Natasha Lyonne

But I’m a Cheerleader (1999, Jamie Babbit)

But I’m a Cheerleader is too short. It runs eighty-five minutes, which would be fine if the narrative fit into director Babbit’s affected, aspirationally camp style. But Brian Peterson’s script is front heavy. And Jules Labarthe’s cinematography is too flat. Rachel Kamerman’s production design is loud, but Labarthe shoots it too shallow. He’s also not great at lighting actors between shots. Even if he were, Cecily Rhett wouldn’t be good at cutting those shots.

Cheerleader is utterly sincere, which is great, but Babbit and Peterson don’t take the film through that sincerity as it develops. After a deliberately paced two-thirds, all of a sudden Cheerleader is in a rush to finish. The script has taken a traditional romantic comedy direction–down to a deus ex conclusion so spared down it utterly lacks the needed spectacle. Peterson’s script doesn’t lay the groundwork for it until the second half, which is a whole other problem. The film doesn’t flow well.

It wouldn’t help if Cheerleader accomplished affected camp. It doesn’t need to be camp. It accomplishes something else entirely, this amazing relationship between Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall, which turns out to be the point of the script. Only it doesn’t seem like it was always the point of the script, because the original point of the script was Lyonne’s character development; her personal growth arc gives way to traditional rom-com stuff.

Lyonne’s a high school cheerleader who finds herself whisked away to a “brainwash the gay away” camp. Parents Bud Cort and Mink Stole are upset previously prim, proper, and Protestant Lyonne now wants to eat tofu. And then there’s her Melissa Etheridge poster. So they call RuPaul (out of drag and quite funny) to consult. He’s an “ex-gay” who works at the camp (run by Cathy Moriarty).

But Lyonne doesn’t think she’s gay. So there’s character development on that plotline. And there’s development on her plotline with her parents. And there’s development on her plotline with DuVall, the semi-goth rich girl who isn’t trying to get rid of her gay, just learn how to hide it. The last plotline doesn’t just tie into Lyonne’s own sexuality plotline, but also her parents plotline and her life and values in general. In the midst of the affected camp, with Lyonne looking like a sixties cheerleader doll, she and DuVall have these terribly lighted, terribly edited, wonderful moments.

Lyonne’s fine in the lead. She gets better as her character becomes more proactive, but DuVall’s spellbinding. She’s (maybe) the object of Lyonne’s affection and Babbit does a great job presenting her and developing her from Lyonne’s perspective. While it’s not camp or affected and often feels like a different movie, their chemistry makes Cheerleader quite special for a while.

Then comes Peterson’s disastrous third act. It happens gradually too, almost forecasting itself. There’s just no way for Babbit and Peterson to get the film across the finish line in the eighty-five minutes so they grab what they can and wrap it up quick. Peterson throws out distractions in almost every scene–which can be cute, like ex-ex-gays Wesley Mann and Richard Moll bickering–but don’t end up doing anything. It’s filler, because the film’s lost Lyonne’s character development. She’s a protagonist with a stalled arc.

Moriarty’s all right. The script stops giving her anything extra after the first act setup and, given the outrageously pink (and overtly homoerotic) mansion interiors, Moriarty should have a lot extra. Instead, she just has son Eddie Cibrian, who’s a buff temptation for all the gay boys at the camp. There’s a big supporting cast of “campers” and they’re all fine. Melanie Lynskey gets more to do than most, she’s good.

Babbit wants to have the freedoms of affectation while retaining sincerity. Only Cheerleader doesn’t get to sincerity through affectation, it’s something Babbit and Peterson just drop into the affectation and try to make room. It doesn’t work, which is a shame, because DuVall and Lyonne deserve a better film. Babbit seems like she wants to deliver one too.

But I’m a Cheerleader is cute and fun. And sweet. But it could’ve been something much better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jamie Babbit; screenplay by Brian Peterson, based on a story by Babbit; director of photography, Jules Labarthe; edited by Cecily Rhett; music by Pat Irwin; production designer, Rachel Kamerman; produced by Andrea Sperling and Leanna Creel; released by Lions Gate Entertainment.

Starring Natasha Lyonne (Megan), Clea DuVall (Graham), Cathy Moriarty (Mary Brown), Melanie Lynskey (Hilary), RuPaul (Mike), Bud Cort (Peter), Mink Stole (Nancy), Dante Basco (Dolph), and Eddie Cibrian (Rock).


Detroit Rock City (1999, Adam Rifkin)

Detroit Rock City is going to be difficult to talk about. It’s painfully unfunny, yet fully embraces the idea it’s the complete opposite. Maybe director Rifkin really thinks his weak seventies pop culture references, his sight gags, and his terrible cast are funny. Or maybe he’s just good at hiding any awareness of the film’s stupidity and obviousness.

Carl V. Dupré’s script seems to be for an audience who only knows about the seventies through television reruns and movies, but also for diehard KISS fans. There’s no establishing of the KISS theme; if you aren’t a fanatic, you’re probably missing something. It’s too bad, because the thorough (if bad) opening titles utilizes seventies news and pop culture and it sure seems like KISS could be a zeitgeist worth exploring.

Maybe if the actors were better. Of Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello, Edward Furlong and Sam Huntington, it’s a constant race to see who’s worse. Andrews is real bad and obviously trying. DeBello’s real bad and not trying–he gets all the “funny stoner” lines and butchers each one. Furlong looks stoned and bored; it should have been part of his character. Huntington’s awful but somewhat less annoying than Andrews, who’s desperately trying to play a bad boy.

And Lin Shaye’s evil Christian mom? So bad. So’s Natasha Lyonne.

Maybe the only distinct thing in Rock City is how much it likes rampant bigotry and misogyny. Rifkin identifies them in seventies pop culture artifacts… and then the film embraces them.

Icky bad stuff.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Adam Rifkin; written by Carl V. Dupré; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Peter Schink; music by J. Peter Robinson; production designer, Steve Hardie; produced by Kathleen Haase, Barry Levine and Gene Simmons; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Edward Furlong (Hawk), Giuseppe Andrews (Lex), James DeBello (Trip), Sam Huntington (Jam), Melanie Lynskey (Beth), Nick Scotti (Kenny), Shannon Tweed (Amanda Finch), Miles Dougal (Elvis), Natasha Lyonne (Christine) and Lin Shaye (Mrs. Bruce).


G.B.F. (2013, Darren Stein)

G.B.F. has a lot of problems. First and foremost, it should probably be called My G.B.F. just because making it a possessive statement would add some depth before starting it. Second, worst makeup in a movie ever. It’s unclear if it’s makeup artist Gage Hubbard’s fault, cinematographer Jonathan Hall’s fault or some combination (it seems more like Hall’s), but a number of the female actors in the film should be very upset.

Speaking of acting, there are a number of terrible performances in the film. Given George Northy’s script is rather excellent, it’s either the actors’ faults or director Stein’s. Most of the film is very impressive–great script from Northy, great performance from lead Michael J. Willett, some rather good supporting performances–but between Stein, Hall and some terrible casting, G.B.F. often has rough spots.

The good parts get it through. Northy’s plot structure is key. He mocks the idea of the traditional John Hughes high school movie while emulating it. If Stein composed decent shot, it might better offset the bad acting.

Real quick, the bad acting. From least bad to worst. Xosha Roquemore, Anthony Garland, Rebecca Gayheart, Evanna Lynch, Joanna ‘JoJo’ Levesque, Molly Tarlov, Natasha Lyonne.

The good acting makes up for them. Willett is fantastic, Paul Iacono is good as his best friend, Sasha Pieterse is good in the surprisingly complex role of Willett’s mean girl bestie, Taylor Frey is awesome. Great Jonathan Silverman appearance.

It’s definitely good. But it should be great; Stein brings nothing.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Darren Stein; written by George Northy; director of photography, Jonathan Hall; edited by Phillip J. Bartell; music by Brian H. Kim; production designer, Michael Fitzgerald; produced by Richard Bever, Stephen Israel, Northy and Stein; released by Vertical Entertainment.

Starring Michael J. Willett (Tanner Daniels), Paul Iacono (Brent Van Camp), Sasha Pieterse (Fawcett), Andrea Bowen (‘Shley), Xosha Roquemore (Caprice), Molly Tarlov (Sophie), Evanna Lynch (McKenzie Price), Joanna ‘JoJo’ Levesque (Soledad), Derek Mio (Glenn), Mia Rose Frampton (Mindie), Taylor Frey (‘Topher), Anthony Garland (Christian), Natasha Lyonne (Ms. Hoegel), Rebecca Gayheart (Shannon), Jonathan Silverman (Mr. Daniels) and Megan Mullally (Mrs. Van Camp).


Kate & Leopold (2001, James Mangold)

I unintentionally watched the Roger Ebert cut of Kate & Leopold. I originally saw it at a sneak preview with the plot intact. Ebert saw it around the same time and threatened to complain or whatever if they didn’t cut it.

It works all right, but the original cut is available on DVD. I thought that version is what I’d be watching.

But it wasn’t.

It’s a perfectly fine romantic comedy.

Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber are way too good for it. Schreiber’s performance is fantastic, of course. Jackman’s continuing his development into this romantic leading man–that role never really took off for him. His most popular role, for female audiences, is Wolverine. That Wolverine movie, over half the audience opening weekend was female.

It seems kind of natural to stick him in a Meg Ryan movie . . . I guess. Except this one’s a post-Russell Crowe Ryan movie, after she’d lost her luster.

It’s amazing how little work goes into making her a character, other than her being Meg Ryan. It’s upsetting–comparing Innerspace Ryan to this film–it’s this watered down version.

Mangold does a good job directing. His script’s long, with too many characters.

All the acting’s good except Bradley Whitford, which is because they cast him as a nasty Adventures in Babysitting Bradley Whitford role . . . only after he was Josh Lyman Bradley Whitford, which doesn’t make any sense.

Breckin Meyer’s good in it.

It’s fine. One should, if possible, see the director’s cut.

But it is long.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Mangold; screenplay by Mangold and Steven Rogers, based on a story by Rogers; director of photography, Stuart Dryburgh; edited by David Brenner; music by Rolfe Kent; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Cathy Konrad; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Meg Ryan (Kate McKay), Hugh Jackman (Leopold), Liev Schrieber (Stuart Besser), Breckin Meyer (Charlie McKay), Natasha Lyonne (Darci), Bradley Whitford (J.J. Camden), Paxton Whitehead (Uncle Millard), Spalding Gray (Dr. Geisler) and Philip Bosco (Otis).


Blade: Trinity (2004, David S. Goyer)

I imagine you’re thinking, why would he watch that? And I agree, Blade: Trinity is hardly Stop Button material. Except… I have been insulting David S. Goyer a lot lately (because he sucks) and I wanted my insults to be more informed and, also, because I enjoyed Blade II. I’ve never seen more than fifteen minutes of Blade and I’ll never see more than an hour of Blade: Trinity, but Blade II is fine. It’s Guillermo Del Toro, who’s never worthless. Also, we’re house/dog-sitting and they had Blade: Trinity. I’m reading its source material, Tomb of Dracula, and I had time to kill… And, honestly, I never thought I’d get through it.

Oddly, Blade: Trinity starts out fine. Well, almost. It starts with Parker Posey waking up Dracula, except he’s not called Dracula because that’s not cool enough. So he’s called Drake. David S. Goyer has a lot of machismo issues to work out, further evidenced in Drake’s open shirt and gold chains apparel. Posey, who was recently so good in Personal Velocity, seems to have taken some rather naughty pictures that Goyer has gotten his hands on.

But, really, the scenes after that–at least the ones starring Blade and Kris Kristofferson, are all right. The style keeps Del Toro’s cinematography from the last film, but in a 1970s cheap police movie. It’s fine. In fact, I sat thinking, “Maybe I was wrong about this one.” But, no, thank goodness, soon enough, Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds arrived.

As bad, as unbelievably terrible, as Reynolds is in this film, Jessica Biel is two or three times worse. You have to have more presence to work a drive-through. She’s really the pits.

Reynolds, the object of Goyer’s man-crush, is bad. And the man-crush is pretty clear–Reynolds, idiotically, narrates the prologue. The character is written as Brodie, from Mallrats. Amusingly, Mallrats bombs, but Brodie becomes the archetype for all future twenty-something male characters. Reynolds even plays the character like Jason Lee would–except without being funny or being a good actor.

I can understand why Wesley Snipes sued Goyer. Blade: Trinity is not about Blade, it’s about Goyer’s little teenyboppers. What’s incredibly sad is that Blade: Trinity has the best Snipes acting in years. Snipes is an amazing actor–One Night Stand. All this action movie crap, action comedy crap, does a real disservice to the quality of film. More apparently, Blade was about a kick-ass black guy. It was a movie black guys could go to–black men are the great lost comic book reader. I just listened to former “New York Times” film critic Elvis Mitchell go on and on about his love for the Thing in the 1970s Marvel comics. Comic books have lost black males (probably because they eschewed the newsstand for the direct market). Blade: Trinity is a movie for fanboys. Fanboys tend to be white. I imagine Wesley Snipes was a little distraught over appearing in American Pie 4….

It’d be nice if I could avoid Goyer, just ignore him, but he’s the guy non-Marvel comic books go to. Besides (following Batman Begins) being DC’s golden movie boy, a couple really good comic book writers have film projects going through him. I find that particularly amusing since, in Blade: Trinity, the characters frequently deride the source material, Tomb of Dracula, at one point tosses an issue aside as trash.

This twit writes “song and dance” in his dialogue. He makes James Remar a cop and has him say “song and dance.” That’s Dante’s fifth ring of Hell right there. Check your copy of Inferno, right there. “The fifth ring was filled with suck-ass filmmakers who made James Remar a cop that says ‘song and dance.'” Obviously, it sounds a lot nicer in the Italian. “Il quinto anello è stato riempito di criminali che hanno reso a James Remar un poliziotto che dice la canzone ed il ballo.

I certainly hope Remar used his paycheck to take a Tuscan vacation….

Anyway, Goyer isn’t some harmless twit. He’s going to ruin some good writers’ works. I keep thinking about the 1990s, pre-Independence Day and post. In and of himself, Emmerich isn’t even that bad (no, I haven’t seen The Day After Tomorrow), but the film revolution he birthed with ID4–the feckless blockbuster–has ruined American cinema. So, although no one really takes Goyer seriously (only internet sites interviewed him as co-writer of Batman Begins), he’s here to stay… and he’s going to make film worse and, eventually, I’m going to feel it.

Just wait….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David S. Goyer; written by Goyer, based on the Blade character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan; director of photography, Gabriel Beristain; edited by Howard E. Smith and Conrad Smart; music by Ramin Djawadi and the RZA; production designer, Chris Gorak; produced by Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes, Goyer and Lynn Harris; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Wesley Snipes (Blade), Kris Kristofferson (Whistler), Jessica Biel (Abigail Whistler), Ryan Reynolds (Hannibal King), Parker Posey (Danica Talos), Dominic Purcell (Drake), John Michael Higgins (Dr. Edgar Vance), Natasha Lyonne (Sommerfield) and James Remar (Cumberland).


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