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Artsy, fartsy, boring, and pretentious, Mike Figgis' Hotel is a crystal-clear example of what happens when actors and filmmakers congregate with too much time on their hands.
The setting is a rundown hotel in Venice, which is where a group of filmmakers have descended in order to film a "Dogmé" adaptation of John Webster's "The Duchess of Malfi." Rhys Ifans plays the director, David Schwimmer the producer, Saffron Burrows the leading lady, and Salma Hayek the obnoxious filmmaker hoping to document the production.
Now, that sounds like a pretty simple and relatively cohesive story, doesn't it? So you think "OK, Hotel is about a movie being made in Venice. Got it."
But you don't got it. And if you've ever sat through Mike Figgis' Time Code (or any of the most indulgently annoying American arthouse fare in existence), then you probably know what you're in for: complete (and generally aimless) improvisation, poor lighting and sound, a whole bunch of wacky non sequiters and navel-gazing divergences, and a bunch of actors who, when all's said and done, look pretty darn foolish.
In some ways (and only in the beginning scenes, really) a failed satire of the Dogmé filmmaking movement, Hotel quickly sinks into the very mire it seems to be mocking. The "plot stuff" mentioned earlier makes up (maybe) 40% of the movie. The rest of Hotel has to do with a director in a coma, an unpleasant tour guide, a vaguely weird desk manager, a room service kitchen full of human limbs, and entirely random bouts of visual wankery: strobes and slo-motionals and four-screen indulgences. Frankly it all gets a little grating after a while.
Hey, I think it's great when a bunch of "industry" pals hook up in a Venice hotel and decide to film their antics at random and pretend that playtime equals cinema. I hope they had a ball. But to package up and distribute such amateurish stuff is just a little embarrassing. "Actors' workshops" are probably great; doesn't mean they should be released to the public.
I'm sure to folks like Lucy Liu, Burt Reynolds, Jason Isaacs, and Valeria Golino, Hotel was just a two-hour stopover on the way to somewhere much more interesting, but frankly I'd love to hear those folks expound on how Hotel is some deep and thoughtful rumination on the place of celebrity in the modern world and/or a stunningly canny indictment of the how an artist survives in the black-hearted world of Hollywod, etc. That sound you'll be hearing is me choking back laughter.
Sure, there are a few compelling ideas and funny moments sprinkled through this Hotel, but you're talking about two or three needles buried in a planet-sized haystack. (An overlong shriek session between Lucy Liu and Salma Hayek is the absolute highlight, which doesn't say much for the "deeper thoughts" that allege to live beneath Hotel's surface.)
Between the Timecode, Hotel, the laughable One Night Stand, the overrated Leaving Las Vegas, and the astonishingly terrible Cold Creek Manor, it's not just that I have no idea what to make of director Mike Figgis; it's that I no longer really care. OK, to be fair, Mr. Figgis also directed that Internal Affairs flick with Gere and Garcia, which I liked quite a bit. (Just goes to show you how helpful a "screenplay" can be!) Unfortunately, Internal Affairs was 15 years ago.
But hey, back in high school my friends and I made tons of "Dogmé" movies. They were dimly lit and poorly constructed videos of six goofballs showing off in front of a Handycam, desperately hoping to come up with something funny or interesting. Fun stuff. Worthy of a weekend rental? Doubtful.
Video: It's a Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic transfer, but since much of Hotel is shot on digital video with very little light and even less sense ... you're probably not expecting a stunning visual presentation.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, but (again) the movie is presented au naturale, which means that certain conversations are perfectly clear, while others are (intentionally, mind you) entirely muffled, whispered, or otherwise indecipherable.
Extras: The main course is the 24-minute Hotel Documentary, which clearly indicates that Hotel was a loose, laid-back, experimental, and casual project. Actually, the footage of the making of the movie is infinitely more entertaining than the movie itself. But to his credit, Mike Figgis seems like a sincere and passionate filmmaker, so right here is where I find myself respecting the guy -- while ardently wishing that his movies did anything for me. But they don't. Darnit.
Also included are a series of 25 on-set web shorts that run 42 minutes when viewed via the "play all" option (again, more enjoyable than the movie itself), a photo gallery, and a handful of theatrical trailers for Hotel, Unspeakable, Jeepers Creepers, Out of Time, Lost Junction, Wicker Park, Dead Like Me: Season One, and the always-popular "MGM Means Great Movies" promo.
Or maybe I'm just missing the boat, and this sort of stuff is brilliant, insightful cinema that could never hope to crack through my ignorant, heathen skull. You may honestly see a work of art; what I saw in Hotel was a two-hour wank session from actors and filmmakers with a few days to kill and a few egos to stroke. Some will call it an "experimental film experience," while I'll just be content referring to Hotel as "something I'll never have to watch again."
But if you're down the "pretentious weirdness" vibe and don't mind a lot of experimental canoodling in your weekend rentals, feel free to give Hotel a spin. But don't email me looking for answers. Flick gave me a headache.