City Paper is not for tourists
and Rick Castro
Surely the most seditious of Disney animated features, 101 Dalmatians not only indoctrinated a generation of fledgling anti-fur activists but also extolled the notion of a revolutionary underground (composed of dogs, cats, and horses, of course, but potentially applicable to oppressed humans as well). These elements can still be discerned in the new live-action remake, but doing so is hardly worth the unpleasantness of sitting through the movie.
This unnecessary update of the 1961 ‘toon was directed by Stephen Herek—whose The Mighty Ducks inspired one of the few good gags in Space Jam—but the crucial credit is that of producer/scripter John Hughes. It was Hughes, of course, who conceived the loathsome Home Alone series, and if there’s anything his career indicates, it’s that Hughes is utterly unashamed of recycling his limited supply of ideas. Begin with two bumbling thugs trying to take advantage of a smaller and
theoretically dumber opponent, and Hughes is quick to add 100 more furry Macaulay Culkins.
The new 101 Dalmatians largely recapitulates the setup of the original, but from the beginning things are a little coarser. In pursuit of the charming Perdy, Pongo leads his bicycle-riding owner Roger (Jeff McDaniels) on a breakneck (and geographically improbable) tour of west-central London that ends with first Roger and then Perdy’s owner Anita (Joely Richardson) dunked into the pond in St. James’ Park. After Roger and Anita marry, their slapstick indignities are finished, but that’s just because Hughes has introduced a new set of dung-in-the-face victims, puppynappers Jasper and Horace and their boss, Cruella DeVil.
As the fur-lusting fashion-magnate monster, Glenn Close does a remarkable job of transforming herself into a cartoon character. She quickly loses her carefully constructed aura of menace, however, when Hughes, Herek, and a bunch of wild, domestic, and animatronic beasts transform her into a human Wile E. Coyote. The great escape of the 99 purloined Dalmatian pups is downplayed in favor of extensive sequences of slapstick torture: Cruella and her henchmen fall through floors, get electrocuted, freeze solid, and are dunked in molasses and manure. Ultimately, Cruella is sprayed in the face by a skunk, the disagreeable culmination of a series of puerile pee-pee jokes. The under-10 crowd may enjoy this, but I wouldn’t want to be the one who has to explain the film’s occasional sexual innuendoes to the kids. (See, Biff, what Cruella is suggesting is that Roger copulated with Perdy…)
Herek, Hughes, and company up the ante on everything, including the anti-fur agenda. Cruella has a rare white tiger stolen from the London Zoo and skinned, exulting that “I love the smell of new extinction.” That’s not nearly as crass, however, as the remade Roger’s new profession. Unlike his cartoon counterpart, this Roger is not a songwriter—most of the original’s songs have been deleted—but a video-game designer. The film ends with a plug for the 101 Dalmatians video game he’s just designed, thus indicating that Disney filmmakers aren’t content merely to be dumber and cruder than they were 35 years ago: They’re convinced that their audience is, too.
There are two secrets to “grunge” success, although one of them probably no longer qualifies as a secret: Play heavy metal. The other is the central theme of Hype!, a Seattle-sound documentary that manages to be informative without ever risking being incisive: Don’t take yourself too seriously.
The exception to that rule, it will surprise few Pearl Jam scholars to learn, is Eddie Vedder, who is the painfully earnest representative of the Bands That Made It. (His opposite is Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil, who’s smarter and more cynical.) Generally, though, the musicians and other scenemakers interviewed here know that their best defense is a good self-mocking jibe. “We’re nerds, dammit,” insists Screaming Tree Van Conner, while Sub Pop house producer Jack Endino, the film’s principal commentator, attributes the scene’s explosive sound to the frustrations of incessant rain. The Fastbacks argue that they just enjoy playing music, but that everyone else who makes that claim “is lying.”
In fact, most people in Hype! seem to be enjoying playing music. That can’t be true of the whole scene—money, after all, changes everybody—but the grungites have managed to preserve at least some of their harmony by finding common enemies outside their little city: the music industry and the press. Record-company publicist and musician (with Sub Pop and Dickless, respectively) Megan Jasper recounts how she conned the New York Times into printing a bogus “lexicon of grunge.” “Seventy-five percent of what Bruce and Jon say is a lie,” notes publicist Nils Bernstein of his bosses, Sub Pop founders Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman—who in turn are shown on their building’s roof taking credit for the Seattle skyline.
Director Doug Pray has made his first feature lively and accessible. Viewers needn’t know much about the Seattle scene to understand what’s going on, and the grunge-aversive won’t be bludgeoned long by the likes of Tad and Alice in Chains; Pray cuts away quickly from performance footage. Toward the end, when Hype! gingerly addresses the Seattle musicians claimed by suicide, overdose, or murder, the film clams up. Those who don’t know what happened to the less famed of the scene’s casualties probably won’t be able to decipher their fate from this cursory treatment.
That’s characteristic of Pray’s nice-guy treatment of what he clearly prefers to believe is a nice-guy scene. Other commentators may disagree, but the director makes a credible case for the grunge-just-wants-to-have-fun worldview of the Fastbacks, the Melvins, the Supersuckers, and the Young Fresh Fellows. (Nirvana was an exception, but then, you already knew that.) Hype! depicts the Seattle sound as a largely unexplained explosion in a lazy post-college layabout scene, an amusing mistake that just happened to make a few people rich. If that conclusion won’t make new hordes of fledgling rockers head to Seattle, the film makes it clear that Seattle hipsters will be happy not to welcome them.
A campy romp through the male-hustler precinct of L.A.’s Santa Monica Boulevard, Hustler White is not the sort of movie that’s nonplussed by the occasional fetish murder or sexual-torture scene. Indeed, the film opens with its hero narrating the story as his corpse floats in a Jacuzzi. Things are not what they seem, of course, not that it matters much.
Hustler White is little more than excuse for writer/directors Bruce LaBruce (No Skin off My Ass) and Rick Castro to demonstrate a knowing familiarity with the area, its denizens, and their kinks. Nonetheless, it does sport the vestige of a plot: German sex researcher Jurgen Anger (LaBruce himself) tries to locate hustler Montgomery “Monti” Ward (Tony Ward, a veteran of Madonna’s videos, book, and bed) to ask him some questions for his survey. Monti, however, thinks Jurgen is trying to query him about his role in a hit-and-run accident that severed a man’s leg earlier that day. Eventually, the two have a heart-to-heart talk, and Jurgen admits that “I fell in love with you the moment I saw you on the boulevard.”
This is the sort of cliche that LaBruce and Castro attempt to undercut with a wide-ranging depiction of mercantile rough trade. Hustler White doesn’t feature the hardest of hard-core sex footage, but viewers will have no trouble understanding what’s happening in the various hustling, porno-flick, auto-asphyxiation, and gang-bang scenes. (The most explicit sequence, however, features cigarettes and razor blades rather than genitalia and orifices.) Yet ultimately, the directors do seem to believe in true love: Where the other characters seek only sexual gratification and quick cash, Jurgen and Monti indulge in a round of deep soul kisses and then go skipping down the beach.
That isn’t to be taken too seriously, either; this moderately stylish flick doesn’t have a point of view, or at least not one to which it wants to commit for more than a few minutes. (Hustler icon Monti isn’t even gay, exactly; he’s nobly raising the toddler son abandoned by his ex-girlfriend, apparently the only woman who ever existed in this all-male semi-utopia. Maybe that’s just an excuse to show the naked boy in the bathtub, though.) With its flippant attitude toward condoms, Hustler White could just be trying to see how many people it can annoy or offend. But if LaBruce and Castro really want to provoke people, they’ll have to do better—or worse—than this.