Strangers with Candy

(USA 2006)

“Hello, I’m Jerri Blank and — and I’m an alcoholic. I’m also addicted to amphetamines as well as main line narcotics. Some people say I have a sex addiction, but I think all those years of prostitution was just a means to feed my ravenous hunger for heroin. It’s kinda like the chicken or the nugget. The point is, I’m addicted to gambling. Thank you. Oh, and my daddy’s in a coma.”

“Way to go, faglick.”

“I’m thinkin’ about pussy. The science fair’s for queers.”

“I want your spermies!”

“Why doesn’t anybody like me?”

— Jerri Blank


“Everybody! Eyes to the back of the room!”

— Chuck Noblet

Those offended by juvenile potty humor and crass jokes in very poor taste — as many no doubt are offended — well, they best steer clear of Strangers with Candy, a sort of prequel to Amy Sedaris’s twisted cable TV series about depraved boozer, user, and loser Jerri Blank (Sedaris).

Those who dig this shit — like me — well, they’ll love this tawdry little farce.

As in the series, 47 year old former alcoholic, junkie, dealer, petty thief, bisexual hooker Jerri is released from prison after 32 years. She returns home to find her mother in an urn, her father (Dan Hedaya) in a coma, and her new family — “mommie” Sara (Deborah Rush) and 17 year old half-brother Derrick (Joseph Cross) — in complete shock, awe, and horror at the sight of her. They want her out.

When Jerri’s presence induces a physical reaction from her father, his doctor (Ian Holm) posits that she could be key in pulling him out of his coma by taking him back to the days before she left. The good doctor suggests that she move in and do something to make him proud.

Jerri decides to pick up where she left off: she goes back to Flatpoint High, where the faces may have changed but the hassles are just the same, and enrolls. She’s getting the diploma she never earned.

A science fair is the perfect opportunity to make her daddy proud — if only she can muster the wherewithal to participate. New BFFs outcasts Tamela (Maria Thayer) and Megawatti (Carlo Alban) are trying to keep her focused but Jerri’s more concerned with bagging class hottie and star squat thruster Brason (Chris Pratt). So much is riding on winning, not just for her father and her teammates but also shamed “science” teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert). Can Jerri rise to the occasion?

Directed by Paul Dinello, who does double duty as art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck, and written by Dinello, Colbert, Sedaris, and Mitch Rouse, Strangers with Candy is true to its roots. Loaded with silly lines and a surprising number of celebrity cameos, it doesn’t expand on the series; in fact, it plays out like a binge watch of a season. Still, it’s a damn good time — and healthier than crack or unprotected sex. Maybe.

Oh yeah: I dare you not to let “She’s a Fig Neutron” by Gordon Grody and D-Fonz get stuck in your head. Go ‘head. No? Well, then I guess we’ll never know.

With Stephen Colbert, Gregory Hollimon, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Justin Theroux, Delores Duffy, Kristen Johnston, David Pasquesi, David Rakoff, Elisabeth Harnois, Alexis Dziena, Thomas Guiry

Production: Comedy Central Films, Worldwide Pants, Roberts/David Films

Distribution: THINKFilm, Front Row Filmed Entertainment (United Arab Emirates)

97 minutes
Rated R

(DVD purchase) B-

Mulholland Dr.

(USA/France 2001)

“No hay banda, il n’est pas d’orchestra. It is all an illusion.”

—The Magician at Club Silencio

The perfect opener for a retrospective on its director, Mulholland Dr. is an inimitable film that’s really hard to write about. You can look for answers online all you want, but even after seeing it multiple times you still don’t know what happens in it.

Not unless you’re David Lynch. That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, though.

I’ve seen Mulholland Dr. maybe three times, and I’m not sure. I have my theories. Maybe they’re right, maybe not. Who cares? As with any of Lynch’s best films, the draw to Mulholland Dr. is that it’s a puzzle. He makes you work to solve it, or at least try to. He gives you just enough to go on but leaves the whole thing open to interpretation. At points, he gets you so frustrated, you lose patience and you hate him. But you don’t want him to stop. It’s artistic sadomasochism.

What began as a project for television is a mystery mindfuck tailored to the big screen. Dreamlike, hypnotic, and erotic, Mulholland Dr. is visually demanding and aesthetically worth every minute. The premise is deceptively simple: perky and wide-eyed blond actress Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives in Hollywood and bumps into beautiful young brunette Rita (Laura Harring), who can’t remember who she is after a car accident on Mulholland Drive.

As the two set out looking for clues to Rita’s identity, Lynch throws in a bunch of random characters, muddled subplots, and perplexing events. The narrative arc he puts us on comes to an abrupt halt with a small blue box the girls acquire at a night club. This is where Lynch pulls the rug out from under us.

Mulholland Dr. is definitely a love story—one fraught with competition, petty jealousies, one-upmanship, and ultimately murder. Lynch’s trademark sense of humor flickers here and there, but this is still dark stuff. I see Mulholland Dr. as a denouncement of Hollywood and all its ruthless superficiality. It’s a town that eats you up and spits you out.

Motifs of filmmaking, commerce, ego, vision, and of course the color blue stand out. Rebekah Del Rio’s performance of “Llorando” is beautifully forlorn and eerie. I would be remiss not to mention Peter Deming’s cinematography, which makes Mulholland Dr. shine.

Sadly, Lynch hasn’t done a proper film since 2006. He’s the one living filmmaker whose work I miss the most. Mulholland Dr. is a testament to why: like the street where it takes its name, this film is twisting, treacherous, and ultimately breathtaking.

With Jeanne Bates, Robert Forster, Brent Briscoe, Patrick Fischler, Michael Cooke, Bonnie Aarons, Michael J. Anderson, Ann Miller, Angelo Badalamenti, Dan Hedaya, Daniel Rey, Justin Theroux, David Schroeder, Robert Katims, Marcus Graham, Tom Morris, Melissa George, Mark Pellegrino, Vincent Castellanos, Rena Riffel, Michael Des Barres, Lori Heuring, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tad Horino, Missy Crider, Melissa Crider, Tony Longo, Geno Silva, Katharine Towne, Lee Grant, Lafayette Montgomery, Kate Forster, James Karen, Chad Everett, Wayne Grace, Rita Taggart, Michele Hicks, Michael Weatherred, Michael Fairman, Johanna Stein, Richard Green, Conti Condoli, Lyssie Powell, Scott Coffey

Production: Les Films Alain Sarde, Asymmetrical Productions, Babbo Inc., Canal+, The Picture Factory

Distribution: Universal Pictures

147 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) A-

David Lynch: A Complete Retrospective


(USA 1995)

“Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.”

—Cher Horowitz

The first screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series is Clueless, a sort of link between ’80s classics like Valley Girl and Heathers and later films like Election, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and even Fox’s current television series Scream Queens. Adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma, which I haven’t read and probably never will, Clueless transmits the novel’s heroine across time and space from outside London in the early Nineteenth Century to Beverly Hills in the late Twentieth. It’s a cute idea that works—I didn’t know until this screening that the story is 200 years old. As if!

“Hymenally challenged” (i.e., virgin) 16 year old California girl Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is vain, popular, and rich. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s incredibly superficial, even if she means well. Her mother died in “a freak accident during a routine liposuction,” leaving her father, brass-balled Type A litigator Mel (Dan Hedaya), to raise her. When Cher gets a bad report card, she enlists her bestie Dionne (Stacey Dash), a hip black version of herself, to help fix up two nerdy tough-grading teachers, Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan). Her plan is simple: she wants to get them laid so they’ll chill out and be receptive to negotiating her grades. Meanwhile, Cher adopts a new student, “tragically unhip” druggie tomboy Tai (Brittany Murphy) as a pet project: Cher plans to make Tai more like Cher. Duh. Semi-crunchy, socially conscious stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd) does not approve of Cher’s antics.

Written and directed by Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘s Amy Heckerling, Clueless feels like an ’80s throwback, but it’s still a lot of fun. Loaded with great zingers and one-liners, I laughed a lot. It also has a ton of references to ’90s pop culture that clearly date the film (Luke Perry? Snapple? A Cranberries CD?! Egads!). Clueless lacks a ceratin bite that makes “mean girl” flicks so, well, biting. I guess a large part is because Cher and Dionne aren’t really mean girls; they’re actually pretty naive. After all, it takes Cher awhile to figure out that Christian (Justin Walker), the guy she lusts after, is a friend of Dorothy. Hello?

With Julie Brown, Jeremy Sisto, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan

Production: Paramount Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA)

97 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Public Chicago) B-

Chicago International Film Festival

Blood Simple.

(USA 1985)

“If you point a gun at someone, you’d better make sure you shoot him. And if you shoot him, you’d better make sure he’s dead. Because if he isn’t, then he’s gonna get up and try to kill you.”



“I ain’t done nothing funny.”



“Well, ma’am, if I see him, I’ll sure give him the message.”

—Loren Visser

I snagged tickets for the first screening when a theater near me announced a brief summer run of the Coen Brothers’ debut Blood Simple. A sharp 4K digital restoration, I’m not sure whether this is the original version—a few minor edits and cuts have been made over the years, and a song (The Four Tops’ “It’s the Same Old Song,” appropriately enough) was taken out and put back in. It doesn’t matter, though, because whatever changes were made are imperceptible, as least to me. This version is exactly as sordid, labyrinthine, and suspenseful as I remember.

Written by both brothers with Ethan as producer and Joel as director, everything about Blood Simple. is unique and masterful. The story starts out simple: set in rural Texas, bar owner Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife, Abby (Frances McDormand), is having an affair and hires a private investigator, Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), to find out whether he’s right. He is: Visser follows Abby and one of Marty’s employees, Ray (John Getz)—a bartender, of course—to a motel and takes photos of them in flagrante delicto. Soon after, Ray quits his job, provoking Marty to reveal that he’s onto Ray and Abby. Marty asks Visser to kill them, and that’s when things get complicated.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

Visser, you see, is a con man: he takes Marty’s money but doesn’t really kill Ray or Abby—instead, he doctors one of the photos he took at the hotel to look like they’re both dead; he paints on bullet wounds and gives the finished photo to Marty. A brilliant series of events all stemming from misunderstandings—like an episode of a demented Three’s Company—ensues, dragging all four characters into a murderous downward spiral.

Initially shown on the film festival circuit during autumn 1984 before a wide release in January 1985, the Coens’ clever mix of psychology, film noir, and seriously dark humor is unparalleled by anything else from its day—the top three films of 1984 were Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, if that says anything ( Blood Simple. exhibits the Coens’ distinctive penchant for ridiculously well developed and eccentric characters, perfect dialogue, flawless plot layering and pacing, fierce tension that makes you squirm, misanthropy, and an innovative use of clichés—all hallmarks of their work. This film, which launched not just their careers but also those of McDormand (it’s her first gig in a movie) and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, is done so well it succeeds without a big budget. It’s a solid debut that serves as a blueprint of what was to come from these guys.

95 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) A+