Four Rooms is an anthology film of sorts, segmented into four episodes, two of which are pretty inspired as they just happened to be helmed by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. The other two outings… well, let’s just say they kind of bring the whole film down. As solid as Robert and Quentin’s efforts are, they’re two quarters of a whole that needs to be engaging all the time to work as a cohesive package, and sadly that’s not the case. These four tales all take place in one hectic and seedy L.A. hotel, in various rooms that showcase a host of troubled weirdos just trying to get through the night. This quartet of nocturnal misadventures is tied together by one central character, Ted The Bellhop (a peppy Tim Roth). In the first, which is also the weakest, a goofy coven of witches carry out some asinine ritual. This is a well casted bit as we see the likes of Madonna, Ioan Skye, Valeria Golino, Lilli Taylor and Alicia Witt, but the tone comes off as grade school level shenanigans and there’s many a cringe to be had. The second is an oddly placed noirish bit that finds Ted caught between an unhinged gun wielding whacko (If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times, David Proval is criminally underrated) and his femme fatale wife (Jennifer Beals). This one isn’t as awful as the first, yet feels a little off putting and claustrophobic. The third sees Robert Rodriguez step up to bat with ‘The Misbehavers’ a riotous black comedy concerning an upper class couple (Antonio Banderas and Tamlyn Tomita) who leave Ted in charge of their troublemaker kids for the night as they go out dancing. Anything can and does go wrong here, as the youngsters get into all kinds of shit including finding a half decomposed hooker (Patricia Vonne) stuffed in a mattress. Rodriguez shows comedic flair in fits and starts in the pulpy action side of his oeuvre, but here he’s purely having fun and the result is a sleazy hoot of a good time. The fourth and best is by Tarantino, and as such is mostly talking. But what talking it is; Ted stumbles into the penthouse suite which is home to a string out Hollywood film crew, and they’ve decided to place a dangerous bet that involves bodily dismemberment. Quentin is usually a fairly awful actor, but he’s not bad here as the motor mouthed ringleader of this insane posse, while Paul Calderon, Marisa Tomei and a very stressed out Bruce Willis chime in as well. This segment is pure gold, with an abrupt, trademark Tarantino payoff that leaves you chuckling darkly. All kinds of folks have cameos, so watch for the recently disgraced, supremely ugly Kathy Griffin, Lawrence Bender, Salma Hayek and others. There’s always stronger and weaker entries in an anthology film, competition is par for the course. This one has quite the ups and downs though, and would have been far better off being just a Tarantino/Rodriguez double feature, but oh well.
It’s anybody’s guess how ones like 13 Moons slip through the cracks, but in this case it was probably a case of nonexistent marketing and no effort put into a proper release. Despite having a cast that’s speckled with all kinds of big names, character actors and cameos, it has the appearance of barest of bones indie digs, and looks suspiciously like it was filmed bootleg/guerrilla style. I’ve not a clue what the story behind it’s conception is, but it’s a brilliant little flick that you won’t find anywhere these days, but deserves a look. It’s one of those moody, nocturnal L.A. set ensemble pieces in which a group of eclectic characters wander about, intersecting in various subplots until it finally comes together in the third act. This motif is overdone these days, and I just have to throw a jab at Paul Haggis’s Crash, which has aged like Kraft Dinner left for a week in the Florida sun, but my point is that they either work or topple over like a jenga tower buckling under the weight of each character and scenario. This one is so low budget it looks like it was shot on an etch a sketch, but thankfully the story is powerful, emotional, hilarious and strange enough to make a lasting impression. Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage are two sad-sack clowns who wander the nightscape, and in fact the image of absurdly out of place clowns roaming the lonely streets of NYC, getting caught up in a raucous night out involving a man (David Proval, an underused talent in the industry) and his young son who is dying of cancer and desperately seeks an organ doner, while his mom (Jennifer Beals) looks for them. Meanwhile there’s an insane clown played by Peter Stormare who’s running about, and when I say insane I do mean it. Stormare is always a little zany and flamboyant, but his work here takes the cake and whips it at the wall. It’s easy for actors to be uninhibited in indie fare like this, free from the prudence of studio chaperones, and he knows this, his character eventually playing a key role but most of the time careening around like a bat out of hell set loose in New York. The cameos are fleeting and fascinating, and one wonders who was buddies with who and pulled what favours to swing their appearances, but it’s nice to see them irregardless. Sam Rockwell and Michael Parks are fun as two bartenders, real life ex-hoodlums Danny Trejo and Edward Bunker show up briefly as.. hoodlums, and watch for quick turns from Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Badalucco and others. The film is thoroughly indie that no one has, or probably will ever see it, and my review probably adds to the scant half dozen or so write ups that are out there. Sadly many little treasures like this exist, unbeknownst to most. 13 Moons is a sweet, scrappy, somewhat star studded little piece that is well worth anyone’s time, if they love a good story in an oddball of a package.
The Prophecy II continues around the same time the first entry left off, and while it’s not the same haunting, unique genre poem they managed with their first crack at it, it’s still got a few terrific things going for it, namely Christopher Walken. The guy is just charisma incarnate, and the implosive work he puts in as an angry, bitter Angel Gabriel in this franchise is some of the best I’ve ever seen from him. Gabriel is once again out to harm the humans, or ‘monkeys’ as he dryly puts it. The story is as murky as any self respecting Dimension films horror sequel should be, but from what I remember, an innocent human woman (Jennifer Beals) is impregnated by some sort of demi-angel named Danyael (Russell Wong), and the resulting birth will give humanity a kind of savior. Naturally, Walken tries to put a stop to this by hunting her down in appropriately scary fashion, and all sorts of schlocky supernatural hijinks ensue. It ain’t intellectual hour, but it’s held up very nicely by Walken, who clearly loves playing this character, and an eventual confrontation with Archangel Michael, played by Eric Roberts in what is delightfully inspired casting. The two of them have a quiet, focused exchange that elevates the material to near celestial heights which the film scarcely deserves. “How many world’s must burn before you’re satisfied?” Roberts inquires. “Just one. This one.” Walken purrs back. It’s a great scene and to this date the only time these two titans of the craft have shared the screen, and I’m thankful for it. Theres an amusing bit with Brittney Murphy, and a cameo by musician Glenn Danzig as well. The rest of the film is so so, but whenever Walken is there, baby it crackles.
Devil In A Blue Dress takes the classic Raymond Chandler mystery form and uproots it just a smidge, setting it in the African American community of 1948 Los Angeles, with terrific results. Noir takes on a double meaning (naughty pun) as WWII vet turned private eye Ezekial “Easy” Rawlins (Denzel Washington) finds himself mired in the quick sands of corruption, coersion and murder most foul after taking on a job that’s led him straight to the dirtiest little secret in town. After he accepts a missing persons inquiry from mysterious DeWitt Allbright (Tom Sizemore, first shady and then downright scary when we see what he’s really about), he finds himself searching for a girl named Daphne (Jennifer Beals) a runaway with ties to a very powerful politician (Maury Chaykin makes your skin creep and crawl) with some seriously disturbing extra curricular activities. Rawlins recognizes danger when he sees it and tries to back out, but by then he knows too much and it’s way late in the game. Now he must navigate the scene like the pro he to escape not only with answers, but perhaps his life. Washington gives him the underdog treatment, a worn out gumshoe who still has some grit left, enough for one last ride in any case. There’s an L.A. Confidential type feel to the plot in the sense that it ducks some conventions in order to service true surprise from its audience. Sizemore is a charming viper as the kind of dude you never want to trust (isn’t he just the best at playing that?) and Beals subverts the damsel in distress archetype by injecting her performance with a jolt of poison. In terms of L.A. noir this baby is fairly overlooked, but holds its own to this day. Watch for Don Cheadle as well.