Archive for June, 2009

HAPPINESS, Todd Solondz 1998

Posted in Drama with tags , , , , on June 7, 2009 by Toi Brownstone


When you become a movie addict it’s easy to forget plots of many movies, either because they’re shit but sometimes they vanish just because even when the film is cool.

This happened with Happiness, I almost remembered nothing and was almost as shocking as for the first time I watched it few years ago.

You really have to be in the mood for this kind of drama assembling many separate plots in just two hours, but luckily I was up to that and it didn’t bore me at all although some story didn’t catch me much.

Happiness deals more with just the opposite, taking different stories from the members of a very same family, basically the three sisters completely different from one to each other.

Joy is the youngest of the three sisters, she just does not fit, she pretends to be songwriter, has shitty jobs and it’s difficult to picture a future shared with somebody else, because she’s too special. She’s a romantic with a  concept of  love  totally unrealistic. On the very first scene after having a wonderful evening with her friend Andy she rejects him as a possible lover not predicting his furious and vengeful  reaction to the max, which leaves her completely shocked and feeling as total crap. She will later know that Andy suicides, causing her a state of depression she tries to overcome by changing her job as an English teacher for foreign people.

Helen (Lara Flynn Boyle) is a snob writer, she exploits  rape and abuse subjects  as if she had lived both situations although she was grown up in a normal familiar environment. She feels empty for she’s not authentic in her writings, she’s a fake, and she knows because of her status she can fuck whoever she wants, but this does not satisfy her any longer. When she receives one of this nasty and dirt phone calls, she gets so excited and hooked up that starts harassing the mysterious speaker up to a point she wants to meet him. Eventually he’ll be encouraged enough to knock at her door but nothing will happen for he’s not her type. The speaker is in fact his neighbor Allen (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a loser, fat boring wanker totally unnoticeable for anyone but for another fatty neighbor, who secretly has a crash on him.

Trish Jordan is the eldest sister, she’s a housewife, mother of three, who is apparently sharing a perfect life with her husband Bill Maplewood (Dylan Baker), a psychiatrist with a remarkable dark side, who dreams with mass murdering and buys teenager magazines for wanking in his car. Bill is a pederast and eventually will put  his quiet life at risk when sexually abusing  one of his son’s best friends by sedating everybody at home. On the other hand, Bill has to deal with his son’s sexual awakening who is really concerned about coming.

Dad, I need to come

Dad, I need to come

If I have to choose one of the stories, no doubt the best is Maplewood’s, the perfect guy with the perfect family  and a perfect life who is not happy enough and decides to go further and trespass the limits of good, eventually getting in trouble. What is most shocking is that you realize in real life there’re many people like him. Sometimes the more you have, the more you need and we’re constantly witnessing real life stories of common life people, even in a easy living position who are caught involved in sexual scandals which have to do with depravation, abusing or so called sexual philiae.

The way Solondz deals with these extreme situations is handled in a very soft way, not creating morbid and possibly offensive scenes, but on dialogues and attitudes, very subtle but self explanatory  at the same time.  You are witnessing tough stories but can make fun of them.

Regarding interpretation, the most remarkable one in a negative way is Lara Flynn Boyle’s. In my opinion she’s just a pretty face and nothing else, her story is only interesting thanks to Allen, linked to Kristina’s.

The kids roles are very cool, you end sympathizing with Timmy Maplewood in his quest for coming, and obnoxious Johnny Grasso helps to get you tense for you know what’s going to happen.

Don’t know whether this movie deserves to be so awarded but there’s no doubt is original and not so full of drama as Magnolia, which is hardest to endure. Pessimism in Happiness is constantly present, but not so overwhelming.

THE CRUISING, William Friedkin 1980

Posted in Thriller with tags , , , , on June 1, 2009 by Toi Brownstone


Probably  The Cruising  is one of the least successful movies on which Al Pacino appears, not supported by critics, certainly due to the way darkest gay environments are depicted, although I find it really cool.

Since I watched it for the first time it took many years to find it available on DVD, and fortunately a making off and other several interesting documentaries were included, which help to understand the movie better, the symbolisms, the S/M scene in the Village in NYC 70’s…

The Cruising  is a thriller about a serial killer whose target s are S/M gays picked up in the Meatpacking district clubs of the NY West Village.

New York is being striken by both a heat wave and a series of murders which have a common feature:  victims belong to the gay community, and especially to the S/M leather world. Most of them seduced  at the same clubs, such as The Eagle’s Nest, The Ramrod and The Cock Pit and then violently stabbed to death.

Recalling all info from the  victims’ bodies , Police captain Edelson (Paul Sorvino) reaches  the conclusion that an undercover agent infiltrated in this environment is required, and  consider Officer  Steve Burns (Al Pacino) is physically best suitable for the mission: dark haired, middle size, well-built, he can be good bait for catching the serial killer.

Thus, Burns move to the Village and start adapting to gay life, getting acquainted with his neighbor, Ted Bailey, a young writer who is trying to finish a Broadway script while his dancer boyfriend Gregory (James Remar) is touring.

In the beginning he’s able to combine his 24/7 mission with his personal life, taking often breaks to visit his girlfriend Nancy (Nancy Allen) but  after few time their relationship is affected by  Burns’ confidential mission,  so does his personality, suggesting he’s  being drawn by the world  he’s living in.

The hunting of the killer put him in situations he’d never imagined.

The Cruising  is basically a portrait of the most hardcore side of the gay world in NY in that time, and also a psychological thriller in which Pacino changes his moral standards in order to catch the killer, a traumatized college student with mental disorders who obeys his dead father’s commands.

I think I have a crush on you

I think I have a crush on you

It’s also very critic towards the Police Department, showing corrupt and vicious officers and also the disinterest in resolving some cases. Special mention to mythic freak actor Joe Spinell (anybody remembers Maniac? Cool!) and Mike Starr (Frenchy in Goodfellas) as a sample of vicious cops forcing transvestites to blow them up.

S/M bars  scenes  are the most shocking, rock music mixed with sweat, leather, color bandanas for sex code, popper, piercings, fist fucking, chains…super promiscuous behavior  to AIDS discovery got me totally amused. It’s too much!

Party time!!

Party time!!

There are several issues not well developed and weird stuff difficult to understand. For instance, at least two different actors play the serial killer (in fact, the first one is later killed by the other) , the only reason I can find for that, is the possibility of multiple serial killers as to mean there will always be an active one. Also the way the killer is discovered is not very clear, and somehow by chance, however, the stalking carried out by Burns is pretty cool, also their last encounter.

Although is a dramatic movie, there’s place for some fun moments, when Pacino tries to buy a bandana or when dancing high in popper at the disco. They don’t contribute to the development  of the plot  but help to forget tension for a while.

High on Popper!

High on Popper!

Last scenes are very visual with not much dialogue, leaving the feeling that Pacino will never recover, suggesting there will always be a killer, and even sowing the doubt of Pacino being the one.

Waiting for some action

Waiting for some action

Very criticized by gay community and poorly received by the audience The Cruising was almost a commercial failure, and is almost unknown for Al Pacino’s fans. I wonder what’s his opinion on the movie, it’s possible he regrets it, playing a character moving between the straight path and a dark bizarre can be dangerous.