness with Daleks running around with bombs strapped to their bodies and these two dull alien races getting caught in the crossfire.

9) I think I understand the decision to raid the BBC Wardrobe of all the old Who costumes to kit out the Dalek slave force....but seeing all these recognizable and obviously tatty outfits--some of which are very ill-fitting--only emphasizes the cheapness of this production.  I really have to wonder if the slave force would have been better served by showing up in simple, nondescript outfits because....

10) ...when all is said and done, the slave force and Tim Barlow's Tysson are just there to muddy the waters.  There's so little done with them that they come off as a whole big bunch o' filler....which is sad, because Barlow is generally really good, and plays off of The Doctor well.

Overall...the beginning of one of the darkest era of the series, where canonical elements are treated with contempt by Adams and Williams.  While it may not be the worst Dalek story ever (Russell T. Davies saw to that), it is amongst the worst.  Avoid.

(And speaking of avoid...wait until we get to the next story...)