Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Jupiter Ascending

Have you ever wondered what would happen if a pre-teen girl who was just coming out of her Disney Princess phase was forced to watch Flash Gordon, Brazil, Dune, Predator and a dash of Scientology mythos and then regurgitate them all into one mega-budget mess o' sci-fi nonsense?


Yeah, i haven't either but, if such a thing were to happen, the result would be Jupiter Ascending. Yet another film that proves that you can have plenty of money, talent and creativity and still produce absolute shit. Apparently due to some kind of studio shuffle, the Wachowskis made Jupiter Ascending with a big budget and little oversight--something that will not happen again, not after this. Well, and Cloud Atlas. And Speed Racer.

She does this falling and screaming thing at least a dozen times....

Here we have the perennially serviceable Mila Kunis as Jupiter, a young Russian immigrant cleaning lady who is actually the Queen of the Universe. No, fucking really.

This film is art-directed to the point of paralysis, but they gave someone 
with gold-leaf bathroom walls the kind of cheap white plastic toilet seat you get for $15 at Lowe's.

So, we open with our heroine's Cinderella drudgery, breaking into a Hallmark Channel romance-style flashback of her parents, punctuated by what might be mobsters or aliens or government agents or rival astronomers killing dad. (This, like many things in the film, is never quite explained.) Back to the present, it seems Jupiter's brother has talked her into donating her eggs for cash and giving him most of the money, because apparently cleaning other people's piss and/or shit isn't submissive and degrading enough. She bops on down to the clinic, but while she is unconscious, spread-eagled and having her ladyparts  probed (because helpless and because female), suddenly the doctors turn into weird aliens and announce that they're going to kill her.



Fortunately, Channing Tatum shows up on rocket skates to rescue her--a phrase that appears in the Jupiter Ascending script at least a dozen times. Yeah, there's some bullshit about how she is the genetic duplicate of some previous Queen of the House of Abraxas and, thus, owner of the Earth, but that's not really what this movie is about. What this movie is really about is Jupiter gets kidnapped by bad aliens in flashy outfits/falls through some really great computer animation/is rescued by Dogboy.
 

Yeah.  Charming Potato is a good-guy super-soldier space mercenary who's also part dog or wolf or something. Wait a second... half-man, half-dog in space? I know this one!


Anyway, we are treated to the first of many chase scenes. Jupiter Ascending is just over 2 hours--45 minutes of expository dialogue, 45 minutes of space-chase-fight scenes, 10 minutes of admiring Jupiter's costume changes, 10 minutes of CGI landscape beauty shots, 5 minutes of closeups of cool shit and 5 minutes of character development and plot.


Shitty hometown you don't want to go to, lame relatives you never see...

Our chief villain of the House of Abrasax is played by Eddie Redmayne in Cleopatra/Captain Hook drag, delivering all of his dialogue in a whisper that's supposed to be menacing but sounds more like his tonsils are sore from gobbling crystal meth and cock for 48 straight hours. It's perhaps the greatest post-Academy Award comedown since Halle Berry in Catwoman.

...consider this penance for stealing Michael Keaton's Oscar, you twee bastard.

He sends assorted creepy aliens and fabulously attired mercenary squads after Jupiter, thus adding to the legion of intricately designed and utterly unwritten characters that pass through Jupiter Ascending. It's like the filmmakers spent two weeks creating individual hairdos and tattoos for each one, but didn't even bother to give any of them a name.



Wait, Sean Bean? You're here too? Dang.

So after Dogboy stands around shirtless in a field of wildflowers for a good ten minutes--and you thought i was exaggerating the pre-teen Disney princess angle--Jupiter gets hauled off to the first of a number of space palaces, gets a new outfit and listens to some exposition from her "sister"--or is it "daughter," i dunno. We're basically just here for the pretty dresses and to watch this chick Bathory-bathe in the life force of humans and come out young. And get an ass shot.



Dogboy shows up and rescues Jupiter, she asks for a change of costume. (This is literally the only initiative we will seen taken or order we will seen given by the alleged Queen of the Universe.) Then we go into the terrible, obvious Brazil ripoff where we spend 10 minutes watching Jupiter and Dogboy follow some Space Twink around to various space bureaucracies to do the paperwork to establish her Earth rights. The tone is completely different than the rest of the film and it's painfully unfunny. But the worst part is this...


That's right. Terry Gilliam cameo. Terry Gilliam has to beg to get 1/100th of the budget wasted on derivative shitshows like Jupiter Ascending and is usually refused even that. But here he is, contributing to the stealing of his own schtick....


But, wait! Kidnapped again! This time she is whisked off to meet Prince Charming, who lays some crap on her about how he's a good guy and she can help him blah blah blah... it hasn't taken long for the space lords to figure out that it's pretty easy to handle the Queen of the Universe: Give her a pretty new dress, use a bunch of big words, light some candles and she'll agree to whatever you say.



Don't get me wrong. I am a full believer in the power of a good frock. But this is ridiculous. So, Prince Charming--who is actually evil--wants to marry the Queen of the Universe and Dogboy must stop the wedding... after we've had a good, long look at the gown, hair and makeup. Just like a hundred fairytales including Flash Gordon. I mean, it is such a direct Flash Gordon jack that someone should sue...



Dogboy takes Jupiter back home, only to find that the Cock Whisperer has kidnapped her (stereotypical) family, so she is immediately carried off again with Dogboy again in hot pursuit on rocket skates. Blah blah, sign over the rights the the Universe or I kill your family blah blah....


 You must pay the rent! 
I can't pay the rent! 
You must pay the rent! 

Seriously, i just want him to tie her to some train tracks already....

Dogboy to the rescue!
(Again.)

At the end, Jupiter doesn't want to be Queen of the Universe. No, she just wants to go back to Earth and scrub toilets and live with a family who doesn't appreciate her. This sort of "the only true happiness a woman can know is by having her entire identity wrapped up in her family" bullshit barely got by in the fifties: Now it's just ridiculous. Not even the endings of Mahogany and Made in Paris involved this level of abandonment of achievement for a life of domesticity.


Even more ridiculous when you compare it with a movie like Bound, where the women flipped everyone's script and came out on top. I dunno what happened with the Warchowskis, but Larry and Andy gave us The Matrix's Trinity, who was fierce and invincible and saved Keanu's punk ass countless times, as well as the aforementioned killer team of Corky and Violet.  Lana and Lilly give us Jupiter, who basically just changes outfits and waits for Dogboy to turn up and help her out of whatever mess she has wandered blindly into.They have every right to their own vision of femininity, i just wished they'd kept it a little more kickass...


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Cool World

I wrote about Ralph Bakishi's live action/animated trip through Las Vegas and the Cool World for my day job at the Vegas Seven. A deeply flawed film, but it has its moments....


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Mandalay

Mandalay is a relic of Hollywood's pre-code era, back when you could get away with shit like adultery and blasphemy and abortion and drugs and theft and whoring and murder and saying things like "toilet" and "double bed."


The the Hays Code came along and you had to be punished or repent, preferably both. But, before then, we had movies like Mandalay, where our heroine lives in sin, becomes a prostitute... and continues from there.

During the 30s, Kay Francis was on the covers of all of the movie magazines, but she's relatively forgotten today.  It's too bad: While many of her films don't hold up over time, she does. Her demeanor is low-key and, if anything, she underacts, but she serves glamour like no one's business. Francis wears clothes like Dietrich or Dovima.


Not only can she make the most tricky of outfits seem like something she just threw on, she also has the grace and savoir-faire that could make a backless sequinned gown seem occasion-appropriate to a PTA meeting. I mean, it makes perfect sense that Kay Francis would pay a visit to the police station while wearing a floor-length white gown, a hat with a two-foot brim and a fan that unfurls to about a yard wide.


So, we open with Kay--here Tanya Borodoff--on a boat with Ricardo Cortez, her no-good, gun-running lover. He may look great in a white linen suit, but he's a terminal loser who can't pull off a deal. But Kay worships the ground he walks upon....


I believe it was Bessie Smith who said that there's nothing as dangerous as a man who knows how much you love him. It may not have been her words but, regardless, truer ones were never spoken. As Kay Francis is about to learn....


So Sleazebag Boyfriend takes Kay to the Jardin d' Orient nightclub in Rangoon, where he introduces her around to a variety of shady characters, including Nick, who owns the joint and the Countess, who's the resident hostess/madam, as well as some leering old guys in tuxedos. Then Sleazebag trades Kay Francis to Nick for a few cases of machine guns. That's an ammosexual for ya: Whether it's 20 grade-school kids or the woman you love, nothing's quite as important....


Kay sulks and hunger strikes, albeit in a lovely room with a gorgeous carved bed. Then the Countess gives her some wise advice..




Kay Francis decides to do precisely that, making a killer entrance into the Jardin d'Orient that lets everyone know who's the most precious piece of ass in all of Asia--fuck, perhaps the entire Eastern hemisphere...


We then get a too-brief montage of Kay Francis changing outfits, accepting gifts, drinking cocktails and playing torch songs--okay, the same torch song, over and over--on the piano for an adoring audience of men.


Kay Francis is now calling herself "Spot White" for reasons i'm unsure of--Because she always wears white? Because she's one of the few white chicks working the club? Because she's a White Russian? Because she drinks White Russians? No matter.


She gets hauled down to the police station, prompting a fantastic scene in which an utterly blase Kay Francis not only doesn't get deported, but winds up sashaying away with 10,000 of the police chief's rupees to buy herself out of the Jardin d'Orient with enough left over for a nice cabin on the next boat to Mandalay and a new wardrobe of ladylike white clothes. Kay Francis was apparently applying the "if i wear all white, i will look less trampy" philosophy long before Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings  Twice...


Of course, as she's unpacking, she drops her framed photo of Sleazeball Boyfriend--Wait, why did she have that? I've been known to forgive a man anything (twice) but even i would give the Soviet wiped-from-history treatment to anyone who sold me into prostitution. Anyway, she cuts herself on the glass and the cabin boy runs to the bar and gets a doctor there to come look at it and, woohoo, meet cute. Well, kind of. It doesn't take long before he reveals that he's an alcoholic who once operated drunk and killed someone, so he's going off to some colony where everyone has the plague so he can do penance and probably die. She, of course, hears this and immediately wants to come with him....


“We’re two wrecked people. We need each other.”

But wait! Guess who else is on the boat? Why, Sleazeball Boyfriend, of course. He sneaks into Kay Francis' cabin, but she brushes him off. Although first she stares meaningfully at the bottle of wound cleaner or whatever the doctor left her, helpfully labeled  POISON in big letters. But then it seems Sleazeball Boyfriend disappears--having taken the bottle of POISON and fallen/jumped/was pushed off the boat. Everyone suspects Kay Francis of murder...

 

... but then they find not only Sleazeball Boyfriend's suicide note, but a note someone had sent warning him that the cops were waiting for him in Mandalay. Phew! But then Sleazeball Boyfriend returns! he just faked his own death and, well, if it almost got her arrested for murder, that's oke, toots! He's also heard how successful Kay Francis was peddling it and he has this great idea that they'll open up their own whorehouse. Then he can quit running guns and just pimp her out full-time...


... and Kay Francis thinks, "You know, everybody believes this guy is already dead." What will  Kay
Francis do?


As the great Bebe Zahara Benet once said, "I give face, face, face..." 

Mandalay is just over an hour long, which is fine by me: There's no bullshit subplots, no droning on with dialogue, no stupid twists to pad out the running time. It also seems like a film that could have starred Marlene Dietrich--white Russian adventuress who becomes queen of a Far East brothel and then avenges herself on the man who wronged her... it's kind of like Shanghai Express meets Dishonored. Hell, Mandalay even has Warner Oland white slave-ing Kay Francis two years after he attempted to do the same with Dietrich in Express. There's also more than a touch of The Shangahi Gesture here as well....



As for Kay Francis herself, she once said, "When I die, I want to be cremated so that no sign of my existence is left on this earth. I can't wait to be forgotten." Francis was always underwhelmed by fame--it seems she never really intended to be an actress but, sort of wandered into it on a combination of beauty, style and being in the right place at the right time. Francis' interests were chiefly men, booze and travel and she saw movie stardom as a way to get away with it--not unlike those two other legendary existential beauties, Ava Gardner or Louise Brooks. While she may not be quite as iconic as those ladies, Kay Francis is still worth another look...