A few months ago I wrote about how I could relate to Patton Oswalt's book Silver Screen Fiend, which is a memoir about the four years that Oswalt spent obsessively attending various L.A. repertory theaters like the New Beverly. I, too, have graduated from being a run of the mill movie nerd to a "sprocket fiend" - i.e. someone who goes out of their way to see as many films in the theater as is humanly possible. In particular, I've logged a lot of time at the Hollywood Theater this year, because their specific mixture of Oscar bait/art films/classics/pulp trash is right up my alley.
However, there is at least one big difference between what Oswalt was doing at the New Beverly and what I'm doing at the Hollywood: he had a list of specific movies he felt he had to see in order to complete his film education while my attitude is closer to "enh, why the hell not?" You see, I paid for a deluxe membership to the Hollywood a few months ago, and now I get into almost every movie they play for free, which means I go to a lot of movies I'm only halfway interested in because I am a cheap person who wants to get as much bang for his buck as possible. Trust me: so far I've gotten a lot of bang for my buck.
The downside of trying to see so many random movies is that I am also trying to review every movie I see and many of the films I've seen on a whim weren't exactly life-changing. Now if I was a normal person I would just shrug off the underwhelming films I saw and move on with my life, but unfortunately I am not that guy. So I've decided to write a brief run down of the movies that didn't work out so I can finally mark them off my list.
The movie: Roxie Hart (1942)
Why I Gave It A Try: Roxie Hart has a great pedigree. It was directed by William Wellman, who made quite a few well respected movies in the 40s and 50s, and it starred Ginger Rogers, who was Fred Astaire's legendary dance partner as well as an Oscar winner. Also, it's a variation of the musical Chicago that focuses on the character that Renee Zellweger played in the 2002 version, so I knew that the story had some potential. Finally, it was supposed to be a screwball comedy - a genre I generally like.
Why It Didn't Work Out: Roxie Hart is a story about a talentless moll who gets famous overnight after she becomes involved in a high profile murder case. It is meant to be a cynical take down of tabloid culture, but our modern media environment is so much more reprehensible now than it was in the 40s that it's satire feels incredibly tame. Roxie Hart is basically saying "Gee willikers!" while a film like Nightcrawler is saying "goddamned cocksucking son of a bitch." It's also a murder mystery from a time when no violence could be shown, and it's a comedy whose humor isn't funny any more. (There's a scene where Roxie Hart wrestles another woman in prison and they overlaid the sounds of two cats hissing at each other - it's a catfight, get it? - which was probably made people laugh back in the forties, but which just seems sexist and condescending now.) Basically, it's just dated - but it isn't dated in a way that's interesting because it says something about then vs. now. It's just... not relevant.
The Film: Love God (1997)
Why I Gave It A Try: I had never heard of the Love God before it was listed in the Hollywood's weekly email newsletter, but they described it as the ultimate cult movie, and that's a phrase that always piques my interest. Don't get me wrong - I'm well aware that cult movies are very hit or miss, but I've found enough hits to still believe that it's worth putting up with all the misses. The plot description made the Love God sound as if it would be pretty crass, which is generally not my thing, but it is also completely out of print, so if I didn't see it then I was probably never going to see it. In other words: I was skeptical, but I felt like I had to give it a try on the off chance that it was an undiscovered gem.
Why It Didn't Work Out: This is definitely a very cult-y film. Every character is psychotic in some way: our hero is a mental patient that has a compulsive need to read words and then destroy them and his doctors are possibly even crazier. It's full of vibrant energy and cheap looking visuals - the butt-demon puppets don't look great, but they are memorable. The Love God's psycho-sexual out-there-ness would go from being interesting to tedious to weird to "wow, I'm still watching this?" back to "whoa!", which meant that I could have reviewed this film by discussing the rake effect, which is when a joke goes on so long that it goes from funny to annoying to weird to being funny again. However, I wasn't super motivated at the time to actually put the effort in to write a full review because no one's heard of this movie and most people don't have any way to see it, and now it's been so long since I've seen it that I'm not sure I could do it justice.
Why I Gave It A Try: The Marlon Brando / Val Kilmer movie version of the classic H.G. Wells novel The Island of Doctor Moreau is completely insane: Brando spends most of the movie caked in white make up and wearing a muu-muu, the world's smallest man is a main character even though he doesn't speak any English, and the animal-human hybrids that are at the center of the story are all grotesque nightmares. (Trust me: you don't want to see the six breasted pig lady naked.) This documentary about the making of that star studded clusterfuck had a high potential to be fascinating, because who doesn't love stories about the hubris of infamous Hollywood nutjobs?
Why It Didn't Work Out: There is a lot of great stuff in this movie – at one point Marlon Brando announces that his character should rip off his face to reveal that he was secretly a dolphin the whole time and no one knows if he was serious about that or just fucking with them. Unfortunately Lost Soul is also completely imbalanced, because the first half focuses on Richard Stanley, the project’s original director, but once he gets fired halfway through it becomes a different movie. Stanley is an interesting character – he claims to have paid a London based witch doctor to work his magic on Brando – but he really brings the movie down because we’re here to gawk at a trainwreck but he still sincerely believes in this nutso project. Ultimately the movie’s split focus and uneven tone made it hard for me to find a way in to writing about it – I couldn’t quite bring myself to write a comical piece that makes fun of the original movie or a serious piece that takes apart the new documentary, and the fact that both the original movie and this documentary are pretty much under the radar at this point dampened my enthusiasm for putting a lot of effort into figuring it out.
The Film: Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (2014)
Why I Gave It a Try: I was interested in this remake of Prince’s 80’s classic Purple Rain set in the Saharan desert town of Agadez because a) Purple Rain is great b) I was curious as to how that specific story would look from an African perspective and c) Connor, who works at the Hollywood, said that the music was awesome. Also: the fact that it's title literally translates to "rain the color of blue with a little red in it" really endeared it to me.
Why It Didn't Work Out: A compare and contrast between this film and Purple Rain would be pretty interesting. The plots are similar – young hungry guitarists with disapproving fathers try to win acclaim with their music – but the setting completely changes the stakes because in America a musician can become a millionaire but the most popular musician in Agadez is still trying to scrape together wedding gigs just to survive. However, I think this movie is less interested in retelling Purple Rain and more interested in using that movie’s framework as a way to showcase a specific type of music, and while I liked Mdou Moctar’s songs I don’t really have the vocabulary to write about them well. Basically I could sum up my whole sentiment in a sentence – if you like droning ambient guitar music then you should definitely see this, but if that’s not your bag than you can safely skip it – and I could never figure out a way to stretch that into a reasonably long and possibly interesting review. So, instead, I wrote this, which is hopefully better?