Lost Transmissions

Juno Temple and Simon Pegg lying in the snow

 

Affable, blokeish, pint-in-a-pub, kickaround-in-the-park Simon Pegg. Even when he was playing Scotty in Star Trek he was still likeable Simon Pegg. From talking to someone who worked with him on one of the “Cornetto Trilogy” (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End), he is actually like that in real life. What you see is what you get – smart, geeky, funny, relatable.

It comes as a shock to see him acting. In Lost Transmissions he’s a nervy record producer called Theo, life and soul of the party, a survivor of some 1990s band who now lives with his fellow Brit expats out in LA – they’ve made it.

Theo is such a force of nature that having coaxed/encouraged/bullied Hannah (Juno Temple) to sing with him at the piano at a party, somehow, in short order, he’s turned her into a songwriter so hot that music megastar Dana Lee (Alexandra Daddario, doing a version of Katy Perry) is begging Hannah for her next hit. Hannah has made it too.

 

Alexandra Daddario
A blink-and-miss-her Alexandra Daddario

 

But all is not well with Theo. Unlike Hannah, who admits to having been on meds for years, Theo secretly relies heavily on anti-psychotics, and periodically – as all Theo’s oldest friends tell her – he’ll come off them and go banzai.

And that’s what happens in Lost Transmissions. Theo comes off the meds, becomes psychotic/schizophrenic and resists all attempts to go back on them, because of the effect they have on his creativity. The lost transmissions of the title aren’t just the detuned radio signals which the med-free Theo fancies are speaking to him, but the synapses in his brain that fail to fire when he’s on the drugs.

Lost Transmissions looks at first like a Star Is Born movie – she’s on the upswing, he’s on the way out – and it also looks like it’s about Hannah. But in fact it’s really about Theo going awol on the drugs in LA and Hannah – because of the debt she feels to him – trying to either chivvy him back onto the drugs or into a hospital.

This switch in focus is unsettling and takes a while to get used to. One minute this shy mousey young woman is going from nowhere to world-famous songwriter, the next the film tells us it’s not actually about her at all? It’s bizarre.

It feels like there’s a whole film missing here. Maybe that’s what writer/director Katharine O’Brien wants to say – mental illness is a hijacker – and it would explain her subjectively nervous camera when Theo is at the height of his delusional rages, and Hannah is trying (and failing) to find him adequate treatment in the underfunded public health system.

Whatever the rationale, the film runs out of dramatic puff before the end, having devolved into a pattern of Theo running off and Hannah finding him another dodgy milieu – the pool at a swish LA party with a couple of young women off their minds on recreational drugs, or a refuge for down and outs eating soup.

Through it all Simon Pegg is brilliant, extraordinary, so is Juno Temple, even though the film shortchanges her and in particular her character, who has mental health issues of her own, let’s not forget. Having been introduced early on, both Hannah and her psychological problems are quietly forgotten, another lost transmission.

 

 

Lost Transmission – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2020

 

 

 

 

Killer Joe

Matthew McConaughey and Juno Temple in Killer Joe

 

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

 

 

18 August

 

Lolita published, 1958

If you’re looking for a start date for the 1960s, you could do a lot worse than this: 18 August 1958, when Vladimir Nabokov’s novel was first published in the USA. Detailing the love of a middle aged literature professor for a 12-year-old girl, whom he has nicknamed Lolita, it had first been finished in 1953, but was turned down for publication by a string of publishing houses, finally seeing light of day only after Olympia Press in France, a publisher of pornography, printed it in 1955. In spite of its low key debut, it sold like crazy, and by the end of the year it had been praised by Graham Greene as one of the best books of the year. At this point customs officials in the UK were ordered to seize all copies entering the country. It was then banned in France too. On 18 August the controversial publisher GP Putnam’s Sons published it in the USA. Within three days it had gone into its third printing. Within three weeks it had sold 100,000 copies.

 

 

 

Killer Joe (2011, dir: William Friedkin)

As dumb families go, the Smiths take some beating. There’s Chris (Emile Hirsch), his stupid dad Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and his dumb sister Dottie (Juno Temple) who want their estranged wife/mother dead so they can claim on the insurance money – something about a drugs debt. So they hire full-time cop and part-time hitman Joe Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) to do it, a man of slow-poke speech patterns, old world manners and dead eyes. Joe wants a “retainer” and, being dumb, the family goes along with the idea, until they realise that they don’t have any money. That’s why they want mom dead, after all. Joe suggests that instead of cash he’ll have Dottie, who has been dancing around the house braless in a T shirt while the negotiating has been going on and hasn’t been looking bad at all.
All this is set-up, and anyone who has seen William Friedkin’s The Exorcist will know that he’s good at laying out a trail of crumbs, luring us in and then … wham! What he’s setting us up for is entirely in spoiler territory, but let’s just say that Killer Joe spends the last two thirds of the film playing with this family who think they are running the gig, torturing them in one way or another, humiliating them, at one point making Ansel’s new wife (Gina Gershon) fellate a piece of fried chicken in a scene that will stick like crumb in the throat.
What sort of a film is it, that’s the question. An incendiary drama is how it’s usually described, but I reckon it’s a comedy, this family are simply too bone stupid to be the point of identification – they’re not “relatable”. It’s easier to relate to Joe. He’s suave and smart, horrible, for sure, but is only dishing out what this bunch of retards and potential proxy murderers, let’s not forget, have coming. Joe is an agent of natural justice. And the jaunty exit song, as the final credits roll, seems to be nudging the audience towards that interpretation too.
As for the acting. Well, this is one of the films that went towards the “McConaissance” of Matthew McConaughey. Two years before it was the dreck of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Two years later it was an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, having been impressive in The Paperboy, Mud and Magic Mike along the way. Hirsch and Haden Church are, you know, OK. They do what they have to do. It’s Gina Gershon as the slutty spanner-mouthed Sharla who impresses whenever Juno Temple isn’t holding the floor, her Dottie all Lolita eyed and girlie voiced, and swinging her breasts about in ways designed to madden and delight.
No, as a piece of Southern fried gothic, a pale Tennessee Williams drama of inadequate men and women undone by their sexuality, it just won’t do. But as a very dark comedy that never cracks a smile, Killer Joe is mighty fine indeed.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Juno Temple’s great performance
  • Part of the McConaissance
  • An interesting film from an interesting director
  • Is it a comedy?

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Killer Joe – Watch it now at Amazon