Hotel has an all-star cast the like of which you havenít seen since Monte Carlo or Bust.
All your favourites are here - David Schwimmer, Lucy Liu, Burt Reynolds, John Malkovich and Take That percussionist Max Beesley. Sadly, because this is a Mike Figgis film, it also has Julian Sands in it (Just what kind of photographs does Mr Sands have of Mike Figgis? - they must be very potent blackmail material).
Mike Figgis has committed himself to creating more avant garde and experimental work since he had a hit with Leaving Las Vegas - a film with two powerful central performances, marred only by a score by Sting, oh, and of course, an appearance by Julian Sands. It may appear peculiar that Figgis has spurned the mainstream when he must have been offered all manner of big budget features since Leaving Las Vegas, but he has already been stung by the Hollywood system.
Figgisís Richard Gere vehicle Mr Jones was considerably mangled by the studio. It appears that they wanted 'more manic and less depressive' in this tale of manic depression, so he has gone his own low-budget way since. At least if his films are bad itís all his fault. Nevertheless, it takes a man with strong vision to squat around the world of lo/no budget filmmaking and he clearly has that, even if it is frequently flawed.
Timecode (2000) is Figgisís most successful experiment, a 90 minute film, shot in real time , in which the action is separated into four frames. Sometimes these frames take us to four separate locations, sometimes the characters cross over and we are given four different perspectives of the same situation. It is a tricksy and impressive achievement, but also possesses an emotional kick and some very strong performances, above and beyond that, Julian Sands isn't even annoying in it.
Hotel is a less successful experiment, it has some memorable scenes but verges too frequently towards art school short film territory. The film is shot in Dogme style, entirely on video, and heavily improvised by an A, B and C list cast. A group of actors have been brought together to film the Duchess of Malfi in Venice; their director is a monstrous egotist (Rhys Ifans) and from the outset there is discontent as people find they have no lines and more nude scenes than they would wish for. On top of that, the Hotel they are staying appears to be a front for some vampiric cannibals who view their guests as fresh meat dinners.
Add to that the twisted sex games, both physical and mental, and clearly there should be more fun here than would normally be allowed in a dogme film, unfortunately, somewhere along the line the film fails to live up to its initial promise.
John Malkovichís prologue cameo (most of the actorsí roles are cameos, it is the only way you could fit so many names in and also get them to agree to appear for nothing) is a haunting set up. He checks into the hotel and soon finds himself locked behind bars, enjoying a meal with the cannibal staff. Despite the fact that he is incarcerated and human legs are clearly hanging in front of him, Malkovich enjoys a relaxed conversation with his captors, his only worry being the fat content of the anti-pasti he is being offered.
Rhys Ifans then roars into the film with a manic intensity, tearing into his actors and producer (David Schwimmer), unfortunately. Half way through he is shot with a mysterious bullet that zooms up and down his spine, leaving him completely paralysed. With his ferocity removed, the film seems to lose its momentum, and we are left with a selection of confused scenes, dream images (always good to see Jeremy Hardy in his best pyjamas) and an unsatisfactory ending.
Despite this, there are many moments to savour - Salma Hayek is highly entertaining as the manic maker of a documentary on the film within the film, and demonstrates the negative sides of scat singing (I am not sure what the positive sides are, ask Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth); the lengthy scene where the freshly shot Rhys Ifans is pestered by his actors is a charming to display of egos; the haunting gloomy scenes of the shiney-eyed cannibal vampires and there is some vicious dialogue surely plucked from the actorsí memories of vile filmmaking experiences.
On the downside, some scenes are plain silly - in one particularly tiresome scene we see a long conference table, a money man is spouting on the phone, in walks a girl, she pours out two champagne glasses of milk, top off, breast dipped into milk etc - itís moments like these, where a possible po-faced artiness creeps in, that the film loses its edge. On the other hand, Julian Sands is again slightly less annoying than usual as he takes tours around Venice drifting into anecdotes about dear Dirk Bogarde.
Many people seem to see this film as a load of pretentious garbage, others have been led to it by the promise of nudity and cannibals and have ended up punch drunk and confused (it certainly isn't very much like Slave of the cannibal God with Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress), but if you approach this as an experiment rather than a fully fledged feature film there are things here to be enjoyed. Hopefully Figgisís next dogme feature will be about zombies in space, I think Julian Sands would be excellent in that.