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Queen of Hollywood Blvd, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Not the prettiest part of town, but often an exciting one."
4 stars

SCREENED AT BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL XX: The folks who made "The Queen of Hollywood Blvd" probably don't consider themselves lucky that it wound up being the last thing that Michael Parks worked on before his death, but it probably won't hurt them to be the answer to a trivia question, in either the short or long term. They don't really need to trade off that - the film is just eccentric and singular enough to stand out from a potential sea of modern grindhouse flicks on its own - but it's not as if the title character would pass up that sort of boost to her business.

That would be "Queen Mary" (Rosemary Hochschild), who has been running her strip club, "Mary's Dine & Dance", for decades, although it seems that she's never actually owned it, and loan shark Duke (Roger Guenveur Smith) has decided to repossess it on her 60th birthday. He sends a fellow called Punk Rock Charlie (Matthew Berkowitz) to get the keys and take over as manager, and she does not go quietly so Duke goes to plan B - kidnapping her son and saying she'll maybe get him back if she kills a different thorn in his side.

Star Rosemary Hochschild is the mother of writer/director Orson Oblowitz, and that he wrote this movie with her in mind, flatly refusing to make with anybody else, might make one stare blankly for a moment or two before commenting that this must be an interesting family. It makes more sense once you see the movie; though Oblowitz is not exactly on-screen long enough as Mary's mush-mouthed idiot of a son to serve as much more than a plot device - there's a more obvious maternal bond with Grace (Ana Mulvoy Ten), the teenager a pimp (Jon Sklaroff) is trying to place in the bar - it's not hard to see the admiration that Oblowitz has for her even if he's also written Mary as dangerously impulsive and occasionally walking a fine line between non-judgmentally cosmopolitan and ruthlessly amoral. She's a fighter with a decent core surrounded by rough edges of which she is categorically unashamed, and Oblowitz shoots her larger than life, either pushed to the front of the frame to dominate it or given a wide berth as she walks down the Boulevard in slow motion, one of the many colorful characters that reside in that part of town made the center of attention.

Queen Mary is made to play to Hochschild's strengths, and does so to an extent that a lot of weaknesses become immaterial or perversely advantageous. The narration that opens the film and pops up throughout, for instance, is overwrought and very serious but kind of terrible-sounding, like someone trying to do tough-guy pulp without taking into consideration how well folks like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, or even Mickey Spillane could put words together, clumsy enough that in a lot of environments one might ditch the movie before seeing how well it matched Mary as a character, all garish and blunt and still sporting a thick German accent that will forever mark her as an outsider even though she clearly knows the score. Hochschild's performance is like that, too - stiff in a way that often scans as bad acting, in part because it's kind of unusual to see someone like Mary as the center of a film, but in part because she doesn't project as much nuance as the folks around her. It may work better than the performance of an actor with broader range, at least in spots.

The movie's got a lot of great spots, from Mary and her bartender dumping Punk Rock Charlie at the entrance the 1960s Batman show's batcave to an impressively tense climax that draws tension both from whether Mary would sacrifice Grace for Otto and how she may be in over her head in a situation that requires more than just toughness. There is some nice character work that highlights Mary's singular nature in its contrast, from drop-ins like Parks, to Ana Mulvoy Ten's uncertain runaway, to Ella Thomas, who makes Mary's girlfriend Josie feel complete enough to make the audience curious to see more between them. Oblowitz and his crew also seem to have a good feel for their environment, showing it as dirty and disreputable but with a line between the tacky and the truly ugly. It feels like a place people can be at home without being lost.

It may, I think, play a little better in retrospect - it can be a little easier to appreciate just how elemental Mary is in memory than in the moment when one is being bludgeoned by it. Even with that taken into account, though, the film is still impressively unpredictable and makes even the less fleshed-out characters colorful. "The Queen of Hollywood Blvd" is worth checking out even if it takes a bit of trivia for one to find it.

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originally posted: 04/13/18 09:13:10
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