Movies

I’ve seen a good number of DVDs lately, but got frustrated after a minor crash destroyed my first review. Third time’s a charm – here are some short reviews.

“Palindromes” (Todd Solondz, 2004)

This disastrous flop ($500,000 at the box office) probably signals the end of Solondz’s career, at least for a while. Good thing. I like Solondz’s movies (they include “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” “Happiness,” and “Storytelling,” two of which I saw on dates) but I honestly don’t know how much sicker he can get outside of collaborating with Alice Cooper.

The story is simple yet gimmicky. Aviva (ha ha, a palindrome, get it?) is a pubescent girl who wants to have a baby, so she goes on a series of twisted adventures in the hopes of getting knocked up. In each “chapter” (announced by title cards) she is played by a different actress, and at one point, a different actor. These actors vary by race and age (Jennifer Jason Leigh, for example), but all portray Aviva the same way, quiet yet naively flirtatious. But the real verve of the movie comes from the other performances, particularly Ellen Barkin as Aviva’s mother. There’s an absolutely chilling scene where she convinces Aviva to get an abortion by tenderly relating the story of how she aborted her second pregnancy, and how if she hadn’t, “I wouldn’t be able to buy all these nice things for you.” There’s also the fundamentalist Christian who has molded her deformed foster children into an N*Sync-type pop group, and the pedophile who accidentally shoots a little girl in the head while trying to assassinate an abortion doctor. (Don’t worry, he kills the doctor, too.)

Some successful black humor aside, there’s really not much to this movie – it disturbs you, but so does any given volume of “Faces of Death.”

“If Lucy Fell” (Eric Schaeffer, 1996)

I have previously discussed my powerful, soul-deep loathing of actor/writer/director Eric Schaeffer, the human colostomy behind the sitcom “Starved.” When I decided I hated him, all I knew was that he was a modestly unattractive, scary-eyed man who created a TV series about (in part) his romantic prowess. But I got into some deep background, and it turns out he’s been making movies AND TV series about his romantic prowess (and occasionally wittiness) for twelve years. “If Lucy Fell” is his second movie, the first to get a major release, and coincidentally the first to tank. (If you’re having trouble following my remarks on Schaeffer’s looks, he’s the dude in between Elle MacPherson and Sarah Jessica Parker on that poster. Yeah, I know.)

Schaeffer plays Joe, an artist and kindergarten teacher living in a spacious New York City loft with his platatonic college pal, Lucy (Sarah Jessica Parker), a psychiatrist. Every day Joe wakes up and peers out his window to the apartment next door, inhabited by a hardbodied woman named Jane (Elle MacPherson) who has frequent sexual visitations. One day Lucy reminds Joe that she’s turning 30 at the end of the month and years ago they had sworn that if neither of them could find love by age 30, they’d kill themselves. So they paint a giant calender on a spare wall to count down the month and swear to find mates.

It’s so depressing to watch this unfold. Thanks to his pact with Satan, Schaeffer manages to cast some funny, talented people in idiotic roles. A young Scarlett Johansson plays a precocious girl in Joe’s art class, and future Sopranos star Dominic Chianese plays a bitter old man who sits outside the local convenience store. Most uselessly, Ben Stiller plays a silly yet famous artist named Bwick Elias who is introduced with the single clumsiest bit of exposition in this movie or any movie ever. Joe and Lucy are walking and talking, and she reaches her destination and crosses the street. Joe looks down and he’s holding a copy of People magazine that he didn’t seem to have before. This cover of People – JFK Jr, Princess Diana, Laci Peterson, People – is dedicated to Bwick Elias, who is apparently so famous that he doesn’t even need a subheadline. Upon reading the cover, Joe says: “Bwick Elias. Whatever.”

In the end Joe dates Jane (his pick-up line is “I know you’re extremely attracted to me”) and Lucy dates Bwick, and then each of them realize they loved each other all along, and they make out on the Brooklyn Bridge. I hate this movie and want to run over Eric Schaeffer with my car.

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