Tag Archives: matt dukes jordan film reviews

George Hickenlooper and the Challenges Artists Face

23 Apr

In the spring of 2010 I wrote a book proposal with the director George Hickenlooper. The book we were going to co-author (if we could find a publisher) was to be a bio of Hickenlooper with a lot of emphasis on his life as an indie director. I’d become friends with him in that abstract way you do via Facebook. He was the one who proposed doing a book about his life. He did so in a joking, self-deprecating way, saying that his mom and dad would buy it. I liked the idea. A book about a filmmaker who lived outside of the mainstream of Hollywood sounded good to me. Sadly, he died on October 29th unexpectedly at the age of 47. He was in Denver while on a promotional tour for his new film about the corrupt Washington lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. The film is called CASINO JACK. It stars Kevin Spacey, who, Hickenlooper wrote to me, was cast through Facebook !!

At first I didn’t know him except through his films. I was a fan of two of his films without really connecting them or realizing they were by the same director. One is the moody drama called The Man from Elysian Fields. The other is a wonderful documentary about filmmaking. It’s called Hearts of Darkness. The name of the director on those films wasn’t what stood out — it was the intensity of the storytelling.

Some directors have such a distinct style that you will always recognize their films. Hickenlooper had themes that interested him and his style was in service of them. A number of his films were about the struggles of artists and various kinds of challenges they face. For example, Hearts of Darkness is about what Coppola went through while making Apocolypse Now (an amazing artistic journey with great risks and costs). The Man from Elysian Fields is about a writer (played by Andy Garcia) who is trying to support a family and turns to working as an escort for rich women to earn money… and then he ends up co-writing a book with the husband of one of the women he escorts. In the end, he pays a price for being an artist, but does achieve artistic success.

Hickenlooper directed major Hollywood films independently and it was a struggle. He stressed himself out and that’s part of why he died at 47. He made films about artists struggling and he lived that way himself.

He was always on the move — New York to meet his new distributor one day… meeting with new agents at CAA in Beverly Hills a few days later…. then to New Orleans to search for locations for his next film. Then to Denver to shoot ads for his cousin’s run for office as the governor of Colorado (he won and the ads helped)…. Then to a film festival in Toronto where he and Kevin Spacey promoted Casino Jack… and so on….

Life is life but we know there is an end point. Before that we have a finite amount of time.

How will we spend that time? What can we accomplish, learn, do, enjoy, see, feel, dream?

Master Zhuang said this: What if enjoying life is a delusion? What if it’s the case that in hating death I am like a child who was lost early in life and did not know the way home?

He said: Forget the years, forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home.


Cherry 2000 shines as a comedy at times but isn’t quite a cult classic

16 Mar


Cherry 2000, 1987

Director: Steve De Jarnatt

Starring Melanie Griffith and David Andrews

Cool, right — Melanie Griffith as a bounty hunter in a Mad-Max future world!!

Surely cheesy, sexy fun — perhaps in a campy, good-bad way. Well, it’s not quite as cool as that but the film has a comedic quality that I wish had been played up much, much more. I bet the people at Orion Pictures felt that way too when they saw the finished film upon completion in December, 1985. It oddly combined various genres and they had no idea how to promote it. It was part comedy, part post-apocalyptic action film, part sci-fi film.

Oddly enough for what sometimes seems like a Mad-Max actioner, the sequences that are the most vital and entertaining are the comedic sequences. The most disappointing aspect is the fact that Melanie Griffith, who delivers such a fun and excellent performance in Something Wild (1986), seems uninterested in the character she’s playing and turns in fairly bland and almost robotic performance.

That’s ironic because the film is, in part, about female robots. Someone forgot to tell Melanie that she was a human, not a robot. That’s not quite fair, but compared to her portrayal of frisky Lulu in Something Wild, she seems like a robot. As a female bounty hunter she’s supposed to be an expert at fighting off bad dudes out in the wasteland, yet even in what should be the most tense situations, she has a sort of vacant, robotic disinterest in the proceedings. I assume that she just couldn’t get into being a tough action hero type. In contrast, Sigorney Weaver is convincingly tough and sexy and redefined female action characters with her portrayal of Ripley in the Alien films of the same era. (Alien was released in 1979, and Aliens in 1986, and there were more to follow.)  Cherry 2000 touches on feminist issues about autonomy and freedom and gender roles, but doesn’t redraw any gender lines nor does it provide a distinct and interesting new icon — a female Mad Max or a female equivalent of the Man With No Name in the Leone films.

The event that sets the story in motion takes place at the opening of the film when Sam Treadwell, a businessman living in the year 2017, comes home to his loving Stepford-wife robot, Cherry. He’s crazy about her and they begin smooching on the kitchen floor as suds overflows from the dishwasher onto the floor and then, tragically for Treadwell, the wet soap seeps into Cherry and shorts out her circuitry. His goal from then on is to find a replacement Cherry, but her model is no longer available since she’s a limited edition. However, out in the ruined landscape that much of America has become, there is a warehouse/factory that holds many female robots. If he can survive the journey and find the place, he might be able to locate a new Cherry. Treadwell goes into the wasteland and hires legendary bounty hunter E. Johnson — a woman! (The “e” is for Edith.) Soon the film is a buddy film / romance / action film with Treadwell and Johnson facing many challenges and battles.

Will Treadwell realize that a real human like Griffith is far better as a lover/companion than a robot?

Will they survive in the dangerous Mad Max wasteland?

Will viewers stay with the film through generic-feeling and rather lifeless action sequences?

The film cost 10 million dollars to make and earned 14 thousand at the box office. Of course part of the problem with it making box office dinero is that the film came out as a direct-to-video film in 1988 instead of getting a real theatrical release. The film is listed as a 1987 film — perhaps it was shown in a few theaters in late 1987.

The part of the film that is most fun is when Treadwell begins his quest and goes to a small town in the desert and encounters the oddballs living there. His beloved Cherry is lifelessly lying in his bed back in LA, her inner circuits fried, as he heads out to the town of Glory Hole where old cowboy farts sit around whittling sticks on porches and everyone is strange. Someone was having fun with this — was the director behind all this? De Jarnatt went on to direct mostly mainstream TV shows — not the work of a man with quirky sensibilities. I suspect the charm of Glory Hole was more the result of the collaborative effort by all involved with the film than the director’s vision.

I love the sequence where he goes into the Sinker bar, a place full of offbeat weirdos in all kinds of funny/cool semi-cowboy clothing. They all stop talking and someone asks where Treadwell is from. When he replies with “Anaheim,” all laugh excitedly and stupidly. (Another joke, perhaps, since Disneyland is in Anaheim? Or are they amused that he’s from Orange County?) Everyone in the place is laughing and it just doesn’t make much sense and thus it’s wonderful. I wish the whole film had been more like that! I wish it had been pushed a little bit more over the edge. It does have an offbeat feeling throughout, but needs more to work purely as a satire and comedy. Perhaps when the movie begins, Cherry could’ve greeted him at the door after doing a series of amazing flips just like the ones that the replicant called Pris played by Darryl Hannah in Bladerunner (1982) did.

Speaking of Bladerunner, one of the colorful and weird characters in the Sinker bar, a conman/thief, is played by Brion James, a replicant in Bladerunner called Leon. He’s the one who says “Wake up! Time to die!” to Deckard as they fight it out on the rainy streets of a decaying LA in the future. What a great quotation — a sort of Zen admonition.

If only Cherry 2000 had lines like that!

Instead we get Griffith saying in a sort of little-girl voice with no affect as they prepare for another dangerous action sequence, “We’re going down the tube in two minutes. Be careful up there.”

Then suddenly there’s a shootout and Treadwell appears in a new location in new clothes and it’s day, not night. He’s in a new sporty outfit and talking with an old girlfriend. She eventually tells him that he was the only one left alive after the shoot-out.

Thus we veer, unexpectedly and for no clear reason, into new territory. Is this encounter with an old girlfriend a small digression that is supposed to be commentary on the challenges Treadwell faces in establishing a meaningful relationship with a woman instead of relying on robots?

These sudden shifts of various kinds throughout the film are why the movie isn’t fully satisfying. The director didn’t steer it strongly enough in one direction. It could’ve been a campy comedy. Or, if it was going to be an action film, it needed a darker tone and more gripping and convincing action sequences. And Griffith would’ve had to have been much more engaged in them rather than being super bland and almost robotic.

What’s interesting is that the film was shown on March 15th, 2012, at the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles, a showcase for classics, art films, foreign films, and underappreciated American oddball films and cult films. The director appeared in person to talk about this film and another he made called Miracle Mile (1988). So it’s clear that some people really like this film and feel that it’s worthy of our attention.

For me it had its moments but wasn’t nearly as fun or cool or engaging as other cult films of its era such as Repo Man, Earth Girls Are Easy, Buckaroo Bonzai, Bladerunner, and Robocop.