Video ReviewsShadows on the Tube

Things I caught on video or DVD or airplanes or in a rerelease...
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If you have an film you want me to review - just ASK
last update 19.Aug.03

back to the top THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE
my eyelashes are my trademark
dir-scr Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
with Tammy Faye Messner, Jim Bakker, Roe Messner, Mel White, Jamie Charles Bakker, Tammy Sue Chapman, Jim J Bullock, Greg Gorman, Pat Boone, Steven Chao, RuPaul Charles
release US 21.Jul.00; UK Sep.03 DVD 00/US 1h19 4 out of 5 stars
Not only do Bailey and Barbato have a lot of fun with this documentary about televangelist diva Tammy Faye Bakker Messner, but they also create a seriously moving and gripping portrait of a tough woman coping with all that life throws at her. The film follows Tammy from her rural Minnesota childhood through years of joint ministry with husband Jim Bakker, during which they pioneered the concept of the TV church, then had each programme/network stolen once it became hugely popular--CBN and The 700 Club, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, PTL and Heritage USA). When it all went horribly wrong, Tammy ended up in rehab and Jim went to prison. And here's where the film shifts gears as Tammy spends years putting her life back together--along with children Jamie Charles and Tammy Sue, her second husband Roe Messner and her gay TV chat show host Jim J Bullock.
Throughout the film there's a strange dynamic at work that draws out Tammy's drag-queen glamour ("My eyelashes are my trademark") and still makes her a fascinatingly complex woman--funny, self-deprecating, sharp and, most of all, authentic. She is perhaps the only prominent Christian to truly embrace fringe members of society that other religious leaders shun, most notably homosexuals. In this way she puts others to shame, demonstrating a grounded, honest faith that's more than a little surprising considering her outward outrageousness.
And Bailey and Barbato make the most of this camp value. The film is colourful and silly, both laughing at and with Tammy (usually both at the same time) with RuPaul's dry narration and pointed insight from the likes of filmmaker-turned-priest Mel White. They also find a solid narrative line in the Bakkers' struggle with villainous evangelist Jerry Falwell, who of course refused to be interviewed. But the archival footage is comprehensive and telling, and the filmmakers follow Tammy Faye on meaningful journeys reuniting with people and places from her past. The puppet chapter headings are a bit unnecessary, but otherwise this is a knowing and funny, yet warm and honest portrayal of an intriguing, strong woman. Essential! [themes, language] 9.Aug.03
back to the top PARTY MONSTER (1998 documentary)
the eyes of michael alig
dir Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato
with Michael Alig, James St James, Elke Alig, DJ Keoki, Gitsie, Michael Musto, Lahoma, Brian McCauley, Johnny Melendez, Ernie Glam, Walt Paper, Screamin' Rachel
release US 12.Feb.99 98/US 55m 3 out of 5 stars
Five years before they made their feature film about Club Kids organiser Michael Alig, Bailey and Barbato made this hour-long documentary tracing his life from childhood in South Bend, Indiana, to his career as a club promoter in Manhattan in the 1990s. In 1996 he was arrested for the murder of his friend and drug dealer Angel Melendez, and is currently serving a 10 to 20 year sentence for manslaughter. The film pieces together his life with a treasure trove of material, mostly extensive home video footage, but also interviews with his friends and family, as well as a few dramatised reconstructions.
he came, he partied, he killed The filmmakers use title cards instead of narration, and then simply let the people tell the story firsthand. This makes it feel thoroughly authentic, especially since much of it is told my Alig himself, either in interview footage from prison or videotaped interviews before his arrest. It's a story of excess and hedonism, shaking off the inhibitions of society to create one of the most outlandish club scenes in American history. And the film smartly refuses to become a preachy treatise on drug excess, opting instead to merely report the events with style, humour and a cast of astonishingly interesting "characters", most of whom seem to be lying at various points out of sheer self-interest (and self-promotion). Frustratingly, you feel there's an even stronger story in here than Bailey and Barbato have managed to tell (either here or in their narrative feature), but it's certainly gripping and profoundly sobering stuff! [themes, language, drugs, violence, nudity] 19.Aug.03
back to the top HUMAN NATURE
arquette and robbins find ifans
dir Michel Gondry; scr Charlie Kaufman
with Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Tim Robbins, Miranda Otto, Robert Forster, Mary Kay Place, Rosie Perez, Miguel Sandoval, Peter Dinklage, Toby Huss, Anthony Winsick, Hilary Duff
release US 12.Apr.02; UK 4.Aug.03 DVD Canal+ 01/US 1h32 3 out of 5 stars
Fiendishly intelligent and yet outrageously trashy at the same time, this comedy went straight to video in Britain (with only a limited US release), probably because no one quite knew how to market it. Puff (Ifans) is a man who was raised as an ape, now adopted by Nathan (Robbins), an obsessive scientist who experiments with instilling human values in animals and sees Puff as the pinnacle of his life's work. Nathan's girlfriend is Lila (Arquette), a nature writer who grew up as a circus freak because of her all-over body hair. And Nathan's assistant is Gabrielle (Otto), a French sex kitten who knows how to get what she wants from a man. As these four characters enter into a romantic farce, the lines between civilisation and savagery are more than a little blurred.
Told in flashback, we have no question how it will end (Robbins narrates from a white-out afterlife version of his childhood home!). But Kaufman and Gondry have several surprises up their sleeves, mostly clever riffs on the nature versus nurture debate. This is smart, witty filmmaking, although you hardly notice it since the film is so profoundly ridiculous! Under the goofy surfaces are astonishingly astute observations, mostly in the throwaway dialog ("It's an animal urge, it's nothing to be ashamed of", and "When in doubt don't ever do what you really want to do"). The acting is superb: Ifans cleverly traces a man taken out of the depths of depravity ... to all-new depths of depravity. Arquette travels from woodland bliss (complete with a sweet musical number) to muscle-bound action woman. And Robbins is superb as the overachieving nerd who knows he's right ... and yet can't explain (or resist) his animal urges. Don't get me wrong: This is a very silly movie! But the way it juggles provocative, important issues makes it well worth seeing. [15 adult themes, language, nudity, vulgarity] 5.Aug.03
back to the top I THINK I DO
maelen and arquette
dir-scr Brian Sloan
with Alexis Arquette, Christian Maelen, Maddie Corman, Tuc Watkins, Lauren Velez, Jamie Harrold, Marianne Hagan, Guillermo Diaz, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Dechen Thurman, Patricia Mauceri, Marni Nixon
release US 10.Apr.98; UK 12.Feb.99 98/US 1h30 3 out of 5 stars
A sparkling ensemble cast makes this farcical romantic comedy thoroughly engaging, helped by a convoluted, tricky script and brightly colourful direction. It's about a group of university friends with deeply repressed longings who suppress them for years until they meet up for a wedding. Bob (Arquette) how has a hunky soap-star boyfriend (Watkins), but he still carries a torch for his old roommate Brendan (Maelen), who once had a fling with Sarah (Hagan). Beth and Eric (Corman and Diaz) are the group sluts, clearly meant for each other but lusting after everyone they meet. Carol and Matt (Velez and Harrold) are the bride and groom, and everyone wonders if they're right for each other.
There's a nasty edge to the dialog that undercuts the otherwise corny antics and sweet romance. This helps a lot! As do the sharply tuned performances; these are believable people--perhaps a bit perkier than most--who are trying to cope with self-doubt inner, desires and the fact that they're on the brink of the future at the "ripe old age of 26". Most of these actors are so good they deserve to be much bigger stars by now, especially Maelen and Corman! All of them cleverly handle the script's underlying sexual tension, and writer-director Sloan keeps things colourful and entertaining from start to finish, with perhaps a bit too much Partridge Family on the soundtrack (which gives away the film's autobiographical roots; Arquette is clearly his alter ego). The story struggles quite a bit to resolve every plot thread and give each character a tight resolution, but it's so sweet that you hardly mind. [15 themes, language] 13.Aug.03
back to the top THE TRIO [Das Trio]
eitner, hain and george
dir Hermine Huntgeburth; scrHorst Sczerba, Volker Einrauch, Hermine Huntgeburth
with Gotz George, Jeanette Hain, Felix Eitner, Christian Redl, Angelika Bartsch, Uwe Rohde, Hans Fischer, Heinrich Adler, Jennifer Ostermann, Tana Schanzara, Ernst Hilbich, Armin Rohde
reissue Germany 29.Jan.98; US 12.Feb.99 698/Germany 1h37 2 out of 5 stars
This is a typically bittersweet German romantic comedy, spanning the entire range from broad slapstick to deep personal sorrow. Zobel (George) is a cantankerous, stubborn guy with a patient partner in Karl (Redl); together with Zobel's daughter Lizzie (Hain) they make quite an effective pickpocket team. Then Karl ends up in hospital and they need a new third member, so they turn to a handsome young guy, Rudolf (Eitner), who had earlier tried to rob them. The problem is that both Zobel and Lizzie are strongly attracted to him. And he seems to be returning their interest.
Predictably, things get more and more wacky until it all blows up in their faces. There's nothing terribly subtle about the story, but the lively characters keep it watchable. The acting is a bit too broad all around (for a thief and two-timer, Rudolf has the worst poker face you've ever seen!). While the plot drags us through emotional wringers and romantic quagmires, it's the con-job scenario that's much more interesting, mostly because all of these people are shallow and duplicitous, so why should we care about their love lives? As a result, the conclusion comes across as corny and meaningless, especially after some of the serious plot turns that went before. [15 themes, language, nudity] 17.May.03
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall