An L.A. Minute


Your life can change in an L.A. minute.

(2018) Comedy (Strand) Gabriel Byrne, Kiersey Clemons, Bob Balaban, Ed Marinaro, Lynn Renee, Ned Bellamy, Jane McNeill, Katherine Kendall, Craig Anton, Ash Adams, Kimberly Crandall, Brianna Baker, Brad Ashten, Patrick Donohue, J.R. Howell, Anastasiya Mitrunen, Jake Adams, Daniel Guttenberg, David Wood, Jasmine Flanders, Ashley Borders. Directed by Daniel Adams

 

Los Angeles is a dichotomy. Most people think about the glitz and the tinsel, the shining illusions of Hollywood that everyone in Los Angeles is either a gang-banger on the East side or a studio executive in Beverly Hills with a tendency more towards the latter than the former. What outsiders don’t realize is that Los Angeles is a sprawling megalopolis with as many faces as a city of tens of millions of people can muster. Los Angeles is in many ways inherently unknowable even by Angelenos. I grew up there and I can’t claim to know it; it changes aspects when you’re gone from town for a month let alone twenty years.

Ted Gold (Byrne) is a successful author which in L.A. terms means his books become movies. He lives in a Malibu mansion with his wife Susan (Renee) sleeping on the opposite side of a bed that could easily sleep ten and with a personal chef and maid who start off every morning by spitting in his breakfast. That gives you an idea of how highly Ted is regarded by those around him.

That would include his ditzy agent Shelly (Balaban), his beautiful publicist Tracy (Kendall) and his long-suffering wife Susan (Renee). Ted’s latest “masterpiece” is Kinky Cadavers which is about a homeless serial killer. He ventures out from his Malibu mansion to take meetings, do rounds of publicity on radio shows and talk shows, and have lunch with his agent.

When he accidentally loses a lucky medallion, he goes on a journey among the homeless of Los Angeles and discovers a young performance artist named Velocity (Clemons). He is entranced by her forthrightness, her intelligence and her passion. Under her tutelage he will undergo a journey that will transform his life – and hers.

According to the press notes, this script was written 20 years ago and it shows its age. The cliché of Los Angelinos being kale-chomping New Age douchenozzles is older than that still, and while there are a few who are like that it’s really not universally true. Most of the L.A. residents I know are actually pretty down-to-earth. These kinds of stereotypes and jokes aren’t going to resonate much with those who live in the City of Angels although they might give a few yucks to those who don’t.

Byrne is one of those actors who’s a consummate pro; he never turns in a subpar performance and while he’s appeared in a few clinkers in his time, he generally elevates any film he’s in but this is a rare exception and it’s mainly because it’s the way the character is written. There isn’t one sincere bone in Ted Gold’s body and even when he is confessing his urges to give up the crap he’s writing for something more meaningful, it feels fake and forced – some even see it as a ploy to get more books sold and I’d guess Ted is totally capable of it.

Clemons is actually the scene stealer here; as she was in such films as Hearts Beat Loud. What life there is in the movie mainly comes from Clemons character, who is a free spirit yes but who turns out to be not exactly what she appears to be. Even such cringe-inducing dialogue like “He lost his potency because he lost his purpose” is given a measure of respect in the way she says it which is no easy task, let me assure you.

There are some nice touches here, such as interludes between scenes set in the streets are young people dancing to rap songs, while those set in wealthy areas have sprightly pop music and scenes of SoCal splendor. They get points for filming in Skid Row with homeless extras, but they lose their points for doing that for essentially a woe-is-me rich person problems theme that deals with the problems of being famous. That’s pretty tone deaf if you ask me.

Essentially this movie is The Book of Job given a modern secular twist but as interesting an idea as that might be it relies too much on cliché humor, jokes that don’t hit the mark often and a kind of cynical view of “the industry” and those connected with it. There’s a lot of fertile material in taking on the star-making machine and our celebrity-obsessed society but the movie doesn’t reallyharvest any of it; instead the writers play it safe and that’s what we get here, a movie that feels like people (with the exception of Clemons and Byrne) are just going through the motions to collect a paycheck. This isn’t close to unwatchable but it is only barely recommendable

REASONS TO GO: Clemons is a breath of fresh air.
REASONS TO STAY: A little bit (actually, a lot) on the pretentious side and full of L.A. clichés.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity and a bit of sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Mariel Hemingway was originally cast but dropped out just prior to filming.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/27/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 0% positive reviews: Metacritic: 15/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: L.A. Story
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Iron Brothers

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The Oxford Murders


 

The Oxford Murders

The crowd waits expectantly for something to burst out of John Hurt’s chest.

(2008) Mystery (Magnolia) Elijah Wood, John Hurt, Leonor Watling, Julie Cox, Jim Carter, Alex Cox, Burn Gorman, Dominique Pinon, Anna Massey, Danny Sapani, Alan David, Tim Wallers, James Weber Brown, Ian East, Charlotte Asprey. Directed by Alex de la Iglesia

 

As a species, we seem compelled to look for meaning in everything, which to a certain extent allows us to discover meaning in our own lives. There are those that believe that the universe is ordered and that everything can be explained and categorized, while there are those who believe that the universe is chaos and that nothing can really be explained thoroughly. Both are probably wrong.

Martin (Wood) is looking to conclude his brilliant academic career at Oxford. He’s an American who has known nothing but success as a student and is looking to get his doctorate at Oxford under the tutelage of Professor Arthur Seldom (Hurt), one of the greatest mathematic minds alive and quite the philosopher to boot.

Seldom reacts to Martin initially as Picasso might have reacted to a kid with a crayon who claims he can create art just as good. However, when the two men simultaneously discover the body of Martin’s landlord, Mrs. Eagleton (Massey) brutally murdered (she also happens to be a close friend of Seldom’s) the game is afoot for the two academics who are determined to solve the heinous crime.

However, they are too late to prevent a second murder. Now the race is to discover who the next victim will be. Both men will use the fullest disciplines of their minds while trying to come to terms with the woman who comes between them; Lorna (Watling), Seldom’s ex-lover and Martin’s current lady friend. Will their investigation put her in peril – not to mention themselves?

Alex de la Iglesia is not a name well known in the United States which is sad because he should be. In his native Spain he is well-regarded and among the critical cognoscenti here in the States he is also respected. However to all but the most discerning of film fans he is largely unknown. Even the usually hip Magnolia gave this only a token release here in the States and quietly gave it the bum rush to Blu-Ray.

There is actually good reason for it; this is one of de la Iglesia’s weaker efforts. Part of the problem is that you have a very cerebral film that examines the meaning behind numbers, the philosophical debate between order and chaos mentioned above, among other nuances of academia. However, there is also a murder mystery with some fairly graphic murder scenes, a lot of sexuality and copious amounts of nudity. These things don’t generally appeal to the same audience, which makes for some schizophrenic marketing opportunities that I don’t blame Magnolia for passing on.

Still, there are some compelling reasons to see this. John Hurt is an actor who doesn’t always get his due. When he’s at the top of his game, there are few actors alive today who can match him and he’s at the top of his game here. I suspect had this performance been done for a major, there would have at least been some Oscar talk for it.

Wood is an actor who is best known for his work in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and sometimes gets lumped in as a genre actor because of it, which he really isn’t. Yeah, he did Sin City but he tends to gravitate towards roles like these and he actually is as good as anyone at playing smart – that is, playing someone who is extremely intelligent. It’s a lot harder than you would think; most people who try to play smart usually come off as smug and while Wood does occasionally hit that border he never actually never crosses it.

Watling, a Spanish actress who has made occasional forays into American films (Talk To Her being her best-known) is a mysterious beauty who lights up the screen whenever she’s on it – even when dimly lit. She has to play someone who is having love affairs with men much older and much younger than her, and pulls it off nicely. She is really at the crux of the story in many ways, even though the story is ostensibly about Martin and Arthur.

The pacing here is pretty relaxed as you might guess. This isn’t an edge-of-your-seat thriller by any means, although it might have worked better had it have been. It just seems a bit schizophrenic the way it’s set up, which in normal cases I think I would have appreciated the juxtaposition between the cerebral and the visceral but here it doesn’t work as well as I might have hoped.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-acted by Hurt and Wood. Watling is enticingly beautiful.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Might be too cerebral for some. Moves too slowly for the viscera to work effectively.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence and some fairly gruesome images, a bit of nudity as well as implied sexuality, and a bit of foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hurt as Arthur Seldom dresses as Guy Fawkes for a Guy Fawkes celebration; he also wore a Guy Fawkes mask in V for Vendetta.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on recording the music for the film at the legendary Abbey Road studios (where the Beatles recorded).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $4,803 on an unreported production budget. The movie tanked at the box office.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Name of the Rose

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Kill the Irishman