10 April 2009 | HughBennie-777
Life Itself Is An Atrocity
"Heirarchy" SPOILERS Michael Fredianelli has stuffed his multi-character study with plenty of themes. His on screen medley of teetering, lost souls contain so many self-absorbed social anxieties you could measure them alongside the high caliber ventilations of henchmen/ninjas/innocent school-children in his crime films. Not all of them work, but those that do are startling effective. We start off with a perfect opening: an unappetizing sex scene between the movie's most tragic character, a self-loathing boxer, and his hooker of choice. Things can only get worse, though we are curiously spared any footage of the guy losing any brutal fights. Through some nicely scripted introductions of the movie's remaining characters, we see similar struggles with existences drenched in varying forms of malaise and disappointment. Yet everybody mirrors one another to some degree in their equal discontent (or downright hatred) for life. Or humans. A fledgling author who (for some odd reason) wants to be an actress, a disgruntled husband with homosexual secrets--these amplified by the actor's Matt Houston moustache--a petulant father figure who juggles his children's emotional demands, and a marginally successful movie producer, who sacrifices dignity in place of the pre-production on a Tom Hanks movie, are joined by an enigmatic, impressively lipped homeless man, who staggers through various scenes like a Player from "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern"--though his wardrobe reflects the more hobo-chic look popular these days: sport coat, jeans, and flip-flops. The plots don't attempt to intertwine, running parallel to one another, thus sparing me any Paul T. Anderson-aping-Robert Altman gymnastics. I prefer this route any day, especially as great movies like "Gomorrah" refuse to resolve stories, tying velvet ribbons around their characters (or worse, regurgitating falsely balanced narratives, like something out of Paul Haggis' bottom).
Movie's dialogue is hilarious at times, whether it be a muttering boxing coach delivering a rant about Kathy Bates' neck, or a slimy yuppie celebrating his imperviousness to feelings: "I hate self-loathing, and that's what makes me invincible." The majority of the performances are mature and carry a naturalness with minimal t.v editing intrusions (no over-the-shoulder cutting, though I heard Wild Dogs had to make unthinkable compensations for some unprofessional actors). Anthony Spears is impressive as the troubled athlete who is forced to live with two annoying twenty-somethings, one of whom seems to think his Caucaso-Anime' look qualifies him to do a bad John Savage impersonation. Spears has a deeply damaged pair of eyes that work well for him, especially in places where his self-pitying dialogue might have been better thinned. Though only a cameo, the historic Montgomery Ford is fantastic as a solemn priest, bringing a James Garner-esquire physicality to his role ("I don't negotiate with Philistines!"). This is further enhanced by his buffed-out Austrian sidekick. These moments of comedy are far more effective than the bigger (and louder) scenes of human conflict, like a swollen Rusty James' Hollywood agent, who spews moronic, hit-or-miss profanity and insults like R. Lee Earmy's pontifications in "Full Metal Jacket". Other honorable mentions go to Michael Fredianeli, who brings a spike of sympathy to his role as the producer. His Shakespearean outburst is a plus, as his compulsive smiling, which often accompanies the scumbag character's blatant dishonesty. His monologue about a person's "work" equaling their "worth" is sold extremely well by Fredianelli's convicted performance. The brunette actresses are all good, the blondies not so. Or Ronald Kaplan, for that matter. The often dissonant crooning was likely added to provide some sort of color to his character, but it's almost as trying as the man's reactions to his children's' invasion of his home: an emotional fit more becoming of a party-host suddenly realizing his guests have brought the wrong wine.
And now, the third act. It comes not so much out of left field, but completely from out of the ballpark. The inter-racial element I found surprisingly effective, and a risk, but to withhold the reveal until the end is almost throwing the audience an M. Night Shairmalairm hanger without any background on the characters at all--which this movie does so well in it's prior hour and a half. To add insult to injury, the following despairing discussions, suicidal confessions, duets of sobbing, etc. had me appreciating the film-maker's intentions, but regretting that they were so restricted to what felt like another movie altogether. And a short movie. Undoubtedly, "DTCTAW" is a film that dangerously influenced the spawning of of this one, and it could never aspire to such a dramatic denouement. Still, I was prepared for a slam-bang finale with emotional fireworks as exciting as Fredianelli's outstanding smash-zoom that takes place during the movie's gay porn scene*. I don't want to make suggestions, because that's a sign of an obnoxious critic. But a movie so committed to vivid character details, like the author bringing Shakespeare to read for audition material(!), is only going to suffer from a climax which asks its complex to characters to, basically, "talk things out". Even the resultant suicide is deflated.
Finally, this movie has a lot to recommend it. A "Cruising" montage is a festive highlight, and the movie's palette of locations is exciting, as is the decent photography and only ONE sound complaint: eerily familiar traffic sounds during the hobo scenes. I still remain confused about the movie's actual setting. For all the flashes of Nob Hill, North Beach, West Hollywood, and what looks like the Fillmore District, I had a hard time telling if we were in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
*Stelvio Massi would have been, er, proud.