Chelsea Walls

Little wonder the unknown filmmaker with a half decent idea is unable to catch a break. Yet another better known personality has squandered their chances on their directorial debut, as in this case, where Ethan Hawke has brought such crass pabulum to the screens that future film financiers can point to this mess as another excuse why experimental digital cinema needs to be kept on an extremely tight leash.

Chelsea Walls must have been one of those “good ideas at the time” movies… get a famous actor to make his directorial debut, have him cast his wife and a bunch of actors he has either friends with and/or has worked with in the past and/or has always wanted to work with, and find him a screenplay by a neophyte playwright which is a love letter of sorts to the building he admires and has resided in. Punks and film fans know the Chelsea as the place where Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungeon. Music fans know the hotel as the place where Jimi Hendrix once resided, and literary fans are aware of the many acclaimed plays Arthur Miller wrote while living amongst its hallowed walls, as well as the place where Dylan Thomas died. And now, thanks to Hawke, the Chelsea will live in infamy as the centerpiece in what will likely end up being the worst film of 2002.

How bad is Chelsea Wallsr How about a couple hundred walkouts at the screening I attended, a good portion coming during one particularly painful dialogue between costars Kris Kristofferson and Tuesday Weld which might have only been two or three minutes in length, but seemed to drag on for half an hour. It was during these scene, less than halfway through the movie, that the person who invited me to this screening left. I stayed, if only because it would be improper to trash a bad movie I did not stay to watch till the end. By the end of the film, I wanted something like a Crux Du Candlestick, a little pin the San Francisco Giants used to give people who not only braved an evening of watching the Giants at home but surviving the brutal elements that would chill an Eskimo.

The movie itself is about a number of the bohemians who populate the hotel during a specific 24 hour period. Over the nearly two hour running time we are introduced to over two dozen characters of which only one, the drunken writer played by Kristofferson, do we spent any amount of time with to call a real character. The remainder of the dwellers are poets and musicians who try to draw their inspiration from the ghosts who allegedly haunt the building, never once realizing what makes one a good poet or musician is not the muse of a non-existent spectre but talent and practice. Instead of character development, the audience is forced to sit through rambling speech after rambling conversation about how every thought they have has so much resonance to their surroundings, yet these speeches go on for so long, we have completely forgotten any point they may have been trying to make by the time each story ends.

I don’t know what Hawke was thinking while shooting this film, but there is no excuse for bad cinematography, especially when the DP is one of my personal heroes, Tom Richmond. Richmond is probably the best cameraman you have never heard of, even though you have likely seen his work with Roger Avary or CM Talkington or James Gray. Not that anyone would know from this mess, which is often out of focus or “artfully” pixelated. Richmond, you need to stick to working with real filmmakers and with real film stock.

The only decent part of the entire film happens down in the hotel’s basement club, when hotel resident Skinny Bones sings a beautiful jazzy rendition of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. However, director Hawke does not understand his own film, so he keeps cutting away to yet another of Kristofferson’s drunken speeches, this time to an unknown recipient on the telephone. Only in the last minute of the song does Hawke allow the magic to happen naturally.

The most prescient moment comes when Hawke makes his “cameo” as Uma’s love interest, calling her on the phone from Hollywood, where he tries to convince her to come out to California.

“My movie is shit!” he exclaims to her.

It is the one genuine laugh in the entire film… for all the wrong reasons.

I give the film an F for effort and an F for execution. A complete waste of time.

Rating: F

Murder By Numbers

The film “Murder by Numbers” opened this past weekend just under the radar of not only the gay press but most everyone in America considering it’s lackluster 10 million opening. But don’t let those, uh, numbers fool you! There is alot to love in this piece about two strapping young men who believe they can beat a murder rap by careful planning and deliberate red herring placement.

Sandra Bullock plays a woman who has a penis which probably made Michael feel right at home considering his last movie “Hedwig” was about a transgendered person who barely had one too. Of course, Sandra’s character really doesn’t have a penis, but at least one film decided to admit what we’ve all known since “Speed” and that’s Sandra Bullock is a man’s woman. She drinks beer, she solicits quick sex, and she looks downright desireable when she’s distressed.

So it’s no wonder the gay press told us all to go see “Y Tu Mama Tambien” instead of “Murder by Numbers.” In that Mexican version of “3some” meets “Road Trip” there was two hot leads and a horse-woman we could ignore while we waited with baited breath for the dick shots and the confirmation of homosexuality. But they dropped the ball, so to speak, when they forgot to tell us that there is some good old fashioned homo-eroticism occuring right here in the States with this piece of standard Hollywood junk.

It’s junk because like our fabulous heros who are trying to get away with murder but eventually start breaking under pressure, the film makers were on their way to succeding in making a pretty excellent movie. But then they break under pressure. Over developing Miss Penis Bullock’s character while putting less emphisis on the two murderers was for once a big mistake. Including a seriously misplaced back history for her, and in true Hollywood style going back to it repeatedly through flashbacks and Dolbyr sound jabs, not to mention having the entire piece end with it instead of the final shocking element in the REAL movie, are also serious problems.

But what does succeed and does it very well is the brillant performances by Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling. They are bad guys, but they have what it takes to get you to like them. That’s hard work! They also like each other. Using each other’s weaknesses against one another, it’s a game of power and control where often times it seems as if at any moment the pair were going to break out into mad monkey sex. But alas the plot simply was too overburdened in other places to allow such a devilish twist, and we’re achingly pulled back into the tired boring cop storyline.

Eventually the pair do become too entangled with each other and lose sight in what they had set out to do. And just after it’s all spelled out for you for seemingly the third time, a few final plot twists yank you around just to make sure you’re all good and discomforted. That’s when they hit you with the crap about Miss Penis Bullock’s previous history and you end up leaving the theatre sexually frustrated, emotionally disturbed, and mentally offended that Hollywood had the ability to rip you off in the end once again.

“Murder by Numbers” grade: C+ for plot. A- for hot boys.

Rating: B

Cat’s Meow, The

The only thing I had to sacrifice was three hours of my life, (112 minutes for the movie, almost a bloody hour standing outside waiting to get in).

The movie is based on the true story of the death of Thomas Ince. Or, according to this film, the murder of poor old Tom. Which also happens to take place on William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. During a birthday celebration for Mr. Ince. Where his mistress is present, along with other notable names such as Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies, Louella Parsons, blah blah blah. Sounds like a lot is going on rightr Murder, sex, betrayals, affairs, oh my! You could not be further from the truth. Marion Davies, those of you geeks like FilmJerk who actually watched the other disc that came with “Citizen Kane” know, was the mistress of big Willy Hearst. but also was fooling around with Mr. Chaplin on the side. There are scenes that stretch on and on, with Willy watching Marion and Charlie dance together, giggle and stare at each other. This basically makes up half the damn movie. Establishing that Hearst knows, is pissy mad about it, yet does nothing about it except fume and huff and puff on his own. We get the picture already!!

This film also wins the “Steel Magnolias” award for Most Annoying Female Cast of the year. Instead of shooting poor and totally cute Wesley, I wish Hearst would throw all these chicks overboard. Especially Jennifer Tilly, who brings her patented ingratiating whine and psychotic hyperness to Louella Parsons. Kirsten Dunst is tolerable in some of the scenes, but it’s basically only because she has such great costumes. All the other bitches (who I won’t even bother to name because I’m trying to forget them) were seemingly told “See if you can out-annoy nails on a chalkboard.”

And the most yicky part of the movier Edward Herrmann canoodling with Kirsten Dunst. I just kept thinking, “Geez, Marion is like the same age as Rory Gilmore. Stay away from Rory! Stay away from your granddaughter! EWWW!”

My favorite part had to be after Willy has had a breakdown, and is sitting, shocked with Marion after, you know, THE INCIDENT. Willy starts to overdramatically sob like FilmJerk did after “Monsters, Inc.” and clings to poor little Marion. “You’re my entire world!” I could not stop myself from laughing hysterically, earning me several evil glances from some of the snobbish Chelsea pseudo-bohemian bitches in attendance.

Like “Gosford Park,” another boring murder mystery which took too damn long to get to the murder, I came away from this film with very bad feelings towards the makers of this overwrought shelf sitter which should have premiered on American Airlines flight 33 instead of preying on the weak minded who think “Oooo, indie film about Hollywood must be good.” I guess they figured they might be able to get some residual fans from “Bring It On” who might want to see Kirsten Dunst in some sexy flapper costumes, who wouldn’t care if the acting is uneven or just plain bad, and we have a story so lame and boring that it makes “What Women Want” seem it was from the pen of Dylan Thomas.

As the FilmJerk tried to follow me home, and I prepared to ditch him in the crowds, he said aloud what I had been thinking the entire time: “And they don’t let me make movies whyr” I thought about it for a good fifteen seconds, then realize both the film and Filmjerk’s chances to ever make a movie were worse than Chris Klein’s entire filmography, save “Election.” So I kicked him in the balls, laughed as he fell to the ground and hailed a taxi to take me back home.

Rating: D-


Most films based on a true story pick an interesting one, or at least try to make it interesting.

Most films cast the main character’s mother with an actress older than the main character, not three years younger.

Most films about drugs try to make a statement about drugs.

Most films about the drug trade make more than a passing reference to the violence involved.

Most historical movies pay attention to time passing as opposed to making the 60s though the 90s look like the 70s.

Most historical films don’t have a character quote from a film roughly three years before that film comes out.

Most films either maintain suspense about the ending or reveal the ending as part of devise to add interest… somehow.

Most films ask their charismatic character to give a compelling performance while playing a compelling character.

Most films try to justify over-the-top performances with some character development to justify them.

Most films have a moral centre.

And most films about cocaine don’t make you leave the theatre thinking it might not be such a bad idea to try it.

Finally, most films involving generally competent performances and reasonable direction also have a story worth telling.

“Blow” is ultimately dull and not terribly compelling. It isn’t really a bad movie but it’s hard to recommend. That’s one movie convention I wish it had flown in the face of.

Rating: C

Teddy Bear’s Picnic

So when one hears Harry Shearer is going to make his debut as a film director by getting a bunch of talented comedy veterans and mocking power-broker retreats, one would hope for the best. When one scans the cast list and sees names like Henry Gibson, Fred Willard, Robert Mandal, George Wendt, Kenneth Mars, Howard Hesseman, Bob Einstein, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, one would expect to be rolling in the aisles from the opening fade in to the last cut. And when one noticed the running time for the film is a scant 84 minutes, one would believe all the fat has been trimmed and the viewer will be left with nothing but the lean, juicy meat of comedy merriment.

One would be somewhat disappointed.

In the hills outside of San Francisco, the richest most powerful white men in America gather each summer at the idyllic Zambesi Glen to act like a bunch of frat boys, away from the prying eyes of the world. Leaders of business, politics, the military and entertainment are free to drink and swear in abundance, urinate communally while frolicking naked in the woods, execute clandestine sacraments and concoct immoral scenarios that could instigate public destruction, and croon dreadfully while sporting women’s clothing. But times are changing. Due to public pressure, the Glen is being opened to outsiders for the first time, if only to the wives and girlfriends of this year’s participants for part of a single day. After being welcomed by Glen patriarch Porterfield Pendleton, the ladies are given brief tours of the copiously appointed rustic cabins, state-of-the-art infirmary and the Dionysian Bowl’s theater before ending the day before the sun sets.

Six weeks later, the men have returned to Zambesi Glen under the watchful eyes of a group of protestors huddled at the main gate. Deep in the woods under the cover of darkness, the opening ceremonies begin as cloaked members engage in their secret ritual of “the killing of time” to signal the commencement of the festivities. In the kitchen, head waiter Joey Lavin is fussing over every detail of keeping the Zambesians well fed and drunk. And at the edge of the grove, two women wait in rooms at the Bella Rio, where they will earn their keep for the year servicing the men in ways they cannot or would not serve each other.

As the first evening comes to a close, one of the men must return to the real world to deal with the operations of his failing semi-pro summer basketball team. He accidentally takes some Poloroid photos out of the Glen, which he later leaves unattended at a press conference the next day. A sharp eyed reporter notices the photos, which end up as the lead story on the evening news. After much deliberation and many drinks, the emergency council of the Glen decide to beef up security so more breaches do not occur.

Back in the kitchen, Joey announces to his staff that a case of Sanka coffee has gone missing, and that he will be deducting the cost of the case from everyone’s paycheck until the guilty party comes clean. Danny, one of the workers who is a waiter in the city, contacts a member of the same TV station who ran the photos and works out a deal to tape the Glen’s happenings on a Mini DV camera for a small fee. After getting some incriminating evidence of the vile things that happen between men of power when the world isn’t watching, he is discovered as a spy, which leads to a series of greater and greater perils which threaten the very existence of the Glen.

The main problem with Teddy Bears’ Picnic is that, despite its miniscule running time, there are too many people and situations to follow. No less than 25 characters are involved in the main thrust of the story, none who are ever given much time to develop into any kind of dimensional character. It may be unfair to compare Shearer’s work on this film to the works of fellow Spinal Tap castmate Christopher Guest, but there is no quicker way to illustrate how much further Shearer needs to go as a filmmaker to equal his work as an actor, author, comedian, musician, radio personality and political satirist. In both Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show, Guest knows there is a limit to how many characters a story can juggle at the same time before everything comes crashing down. As an example of how scattershot and under thought out much of this film is, I did not realize that Jennifer, one of the ladies in waiting at the Bella Rio, was the crappy comedienne seen earlier in the film at a nightclub trying to entertain several of the other peripheral characters until I reviewed the production notes I was given at the screening I attended. Jennifer mentions to one of her customers that she is trying to break into standup, but since there is not enough focus on her in the nightclub, there is no way to make the connection. Or another scene late in the film, as several Zambesians are trying to figure out how things got so bad so quickly, with banking magnet Stanton Vandermint and General Gerberding are each on cell phones talking to others about the situation, where because the way the sequence is edited together, it takes several minutes to realize they are speaking to one another. Shearer and his editor have so many other things going on at the same time, cutting from one man to something else to the second man to one or two other items before going back to the first man. We only realize the extent and gravity of their discussion once all the other happenings are left at the wayside and focus is put on these two men, where it should have been in the first place.

However, this does not mean the is a complete waste of time. There are a number of scenes where I was very much buckled over in laughter. Some of the humor is infantile at best, while other times you might feel guilty chuckling at scenes where men are being shown as the disgusting pigs they are. But as a comedy, it does what a comedy is supposed to do, which is to make you laugh. And that is more than I can say about a lot of films that are allegedly in that same genre which have been forced down our throats by the major studios over the past several years. And I must admit I liked how Shearer brought back a number of underutilized comedic actors and personalities. In addition to those previously named, we get to be reacquainted with former “Hollywood Squares” host Peter Marshall, who makes what little time he is given work so well. And most shocking of all, Alan Thicke comes off the best of the bunch, milking the role of himself to full farcical tilt. The scene where Thicke deals with his fears of burning to death should keep you laughing long after the scene is over.

I look forward to seeing whatever Shearer comes up his next time out as a director. As for this time, I give him an A for effort, a C- for execution and a hearty thank you for helping show some of these older guys still have a lot of good humor in them.

Rating: C-

Scotland, PA

I’m one of those guys can get away with saying “To be or not to be, that is the question” or “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well” and appear to be slightly literate. I also know a bit about the argument of whom actually wrote the works of Shakespeare, not just from some half assed Gwyneth Paltrow movie either, and I am aware that much of The Godfather is based on Coriolanus.

What is the point in all thisr That when I decided to go see Billy Morrisette’s new film Scotland, PA, I went in knowing it was a loose adaptation of The Scottish Play but was more interested in seeing the likes of Christopher Walken and James LeGros than I was playing “spot the Shakespeare references”. Lolita’s the resident Bard freak on this site. She’s got this book of Shakespeare’s work that’s 2,350 plus pages. It’s got every damn play, sonnet, song, movie, grocery list, suicide note and lists of MP3s he wanted to download sorted by decade, musical genre and artist. I borrowed this book from Lolita last month, because the lock on my front door broke and it keeps the vampires from tearing at my flesh while I sleep. You see, when I first moved to New York, I met a couple of goth chicks at a rave in Brooklyn and took them back to my place. I invited them in, and when I didn’t call them back after our night of passion, these bitches hound me all night. That book, along with the crosses I painted on my doors and windows, are the only things that keep me alive every night. But that’s another story for another day.

Lolita knew I was going to see the film with some friends, so she suggested I meet them at McBeth’s, this place down by Union Square the distributor of the film set up as a sort of fast food Shakespeare outlet. Lolita hangs out at the Gap near Union Square all the time, flirting with Jose, this Guatemalan guy who works in the Kids section. She took me into the Gap once and pointed Jose out to me. I think he’s one step from full John Leguizamo To Wong Foo drag queen extraordinaire, but if Lolita wants to date someone who deep down wants to be Charo, who am I to complainr Except the jailbait queen made it sound like it was a regular burger joint when she told me about it. Imagine my shock when I walk in expecting to save my friends a booth and find myself face to face with two guys performing Romeo and Juliet in a storefront performance space about half the size of a SoHo loft. There were illicit giggles from the six or so others gathered inside, as I apparently walked in just as this Josh Charles look-alike (or maybe it was Josh Charles, since I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since ABC cancelled “Sports Night”) asked Romeo where for art thou. I stuck around for a while, as all my loser buddies were late, and enjoyed snippets of plays and sonnets. Eventually, three of my loser friends showed up and we went off to have some grub at Duke’s.

We finally get to the theatre and for a Tuesday night 930PM showing, it’s surprisingly packed. Granted, the theatre only seats like 200 or so, but it’s got THX sound. And you know, an indie movie about American life in the mid 1970s just screams out for the best Monster Cables and JBL speakers money can buy. You think I’m joking, but I’m not. This is the decade when rock and roll really started to die, and this film’s soundtrack is chock full of the crap rock Bad Company and their ilk perfected, which sounds marginally better blasting out at high decibels through an enhanced Dolby SR system. After fifteen minutes of truly crappy previews, the movie begins. Scotland, Pennsylvania, is this small town hell hole with the kind of small town hell hole people you only find in these independent movies. You know, the real quirky types who sit around and have all-night Yahtzee tournaments in bars.

Maura Tierney and James LeGros play the McBeths, Joe and Pat, the whitest of white trash lowlifes, who slave away for Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) at his donut shop-cum-burger joint, while dreaming of a better life for themselves. Joe’s got plans, you see. He dreams of his own burger joint, with a drive thru window where people can place orders without getting out of their cars. They hatch a plan to move forward with Joe’s dream, but things going horribly awry, as things must happen at Plot Point I. Norm dies, and the McBeths find themselves in possession of Duncan’s restaurant, as neither of his sons want anything to do with the family business. In quick succession… and I do mean quick, like within a month… Duncan’s becomes McBeth’s, replete not only with a drive-thru window but with an almost familiar arched “M” above the entrance. Business is booming, and the parking lot is packed with the best muscle cars of the day. But what comes up must indeed come down, and this is where McBeth’s antagonist, McDuff (Christopher Walken), must enter. Now a vegetarian lieutenant from out of town assigned to the case, McDuff finds the people of Scotland, PA, to be a strangely friendly lot indeed, particularly Anthony “Banko” Banconi (Kevin Corrigan), Joe’s friend, coworker and confidant. And the film continues down its path, as both Joe and Pat fall deeper into their individual psychosis, until its conclusion.

Now, why did I all of a sudden get quite abrupt in my summationr Those with some interest in the work of Shakespeare know what happens. But that’s what makes Scotland, PA as great of a film as it is. It takes the familiar and puts a wonderfully unique spin on it. This is one of those films that you’ll enjoy no matter how much you know going in, but will get more enjoyment out of the less you know. What you need to know is that Scotland, PA is a film you should seek out when your normal gigantoplex is sold out of their seven shows of We Were Soldiers, if the film even makes it to a theatre near you. Maura Tierney’s turn as the bitch on wheels Pat comes as a shock to those who only know her as the mousy wench from “News Radio” and “ER”. But then, her husband did write and direct the film, so he probably would know how to direct her. LeGros and Walken are solid, but that is to be expected. Andy Dick and Timothy “Speed” Levitch, who along with Amy Smart make up this story’s ghostly tormentors, are rightfully annoying.

I suspect Scotland, PA will end up much like Heathers, admired by those fortunate enough to have seen it in theatres, later to be “discovered” by many on video, although I doubt the story will lost much translation going down to the cathode tube. If you keep a list of films you want to see one way or another, you would be doing yourself a service by keeping this film high up on that list.

Rating: A