I Like I Like It Like That Like This

What a double feature! The Western Conqueror's Concubine, followed by I Like It Like That. The unifying concept being... being... well, they were both playing at the Four Star Theater one rainy afternoon. Anyway, cinema doesn't need unifying concepts; that's what previews are for.

In Concubine, a bad couple (Gong Li married to Adolphe Menjou as Macbeth) is mean to a good couple (Rosamund Kwan married to Oliver Reed as Tor Johnson), and thereby takes over China in just three hours with an gloomy-and-overcast-of-thousands. The title's ironic: Gong Li just wants to be the good guy's concubine. As she tells her husband, "He's the kind of man every woman wants, but you're the man who's going to be emperor."

Gong Li makes a great Joan Crawford, and Rosamund Kwan was as tiresome as one could possibly want in the Joan Fontaine role. But the end result was clunky as one of those Kirk Douglas historical epics. I never liked those Kirk Douglas historical epics. Kirk Douglas was meant to play nasty little rich creeps like in Out of the Past, not to posture shirtlessly.

On the cooler hotter hand, Darnell Martin's I Like It Like That is film without clunk, and there's no posturing even in the shirtless scenes -- pretty impressive from a video director.

Come to think of it, this is the best movie I've seen out of the class of MTV. The fast edits work as character-motivated storytelling rather than just as tics-qua-secret-handshake. The actors are attractive human beings rather than models. OK, the video promo inserted halfway through is a little awkward, but the video promo finale works both as a self-aware joke and as formal closure to a selection from a realistically unresolved life.

The combination seems typical of Martin's work; you can hear her demanding "Why can't I have it all?" over every page of the script. Probably everybody within a mile heard her. In an interview, Martin sure sounded pretty loud talking about the studio's insistence on changing the movie's name from Blackout to something that sounds less... threatening... you know, like Spike Lee.... (Not to worry, I don't get it either.)

It's true that "Blackout" makes more sense, especially since, Martin, making sure that every detail ricochets off or amplifies every other, has threaded the original title throughout. But given the immense pleasures she's won by her successful fights over script, direction, and cast -- oh man, she even knows which battles to lose; now that's a born director.

No characters's inflated, virtually every one's worthwhile, and all those standard movie gewgaws -- suspense, thrills, cheap laughs -- just seem to grow on 'em naturally, like stubble which has to get shaved back when it gets too itchy.

At the beginning, the protagonist, Lisette (Lauren Velez), hates her life with a passion. With several passions, in fact, which doesn't make life any easier. One of them is her husband, Chino (Jon Seda), a sweet man with some common sweet-man faults: unreliability, slipperiness, and a boy's-best-friend attitude toward his dick. Three more are her kids, the noisiest bunch of pains you could find this side of the apartment upstairs from you. Then there's the extended family:

At the end, everything is completely different, pretty much, sort of, without anyone having to die, or even develop superpowers, all through the transformational magic of painful gossip, constant interruptions, petty insults, stupid mistakes which cause permanent damage, big money worries, big job worries, big love worries, and big kid worries.

Yeah, I know, you think you get enough of that in real life. But what's art for except to make you think that real life is actually pretty entertaining? I mean, you also get surprises and beauty and a satisfying assortment of good and bad jokes. And on top of all that, my man Griffin Dunne as The Straight White Guy: the role he was born to play!

Copyright 1995 Ray Davis