September 27, 2004

Office Space

Ron Livingston is pretty good in this flick. He plays the disaffected cubicle dweller well. The film has a small cult following but I don't really think that it's worth that. Office Space is funny, but I wasn't laughing my ass off.

I think Stephen Root's character, Milton Waddams, is the source of the enduring fascination. He is pretty ridiculous. The ultimate nerd/dork/doofus. Virtually every cubicle colony of any decent size will have at least one of these -- the guy everybody snickers at behind his back, and some will feel sorry for.

Each character does illustrate some office stereotype. Lumberg, the boss, with the everpresent coffee mug and feaux laissez-faire attitude. Every sentence begins with, yeeahh... Jennifer Aniston fills the sex appeal requirement, a cute but ditzy waitress. The two programmer geeks are pretty good. One of them is East Indian of course. The other guy reminded me of Napoleon Dynamite.

Mike Judge of Beavis & Butthead fame wrote and directed. But if you saw the movie version of that you wouldn't go near anything else he did.

This would be a good Friday evening after work movie -- especially if you work in an office cubicle.

Posted by Wayne at 09:57 PM | Comments (5)

September 22, 2004

The Last Picture Show

Small town life is a subject few directors try to cover. Can't say as I blame them since the content is bound to be limited. However, Peter Bogdanovich's black and white 1971 small town soft porn "classic" is a good descriptive of the bleakness and despair that can characterize a <2,000 population town on the plains.

I come from a small town, and I know what it's like to live in a place that is drying up and dying. My town is still alive though, and it's no closer to and no farther from actual expiration than it was 33 years ago when this film was made, and I was about 12 years old.

I remember when The Last Picture Show was released, and I remember the mild controversy, though this was my first viewing. That swimming pool scene was pretty bold for 1971.

I put scare quotes around the word "classic" in the paragraph above because of Cybill Shepard. Aside from the brief visage of her sweet young (at the time) ass, her presence is nearly intolerable. Her acting is as bad as any I've seen in a feature. I didn't even like the strip she did on the diving board. What an attitude.

Fortunately, everybody else in the film is nearly brilliant. I loved Ben Johnson's soliloquies. Sam the Lion -- what a name for a character. And Timothy Bottoms, he was great as the disaffected small town teenager. Eileen Brennan captures the small-town-waitress-at-the-local-diner quite well. (Every small town has at least one locally semi-famous career food server, who is basically miserable because she could've done better, but accepts her fate with some degree of grace, enough so that the people like her, allowing her to eek out a subsistence on her tips.)

Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry did a great job of bringing out what any small town does have: characters. They are not always rich characters, or even interesting characters. But the characters in a small town are stark. When you live in a small town you can't fade into the scenery like you can in a city. In a small town if you're alive you stand out enough that most everybody knows what you are about. As has been often repeated, everybody knows everything about everybody else in a small town. There ain't no secrets. Yet, as illustrated in this movie, most people think they have secrets, only to discover later to their great embarrassment that everybody knew.

Just like a small town, all this film has is characters. There is no scenery, no interesting sets. The story content is sparse at best. And there really aren't any likable characters in this story. Everybody, rich or poor, is bitter because they got stuck in this godforsaken patch of west Texas. And you can't blame them.

The production decision that separated The Last Picture Show from the pack, and really allowed it to be a "classic," was when they decided to shoot it in black and white. What better way to show the despair and hopelessness than to take all the non-gray hues out of the visuals. Cybill would've looked much prettier and I may have been more forgiving.

I'm reminded of what a videographer told me once, about why we tend to be more affected by black and white photographs than we are by color pictures. When we view a B&W photo, our brain doesn't have to process all that silly color information, and the core meaning of the image is much more apparent. That's why this film is so compelling. A color version would've been completely boring and faded into obscurity.

Seen on Sundance. If I recall correctly from the schedule, it shows again on Redford's channel, and on Starz and another premium channel later this month. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

Posted by Wayne at 04:02 PM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2004

Nosferatu @ KIFF

Festival Express was fun to watch, but before we went in to the theater we met Dianne Meade, the wife of the festival director, who invited us to a party that was starting about the time the FestEx movie did. After the concert-on-a-train experience we stumbled into the room and the party was all but evaporated. However, the main man Dr. Benjamin Meade was still there and he graciously offered us free passage to a viewing the next day of the classic silent film, Nosferatu. Any film buff is familiar with Nosferatu, at least informationally. I imagine most are like myself and had never had the opportunity to view it on the big screen (or the little screen for that matter). And to add a big kicker, this showing was featuring a live orchestra! The Alloy Orchestra had four members but they sounded like a full compliment. The music added so much to the viewing of the film.

Nosferatu is the original vampire movie, based on Bram Stoker's Dracula. In fact Stoker's widow got so pissed off when she saw the 1922 production that she almost managed to get the negative destroyed. Apparently F.W. Murnau, the director, took just a few too many liberties with the material. Oh well, it did survive and we are so glad it did.

This movie is honestly frightening. The use of light and shadow to tell the tale is brilliant. In this film, the vampire is not the sexy virile physically overpowering character that Bela Lugosi and his theatrical progeny have effected. Count Orlock, the bloodsucker of this film, is impish and impossibly thin. With his pointed ears and nose he looks more like an alien than a vampire. And his fangs are long and very close together at the front of his mouth, unlike the fangs at the corners of his mouth like the later interpretations. And since these are his only visible teeth, Murnau's design seems more specialized for the extraction of blood -- more user-friendly.

Orlock does not seduce his victims. He overpowers them psychically. He does not need good looks and charm.

For me the most striking moment in the film was when Orlock was approaching his innocent prey, and you don't see him, you see his very well-defined shadow on the stone wall. You can see his nose, his overgrown fingernails, his fangs. It's one of the scariest images I've ever seen on a movie screen and it's nothing but a shadow.

There was a film released a couple of years ago called The Shadow of the Vampire which is about the making of this film. John Malkovich plays Murnau, and Willem Dafoe plays the fanged one. It's a fictionalized gig where Murnau supposedly finds a real vampire to play Orlock, and for some reason crew members keep dying. It sounds fun and I intend to see it soon.

Our thanks to Ben Meade, who is a filmmaker in his own right, for letting us in free. I intend to see Ben's works as soon as possible. From what I've read they are too intense to begin to describe here.

Posted by Wayne at 01:00 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2004

Festival Express @ KIFF

Imagine this: A train. Not just any train. This train has musicians on it: The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, The Flying Burrito Bros., Buddy Guy, Delaney & Bonnie, Ian & Sylvia Tyson, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, plus several others. This train is on the track for five days travelling to three different stadium gigs across Canada. Like a portable Woodstock.

This really happened.

In the summer of 1970 a Canadian concert promoter put together this tour and called it the Festival Express. And this other guy and his crew shot film of it to make a movie. For various reasons which you can read about at the film website, the movie didn't get made then, but it did get put together last year. The film features current interviews with the promoter, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Buddy Guy, Kenny Gradney (now of Little Feat who played with Delaney & Bonnie at the time of this tour), Sylvia Tyson and a few people who saw the concerts.

The interviews are interesting but this film contains some of the finest concert footage that exists from that era. In my opinion the concert sequences are superior to those from both the Woodstock and Monterrey Pop Festival films. This is especially true of the Janis Joplin scenes. I confess that I've never really appreciated her too much but this movie really demonstrates her soulful passion, right along with her nail-on-the-blackboard voice.

The stage clips are great but the footage from the train ride is excellent frosting on this rock-n-roll cake. There is one really precious scene where Rick Danko of The Band, completely drunk on his ass, is singing to Janis Joplin with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir. They all, except Janis, have guitars and at one point Jerry tells Janis that he loves her.

During a modern day interview, a gray-haired Phil Lesh explains that at the time, they didn't have that much experience with drinking. They had smoked pot and taken acid, but drinking was new to them. Apparently they couldn't get too much of the illicit substances they were used to into Canada for the tour.

At one point I guess 3 to 4 days in, they ran out of booze. So the promoter orders an unscheduled stop at Saskatoon. According to the report the train stopped right at a liquor store. The passed the hat and collected $800 to buy liquid, bought it and loaded it up, started the train and went back to partying.

Peripheral to the concerts was some strange controversy. There was a group of kids in Toronto (the first stop) who somehow got it in their minds that the shows should be free. Their reasoning is never satisfactorily explained, but they raise a ruckus outside the show and try to crash the gate and a cop gets injured and it was all really stupid. Just symptomatic of the times I guess.

I suppose we didn't hear about this unique event because it happened north of the border. If we had heard about it I think it would've been attempted here.

At any rate, if you are an aging hippy or an old rocker, or anybody who loves the music from that era, you absolutely must see this movie. It is excellent. I can't wait for the DVD and any extra footage it might contain. According to the website, there was 45 hours of film recovered from the initial 70+ hours that were shot.

We saw this Saturday night as part of the Kansas International Film Festival described in an earlier post. I hope to write another entry about the fest. It is way cool. I've never experienced a film festival before. Next, I will write an entry about the other film we saw Sunday.

Posted by Wayne at 11:48 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2004

Ned Kelly

Sometimes the story is too big for the film. Or the character is too big for the actor. Some combinaton of these conditions exist with Ned Kelly. Don't get me wrong; the film is actually quite good and the portrayals top notch. Heath Ledger's version of Ned is pretty heart-rendering. In this film you see a tortured man who was driven into being an outlaw by his standards of justice. And, although I'm not an expert on Kelly's legend, this is what history has made him to be. As the viewer you have no problem pulling for him against the coppers, led by Geoffrey Rush's Francis Hare.

We were inspired to watch this -- using one of our free pay-per-views we got when we signed up for Sunflower Broadband -- in large part due to my wife's admiration of Orlando Bloom and his Legolas from you-know-what. He plays Joe Byrne, rogue and Ned's closest friend, with an edge.

The film tries to show how important Ned Kelly was to the Australian people at the time and in history, but all you really get is a very crafty outlaw pursued by police. An outlaw you have to love and admire because you can see that he's really not evil, and he's obviously a lot smarter than those who pursue him.

But at the end of the film, you see one of those text messages that come up to explain what happened later. It says that Ned was hanged even though petitions bearing 32,000 signatures were submitted pleading for Ned's life. This tells me that the full story of Ned Kelly's affect on Aussie-land likely cannot be told in a 2 hour film.

I wondered why I hadn't heard too much of the film, so I looked at IMBD's report on earnings. When it was released in the U.S. it was only on 22 screens. For some reason it just didn't get a distribution that was worth a shit. Perhaps it was due to my old gripe with dialect films, one that I have repeated here often. I couldn't understand most of the dialog through Ned's and his colleagues' Irish brogues. (Ned was born in Aus but his people were Irish. You know how they are.)

Posted by Wayne at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)

September 08, 2004

KIFF off

When we moved to Kansas, I knew that we would be leaving some cultural things behind. And I did not expect to find something like this:

The Kansas International Film Festival

Our attendance at this year's event (the fourth annual) is not likely. Perhaps I'll talk my wife into driving up to KC for one showing, partially just to give the event some support; perhaps of Code 46, or Mean Creek.

I am interested in a film called Mindfield , because it was done by two filmmakers from Wichita. I think I simply want to see proof that there are actually two filmmakers from Wichita. I notice their "feature" is only 63 minutes long, and according to the blurb in The Pitch (local freakly weekly), they are "prolific."

I'm just gratified to know that Kansas has a film festival. I've always wanted to attend one and experience the immursion of say, 12 films in 4 days. But, I'll need to retire before I can pull that off. Also, according to The Pitch, this festival used to be called Halfway to Hollywood. But halfway from where? I'm glad they decided to put "Kansas" in the title. That will keep all the out-of-towners away because they will think that it's just repeated showings of The Wizard of Oz.

Posted by Wayne at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)