Sunday, June 26, 2005

Disco's Not Dead, But I Hired A Hitman

This Gun For Hire
1942, USA
Frank Tuttle

This has got to be one of the most depressing movies ever made. Not because of its subject matter, which though not exactly cheery, certainly isn’t the sort of stuff that would make you eat ant-poison while listening to Billie Holiday’s Gloomy Sunday. Rather, it’s because apparently everybody in this movie died from liver failure destitute and miserable. This Gun For Hire launched the careers of both Alan Ladd, the shortest non-Mickey Rooney movie star ever, and Veronica Lake, a beautiful and talented actress who will be forever be eclipsed by the fact that her haircut was the Jennifer Aniston of its day. Both Lake and Ladd shot to stardom and had some success immediately after the 1942 release of the film, but neither capitalized fully on the fame, ending their lives in pools of their Chris Farley-like foam and vomit. Even the film seems cursed by this fate; once popular with audiences and critics alike, it’s now forgotten by all but ardent film buffs, and the print has yellowed with age and jaundice, stinking of badly mixed martinis and stale urine. OK, that last part may be because I haven’t cleared out my closet since I killed that barfly from Mont Bar last year, but you get my point. The film itself is brisk and action packed, following a cold hit man named Philip Raven, played by Ladd, who finds himself on the run from the law after he’s paid off with marked bills. He goes after his employer, Willard Gates, a pompous Peter Ustinov-meets-Victor Buono mix working for a Mr. Burns prototype who runs a chemical plant. Coincidentally, Veronica Lake is at that very moment tapped by the US government to ingratiate herself with Gates, who is suspected of treason. Even more coincidentally, Lake’s boyfriend is a cop investigating Raven’s latest murder. If you can get over the needless complexity and endlessly awkward chance meetings and encounters, you just might enjoy this film. Then again, if you can get over all that mess, then you’re probably the kind of idiot who posts on message boards about how xXx: State of the Union got a bum rap from critics, and you’re no doubt incapable of noticing the fine performances and snappy dialogue that keeps This Gun For Hire afloat. Nevertheless, Ladd’s turn as Raven is especially chilling. The hit man isn’t amoral, nor truly evil. He has the usual Hollywood tough guy honour code, as well as the prerequisite weak spot that shows us he has a heart, but he still kills with a complete lack of remorse, and never once are we asked to sympathise with him. His sole admirable traits exist not to breed empathy, but merely to show us that he is three dimensional and human, though not an admirable one. Through a final act of redemption, Raven manages to do some good in the world while staying true to his fundamentally callous character, something worth watching in the current age of the character arc that turns every Hannibal Lector into Clark frigging Kent by the end of most modern movies. And though Raven is certainly no Hannibal Lector, I would recommend that if he were to partake of liver with his chianti, he should avoid Lake’s, unless he finds that the taste of hepatitis livens the palate.

It’s All Gone, Pete Tong
2005, Canada
Michael Dowse

It’s All Gone Pete Tong is the much anticipated follow up to writer/director Michael Dowse’ FUBAR, a mockumentary about drunken Alberta hair-metal headbangers. Dowse, judging by the current state of Canadian comedy filmmaking, is the only funny person in Canada who doesn’t base his humor on making stupid faces or making fun of Americans, though he doesn’t show it much here. Where FUBAR was at least funny for the first half hour before it started to drag, It’s All Gone Pete Tong¸ about a famous DJ who starts going deaf, starts out boring. The jokes start to sneak in about a third of the way in, but I found I had already lost interest by then. Again filmed in a mockumentary style, the picture features many cameos by famed DJs from the past and present, like Fatboy Slim, Charlie Chester, and Carl Cox, which I suppose I would care about if I were a loser. I know that sounds harsh, especially coming from someone who has the entire run of the original Outer Limits run from the forties on VHS, but I would like to point out that I am a geek, and there is a huge difference between geeks and losers. Geeks are people who can list all the Green Lanterns in the order in which they were chosen by the Guardians on Oa, and losers are those who stay up until six A.M. in after-hours clubs listening to an amped up video-game soundtrack while trying to score enough speed and GHB to make getting humped bareback in the bathroom by a Spanish guy stinking of sweat and Red Bull bearable. Dance music, or house or jungle or what ever the hell those retards with the candy-colored baby pacifiers are calling it these days, and the culture that surrounds it has always mystified me. Why the hell would you want to spend all night in a sweaty dungeon listening to some guy in $700 sunglasses play two crappy records at the same time while you get felt up by twenty five ugly people at once? Of course, this is coming from a guy whose idea of a good time is curling up on the couch with a tub of Pringles and a snuff film, but at least I won’t go retarded from the snuff film. The star of …Pete Tong, which incidentally is Cockney rhyming slang for “it’s all gone wrong”, is Paul Kaye, an actor who is quite capable in the serious parts, but opts for Jim Carrey-style mugging for most of the comedy, which I found ruined much of the spontaneity and prevented one from getting too immersed in the pseudo-reality of the picture. Kaye plays DJ Frankie Wilde with a boozy, bad-toothed extravagance, but only his calm bits really work. Some of the secondary characters, however, do keep things funny without getting too Saturday Night Live-y , especially Mike Wilmot as Max Haggar, Wilde’s agent/manager, who exudes a ruddy-faced greed that’s quite amusing. The film is interestingly constructed in a sort of Eddie and The Cruisers flashback, but it flips points of view from a documentary style to a surreal narrative quite frequently, which is unusual, but not necessarily a bad thing. This works particularly well in sequences when Wilde battles his cocaine addiction by fist-fighting an enormous raccoon dressed in domestic attire. This works even better if you haven’t seen Sexy Beast, but even if you have, it’s amusing. If only the rest of the film stayed that way, we would have had a winner from Dowse. As it stands, I fear …Pete Tong may not be quite good enough to escape the curse of the Canadian film, which has a tendency to languish in the dusty, cobwebbed corners of Blockbusters all across North America, neither slick enough to fit in with the crappy-straight-to-video Tracy Morgan comedies, nor exotic enough to set foot in the foreign film section, the domain of the black clad fine arts student and leftist musician. Unfortunately, I don’t believe either Morgan or the university drama club contingent like dance music enough to give this film a chance.


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