Film Review

Madrid, 1987: There's a Girl in My Tub

Imagine being locked in a bathroom with a horny, septuagenarian columnist and a young female journalism student in her early twenties, both nude, for over an hour. Seldom has a great film accomplished so much with so little. Well, that's if you consider an insanely quotable screenplay so little.

Director/writer David Trueba's phenomenally witty Madrid, 1987 is an expertly constructed exploration of politics, gender roles, the art of writing, fame, and aging randiness set against a Spain that has moved from fascism to communism to unrepentant capitalism: "Overstepping human rights in the fight against terrorism was never an issue."

Hyde Park on Hudson: Spooning with FDR

If you have viewed all eight seasons of Foyle's War on Netflix, as any responsible TV aficionado should have done by now, you'll know how peeved the Brits were about America's late entry into World War II.

Well, Hyde Park on Hudson chronicles how King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) of England traipsed across the Atlantic to convince FDR and the American public to set aside their beloved isolationist stances and come to the aid of the free world and help beat up the Nazis. This, as you will learn, was accomplished with the aid of hot dogs and mustard.

A Tad Bit Loopy

Time travel paradoxes are not really so tough.  In fact, as Looper unwinds, we find that time travel relatively light-weight stuff compared everything else that happens in the story. It’s a little bit like The Matrix, where you discover that a modestly talented hacker has been sent careening into Alice’s nightmare chasm.

Looper takes place in 2044, but this version of the future looks like '70s urban squalor with a splash of Studio 54.  We get the sense that life is cheap in this brave old world, and that’s because just about everybody we meet is a killer, or a boss (Jeff Daniels), or an underling, or a stripper.   

Camille Rewinds or Peggy Sue Gets Cloned

"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there," L.P. Hartley noted in the opening of his novel The Go-Between

In 1986, Francis Ford Coppola tried to explore that notion with his wan whimsy in Peggy Sue Got Married, which closed the New York Film Festival. Kathleen Turner, who was nearing the end of her film career as a marketable entity on the West Coast (The War of the Roses (1989) was her final Hollywood hit), starred as the eponymous fortyish mother whose greasy spouse (Nicolas Cage) is ditching her. Distraught, Peggy Sue is persuaded to attend her high school reunion where she ends up being crowned queen. Immediately, she collapses and winds up traveling back in time to her teens. The quirk is that both she and the audience see that Peggy Sue clearly is a middle-aged mom dressing up in age-inappropriate attire, while her parents, friends, and all the other screen personae see her as she would have been at age 16.

Taylor Mead Times Six: A Warhol Knight Rises

Taylor Mead, the love child of Bette Davis and Peter Lorre, is one of the truly great comic geniuses of underground films, theater, poetry, cabaret, and cable TV of the Sixties and beyond. He was and is still quite hilarious, even if just stumbling down an East Village Street by himself, his traipse being a sort of Danse Macabre as envisioned by Pee Wee Herman.

An Andy Warhol Superstar, possibly best known for his hysterical “gunslinger” in Lonesome Cowboys, Mead’s brilliance never shined brighter than when he took on the title role in Michael McClure’s outrageous off-off-Broadway play, Spider Rabbit, in which he essayed a bunny who adored eating human brains.

Music Documentary Worth the Search

Searching for Sugar Man

This documentary film, ostensibly about obscure Michigan-based Mexican-American songwriter Sixto Rodriquez, is just as much about music geeks and the lengths to which they will go when the subject is their favorite artists. Oh, there's plenty about Rodriguez, who under his last name only made a pair of lush folk LPs for the Sussex label, released in 1970 (Cold Fact) and 1971 (Coming from Reality) and then faded from sight.

"Gross" Negligence

Superlatives are part and parcel of the entertainment industry, particularly with regard to cinema. 

Words such as "extraordinary," "superb," "amazing," and "best" are tossed around so often that they lose their meaning when applied to film.  And it is a given that award ceremonies – Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, Grammys, etc. -- are hopelessly arbitrary, and mostly a promotional tool.  Even award ceremonies based on "peer" review (e.g., Screen Actors Guild awards) are largely promotional "mutual admiration society" events.

Matchmaker: Israeli Schlockmeister Aims for Depth

Take Israeli director Avi Nesher out of Israel, and he creates celluloid crap of the third order. Consider She  (1982) with Sandahl Bergman. Or Doppelganger  (1993) with Drew Barrymore?  Or even Ritual  (2002) with Jennifer Grey? If you haven’t been face-to-face with any of these features, you’re probably being rewarded for accomplishing something quite wonderful in a former life.

But drop-ship Nesher back to his native country, and he can surprise you. Turn Left at the End of the World (2004) is semi-engaging look at the plight of Indian immigrants living in the backwoods of Israel during the sixties. As for The Secrets  (2007), here’s an exceptionally fine tale of an Orthodox Jewish young woman who wants to break all the rules by studying the Talmud and living her life as a lesbian. Really a must-see.

Now Nesher’s  latest effort, The Matchmaker, is currently trodding down the theater aisles. No confetti is needed. 

General Education: A “B-” For Effort

Tom Morris’s General Education, a tepid, well-meaning saga of high school woes, could be screened immediately on the Disney Channel with nary a cut, and that’s the problem. The whole enterprise lacks a soupcon of edginess, a modicum of wit, or an iota of originality.  

Endlessly insipidity aside, the screenplay by Elliot Feld, Jaz Kalkat, and Morris was clearly pulled together for no other reason than the need for a bunch of buddies to start calling themselves “filmmakers” -- at least that’s how the super-clichéd, slightly offensive final product comes off.  Well, you might not be offended if you don’t object to viewing a screaming queen of a pederastic college recruiter endlessly hitting on young men. Then there’s Charles (Skylan Brooks), an often barefooted, black thirteen-year old playing Stepin Fetchit to the film’s teen hero. No shoes? He runs faster that way. The young man does swim, however, so there goes that stereotype.