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Party Monster (Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato)

Party Monster

Party Monster (2003, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato)

I’ve been hearing about this movie for what seems like years now. Rumors floated around about Marilyn Manson playing a drag queen (he has about three lines), about Macaulay Culkin’s return to film (he still looks 12 to me), and Seth Green’s performance (yes, he was good.) The film was purported to be shocking and insightful, but didn’t quite reach either goal.

I think watching this movie a few days after seeing the truly shocking and insightful Wonderland may have hurt my opinion of it, but if you’re only going to see one true-80’s-murder movie this month, I’d still say go with Wonderland. Party Monster has no lack of talent: Chloe Sevigny, Seth Green, Macaulay Culkin, Wilmer Valderrama, Wilson Cruz, and Dylan MacDermott–also in Wonderland–all appear in fairly large roles, but most of them are given very little to work with. The press release describes the film as a “twisted buddy movie,” but it doesn’t delve nearly as deeply into the relationship between James St. James (Seth Green) and Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin) as it thinks it does.

The filmmakers may also have been hampered by the fact that they have told the story of Club Kid party organizer Michael Alig before, in documentary form. They seem to assume that their audience already knows the story and setting fairly well, which I do not. I only knew the basic details: Michael Alig throws parties, does drugs, and eventually murders his drug dealer. I’m not even sure of when or for how long the story occurred. Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin swish and bitch their way through the film, giving typical gay-young-adult performances, but the filmmakers chose not to include a single homosexual kiss. Too many other characters are introduced for the relationship/rivalry between James and Michael to be fully explored, but none of the others are well developed either, and the lack of a sense of time is utterly confusing. Stripped of its singular setting, this movie could be any of a hundred cautionary tales about where drugs and partying will get you.


Veronica GuerinVeronica Guerin (2003, Joel Schumacher)

Veronica Guerin was a girl after my own heart. She’s ballsy, fearless, drives fast, loves sports and her work, and lets no man tell her what to do. We need more movies about women like her. Unfortunately, these same characteristics got her killed. Not that I think for a second that she should have quit.

Cate Blanchett plays the title role with a sassy swing in her hips and a smile on her face even at the worst of times, but is particularly affecting in the lone scene where she breaks down and cries. Even so, she still asks her husband to promise that he won’t tell that it happened. Ciaran Hinds is sleazily perfect as John Traynor, the informant who flirts with Veronica while leading her down the wrong path. Better still is Gerard McSorley as John Gilligan, the ringleader of the heroin dealers that Guerin is chasing down. McSorley is able to switch from dangerous calm to frightening violence with an ease that is unexpected from a small older man.

The script seems to gloss over certain issues, though, and I left feeling vaguely unsatisfied with it. Blanchett is wonderful, but I can’t help feeling like parts of the story were left out. Still, I recommend seeing this movie, if only for the fact that we get too few stories about women who are searching for something besides a man.


WonderlandWonderland (2003, James Cox)

John Holmes, according to legend, had a 13 inch penis, and was known as “the King” of porn stars. Some of the story of Boogie Nights was based on his life, but Wonderland tells a very different story. It combines superb acting by Val Kilmer and Kate Bosworth with a script that handles problems of unprovable facts very well, creative photography, and a pitch-perfect soundtrack.

Wonderland tells the story of a brutal quadruple homicide that Holmes was implicated in and acquitted of. The movie is told mostly through flashbacks of different characters’ points of view, and you are left wondering who to believe. Some people might find that a problem, but I think it makes the movie more interesting. Val Kilmer does a great job conveying the magnetic charm and pathetic desperation of the porn king past his time, now only good for a novelty–Josh Lucas as one of the dealers/murder victims makes him show his penis off at parties. Bosworth is particularly impressive as Holmes’s teenage girlfriend, and completely changed my opinion about her from Blue Crush. While Lisa Kudrow is decent as Holmes’s estranged wife (who has a strangely close relationship with the girlfriend), she seems to be revamping the role she played in The Opposite of Sex.

The soundtrack to this movie is one that I want to buy–rather than the predictable disco of Boogie Nights, it uses late ’70’s and early ’80’s rock to up the sleazy feel. Junkies shooting up and planning crimes set to Patti Smith’s “Gloria” is just perfect. It makes you feel the rock’n’roll headiness of the time and delays the realization of just how pathetic Holmes is. The photography and editing are great as well. Switching from clear as day to gritty and grainy, and speeding up or slowing down as the scene warrants, the film is made ten times better by these details.

Some critics have complained that the characters are unlikable. Sure, you don’t want to invite any of them over for tea, but they are real and all of them show real emotion. The movie is gritty and dark, not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, but does an excellent job of showing what happens when fame is over. Kilmer, particularly, has never been better.


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