Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mysteria (2011)

Mysteria [(DVD)]. Arramis Films presents a Mysteria LLC production in association with Gruntworks Entertainment and Omnicomm Films; written and directed by Lucius C. Kuert. [Boca Raton, Fla.]: Green Apple Entertainment, 2012. Originally released as a motion picture in 2011. Performers: Martin Landau, Danny Glover, Billy Zane, Michael Rooker, Robert Miano.
Summary: a has-been writer drafts the story of his life, and quite possibly his death. Once celebrated, Aleister Bain is now a whiskey-soaked, washed-up Hollywood screenwriter. Secluded in a sleazy hotel, he's desperately struggling to finish a script, with no success. But in this noir-esque thriller, truth is stranger than fiction and the chain-smoking Bain abruptly finds himself at the center of an investigation into the murder of a prominent politician's wife.

style ***
substance ***

Mysteria wasn’t an easy film for me to warm to, but as I got accustomed to the quirky pacing and flashback/flash forward style I liked it more and more until it became, as they say, compulsively watchable. It's difficult to categorize Mysteria: the closest to a broad brushstroke description would be neo-noir, but more specifically it's a kind of existential retro-thriller parody with lots of B movie overtones, which I suppose is a long-winded way of saying it’s neo-noir. The story takes place in a Los Angeles-like environ in a frozen, late 80s (or thereabouts) gestalt, but it's all a little vague.

To some extent Mysteria has to be catnip to fans of noir, and of course several noir films are specifically mentioned, including The Killing, the choppy, nonlinear style of which Mysteria mimics. Other films that are referenced, either by design or no, include Dead of Night, The Usual Suspects, Memento, and especially Mulholland Drive.

Mysteria is well-cast. The familiar names – Landau, Zane, and Glover – have what amount to little more than extended cameos. But it's Robert Miano's movie all the way and he's perfect for the role: he essays the confused, unkempt, unshaven, needing-a-shower, always late, always-smoking-a-cigarette hero in eminently underplayed style and somehow it works perfectly.

Mysteria pulls out just about every neo-noir trope in the book: along with the murky look and labyrinthine plot we have near-caricatures of the sleazy private eye and especially the down-on-his-luck screenwriter (is there any other kind?). Aleister Bain is a gin-swilling, chain smoking, disheveled, onetime success who lives in a low-class hotel where he can't pay his rent, and of course he has writer's block. A bright spot in his life is the beautiful blonde film student (played by Meadow Williams) who's his biggest fan and a kind of Gal Friday wannabe.

Ultimately the story leaves quite a bit unresolved, to say the least. And I like that. And as some commentators have noted Mysteria was obviously produced on a small budget, thus its mildly amateurish look and feel. But that’s not a problem for me, in fact it’s more of a strength. In any case it’s a fun movie. 

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