Lorelei

Lorelei and Wayland

People at a decisive moment of their lives is what Lorelei is about. Or, more specifically people who should be at a decisive moment of their lives but whose circumstances are so proscribed that they’re incapable of seeing an opportunity offered, even when one does come along.

Wayland is fresh out of jail after 15 years. A former biker with an iron-cross neck tattoo, he alone who took the fall for an armed robbery gone wrong. Now, his old gang are there at the gates to welcome him back to the outside world but can offer him little in the way of support beyond the initial booze and babes party.

Instead, a helping hand is extended by the local minister, Pastor Gail, who offers tough love and a roof to Wayland, who accepts this kind offer with bad grace, figuring that people who need help are weak, and those who offer it are too.

He runs into old flame Dolores, aka Lola, who’s had three different kids by three different men while Wayland has been inside and lives a fairly hand to mouth existence with Periwinkle Blue (the angry daughter cusping puberty), Denim Blue (the boy child who wants to dress like a girl) and Dodger Blue (a mixed race, mouthy horndog always working out and keen to get into the army).

They resume, with a crunching of gears, their old relationship, Wayland uneasily becoming a father figure, good-time Dolores uneasily accepting that she might now have settled down.

So far, so poor white trash. Wayland is played by Pablo Schreiber, and he gives the familiar hyper-masculine Schreiber character (see The Wire, American Gods, Orange Is the New Black) a soft edge – Wayland is tough, but that’s because he’s had to be. The dramatic dangle is that there’s another side to him that’s never found expression. Maybe now, with this instant family, the chance has arrived.

Lorelei and family
Meet the family


Lola is played by Jena Malone. The IMDb suggests The Hunger Games when you type in her name but she’s an actor with a lot more breadth and subtlety than that suggests, and one whose name always twitches some interest (she recently played David Bowie’s wife, Angie, in Stardust). Like Schreiber, she’s playing a character who’s been dealt a shitty hand by life and is all but deaf to fate whispering hints in her ear on how to play it.

This is the writing and directing debut by Sabrina Doyle, who’s made a competent, solid and deliberately unshowy film that’s about real people rather than flameouts and freaks. There are no meth factories in Lorelei, though in plenty of other similar films there would be, because of the social class of the people who feature.

The Lorelei is a German mythical watery creature who haunted the rock from where she fell to her death into the River Rhine. Dolores/Lola is the modern embodiment of that creature, and sure enough Lola swims. Once, she was heading towards making the Olympic team but instead fell to this fate – three kids, a minimum wage job cleaning at a crap motel.

Is Lorelei about Lola though? That’s the issue here. In Wayland and Lola we have two characters, one of whom is a touch under-developed, and it isn’t Wayland. As a result a lot of good stuff fails to resonate the way it might have done.

The committed performances by Malone and Schreiber, by the three kids, Chancellor Perry, Parker Pascoe-Sheppard and Amelia Borgerding, the pungent support by the likes of Trish Egan as the Pastor, Ryan Findley as Wayland’s old biker pal Kurt, Jeb Berrier as the owner of the auto salvage business who gives him a job, they all are left just hanging, a bit like Wayland and Lola, though that isn’t the intention, surely.





Lorelei – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021









Stardust

Johnny Flynn

 

Stardust, echoing the title of his most consequential album, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, charts the journey of David Bowie from washout – the big 1969 hit Space Oddity not having led on to greatness – to the moment he became the David Bowie of legend.

Gabriel Range’s film pegs that moment as being when Bowie first stepped on stage in 1972 with his new band, the Spiders from Mars, though fans will rightly point out that the decisive shift actually came with the previous album, Hunky Dory, in particular the song Queen Bitch, a moment of arch Ziggy-ness inspired by Lou Reed.

But, fanboy grumbles to one side, let’s talk about the film – in 1971 on the verge of being finished Bowie is sent on a solo promo tour of America by his manager, encouraged by his pregnant wife Angie (Jena Malone), only to find on arrival that the cool reception at immigration is matched by the attitude of Mercury Records.

There is no limo, there is no tour, just Ron (Marc Maron), a hack publicist. Off the two head on their “tour” – a convention of vacuum cleaner salesmen here, a strait-laced radio station there, with the enthusiastic (“I believe in you”) Ron promising to get David on the cover of Rolling Stone, though David, withdrawn, fey, insecure, sarcastic, superior, diffident seems determined to sabotage any interview by playing the awkward artist card, even though he is desperate to be a star.

One of the things his interviewers want to know is what Bowie’s most recent album – The Man Who Sold the World – is “about”, in particular the single, All the Madmen. And Bowie is particularly reluctant to tell them because his brother, Terry, is currently buzzing away on a cocktail of drugs inside a mental institution, the latest of the singer’s relations to come down with what his mother calls “the family curse”.

As the 1970s warmed up and drinkers in 1960s music’s last chance saloon piled into glam rock, pop music fell prey to the “builders in eyeliner” syndrome. It didn’t afflict Bowie. Though Johnny Flynn, who plays Bowie here, does have mild symptoms. Flynn is not androgynous enough to mimic Bowie’s gender-bending style – on the cover of Hunky Dory Bowie poses as a Hollywood goddess (on The Man Who Sold the World he’s in a dress). Director Gabriel Range seems to have decided to make it a bit of a theme – in this film Bowie’s rival, the elfin Marc Bolan (James Cade), also looks more like someone more familiar with the coal lorry than the faerie glade.

 

Johnny Flynn as David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie introduces the world to Ziggy Stardust

 

But in spite of all that angular masculinity, Flynn is very good as Bowie, a charmless, self-absorbed, uncertain and silly man and a bit of a dick. A lot of a dick in fact, especially in his dealings with Ron, who is a decent guy and who, in conversations with Bowie leads him to his breakthrough thought – ditch rock’s obsession with authenticity and embrace parody and theatricality. Abandon any idea of being a rock star and instead play the role. Stardust.

Why is publicist Ron a man in his 50s when the publicist he’s based on was more Bowie’s age – 20s? Why are the two Rolling Stone journalists we see middle aged men, when Rolling Stone back then was a youth operation? Bowie’s manager, Tony Defries, was under 30 at the time. He’s a chunk older here.

Though this is only a snit, and Maron in particular is excellent as the enthusiastic but careworn Ron, the age issue is bizarre. Wouldn’t the film have more appeal to a young audience if it spoke in that “very heaven to be alive” voice of, say, Almost Famous? Or perhaps Range is using the actors’ age to suggest the general dowdiness of the era.

Fans, be aware, there is no Bowie music here – the estate said no – instead, as in the Hendrix film All Is by My Side, we have a few songs that Bowie covered (Brel, The Yardbirds), a Bowie-esque tune penned by Flynn and Anne Nikitin’s pastiche-y soundtrack plugging the gaps.

If this had been a Rocket Man or Bohemian Rhapsody, that might be problem. But it isn’t and it isn’t. Because this is a portrait of a pre-fame star coming up with his own fake-it-till-you-make-it strategy.

Very funny here and there, more fascinated than awed by its subject, it’s a very good film about an all-too-flawed character. And in being about a human being rather than a starman it’s really going to infuriate the self-appointed keepers of the flame.

 

Stardust – Watch it/but it at Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

Sucker Punch

Emily Browning as Baby Doll in Sucker Punch

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

20 June

 

The Beatles’ Yesterday and Today Butcher cover, 1966

On this day in 1966, the Beatles released their eleventh US release, Yesterday and Today, a compilation of tracks from the three most recent British albums – Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver (not yet released). The record became infamous because of its cover, shot by Robert Whitaker earlier that year, which depicted the band dressed in butchers’ aprons draped with pieces of meat and various parts of plastic dolls. In terms of conceptual art, it was ahead of its time (it’s in Damian Hirst and the Chapman brothers territory) and the band sold it to the record company as “our comment on the [Vietnam] war.” Capitol Records printed 750,000 copies of the butcher cover and it caused a stir even before it got to the shops. The record was immediately recalled, the order to pull it coming right from the top. Many of the covers were destroyed, going into landfill, but tens of thousands others were re-issued, with another, less offensive, image pasted over the top. Once word got out that the butcher cover was underneath these so-called “Trunk” copies, the race was on to find a way to remove the new image without destroying the old one. Ironically, “pasteovers” that have not been interfered with now command good prices, whereas “third state” covers (the anodyne image removed) are less valuable. An original shrink-wrap version of the original butcher cover, not tampered with either by the company or the public, now sell for multiple tens of thousands of dollars.

 

 

 

Sucker Punch (2011, dir: Zack Snyder)

If 300 is a light-hearted, cartoon-y take on hot young guys doing bloodthirsty things, then Sucker Punch is the female equivalent, a lurid modern-gothic bit of fun peopled by girls/women whose clothes are all a bit too tight, loose, skimpy or absent. But 300 is dumb shit compared to this, a mad kaleidoscopic mash-up of pop trash loosely held together by a video-game conceit: our fab five of fearless young women – Charlie’s Angels on crystal meth – are fired into one crazy situation after another (disarm the bomb, kill the dragon, defeat the Nazis etc), each situation preceded and precipitated by a dance by Baby Doll (Emily Browning) and accompanied by high-octane mixes of old school tunes by Marcus De Vries. So we get Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows”, Roxy Music’s “Love Is the Drug”, among others. The effect is intoxicating, if you can take this sort of thing, possibly migraine-inducing if you can’t. Buried deep inside is an exploration of themes also handled by Lucile Hadzihalilovic in her overlooked and beautiful Innocence – the enculturation of young women. Both films, 300 and Sucker Punch, were directed by Zack Snyder, a man whose output up till this point has suggested that at his worst he’s a hack (Dawn of the Dead), at his best (flashes of this in Watchmen) a Hollywood player trying to move the artform onwards. His artform being the comic-derived, pulpy, over-caffeinated actioner. Sucker Punch is the apotheosis of this. But I haven’t mentioned the cast, apart from the always luminescent Browning – Abbie Cornish being the only one who doesn’t really fit in with Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung (Cornish too old? too above-it-all?). Nor have I mentioned that the action actually takes place on two levels of reality, up here in some kind of women’s correctional facility over which Carla Gugino presides while the girls suck air across their teeth. And then in the various rabbit holes that the plot dives down, where alter egos of the young women go to deadly work like some underdressed X-Women. We never actually see Baby Doll dance, but the idea that a young woman gyrating on a table top can create so much disruptive energy, enough to drive deadly combat, that’s brilliant. Because it entirely subverts the normal dynamics of action films, which are essentially about men giddy on heroic notions of saving the dancing girl. Here the women go to war, driven by something so powerful it cannot be shown. Unleashed by the concept, Snyder goes to work with the CG, which doesn’t even vaguely attempt to ape reality – the problem with too much CG work these days, from Pixar down. Instead he’s free to create impossible worlds where imaginary, though consistent, laws of physics hold sway. Yes, if you’re being snitty, Sucker Punch can be seen as an update of the erotic girls school or prison drama. There is a lot of lingerie. I’m not going to mount a defence of this aspect of it; I can’t. That doesn’t make the film any less brilliant. And having had the misfortune to watch Snyder’s Man of Steel, more hackwork, let’s just hope one day soon he gets back with the Sucker Punch programme instead of all this messing around with adaptations of previously existing “properties”.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A great cast includes Jon Hamm, Oscar Isaac and Scott Glenn
  • Larry Fong’s intense cinematography
  • Snyder and Steve Shibuya’s inventive screenplay
  • The great Marcus de Vries/Tyler Bates soundtrack

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Sucker Punch – Watch it now at Amazon