Kim Newman on... Hotel

RT Obscura 16: Star-Studded Vampire Hijinks from Mike Figgis

by | May 8, 2008 | Comments

RT Obscura with Kim Newman

RT Obscura, the exclusive column by renowned critic Kim Newman, sees the writer plumbing the depths of the RT archive in search of some forgotten gems. In his 16th column, Kim revisits Mike Figgis’ star-studded film-within-a-film vampire flick Hotel.

Shot fast and cheap in Venice in 2001, Hotel is even looser than director Mike Figgis‘s earlier Timecode. That had to keep four images in some sort of sync and thus could ill-afford sloppiness, but this improvised effort (Figgis’s background is in jazz, which says a lot) is lopsided, wilfully strange, not always coherent and feels as if lost hours of ‘deleted scenes’ might explain things.

The 24, mostly-excellent ‘web shorts’ included as an extra on the DVD don’t actually help with the story, but at least give actors who barely register in the actual film a shot at getting a laugh. They don’t seem to be online as of this writing, which is a shame. Despite everything, Hotel is a fun watch, has a freewheeling feel, is full of good jokes, and stretches to unusual creepy or erotic sequences. Even viewers who reject it out of hand (and there will be a lot) will find some scenes sticking in the memory — though I’d worry about anyone who tries to copy the kinkier stuff.

Hotel

In the opening, guest Omar Johnson (John Malkovich) joins the staff of the Hungaro Hotel in Venice in a meal, which he partakes in from behind bars in a basement. The fare on offer turns out to be prosciutto made from human flesh. It seems the manager (Danny Huston) and his observant, odd staff — not to mention a huffy tour guide (Julian Sands) — are some variety of vampire, and they lurk in the background or around the margins, waiting for the unwary to wander into their clutches (Figgis consigns several of his most loathesome characters to their larder).

The guests are filmmakers working on a loopy-sounding Dogme version of John Webster‘s Jacobean The Duchess of Malfi. The nearly covert plot involves an assassination attempt which puts flamboyantly difficult director Trent Stoken (Rhys Ifans) in a coma so that sneaky producer Jonathan Danderfine (David Schwimmer) has to take over the film, a process which involves getting close to Stoken’s girlfriend-star Naomi (Saffron Burrows).

Hotel

We get a few scenes from Malfi, as adapted by Heathcote Williams (who also plays Boscola), and glimpse what Burrows (“I am Duchess of Malfi still”), Mark Strong and other talents could make of the text; the play is so grotesquely violent and demented there has to date been no serious attempt to film it. There are sly send-ups of the Dogme film movement (“it means it will be badly-lit”), though the film-within-a-film scenes are actually slicker than the surrounding stuff. Salma Hayek shows up as the monstrous ‘Charlee Boux’, a catty cable TV documentary host who comes on like a feral version of the Geraldine Chaplin character from Nashville and enjoyably gets into a hissing fight with a rival (Lucy Liu) which echoes the animal snarling director and producer do at each other. Ifans is a lively, powerful, funny presence as a director who might be either a genius or a total idiot, and the film’s energy level sags notably when he’s in a coma.

There’s an entertaining if queasy emphasis on weird sex — with Stefania Rocca as a red-dressed call girl who dips her breasts in champagne glasses of milk for the benefit of a crass movie financier (George DiCenzo), quarter-of-the-screen vampire lesbian business, a peculiar sequence from Malfi in which Burrows takes the male role in a doggystyle sex scene before giving birth to twin baby dolls and Trent’s return from coma when his nurse (Chiara Mastroianni) uses him as a ceremonial sex aid.

RT Obscura with Kim Newman

Given that this is a movie which trades a lot on connections, note how many of the cast have been in vampire movies (admittedly, some made after Hotel): Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire), Huston (30 Days of Night), Sands (Tale of a Vampire), Rocca (a 2002 made-for-TV Dracula), Liu (Rise), Hayek (From Dusk Till Dawn), Burrows (Perfect Creature); then again, maybe there are so many vampire movies around that any large-cast film will have a simialr record.

Also floating about are Valeria Golino as an actress who complains all her lines have been cut but she still has two nude scenes, Jason Isaacs as an Aussie star who quits when he gets a Ridley Scott film (guess who this is a jab at?), Burt Reynolds (!) as the spokesman for a flamenco troupe (if he really improvised his terrific, double-edged big speech, we’ll have to reassess him as a writer), Valentina Cervi as a maid and Alexandra Staden (who played Modesty Blaise in the direct-to-DVD My Name is Modesty) as a p.a. (barely visible in the film, but very funny in two of the ‘web-based shorts’ inclduing a wonderfully sustained phone routine about ordering drugs for the wrap party).

Hotel

If Timecode was one movie occupying four equal screens, Hotel (which uses the Timecode splitscreen for several sequences) is more like four films which occupy the same screen — a Player-ish filmbiz comedy, that Dogme Duchess, the vampire picture and a sex/assassination conspiracy thriller. Perhaps predictably, this took a critical pasting; though, frankly, it’s got far more going for it than the ‘proper’ movie (Cold Creek Manor) Figgis made at about the same time.

Like Michael Winterbottom, Takashi Miike, Fassbinder or even Jesus Franco, Figgis is so prolific that he can afford to turn out experimental movies between more mainstream efforts, and seems to be more interested in stretching himself and playing with new toys (he designed his own camera rig for this) than turning out a consistent oeuvre. Like all of the above cited directors, he takes the risk of dashing off an indulgent exercise which befuddles more than it delights. And it is a risk — Alex Cox did one of those larks, Straight to Hell, and self-destructed a promising career.

Hotel

Though it scores high on the “oh come on, now” meter, there are things in Hotel that repay repeat visits. And don’t miss the shorts — if only to see Danny Huston and Saffron Burrows doing what amounts to a Monty Python routine about the hotel bell and a marvelous standalone scene in which the producer has to bail his director and an actor out of an Italian jail before the show can go on.

Tag Cloud

Apple what to watch spy thriller blaxploitation Amazon Studios The Academy Comedy Rom-Com Creative Arts Emmys VICE DC Universe twilight ghosts sports slashers Quiz cinemax docudrama Shondaland Super Bowl Logo Television Academy movies Fox Searchlight OneApp Comedy Central adventure Warner Bros. Rock TV Marvel Studios spain canceled TV shows Awards game show Anna Paquin Cannes cats Funimation Film Festival AMC doctor who news El Rey spanish facebook streaming Pet Sematary foreign The Purge ESPN WGN Fox News 45 HBO Max joker Food Network Amazon GIFs 21st Century Fox disaster Winter TV Reality USA cars Song of Ice and Fire vampires Opinion Shudder children's TV Comic Book independent Hear Us Out canceled Podcast Peacock criterion SDCC spider-man Summer New York Comic Con NBC FX on Hulu venice Action a nightmare on elm street revenge quibi technology Academy Awards Superheroes supernatural anthology Nominations dogs unscripted dragons History Binge Guide fast and furious TruTV BBC One television child's play politics Awards Tour adaptation Disney Channel Sci-Fi Red Carpet chucky Britbox Disney+ Disney Plus Photos cancelled television Lifetime Christmas movies CNN video series Biopics OWN TV renewals political drama 007 football diversity Sundance TV Kids & Family Turner Classic Movies Syfy scorecard movie WarnerMedia elevated horror Country E! Bravo Heroines Endgame TV Land best jamie lee curtis Tumblr Drama Spectrum Originals historical drama crime thriller IFC Films DC Comics comics NYCC Fantasy TCM talk show Netflix Christmas movies Travel Channel rotten movies we love emmy awards Rocketman period drama science fiction Disney Plus Christmas Captain marvel classics comedies spanish language scary movies anime nfl hollywood TLC Box Office sequel Set visit singing competition directors 24 frames sequels Teen dramedy MCU TIFF festival Apple TV Plus Video Games The CW discovery Disney streaming service critics RT History reviews space Sony Pictures cops Holidays 2020 kids travel YA renewed TV shows Musicals franchise YouTube Red halloween Sundance Now Martial Arts universal monsters war Marathons nbcuniversal documentaries LGBTQ 2017 American Society of Cinematographers 72 Emmy Awards Masterpiece Paramount Network stand-up comedy LGBT IFC Avengers south america YouTube A24 Ellie Kemper casting A&E Emmy Nominations zombies breaking bad Walt Disney Pictures President Superheroe RT21 Election Apple TV+ Acorn TV batman superhero teaser cartoon Spike Mindy Kaling Thanksgiving werewolf zombie ABC Musical Mary poppins 71st Emmy Awards Netflix Nat Geo Writers Guild of America See It Skip It Brie Larson Crackle 4/20 screen actors guild Countdown GoT cults serial killer ratings Arrowverse documentary psychological thriller indie stoner National Geographic VH1 PaleyFest green book Character Guide satire mockumentary latino Lionsgate CBS All Access Spring TV BBC Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt comic parents Freeform BET Awards Trailer Mary Tyler Moore TCA Winter 2020 sitcom MTV Mystery halloween tv Reality Competition award winner Best and Worst Mudbound richard e. Grant Adult Swim 2018 thriller Calendar Pirates Certified Fresh CBS mission: impossible zero dark thirty Cartoon Network animated biography comiccon 20th Century Fox social media Hallmark Christmas movies Trophy Talk Schedule Chernobyl TCA Awards HBO Go Western cancelled TV series spinoff Elton John DGA Family Paramount GLAAD PBS Pop die hard Amazon Prime Video game of thrones BAFTA finale CMT Hallmark Epix festivals ITV witnail Vudu 2019 Black Mirror Grammys Animation Starz psycho Music First Reviews worst reboot Discovery Channel Stephen King Infographic miniseries Pixar Marvel Television remakes Television Critics Association Fall TV BBC America FOX Tubi medical drama E3 Universal theme song TCA 2017 DirecTV Black History Month Turner FXX PlayStation Marvel Star Wars cancelled Nickelodeon CW Seed TBS Winners Sundance USA Network composers Emmys HBO Extras Valentine's Day Women's History Month Disney video on demand mutant San Diego Comic-Con binge justice league cancelled TV shows crime drama Horror all-time SundanceTV X-Men FX versus Oscars Hulu Year in Review VOD ABC Family Toys sag awards Pride Month TCA Interview dceu transformers italian based on movie Classic Film robots asian-american BET Ghostbusters aliens The Walking Dead Rocky Chilling Adventures of Sabrina japanese hist Sneak Peek dark concert dc screenings archives Esquire laika Amazon Prime boxoffice MSNBC golden globes Cosplay Tomatazos Crunchyroll YouTube Premium rotten Lifetime 2015 crime The Arrangement name the review Film films Ovation free movies toronto Comics on TV Polls and Games french Baby Yoda police drama Holiday tv talk stop motion Lucasfilm indiana jones romantic comedy crossover natural history Showtime strong female leads Trivia TNT Pop TV harry potter christmas movies blockbuster true crime Mary Poppins Returns Watching Series worst movies toy story hispanic 2016 nature obituary book romance Dark Horse Comics cooking Columbia Pictures Premiere Dates DC streaming service First Look Tarantino SXSW APB Star Trek The Witch