Wednesday, August 13, 2014


It's east to see why Halle Berry would be attracted to the role of Frankie Murdoch in Frankie & Alice. Frankie is a 1970s go-go dancer who happens to suffer from a multiple personality disorder. She suffers from blackouts, and occasionally speaks in different voices, including a cheesy Southern accent. She  even talks like a liddle biddy child at one point. 

Actresses like these sorts of roles. Off the top of my head I think of Sally Field in Sybil, and Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve.  There was also the episode of Gilligan's Island where Mary Ann thought she was Ginger. Berry, who served as a producer on this one, probably thought she'd fund a great a chance to show her acting chops. She deserves credit for making the effort, but this limp rag of a movie doesn't pay off.

Sure, it's fun to see Berry dancing in a cage, and some of the early scenes look like we might be heading into something like Showgirls. But rather than aiming for a so bad it's good vibe, Frankie & Alice takes itself seriously.

Berry/Frankie is soon under the care of a kindly doctor (Stellan Skarsgard) who wants to understand her condition.  We see her dancing in the psycho ward, and having flashbacks to her childhood. We also get a lot of scenes where Berry/Frankie stares at her reflection with a dazed look in her eye. It's all allegedly based on a true story, but I'll bet the real Frankie Murdoch couldn't sit through this.

The movie was made in 2010 but only now has become available on the DVD VOD circuit.  I wish it had been made in the 1970s, with Pam Grier in the lead role, with a funkier soundtrack.  Therapy? Nah, just give Grier a machine gun and let her take care of her problems the right way.

James Franco and Emma Roberts in Palo Alto.I grew so bored watching Gia Coppola's Palo Alto, a story about bored teens in Palo Alto, that I started thinking back to an incident from my own high school years. The movie weaves a couple of plots together, including one where a soccer coach played by James Franco falls in love with one of his female players, played by Emma Roberts. This jarred my memory and I started thinking back to my 10th grade biology teacher,  "Buffalo Bob" Theodore, and a girl named Lisa McClure.

Buffalo Bob, who had once weighed 300 pounds, arrived one September weighing a svelte 150. He'd also stopped smoking, and had traded in his horn-rimmed glasses for contacts. I think he was 38 or so. Lisa McClure was 16, blond, vapid as a stump.  Bob Theodore loved her. By our senior year we knew they were a couple.  She was often seen outside his office, trying to look inconspicuous.

It was real, too. Just a few months after we graduated, we learned that teacher and student were getting married. I don't know what happened to them. But I always wondered how they did it. How did they go about their courtship? Did they meet at his place? In Palo Alto, Franco asks girls from the soccer team to babysit for him. He's a single dad. He goes on dates, then he comes home and tells his babysitters how bored he is. "I love you," he finally says to Emma Roberts. He acts like he's helpless without her. Did Buffalo Bob play the same card with Lisa McClure?

The kids in Palo Alto swear a lot,  get high,  deface public property, and feel antsy about having to grow up someday. There doesn't appear to be any social hierarchy, no class differences. The girls play soccer  and talk dirty, while the boys are all unkempt and and take art classes. Sex is pretty easy, but no one seems to enjoy it. I guess the movie's general sense of aimlessness is supposed to say something about modern life, but the message is buried under a lot of murk. 

I've liked Franco since his days on the short lived TV series, Freaks and Geeks. Palo Alto is from a collection of short stories written by Franco, and at times it seems he was trying to write an episode of Freaks and Geeks. Perhaps while on prozac. As for Gia Coppola, she's a competent director but too impressed with ennui.

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