Friday, January 20, 2006

Day one, just before breakfast

Getting across country from New York to Park City, Utah was a bit of a pain. Having a two hour stopover in Minneapolis of all places and discovering that the taxi ride (a van with a dozen people in it) cost more than what I'm paying a night to sleep. Then again I'm staying at the youth hostel, but still...best to business. we've got two reruns and our first new film of the festival, and since we're already here, let's begin with the new one first:

The Proposition/Australia

Directed by
John Hillcoat

Westerns don't necessarily have to take place in the United States. Austrailia was a wild and wooly place during the century before the last one, and is a perfect place to do an ├╝ber-violent allegory of whatever one wants to do.

screenwriter/musician Nick Cave's storyline is just as simple as it appears. The evil Burns gang has just robbed a local homestead and killed the inhabitants after raping the womenfolk. After the really bloody gunfight that follows, two of the Burns boys, Charlie(Guy Pearce) and Mikey(Richard Wilson) are captured alive, but Police Captain Stanley(Ray Winstone) and his men know that their despicable elder brother Arthur(Danny Huston) is the one responsible and has escaped.

So the Captain makes the eponymous proposal: Charlie will be set free. If he kills Arthur and can prove it, then he and Mikey will be pardoned. Otherwise, Mikey will be hanged on Christmas.

So the story splits in two. Charlie is attacked by Aboriginals and is rescued by Arthur, who takes him to the hideout. There's the dilemma. Which brother must die?

Meanwhile Stanley has problems of his own. He very much wants to keep all details of his job from his fragile wife Martha(Emily Watson), who is far stronger than he thinks, he wants to keep his end of the bargain despite the wishes of his superior Fletcher(David Wenham) and the wishes of the town.

The film, while a bit on the opaque side, has some brilliant performances. Winstone and Huston are, in a word terrific, and from out of nowhere comes John Hurt as a drunken bounty hunter with a literary bent, and an amazing act of scenery-chewing like none seen in quite some time.

If you can take the blood, it's well worth a look.

Don't Come Knockin' (Germany)

Directed by
Wim Wenders

Back in the '60s, a young man named Sam Shepherd wanted to be a movie star, but no one would hire him as he wasn't that good an actor. So he decided to start writing his own plays in order to give himself a showcase.

Well, he could indeed write. Very well, in fact. Stuff like “True West” are today considered classics. Then after getting confirmed as one of the best playwrights of his time, he got his big acting break in “The Right Stuff” back in 1983. Following that he made a few movie appearances, but his “Marlborough Man” persona wore out rather quickly and his career as a matinee idol quickly fizzled.

This was, in a perverse way, a really good thing, as it forced him back to his typewriter and go back to what he's doing best, Writing.

So a few plays and years later, he and his friend, director Wim Wenders, got together and talked. Wenders' last couple of films had been flops [his last one was really lousy], and he was in great need of a comeback before his reputation as a genius would begin to fade. A Shepherd-Wenders collaboration would be just the thing to get the two back on top.

The ploy seems to have worked.

In this thing Shepherd has cast himself as one Howard Spence, a Clint Eastwood-type, whose off-screen life has been one screw-up after another. Sex, drug busts, walking off the set, beating up fellow jet passengers. It's surprising that he even gets work any more. But when we meet him, he has, and he's just fled the on-location set on a horse into the great southwestern desert.

The Director(George Kennedy) is livid, as are the rest of the cast and crew, not to mention the insurance company, which has guaranteed the completion of the film for $35 million. With all that money on the line, it's clear to see that they're going to try to bring him back to work. This job goes to their number one tracker, The mysterious Mr. Sutter (Tim Roth).

But our hero doesn't want to be found, and he makes his way to Salt Lake City, where he contacts Howard's Mother(Eva Marie Saint) in Nevada. Howard and Mom haven't seen each other in thirty years, but she's glad to see him anyway, despite the fact that he's acting like an ass.

She asks him about his son in Butte, Montana and he doesn't know what she's talking about. He hadn't a clue that he had impregnated anyone. But he thinks about it for a bit and remembers. Curious, he takes his late father's very old '57 Chevy and heads northeast to the Big Sky Country. Meanwhile…

Sky's(Sarah Polley) mother has just died. She has apparently some connection with our hero, probably she's the love child that Mom had been talking about. Maybe she's another one. We don't figure that out until near the end. So she heads over to Butte too, impelled by an unknown force.

In Butte, the chase, if that's what it is, begins to change direction, so to speak, for our hero has found Doreen(Jessica Lange), the child's mother, extremely quickly, and she points out the son he never knew. But Earl (Gabriel Mann) doesn't want to hear about it and although his Amber (Fairuza Balk) thinks it's a hoot.

Family relationships is a Shepherd specialty, and this shows his genius to it's full extent. Gabriel Mann is a wonder. He comes out of nowhere and takes over the screen. The scenes between him and Shepard are full of the emotional electricity that made Shepard famous in the first place.

This is something to see. A perfect independent film to be sure.

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (USA)

Written and Directed
by Jason Reitman

Bill Buckley's son Chris wrote a novel satirizing the lobbying biz a few years back, and one would think that Liberal Hollywood would have kept far away as possible from this conservative screed. But no. What we've got here is a valentine to everything that's bad about American government and the joys of political correctness. It works too!

We have to call Nick Naylor(Aaron Eckhart) our protagonist, because we're not sure if he's a hero or a villain. What he does for a living is spokesman for the Tobacco industry, which as we all know, kills millions of people all over the world.

He's a great spokesperson indeed. We see him blowing away advocates for good health and envornment on TV, and laughing at how many people are killed by his pals Polly (Maria Bello) Bobby Jay (David Koechner) the chief lobbyists for Alcohol and Firearms respectively. They know what they're doing and they don't care. Fun, huh?

On the other hand, Nick's trying his best to be a good father. This despite the fact that his ex(Kim Dickens) is living with a doctor. His son Joey(Cameron Bright) idolizes him, and with reason. Dad is brilliant at what he does, and shows him when he taks him along on a trip to LA, where Joey gets to see a super-agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) get product placement on a major science-fiction flick and his dad bribe the retired and bitter(Sam Elliott) get bribed into silence. It's a wonder to behold.

What's most fun is the depiction of the defenders of good health.
Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) is made to look like a moron and investigative reporter Heather Holloway(Katie Holmes) a slut. One can tell it was written by a Republican.

The star-studded cast is uniformly brilliant, and this is one swell hoot. See it now.

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