Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Motel Life (now on video)

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

I promised myself in writing this review I wouldn't make any gratuitous Robin Williams references. For many reasons. (1) It's somewhat disrespectful to the late entertainer and his bereaved family - not to mention that everyone else is doing it. (2) For some odd reason, this review may be re-posted or re-read at some point in the future, when the suicide of Williams is no longer a front-page headline, and would only come across as a sicko non-sequitur, and (3) if you haven't learned from reading me yet that showbiz ruins lives and destroys people, you'll never learn.

Also, I don't want to be tempted to make my Robin-Williams-suicide-connected-to-Cleveland wisecrack. That one is just bad taste, even by my lowly standards.

Besides, you get me started on the topic, I'll never stop. So let's just pretend you've just scrolled down about 40 paragraphs of me or so riffing about Robin Williams and suicide. Now you finally get to the movie review. There, see? Think of the time and negative thoughts towards myself I just saved you.

Speaking of things more likely to bring on a case of major depression, worse than the idea of a MRS. DOUBTFIRE sequel, is the new indie tragedy THE MOTEL LIFE. This is a glum drama about two brothers, directed by two brothers, sibling co-directors Alan and Gabriel Polsky. If you asked me, it would have been a better gimmick had they directed the family film about tigers called TWO BROTHERS, but nobody asks me.

Adapting a novel by Willy Vlautin (with which I am completely unfamiliar), the Polskys deliver a downbeat piece about the extremes of brotherly love, set in 1985, in the drab mountain country of northern Nevada, which I get a sense is the part of the state you'd never guess existed from all those glitzy flicks set in Las Vegas.

Frank (Emile Hirsch) and Jerry Lee (Stephen Dorff) Flannigan are, as flashbacks have shown us, products of a badly broken home. The duo have had to look out for each other since adolescence, younger Frank proving (marginally) the more level-headed and responsible one, even holding a sales job (for a briefly seen Kris Kristofferson). When Jerry Lee kills a kid in a hit-and-run car accident - and then cripples himself in a botched suicide attempt - Frank must liberate him from a hospital, and stay one step ahead of snooping police.

Then comes a rare stroke of luck for the born-to-lose pair, a longshot sports bet. It's a famous Mike Tyson boxing match that I confess did not resonate with me at the time (then again, I was out of the country during most of 1985 and thought my life would end up being somewhat more interesting). The wager pays off, allows the fugitives to hole up for a time in a community near Frank's old girlfriend (Dakota Fanning), from whom the young man had bolted long ago when he couldn't face her abuse-tinged household.

The well-acted but mopey item is mainly distinguished by several striking hand-drawn cartoon sequences that represents the freestyle storytelling-jam sessions Frank habitually uses to raise Jerry Lee's spirits. So one sub-theme of the film, I suppose is the transformative power of fiction. Filled with hyper-sexy girls and bloody, Tarentino-esque violence, the inserts were designed by animator Mike Smith in a style reminiscent of vintage softcore men's magazine. So there's that distraction.

Otherwise, I was left somewhat cold by THE MOTEL LIFE, which just about screams out for one of those indie slots at any given city's local international film festival; one sees it, one respects the raw emotion and the fact that it is not another superhero movie, - and one moves on, feeling one has done one's civic duty against rampant commercialism. Now, when's Batman-meets-Superman coming out?

Cynics might say that indie movies like this drive viewers to rampant commercialism. The Flannigan boys themselves would switch it off immediately if it came on their motel cable, unless there were more of those sexed-up cartoon bits.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams. (2 1/2 out of 4 stars)

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