The Beautiful People that populate Bret Easton Ellis' novels and the movies made from them ( Less Than Zero, American Psycho, The Rules of Attraction and, now, The Informer, pictured ) are some of the most vapid, immoral, hedonistic, narcissistic and sick-at-the-soul folks one would ever hope to encounter. Bored, icy, sexually ambiguous, physically gorgeous and emotionally detached, Ellis' people often seem nothing more than exquisite, empty facades as they tool around Los Angeles in their fancy sportscars dressed to the nines, lounge endlessly poolside or visit the latest nightspot during the Me Decade ( Ellis' urban landscape and time period of choice ) . Few of his characters have any redeeming qualities, some are outright psychopaths and it's no surprise that they're an acquired taste but I love 'em. More than that,the somnambulant bunch that populate The Informers, the latest Ellis novel to hit the screen--his most venal yet--are just about my favorites ( Christian Bale as the serial killer in American Psycho is still unbeatable ) .
The movie is set in Ellisland, a.k.a. Los Angeles 1983. ( The soundtrack, costumes and hair alone are worth the price of admission. ) It follows a group of disparate characters"those on the highest rungs of the ladder ( Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Winona Ryder, Chris Isaak and a Rat Pack's worth of new Hollywood trash ) to those scrambling down below ( Brad Renfro, in his last role, and Mickey Rourke ) in a revolving series of stories a la Short Cuts. ( You can't make it in this town unless you're willing to do some awful things, and I'm willing, ) Renfro, an anxiety-stricken doorman, tells one of his impossibly gorgeous tenants, Graham ( Jon Foster ) , the son of a studio executive ( Thornton ) . That's more or less the message and the plot of this stylish, glacial film"and it helps explain why these rotten folks who can't enjoy all they've been given are such fun to watch. They're so awful that their audacious selfishness becomes funny, so screwed up in spite of all their wealth the audience gets to feel superior. And let's not forget the voyeuristic pleasures to be had in gazing upon such a spectacular group of beauties from afar.
The story is narrated by Graham, whose mother ( Basinger ) is sleeping with the same hustler/drug dealer/music-video director that he is. But then, so is his blonde-bombshell girlfriend Christie ( Amber Heard ) , who assures him after they can't even be bothered to finish a love-making session ( scored to Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days" ) that the fact they're both sleeping with Martin ( Austin Nichols ) is no big deal. The film alternates between Graham and his pleasure-seeking friends; an attempted marital reconciliation between Thornton and Basinger ( though Thornton still has a thing for Winona Ryder as a newscaster ) ; a trip to Hawaii by one of the golden lads with his wealthy, horndog of a father ( Isaak ) ; and the anxious doorman ( Renfro ) and his lowlife father ( Rourke ) , who kidnaps a child off the street, parking him at Renfro's apartment.
There's also a British rock star, Bryan Metro ( Mel Radio ) , lead singer of The Informers, a goth-rock New Wave band ( think Bauhaus and The Cult ) whose concert is one of the few things that momentarily excites the other characters. Bryan"who can't keep away from drugs, vodka and underage girls and boys"is such a mess that he can't even be bothered to stay onstage through the opening number of his concert.
Though the characters have trysts of many different sexual variations and with multiple partners, pleasure proves to be elusive. Christie complains to Graham about a bruise on her arm and her foot, and AIDS"the silent spectator standing in the background, waiting to emerge from the shadows"suddenly comes front and center. The movie turns into a daisy chain of death, which the film's ending emphasizes. Alone on the beach under a suddenly mottled gray sky, Christie"now dying, her once-beautiful body riddled with Kaposi Sarcoma lesions"lies on a beach towel in her bikini refusing to see a doctor, insisting that all she needs is a little sun to get well. "There's no more sun," Graham tells the dying girl as the cold sets in, and the camera pulls back revealing the bleak expanse as far as the eye can see. A crack has formed in the ceiling of the pleasuredome and, in its conclusion, The Informers takes on the air of ancient, decadent Rome just before the fall. It's a chilling end to a chilling, brutal film that is a lot more than the sum of its one-dimensional parts would suggest.
"Anvil! The Story of Anvil, opening Friday, April 24, at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport, is Sacha Gervasi's delightful documentarian look at a little-known Canadian metal band that briefly tasted glory in the early "80s and have since tenaciously tried to recapture it. Fronted by best friends Robb Reiner and Steve "Lips" Kudlow, their story is an inspiration to any struggling musician who refuses to let age or economic circumstances subvert their dreams of musical glory. The friendship of the two men, the disappointments and tantalizing moments they share and the promise of finally achieving glory is extraordinarily entertaining to witness. The movie's a real-life Spinal Tap"with talent and heart. Anvil the band plays at the Cabaret Metro April 22 and will appear at the Music Box on opening weekend. www.musicboxtheatre.com
"Queer Cinema 101"the five-week LGBT film series hosted by local gay film critics"continues Monday, April 27, with the 1968 lesbian camp classic The Killing of Sister George. The film was directed by Robert Aldrich, who also helmed gay favorites What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. The screening, hosted by Gay Chicago film critic Charlie Shoquist, will be followed by a Q&A with audience members. The series is being partly sponsored by Sidetrack and by www.HannahFree.com, and there will be a showing of the trailer for the forthcoming lesbian-themed film Hannah Free starring Sharon Gless. The screening is at 7 p.m. at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted, in the Hoover-Leppen Theatre. Seating is on a first-come, first-seated basis. A $5 suggested donation is requested. Visit www.centeronhalsted.org or 773-472-6469, ext. 245.
Check out my archived reviews at www.windycitytimes.com or www.knightatthemovies.com . Readers can leave feedback at the latter Web site.