REALITY QUEEN! (2020)

January 9, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. While we can’t dismiss it, we can surely question the popularity of those who have reached celebrity status via Reality TV or Social Media presence. Are these folks brilliant or simply cashing in on the ignorance and gullibility of the American public? That’s the core question asked in this mockumentary from first time director Steven Jay Bernheim (and his 7 credited co-writers).

Thanks to shows like “TMZ” and “Entertainment Tonight”, sites like Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, and the seemingly endless supply of Reality TV series, it’s no wonder we have come to accept that people can get famous for being famous. Julia Faye West (a no-holds barred performance) stars here as London Logo, a “celebutante” who has reached the pinnacle of fame by flaunting her lifestyle of excess. The obvious comparisons are Paris Hilton and the Kardashians. As with these real life celebs, we learn much more about London Logo than we would prefer to know. And that’s where the fun begins.

And by fun I mean the type of twisted comedy presented by a mockumentary that has us questioning why our society heaps so much attention on those represented here by London Logo. She has her entourage comprised of actor-friend Angelina Streisand (Denise Richards), her image-salvaging PR manager Winston Spritz (Loren Lester), her personal designer Simon Debris (John R Colley), and her manager/agent Louis Lozenger (Ben Begley). You have likely noticed that the character names are punchlines unto themselves. Adding competition to the incredulity is London’s nemesis and arch-rival Kristy Kim (Candace Kita), one of the Kim sisters from the (pretend reality) show “Katching Up with the Kims”. One of Kristy’s most prominent features is her large hind-quarters, making her real life comparison quite easy to place.

Most of the film is based on the “tell-all” documentary being filmed by British TV journalist Diana Smelt-Marlin (Kate Orsini), who affords London every opportunity to explain her actions and motives. The interviews are pure gold in eye-opening (and eye-rolling) cluelessness. This is the documentary that makes this an effective mockumentary. The cameras follow London around as she tries to bounce back after the Kims have stolen “her thunder”, and a beach incident captured on camera sends London to jail.

Book deals, TV shows, cosmetics, music drops, private jets, Twitter followers … all of these play a part in London’s attempt to keep her name in lights. Along the way we are treated to some outlandish bits. These include her pet gerbil getting stuck in the toilet (and the first Richard Gere joke in years), which results in a visit from Joe the plumber played by the recently deceased talented character actor John Witherspoon. There is also a Larry King style talk show host (Charles Fleisher), regular ‘breaking news’ from a TMZ knock-off, hilarious throw-pillows, London’s “traumatic brain injury”, unfortunate spelling errors, an opportunistic pet whisperer, and a questionable celebrity stalker.

London’s wealthy parents are played by Jill Jacobson and Cliff De Young. Dad is at a loss of words when asked to describe his daughter, while mom proudly states “busty”. London even attempts to reconcile with her TV partner played by Shelli Boone, in an attempt to reunite for their “Heir Heads” show (you have to say it out loud). Ralph Rieckermann, former member of the rock band The Scorpions, plays a DJ named Messiah, and the titles of competing books by London and Kristy are not to be missed. Boxing legend Mike Tyson makes an appearance attempting to provide evidence showing that he was not the other participant in the sex tape titled “A Night in London” … and his evidence is pretty compelling.

Mr. Bernheim’s film not only stars his wife (Julia Faye West), but it also points out just how much work is involved in getting and staying famous. It’s a full-time job! There are so many gags throughout, and of course, most of the acting is purposefully over-the-top. These days, it’s almost impossible to take things too far … what captures the attention of the American public is usually about as disappointing as finding out the world’s smallest dog isn’t really a dog, and that hipsters aren’t homeless …they just look that way. The best advice here is to sit back, relax, and spend an evening laughing at our society. So many already are.

watch the trailer:

 


WILD (2014)

December 14, 2014

 

Wild Greetings again from the darkness. The best movies expertly provide a visual representation of quality writing. However, the film medium is somewhat limited, and especially struggles, in displaying the complexities of human introspection … something the best writers are able to capture with words on a page. Director Jean-Marc Vallee (Dallas Buyer’s Club) and writer Nick Hornby (An Education, High Fidelity) are simply unable to capture the guts of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild: Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” – despite the likely Oscar nominated performance of Reese Witherspoon.

It’s quite likely, given the steady stream of rave reviews, that my lack of connection with the film is firmly planted in a small minority of movie goers and film critics. On the bright side, it’s a real pleasure to see Reese Witherspoon follow-up her no frills supporting role in Mud with a strong portrayal of uber-flawed Cheryl.

The story picks up with Cheryl getting ready for her 1100 mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail in the summer of 1995. Her lack of trail experience is obvious from the unwrapped, shiny new contents of her “monster” backpack. While walking alone with her thoughts, memories are triggered by such things as a song, a horse, and even a phrase. It’s through these flashbacks that we learn the reasons for Cheryl’s trek towards self-discovery. The illness and death of her beloved mother, a childhood marred by an abusive father, her own crumbled marriage brought on by her promiscuity (“I cheated on him a lot”), and her attempts to dull the pain through heroin abuse, have led Cheryl to the trail head of re-discovering her true self.

Cheryl’s mother is played by Laura Dern (a terrific performance) and while her inspiration is obvious, there is one especially poignant scene that takes place in the kitchen … Bobbi tells Cheryl that she fully understands their plight, and refuses to let that define her life. That powerful scene is negated by the awkward and unexplained relationship Cheryl has with her ex-husband (Thomas Sadoski), the underdeveloped best friend support shown from an intriguing Gaby Hoffmann, and the voice mail connection with her brother (Keene McRae). More of these key people and fewer flashbacks might have allowed us to better relate to Cheryl as a person, rather than someone who hasn’t dealt well with a few life obstacles.

The familiar guitar strumming of Simon and Garfunkel’s “El Condor Pasa” is heard throughout, as are numerous literary quotes that Cheryl used to leave her mark in the trail journals. There are, of course, similarities here to other films such as Into The Wild, 127 Hours, and Eat Pray Love. Also present is the element of a solitary woman in the wilderness … every male presence is greeted with anxiety from Cheryl, especially in contrast to the warm greeting she offers another female hiker.

The biggest missing link for me was Cheryl’s apparent epiphany. We witness a couple of emotional breakdowns along the trail, plus big time blisters, damaged toenails, rain and snow, and nature’s beauty. What’s not explained is her personal growth and self-discovery – the moment when Cheryl put the past behind and went “above her nerve”.  While her desire and efforts are commendable, the real story would be her inner thoughts … those conversations going on inside her brain (and in the book) that led to a conclusion of which we aren’t privy.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see a likely Oscar performance from Reese Witherspoon (including frequent use of the F word)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a damaged toenail makes you nauseous

watch the trailer: