Friday, August 8, 2008

Week of August 8-15 - Shirrel Rhoades

by Shirrel Rhoades

‘Savage Grace’ Plays Like a Vanity Fair Exposé 
Once I went to see a movie just because the ad promised: “Sex. Murder. Betrayal.” That offered three out of three good reasons to see a movie, I thought.
Turns out that movie was “The Crying Game,” and yes I was surprised by the shocker dénouement, although all my gay and women friends saw it coming from a mile away.
Now, here’s a movie — “Savage Grace” — that Rolling Stone describes as “Money, madness, incest and murder! Just the recipe for a twisted mesmerizer of a movie, if it doesn’t creep you out.” How could I not be drawn to such a promise? You can see it too. “Savage Grace” is opening today at the Tropic Cinema.
No, it’s not about crossdressing Irish hairdressers who harbor IRA defectors. Rather, “Savage Grace” tells the true story of a woman who married above her class, only to have things turn out horribly bad.
The woman (played by Julianne Moore) weds a wealthy plastics manufacturer (Stephen Dillane), has a child (Eddie Redmayne), gets bored. Being no match for her well-bred hubby, she grows closer to her son. That’s when things start to go off the tracks. (Rolling Stone did promise us “Money, madness, incest and murder!” — remember?)
And didn’t I mention that this is a true story, the wealthy couple being Brooks and Barbara Baekeland, scions of the Bakelite plastics empire?
“Savage Grace” is based on a bestselling book of the same name, a page-turner by Natalie Robins and Steven M. Aronson. It’s been described as “so juicy … and crazy.”
Julianne Moore first heard about the book at a cocktail party where everybody was buzzing about its shocking frankness and candor. Apparently, Barbara Baekeland talked openly with her friends about sleeping with her son.
“Everybody knew everything and people did nothing,” says Moore. “If this were a fiction, I think you’d feel like it was just sort of salacious. Like, come on, really? But what is compelling about it is that it actually happened, and it seems so outside of what we are capable of. But in fact, we’re capable of almost anything.”
Such as incest and murder.
“In a way, this is a cautionary tale,” says the actress. “You see these very rich people with no boundaries. They have no job, they have no purpose, they have nothing to do, they have no focus. And their focus shifts to one another. They seek this incredible stimulation, because they’re not getting any stimulation in how they’re interacting with the world. So they seek sexual stimulation and stimulation with drugs … all this kind of stuff that happens to these people who have too much.”
Moore attributes Barbara Baekeland’s deviant behavior to living in a “wealthy, debauched environment.”
She should talk. Not only is Julianne Moore a successful Oscar nominated actress, she’s picked up some big bucks as the celebrity redhead in Revlon’s ad campaign, sharing the cosmetic spotlight with Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon and Kate Bosworth.
Yet by all accounts Julianne Moore leads a fairly normal life. Although she built her career on playing characters undergoing psychological meltdowns — such as the allergic housewife in “Safe,” the unfaithful spouse in “Magnolia,” or the troubled mother in “The Hours” — she has a perfectly nice husband that she’s been with for 12 years and two lovely children.
However, signing the cosmetics contract with Revlon gave her the financial stability that allows her to appear in low-budget independent films like “Savage Grace.” According to boxofficemojo. com, the film has taken in considerably less than a million dollars in worldwide grosses, certainly not enough to cover its production costs. Or big star salaries.
Director Tom Kalin may not make blockbusters, but he proved his ability to handle lurid, true-crime stories with “Swoon,” his 1992 film about the notorious Leopold-Loeb case.
And being about a society murder, “Savage Grace” is right up his alley — a film that one critic called “an eerie, unsettling, uniquely creepy experience.”
Julianne Moore laughs nervously. “This movie makes my (previous) dark stuff look like comedy. I mean, this is really dark. As an actor, you can’t approach it other than to say she was a real person … She was probably a sociopath, but she was a person, so it’s my responsibility to make her ... human.”
Being a mother herself, Moore is quick to add, “She couldn’t be further away from me … I don’t have to identify with the character. I never identify with my characters. I have to bring their behavior to light, but I don’t worry something could happen to me because I’m pretending.”
She points out, “There’s a huge difference between empathy and identification. I think people confuse the two; they think in order to play a character, you must identify with them. And you don’t. You just have to empathize with them to be in that situation.”
And that’s “Savage Grace,” asking you to empathize with a woman described by her friends as “this monstrously narcissistic, boundaryless person.” It may be a stretch for some audiences. But if you subscribe to Vanity Fair and read Dominick Dunne’s books, this may be a film for you.

‘Roman de Gare’ Is Like a Summer Read
I don’t have to tell you members of the Literary Society that roman de gare is the French term for a trashy beach novel. An entertaining fiction.
Being it’s the beach reading season I was eager to see “Roman de Gare” — the new film by Claude Lelouch opening today at the Tropic Cinema.
Lelouch, you will recall, is the French director who gave us such classics as “Un Homme et Une Femme” (“A Man and a Woman”) and “Toute Une Vie” (“And Now My Love”). But because critics trashed his recent “Genre Humain” films, he initially released “Roman de Gare” under a pseudonym.
Somehow that seems fitting, for no one in this taut thriller is who he or she seems to be.
The plot oozes with deception: A writer of glossy fiction (Fanny Ardant) tries her hand at a true literary novel. But just as she begins to revel in the novel’s critical acclaim, a man (Dominique Pinon) comes forward claiming to be her ghostwriter, the true author of the book. Meanwhile, a mysterious woman (Audrey Dana) who has been dumped by her fiancé winds up hiring the supposed ghostwriter to pose as her boyfriend when she goes to visit her parents.
Lelouch leaves his audience to wrestle with questions of identity. Is the man really the book’s ghostwriter? Or is he a schoolteacher who deserted his family? Or perhaps he’s actually a serial killer known as the Magician, called that because he uses magic tricks to lure his teenage victims?
Could he possibly be all three?
No spoilers here, but I promise Lelouch will keep you guessing.
The twisty storyline jumps around in time, giving us clues about dead bodies and neurotic hairdressers. Be forewarned that the impish director plants red herrings throughout the picture, teasing his audience, a deliberate cat-and-mouse game designed to throw moviegoers off the scent.
Typical Lelouch. His style is often marked by stories within stories, time shifting, and a degree of audience participation.
Even the dialogue is riddled with puns and double meanings, although much of it is lost in translation with this subtitled film. (Lelouch once said, “English … it’s a tough language for the French, we phrase things completely different.”)
One reviewer used the magician wordplay to criticize Lelouch’s sleight-of-hand thriller (see, there I go, doing it myself):
“Shuffling storylines and shifting time frames, Lelouch empties out his bag of tricks, hoping viewers will be so entranced by his misdirections that they won’t notice the occasional cheat,” writes Sam Adams. “But the movie’s bubbly charms start to fizzle as the layers peel back. Lelouch is fine as long as he keeps his hands moving, but at the final flourish, he has nothing up his sleeves.”
The 70-year-old director shrugs off such put-downs. “One day I’ll make a film for the critics, when I have money to lose,” he says wryly.
Dominique Pinon makes an interesting leading man, with his “stepped-on face, scrawny beard and low key, insinuating manner.” However, the French seem to like that not-so-handsome look (witness Gérard Depardieu and Jean-Paul Belmondo). In the past Pinon has appeared in such grotesqueries as “Petits Mythes Urbains” (“Urban Myth Chillers”), “Le Bon, la Brute et les Zombies” (“The Good, the Bad and the Zombies”), and “Alien Resurrection,” although he did have a nice dramatic turn in “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” and delighted audiences with a small role in “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain” (“Amelie”).
Audrey Dana is superb as the dumped fiancée who conspires with the ghostwriter. She was nominated for a French Oscar for this performance.
And Fanny Ardant holds her own, whether pleading her innocence in a police station or lounging on her yacht where a man may have drowned. For those film buffs out there, you should know that Ardant is legendary filmmaker François Truffaut’s widow.
In “Roman de Gare,” Claude Lelouch is clearly having fun with his audience. A pleasing puzzler.

‘Midnight Movie Madness’ 
Tapes at the Tropic
Back when I was a publishing exec in New York, I occasionally treated my staff to an afternoon at the movies as a morale booster. I’d buy the tickets, hand out bags of popcorn and humongous cups of cola, and give them the remainder of the afternoon off after we watched a summer blockbuster.
And being in the Big Apple, I’d sometimes take them to see the live taping of a TV show. We once went to Geraldo Rivera’s talk show and several of my staff got interviewed on camera.
Well, don’t feel left out. You can attend a live taping on your own (or with a gang of friends) right here in Key West at the Tropic Cinema.
Every second Friday of the month, WGAY-TV hosts the showing of a weirdo cult movie at the Tropic, complete with wisecracking commentator Rick Dery. And it’s taped for later broadcast on the local television channel.
Rick’s stolen a couple of pages out of late-night movie history, playing host to this ghoulish gathering à la Zacherley, Vampira, and Elvira. This outlandish event – termed Rick’s Midnight Movie Madness – takes place as the name implies from ten to midnight.
But rather than a horrorfest, we’re treated to an array of bad exploitation movies accompanied by Rick’s incisive comments. Thus, its kinship is much closer to Mystery Science Theater 3000, the cult TV show created by Joel Hodgson that ran from 1988 to 1999. Bad B-grade movies were aired while the host and his robot companions made fun of them like a juvenile peanut gallery cutting up in front of you at the movie theater.
Rick doesn’t have a robot companion, unless you count Derek Karevicius, the director from WGAY-TV who keeps Rick on his toes with facts and anecdotes about these movies and their all-but-forgotten stars. And producer David Chesnet is usually lurking somewhere in the background.
Recent movie selections have included “Chained for Life,” “Road to Bali,” and “As the Clouds Roll By.”
Tonight, Rick will be watching (and making smart-aleck comments about) “The Wasp Woman,” a 1959 sci-fi movie that’s so bad it’s good.
This “classic” was directed by Roger Corman, master of ultra-low budget quickie films such as “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Brain Eaters,” “Big Bad Mama,” “Caged Heat,” and “The Wild Angels.” While best known as a producer of cheapie B-movies, he gave a start to the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Jonathan Demme, Jack Nicholson, and many other notables.
“The Wasp Woman” is both a B-movie and a bee movie. It tells the story of a cosmetics queen who develops a youth formula from a wasp enzyme, but fails to anticipate its side effects. Using herself as test subject, she begins turning into (as the title hints) a wasp woman as the dosage is increased.
This is typical of ’50s sci-fi movies, people turning into monsters due to a perversion of science. “Attack of the 50-Foot Woman,” “The Amazing Colossal Man,” “The Cyclops,” and “4D Man” are typical examples.
“The Wasp Woman” stars Susan Cabot, who appeared in a handful of Corman’s low-rent productions (“Machine-Gun Kelly,” “Carnival Rock,” etc.). This was her last film before returning to the legitimate theater in New York. She later died in a bizarre manner, which Rick will reveal to his cult-film audience.
The plot of “The Wasp Woman” is silly, the special effects tacky, and the acting not quite up to high-school level – making it an easy target for rapier-tongued Rick.
Rick’s Midnight Movie Madness has the fascination of passing a spectacular car wreck. You can’t avert your eyes.
In this case, you can be on the scene as the show is taped. Or catch it later on television.
Me, I’m going to be rubbernecking at the Tropic.
[originally published in Solares Hill -]

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