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The Million Dollar Hotel follows the supposed murder of Izzy Goldkiss. FBI Agent Skinner is sent into investigate the crime, and to weed out the killer. When he reaches the 'hotel', he comes across many of the forgotten types of people living in the city. You have Geronimo, who is a self proclaimed Native American artist. Dixie, played with great gusto by Peter Stormare, as the 'fifth' Beetle that is still waiting for his royalty payments, as well as recognition. Eloise, who is the neighborhood 'whore'. And then there is Tom-Tom, played by Jeremy Davies. He's the center of the story, being that he's the 'village idiot' of the bunch, and has the trust of everyone in the Hotel. Agent Skinner has a few days to find out who the killer is, while the residents of the hotel devise a scheme to sell off Izzy's fabled 'Tar Paintings'. Written by
Mel Gibson was so ashamed of the film that he fought to prevent it from being released to theatres in the U.S. See more »
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Wow, after I jumped it occurred to me, life is perfect, life is the best. It's full of magic, beauty, opportunity, and television, and surprises, lots of surprises, yeah. And then there's that stuff that everybody longs for, but they only real feel when it's gone. All that just kinda hit me. I guess you don't really see it all clearly when you're - ya know - alive.
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The Million Dollar Hotel is not for passive watching where you are led by the hand through the familiar landscape and characters of a mystery movie. Nor are you given musical cues to know how to feel in a particular instance. You have to work off your senses and intellect to perceive it, and to be patient if it takes you in a direction opposite to your wildest guesses.
It can even get irritating - as you are about to blame the movie for having no spine - or in truth, for lacking, entirely, conventional twists and turns. It throws you off as you are figuring out whether to perceive it as a film of crime or suicide, romance or a freak house, comedy, mockery or living poetry. Like life, this film has it all.
Yet in a sense, the movie is transparent in foreshadowing its three major themes and their resolution - coming from its very heartbeat, the lyrics co-written and performed mostly by Bono. In the opening scene, a young man Tom Tom hurls himself from the roof of a dreary flophouse - "The Million Dollar Hotel" in downtown Los Angeles - committing suicide with a strange joyfulness. The mystery of his exuberance in this moment becomes the driving question of the film as we then review the last two weeks of his life. But in the moment itself, Bono's song which accompanies Tom Tom's rush to the brink contains three revealing verses:
`I have a lover... She shows me colors where there's none to see Gives me hope when I can't believe...'
`I have a brother... I spend my whole time running He spends his running after me... But for the first time I feel love.'
`My father is a rich man... He said: I have many mansions And there are many rooms to see. But I left by the back door And I threw away the key.'
Love, brotherhood and father-son relationships so outlined in the song are treated here entirely unconventionally. And the breakdown of formal conventions simply occurs with a `surprising' shift in accents, or values - when love is more important than mystery solving, and a cop treats his suspect as his brother...
In the world of this movie, the love of a slightly odd boy towards a prostitute, awkward at first, ends up transcending death. And so does the brotherhood binding the colorful resident freaks of the Million Dollar Hotel; though verging on parody, it's rooted in that same longing of the heart, `a Sleeping Beauty` which `dreams to be awakened.` And we forget the commentary on the bizarre events and characters are made by a dead `brother' telling us of the best two weeks in his life.
As the movie rolls back in time, we learn of a similar fate, falling from the hotel roof, of Tom Tom's best friend - who had come `from money and power' yet rejected them to live `with bums and Indians.' The son of a Jewish multibillionaire media king whose `people decide truth in 60 countries every morning,' the Father who has many mansions, the God of Television, of the reality game which so charms the hotel residents and Tom Tom... until Tom Tom begins to have a life which is `much better than television.'
And while you are still trying hard to follow the intrigue, all of a sudden your heart is being cut open... but then is mended together. Broken to be healed. To find a new meaning in death that brings the living together, and love that brings one to death, yet brings out even more love. The death after which `things finally hit you,' when you see it all that clearly that `life is perfect... full of magic, beauty and opportunity' but which we `only really feel when it's gone.' It's not the same as television. `For the first time/I feel...'
One character talking, the other doing the action at a different place seem to convey the shared experience of living. One distinct voice, of a poet retelling us the story in his songs, is Bono's. He appears in a flash as a silent cameo mixed with the crowd of the Million Dollar Hotel residents. A powerful voice of Tom Tom's innermost self, the voice of his soul, Bono's singing exceeds anything I've ever heard before, reaching straight into your heart. `I come back above/Where there is only love...' his voice is fading, as if calling from above, sensitizing you to the very tips of your fingers. All the while the uplifting images from under the sky of downtown Los Angeles take you up to another dimension.
Mel Gibson, whose `Icon Productions' co-produced the movie, waived his star fee. His contribution to the film as an unconventional cop, somewhat resonating with his directorial debut, `The Man Without a Face', has a unique flavor you should discover on your own. The brilliant casting, starting with Jeremy Davis' finely tuned performance as the blessed fool Tom Tom, is topped by Wim Wenders' ever masterful charting of unknown territories in filmmaking. The artful cinematography and editing are yet another reason for film adepts and students to see this one.
Nevertheless, The Million Dollar Hotel played in U.S. theaters for only a week. I recommend this movie to anyone who believes film is not just for escapist entertainment but for awaking our senses and stirring our minds. As with a good book, you can embark on a journey through The Million Dollar Hotel-DVD over and over again, as if reading it each time for the first time.
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