Skip to main content

Hey, everybody. The bellboy's here.

Four Rooms
(1995)

(SPOILERS) I had an idea that I’d only seen part of Four Rooms previously, and having now definitively watched the entire thing, I can see where that notion sprang from. It’s a picture that actively encourages you to think it never existed. Much of it isn’t even actively terrible – although, at the same time, it couldn’t be labelled remotely good– but it’s so utterly lethargic, so lacking in the energy, enthusiasm and inventiveness that characterises these filmmakers at their best – and yes, I’m including Rodriguez, although it’s a very limited corner for him – that it’s very easy to banish the entire misbegotten enterprise from your mind.

The concept, such as it was, was to present a unity of independent spirit (the Sundance “Class of 92”), overseen by that bastion of the same – unless your movie “needed” cutting, that is – Miramax. Alexandre Rockwell, director of second sequence Room 404 – The Wrong Man, referred to a “New Wave feeling” among the filmmakers (including Richard Linklater, who must count himself lucky to have dropped out), and it’s Rockwell who must cop the blame for the premise, that of a bellhop getting into scrapes with different guests on New Year’s Eve. Those involved opine that the picture became a different beast once it was snapped up by the mini-major, eager to have a chunk of whatever Tarantino was involved in; it was no longer a collaboration of equals, but of Quentin and whichever nobodies he brought along with him.

If the results seem scrappy, that’s a reflection of the making; Anders observed that the first draft was accepted as the final, while Rockwell noted that, on a wave of Pulp adulation, all approvals for everything had to go through Tarantino’s people. Miramax, unsurprisingly, acted like oafs, cutting the movie down, mainly at the expense of Anders and Rockwell’s segments. Harvey said “You know what the problem with this movie is? We’re working with two geniuses and two hacks”. Yeah, I know he really was including Rodriguez in the former category (Peter Biskind, in Down and Dirty Pictures, from which I’ve sourced most of these anecdotes, cogently summed him up as “a delayed adolescent”).

Miramax, as Anders saw it, were doing exactly the opposite of the idealistic intent of the exercise, pitting the filmmakers against each other in test screenings where audiences were asked which room they liked best. As such, while it may be a little uncharitable to say it, Anders’ and Rockwell’s are the inferior segments, which isn’t to suggest any of them are anything to write home about.

Honey Moon Suite – The Missing Ingredient

Anders’ room finds a coven of starry but otherwise unexceptional witches (Madonna, Alicia Witt, Sammi Davis, Lili Taylor, Ione Skye, Valerie Golino) intent on reversing a spell cast on goddess Diana (Amanda De Cadenet, bizarrely). Skye has to procure some semen, and with little spare time focuses on Ted the bellhop.

It’s worth emphasising straight off the bat that Tim Roth’s performance throughout is quite dreadful, the kind of frantic mugging that suggests he should never be let near a comedy script. For some reason, there seemed to be a lot of bellboys in movies around this time from Cinqué Lee in Mystery Train to Steve Buscemi’s Chet in Barton Fink and even Bronson Pinchot in Blame it on the Bellboy. It emphasises how bad Roth is when I say that even Pinchot is more watchable. If they’d wanted someone to gurn and put on a silly voice, they should have had just thrown caution to the wind and cast Lee Evans, the latter-day Jerry Lewis (it figures, however, that it was written with Buscemi in mind).

It’s difficult to critique this in any way as it functions as an airless waft of nothingness, and presumably, since Anders had it cut from under her with a script she wasn’t happy with, she’d probably agree. At least Madonna doesn’t get a chance to be terrible despite her Razzie recognition, because you’ll barely remember she was in it. Aside from bringing her own outfit.


Room 404 – The Wrong Man

Rockwell’s premise feels like it has more potential, at least, with Ted mistaken for a role-play participant in an uncomfortable “hostage” scenario, with a gagged-and-bound Jennifer Beals at the behest of her husband David Proval. It’s ultimately no less tiresome than the opener, though, and mostly notable for someone nearly vomiting over Ted from the room above as he attempts to escape through the bathroom window.


Room 309 – The Misbehavers

Rodriguez ropes in Antonio Banderas, as the latter and wife Tamlyn Tomita leave Ted in charge of their kids, who inevitably run amok when he leaves them unattended. Rodriguez undeniably injects some energy into his room. However, it’s expectedly as tonally shot – the kids discover a dead prostitute under the bed – as everything he does, as well as telegraphing his future capacity for kids’ movies no one wants to see (Spy Kids and their endless sequels). There’s also a weird coda with Kathy Griffin and Marisa Romei where Ted wants to quit; I thought for a moment that it might be the part of the next segment. Which is, of course…


Penthouse – The Man from Hollywood

Tarantino, as Anders pointed out, is basically offering an autobiographical piece. One in which he’s surrounded by sycophants (Paul Calderon, Bruce Willis, Beals pops up again). Plus, he gets to indulge his yen for being taken seriously as an actor. There’s a mention of a “tasty beverage”, and structurally it can’t help but be more engaging than anything preceding: various requested ingredients for a task as yet unspecified, which turns out to be cutting off Calderon’s finger, which Ted duly does for a fee. Accordingly, it also includes the requisite Tarantino violence, however minimal that may be. It is however, as noted, a Tarantino acting showcase, and so can only be so engaging.


So what’s there to summarise about Four Rooms, other than its anecdotal failure (it cost $4m and made only a tad more than that), and the trashing of various filmmaker friendships? Biskind notes that anthology films rarely work, and he isn’t wrong. The portmanteau horrors of the ‘60s and ‘70s tend to be exceptions (although, even then, they’re hit and miss) and the Coens recently pulled off a western with something approaching aplomb. Four Rooms ought to have worked, to the extent that its self-imposed limitations (one bellhop, one room) spurred creativity. Instead they seem to have clogged it up. Only Tarantino really gets the right idea of the twist element common to the form – that there should be a satisfying reveal or gag that justifies the indulgence – and that’s because he’s ripped of Roald Dahl’s The Man from the South (sorry Quentin, homaged it). And in his case the indulgence is barely justified by his indulgent performance.

Overall:

Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

I don't think this is the lightning you're looking for.

Meet Joe Black (1998) (SPOILERS) A much-maligned Brad Pitt fest, commonly accused of being interminable, ponderous, self-important and ridiculous. All of those charges may be valid, to a greater or lesser extent, but Meet Joe Black also manages to attain a certain splendour, in spite of its more wayward impulses. While it’s suggestive of a filmmaker – Martin Brest – believing his own hype after the awards success of (the middling) Scent of a Woman , this is a case where all that sumptuous better-half styling and fantasy lifestyle does succeed in achieving a degree of resonance. An undeniably indulgent movie, it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.