Meet Monica Velour


Truer words were never written...even accidentally.

Truer words were never written…even accidentally.

(2010) Comedy (Anchor Bay) Dustin Ingram, Kim Cattrall, Brian Dennehy, Keith David, Daniel Yelsky, Jee Young Han, Sam McMurray, Elizabeth Wright Shapiro, Jamie Tisdale, Tony Cox, Henry Yuk, Lauren Mae Shafer, Peter Carey, My-Ishia Cason-Brown, Nicole Stober, Kathi J. Moore. Directed by Keith Bearden

Cinema of the Heart

The problem with meeting our idols is that they rarely live up to our expectations of them. They are all, without fail, human beings every one, all of whom are imperfect and in some cases, downright awful – which is how they got to the pinnacle in the first place. That goes for ’80s porn legends as well.

Tobe (Ingram) has been dealt a pretty raw hand by life. His parents are both dead and he lives with his aging cantankerous grandfather (Dennehy) and drives a weenie truck, the “Weenie Wiz” which he is now having to sell. Unprepossessing in the looks department, Tobe hasn’t had a lot of experience in l’amour. His ideal woman is a beautiful porn star from the 80s named Monica Velour (Cattrall).

But that was a quarter of a century ago and she’s more or less disappeared from the porn scene. Tobe is driving the Weenie Wiz to a collector (David) of American kitsch in Indiana who’s buying it. Tobe learns that his idol is making a live appearance at a strip club not far from where the collector lives. Tobe figures that this might be his only chance.

However when he gets there he discovers that not everyone has the same admiration for his idol that he does. A group of drunken frat boys heckle her unmercifully and when Tobe asks them to stop, they beat the holy crap out of him.

Monica takes him home and he discovers to his…shock? surprise? I’m not really sure…that she is pushing 50 and lives in a trailer, recovering (and not always fully) from a drug habit and embroiled in a bitter custody suit with her asshole of an ex-husband who forbids her any contact with her daughter and uses that as a means of torturing her.

Monica is a tough broad who’s survived one of the most heartless and cruel lives imaginable but her kid is her Achilles heel. Tobe wants to do something for his idol that will prove his devotion and savvy readers will have an inkling of what that just might entail.

For a comedy this movie is a bit of a downer. The two characters at the heart of the movie lead fairly bleak lives and yes, they’re played for laughs but when you look at it in black and white you kind of feel that sense of quiet desperation that are the lives so many of us lead. That doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimately funny moments which the filmmakers are trying to juxtapose with genuine pathos. They succeed only part of the time on that score however as some of the plot points feel a bit contrived.

Cattrall does some of the best work of her career. One of the most beautiful women in the world (still), she allows herself to be photographed sans make-up and with her hair left pretty much the way she woke up with it. That takes some guts in an industry where glamour is everything and its lack can set your career back some, particularly if you’re an actress pushing middle age.

What makes Monica Velour successful as a character is that she’s no angel, no hooker with a heart of gold and certainly no role model. She makes some pretty self-destructive choices and there are times you really want to give her a good “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING” rant nose to nose with her. She’d probably head-butt you though so do be careful if you decide to take me up on it.

Cattrall brings that aspect of her to life, makes Velour a survivor – in some ways barely but a survivor nevertheless – and believable in that role. She has been chewed up and spit out in some ways but she has most of her fight left in her although when it comes to her daughter again…Achilles heel, remember?

I wish I could say the same for Tobe. He’s played as a kitsch worshipping outsider who loves jazz from the ’30s, cars from the ’50s and porn from the ’80s, golden ages all. He has the gangly mawkishness of Napoleon Dynamite which isn’t a good thing. The trouble with using that kind of quirky indie eccentric as a main character is that those sorts of people only exist in New York and Los Angeles and their only friends are writers. I’m convinced of that because I’ve never met these sorts of folk anywhere else. Tobe is a sweetheart sure but there’s also a creepy stalker aspect to him and I don’t see someone as cynical and guarded as Monica really succumbing to a guy like this. It doesn’t seem to be in her nature.

Like Meat Loaf warbling “I’d do anything for love but I won’t do that,” so the right-minded critic can see a movie he or she wants to love but just can’t quite bring themselves to recommend their readers see it. I liked the individual elements to this movie just fine but it didn’t jell into a cohesive whole. I would have liked to see more story and less quirkiness and more humor along the lines of the opening credits in which Monica’s porn career is seen through posters and clippings. It turns out that Monica’s career choice as a porn star is unfortunate for the movie overall; not because I have anything against porn stars but because the filmmakers used it as a license to be quirky. The irony is that they were trying to show Monica as a down to Earth decent sort with problems that down to Earth decent sorts tend to have. Unfortunately they use Monica as an excuse to be quirky in a story that would have been better served with a couple of ordinary folk in a situation ordinary folk tend to have.

WHY RENT THIS: Cattrall puts on a brave performance. Gets the 80s era porn right.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too much of a Napoleon Dynamite vibe. Worships the low-brow a bit too lustily.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sex and nudity, plenty of bad language and a bit of drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The “Weenie Wiz” hot dog truck was stolen shortly after production wrapped. It has yet to be recovered.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33,042 on an unreported production budget; this was not a box office money maker.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miss March

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Cinema of the Heart 2013 Day Three

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The Ghost Writer


The Ghost Writer

A day at the office is no day at the beach for Ewan McGregor.

(2010) Thriller (Summit) Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Hutton, Eli Wallach, Robert Pugh, Desiree Erasmus, Daniel Sutton, Marianne Graffam, James Belushi, Kate Copeland. Directed by Roman Polanski

Politics make strange bedfellows with just about everything but particularly with art. Although we have an affinity for topical movies, political thrillers are often about as empty and soulless as…as…a politician.

The Ghost (McGregor) – who is never identified by name in the movie nor in the book that it is based on – is a talented and ambitious sort who has been waiting, none too patiently, for a plum job, the one that will get his career in gear. He finally gets it – former British Prime Minister Robert Lang (Brosnan) wants his memoirs ghosted. It seems that the old friend of Lang’s who had previously been working on the assignment had washed up on the beach, a victim of suicide or accidental drowning.

The Ghost ventures out to Martha’s Vineyard to Lang’s bunker-like complex which is in siege mode. Lang has been accused by one of his former ministers of being complicit of allowing prisoners to be tortured during an armed conflict begun during his regime. Obviously this makes the new book even more potentially lucrative and the Ghost is under pressure to finish the manuscript quickly.

Things are a bit strange though in the compound. Lang’s high-strung wife Ruth (Williams) is coming on to the Ghost, fully aware of the long-time affair her husband has been having with his assistant Amelia Bly (Cattrall). The original manuscript the Ghost has been hired to clean up and re-edit is under lock and key and may not be taken out of the office where the Ghost has been assigned to work.

And work he does, diligently. He soon discovers some contradictions and outright falsehoods in the manuscript. As he digs deeper to discover the truth, he finds out the shady dealings between Lang and a company called Hatherton. He also discovers some secrets that some would kill to make sure they remained secret. Now it’s not just a battle to meet a deadline; the Ghost must figure out a way to stay alive altogether.

Polanski is one of the best of his generation and creating an effective thriller. Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby are just two examples of classic Polanski thrillers. This one, completed when Polanski was 76 years old, shows he hasn’t lost his touch. While it isn’t to the level of those just mentioned, it’s as good as any released by more contemporary directors.

Polanski manages to gather a strong cast around him. McGregor is a fine everyman hero, and while he seems far more passive-aggressive than the standard movie hero, he nonetheless is charming enough to carry his end of the water pole. The end carried by Brosnan, however, is much stronger. Brosnan who has mostly done affable and elegant action hero types (a la “Remington Steel”, James Bond and Thomas Crown) delivers one of his better performances ever here. He is both sinister and snake-like, clapping you on the back one moment and stabbing you in it the next. That dichotomy of charm and ruthlessness makes the character as fascinating a political figure as has ever been on the silver screen.

They are surrounded by a strong cast, including Hutton as the Ghost’s hyperactive agent and Wilkinson, an old classmate of Lang’s who knows far more about his chicanery than he lets on. Wilkinson in fact has few scenes but is in definite control of your attention whenever he’s on.

There are some twists and turns here. That is par for the course for a thriller, but few are telegraphed and none stretch the believability quotient. What Polanski does better than most directors is establish a mood, and he does so brilliantly here, making even characters seen in passing seem menacing and up to no good.

The movie didn’t do very well at the box office (see below), mostly due to Polanski’s arrest on a 34-year-old statutory rape charge and his subsequent fight to prevent extradition. I would imagine a number of movie-goers who might have ordinarily flocked to see this stayed away because of an unwillingness to support a rapist. I can understand the sentiment certainly but this isn’t a review of Mr. Polanski’s life but of a single film he created.

Political thrillers are hard to accomplish, particularly when they are as topical as this one is (the characters are extremely similar to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with other characters and entities – such as Hatherton substituting for Halliburton  – also carrying some similarities to people and things in the news). There is always the chance that in a very few years this will seem dated. However the movie is so well-crafted that long after the people and events that inspired it are forgotten, The Ghost Writer will hold up as a well-crafted, well-acted and well-written thriller.

WHY RENT THIS: Impressively tense. Fine performances from most of the cast but particularly from McGregor and Wilkinson.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The payoff is a bit anti-climactic.

FAMILY VALUES: Some rough language, a bit of violence, a bit of sexuality and a smidgeon of nudity and a drug reference.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although primarily set in the United States, Polanski was unable to film here due to his legal issues. Most of the movie was filmed in Europe except for a few second unit shots.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $60.2M on a $45M production budget; the movie lost money.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Buck