#49 - Hollywood Exile

Dedicated To
Bernard Gordon
1918 - 2007

Added 5/30/07

Hiya. I trust all of you here in the States had an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. For those of you not in the U. S. and A., really? I have international readers? Wow! Where are you from? Can I come visit and crash on your couch for a week or two? OK, back to business, such as it is.


The A-Picture - Fay Grim

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about whether or not the theatrical experience of movie-going is in mortal danger. One of the big concerns awhile back was when HDNet Films announced they’d be giving their films a near-simultaneous release to theatres, on DVD and on their own high-definition channel. I didn’t really give it much thought at the time, mainly because most of their slate didn’t interest me enough to bother with it in theatres anyway. But now, they’ve released Fay Grim, Hal Hartley’s latest movie and one I had been looking forward to for some time. I’d originally planned on catching it in the theatre, especially since I’d never had a chance to see one of Hartley’s movies on the big screen before. But when I found out I could also catch it on DVD, all that changed. Convenience won out and I rented the movie instead of making the trip to the theatre. This might not matter one iota to you but it scares me a little bit. Movie theatres aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, I’m reasonably sure of that. But smaller, indie movies are going to have a harder and harder time finding a theatrical audience. I fear that theatres will increasingly become homogenized multiplexes, no matter how upscale they may be, and the smaller arthouses will struggle and perhaps die. And I’m partially to blame because I watched a movie I genuinely wanted to see at home instead of going out and supporting an independently owned arthouse theatre. Admittedly, a filmmaker who really wanted his movie to be seen on a big screen with a large audience surely wouldn’t agree to a distribution deal that all but guarantees that only a relative handful of people will ever experience it that way, at least at this point. What’s troubling, however, is I can see a time in the not-too-distant future when independent filmmakers won’t have any other alternative. I hope I’m wrong because despite this lapse, I do believe that movie theatres shouldn’t just be loss leaders for DVD releases. If they become nothing more than showcases for big-budget, over-produced popcorn fare, audiences will be losing something important, something that unfortunately many moviegoers today may not have even experienced themselves. Watching a movie in a theatre is different than seeing it at home, no matter if it’s a gazillion-dollar superhero extravaganza or an intimate indie made for pocket change.

Well, that’s all very moving, Jahnke. You should buy a tent and do an old-fashioned revival at the fairgrounds. But what did you think of the damn movie? At this point, I don’t think you even watched it.

Oh, right. Sorry, it’s hard to stay focused way up here on my high horse. Fay Grim is the sequel to Hal Hartley’s great 1997 movie Henry Fool and while I suppose it’s theoretically possible to make heads or tails of this movie without seeing its predecessor, I wouldn’t advise it. In a nutshell, Henry is a vagabond writer who befriends a garbageman named Simon Grim and marries Simon’s sister, Fay. Under Henry’s mentorship, Simon becomes a celebrated avant-garde poet while Henry’s voluminous writings go unnoticed. In Fay Grim, we learn that Henry’s “Confessions” were in fact an elaborately coded series of journals detailing his involvement in covert activities around the world. The CIA, led by Agent Fulbright (Jeff Goldblum), cuts a deal with Fay (Parker Posey) to travel to Paris and pick up two of Henry’s journals from the French. Fay, who hasn’t seen or heard from Henry since he disappeared ten years ago and is still grappling with her feelings about him, finds herself plunged into a world of espionage, double-crosses, codes and secrets. Unfortunately, Fay Grim isn’t as successful as Henry Fool. It’s better than Hartley’s last big movie, the overbaked fairy tale No Such Thing, and for some (including me), that’s enough. Posey is terrific here, as are returning cast members James Urbaniak as Simon and Thomas Jay Ryan as Henry. Of the newcomers, Goldblum fits right in to Hartley’s straight-faced absurdist sensibilities. But while the story tackles bigger issues than Henry Fool did, Fay Grim comes off a bit hollow when all is said and done. Nevertheless, Hartley fans will enjoy seeing him expand his canvas and the conclusion leaves the door open for Henry Fool’s adventures to continue. I hope they do, even if we have to wait another ten years. (* * *)


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

The summer of threequels marches on with the not-too-long-awaited return of Captain Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones’s Locker. To answer everyone’s first question, yes, it is too long. Just like part one, part two and the ride at Disneyland, for that matter. To answer everyone’s second question, no, it isn’t that confusing. I wouldn’t want to watch this without having seen the first two but we’re not talking about Ulysses here. If you get stuck trying to follow the convoluted plot, just stop worrying about it and wait for something cool to happen. The biggest problem with both this and Dead Man’s Chest is that somewhere along the line, either director Gore Verbinski or screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio felt compelled to make these movies about something. They needn’t have bothered. What’s memorable about these films isn’t the intrigue or Orlando Bloom’s relationship with his dad or Orlando Bloom’s relationship with Keira Knightley…or much of anything to do with Orlando Bloom, to be honest. It’s in watching Johnny Depp deftly stagger through a multi-million dollar production and in seeing opulently designed sets and effects and huge action setpieces. Verbinski and his team would have been better off using the Indiana Jones movies as a template for the sequels. As flawed as I think Spielberg’s sequels are, they’re models for creating stand-alone adventures that don’t overwhelm with backstory and useless character arcs. To its credit, At World’s End offers up some very special special effects, enjoyable battle scenes and a welcome detour into light surrealism as Captain Jack loses even more of his rum-soaked mind. I understand the practical and economic reasons for wanting to make Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End back-to-back. Had there been a wait, there’s no guarantee that Disney could convince Depp and the rest of the crew to sign on again. But the movies would have been more enjoyable had there been more distance and less story connection between them. Even so, At World’s End is a fun ride and at almost three hours, I certainly feel like I got my money’s worth. (* * *)

Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Angel-A

Luc Besson has made some great movies including La Femme Nikita and Léon (or The Professional, as it’s known over here). He hasn’t directed much lately and if Angel-A is indicative of what he’s capable of these days, I’m OK with that. Jamel Debbouze stars as a schlub in way over his head in debt. His suicide attempt is interrupted by the appearance of an Amazonian angel (Rie Rasmussen) whose mission it is to make him see his true potential. Eventually, they fall in love. Essentially this seems to be Wings of Desire Lite. It’s a short movie but its eye-rolling premise makes it a chore to sit through. In its defense, there are a handful of arresting images and Debbouze has a great screen presence that I’d like to see utilized in a better movie. But the story is slapdash and senseless, the message simplistic and delivered in a way that makes it easy to poke holes in. I hope Besson has another winner left in him but at this rate, I’m inclined to think he’s done. (* *)


Albert Fish

There’s been a glut of low-budget horror movies recently based on real-life serial killers and I half expected this to be one of them. In fact, it’s an even odder duck, a hybrid documentary/docudrama about the disturbing life of house painter, serial killer and cannibal Albert Fish. His tale is told through a combination of voice-over narration, America’s Most Wanted-level dramatizations and interviews with contemporaries like artist Joe Coleman. It’s like an R-rated History Channel special. I did learn some Fish facts I didn’t know before but the dramatizations don’t always work, some of them coming across as unintentionally funny. I would have preferred a straight documentary approach but for the curious, this is worth a glance. (* * ½)

Dog Park

Have you ever had a movie in your Netflix queue for so long that you completely forgot about it until it showed up at the top of the list? Such was the case with Dog Park, a 1999 romantic comedy from Kids in the Hall alum Bruce McCulloch. Luke Wilson (the dark-haired one) stars as a jilted ad writer who meets a kids’ show host (Natasha Henstridge) in a bar and falls for her. Trouble is, he’s not sure if he can trust his feelings since he’s on the rebound. This is forgettable stuff with a few scattered laughs, most courtesy of Mark McKinney as an animal therapist and Harland Williams, who has an amusingly odd date with Henstridge. Dog Park is pleasant enough but I now understand why I forgot about it for so long. (* *)

He Knows You're Alone

Best known, if at all, as Tom Hanks’ KNIFERACK! movie (pat yourself on the back if you get that reference), this is yet another early 80s slasher movie that’s probably best forgotten. This time, the killer targets young women about to get married…and anybody else he feels like who happens to be around said women. A more accurate title would be He Knows When The People Around You Are Distracted. Curiously bloodless and saddled with a score that seems to have been scientifically designed to ape John Carpenter’s Halloween music as closely as possible without being sued, He Knows You’re Alone is only for those who feel compelled to watch every slasher movie of the 1980s. Oh, and Tom Hanks delivers another Oscar-worthy performance as psych major Elliot. Disappointingly, he comes nowhere near any KNIFERACKS! (* ½)

Your pal,