IR Film Review: TOMASSO [Kino Lorber]

Abel Ferrara has always been an interesting amalgamation of sources. Back during film school at NYU in the mid 90s, Ferrara and Nick Gomez were the bad boys on cinema. I remember crossing paths with him and his actors various times at film school, with the TV station, at the Washington Square News covering a film or on the streets of the Lower East Side. The Addiction with Lili Taylor shot on NYU’s campus. Some of us at film school went out to set when a scene from The Funeral was shot in Brooklyn with Chris Walken. A van was set on fire to film while we drank Goldschlager watching filmmaking happen from afar as Manhattan loomed in the distance. Ferrara was New York grunge guerrilla film-making. Like Darren Aronofksy who was just coming up with “Pi”, Ferrara had a view of the world but also lived the life to point. At a certain point though, it became completely enveloped in drugs. Some people can’t emerge from that. For some, it creates a tunnel of creativity. Dennis Hopper had that ability. It is just a matter of living through it. Ferrara quieted down for a couple years and his story sort of fell off the radar. That is why seeing it re-ermege in a way in a new series of films starting with “Tommaso” starring recent collaborator Willem Dafoe is an interesting one.

This is effective since both of them now live in Italy married to Italian women younger than them. it is an interesting progression that truly reflects in the film which very autobiographical in certain ways and yet a reflection of themes that have always fascinated Ferrara. He was always King of the long takes with religious imagery. Many times they would be hard to watch and take on a grotesque form of imagery that simply was being extreme for that sake. Ferrara’s films were always gritty as if you were there in the alley with him, low budget, and yet once in a while (there is a scene in this movie) where he sues religious music and a gliding camera to almost highlight performance art. And the one show here is inherent and specific to Dafoe’s filmic career. You can tell it is real people watching when he films. it is about blurring that line between reality and fiction. This is where the story lies as well.

Willem plays a version of Ferrara with a young wife and a young daughter in Rome. The irony is that the wife and daughter are played by Abel’s actual wife Christine and their daughter Anna plus it is shot in their apartment for the most part. It shows the psychosis of life, temptation and desire with tinges of jealousy. It hits remarkably close and yet separate. There are the tendencies and yet his wife would have read the script. Willem plays introspective but yet loses it at times before compassion returns and then flares up again. There is a bipolar tendency but you can see the destructiveness Dafoe sees this in Ferrara’s work and how he can connect.

Even at one point, Dafoe is practicing a specific kind of yoga which he does in real life and yet right after the Buddhism which is internal and inherent to Ferrara currently creeps in on it. It is fascinating in many ways but also requires attention. The end is thematic overall and perhaps expected and yet the epilogue in terms of its realness shows the director in a different place. The reflection also in placing stories of his next film within this film is brilliant considering Dafoe is in that film as well (“Siberia”). “Tomasso” is an interesting examination of a director in a different world. It is like Godard in reverse but one which is now it his home. It is a fascinating if not maddening diatribe at times examining the normality of life and how your brain and lifestyle can adjust.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: SCREAM QUEEN – MY NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET [Shudder]

The idea of identity but also social strife interrelated with a horror film is an interesting quandary which is explored in “Scream Queen – My Nightmare On Elm Street”. The story of Mark Patton who was the lead in “Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” is an interesting story in that his was the intersection of many different aspects that together form a unique journey. It nonetheless turns into a cautionary tale of sorts that with the advent of documentary and streaming in its current form as well as the increasing balance of society in some ways can be allowed to happen. Patton played Jesse in the 2nd film in the franchise. Patton was gay but wasn’t integrating that with his career as it wasn’t socially acceptable per in Hollywood at the time as far as the roles. But what the film (“{“Nightmare On Elm Street 2”) did through its story is seemingly overwhelming paint itself as a gay horror movie. That in Patton’s view and correctly overall destroyed his career even though the film was a success. The backlash it started to receive was interesting in its vitriol but cumulative to him.

The cross roads of that occurred when the sexual freedom of the 70s and “Don’t Ask/Don’t tell) [especially in NY] collided with the AIDS crisis of the early 80s for which there was no treatment or cure. Patton’s story is one of meteoric rise from the Midwest where he couldn’t be himself and his family simply didn’t give him support. He moved to NY and just his tenacious rise from living in a hotel which was a prostitute hangout to getting an agent to eventually being on Broadway with Cher in 1980 is just an insane trajectory. He ended up moving to Hollywood to pursue his movie star dream. His boyfriend was Tim Murphy who was a star on “Dallas”. They lived in the Hills and partied as young people do. Patton got the Freddy sequel role and at the same time his boyfriend came down with AIDS and eventually died. The storm didn’t hit when the movie came out but the homophobic savagery came soon afterward. His agents saw something in the film’s first cut also said they coudln’t sell him as the straight lead, maybe as a character actor.

Rather than dig in further, Patton left for Mexico where he sequestered for many years And in a short space in the documentary he relates that he too was stricken with HIV alongside tuberculosis where he was in bed for nearly a year. This man has gone through the ringer. He recovered miraculously. He was first interviewed for a Freddy documentary film and then start doing conventions which helped with money flow But he was always haunted by the fact that “Freddy 2” screenwriter denied that it was written as a gay horror movie or at least with those themes. The writer says it was only suggested with subtext but movies are collaborative. Was it is interesting is hearing Robert Englund (who played Freddy talk about one scene where the horror became suggestive.

It was a character choice and one within Englund’s perception of the themes and archetypes it shows (i.e. the beauty and the beast) is an interesting one….and much deeper than what the film was capable of delivering. But Patton explains that no one gave him advice that what he was doing could be misconstrued. Now years later it takes on a different perspective in a way but the journey itself is fascinating simply because of the history, the overarching trajectory and the simple psychological, mental and physical tolls it portrays Patton is able to tell his story but also allows those, maybe seeing their own lives in a different matter, might be able to gleam a sense of clarity.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – EPISODE 2 (“Know Your Onions”) [ABC-S7]

While the reveal of 1931 in the premiere of he 7th and final season of “Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.” provided an interesting backdrop, the reality of “Know Your Onions” as Episode 2 teases reveals some of the texture without really allowing any more specific movement to progress. The existential perception of not-Coulson is an interesting one but is not quite built upon here. Without giving any spoilers, the question becomes what is the greater good and who knows what that looks like. There is also the structure of power which is both not in question but also debated. In creating a different timeline, what could happen? Not that that could or couldn’t happen. Could it reset what happened all over Phase 3. or as Dr. Strange put it, was there only one way that it could end where it didn’t create cataclysm. Many rumors point to the fact that this season will help wrap up Phase III while others point to Phase IV reveals. Of course these episodes were shot pre-pandemic so it will be interesting to see how it builds to where it might go. While the 2nd episode ends in a certain place, it might be the exact place it was headed all along though some hidden perspectives and mechanisms can definitely change.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: DIRTY JOHN – THE BETTY BRODERICK STORY – EPISODE 1 & 2 – SEASON PREMIERE (“No Fault” & “The Turtle And The Alligator”) [USA]

The two part premiere of “Dear John: The Betty Broderick Story” is an interesting progression, specifically in context of the actors and how the story plays out. This story obviously could have the texture of a movie of the week and might have played in that stake 20 years ago. But with broadcast standards changed up and production also high, the inclusion of certain talent like Amanda Peet and Christian Slater as the would-be doomed couple in an interesting blend because of the move against expectation. Amanda Peet is in many ways remembered for comedy in “Whole Nine Yards” whereas Christian dates all the way back to “Heathers”. The reviewer is using these two films as reference points in specific because they show mindset in a relationship. This story follows Betty Broderick’s path to what becomes an untenable situation. While there is an understanding of her motives, the breakdown is an interesting psychological push, a maelstrom of expectation, child raising, sacrifice, upbringing and consequence. The first episode “No Fault” shows the unraveling of a marriage that was based on Betty giving up her thoughts and dreams to be traditional and help Dan (Slater) achieve his goals within the aspect of taking care of them forever.

What is interestingly done is the use of flashbacks including a younger actor that totally gets down the Slater playing Nicholson aspect while making it part of the character. The show runner explained in her message before the screener that when she remembered this real life event happening it was a bit of urban lore but as she grew up and had kids of her own and reached the age of Betty Broderick, the pain of the woman and how she kept trying to see the light or best until she couldn’t rang true. The series does come with a disclaimer that the events hve been dramatized and fictionalized to a point. Slater has an interesting line to play in a character that does give his soon-to-be ex wife chances to move on but also doesn’t give her the tools that she needs. In this specific situation, he has the chips stacked in his corner but won’t provide. It is a choking mechanism. Peet, for her part, has ever played a character like this before. It might also have to do with her becoming a mother in recent years as well to give  different perspective.

It is hard at times to understand why Broderick reacts but the key is to take it in the context of the 80s: the exit strategies were not in place (not that they fully are today) but the coldness of Betty’s parents to her plight and what they saw as traditional in an interesting conundrum. Now as the second episode (“The Turtle & The Alligator”) integrates, Peet’s Betty tries to connect back to Dan but then dives into an overt emotional space. She tries to put up a strong front but cannot take the ego destroyer of the tactics that her husband is using. She can’t understand how he can be so cold and still laugh at her jokes. The most painful and some of the best acting from Peet is when you see her smiling and yet the pain. I have talked to Peet many years ago and actually remember an interview when Matthew Perry snuck into her interview for “The Whole Nine Yards” while he was doing interviews for “Servicing Sara” with Liz Hurley upstairs. They enjoyed each other’s company and made jokes but again, like Betty and Dan, it is a moment in time.

Not that that is a reflection of the show. It just shows that every human has their own path to follow but one has to see the whole picture. With human beings are never like that in the moment. It is always upon refection when it is over. That is the structure that plays here. Either people don’t believe Betty could do something like this or maybe she didn’t know that she could do it. Or she is hiding. Or she had a break. It is a dynamic idea which in today’s TV landscape can be done. What this “Dear John” does in an interesting way is do it in a more sanitized way, showing the psychological breaks without being overtly graphic or crass per se. It is a human drama and is shown that way.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE GENETIC DETECTIVE – EPISODE 2 (“Hunt For The Runaway Killer”) [ABC]

The aspect of “The Genetic Detective” is fitting puzzle pieces but knowing how to decode. In Episode 2, “Hunt For The Runaway Killer”, the aspect of a cold case reflects through many aspects of a serial offender. A mother and her daughter were murdered in farmland Missouri while the father and son were working on their farm. The son returns to find them both in different positions shot in the head. His sister had been tied up with extension cord. His mother face down on the floor. While DNA was found (the murders took place in 1998), DNA tracking was nowhere near where it needed to be. The DNA broke down. About 10 years later they did connect it to another crime far away in South Carolina but not enough to make a match. The case sat cold for many years. CeCe Moore, known as The Genetic Detective was brought in when a organization/lab out of Memphis decided to connect cold cases with some backlogged rape kits which had been sitting in storage waiting for analysis but needing funding. The thinking being that certain markers could connect this offender/killer who apparently kept moving around with other criminal investigations. The breakdown of every case is interesting but it is seeing where the puzzle diverges. The eye opening aspect was when CeCe comes upon in the back trace which plateaus in the 1880s, she finds double cousins where two brothers of one family married two sisters of another. So the DNA pool was doubled which created a past parallel structure.

There was also a police sketch that was vague from a person the assailant attacked not long after the original Missouri murders. It was through news articles at that point that CeCe was able to verify through a photo of the offender connecting him with his daughter. What is interesting in the reveal is that CeCe admits that the killer moved around a lot but his life path was complicated. He eventually committed suicide when he was cornered in a hotel in Missouri (it is not clear if he was alone or not). The body is exhumed and the DNA matched. The disappointing aspect is not knowing motivation,if any, behind the Missouri murders or some of the ones after it since the MOs seemed to change. CeCe visits the daughter, not to confront but just to talk (likely primarily just to create closure). The lady worries and reflects about genetic predisposition whereas when CeCe visits the son whose mother and sister were killed, he is living in the same farm house. He says that even though the mystery was solved, the thoughts and trauma will never go away. This kind of balanced approach brings a texture to the show that CeCe relates in saying that data only means so much. It is important to see that consequence and reflection on the ground

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: THE BAKER AND THE BEAUTY – EPISODE 8 & 9 – SEASON FINALE (“May I Have This Dance” & “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) [ABC]

The progression of “The Baker & The Beuaty” is one of the modern dance: where is the balance between tradition and modern thinking. In the Latino community seen in this series, it is an ever evolving tendency, especially in the age of social media, what is considered traditionally acceptable versus long held ideas of what a family or a romance is supposed to look like. Having spoke to Victor Rasuk at the beginning of the season, his character has actually become more conservative. The story has taken a more diametric turn as the season comes to conclusion in his brother’s perception. The idea of familiarity breeding contempt or even interestingly enough acceptance in the same breathe is an interesting diatribe. Vanessa, whom Victor’s character left earlier in the season before he met Noa who is on her own trajectory creates an interesting dichotomy. Of course this is a romance so there is a distinct texture of wanting to provide a positive happy ending. But one knows that in real life, things aren’t that clean. Granted as the two part finale moves on, it gets slightly messy but nothing that can’t be remedied. It revolves around to that possibility of love lost which is that ideal of what can be gained. Or what the better outcome is or can be.

The idea of what is healthy and the psychology of success is actually an interesting subplot, that, although subtly addressed, is a very real defense mechanism for Noa. Nathalie Kelly plays this character bilaterally, whom you could see exist in both worlds but is not necessarily truly a part of either. She has to exist in between and find balance. Victor’s character by comparison , and maybe in a macho way, only see the black and white, even though it is a socially acceptable balance he is working in of preserving family. His brother though makes the leap in certain ways that he doesn’t. And their sister is the bridge of emotions. That is why that Quincidera aspect actually works very well. It is apprarent specifically in the quiet moments with the parents which ranks among the series’ best because it shows a slowed down balance that expands and shows time. While the lightness of the show is maintained, there are moments of depth without losing some of the bubble gum texture of the romance it is trying to show.

B

By Tim Wassberg