Monday, November 18, 2013

Raindance Day 3

(which was September 27th)

Because I stumbled and fell on this before, I'm going to try to get at least *one* film review up every day. May fail at that, too... but at least it sounds possible while doing all of this other stuff. But first, here is the expanded version of my Day 3 post.

The pattern is: catch the Bakerloo subway train to Piccadilly, sit in Costa Coffee going over notes, get to the cinema early enough to make sure they get my podium and table set up right (they never do - I have to adjust it every morning), and then sit in the cinema lobby reading the program to see what movies might interest me. Since I usually see movies with Janet - she tells me what she wants to see and we figure out what it’s going to be, or if we will be in two different cinemas.

CLASS: Today was structure - but focusing on alternative structures (since this is an indie fest in the UK). Again, not a full house... but about 2/3rds full. Last year people were sitting in the aisles! Class went well, again ran right up to the 2 hour mark. It’s funny, I’d stop at 90 minutes and ask for questions... when no one had any I’d do some more class and stop about 10 minutes to... and ask for questions again and a dozen hands shoot up!

Questions get answered and they come in to tell me to get the hell out of the cinema so they can start movies... and *I* want to see movies as well! That’s what I’m here for!

GREATFUL DEAD (Japan) - no Jerry Garcia, this is a strange Japanese comedy about an unusual young woman whose hobby is watching and tracking misanthropes and people who have accepted their loneliness. It opens with her as a child in a dysfunctional family watching infomercials and ordering some of the crazy products, while her divorced dad has sex with slutty step mom... and she learns to live alone. Later, after her father has died and left her all of his money, she starts this odd hobby of spying on people who are either ostracized by society or have decided that society is just too much trouble. Lonely people. But when some religious missionaries give some of her subjects hope to reenter society... she connects with a crazy misanthrope and, well, kills them. Beginning a crazy war with an old infomercial king. *DARK* comedy, really well done.

One of the great things about this film is how *happy* she is when the war begins. She is *dancing* in a store as she buys the tools required to dispose of a body. There’s a nice subplot with her older sister who is married with a kid and *didn’t* inherit anything... but wants her little sister to settle down and live a normal life. But, some people were never meant to be part of society... this misanthropes and little sister.

This is the kind of weird ass film that will play at film fests but will probably never surface in the USA. The audience is so small (me, maybe some of you reading this) that it doesn’t make financial sense to release it... even on DVD. That’s too bad. Maybe our new world of streaming will allow weird ass films like this to find their audience.

OUTPOST 11 - UK contained weird sci-fi film about three soldiers in a remote outpost in the Arctic during WW3 who each begin to go mad. Made on "a small bag of cash" (according to the director) it has some nice stop motion, some okay CGI effects... and a story that's a bit slow for a contained thriller with 3 characters. One of the things that might have helped - near the end one of the soldiers goes to another outpost and discovers that something has driven them all violent crazy - and everyone is dead. Had this been the first scene, the slow parts of the rest of the film would have been filled with suspense because we would know what *might* happen to them. Lots of steampunkish stuff, too - and some non-science sci-fi stuff that we weren't really sold on.

The sets were nice, and they shot in the snow somewhere (was it Scotland?). Obviously influenced by Carpenter’s THE THING, it deals with the pressure of boredom during the war. I loved the stop motion spiders, and there’s this cool shot where two people are having a conversation where a *giant* spider walks past the window in the background. I thought it needed more story and more tension, and the actor playing the old soldier looked too scruffy for his dialogue. Maybe things are different in the UK, but I expect a career soldier to be very regimented and disciplined... someone who can only live in an environment where his clothes are perfectly pressed and his movements stiff and measured. This character’s dialogue was all about the Private (our protag) being a slacker, but it was this lifer guy who seemed the slacker. Maybe that was on purpose, but that didn’t come across. The science stuff that didn’t work well had to do with the Act 3 conflict of a boiler gizmo overheating. It seemed like there was no actual research on this, so the “science” of the device didn’t make sense. The weird thing with science fiction is that you have to sell us on anything weird. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a pile of exposition to tell us how something works, but you need to show us how it works and why it’s important to keep it operational. Though this boiler gizmo was mentioned, we never really understood what it did. Compare that to all of the Act 3 conflict elements in ANDROMEDA STRAIN, many of which we see when the crew goes down into the lab... so we get a bit of invisible exposition. And the other things are introduced early and they make complete sense to us: you need those darts and the gas and the lasers to stop a contaminated lab animal from escaping into the real world. Even if you are dealing with a science fiction world, you need to do some research and make us believe that these things exist (and for a logical reason). I believed trhe giant spiders more than I believed the boiler gizmo! Still, for a movie made with just a small bag of cash, nice.

TWO JACKS - Based on a Tolstoy novel, directed by Bernard Rose (CANDYMAN) and starring Danny Huston, this tells the story of a legendary film director who returns to Los Angeles flat broke and owing everyone money or favors... who continues to screw up big time! But somehow manages to screw all the wrong women and still land on his feet, and gets a film deal. 20 years later, his son comes to Los Angeles to direct his first film... and encounters the *daughter* of one of the women his father screwed and dumped... and many other people who are part of the ghost of his father. He is his father's son - and soon is making love with the daughter and promising her a role in his film... plus screwing the producer's mistress while drunk in a moving car. Where the father managed to land on his feet, the son lands on his ass... and is banished from Hollywood.

This was another bag of cash movie, despite the cast. Rose owns some equipment and likes to make movies with his friends. There was some great production value, here: real luxury hotels, a Hollywood Hills home that only a movie star (or the guy who wrote CANDYMAN) could afford to live in, a weird masquerade ball where everyone was dressed in 1920s costumes. Cameos from Sienna Miller and Billy Zane and many others that Rose could get for free (or SAG minimum). The film was impressive for having a small budget. The issue was the script. Rose introduced the film and said that it was based on a Tolstoy story, “The Two Hussars”... and that one of the thing that drew him to the story was how the world can change in 20 years. I thought that was a great idea... but you don’t really see that in the film. Though Rose mentioned the massive changes in technology over the past 20 years, none of that was on display in this film. Also, none of the changes in Hollywood in the last 20 years (and there have been many). You know, the idea of a screenplay on paper is something of the past, everything is a pdf that is emailed to someone, now. And, as I like to say: the suits have gotten suitier. Twenty years ago studios were not some offshoot of a conglomerate that was more interested in the ancillary business than the film itself. And twenty years ago there was a mid range movie... the kind the father would make. The son would face a Hollywood where everything is a huge event movie (superhero or not) or some very small genre film. Both father and son end up making a deal with the same producer, for the same kind of movie... and no one talks to the son about all of the business aspects that he has to make sure are covered (videogame, Happy Meal, music tie in, foreign incentives and coproduction and cast requirements, etc). It’s as if this film which is *about* a father and son’s different experiences in the film business didn’t want to deal with the film business part. The movie never takes us into that world. Never shows us the interesting parts of that world. So it comes off as a trifle.

Here's the thing: when you have a small (or nonexistent) budget the weight of the film ends up on the script. That's also the element that is the least expensive to work on until you get it right. Even shooting digitally, if you do 100 takes of the same shot, you're burning up the crew and cast's time... and they're probably being paid and being fed. But rewriting a scene 100 times until you get it right is just you and the computer. Yeah, you also have to feed yourself, but that's cheaper than a full cast and crew! So indie people: spend the time to get the script perfect, *then* go to film. TWO JACKS has everything going for it... but the script. It's not a bad script, it just isn't the best version of this story.

But here's the great thing about Raindance and film fests in general, and why you should go. All three films had Q&As with the directors... and often the stars and key creatives. The Japanese director was there for a (translated) Q&A, the UK director was there with the entire cast and the producers and editor and pretty much everyone else who worked on the film for a great Q&A, and Bernard Rose and Danny Huston and the producer and actress Rosie Fellner were there for a great Q&A afterwards. At a fest, you get this kind of access to the talent that made the film.

- Bill

No comments:

eXTReMe Tracker