Splatter Cinema, Enjoy the Film and the Cinevision Screening Room Paint Wall Street Red With an AMERICAN PSYCHO!

Posted on: May 11th, 2015 By:

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Splatter Cinema
and Enjoy the Film present AMERICAN PSYCHO (2000); Dir. Mary Harron; Starring Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Chloë Sevigny, Willem Dafoe and Jared Leto; Wednesday, May 13 @ 8:30 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room; Tickets $10 (cash only); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema has returned—this time backed by a successful Kickstarter campaign to pre-fund this month’s screening. Once again teaming up with ATLRetro Kool Kat Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film and the Cinevision Screening Room, Splatter continues into its seventh year of savagery with its mission still intact—to deliver the buckets of blood and delightful scenes of slaughter that make life worth living. This time around, Christian Bale drenches the screen with gore in Mary Harron’s turn-of-the-millennium classic AMERICAN PSYCHO!

Sometimes the most annoying question a movie geek like me can face when talking about an adaptation of a novel is this: “How does it compare to the book?” My gut reaction is that it’s a pointless exercise to compare the two. One speaks in a written language, one visual. They use completely different modes of expression. The only thing the two media really have in common is that they tend to be storytelling ventures. But beyond that, it’s like comparing rhubarb to a Jackson Pollock painting. You can do it, and even say that one is better than the other, but it’s kind of a fool’s errand.

american-psycho-book-cover-01However, since I’m feeling foolish, let me just say for the record that the film AMERICAN PSYCHO is far better than the novel. How can I say that? Easy. I can’t stand the novel, yet I love the movie. I dunno. Maybe I don’t like rhubarb.

Requisite plot summary: Patrick Bateman is a young Wall Street banker in the late 1980s that kills people in his spare time. The casual ruthlessness needed for success in his job extends to his personal life, in which he sees people as nothing more than walking slabs of meat, their lives holding no more importance than their business cards.

Bret Easton Ellis’ 1991 novel was something of a cause célèbre at the time of its publication, having been rejected by Simon & Schuster before being picked up for a trade paperback release by Vintage Books. Widespread outrage over the book’s content (specifically its gratuitous depictions of violence against women) generated acres of press coverage, vehement debate and calls for the novel to be pulled from distribution. Being curious about all the hubbub and brouhaha, I picked it up. And the chief impression that the book left was just how banal and glib it all was – shallow depictions of a shallow life punctuated by shallow descriptions of nauseatingly graphic violence. It seemed completely cut adrift from itself, accidentally being a prime example of what it ostensibly criticizes. Unlike, say, Chuck Palahniuk, Ellis never reveals anything beneath the surface of his cipher-esque characters. Whereas the nameless, catalog-shopping narrator of FIGHT CLUB becomes increasingly complex and interesting over the course of the story’s development; Patrick Bateman just simply is what he is. And for a character with more depth, that may be all you need. But for a character that doesn’t extend beyond the mask of humanity he wears, it’s not enough. And in a work in which nobody else lives beyond the surface, which doesn’t even seem to believe that anything beyond the surface even exists, it simply comes off as a lazy portrait (or even an embrace) of a lifestyle rather than a pointed critique of that lifestyle.

On top of that, its jokes fall flat and its vaunted scenes of violence seem shoehorned in for nothing more than attention-grabbing shock value. (In fact, Ellis held off on writing any of the violent passages until he finished the book, going back to research serial killers and write depictions of murder and AmericanPsycho_B2_Japan-1-500x698mayhem to insert into the narrative at a later date. And it feels like it.) And the novel never seems to know precisely what its target is. Is it about how desensitized we’ve become to violence? Is it about Patrick Bateman as the perfect distillation of capitalism, making mincemeat of others in order to advance in the world, as a kind of slasher film equivalent of WALL STREET’s (1987) Gordon Gekko? Is it about the glib surface-living culture of the 1980s? Is it simply a reflection of the life and mindset that Ellis admits to living at the time of the novel’s writing? Ellis never seems sure, and couches his indecision (which ends up feeling like he just doesn’t care what it’s about) in quasi-literary pretension and stylistic fakery.

I really hate this book, in case you haven’t caught on.

So when I heard back in the day that it was going to be made into a movie, I was less than excited. I mean, Hollywood had managed to turn Ellis’ similarly shallow morality tale, LESS THAN ZERO (1987) into a movie with even less depth than the novel. But then the news came down that the adaptation was both written and directed by women—not just women, but, gloriously, feminists!—something that I (correctly) hoped would bring a certain sense of smart irony to the film, given the absolutely rampant misogyny of the novel. To make matters even better, their screenplay was chosen over one written by Bret Easton Ellis himself. The check marks in the “plus” column were soon vastly outnumbering those under the “minus” heading.

And the movie succeeds on almost every level in which the novel fails. The screenplay by director Mary Harron and GO FISH (1994) screenwriter Guinevere Turner brings the latent humor lurking in Ellis’ novel to life, while amping up the sense of sickening horror surrounding Bateman’s crimes, which are so blandly and matter-of-factly depicted in the original source. Rather than embracing the attitudes of the novel, the film slyly and wittily american-psycho-2000transforms the book’s depictions of women into a comment on male vanity and competitiveness. Meanwhile, Christian Bale’s performance also manages to transcend the source material, giving us a Bateman with an intensity and (at times) frenzied energy that belies his character’s detachment and superficiality. And the end result is a film that is focused. All of the things that felt like directionless elements in the novel—the misogyny, the over-the-top ultraviolence, the preening narcissism, the steady divorcing of the protagonist from “reality”—now have an aim and a purpose: to show Bateman as the perfect embodiment of an American dream gone sour. Climbing atop and feeding upon the corpses of those beneath him, devaluing anyone that stands in his way, and growing further and further out of touch with the rest of the world and yet he succeeds. Not in spite of his particular brand of American psychosis, but because of it. This is what is expected of you, the film seems to say, and then openly mocks the society that calls for it. Maybe it’s because Mary Harron is a Canadian and can view America from a skeptical distance while still being close enough to grasp the details—the same quality that I think helps to make Jen & Sylvia Soska’s similarly themed and titled film AMERICAN MARY (2013) work so well. Or maybe it’s that the intervening decade has allowed Harron to take on the 1980s Yuppie culture with a more knowing eye than the still-too-close 1991 novel. But no matter the reason, Mary Harron’s film captures a particular type of mindset from a particular age perfectly and then skewers it with wit and perfect technique, leaving us to identify its lingering traces today.

So no matter how you may have felt about the novel, there’s no need to fear that this adaptation doesn’t do it justice. If you loved Ellis’ book, you’ll find a movie that easily snares the essence of what you find rewarding in it. If you loathed the novel, then you’ll find a movie that does exactly what Ellis was splattersticker (2)likely trying to do, and does it miles better. And you can’t ask for a better team of people to bring this film to you—Splatter Cinema always makes their screenings fun, and Ben Ruder knows how movies ought to look on the big screen. So get there early, get your picture taken with Patrick Bateman and maybe enjoy some Huey Lewis & the News while you’re waiting. It may not be hip to be square, but if you’re not there, that’s what you’ll be.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 20: Don’t Let Us Be Too Bad – Why We’ll Always Be WILD AT HEART For David Lynch

Posted on: Jul 7th, 2012 By:

WILD AT HEART (1990); Dir: David Lynch; Based on the novel by Barry Gifford; Starring Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton, Isabella Rossellini; Sat. July 7, 9:30 p.m.; Co-presented by and featuring a live performance by Women’s Work, come dressed as your favorite Lynch character, coffee and pie in the lobby; Plaza Theatretrailer here.

“I’d go the far end of the world for you, baby!”

“A man can’t ask for more than that.”

“You rope me, Sailor, you really do.”

These immortal lines are exchanged between Lula Fortune (Laura Dern)and Sailor  Ripley (Nicholas Cage), but in 1990, I’d have to admit I would have gone to the ends of the world to see any piece of celluloid created by David Lynch.

If you were a certain type of young person drawn to the deepest darkness but still enchanted by the lure that true romance can exist even if it kills you, you worshipped at the insane, amazing altar of Lynch back then. You saw a college or midnight revival of ERASERHEAD, and your head throbbed with pain while watching it, yet your eyes were glued to the screen. ELEPHANT MAN was even more excruciating because of the toll it took on your emotions, but you knew brilliance onscreen when you saw it. You really, really wanted to embrace DUNE and liked some of the visuals, but …well, but then came BLUE VELVET, and every time you heard that song ever after, it had a different meaning and while you didn’t want to admit it to anyone but your diary, Dennis Hopper made you all hot and bothered ever after. So, of course, you tuned into TWIN PEAKS like an addict desperate for a Lynch fix and told your lover “don’t let me too bad,” hoping just the opposite as you twisted a cherry stem into a knot behind your ruby lips.

Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) in his iconic snakeskin jacket is WILD AT HEART for Lula Fortune (Laura Dern). Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Into that era of Lynch euphoria arrived WILD AT HEART, perhaps the best example of how behind the violence, Lynch is sweetly sentimental about love. Based on the Barry Gifford novel of the same name (though Lynch changed the ending), the movie didn’t test well with audiences and was not completely critically well-received, but yet walked away with the Palme d’Or at Cannes. In other words, a typical Lynch movie. You either love Lynch or you don’t.

Without giving too much away for anyone who has not seen it before, the plot hinges on a simple love story–boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl’s mother (Diane Ladd) forbids them to marry and hires a hitman to take out boy, boy goes to prison and serves his time, girl picks him up and they hit the road, mom hires another hitman (J.E. Freeman) and craziness, violence – and yes, beauty ensue topped off by a cameo by Glinda the Good Witch (Sheryl Lee, aka Laura Palmer)! Yup, this road movie may be set in contemporary America and include all the requisite stops at seedy motels, but it’s also a fairy tale with heavy references to the Road to Oz.

Diane Ladd as Marietta Fortune in WILD AT HEART. Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Like Woody Allen, Robert Altman or Quentin Tarantino, Lynch has been a genius in assembling an intriguing ensemble cast, and WILD AT HEART is no exception. It may be hard to remember now but Nicholas Cage was once a fine actor and just weird enough to make him a perfect Lynch leading man. In those days when he put on a snakeskin jacket and impersonated Elvis, he was sexy, not creepy. Pretty but still real-looking Laura Dern brings just the right mix of passion, forthrightness and stroppu Southern accent to pull off Lula without turning her into a cliche. Casting Laura’s mother, Diane Ladd, as her domineering, disapproving and crazy-as-a-Lynch-movie Marietta Fortune, though, was pure brilliance. At the time, Ladd was at that middle age where she wasn’t getting many great roles, and this one proved a comeback that earned her both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. The supporting cast also includes Harry Dean Stanton as a private dick and Marietta’s boyfriend, a scary-toothed Willem Dafoe as a psychotic gangster hired to kill Sailor, Crispin Glover as Lula’s cockroach-eating cousin (isn’t insect-dining a David Lynch movie prerequisite?!), Lynch favorite Jack Nance as a loony rocket scientist, a gone-blonde Isabella Rossellini (then still Lynch’s lover) as a gangster moll, and a cameo by Sherilynn Fenn (Twin Peak’s Audrey and then every Lynch-boy’s fantasy and every Lynch- girl’s role model) as a car crash victim.

Sheryl Lee (TWIN PEAKS' Laura Palmer) as Glinda the Good Witch in WILD AT HEART. Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Sigh, because I’ll only be there “In Dreams.” Nope, I won’t be able to take that wild ride with Sailor and Lula tonight because I alas already am committed to other plans. So all I’m going to say is I hope you’ll go in my stead and fill up the Plaza as it should be for a special screening like this (come early and see STAND BY ME for a double feature if you can! If you missed Plaza Day 19, catch up here). If you haven’t seen WILD AT HEART, you should and encourage all your friends. If you haven’t seen it in a while or even more if you’ve never seen it on the big screen, this is a rare opportunity and another reason why Atlanta needs The Plaza.Remember, your ticket and any concessions purchases help keep Atlanta’s longest-running, locally owned historic independent cinema and Retro treasure alive!

 

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