Mondo Hollywoodland (Photo: Green Apple Entertainment)
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Janek Ambros
STARS Chris Blim, Alyssa Sabo
Were it not for a direct lineage tracing back to Mondo Hollywood, Mondo Hollywoodland could just as easily have been titled Gonzo Hollywoodland. Yes, it’s that kind of film, even if it often prefers to take a walk on the mild rather than wild side.
Among all the mondo films — a genre that materialized in the 1960s and consisted of movies that were half exploitation and half documentary — 1967’s Mondo Hollywood was almost certainly the least distressing of the lot. Its X rating at the time was largely for its glimpses of (gasp!) homosexuals, discussions about (say it ain’t so!) recreational drug use, peeks at (where are my pearls?) topless women, and appearances by (truly shocking!) vegetarians. Certainly, nothing in the picture compared to the bread-and-butter scenes of the far more disturbing mondo flicks, like dogs being butchered in 1962’s Mondo Cane (the granddaddy of all such films), the fresh human corpses shown bloodied and bullet-riddled in 1966’s Africa Addio, or the clubbing of baby seals in the U.S.’s primary contribution to this largely Italian genre, 1978’s Faces of Death.
The most shocking, disturbing, obscene, and offensive sight in Mondo Hollywoodland? Photographs of Trump’s equally odious BFF, Roger Stone.
Like Mondo Hollywood, Mondo Hollywoodland purports to take a look at the oddball denizens living in La La Land. Unlike its predecessor, which focused on real people (including Jay Sebring, later murdered alongside Sharon Tate by the Manson Family), the characters in the new picture are fictional. After a dazzling opening that features film clips played at a rapid clip, the movie (set in the present) follows The Man from the 5th Dimension (never seen but voiced by Ted Evans) as he seeks to learn what the word “mondo” means in relation to Hollywood. His guide is Normand Boyle (Chris Blim), a gentle druggie who’s been upset ever since his cat went missing. Normand treats his alien visitor to the sunny sights and introduces him to some of the locals. Eventually, it’s explained to the otherworldly entity that there are basically three types of people in Hollywood: Titans, Weirdos, and Dreamers.
The film then takes time to examine each designation, and the first section — “Titans” — proves to be the weakest. Involving such types as a coke-snorting studio executive (Alex Loynaz), a bratty Disney teen star (Miranda Rae Hart), and an ineffectual agent (Justice Bowens), it offers no surprises in characterization or plot development, and it definitely won’t enlighten anyone who’s ever seen such acidic Hollywood-insider pieces like Blake Edwards’ S.O.B. or Robert Altman’s The Player.
Fortunately, the next two segments are significant improvements. “Weirdos” primarily centers on the members of an Antifa-like outfit as they argue how best to send a message to a local neo-Nazi. Team leader Derrick (Janek Ambros) agrees with the suggestion that large spools should be gently rolled at the right-wing zealot’s car, merely tapping it. Hellfire member Daphne (Alyssa Sabo, very funny), on the other hand, prefers to firebomb the vehicle. And “Dreamers” focuses on various folks who aspire for something greater with their lives and careers, such as the actress (Jessica Jade Andres) who doesn’t respond well to bullying directors or the personal trainer (Barry Shay) who wants to open his own gym and cater exclusively to the stars.
The film culminates with its most sustained — and best — stretch, when a Titan, a Weirdo and a Dreamer all team up with Normand to take down a duplicitous neighbor. With the scheme involving a break-in, a watch-out, and a surprise discovery by Normand, the sequence is at once amusing and exciting.
In addition to playing the part of the jittery Derrick, Ambros (who previously produced 2019’s Human Capital, reviewed here) also serves as the picture’s director, co-scripter (with Blim and Marcus Hart), co-producer, and film editor. Again gaining the support of actor James Cromwell (Oscar-nominated for “That’ll do, pig”), who backed Ambros on his 2015 documentary Imminent Threat and who here snags a “James Cromwell Presents” tag at the beginning and an executive producer credit at the end, Ambros spent approximately $10,000 on the film, electing to shoot it on his phone. Given the polished end result, that’s quite an achievement — at least on the visual side. Even during its stronger chapters, the film experiences a few narrative lulls (one gets the impression that parts of some scenes might have been improvised by the actors) and brings in some uninteresting characters (such as the guy who holds conversations with tree branches), but the movie always looks good and further benefits from some zesty editing.
An entertaining L.A. odyssey, Mondo Hollywoodland could have been a bit more mondo, a bit more gonzo, and a bit more groovy, but no one could accuse Ambros of phoning it in — filming device to the contrary.
(Mondo Hollywoodland is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime.)