Monday, January 22, 2007

More Sundance, and some Slamdance

I'm lucky to be alive. On the way back from the festival, my plane almost had a headon collision. We felt the turbulence, but since it was dark out, we didn't see the plane. I spent a couple of hours in Texas in between flights, and that was actually very uninformative.

There's a bunch of shorts from Sundance I'm still working on , and a about four features from Slamdance. But in the meantime, here's some more reviews:

ONCE
Samson Films 88 mins.TBA

Written and Directed
by John Carney

An Irish busker(Glen Hansard) is playing is music on a street somewhere in Dublin. Here, after an altercation with a fiend who steals his hard earned swag, meets a Czech woman(Marketa Irglova), with whom he has an interesting conversation, followed by the usual romance. He sings to her and she listens, it turns out that she loves to play the piano, although she’s too poor to have one, selling flowers in the street and having to take care of her widowed mother and kid and all. They sing to each other and lo and behold! You have a delightful little musical.

This is more an extended music video than a recreation of a Broadway blockbuster. The simple story is enhanced by the music, most of which is done Hansard on his busted guitar. It turns out that Hansard and Irgova have been working together in real life for years, so the affection seen is genuine and much of the banter is improvised. There are some secondary characters, but for they don’t actually do much of anything, so we’re left with a just the two Hansard and Irgova chastely making love and music on the screen. It’s amazing how something so slight can be so entertaining.

Whether or not this is going to get a theatrical release is questionable, but if it comes out on cable or DVD, it’s well worth a look.

THE SAVAGES
Fox Searchlight 113 MIN, R

Written and Directed
by Tamara Jenkins

Dark comedy is a very tricky thing, especially if it isn’t done as a live-action cartoon. This isn’t that by any means, and the best part is that it works. This is one of the funniest films about dying of old age that’s been made in years and years.

Lenny Savage (Philip Bosco) is living with his longtime girlfriend Doris in the famous Sun City retirement community, when an altercation with her caregiver leads to problems. Thus, after years of estrangement, their father returns into the lives of his grown children Wendy(Laura Linney) and Jon(Philip Seymour Hoffman). Hilarity ensues. No, seriously.

Wendy is a playwright living in the East Village section of Manhattan, who uses her time temping to send out grant applications. She’s having an affair with her landlord(Peter Friedman) . Jon is a professor at SUNY Buffalo, where he teaches a course of Bertolt Brecht, is writing a book on the subject, and breaking up with his girlfriend(Cara Seymour), who’s visa is about to expire. But Doris’ death leads to an eviction and Jon and Wendy have their lives upended. This is about what happens when the parent becomes the child and vice versa. It’s something that pretty much everyone over a certain age can identify with.

The acting, as one might expect with a cast this prestigious, is excellent, and Hoffmann and Linney have great chemistry together. But it is Bosco, who‘s done almost exclusvily live theater in the past, who steals the movie, he’s both brilliant and pathetic as the old man who’s losing both his marbles and his life. The supporting cast is also fine, with Friedman giving a nuanced and funny performance, and Gbenga Akinnagbe shines in a small part as a caregiver at the nursing home where John and Wendy have put their father. But it’s the sharp writing by Jenkins, who hasn’t done anything of note since “The Slums of Beverly Hills”, which turns this from a mere movie-of-the-week to something so much more.

WE ARE THE STRANGE
U.S.A., 2006, 88 Minutes

Written and Directed
by Michael Belmont

This is the revenge of YouTube. Michael Belmont, using the pseudonym
M dot Strange, made a feature film in his tiny apartment (no basement), and put bits and pieces on the site, which over the months have, for some reason that I cannot fathom, created a rather large following. The film was recommended to me and I actually had to pay to get into the second screening at Sundance (there was no press screening).

If they gave out a booby prize at Sundance, this would definitely win hands down. The “We Are the Strange” is indeed terrible. Not bad, terrible. There’s a difference. Bad can be watchable. This is not. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have to write a review for this thing and the only way to do so is to see the entire film, I would have walked out like pretty much everyone else. This is a film, although it shows imagination and a kind of technical know-how, is down there in “Plan 9 From Outer Space
territory. I’m serious. This is the kind of thing which would provoke violence toward the film-maker. Belmont’s life might be in danger.

This is an action figure movie. I say that because I’m somewhat older and boys aren’t supposed to play with dolls. What we have is a child’s nightmare. The nightmare is that children cannot tell jokes properly until they have at least reached eleven or twelve, and this plays like a joke told by a five-year old. This has almost no plot, no humor, no characters that have the least bit of personality, just badly done artifice.

What there is of a plot has to do with an anime beauty named Blue, who is sent out into the woods by the villain, a thing that goes around saying “Beware: I live!” and can split into two beings, and a doll called M who can’t talk and wants ice cream. It ends with a titanic battle of giant robots, but by the time that point is reached, over an hour of childish rambling has taken place. Not childlike, childish. Like the four year old telling a joke, this is just annoying and pointless. (and parents, if you little one is actually a talented comedian, that’s cool, but those are as rare as hens teeth.). Don’t waste your money.

The Ballad of AJ Weberman
UK, 2007 80 min / Color NR

A Documentary Directed by
James Bluemel and Oliver Ralfe

I came into this film with no expectations. It was supposed to be about a guy who was, to be blunt about it, was Bob Dylan’s official stalker back in the late 1960s and early ’70. Might be an interesting film, I thought. It was, but not just for the reasons I went into the film for.

My movie reviews are not supposed to be about me. Well, to a small extent perhaps, it’s MY opinions after all, but this was different. 99,999 times out of ten thousand the film is not about me, or the reader. Sure there are plenty of films with which the viewer can identify, docs with famous people or people in trouble in ways that they can imagine themselves in. That’s the glory of cinema, after all.

But this, was different. The filmmakers were interviewing Weberman at the place he was crashing. A Sheepshead Bay apartment of a guy named Jay Byrd. Jay BYRD? Oh shit. That Jay Byrd? They showed Byrd’s face. Yeah, it was him, Jeez!

Now I’m pretty sure the reader has probably not have heard of this fellow. He’s a rather obscure folksinger who never had much of a following. However, he and I went out with the same woman at the same time back in the day. A beauty named Paulette Shainer, who I was madly in love with for many years. This wasn’t an unrequited love. Well, not for much of it, but as I faded out Byrd faded in, and after a while we lost touch. It’s a typical story everyone lives through at sometime in their lives. But seeing someone on the sliver screen that one hasn’t seen in the better part of a decade all of a sudden is rather jarring. Suddenly there was a suspense I’m pretty sure nobody else in the world would feel watching this movie. Will Paulette show up? I waited with baited breath. There she was. It seemed she had botox treatments or something, and looks far better than when I saw her last in real life.

There were interviews with Aaron Kay and David Peel, both of whom I knew back in the day. This wasn’t about ME, obviously, I hadn’t been there at the time most of the events discussed took place, but still, the times I WAS there came back out of my unconscious and hit me like a ton of bricks. The attack of déjà vu soon dissipated and I was able to get back into the movie.

Like many of us who hung out around Washington Square Park, Weberman [remember him?] was hanging around the fringes of fame. He got a lot closer than many, actually having met many rock’n’roll heroes while doing his research on his obsession, Bob Dylan, a person, who Weberman actually knew and was somewhat friendly for a while. They would talk on the phone and recorded telephone conversation between the two punctuates the film in the form of animated cartoons, which is all of a sudden a hot way of illustrating audiotapes (it’s much more fun to look at than a reel-to-reel tape recorder or an iPOD.) Of course, it becomes clear that they soon didn’t like each other very much, and that Weberman dedicated much of his life from the late 1960s and early ‘70s to ruin Dylan’s life, which ended up with an interesting confrontation, which Weberman admits was deserved.

Even if you haven’t a clue as to whom any of these people are, this may be worth a look.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

totally eloquent review for "we are the strange" ... we really wanted to walk out as well but didn't want to cross over the people to our right who mysteriously stayed. it was indeed the most terrible film i've ever seen.

mdotstrange said...

The real revenge of youtube will be in your email box soon buddy boy! You people are what is called "out of touch" And the people that are in touch will contact you soon to let you know what they think :) Drive Safe!

ericl1 said...

yeah, they're fucking spammers from the netherlands who put up links to porn.

In touch my ass.

pieman said...

hey eric
i definitely remember you hanging w/paulette way back when


aron k