A Shock to the System, Jan Egleson. This one slipped off the pop culture radar and little wonder: a British leading man beating the American corporate system at its own game was always going to be a hard sell in the States. It’s not shot as a dark comedy nor is it a thriller in any real sense of the genre. It is, however, a well plotted, well acted, well lensed, well edited middle-age angst movie in which the anti-hero wins. Michael Caine does his thing and does it well (not as somnolent as in Hannah and her Sisters [’86] nor as slapstick as in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels [’88]), giving some sympathy to a character who is, at the end of the day, just a callow shallow materialistic sexist pig who refers to himself in the third person as “he” and thinks he’s heir to Merlin. Oh, and he’s also a murderer. It’s that last bit that allows him to regain the magic that the aging process has taken away. It wouldn’t be until three years later when Michael Douglas would find a bag of machine guns in Falling Down that a middle-age white-guy would rediscover his mojo by turning violent…but at the end of that story, he gets his comeuppance by getting shot to death. What Egleson gives us instead is the anti-hero as success story.
Why watch this one? The pacing. The story unfolds in a modular construction that is articulated by the amazing soundtrack, modern art music performed by the Turtle Island Quartet (http://turtleislandquartet.com/our-story/). The suspense is built in angular lines of disconformity that keeps the story riveting even if the main character is thoroughly dislikable. Plus Caine is in top form and obviously enjoying himself.
Pop culture bonus: blink and you’ll miss him: young Samuel L. Jackson as leader of a three-card monte game.
The Last Seduction, John Dahl. It’s Linda Fiorentino’s world, we only live in it. The hot chick from the first Men in Black flick takes on the role she was born to play (maybe that’s why she hasn’t worked much since). Sexy, mean, with a rangy body that she uses like a weapon, Fiorentino is the embodiment of the femme fatale in Dahl’s update of classic noir. She double-crosses her doctor husband (Bill Pullman, excellent as always) after he sells pharmaceutical cocaine to street thugs—then beats it upstate with the bag of cash. Hiding out in Hicksville proves dull so she takes on a local stud as a boy toy while husband sends a private dick to find her. Eventually all the men become her puppets. The film doesn’t pull many punches: at one point she uses overt racism to take out a human obstacle (“Is it true what they say about black guys?” she asks to get him out of his seat belt); the violence is off-screen but in your head, psychic and cruel. If it were in black and white, it could come straight from the early 1950s: Dahl’s color vision of (fairly recent) modern living updates the hard-bitten soul of noir without sacrificing any style.
On a recent trip to Singapore I spotted a couple of copies of my novel Singapore Black for sale at Times Books in Changi Airport Terminal Two.
Well, it’s more than a year old now and the publisher, Monsoon Books, has assured me that the sequel Singapore Yellow will be out in spring 2015.
Also keep your eyes peeled for more exciting “Opium Traces” articles on popmatters…
And “Midnight Grindhouse” treated soundtracks at Scat Trax…
Plus there’s short stories and essays on Southeast Asian media in the pipeline for publication at various presses.
And the random, inconsistent, and unqualified film recommendations will continue to be posted here along with links to obscure music and films.
So stay tuned to this exciting, uncompromising, desultory and all together exquisite blog for all these exciting posts…plus more!