REVIEW: King Cobra

19 04 2017

There’s plenty of “period” footage in Justin Kelly’s “King Cobra” to date the film back to the mid-2000s. Videos have that digital grain from the middling quality video camera available at the time. A character turns the lens of a digital camera to face him for a selfie, pre-front facing touchscreen.

Yet of all the things that locate the film in the time, there was one indelible image. Shockingly, in a movie set in the world of gay pornography, it was not something involving explicit sex. (And for those looking for that kind of thing, this isn’t some low-budget Skinemax flick.) It’s the news showing footage of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, summoning a cascade of memories of what it was like to be alive in 2005. The odd mix of malaise, shame and embarrassment provides a fitting backdrop for “King Cobra,” where gay characters of various comfort levels in their sexuality grapple with the era’s repression.

It’s too bad that the film doesn’t just borrow the mood of the Bush era. It also takes the stereotypes. Though based on a true story, every gay character in “King Cobra” fits into some kind of tired, lazy archetype: the young and nubile stud, the predatory porn producer, the aging diva, the jealous lover. The actors play them as clingy, feminine and sexually voracious. We’re talking pre-“Brokeback Mountain” style caricatures here.

If Kelly gave his characters the same texture he granted their milieu, the film might amount to something. Instead, it plays like a traditional show business tale of a young talent (Garrett Clayton’s Brent Corrigan) who allows himself to get sweet-talked by a lecherous Internet porn mogul (Christian Slater’s closeted creep Stephen). The film takes an interesting turn when a rival producer/star duo (James Franco and Keegan Allen’s Joe and Harlow) intervene, but by that point, it’s tough to get invested in anything that’s happening. C+

REVIEW: The Adderall Diaries

23 04 2016

The Adderall DiariesIf there were some prize to honor the busiest movies of the year, Pamela Romanowsky’s “The Adderall Diaries” would definitely be an early contender. In just over 80 minutes, the film juggles storylines like a poorly trained rodeo clown juggles clubs. That is to say, it does well for a while and then just kind of collapses to slightly humorous effect.

“The Adderall Diaries” is adapted from the memoir by Stephen Elliott, which served as a partial exorcism for the demons of his past, including a toxic relationship with his estranged father (Ed Harris) and just general malicious teenage tomfoolery. As such actions are wan to do, they carry repercussions for Elliott into the present that make him unreliable to meet publication deadlines, reckless in personal relationships and inexplicably drawn to a murder trial in which a husband (Christian Slater) supposedly killed his wife.

The action ebbs and flows from one story thread to the other, all reflecting back on the mess that is Elliott’s life. At its best, “The Adderall Diaries” recalls the impressionistic editing of Jean-Marc Vallée in “Wild.” More often, however, it recalls the kind of work produced by someone who forgets to take the titular medicine if prescribed. Not only is the sum less than the total of its parts, but those parts just never get the space to develop. C+2stars

F.I.L.M. of the Week (February 26, 2010)

26 02 2010

I set a lofty goal to see every Academy Award-nominated performance of the ’00s by the final ceremony of the decade. I’m not going to reach this goal, but along the way, I have seen some great movies and great acting. This week’s “F.I.L.M.” (First-Class, Independent Little-Known Movie – refresher on the acronym), “The Contender,” is one of those movies.

“The Contender” received two acting nominations in 2000.  The first was for Joan Allen, who plays Senator Laine Hanson, a nominee for the vacant vice-presidential position.  She is a Republican-turned-Democrat and a safe pick for a second-term president looking for his “swan song.”

However, she has strong opponents in her former party, led by the aggressive Shelley Runyon (Gary Oldman).  He and a select group begin to execute an elaborate smear campaign, designed to block her confirmation.  After a comprehensive investigation, they dig up dirty details from her past, designed merely to distract from the real issue and engrain the image of a harlot in the American minds.  One can’t help but see the movie a little differently after Sarah Palin’s vice-presidential candidacy in the 2008 election and her subsequent defamation by the media.

The other nominated performance came from Jeff Bridges as the president looking to polish his profile for the history books.  It’s brimming with typical Bridges precision and poise, but it’s a fairly reserved role up until the rousing climax (more on that in a second).

“The Contender” stood out among similar political dramas for me because of its emphasis on ethics.  Christian Slater’s character, a young and honest politician who joins with Runyon’s crew to take down Hansen, represents the morals that so many of the old Washington cronies seem to have lost.  The movie ends with a killer monologue by Jeff Bridges’ president, and it is an inspiring piece of patriotism that makes us proud in the democratic process that we have.  Maybe the president should start hiring screenwriters to write his speeches…

F.I.L.M. of the Week (October 23, 2009)

23 10 2009

The “F.I.L.M.” (First-Rate, Independent Little-Known Movie) of the Week was unknown to me just a few short months ago.  I was looking at one of my moviegoing companion’s favorite flicks on Facebook and saw there was a movie that I did not recognize.  I, of course, had to ask her what this movie was.  The next day, she lent me her copy, telling me that she couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it, much less never heard of it.  The movie was “Heathers,” and I quickly realized how criminal it was that I hadn’t seen it.  An absolutely brilliant satire of teenage angst, the movie has a more vintage ’80s high school feel than a John Hughes movie, yet it still retains its significance 20 years later.

Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) has managed to infiltrate the clique of girls who rule the school, all of whom are named Heather.  But Veronica is not like the Heathers; she has qualms about participating in the degradation of other students and about the licentious behavior of the Heathers.  The divide only grows with the arrival of J.D. (Christian Slater), a mysterious, edgy boy that instantly attracts Veronica’s attention.  He shows her what life could be without the practically despotic rule of the Heathers, and she likes his vision.  Together, they begin picking off those who ruin the lives of others.  To clear the air, they do exactly what that last sentence sounds like: killing the tyrannical and making it look like suicide.  But they fail to realize that what they find poetic justice is seen by society as the latest fad among teenagers.  Suicide becomes viewed as an attitude, no different than the “Valley Girl” craze.

“Heathers” is a better version of “Mean Girls” with the guts to make a statement about the true nature of teenagers.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Tina Fey’s writing, but the characters here are fully realized and very real.  It is designed to really make you think, especially teens like me.  The movie calls upon you to wonder how seriously we should be taken.