No possession is sacred. No secret is safe.
Have you heard of it? Neither had I, until it showed up in my mailbox. New Rose Hotel is a strange, confusing concoction that undoubtedly will leave no lasting impression.
New Rose Hotel tells the story of two men, Fox and “X” (Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe) involved in industrial espionage (apparently the get-rich-quick scheme of whenever this movie is set). Their specialty is ensuring the defection of research scientists from one Japanese mega-corporation to another. Their latest target is Hiroshi, a geneticist who apparently is next to God himself (or herself, depending on your point of view) in tinkering with nature. Fox is convinced that a corporation will pay the men $100 million if they “secure” Hiroshi’s services. Fox and X pay a call girl, Sandii (Asia Argento), $1 million to seduce Hiroshi away from his lucrative job and his ball-and-chain wife. During their “training sessions” (consisting of stripping, skinny-dipping, and sex), Sandii and X fall “in love.”
That’s the only parts of the plot that were completely clear. And that’s about the first fifteen or twenty minutes. The rest of the movie is a mélange of ambiguous plot revelations and writhing naked flesh. Reviewing anecdote: the only time I had to examine this movie was an afternoon while my wife was working on her college homework. So, I plugged in my monitor headphones and proceeded to watch the movie. About fifteen minutes from the end of the movie, she moved from the kitchen into the living room to work at the computer. As she watched the television sans sound, she thought I was watching a porn movie, intercut with shots of Willem Dafoe fondling (and fondling himself with) a handgun. When the movie was over, I was not sure how the plot resolved itself. Walken’s character jumps from a balcony for no apparent reason. There’s some sort of a double-cross, and people die at a research facility, but it’s never really spelled out just what happened. It’s as if the director, Abel Ferrara, figured that the plot wasn’t important as long as the audience would see generous quantities of Asia Argento’s ample form.
Lest you think I have a vendetta against New Rose Hotel, I was actually looking forward to watching it. Christopher Walken is one of my favorite character actors. I think he first came to my attention as Michelle Pfeiffer’s creepy boss in Batman Returns. Since then I have thoroughly enjoyed his performances (brief as they may be) in Pulp Fiction, True Romance, and Annie Hall (“Can I confess something? I tell you this as an artist, I think you’ll understand.” He then goes on to describe a dream of his own fiery death in a car wreck). I’m not a big fan of Willem Dafoe. He looks too much like Mick Jagger on a really bad day. I have only seen him in Platoon and Clear And Present Danger, but his affiliation with dreck like Speed 2 and Body of Evidence keeps me from thinking of him as a good actor. As the producer’s name flashed through the credits, it rang a bell. Edward R. Pressman has been responsible for bombs like Legionnaire and Street Fighter, but he has produced several good movies like Reversal Of Fortune and The Crow. Last but not least on the list of the movie’s merits, it is based on a short story by William Gibson. Gibson all but invented the cyberpunk subgenre, and is also responsible for writing Johnny Mnemonic.
So, what went wrong? Simple: not enough attention to the plot, to characterization, to anything that makes a movie compelling and interesting other than naked flesh. This is otherwise known as The Fine Line Between Cinema And Porn. It’s no wonder it only screened at an obscure film festival.
What’s the DVD like? I’ll list the positives here, but save the negatives for the rebuttal witness. For a release from a small label, there is a considerable array of extras. The menus are nicely designed and intuitive. The scene access menu has a film clip for each of the 24 chapters. Screenwriter Christ Zois supplies a commentary track. Biographies are provided for the lead actors, the supporting actors, the director, the screenwriter, and William Gibson. It’s nice to see that if a studio is going to provide bios, they do it for more that two people (are you listening, Warner Brothers?). A ten-picture photo gallery, a trivia game, the theatrical trailer, and the trailers for seven other Sterling Home Entertainment DVD releases round out the extras.
I debated for some time if I should write a review of New Rose Hotel. If I was going to write a review, I could not be anything less than truthful about the quality of the movie or of the disc. Sterling is a small company, and the movies they release do not receive much press. Call it sympathy, call it rooting for the underdog, but I didn’t want to contribute negative press to sully their small reputation. Besides, who was going to be looking for a review anyway? The movie made a paltry $20,416 at the U.S. box office. The Internet Movie Database listed only three other reviews. The only positive thing that could be said was that Christopher Walken was in it. IMBD’s reader’s poll gave it a 4.9 with only 104 votes.
Here’s my laundry list of complaints with the disc. The movie is presented in a 1.85:1 non-anamorphic transfer. It has surpassed The Loss of Sexual Innocence as the worst DVD transfer I have ever seen. It was like watching my old VCR that hasn’t been cleaned in two years. It was pixelated, washed out, the picture looked flat, dark scenes were excessively noisy (and just about the entire movie was dark scenes), and the print had perpetual dirt and scratches. The packaging identifies the audio tracks as Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0. My player detected the surround track as mere stereo. Only Spanish subtitles are provided. I consider this a grave offense, for I quite often turn on the subtitles to catch dialogue that is muddled, like most of the conversations in New Rose Hotel. To quote The Fifth Element, “I only speak two languages: English and bad English.” The panoply of extras confirms that quality is better than quantity.
Lastly, I felt I had been duped by the movie’s packaging. Imagine that you walk into your DVD retailer of choice. While you are perusing their selection, you come across a movie you haven’t heard of. Its black-and-blue color scheme and images of computer code and printed circuit boards make it look like something akin to The Matrix. The marketing blurb promises: “Welcome to a brave new world. From acclaimed writer William Gibson comes an exotic cyberpunk fantasy where technology is the ultimate game and nobody plays by the rules.” Wow, sounds pretty exciting, huh? It concludes, “Be prepared for a riveting vision of a frightening future, where global corporations control the world and high stakes industrial espionage is where the action is.” There’s nothing vaguely cyberpunk about New Rose Hotel, other than fake handheld computers with cheesy graphics. There’s nothing “riveting” or “frightening” about the world the movie fails to portray. There’s no sense that corporations control the world, other than by showing high-rise office buildings. There is zero action in the movie. The only action is hinted at in a taped phone conversation. What are we left with? Walken and Dafoe talking, and talking, and ogling naked women, then talking some more.
The only thing on this disc that stuck with me ten minutes after watching the movie was the trailer for Space Truckers. It had a background score that sounded very, very familiar. The next day I remembered it was in the trailer for Alien Resurrection. There. Movie forgotten.
With apologies to Sterling Home Entertainment, I cannot recommend New Rose Hotel to anyone for either purchase or rental.