Warning: This review doesn’t reveal any specific spoilers, but it does discuss a major element of the film. Proceed with caution.
Deceit is the name of the game in director/screenwriter Neil LaBute’s indie Some Velvet Morning. Not only does the production masquerade as a film when many would call it a play – the set is contained and the cast only includes Stanley Tucci and Alice Eve – but it also puts the audience through some classic LaBute mind games. (If you know LaBute’s work – The Wicker Man and The Shape of Things – then you’re familiar with his attraction to plots that aren’t always as they seem.) But whether the audience is okay with being manipulated or not, both the dialogue and the well-written characters, which are strongly executed by Tucci and Eve, make the tumultuous ride through LaBute’s world worth the deceit.
Set entirely in Velvet’s (Eve) suspiciously well-decorated and expansive two-level brownstone, the story follows a middle-aged man named Fred (Tucci) who has left his wife in the hopes of reuniting with his 20-or-30-something ex-lover. Unfortunately, Fred fails to let Velvet know that he’s coming to visit and, based on the number of suitcases he’s brought with him, that he’s planning on staying for quite a while. What results is the pair matching up against each other in a vindictive and sexually-charged back-and-forth dialogue duel that lasts the entirety of the film.
The conversation – which looks more like a game of chess between two skilled players – revolves around the conflict of Fred wanting to be with Velvet, and Velvet not wanting anything to do with Fred. However, his sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies lead him to believe he deserves to have her and, more importantly, have sex with her. Tucci flawlessly embodies the entitled demeanor and bitter attitude of a man who can’t have what he wants, and we watch as he attempts to control a soft-spoken and collected Eve who, while at first seems to be the victim, quickly shows herself to be quite the competitor. So what about their volatile, anger-infused, twisted, and cruelly sexual relationship keeps us so utterly absorbed in it? The vagueness of it all. The anger that Fred emits and the underlying threat behind each sentence he utters makes us wonder why we don’t want to jump in and defend Velvet. By the books, Velvet is the victim. But there’s this unspoken sense of apathy that falls of off her as she resolutely struts through her home, evidently unaffected by the man who is refusing to leave her home, which makes us feel that there's something we’re not being told. We want to stick around and solve the puzzle that LaBute has set before us. And because LaBute has his trademark shtick, there is of course a surprise ending that throws us through a whirlwind of emotions – emotions that some people will appreciate while others will not.
Deception aside, where the film will falter for some is the fact that it doesn’t seem like a film at all. If we take a closer look at its core elements, it seems like it would be better suited for the stage, which isn’t a far-fetched idea considering the director’s long history with theater. While LaBute does a fine job of navigating the space that he has allotted himself by moving the actors throughout the house in a fluid pace, it still doesn’t hide the fact we’re watching two people hold a conversation in a constrained, almost claustrophobic, space for almost two hours.
But in the end, whether you think it’s a play or film, or whether the ending makes you want to hurl your popcorn at the screen in anger or calmly say, “You got me, LaBute,” in satisfying defeat, he has done his job: He’s made us react to Some Velvet Morning. Yes, he most definitely pulled the rug out from under us, but hey, we’re the ones that decided to watch a LaBute production in the first place. We’ve all been duped, and now Labute is smugly smiling in the corner while he watches his work at play.
Fact: American’s have been more or less uninterested in contemporary films about war (at least those that don’t find the military battling aliens). Whether it’s because of the sensitive nature of the current situation in the Middle East or the genre itself treading water, it’s hard to fill a theater with a movie focusing on controversial topics such as rendition and stop-loss. However, movies about wars of the past, and those that center their narratives on characters rather than politics (Saving Private Ryan, Inglorious Basterds), have generally performed well, with World War II and Vietnam-set stories accounting for some of the most emotionally and philosophically stimulating motion pictures ever made.
So when TriBeca Films releases The Bang Bang Club, Steven Silver’s frenzied feature about four real-life photojournalists who documented the final days of apartheid in South Africa amidst horrific violence, it may be banking on the intrigue of a largely unknown quarrel and the friendship between these young men to help drum up interest in the indie release. Set between 1990 and 1994 in the period between Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the inaugural South African elections, the film dramatizes the urban combat that rocked the shanty townships of the country and the camaraderie between Greg Marinovich, Joao Silva, Ken Oosterbroek and Kevin Carter, who threw themselves in harms way to show the world what was happening to their homeland.
Brushing over the sociopolitical causes and effects of the conflict, The Bang Bang Club (titled after a moniker that the press gave them) is really about the photographers: artists inspired by the nobility of their craft and driven by a need to deliver truth. We learn about the disturbing events of the time through their eyes as they experience exhilarating highs and devastating lows while the characters simultaneously learn about themselves and develop a deeper love for their art. Their photography, which won Marinovich and Carter Pulitzer’s, is infused within the frames of the picture, partially blurring the line between fact and fiction and giving it a wonderful dynamic that you don’t often see in war films. Most associate battle with bloodshed, and there’s plenty of it in The Bang Bang Club, but Silver also shows us the beauty of capturing a moment in time and the ethical weight his protagonists shouldered as they created award-winning portraits of unflinching reality at the expense of others misery. It’s heavy stuff, but the director supplement’s his film with enough fluff to keep it both entertaining and informative.
In a morbidly ironic turn of events, the movie hits theaters just two days after Restrepo director and noted combat photographer Tim Heatherington was killed in Libya. Whether or not the parallel between his life story and this one brings more people out to see it is anyone’s guess, but with a glitzy, young-Hollywood cast including Ryan Phillipe, Taylor Kitsch and Malin Akerman, I expect The Bang Bang Club to get some decent audience attention.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Adapted by Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero The Rules of Attraction American Psycho) from his own 1994 novel about the excesses of the rich and not-so-lucky in Hollywood circa 1983 this shallow film seems out of touch now in a time of economic turmoil — even if it is disguised as a period piece. Presented as a multi-story look at L.A. at its sordid best The Informers introduces us to a sleazy movie executive his estranged wife her poolboy lover a coked-out British punk rock star a fading newscaster a voyeuristic doorman a slimy ex-con and any number of beautiful vapid sexed-up twentysomethings who seem to spend their days either partying or snorting immune to any kind of social consciousness in an era marked by the dawn of the AIDS epidemic.
WHO’S IN IT?
The ensemble cast is split between older stars who’ve seen better days and a promising group of new talent unfortunately caught up in this mess. Billy Bob Thornton sleepwalks through the studio exec role while a pre-Wrestler Mickey Rourke (in a glorified cameo) shows us the kind of dreck he’s been stuck in the last few years as a tough ex-con who seems obsessed with someone called “the Indian.” Kim Basinger survives intact as a long-suffering Hollywood wife looking for a human connection from anyone who crosses her path while Winona Ryder projects just a shadow of her once-promising career as the aging newscaster. The late Brad Renfro who himself apparently fell victim to a drug-induced lifestyle is oddly touching as the peeping-tom doorman. Filling in the lost youth part of the equation are Jon Foster Amber Heard Austin Nichols Lou Taylor Pucci and amusing British star Mel Raido who do the best they can with their clothes on and off. Chris Isaak and Rhys Ifans also turn up in minor roles.
For what it’s worth The Informers has been handsomely shot and does capture emotional deadness well but unfortunately there’s nothing behind the façade of a group of characters we just don’t care about.
Ellis covered this all in Less Than Zero — same era same losers — so did we really need a LESS THAN Less Than Zero in 2009? It’s also a shame to see a fine group of actors so completely wasted both on screen and off.
BEST STONED-OUT LOSER SCENE:
The tenor of the whole film is summed up in the ice cube-filled bathtub sequence where a drunken almost catatonic British rocker proceeds to nearly kill himself trying to light a cigarette and answer a phone that NEVER stops ringing.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX:
This movie may already be available on DVD before you finish reading this review.