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October 02, 1990 - Image 5

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1990-10-02

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I

ARTS
The Michigan Daily Tuesday, October 2, 1990
Evil tenants are annoying too

Page 5

by Jon Bilik
It's so clear with some movies that
the screenwriter's former occupation
relates in some significant way to
the story being told - lawyers-
turned-screenwriters expose the
injustice of the legal system, and
former inmates lend a crude
verisimilitude to tales from the inner
sanctum of the prison walls. Unfor-
tunately, the expertise that success-
fully provides a context for some
narratives - like Scott Turow's
knowledge of law in Presumed In-
*nocent or Nora Ephron's familiarity
with Washington politics in Heart-
burn - sometimes assumes the
proportions of vendetta rather than
narrative texture. It seems obvious
in Pacific Heights that the screen-
writer was once a disgruntled land-
lord, unable to evict an unsuitable
tenant.
Pacific Heights, for all its
virtues, unfortunately sinks to the
level of the revenge fantasy. Perfect
couple Drake (Matthew Modine) and
Patty (Melanie Griffith) decide to
buy a San Francisco Victorian with
two rental units in the hopes that in-
come from rent will help them meet
exorbitant mortgage payments that
fall just outside their combined
salaries. One of their apartments
goes to a quiet Japanese couple, the
*other to psychopathic tnant Carter
Hayes (Michael Keaton).
Despite beautifully expressive
cinematography, well-developed sec-
ondary characters, and a believably
attractive couple with witty repartee,
Pacific Heights loses it with the
character of Carter Hayes. The film
tries to develop the background for
his psychopathology, but ultimately
his character is too unbelievable.
Driving a classy black Porsche and
wearing a perfectly tailored suit, he
presents himself to Drake and Patty
as the ideal tenant. After he takes
possession of the apartment, he pro-
ceeds to systematically wreak havoc
on their lives.
He neglects to pay rent, changes
the locks on'his doors, and strange
sounds of construction-can be heard
at all times coming from his unit.
After they begin the eviction pro-
cess, Patty and Drake learn that
Hayes regularly occupies apartments
without intention to pay, with the
plan that he will one day assume
ownership of the property under lib-
eral California tenant law.
Pacific Heights tries earnestly to
build up a psychological past for
this character, desperately attempting
to lend credibility to what is
inevitably an impossible case study.
With pictures of him as a little boy
and later clues as to the roots of
Hayes' sociopathic nature, the film
tries to create a Taxi Driver
protagonist. He is a character

N.W.A.
100 Miles and Runnin'
Ruthless
Two weeks ago, the Daily Arts
section ran a quote from the radical
playwright Leroi Jones, now known
as Imamu Buraka. The quote goes,
"A cult of death need of the simple
striking arm under the street lamp.
The cutters from under their rented
earth. Come up, black dada nihlis-
mus. Rape the white girls. Rape
their fathers. Cut the mothers'
throats." I wanted that quote, from
Jones' The Dead Lecturer, be run
in its entirety. This is because the
quote, like N.W.A., does a damn
good job of forcing people to face
their worst fears.
N.W.A., Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, M.C.
Ren and D.J. Yella, are a stain on
the ideological plate of what Black
folks should be about. Their debut,
Straight Outta Compton, was a
compendium of socially unaccept-
able pimp struts, gangsta shit, street
knowledge and The Fire Next Time
of Black rage funnelled into criminal
warfare and nihilistic, psychopathic
badness.
N.W.A. have no agenda, but to
get paid. Their rude name implies
that absolutely nothing has changed

in the past 22-24 years, much less
371 when the first slave landed in
Virginia. Still in 1990, brothers are
being scowled at by pure,
immaculate, white girls secretly
hoping to get raped and dragged into
the genetic mud of socioeconomic
and psychosexual complacency.
"100 Miles and Runnin"' (a
sarcastic play-on-titles on De La
Soul's first album) is Dr. Dre's re-
turn to greatness. Underneath the
sirens, beat and funky bassline
groove is the sound of relentless
panting, audible mostly at the break-
downs. Ren now carries the group
with his colorful, old-school verbal
style, while Eazy delivers the
chicken grease as usual.
Side two is a bit more inflamma-
tory, with a scenario of Dre and his
seemingly unstoppable posse setting
up the L.A.P.D. to be massacred in
a botched-up drug bust. This gives
way to a redux of "Fuck tha Police,"
which is as abrupt and melodramatic
as Ice Cube's work with the Bomb
Squad. Among the aural atrocities
explored is a Black woman forced
presumably at gunpoint to perform
fellatio upon two white police offi-
cers, or she's "one Black. dead, nig-
See RECORDS, page 7

Crazed, psychotic, and sociopathic tenant Carter Hayes (Michael Keaton) torments his unsuspecting landlord
Patty Palmer (Melanie Griffith) in the new thriller, Pacific Heights. (And you thought Ann Arbor college
students were rotten tenants?)

without a conscience, a tenant who
breeds cockroaches merely to drive
the other tenants out of the building
and terrorize the landlords. He
dismantles the apartment with the
help of an unexplained character, the
laconically rude and sleazy Greg, and
when Patty and Drake finally enter
the apartment, they find that, among
other damage, Carter and Greg have
stripped the plaster from the walls.
Carter pulls his scams not merely
for the money, but with a malicious
and gratuitous desire to ruin his
landlords.
Patty and Drake are ultimately
likeable and engaging; Griffith and
Modine play their parts well. Patty's
character is refreshingly strong, a
woman who holds her own in both
love and war. The film is helped by
the minor personalities and slice of
life portraits of the neighborhood.
The suspense itself works, but to-
wards the end of the film, it becomes
so insulting that this implausible
character is the one making you
cower in your seat. The suspense
seems like a worthless exercise in
high blood pressure rather than an
exciting night at the movies.
Pacific Heights' secondary story
line follows Patty and Drake in their
efforts to evict Hayes legally, and
the legal system is portrayed as
monolithic and unyielding.
Although California rent control
laws do indeed favor tenants, the ex-
tent to which the justice system
sides with Hayes places Pacific
Heights into a dystopian worst-case-
scenario allegory; its implausibility

just can't handle that responsibility.
It seems that the distributors of Pa-
cific Heights are encouraging com-
parisons between itself and Fatal At-
traction, a mistake when their prod-
uct pales further by contrast.
Hollywood is the master of fan-
tasy, at weaving the "what ifs" we
all entertain in the privacy of our
own heads. Movies like this succeed
when we can lose ourselves vicari-
ously in the forbidden regions of our
own minds, super-ego on a coffee

break for two hours. We can sit pas-
sively, claiming no responsibility
for the horror but secretly identifying
with it, gratifying ourselves with
every slash of the knife. The forbid-
den desires of a landlord disgruntled
with rent control just don't seem to
rank up there with other, more plau-
sible and serious threats to the com-
placency of everyday life.
PACIFIC HEIGHTS is playing at
Showcase and Briarwood.

The i . ..' g'a."i'".:"D::.:ii y-is .
..r.

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