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The Dream of The Mad Mullet

This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.

When Jeff Goldblum was making Vibes in 1987 he told a reporter visiting the set that the film was merely “a light entertainment” and that he preferred “more serious, adult movies.” Goldblum went whole hog into those waters with Twisted Obsession (1989), a retelling of the 1976 Christopher Frank book The Dream of The Mad MonkeyTwisted Obsession is virtually unknown in the U.S. and if you see it you’ll understand why.

Goldblum plays an ex-pat screenwriter in Paris named Dan who suspects something carnal is occurring between a director he knows and the director’s teenage sister. Dan himself starts lusting after the sister; they engage in a few positively graceless sexual encounters and suddenly Dan’s embroiled in a love rhombus (this guy also has an on again, off again thing going with his lit agent). For good measure, Twisted Obsession includes a subplot about vanishing cadavers and clandestine, cult-like activities.

We’re supposed to feel a modicum of sympathy for Dan because his wife abandoned him and their small child and he can’t afford nicer clothes and he’s got an egregious, take-no-prisoners mullet. There’s zero warmth in Goldblum’s performance, however, so Dan is just a creep. Moments meant to feel playful come across as bitter and mean. When Dan spikes a corn cob into his son’s face as a joke (ha, that old chestnut) you only chuckle out of shock and discomfort because the anger is so palpable.

Twisted Obsession chokes to death on its own morose and surly vapors and it’s clear no one has any idea what to do with it now. One assumes Goldlbum’s current enthusiasm for the film must be nil. It does nothing to support his 21st Century persona as benign goofball; if anything, Twisted Obsession uncomfortably mirrors recent accusations that Goldblum’s offscreen behavior is not really benign. I only saw the movie because it’s part of The Excellent Eighties, a DVD set that positions itself as an ultimate source for kitschy, fun-loving crap from the ‘80s (David Hasselhoff is prominently displayed on the cover). Jeff’s mullet must have cleared the bar.

“Look at this dad’s wacky hair as he sexes a 17-year-old! Does he have a keytar too?”

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The Individual Will Be Destroyed

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Stop The Presses

Steven Spielberg’s 2017 newsroom drama The Post signals early that it will be cliché-ridden hokum. As the production company logos vanish, we see military choppers hovering over a steamy jungle while Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River” takes off in the background. Pairing Creedence with footage from Vietnam was overdone 30 years ago; any first year film student would be docked a letter grade for such a boring, obvious move. Of course, by the time The Post is over the viewer has been so assaulted by the plain and the literal that they might forget there ever was a scene in Vietnam.

I’ve read that Spielberg considered The Post an act of resistance against Trumpism, a counter-attack on “fake news” that for some reason absolutely had to come out when it did. One might argue the story of Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers, and The Washington Post’s fight to print the shocking truth about the Vietnam War is more prescient now since Trump decided to cap his anti-media, fib-laden presidency by swiping classified documents. At any rate, The Post was flung together very quickly, without pulp or artistry, condemning it to die in the shadow of All The President’s Men (still the greatest film ever made about the freedom of the press).

Tom Hanks does not transform into Bill Bradlee, the gruff editor pushing to serve honesty to Washington Post readers. Meryl Streep does not transform into Katharine Graham, the beleaguered Post owner trying not to tarnish her legacy. All you see is Hanks and Streep vying for more Oscars with nothing but cold wet ham for dialogue. The Post’s supporting players fare no better. The front page story is on their faces: I’m doing this because it’s Spielberg.

Only Bob Odenkirk rises to the occasion in the lynchpin role of reporter Ben Bagdikian. A much better film could have been made out of the story threads wherein Bagdikian secures the bulk of the Pentagon Papers from Ellsberg. Odenkirk’s comedy partner David Cross is in The Post too, looking like the saddest version of Martin Balsam you can imagine.

The most laughable part of this whole cornball affair is that it concludes with a Marvel-style cliffhanger at the Watergate Hotel. Oh no! A burglary? Cue the typewriters! Even more pathetic are the final frames, which have Spielberg copying one of the most indelible shots from the start of All The President’s Men. Working on Ready Player One at the same time as this film must have given him brain damage.

At least Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman don’t cruise by in the DeLorean.

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Some Kinda Moon Jaunt?

This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.

There’s a crisp, bracing energy to Star Trek: First Contact (1996) that I will attribute to director Jonathan Frakes. Although he was a film novice, Frakes had a clear and deep understanding of Trek after playing Commander Riker in universe for nine years. He also knew which corners to expand to make everything feel cinematic. First Contact is widely regarded as the best movie featuring the “Next Generation” characters and I’d only argue on one critical point where verisimilitude is lacking.

Zefram Cochrane is a historical figure in Star Trek celebrated for piloting Earth’s first warp speed space flight during the 21st Century, a voyage that facilitated our planet’s inaugural encounter with alien life. These events are threatened in First Contact when machine-based conquerors the Borg travel back in time from “the present” (the 24th Century) and murder Cochrane’s flight crew a day before launch. Captain Picard, Cdr. Riker et al race beyond the clock to help Cochrane, who, as it turns out, has more in common with Dennis Hopper than da Vinci. The “joke” about this aerospace pioneer being a rock n’ roll smart ass goes over like mildew. Cochrane is written in a weak and one dimensional way and James Cromwell doesn’t seem right for the part.

“So you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek?” he asks our heroes at one point, breaking new barriers in cringe (and cheapening a much more clever title reference in “Next Generation’s” final episode). Paramount originally wanted Tom Hanks to play Cochrane. Could Hanks squeeze life into that line? Could he make the billowing fur coat and leather cap work? That getup is like Blade Runner meets “The Golden Girls.”

The meat of First Contact is with Captain Picard. Years earlier he was assimilated by the Borg into their shared consciousness, an event so traumatic it continues to haunt him. Picard’s struggle is pronounced enough that even a few of his contemporaries in Starfleet question his reliability when engaging the Borg. Patrick Stewart achieves the usual excellence as Picard and First Contact gives him a terrific screen partner in Alfre Woodard. Woodard plays Lily Sloane, a gutsy Cochrane associate who through no fault of her own becomes trapped aboard the Enterprise during a Borg attack. Sloane may be overwhelmed by the situation but she isn’t intimidated by Picard. She dishes out some hard truths he needs to hear when the situation starts getting real hairy.

First Contact has another memorable debut from the Borg Queen, who descends upon the Enterprise and takes a special interest in assimilating Lt. Commander Data. Is this surprisingly human Borg really their queen? Does she control their hive mind or does she only represent it? I think the jury’s still out on that. Alice Krige’s portrayal of the Borg Queen is imbued with a thin benevolence that suggests she might not be entirely evil. Spoiler alert: she is.

A poignant ending caps Star Trek: First Contact, one with hope, wonder, and humor. It could have served as the final ringing note for this lengthy film franchise. Lucky for us, First Contact made enough moolah to propel the adventuring forward. I can assure you no one says “star trek” in the final two installments.

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The Anti-Remake Remake?

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Warhol, Wrestling, Muppets

This review was originally published a few years ago in The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was doing on Substack until I discovered they were giving money to very bad people.

Debbie Harry has always seemed remarkably well-adjusted considering her global renown. This image is not shattered by her 2019 memoir Face It. Harry unfolds the road map of her life and nothing, it seems, has driven her off sanity’s edge. Not sour business or lost love or discovering that world famous drummer Buddy Rich was one of the two 40-something creeps who followed her home at the age of 12 after making their intentions clear at a nearby lobster shack.

Harry writes about that mortifying episode and several other very traumatic incidents like they’re just wacky family stories to be told after a few drinks around the holidays. Is she too well-adjusted? Millions of people cope this way — downplaying visceral horror with a laugh or wry comment. Maybe she is truly unaffected. Either way, it doesn’t prevent Harry from coming across as a relatable, endearing human in Face It. Often it feels like the only thing separating us from her is we don’t own paintings of ourselves by Andy Warhol.

What are Face It’s revelations for the casual Deb head? Harry “made it” once with David Johansen back in the day. She admits she “was never a Muppet fan” and only went on “The Muppet Show” because Dizzy Gillespie had been a guest (Harry offers praise for Jim Henson, though, whom she labels “a big pervert, in the best possible way”). Also, Debbie Harry once enjoyed an Edgar Winter concert.

Then you have this fascinating aside about Lydia Lunch, that high priestess of the underground, and her devotion to Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Lunch, Harry, and Harry’s longtime beau Chris Stein were all wrestling fans and used to attend matches together. “Lydia Lunch was hot for Bret big time,” Harry writes, noting that “heads turned [and] eyes stared” when Lunch began screaming in her “earth-shatteringly loud” voice for Bret when he was on the card. I wonder if Bret Hart ever heard Teenage Jesus.

The back half of Face It starts to feel like a sprint to cram in every notable event from Harry’s life during the 21st Century. Now maybe you understand why Richard Hell halted his life story I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp around 1984. Harry’s work is more humane, though, and more human, so we bounce along, happily adjusting.

“Faerie Tale Theatre,” Reviewed

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Danny And Sandy Control The Universe

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Talking About Heads

This article debuted in January on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were doing bad stuff.

The offstage rancor between David Byrne and the rest of Talking Heads has become just as legendary and captivating as their music. I cannot tell you what reverberates through my mind more often — the brilliant quirk of “Once in a Lifetime” or bassist Tina Weymouth pushing the rumor that lead singer Byrne once killed a child “using voodoo.” Drummer Chris Frantz, also Weymouth’s husband of many decades, doesn’t address witchcraft in his 2020 memoir Remain in Love but he does swat at Byrne more often than he praises him. Reading between the lines, I see a guy who is hurting for a warmth and a friendship from Byrne that will never come. Maybe his wife hasn’t told him about the voodoo yet.

It’s probably disheartening to have such a fruitful creative connection with a person who simultaneously cannot or refuses to connect on a more human level. The flip side of Frantz’s Talking Heads coin is the cosmic bond he’s shared with Weymouth, a union that has clearly helped him cope with whatever traumas life has delivered. Weymouth and Frantz don’t need Byrne, personally or professionally. When this wife and husband debuted their side project Tom Tom Club in 1982 it actually eclipsed Talking Heads in popularity (Tom Tom’s upbeat single “Genius of Love” earned gold sales and a Rich Little parody, two things Talking Heads had yet to achieve).

Crusty “Saturday Night Live” heads like myself might be wondering if Remain in Love mentions early ‘80s cast member Charles Rocket at all. Yes, Frantz talks about Rocket, whom he knew during his college years at RISD. There’s a palpable affection when the author writes about his late friend Charlie and the performances he gave as singer for a group called the Fabulous Motels. The Motels did a spoof of “Sweet Soul Music” where the refrain was “Do you like big men, y’all? Big strong men, y’all?”

Rocket’s music career extended to include a guest shot on Mesopotamia by the B-52’s. Frantz briefly touches on this release in the text but only to imply that David Byrne’s production made it one of that group’s worst performing discs. No shot at Byrne is too obscure or petty. Frantz even takes a swipe at some drawings a young David made that Byrne’s parents had hanging up in their home. I’m sorry he hurt you, Chris.

Byrne will most likely do his best to ignore the fact that Remain in Love even exists. I think he should film himself reading the entire book in real time and release it as his next art installation. That would be fascinating. Would he agree that it was a mistake to end his relationship with Twyla Tharp?

Chuck Off

This article debuted last year on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were doing bad stuff.

Chucky get iPad? No, Chucky is iPad. That’s the long and short of the 2019 Child’s Play reboot, a movie that drags the homicidal moppet into the 21st Century by turning him into a Siri-style smart device. It’s a keen and plausible route. Less plausible is the new Chucky’s visage — more Willem Dafoe than Cabbage Patch. Would consumers really go apeshit for a toy that looks like it’ll bust you in the stones even before it turns evil?

Well, Child’s Play is also a film that tries to pass off Vancouver for Chicago and winds up with something resembling Dayton. Any true Chuck head will tell you the problem here is that no one from the original Child’s Play films was involved with this remake. And yet the god Mark Hamill still agreed to speak the new Chucky’s voice.

Hamill excels at sounding diabolical (he’s been voicing the Joker for 30 years) but Chucky 2.0 doesn’t call for that. This isn’t the spirit of a convicted killer trapped in molded plastic, it’s a corrupt operating system that can’t grasp why you should never rip out a cat’s stomach. So Hamill’s “doll” has a measured cadence with just a trace of emotion, remaining placid even as the gruesome stakes are raised. That’s nothing like original Chucky, who carries on like Nicholson after a snootful of downstairs coke.

There are plot threads that don’t go anywhere in Child’s Play and a handful of character moments that fail to ring true, but nobody was expecting Scorsese level craftsmanship from the eighth Chucky movie. We came to see a toy kill people with drones and self-driving cars. In that sense, Child’s Play delivers, fully realizing the violent techno-terror haunting luddites in their sleep.

Only time will tell how heavily Willem Dafoe factors into the inevitable AI uprising. My guess is not very heavily at all but he’s surprised us before.