×

Cold Lazarus

Weaker of the pair, and stronger on deja vu, is "Karaoke," with Albert Finney as a typically haunted, physically wracked (in this case by booze) Potter hero attracted to a beautiful woman and unable to distinguish fiction from reality. TV writer Daniel Feeld (Finney) is quarreling with his director (Richard E. Grant) and indulged by his tyro producer (Anna Chancellor). He starts hearing dialogue from his current project (a thriller also called "Karaoke") in the mouth of cockney looker Sandra Sollars (Saffron Burrows) one evening in a trendy restaurant.

With:
Cast: Albert Finney, Frances de la Tour, Ciaran Hinds, Grant Masters , Ganiat Kasumu, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Malkovich, Diane Ladd, Henry Goodman, David Foxxe, Jonathan Cake, Richard Karlsson, Ian Kelly, Antonio Elliott, Lisa Shingler, Tara Woodward. Though it would be nice to report otherwise, Dennis Potter's final two works -- written just prior to his death in June '94 -- are cold cuts from the same old table. Shot through with familiar obsessions, narrative tricks and a large dose of score-settling from the grave, these splenetic adieux to the creative process and the electronic medium he'd mastered over 30 years won't draw the late tube scribe many last-minute converts.

Weaker of the pair, and stronger on deja vu, is “Karaoke,” with Albert Finney as a typically haunted, physically wracked (in this case by booze) Potter hero attracted to a beautiful woman and unable to distinguish fiction from reality. TV writer Daniel Feeld (Finney) is quarreling with his director (Richard E. Grant) and indulged by his tyro producer (Anna Chancellor). He starts hearing dialogue from his current project (a thriller also called “Karaoke”) in the mouth of cockney looker Sandra Sollars (Saffron Burrows) one evening in a trendy restaurant.

TX: TX:Filmed in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, and at Pinewood and Twickenham Studios, England, by Whistling Gypsy Prods. Executive producers, Peter Ansorge (Channel 4), Michael Wearing (BBC1); producers, Kenith Trodd, Rosemarie Whitman; director, Renny Rye; writer, Dennis Potter; Following Sandra to a karaoke bar where she’s a hostess, the permanently sozzled Daniel realizes his script is taking on a life of its own. Or is it? Told by doctors he has only two months to live, Daniel tries to sort out the tangled lives of his characters’ real-life doubles as the pulp plot takes control.

Potter already traveled this semi-autobiographical road with “Blackeyes” ( 1989) and the subsequent “Secret Friends” and “Midnight Movie,” not to mention the earlier “Singing Detective.” This time, however, there’s an empty feel to the barbed dialogue, with technique almost entirely deputizing for substance. In a role that could equally have been played by Alan Bates, Finney harrumphs and overplays to occasionally entertaining but finally uninvolving effect. Best stuff is from the supports, with Grant a waspishly self-absorbed director, Hywel Bennett a seedy Cockney thug, and Julie Christie (in a rare TV role) adding a touch of quiet class as Grant’s rich, cuckolded wife.

Director Renny Rye, who helmed Potter’s “Lipstick on Your Collar” and the weak “Midnight Movie,” doesn’t bring much shape to the already rambling script. He’s more successful with “Cold Lazarus,” a futuristic fable set in 2368 in which Daniel’s cryogenically frozen brain is caught in a three-way battle between two American tycoons (Diane Ladd’s science center boss and Henry Goodman’s global TV baron) and a funds-starved British scientist (Frances de la Tour), all of whom want to exploit his memories of a more emotion-filled age.

Though the story is set in the future, Potter’s real target is the growing crassness of commercialized TV in the present. While much of the humor is obvious, and the content also largely familiar from past Potter works, the writing, overall, is sharper than in “Karaoke.” De la Tour’s confident delivery of the dialogue and her face-offs with the super-sleazy Goodman give “Lazarus” a stature “Karaoke” never obtains with Finney’s less focused playing.

Christopher Hobbs’ sets and Charlotte Holdich’s costumes create a deliberately high-tack future — kind of “Dune” dressed by Liberace — which clearly signals that sci-fi realism isn’t the main point. Christopher Gunning’s score cleverly apes the genre, and the digital f/x for Daniel’s memories are fine. Remi Adefarasin’s lensing has more overall personality than Ashley Rowe’s for “Karaoke.”

The Museum of Television & Radio is showing “Karaoke” and “Cold Lazarus” in repertory on Thursdays at 5:15 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. through Oct. 6. Call (310) 786-1000 for info.

Popular on Variety

Cold Lazarus

Production: Cold Lazarus (Museum of Television & Radio; Thurs. (27) 5:15-9:15 p.m.)

Crew: Camera, Remi Adefarasin; editor, Clare Douglas; production designer, Christopher Hobbs; art director, Andrew Munro; costume designer, Charlotte Holdich; sound (stereo), John Midgley; makeup special effects, Frances Hannon; special effects supervision, Tom Harris (Any Effects); computer digital effects, Computer Film Co.; music, Christopher Gunning.

With: Cast: Albert Finney, Frances de la Tour, Ciaran Hinds, Grant Masters , Ganiat Kasumu, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Malkovich, Diane Ladd, Henry Goodman, David Foxxe, Jonathan Cake, Richard Karlsson, Ian Kelly, Antonio Elliott, Lisa Shingler, Tara Woodward. Though it would be nice to report otherwise, Dennis Potter's final two works -- written just prior to his death in June '94 -- are cold cuts from the same old table. Shot through with familiar obsessions, narrative tricks and a large dose of score-settling from the grave, these splenetic adieux to the creative process and the electronic medium he'd mastered over 30 years won't draw the late tube scribe many last-minute converts.

More Film

  • Jacobs Ladder Movie 2019

    Film Review: 'Jacob's Ladder'

    It’s understandable that someone would want to remake “Jacob’s Ladder,” Adrian Lyne’s 1990 head-trip thriller about a Vietnam veteran haunted by fragmentary nightmare visions. I was far from alone in finding the original to be an overwrought but rather thin “psychological” horror film that was more punishing than pleasurable. And it wasn’t exactly a hit, [...]

  • Fiddler A Miracle of Miracles

    Film Review: 'Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles'

    Still beloved and routinely revived 55 years after its Broadway debut — including a Yiddish-language version now playing in New York — “Fiddler on the Roof” is a popular phenomenon that shows no sign of subsiding. Max Lewkowicz’s “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles” provides an entertaining if hardly exhaustive overview of how the unlikely success [...]

  • 'Weathering With You' Heads for $100

    'Weathering With You' Heads for $100 Million Box Office Haul

    Makoto Shinkai’s animated romantic drama “Weathering with You” passed the JPY10 billion ($94 million) mark in Japan on Wednesday, according to an announcement by distributor Toho. This makes it the tenth-highest earning Japanese film of all time. Since its release on July 19 on 448 screens in 359 complexes, the film has racked up 7.52 million admissions. The [...]

  • Burn review

    Film Review: 'Burn'

    There’s more smoke than fire in “Burn,” a reasonably promising single-location thriller that never quite settles on what it wants to be — a straight-up suspense piece, twisty black comedy, oddball character study, etc. “All the above” would be a tall but not impossible order to pull off. The problem is that writer-director Mike Gan’s [...]

  • Rounds

    Sarajevo Film Review: 'Rounds'

    Five features (plus a scattering of documentaries) into his career, leading Bulgarian writer-director Stephan Komandarev has resisted cultivating a clear thematic or stylistic throughline to his oeuvre. Yet his latest, the overnight police patchwork “Rounds,” feels surprisingly close to quintessential, pulling as it does plot points, structural models and tonal switches from his previous films [...]

  • Travis ScottWireless Festival, Finsbury Park, London,

    Travis Scott Surprises Fans With Netflix Documentary Reveal, Pop-Up in Houston

    Travis Scott just revealed his new Netflix documentary in the most organic way possible: a social media post to his 18.5 million followers on Instagram. The photo consisted of him holding a series of VHS tapes, which turns out to be the trailer for his forthcoming documentary on Netflix titled “Look Mom I Can Fly.” [...]

  • Overcomer

    Film Review: 'Overcomer'

    No matter the setting or circumstances, the solution to every dilemma found in Christian Evangelical films is getting closer to God. That certainly holds true with regards to “Overcomer,” the latest bit of bigscreen proselytizing by writer-director-star Alex Kendrick (“War Room,” “Courageous”). The story of a high school basketball coach who’s forced to take over [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content