First Love, Last Rites (1997)

First Love, Last Rights (1997) movie poster

director Jesse Peretz
viewed: 09/08/2014

Back in 1998 or 1999, just before I started writing this diary of films, I stumbled upon Natasha Gregson Wagner in Another Day in Paradise (1998), and I was smitten.  The daughter of Natalie Wood, she definitely bears resemblance to her famous movie star mother, but for me, personally, I was just “like WOW.”  I tracked down a few other films she had been in.  She’d gotten good reviews for Two Girls and a Guy (1997) but I found I preferred some of the more trashy movies she made like Modern Vampires (1998) and later Vampires: Los Muertos (2002).  These were starring roles, more screen time.  She has had smaller roles in bigger movies like Lost Highway (1997) and High Fidelity (2000), but by the time I was getting into her, she moved into more television and hasn’t made movies as much.

She was the first actress that I uniquely singled out when I began this blog, though I’ve have several actresses and a few actors that I like enough to see just about anything they are in.  But I’ve been stymied on a couple of her films.  In particular, this one, First Love, Last Rights.

This indie movie from the heyday of the American Indie movie period in the 1990’s has fallen somehow through the distribution cracks into uber-obscurity.  Do you see the tiny image I found of the movie poster?  You can’t really find a larger one.  There is no Wikipedia page for this film.  Netflix doesn’t even have an entry for it in its database.

It’s based on a short story by Ian McEwan and stars Wagner and Giovanni Ribisi as a pair of libidinous lovers somewhere down in Louisiana.  He’s a young guy from the north.  She’s a local gal with a strange, wily, weirdo father who tries to convince Ribisi to invest in eel traps and makes some intimidation conversation about him sleeping with his daughter.  Their relationship goes from hot to cold as they live their lives on the fringe of the world.

Both Ribisi and Wagner are very good in their roles.  And you know, it’s actually a pretty good movie.  It’s typical of the indie films from that period in being a tale of quirky people yet relatively naturalistic.  A story of a love affair, its joys and its tedium.  And then there is the rat in the wall.  Or is there?

I was very surprised to find this on Hulu, pleased and surprised.

Lost Highway

Lost Highway (1997) movie poster

(1997) dir. David Lynch
viewed: 08/28/09

I have to say, David Lynch has become one of my favorite directors.  I would have been embarrassed to have such an opinion perhaps in the 1980’s, being such a cult figure and so specific and intentionally loopy.   But the years have been kind to Lynch.  He continues to evolve as a director and his work, while dated in certain aspects, is remarkably poignant and powerful.

I’d seen Lost Highway in the cinema at the time it was released, over 10 years ago.  I vaguely think that I may have seen it more than once at that time, though I can’t recall.  What is amazing, is the vividness of the imagery: Robert Blake’s frightful whitened face, the churning yellow median stripes in the road as the camera speeds through the dark, Patricia Arquette’s voluptuousity.  The whole film was like revisiting a dream, like it was a nightmare that I’d had, and was re-experiencing it.

The film is focused on dualities.  In the beginning, Bill Pullman is a saxaphone player, whose wife (red-headed Arquette), he suspects of cheating on him.  In the meantime, videos are being dropped at his doorstep.  Surveillence of their house, progressing inside, further each day.  Eventually, the nightmare evolves that the video flows into the bedroom and we see Pullman covered in blood and screaming, Arquette dead on the floor.  Though he denies the crime he is sent to death row.

Inside, during a bizarre transformation, Pullman is gone.  Now Balthazar Getty is in the cell.  No one knows how he got in, not even himself.  They release him back to his family, his job, and his girlfriend (a personal favorite of mine, the gorgeous Natasha Gregson-Wagner).  But Getty is dazed, everything is strange.  It’s like he has just woken up and is trying to understand.  And then in drives the sinister Mr. Eddy and his girlfriend, a blonde Patricia Arquette, with whom he takes up a torrid affair.

So, there are two Arquettes and two actors who play two characters who are somehow one and the same. The film is split, almost down the middle, in their screen time.

But the creepiest thing through the whole film is Robert Blake.  He approaches Pullman at a party and as he does, all other sound disappears.  He tells Pullman that he knows him, that they met at his house, that in fact, he is at his house right now.  He gives him a cell phone to prove that he is.  Blake considered the character to be “the devil”, and while there’s an easily-read reason for thinking so, the character is something far less defined.  Is he a representative of the dark side of the soul?  Are Pullman/Getty innocent or guilty of murder?  Why are they connected?  Are there really two Arquettes?

He delves further into psychological dualities in his film Mulholland Dr. (2001), in which he shoots some scenes in the same locations.  Unlike Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., though I liked it a lot, is more like a dream forgotten for me.  I have it at home to watch.  I will be writing about it soon.

Lynch is a master.  Though self-indulgence is his weakness, the darkened side of reality is his world.

Vampires: Los Muertos

Vampires Los Muertos (2002) movie poster

(2002) dir. Tommy Lee Wallace
viewed: 11/01/02

Don’t ask.

No really…

Okay, I rented this almost solely because it has one of my big guilty pleasure actresses in it, Natasha Gregson Wagner (who here is billed simply as Natasha Wagner), daughter of Natalie Wood. Wagner bears a distinct resemblence to her late mother, though maybe less classically beautiful. She is also not a great actress. It’s an irrational sort of attraction thing, okay? I came to like her from seeing her in Another Day in Paradise (1998) and reconfirmed my liking in Modern Vampires (1998), which is probably one of my all-time guilty pleasures (and it’s pure pleasure and pure guilt there).

So,…I bit,…pardon the pun, I rented Vampires: Los Muertos.

It’s probably easy to see my interest in it, another vampire movie with Natasha (Gregson) Wagner. This film is a sequel to the mediocre, yet not awful Vampires (1998) which was directed by John Carpenter and starred James Woods. Woods didn’t come back for this sequel as the big star in the lead vampire-slaying role, but interestingly enough, a like character is played here by Jon Bon Jovi (a less fully campy selection than I originally thought it might be.) This film also featured Diego Luna, who I liked from Y tu mamá también (2001).The film was released direct-to-video, so as one would imagine, it’s no great masterwork of cinema.

As in the original, the film is a mixture of several genres, borrowing most heavily from the Western, but also, of course, from horror and science fiction/fantasy. The narrative follows a roaming bounty hunter (a lone hired gun) who rounds up a gang of misfits to fight the bad guys, who are in these scenarios vampires.

Bon Jovi’s vampire bounty hunter is meant to read as a tough, “cool” version of the Van Helsing character (who in many other more traditional vampire/Dracula films is often portrayed as a hero, but a very uncool one. This is part of the film’s angle on the traditions. The character is a secular hero, though he is often aligned with equally heroic Catholic priests and monks. Bon Jovi hunts vampires wearing tight jeans, t-shirt, a leather vest, and cowboy boots. He also travels with a surf board, that he never uses. Wagner plays a half-dead victim of a vampire, held in stasis from converting to the “undead” by some drugs that she picked up in Mexico City.

The film wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it was also a less campy than I expected, too. Instead, it’s somewhere in between. A guilty pleasure, but less guilty, and less pleasure.