Thursday, July 2, 2009

Stylish vs Real Style: nice-looking & noirish DARK STREETS and THE PERFECT SLEEP

Within a month of each other two movies with more "style" than you can shake a stick at have come to DVD, where they may turn the heads of some easily-led movie-watchers. Both contain things to recommend within their frail but stylish carapaces, but neither is, ultimately, very good. They wear their "style" as though they're parading down the runway with attitude and fashion to spare. But since neither film has much to offer in the way of original plot, interesting or unusual characters or even decent dialog (though one of them borrows heavily from a classic author), all this "style" begins to smell a bit. For veteran film-lovers, the watch will grow wearying, fast.

DARK STREETS, directed by Rachel Samuels, wth a screenplay by Wallace King (from a play by Glenn M. Stewart, who also produced) is set mostly in a gaudy night club during the faux 1930s (I say faux because the governor of the state is black: a little early for that sort of thing in let-freedom-ring America). An extremely wishy-washy Gabriel Mann plays the club's owner (you never for a minute believe this guy could run a night club), and he's surrounded by Bijou Phillips (below, center), who sings her own songs here -- and well! -- and Izabella Miko (of the much better Crashing and Park) who does not sing her own songs-- but she's pretty. The always reliable Elias Koteas (what would the movies do without this guy?) plays a policeman who seems alternately to threaten and help our syrupy hero, and an actor/singer/dancer billed as Toledo (below) makes a serviceable triple threat.

From the start, exposition rears its head (and shoulders, butt, legs and extremities) in big soggy lumps. Once you wade through that, you're offered a couple of nice musical routines (Ms Miko's initial audition is aces, but then her opening night number is nothing much -- so-so music and lyrics set to would-be Busby Berkeley choreography that actually would not even be able to be seen by the audience at the night club -- only by us viewers with the help of the overhead camera. The photography, sets and costumes are fun (it was filmed, the credits tells us, in historic Los Angeles), but the sub-standard plot has to do with family betrayals and a public utility company (very dim shades of Chinatown, including its barbed wire fence), and the cliches keep flying fast and furious. By the finale, about the only thing the film has going for it is its darkness. The moviemakers are intent on not making us happy. Or, as the script tells us with undo relish -- twice, if I'm not mistaken -- "The meek don't inherit the earth; they're covered by it."

THE PERFECT SLEEP, on the other hand, has stylish sets (see above!), art direction, production design, costumes and cinematography -- plus Shakespeare, though it abuses the Bard something fierce. We're in a kind of modern-day Jacobean tragedy, with a close-knit family bursting its bonds with bloodshed and killing. Anton Pardoe makes a rather weird hero (he also wrote the screenplay) and Tony Amendola plays a doctor/assassin who loves to do the Shakespeare quoting as he's "offing" his victims. (I do wish time had been taken by the movie-makers to better understand what Willie was saying with his wonderful words. Instead we get high-falutin' verbiage that doesn't always make good sense, given what is going on.)

The beauteous Roselyn Sanchez (above) plays the hero's lost love, and much (too much) time is spent in tiresome reminiscence of what was and what might have been. As directed by Jeremy Alter, the movie, I suspect, is attempting art but succeeds only in appearing arty. On the other hand, it's at least trying for something different and is not full to the brim with explosions, car chases/crashes and "action." There's a little of all that, but mostly The Perfect Sleep is exceptionally pretty to look at -- and silly to listen to.

No comments: