As Charlie Chaplin once said: “I slip on a banana peel, that’s tragedy. You slip on a banana peel, that’s comedy.”
Comedy and tragedy viewed as conjoined twins is something rarely seen in film these days. An example that does understand the Zen of Chaplin, however, is the upcoming “It’s All Gone, Pete Tong.” At times hilariously funny, uplifting and sad, it’s a comedy that wears its heart on its sleeve — living proof that a film about personal tragedy, if depicted with honesty, doesn’t have to be a two-hankie movie of the week.
Here, Paul Kaye (the British actor who single-handedly saved the straight-to-video “Blackball” a couple months back) stars as Frankie Wilde, a DJ on the techno-dance scene. Wilde’s ear for beat has made him a superstar, a villa-dwelling layabout with a supermodel girlfriend and a big-time cocaine habit. In a series of mockumentary-style scenes (featuring “interviews” with real-life stars of British club music, including Fatboy Slim), we get a glimpse into what it must be like to be young, rich, famous and thinking only with your genitalia.
Just when you think “It’s All Gone …” is going to be a “Spinal Tap” rip-off for the techno set, Wilde gets a peculiar ring in his ears and learns he has a degenerative defect of his eardrums, then slowly goes stone deaf. Wilde’s girlfriend and his music industry contacts desert him, and he barricades himself in his house for a months-long alcohol and coke binge.
Finally (after a scene in which he physically confronts maybe the most absurd demon ever put to film), Wilde flushes the drugs and seeks help in the form of lip-reading teacher Penelope (Beatriz Batarda). After a rocky start, they eventually fall in love, with Wilde’s new-found sense of the world helping him — incredibly — find a way to regain his DJ and record-producing throne.
Though this sounds like a Story of Triumph (patent pending), with all the flavor of shoe leather, in the hands of Paul Kaye, it’s an enjoyable little comedy. If Kaye wasn’t so damned goofy looking — with a crazy, staring-into-the-sun expression and horrible British teeth — he would have already made the jump to American films. Heartbreakingly sincere, with a near-Nicholsonian ability to play completely nuts and completely earnest in the same movie, Kaye brings laugh-out-loud moments to scenes that would normally have a pity factor of 10 (like his getting louder and louder the more his hearing deteriorates, and his off-the-mark attempts at reading lips early on). Watching Kaye transform Wilde from a rock star rushing to his grave into a man who notices the way a dancer’s feet make little ripples in his water glass is a thing to behold, and makes the moment when Wilde finds that he can do what he loves again all the sweeter.
Though it’s not a great film in terms of the big picture, “It’s All Gone, Pete Tong” is the rare movie that approaches a disability from the viewpoint of the disabled. Touching drama and screwball comedy in one neat little package, it’s a film that would make the Little Tramp proud.
— By David Koon
Matthew Vaughn, producer of the two British pop-action films “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch,” both about the stylish and sleek thug-life of underground Britain, has now taken a seat in the director’s chair for his new film “Layer Cake.”
It still has much of the same dark humor and visual style that the other two films had, but steers clear of the pedantry that director Guy Ritchie incorporated into those. Instead, Vaughn opts for a more sadistic and restrained approach where the drug dealers are less playful and the villains less apparent.
Although Vaughn still relishes the relentless violence that made “Lock, Stock …” and “Snatch” such compelling films, he tosses the morbid laughs aside and directs for a more visceral experience.
“Layer Cake” fails to reach the heights of those films, however, and not because it’s not highly enjoyable in its own right. Where movies like “Snatch” succeed in eccentric humor, Vaughn fails to adequately replace that with something equally appealing. Sure, “Cake” has some intense and memorable moments, but in the end the characters remain bland and easily forgettable, but for a few scenes.
The film’s narrator and principle character (who is never named) is given a clean-cut performance by Daniel Craig, a cocaine dealer whose methods of business are flawless: Never deal with loud-mouth wannabe gangstas. Always run a tight crew. And the money is always paid on time to his benefactor, Jimmy Price, a long-time lord in dirty dealings.
This image of success who hopes to retire with a clean million pounds in the bank is a little naive, though. His trusted seniors scoff at his attempts to get out of the game. If this movie has anything to say about its characters it’s that no one gets out of the business alive, and dirty money always catches up with you.
So, when asked by his boss to sacrifice a little of his business etiquette to help out an old friend, he finds himself up against a wall — a pawn in a game of kings. While playing the middle-man between several uncouth characters and working the system so he’ll end up on top in the end, he finds his island retirement being buried alive.
Films like these are not meant to deliver any very relevant message. It’s more about style and good aesthetics, and as far as that goes, it’s written well, well paced and well acted. For example, Eddie Temple, yet another senior out to get the yuppies, is played wonderfully by Michael Gambon, whose flamboyant personality always brings his characters alive.
In the end, however, there’s little to make films like this anything more than fodder for the indie film circuit. That said, it’s a fun ride and worth seeing.
— By Dustin Allen
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