Monday, October 05, 2009

London 5: Day 3 - Movies!

I make it to the Apollo Cinema just in time to see a movie I missed last night that is in competition... so I *must* see it. There are three screens showing movies from 1 pm until 11pm every day - and that means I can only see one third of the films shown every day. For some reason, all of the films in competition are showing at the 7pm or 9pm slots - and they are really in competition... you must decide which you are going to see! Many of the films repeat in the mornings at the 1pm slot - but that is when I am doing those 5 (FIVE!) Free classes... or on the last two days of the fest during the morning when I am doing my weekend class. COLLIN, the $70 zombie movie, I will miss to see REDLANDS and then miss again to teach one of those free classes.

In past years they began movies at 9am, and had midnight shows on Friday and Saturday - not this year. I suspect that’s because of the venue change. The early morning shows are hard to get an audience for (the mall was open at 9am for shoppers, and I suspect they accounted for much of the morning audience when the festival was there) and the midnight shows require people to find their own way home as the subway stops at 11pm (when the pubs close and pretty much the whole city closes). So it seemed like there were fewer showings of about the same number of movies - and that meant they were all showing at the same time!

MOVIE: YOU WONT MISS ME (directed by Ry Russo-Young) - Mumblecore! The film is being touted as using several different film & tape stocks, but it doesn’t seem as if they used different film stocks for any *reason*, more like they borrowed different cameras from friends and were forced to use different films and tape and digital mediums. So some scenes have a crisp look and others are grainy and others are a mess of pixels... and there seems to be no reason for any of this. The film is not in focus, and the “story” also lacks focus... making it difficult to explain. And it often makes no sense, is completely contrived, and contradicts itself. The story opens with a 20 something woman (Stella Schnabel) in a psychiatrist’s office - we never see him, just a handheld shot of her face - as he tells her they are releasing her from the institution. They will keep cutting back to this exchange as an attempt to link completely unrelated scenes and shots and sequences... but it never works. One of the problems is the shrink doesn’t sound like a shrink at all - more like a “wishful thinking device” that tells her she doesn’t belong in a mental institution or that she’s one of the most well-adjusted people he’s ever met or...

She is a wanna-be actress, and we she goes to some auditions where everyone says she’s brilliant... but I wouldn’t have hired her. And the auditions are, well, crazy. Not like any audition for anything I’ve ever seen. There is a stage audition where two Gay guys just have her sit on stage and talk, and then one of them says, “We have to wrap this up because Sparky has to eat, you know” - which I’m using as my new catch-phrase. Another audition has her improvising for something, but the improvisation is junk... and afterwards the director says she’s brilliant, but too edgy, but he has a friend making a film that she would be *perfect* for, can he pass her name on to him? All of these auditions seem like more wishful thinking, because she’s just not that good.

Oh, and there are boys she goes out with, and some grainy shots of her riding on the back of a motorcycle with some bearded guy that get cut into the film about every 5 minutes - just a snippet. At one point that bearded guy (or maybe some other bearded guy) goes up to her apartment and gets into a fight with her... and then they go on to something else and you wonder what that was all about. There is one guy she hangs out with a lot who is a long time friend, because she says “We’ve known each other ten years, right?” at least three times in the film. The problem with improvised dialogue is that it is improvised - it stumbles all over the place and often contains some big smelly dump of exposition that was probably given to the actors just before shooting the scene. I think she sleeps with this guy near the end of the film, and then they go shopping for flowers together for some woman he’s dating... but I don’t think we ever met the woman.

Nothing happens... and even though the film was under 2 hours, I expected to have a full beard when the house lights came up at the end.

And none of it made any sense at all. In one scene she is suddenly in a country house, when she was in an apartment before. People show up at the country house and they sit around and talk without the hand-held camera changing angle, then the next scene she’s in her New York apartment again - WTF? There’s a scene where she smokes cigarettes in a hotel lobby for no reason, and then the doorman (face blurred) tells her she can’t smoke there, and she gets into a completely contrived argument with him when she refuses to leave, and security is brought in (also blur-faced) to remove her... and I guess the camera person, as there is something that looks like Paul Greengrass having an epileptic seizure as they leave the hotel lobby. And there’s a scene where she walks into a couple of really crappy restaurants and begs for a dishwashing job... the restaurant employees sometimes having blur-faces, sometimes they must have signed releases... And then the *very next scene* has her in the back of a limo going to Atlantic City to see a concert! WTF? In Atlantic City, she is staying in a hotel room with a friend we have never seen before (played by a much cuter and much better actress) and they get in a *massive* argument over... well, nothing at all. It was completely contrived. They see a concert - some grunge band - and then go back to a hotel room and hang out with them and drink and talk about nothing (all shot hand held and if there’s a cut, it’s not for any purpose, more that they had to change tapes).

The film just seems like a bunch of completely unrelated scenes that never add up to a story or anything else... and have zero truth, because everything seems false and contrived and filled with wish fulfillment lines from the shrink. The Emperor Has No Focus Puller. And this is in competition? What has cinema come to? I thought the whole idea was to communicate a story to the audience - and to make them feel something or even think about something. But this film was one WTF? moment after another - and frequently a WTF am I looking at? moment because it was out of focus. I suspect if I asked the filmmaker what she was trying to say, she either wouldn’t have an answer or whatever she answered would in no way match what was on screen (meaning she failed at saying that). Even if she said she just wanted to show this character’s life experience, that would be a failure because it’s so false and contrived. If she’s begging for a dishwashing job, how can she afford the limo to take her to Atlantic City? It’s all false!

MOVIE: 25 CARATS (written and directed by Patxi Amezcuza) - One of the best films I have seen at the festival... actually, as I write this, the best so far. Spanish (Spain is making all of the great films these days) crime film... but about parents trying not to disappoint their children (and vice versa). See, that makes it sound like some serious movie, and it’s a clever crime flick that had me laughing at the cool twists and cons and wondering how many times the filmmaker has seen LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, because this film was obviously influenced by it. The parents and children thing came a day later when I found myself still thinking about the movie... because it’s more than just entertainment.

Late teen cutie Kay lives with her con-man father Sebas, who wants her *not* to follow in his criminal footsteps... um, too late. She tells him she is not doing anything illegal... then meets a girl friend to drink some beers and then go steal some cars in the most amusing way possible - you laugh outloud at their method. Kay wears a choker and has her hair cut just like Natalie Portman in LEON, even though she’s a few years older, so that we can have a real romance with her version of Jean Renot...

Abel is an ex-boxer and single father who works as an enforcer for a minor mobster who owns a BMW car lot. His son spends most of his time with Abel’s parents while he is out beating people up and collecting money. He wants to be a good father and a good son, and worries that his job is making him neither.

One day when Kay attempts to steal a car from a plainclothes cop and it looks like she will go to jail and her father will find out she’s a criminal like he is, Abel gets out of his car (stopped in traffic) and clubs the cop and rescues her. This begins their friendship which blossoms into a romance.

Oh, but there’s a plot or two...

A really crooked cop and his robbery squad are robbers themselves - jewel thieves. They have a big sack of jewelry they need to turn into cash, so they go to Kay’s father Sebas who claims to know a fence called The Dutchman who specializes in really hot jewels. Sebas is this funny, charismatic con man with a soul patch and sparkling eyes. Whenever he’s on screen he just steals the scene. He can be in the background of a scene - or tied to a chair with a hood over his head - and steal the scene. This actor could be a star in America and never have to learn English. But Sebas is a conman - so he *does* know The Dutchman, but also has a bigger plan... he has videotaped the meeting with the crooked cop, plans to sell it to a local TV news show, and after the crooked cop is arrested? Well, he has the money from the jewel sale to The Dutchman! Of course, all of this will require some split second timing and decoys and false bags of jewels and real bags of jewels and places with back doors and all kinds of other fun things that make this film funny and suspenseful and clever and just plain cool.

The second plot concerns Abel’s boss whose wife tells him Abel is skimming money. When he comes back saying that he could only get $100k from someone instead of the full $120k, it’s because he is stealing the $20k. The boss is torn - Abel is a friend of his, almost like a son to him. He doesn’t believe he could be skimming... but do you believe your wife or your employee? So he sends a hitman, known as The Turk (even though he is *not* Turkish) to kill Abel. Since Abel is not skimming money, he must figure out why this is happening, and it ends up being traced back to the mobster’s wife.

Okay - these two plots are going on while Kay is trying to be a good daughter to her father (and vice versa) and Abel is trying to be a good father to his son, and a good son to his father... and Kay and Abel are falling in love (hmm, hadn’t thought of the character names before). She is his second chance, he is probably a more stable father figure to her... but also a good man despite his occupation. You know, I mentioned the actor who played the father, but these two are also amazing. The actor who plays Abel has a great pock-marked face and soulful eyes - kind of like Stallone’s eyes in ROCKY - and can be tough and tender and also just captures the screen. He is like Reno in LEON... a real discovery. And the actress who plays Kay is equally good - she is cute and sexy and sly, and has the ability to show us what is going on beneath the surface.

One of the great things about this film is the cast - everyone is charismatic and interesting and plays their role with depth - there are no one dimensional characters in the film, even the villains are shaded and interesting. Everyone in this film is great - and the mob boss’s wife, who has a handful of scenes, is fantastic in them. The crooked cop and his squad are all fully developed characters, each with their own personality and quirks and character and looks. Great acting, great writing.

Eventually, Kay and Abel realize that to solve their plot problems they will have to work together to create an amazing scam that plays one side off against the other and leaves them with the money and their loved ones unharmed... but the film still has many twists and some heart-breaking elements that haunt you days after you have seen the film. One of those movies that may seem like just a funj crime film, but has a lot more going on in it.

MOVIE: DOWN TERRACE (directed by Ben Wheatley, written by Wheatley and Robin Hill) - The filmmakers had just flown in from Austin, where there film had *won* and they had fired shotguns for the first time... which seems somewhat odd since the film is a crime movie filled with violence. Kind of a dark comedy version of THE GODFATHER, but with British accents.

The aging leader of a small city criminal organization and his slacker son are released from jail after sex months, and there’s a welcome home party at their house. Not all celebration because someone on their crew must have ratted them out... but who? What makes it funny is that each member of the crime family has a very human character element that is in contrast to their gangster persona. So the hit man has a three year old son and can’t find a sitter, so he takes his kid in a stroller on a hit. The kid gets away, as does the assassination target, and the hit man must juggle controlling his child and cornering and killing the target... and that’s funny. The slacker son is tired of his father and mother trying to control his life - he is 33 (and still living at home) - and seems unlikely to take over the crime family whenever dad retires or... And when the doorbell rings and it’s slacker son’s girlfriend... she’s about six months preggers. Dad wonders if it’s his son’s kid or some strangers - does his son have the balls to father a child? Probably a girl child, he certainly doesn’t have the sperm to father a boy.

Dad is a character - not exactly Don Corleone. He’s an ex-hippy who got into drugs and the drug trade, because he thought drugs would change the world. We would all be dropping acid and dropping out. But, eventually he just became a gangster... who sings folk songs and has a guitar collection and when he gets drunk talks about how they were all going to change the world in the 60s and now nobody seems to care. This doesn’t mean he’s not vicious - he spends the film looking for the member of his crew who rated him out... and many crew members get whacked. Some because they act suspicious, some just because they are irritating. And the deaths are brutal and often funny... I laughed when an old woman who is the town gossip is pushed into traffic, It was brutal and unexpected and shocking and she bounced off a car hood in an amusing way. Eventually there are very few living suspects, but they still aren’t sure who ratted them out. Dad sings folk songs and bitches at his son for being worthless, and a dinner with the about-to-pop fiancĂ© and mom & dad goes horribly wrong.

The film finds humor in the showing us how hard it is to dig a hole to bury a guy after you’ve wacked him, and the difficulties of having a domineering dad who is also the head of a crime family. You don’t want to blow up and tell him how you really feel.

After the film the director and most of the crew did a Q&A and the film became even more amazing - shot in 8 days! The director and co-writer were childhood friends who made VHS movies together and now they work in TV and commercials. They thought it would be fun to make a feature, so it was written around Hill’s parent’s house, since they knew they could get it for free. And Hill cast his dad as the crime family leader (great job!) because he had all of those guitars and could riff on what it was like in the 60s. The 8 day shoot was divided by scenes and pages into minutes and seconds on a stop watch and they knew *exactly* how much time they had to light and shoot each scene - and kept to that schedule no matter what. Usually they had half an hour to shoot each scene - as many takes as they could do in those 30 minutes... and not a single take more.

After the film I walk back across London to my hotel to try and get some sleep to make up for the fire alarm blast this morning, but my body is still on LA time, so it takes a while to drift off. On the way back, I stop at a Subway Sandwiches and buy some cookies and a soft drink, because my meal du jour was a sandwich from the EATS store across from the cinema bought between films. I am living on coffee and sandwiches and beers in the cinema lobby bar. I need to get some real sleep!

PS: I’ve decided to do a post on Mumblecore - why I think it is the end of cinema and why Mumblecore filmmakers should receive a mandatory death sentence - at some future date. It all ties into that movie THE INCREDIBLES...

SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example and it includes the new Thematic element!

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Cut The Wandering and FARGO
Yesterday's Dinner: Packaged chicken sandwich from the store across from the cinema.

1 comment:

Martin_B said...

I'm enjoying your London series. And I also think Spanish movies are excellent.

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