Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jason watches "The Last Movie", "Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?", and "Running on Karma"

And I believe I set a new record for length of a title in a post.

Tonight Holehead starts, so brace for horror reviews for the next week. But last night, Dead Channels and the Film on Film Foundation presented a double feature of actors turned directors making hilariously indulgent movies with movies in them. Whew!

First actor-director was Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie". I had a hard time summarizing the plot, until I went to IMDb and found this plot summary:

A film shoot in Peru goes badly wrong when an actor is killed in a stunt, and the unit wrangler, Kansas, decides to give up film-making and stay on in the village, shacking up with local prostitute Maria. But his dreams of an unspoiled existence are interrupted when the local priest asks him to help stop the villagers killing each other by re-enacting scenes from the film for real because they don't understand movie fakery... Written by Michael Brooke {michael@everyman.demon.co.uk}

Yeah, that's exactly what happens, but it doesn't describe the movie at all. You'd also have to say that it's a convoluted non-linear near-abstraction, shot in Peru--presumably with nearly everyone on cocaine--and edited for over the year--presumably under the influences of many drugs, but definitely under the influence of Jodorowsky's "El Topo". And you'd have to mention that the studio heads were befuddled by the final cut (even though it had already won an award at the Venice Film Festival) and only allowed a limited US run and no European release. And yeah, I can see how it can frustrate some audiences, but it's such an audacious spectacle that I just had to marvel at it. It's crammed full of ideas (or at least statements) about film making, reality, religion, violence, sex, and probably a whole lot of other things. I'm not sure if it forms a coherent world view, but it does form a picture of a hyperkinetic brain with a touch of ADD.

Next they showed a bizarre comedy, "Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?". I have to confess, I didn't actually know who actor/director Anthony Newley was before I saw this. I had read the brief description that this movie was autobiographical (he plays Hieronymus Merkin, real life Joan Collins plays his wife Polyester Poontang, and their two real life kids play their two kids), and that it destroyed his marriage and his career. I can understand why, since he comes off as a womanizing, drug abusing, child molesting creep who only cares about himself--but it's all presented ironically. And yet in making this movie Anthony Newley comes off as a total narcissist. Hieronymus Merkin has just turned 40 years old, and since he's so important he's donating all the historical artifacts (films, audio recordings, etc.) of his young life to an institute. He's also screening a work-in-progress documentary film about his life (and writing and editing it as he goes along). The audience is his mother and his two children, some critics, and the filmmakers (writers, himself as the director, etc.). The film portrays himself as a marionette, with his strings pulled by greater powers. The greatest of the greater powers is Milton Berle as Goodtime Eddie Filth (aka, the devil) who leads Hieronymus from his early childhood stardom to a life of women and carousing (oh yeah, this was the X-rated cut). Soon he has women lined up beside his bed (which is placed on the beach). As his fame grows, so does his appetite, until he shamefully admits he developed a longing for young girls (I don't know how autobiographical this was). The young girl he finally seduces is the Mercy Humppe from the title. But at the same time, he meets Polyester Poontang (Joan Collins) and is driven back and forth between them. Ultimately he dumps Humppe and marries Poontang for the very practical reason that he got her pregnant. But as much as he tries to settle in to the quiet married life, his thoughts always return to Mercy Humppe--and to other distractions Goodtime Eddie Filth has for him (including a film within the film within the film about a Princess and a Donkey).

So yeah, it had everything to love in it. I don't know how to end this review, much as Hieronymus didn't know how to end his movie. But there might be a moral in there about recognizing your dragon and in doing so, defeating it. Of course, given that this destroyed his career and marriage, I guess this would count as a Pyrrhic victory. But who cares about him, anyway? He died in 1999, and his movie is still around (in beautiful Technicolor) to entertain me.


Now the only problem with this double feature is it conflicted with the Johnnie To series at the PFA. Last night's movie was "Running on Karma". Now I happen to have seen it when it played at Indiefest in 2004. So you could accept the "rational" explanation that I just looked in my archives and did a cut-and-paste job below, or you can believe me when I say I was in two places at once (I'm a physicist, I can do that!).

Anyway, I arrived at the PFA to see "Running on Karma", starring Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau ("Infernal Affairs" and"Fulltime Killer" among many, many others). As the movie opens, he's working as an incredibly buff (think Schwarzenneger in his "Pumping Iron"days) male stripper named Big. He's busted for indecent exposure by a female undercover cop (Cecelia Cheung). Wacky hijinx ensue as she becomes enamored with him, but he can see people's karma and sees that she will be murdered. Meanwhile, he uses his incredible martial arts skills (which he learned back when he was a monk) to help her fight crime, in hopes that he can save her and change her karma. Ummm...and then things get weird. It was pretty cool. Whether you're a fan of Hong Kong wackiness, or just wanna see a male stripper in a muscle suit, it's a fun movie.
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