Thursday, March 01, 2007

Miami Film Festival: Day Four

First Snow

Written and Directed
by Mark Fergus

Sometimes elaborate plans don't always work. The mystical jigsaw puzzle that is this film doesn't quite fit together, and the characters are a little too skuzzy for any sense of identification with them.

We meet the gratuitous Jimmy Starks(Guy Pearce) bleeding in his car as the radio gives the weather report. This whole thing is technically a flashback from this opening scene. Jimmy has just managed to wreck his car somewhere in New Mexico and is waiting around for the mechanic to finish the repairs, when, as a lark, he decides to get his fortune told. The fortune teller(J.K. Simmons), we soon discover is the real deal, and the end of the fortune, which was withheld, is something we, and Jimmy can rightly guess for ourselves.

Jimmy goes back to his life. That means screwing his live-in girlfriend Deirdre(Piper Perabo) hanging out with his coworker Ed(William Fichtner) and firing another one(Rick Gonzalez) but then there's this figure from his past, an old pal named Vincent(Shea Whigham), who's just out of prison and may want Jimmy's promised demise. This is an illustrated version of famous five steps of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The structure of the film is based on these, conflicted on whether or not the prediction is actually going to happen when the “first snow” of the title finally arrives.

The skulking and the paranoia are what makes this film watchable. Pearce gives a dynamite performance, as does Whigham, who mostly [and literally] phones it in. The penultimate scene is riveting.

It's just about worth a bargin matinee.

Sony Classics, 124mins, R

Directed by
Ray Lawrence

So when does being an innocent bystander become a crime? If quick action isn't required to rectify the situation, is quick action required anyway? That's a moral conundrum, which isn't easily answered.

Jindabyne is one of those towns which was drowned by a dam a few decades back, and living in its replacement are a number of dysfunctional families. Claire(Laura Linney) and Stewart(Gabriel Byrne) are immigrants to Oz, and they've been married for a number of years and live in the town with their son Tom(Sean Rees-Wemyss), who's best friend Caylin-Calandria(Eva Lazzaro) is a bit on the weird side, in fact the second inciting incedent [not counting the murder of an Aboriginal woman (Tatea Reilly) by a local fiend(Chris Haywood)] is C-C and Tom's attempt to sacrifice a Guinea Pig at school.

This version of “prayer in school” leads to a conflict between Claire and her mother-in-law (Betty Lucas), who doesn't think bringing a big knife to school is that big a deal. This leads to a confrontation at a dinner before the annual fishing trip that Stewart is going to make with his pals Carl(John Howard), Rocco(Stelios Yiakmis) and Billy(Simon Stone) the next day.

Everything starts out really well. Australia's Snowy mountains are quite beautiful, and the cinematography really does it justice. Then the corpse shows up, and the quartet of mates faces a conundrum. What to do? End their long-planned fun and immediately hike up the mountain back to civilization to call the cops, or tie the corpse to a nearby tree while they finish their fishing and inform the authorities then. They make the wrong choice, and then all hell breaks loose.

The rest of the film is about guilt, and how to deal with the unwanted publicity and whether or not to make some sort of restitution. There's lots of talk about kharma without mentioning the word, and a major theological debate on transmigration of souls

The reaction of the women(Linney, Deborra-lee Furness, and Leah Purcell) is very different from that of the men, as well as each other, and the whole group is about to fracture. This is definitely drama.

Choking Man

Written and Directed
by Steve Barron

Ah, a sitcom about the mentally ill. Very strange indeed.

Steve Barron, who at one time used to be in the big time, [he directed “Coneheads,” “Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles” and a whole bunch of those hallmark fantasy series for television] has decided to bid Hollywood adeau and do something cheap and personal.

Jorge (Octavio Gómez Berríos) is “morbidly” shy. He works as a dishwasher at the Olympic diner in Queens. When he goes home in the evening, his alter ego, the imaginary “Choking Man” (Paolo Andino) critiques his day for him as Jorge cowers in the background.

One day, Rick (Mandy Patinkin) hires a new waitress named Amy (Eugenia Yuan). She's one of those bubbly people who has a sunny disposition, and everybody at the Olympic falls, if not in love with her, at least in like.

Jorge would like to make a move, but as was said before, is morbidly shy, but the fry-cook, Jerry (Aaron Paul) is not. He's one of those obnoxious guys who in most films gets his comeuppance, but this isn't one of these. Things go slowly.

There is clearly an ambivalence on the part of the auteur about the love triangle. This is because, there are intimations of a violence that never takes place, and weird animated sequences that may or may not advance the plot. If it was all in the perspective of Jorge, then it might have worked, but we get a few subplots which have nothing to do with Jorge, including the courtship between Amy and Jerry. He's a bit of a jerk, but mostly he's a nice guy. Where's the fun in that. The ending is one of those where a breakthrough is made, but not the one we were expected.

This is not entirely worthless, but it's not as lyrical as we might want from a thing like this. Sad.

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