WTF did I just see? Mondo Hollywoodland is a small, indie film shot on a camera-phone; feel free to make excuses and leave if that’s not an appealing prospect. But one of the appealing notions of digital film-making is that we’d get to see new and original work that wasn’t developed in a cash-hungry studio-system. Step Forward the enterprising Janek Ambros, whose artfully-realised comedy certainly offers an alternative to the mainstream; it’s weird, sometimes wonderful and pretty much, well, mondo.
The veteran actor James Cromwell has a producer credit here, but based on the contents of this film, I’d fully expect to find that he’s been duct-taped to a chair in the Laurel Canyon area while his identity was stolen by enterprising film-makers. That’s exactly the kind of thing that happens in this look at the weird side of Hollywood. We start with a problem, of rats in a Hollywood apartment block, and then switch to pick up stories involving Titans (talent-managing moguls), Weirdos and Dreamers, with all roads leading back to the drug-fuelled antics of Normand Boyle (Chris Blim). Boyle has plenty of reasons to get some work done on himself, but he ends up pulling together an unlikely team of neighbours in a bid to gets the rats out of the property.
A coked up producer has a monologue here about how the heist movie represents the American dream; maybe that’s true, but if so, the dream was rarely weirder than this collection of aliens, hippies, losers, drug-addicts and transient alien beings. But Mondo Hollywoodland gains points for being very now; Roger Stone plays a key role in the narrative, and there’s scenes filmed against real demonstrations, as well as dealing with Antifa, or at least fake Antifa (played by Ambros himself).
Big studios can’t afford to play this kind of edgy game, digital or not; it’s up to indie films to rise to the challenge of detailing today’s mondo landscape. While some of Ambros’s film is overambitious and occasionally undercooked, it’s a funny, likable and unexpectedly rousing film that comes together admirably in the final heist. Those with a taste for big budget anonymity should steep clear, but those seeking notes in the margins should check out this quirky, amusing little indie.