Saturday, May 19, 2012

From the archive: a smart, pre-millennium satire--Dan Zukovic's THE LAST BIG THING

There are all kinds of ways to learn about a good movie you've managed to miss. TrustMovies recently discovered this one via a (suspiciously self-serving) comment published under his review of the new French comedy Nobody Else But You (click on the link then scroll down to the end of the post and, if the comments have not already opened up, click on the word "Comments"). I don't recall ever hearing of THE LAST BIG THING before, but reading about it from my anonymous "commenter" peaked my interested. So I stuck the movie at the top of my Netflix queue and had a look at it last night.

Filmed in 1996 and making its debut at the Vancouver International film Fest that fall, the movie played various U.S. film fests over the next year, opening (to good reviews) in Los Angeles (the city in which the film is set) in spring 1997 and then in New York City in the fall of 1998. Repeated showings on the Showtime cable channel (according to that comment, at least) led to its achieving a kind of cult status, which I am thinking in turn led to its eventual DVD release in the U.K. (in 2010) and here in the USA last year. Written, directed and starring a Canadian named Dan Zukovic (shown above), the movie is a nasty, scathing satire of the pre-millennium culture of our capital city of mass entertainment.

Though it was made 16 years ago, little except the decor, fashions and cars seems to have changed. I suspect that, were it to have been made back in the time of Fatty Arbuckle, only the details would need to be adjusted, not the theme nor the very mean and wicked points scored throughout. These cover everything from the search for fame and ego gratification in the world of the "arts" to the recycling of other people's work to achieve one's own ambitions -- in the process dumbing-down the culture, the general populace, and oneself.

What holds up best about the film are its writing and performances. The direction, not so much. It's perfectly serviceable, but were he to shoot it all over again, I suspect Mr. Zukovic would have tightened things up, moved them faster, and maybe done away with some repetition. But the dialog is unusually good -- angry, snarky, malevolent -- and delivered quite well by all involved. These include Zukovic as the nasty satirist, making fun of everything and everyone; Susan Heimbeinder (above, right) as his significant other, clearly out of her element, along for the ride, and hanging on for dear life; Pamela Dickerson as a not-just-gorgeous, but smart and appealing young actress whom even the Zukovic character can't help falling for; and especially, one of the early roles done by everyone's favorite actor, Mark Ruffalo (above, left, and below), who proves as good back then as he remains now.

Everyone else is first-rate, as well, giving this stinky Valentine to L.A.-, and by extension American-, culture added zest. The fact that the people who most bemoan this terrible state of affairs actually want the culture to embrace them every bit as badly as everyone else simply makes the movie all too true. And none the less nasty. A bonus on the disc is a earlier, black-and-white, 10-minute short Zukovic starred in and directed titled Conjurer of Monikers that looks like a kind of precursor for this movie. Very funny and expectedly bleak, it deals with the "naming" of rock bands. Available on DVD for sale or rental, and also perhaps on VOD if you can find it, The Last Big Thing is definitely worth seeking out.

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