A couple of nights ago I lay awake, plagued by all manner of dark and gloomy thought. Nothing especially noteworthy about this -- seems to happen every few weeks or so. The pendulum swings, so last night I lay awake, cheerfully contemplating memories that had a silly sort of nitrous-oxide lightness to them.
The craziest movies came to mind. I meditated at length on the missed genius of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension. As near as I could figure, the guys who put this movie together got just about everything they asked the studio for, except an unlimited budget. Here's a movie with good aliens posing as jumpy Rastafarians, evil aliens with hammy accents and dowdy ill-fitting suits, and a super-cool rock & roll scientist caught in the middle -- with Ellen Barkin! And yet it never quite builds up a proper head of steam, either dramatically or comedically.
It's not for want of trying, though. John Lithgow and Christopher Lloyd are forced to share a cramped screen through most of the movie, and between the two of them it's a wonder there's any scenery left for others to chew. But there is: Jonathan Banks makes a transformation from a leering, mean-spirited orderly in a psych ward to a psychotic alien goon. And Jeff Goldblum shows up with his usual what am I doing here? expression; this time he's outfitted with a cornball cowboy suit that almost explains the look on his face. And everyone is given at least one memorable line, including the now ubiquitous, "Remember, no matter where you go, there you are."
But then we have Peter Weller as the titular hero, and Ellen Barkin as his love interest, Penny Priddy. And that's where the tension completely dissipates. I'm irrationally fond of Ms. Barkin, but as with most actresses, for every steamy role that melts me in my seat, she gets a half-dozen cookie-cutter mishaps that should have been run through the creative mill another time or two. "Penny" is a mishap, which is unfortunate. I could have envisioned a love interest with a dark sense of humour who throws a little fire into the pond of Weller's ethereal cool, but that was not what Ms. Barkin was asked to do. She's a groupie, basically. Thankless.
This was my first exposure to Weller and I liked what I saw, enough to follow him through the next half-dozen or so movies. His (or his agent's) choice of roles is almost always a surprise, and his performances usually retain my interest. Some of his movies should be avoided at all costs (Robocop 2), some can be enjoyed with a gentle word of forewarning (Naked Lunch -- not for the squeamish), and some are absolutely terrific.
In the latter case sits Michael Tolkin's The New Age -- the best movie to harness and exploit yuppie-materialist delusion and desperation. Weller is teamed up with Judy Davis, which seems to be a match made either in heaven or in hell (she showed up earlier as Bill Lee's ill-fated junky wife in Lunch). Either way, when they're together, the viewer is assured of an interesting movie; Tolkin is an intelligent writer, so Davis is given deliciously intelligent lines ("When are you going to get in touch with your inner adult?!"). Throw in "Batman's" Adam West as Weller's skanky swinger father ("How are your morals tonight?"), and you have a movie that delivers dark laughs and a few moments of lucid poignancy.
But as I considered Michael Tolkin, I began to reconsider his movie The Rapture. People either love or hate this movie; I love it, but it is not a film I can give repeated viewing. I think it speaks directly to the sort of dangers that occur when one approaches with a naively open mind The Revelation of St. John The Divine. Alas, one of those dangers is the gloomy and panicked sort of sleeplessness I experienced a few nights back. Some spectres never leave your side....