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We here at JPFmovies didn’t know you could be “Less than Zero” until we re-watched the 1987 film classic starring Robert Downey Jr. Andrew McCarthy, Jami Gertz and James Spader.

When deciding what film to review next, the editorial board here at JPFmovies decided to follow our 1980s Brat Pack lead of the Breakfast Club with a far darker movie involving sex, money, drug abuse and well . . . It is a bit telling that Robert Downey Jr., was one of the stars of this film given his recurring substance abuse problems—After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapses, Downey, while incarcerated, had to be released from prison during the day to finish a film he was in the middle of making. He claims (and since 2001 there has been no evidence to the contrary) to have left his substance abuse problems behind. We here at JPFmovies sincerely hope he has beaten those demons down and out of his life. Well, enough of that, let’s get to the film.

The cast of Less than Zero were part of the 1980s “Brat Pack”; however, this is hardly your typical Brat Pack film. It is much darker, grittier and tragic than any John Hughes film (i.e. Pretty in Pink and the like). Very loosely based on Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name (note he was also author of American Psycho), Easton Ellis himself wasn’t too happy with this film at first, but he mentions that it has grown on him over the years. The book was much darker. Andrew McCarthy’s character “Clay,” as we shall see, was altered the most. In the book, Clay’s behavior was not as cut and dry as in the film. In the novel, Clay is a user as well, plus he is bisexual. The studio decided to eliminate both perspectives because they needed a character that audiences could sympathize with, and, in the book, Clay wasn’t the all American he is portrayed as in the film. Naturally, the studio went and changed Clay around to appease teenage Andrew McCarthy fans.

The film that was shot was far edgier than what ended up on screen. It was ultimately taken away from its director, denying Marek Kanievska the final cut. This is textbook behavior for a studio that gets nervous about selling a film with an edgy subject manner. Chicken shits! As anyone who follows JPFmovies knows, this is one of our biggest pet peeves, and we firmly believe that such a lack of courage is one of the main factors that has led to the collapse of American cinema.

The story begins with three rich, happy, wide-eyed teenagers graduating from high school. Julian (Robert Downey Jr.) is skipping college and starting “Tone Deaf Records,” a label financed by his wealthy father; Blair (Jami Gertz) is foregoing college to pursue a modeling career; and Clay (Andrew McCarthy) is heading out east to an unnamed ivy league school. The movie essentially takes place when Clay comes home for Christmas break. Upon Clay’s return, he finds that his high school girlfriend, Blair, has become addicted to cocaine and has been having sex with his high school best friend, Julian. Julian, whose life has really taken a turn for the worse, after his startup record company falls apart, has become a drug addict, cut off by his family for stealing to support his habit and reduced to homelessness. Julian is also being hassled by his dealer, an old classmate named Rip (James Spader), for a debt of $50,000 that he owes to him.

Clay’s relationship with Blair rekindles and Julian’s behavior becomes more unstable. His addiction is worsening and, since he does not have the money to pay off his debt, Rip forces him to become a male prostitute to work off the debt. After suffering through a night of withdrawal and hiding from Rip, Julian decides to quit and begs his father (Nicholas Pryor) to help him. He then tells Rip his plans for sobriety, which Rip does not believe; Rip forces Julian back into doing drugs and hooking. Clay finds Julian and rescues him; after a violent confrontation with Rip and his henchmen, Clay, Julian and Blair all escape in Clay’s awesome Corvette and they begin the long drive through the desert so Julian can attempt to achieve sobriety once and for all. However, the damage has already been done; the next morning Julian dies from heart failure in the car.

After Julian’s funeral, Clay and Blair are sitting on a cemetery bench reminiscing about him. Clay then tells Blair he is going back east and wants her to go with him, to which she agrees. We see the snapshot of the three of them at graduation—the last time all three of them were ever happy together. In our opinion, Blair is the worst actor in the film.

Less Than Zero is a wonderfully strange movie. It’s a beautiful looking film about some very ugly things. It deals with issues of drug abuse and empty lifestyles while the acting is so well done, the takes and compositions so great to look at. But for every beautiful scene in the film there is an equally dark nihilistic shot where we watch Julian experience the deep suffering that serious drug addiction can lead to: homelessness, desperation, lies and eventually the ultimate self-destruction: death.

When you watch this film, and we here at JPFmovies recommend that you do, be ready for a film with characters that you probably won’t like very much, selfish characters only looking out for their own personal satisfactions, especially given the evolution of the careers of these familiar faces we see today.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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Princessofpaperclips gets all pissed off about The Millionairess.

Fragments of a Self

A Review of Anthony Asquith’s Film The Millionairess

The stereotypes of women in this film are more dominant than its plot. The Millionairess, based on George Bernard Shaw’s play, starred Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers, and was released in Britain in 1960. Packed into a mere ninety minutes, Epifinia the protagonist appears in a variety of ubiquitous female roles: an object, a child, the wild woman, and an emotional, irrational wreck. At best, she is difficult to take seriously; at worse she is a capable woman, trying desperately to mask her intelligence. Kabir (Sellers) is largely a foil character, as the film largely revolves around Epifinia’s internal struggles.

“Long live the Millionairess” …Immediately we realize possessions define Epifinia, rather than defining her by character or accomplishments. Her identity depends upon her wealth; not even money she earned, but that bequeath to her by a man. At the reading of her father’s will, she is told her inheritance is contingent upon her obedience to his wishes. Even after his death, he has power over her.

The first glimpse we get into the erratic life of Epifania is outside of her apartment. The door ajar, Epifinia and Alastair, her husband, argue. He shouts she must “obey” him, because “I am your husband”.  Epifania resists dominance by throwing him out, followed by a plate, which barely misses his head. The room is trashed.  Her hair is in disarray, her dress is ripped nearly exposing her breast. The front of her skirt is torn, inches short of revealing her crotch. This creates a link between resisting male authority and hyper sexuality. In Sagamore’s office, she crawls across the floor like an animal with a broken chair leg in her fist, reinforcing this. There is a deliberate connection between her animalistic behavior and resistance to the dominant paradigm.
Portraits of her father and husband loom over Epifinia in the foyer. A voice echoes from the painting admonishing her for “disobeying me”. She kneels subserviently in front of the painting. Epifinia begs the painting for advice- insecure about her ability to make her own decisions, wanting someone to take care of her, as if she were a child. Her choice of clothing is bright, childlike, and ridiculous, making it impossible to view her as an adult and not as a decorative object.

Kabir pulls Epifania out of the river, bringing her to a fish smokers to change into dry clothes. She seeks attention, initially throwing her dress and later her undergarments at him, visibly frustrated when he ignores her. She tries to seduce him by feigning illness, insisting he check her pulse, shoulder and back while she removes more and more of her loosely draped coat. Throughout the film she attempts to use her sexuality to gain attention.

Occasionally, Epifania surprises the viewer by acting out of character. Her anger is aroused when the psychologist insults her father. She throws him to the ground and in the river. In addition to physical strength, she is also quite intelligent, spearheading an operation to build a clinic in Calcutta. When she takes on Kabir’s challenge to work for three months, she is analytic, pragmatic, and clear headed. If she is able to demonstrate this level of competency and clarity, we assume she is playing the ditz the remainder of the film. Sadly, we later learn that her motivation in building the clinic was to entice Kabir, hoping to gain his approval and increased physical proximity. Her business savvy at the pasta shop grows from a desire to win the affections of Kabir. None of this is prompted by an interest to create, strive, or succeed on her terms. The only time she makes a decision that addresses her own needs, is after Kabir rejects her. At that point she decides to establish a deliberate community of women, to will live out her days away from men.

It is interesting that Shaw inserts a character like Kabir as the object of Epifinia’s desire. He is selfless, altruistic and sincere in his role as humanitarian doctor. He ignores Epifinia’s coquettish behavior, scolding her for wasting his time. Kabir states her “sickness is beyond my skills”, calling her an “imaginary invalid” when she plays sick to gain attention.  He states his worldview as “being, not having”, telling Epifinia “power must come from within”, rather than from the possession of money and objects.
During the denouement, Kabir is told that Epifinia “will withdraw from the world at midnight”, which he interprets as an allusion to suicide. He swiftly enters, as Epifinia is ready to depart for her hermitage.  Kabir attempts to stop what he perceives as a suicide attempt, when she is really leaping into a boat from a ledge. At the last moment, Kabir proclaims his love for Epifinia and then they dance off…living “happily ever after”. Which is hard to believe, based on the storyline up until this point. I would find it hard for a man with Kabir’s values and sense of self to resign himself to the lack of such in Epifinia.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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Wild Things (1998) I like it not because it could be considered “racy,” but because Bill Murray and Robert Wagner are outrageous in this film.

The story centers around Blue Bay High School a community filled with the snobby, high-income elite.  During a senior class lecture, all four of the central (but not necessarily the best) characters in the film materialize in one form or another at the lecture.  First we have Sam Lombardo the guidance counselor (Matt Dillon), Ray Duquette the corrupt policeman (Kevin Bacon), Kelly Van Ryan the daughter of the wealthiest real estate mogul in town (Denise Richards), and Suzie Toller the girl from the caravan park across town (Neve Campbell).  All four of these characters have large secrets they’d rather not share.  Their façade begins to peel off when Lombardo, our sensitive and well liked guidance counselor, is accused of raping the rich girl Kelly Van Ryan.  Her story is initially backed up by “trailer trash” Suzie Toller, but then things get a little out of the ordinary.  Enter Bill Murray in one of the (if not best in my opinion) cameos ever who is Ken Bowden, Sam Lombardo’s lawyer.  Murray manages to show the court that things are not as clear cut as they initially appeared.  He gets Suzie Toller (Neve Campbell) to recant her testimony on the stand and admit the rape accusation was a lie.  Why?  Well we have to wait and see to learn the full story.

Along with Murray is another lawyer-cameo played by Robert Wagner, acting as the wealthy Van Ryan’s family attorney.  The Van Ryan’s are humiliated by the scandal, and Lombardo and Bowden negotiate a hefty settlement: 8.5 million dollars.  Lombardo leaves town to retire after this, and encounters Kelly and Suzie at his hotel.  It turns out that the three of them had been working together the entire time, and planned to split the money.

However more unexpected twists are revealed at the end through a series of flashbacks, that Suzie had planned the whole thing in order to get all the money and not just a third (as well as the revenge on Duquette for killing her love years before) she was also a very, very smart woman.  Other characters begin to die off as the movie comes closer and closer to the end.  In the final scene, Bowden (Murray) meets Suzie at a tropical resort, and gives her most of the money—minus his “usual fee”—and tells her to “be good.”
Overall, however, you can’t really go wrong with this film for an evening’s entertainment.  It doesn’t feel the need to talk down at its audience, it doesn’t resort to excess simplicity to make itself understood, and it just tells an unusual story and tells it convincingly well.  I think that Wild Things was an excellent film and was not just some “dark porn,” as many of the media tried to portray it, rather a fantastic and “different” film that was quite entertaining.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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