Day: April 6, 2017

True Identity – The People Under The Stairs – tape 1562

Sticking with the movies for now, here’s a couple of quite different films.

First, True Identity. This is, apparently, a film which came out of a sketch Lenny Henry did for his concert movie Live and Unleashed where he does an impression of Steve Martin, with full makeup.

Someone in Hollywood thought “Hey, if that dude can pretend to be white for a sketch, he could pretend to be white for a whole movie” and so True Identity was born.

I’m not really exaggerating either.

I’m not complaining, either. Who cares what corporate thinking gets a star vehicle for a black comedian from Dudley, directed by a young black director with only a couple of previous credits.

Let’s see if it’s any good. I have very little recollection of watching it before, although I’m fairly sure I did.

It opens with JT Walshe running a big police operation to catch a bad guy, which goes rather south when the bad guy’s yacht blows up with him on it.

Cut to Five Years later.

Lenny Henry is Miles Pope, and is rehearsing, and the (white) director is telling him he’s not being ‘black enough’. “Feel your roots” he says. “Get down with your bad self.”

His friend is played by the director of the movie, Charles Lane. He does prosthetics for low budget movies.

His agent is Michael McKean. He tells him he has a job in Florida. “Something about a raisin?” “A Raisin in the Sun? The seminal black play.”

He’s a bit disappointed when he gets there.

But on the way back, he manages to wangle an upgrade to first class on his flight home, and ends up sitting next to Frank Langella.

Langella is Leland Carver, the man who’s sponsoring a Shakespeare festival. Miles really wants a shot at auditioning for Othello.

But things take a turn when the plane is engulfed in severe turbulence. Everyone thinks the plane is going to crash, and is in a confessional mood, so Carver tells Miles that he’s actually the presumed dead mobster Frankie Lucino from the opening.

So when the pilot regains control, and the plane emerges from the turbulence, he probably regrets it.

Miles is chased throught he airport by Carver’s goon (Andreas Katsulas) but he gets away.

After a hitman tries to shoot him, he realises he has to hide, so his friend disguises him as a white man.

After the hitman returns to his apartment, and Miles manages to electrocute him on his water bed, Katsulas mistakes him for the hitman. The plot only gets more complicated.

He has to persuade Katsulas that he has killed himself, so they once again use Lane’s skills in makeup to make a convincing crime scene.

But then, having presumably persuaded Carver that he’s dead, he gets a chance to audition for Othello and can’t resist it. Although it’s only the understudy, as the lead is being played by James Earl Jones.

Then, in another incredible twist, Jones is hospitalised by someone working for Carver to flush out Miles and get him onstage, leading to a climax which lets us see Lenny Henry do his Othello more than 20 years before he’d play the part on the London stage for real.

The film even ends with Miles and his girlfriend eschewing a flight for a night train, and ends with a shot of the train entering a tunnel. I hope that’s a homage to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest.

Next, a change of pace. It’s Wes Craven’s The People Under The Stairs. What a strange film this is. Brandon Adams plays a young boy with a sick mother, who are about to be evicted from their home by their landlords who want to redevelop the building.

Ving Rhames plays their friend, who persuades Adams to help him break into the landlord’s house, because he believes they have a cache of gold in the house.

But the landlords are insane. Everett McGill and Wendy Robie play the pair, who have their house locked up tight, keep their daughter (or is she?) a prisoner, and all unwanted visitors to the house seem to go missing.

So when Adams and Rhames try to break in, things go completely bonkers. There are people living in the walls of the house, in fear of McGill, who is wont to dress up in a full gimp costume and go hunting them.

The tone veers from a twisted, Tim Burton-ish feel to a full-on cannibal horror as, in one scene, McGill disembowels Rhames’ dead body, tossing scraps at the people behind the walls. And then, minutes later, Adams is punching McGill in the balls to rescue the daughter Alice (A J Langer).

Adams escapes, with a few of the gold coins from the house, and is told by a family friend that the McGill and Robie are brother and sister.

Adams goes back to rescue Alice, and the film ends with some community justice. It’s hard not to see this as a metaphor for Trump’s America, but that seems to be true of almost everything I watch these days.

This is one of the strangest films I’ve seen for a while. Brandon Adams’ central performance is great for such a young performer, and AJ Langer is also good as Alice. McGill and Robie are clearly having a ball in their roles, but where they might have drifted too far into campery, they manage to remain both over the top and genuinely disturbing. But I’m not surprised it wasn’t a big hit, given the massive shifts in tone it adopts.

 

After this, the recording continues for a while with the film Why Me? and ends about 40 minutes into it.

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