Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nico Morley's Non-Recommendation: The Room

Watching “The Room” for the first (and hopefully last) time was a bit like listening to Bob Dylan on auto-tune. No, scratch that. It was like watching Kim Kardashian preform mouth-to-mouth on a blood hound. Or maybe it was like eating a sloppy joe while Judah Freelander massages my feet. Somehow I cannot put together an analogy that completely embodies the queasy, incoherent, weirdly-dark-yet-still-completely-tacky-and-unpleasant-hot-mess-of-a-cult-film that is “The Room”.

The plot (and I use that word loosely) is composed of a love triangle that contains about as much love as it does geometry. Lisa (Juliette Danielle) is engaged to a hot chocolate-drinking, football tossing, lump of muscle, wrinkles, and grease named Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) but is in love (or at least says repeatedly and menacingly that she is) with Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). (Or at least he says repeatedly and exasperatedly that that is what he is).

Tommy Wiseau (who also writes, directs and produces) delivers an incredible performance as Johnny. I was unaware that it was even possible to act while simultaneously asleep and in a coma.

Furthermore, his skill as a director calls for him to pay great attention to detail. For example, a scene in which Johnny, Mark, Johnny’s pseudo-adopted son/friend Denny, and another pal who just so happens to be a (much needed) psychiatrist don tuxedoes and then scamper out into a back alley to toss a football back and forth. Things such as contextual plot relevance, explanation, and, well, meaning, are obviously unimportant to the development of time fillers such as this. One would imagine that plenty of time could have been filled with coverage of topics such as Lisa’s mother’s breast cancer or the fact that Denny owes money to a drug dealer. But Tommy Wiseau’s imagination is obviously better than the rest of ours, as these matters are tossed aside without so much as the blink of an eye.

Instead, most of the movie takes place in Johnny and Lisa's living room where people wander in and out for no reason other than to exchange a few rusty bits of dialogue and in moments of levity, to engage in spontaneous pillow fights. Scenes like this are crudely glued together with completely irrelevant shots of "The Room's" location, San Fransisco.

Of course, this film is so bad, it has accumulated quite the cult following. And if my understanding of cinematic cult followings is correct, this is made up of people who can somehow relate to the characters in a way that the rest of us mainstream folk just can’t. Who enjoy listening to dialogue that sounds like it has been wrenched out of a pull-string Barbie doll. Who find refuge in a movie that, in being unconventional, somehow showcases unconventionality in a way that is relatable or thought-provoking. “Rocky Horror Picture Show” did this. “Pulp Fiction” did this. “A Clockwork Orange” did this. If “The Room” is unconventionality at its best (worst), it would make someone like Alex DeLarge want to immediately rush out and apply for a job as an insurance salesman.

It takes very little effort and/or intelligence to make a bad movie. It takes quite a bit to make a bad movie that means something.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Well, after writing for a local paper for almost two years, I finally realized that it was time to call it quits. In deciding the title of my last article, I turned to the American Film Institute's list of the top 100 movie quotes of all time. It was difficult ruling out no. 1 and no. 19 and even no. 25 before resorting to the generic line that graces the top of the article below.

Click image to enlarge

*No, the Celluloid Kitchen is not going anywhere.

Friday, February 11, 2011

M.W.B.'s 11th Favorite Movie: La Grande Bouffe

“La Grande Bouffe” is trademark French cinema at its very best… or worst, depending on your viewpoint and/or gag reflex. To give you a general idea of what I mean by this, I am going to have to venture into its grotesque and frivolous plot. This I do only to warn and recommend respectively.

We begin with four friends, all upper class, middle-aged Frenchmen who gather in an extravagant home, inherited but not inhabited by one of the quartet. It is to be a retreat from the trials of aristocratic life. Awaiting them are multiple truckloads of fish, cheese, wine, vegetables, and morosely alabaster animal bits. Though not immediately evident, the gathering is a surreal suicide pact. They intend to eat themselves to death- literally.

Before they even reach the second course of their gloomy gluttony, several young ladies take their place at the table and soon the getaway becomes a feast of food and fornication, each equally emotionless. Despite the over-abundance of luxury, nobody appears to be enjoying themselves. Things that are generally considered pleasurable to humans are conducted with an air of desperation and stoicism. Lavish items are disposed of without ceremony. A monstrously elaborate cake serves only as ammunition in a bizarre food fight and a shipment of meat is strewn about the garden before it gets refrigerated.

This is not a movie that most Americans (and even some French) find appetizing in any way. When a movie is explicit and disturbing, we tend to take it at face value. In America, if a movie contains a plethora of “graphic content” it rarely bothers to venture beyond its subject matter. The French cinematic tradition, however, tends to regard the risqué with a slightly more nonchalant attitude; and movies that bear the seal of a filmmaker’s politics or philosophical ideals are certainly not hard to come by.

I like to think of “La Grande Bouffe” as a hybrid of the minds of Louis Bunel and the Marquis De Sade. The characters and their obscure hedonistic actions are merely a foil for a larger idea. It is an allegory and a biting satire on the piggyness of the Bourgeoisie and their blind intent to devour as much extravagance as is physically possible. Their downfall, whether it be by violence or indigestion always comes about as a result of a blind consumption of luxury. “La Grande Bouffe” is tasteless because it wants to express the tastelessness of its subject.

Aristocracy and decadence are a favorite theme of French satirists- and why not? When extravagance is the norm, what is extravagant? When you have the best, what can you do but want more? When something is untouchable, what is left to do but make fun of it?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

It Is More Often In The Wrong

I’m always a wee bit apprehensive about movies that end with the high note being the fact that there are fourteen practicing exorcists in the United States today.

“The Rite” takes on the flavor of a horror movie, oozing with special effects and haunting atmosphere… people coughing up nails, speaking in tongues, getting trampled by invisible red-eyed donkeys, and reading each other’s minds... however, it wants to be taken seriously, not as a horror movie, but as an exercise in demonic possession. It begins with a young embalmer named Michael (Colin O’Donoghue) who is studying to become a priest. When he expresses doubts with the faith, he is sent to the Vatican to take a course on exorcism- partly because his Father Superior believes this may be just what the doctor ordered to rekindle Michael’s piety, partly because there is apparently a lack of people with strong enough stomachs to handle the nasty business of satanic tenure.

Either way, Michael’s scholarship bucks will roll over into a student loan if he doesn’t scrape together enough sanctity to get himself a degree, so off he goes to Rome where he gets to know Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), an old-timey exorcist treating a pregnant teenager who is supposedly possessed by the devil. At first, it looks as if a Freudian diagnosis would be more suitable than anything once it becomes clear that almost every character’s relationship with their parents is far from flawless. But I doubt even Freud could explain the goings on once the CGI kicks into gear.

Anthony Hopkins is his usual scene-stealing British-grandfather-gone-bad self. He knows what to do with the material he is presented with. In “The Silence of the Lambs,” a legend was created because we could get inside the frightening and devious brain of Hannibal Lecter. In “The Rite,” his character is forgettable and far from scary because he is hidden behind an impenetrable wall of gory special effects. O'Donoghue pales (as most do) when placed alongside Hopkins. Unfortunately, he was no rainbow before Hopkins entered the picture and plays the priest-to-be with about as much charisma as one of the clientele back in his funereal days.

The concept of using fear of the devil to encourage spiritual devotion is not a new one. “The Rite” is based on this premise but doesn’t know if it wants to use it to sanctify or to scare. It tries to do both, but accomplishes neither and somewhere along the line goes from being a promising psychological thriller to a grimly bitter freak show that wants to take its subject matter seriously and doesn’t know how to with any level of subtlety. If the devil is in the details, then there is no sign of him in “The Rite.”

Charcoal Monday

Wednesday, February 2, 2011