Movie News

SUNDANCE: DAY SIX With MORIARTY

Published at: Jan. 30, 2001, 3:09 a.m. CST

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

It’s strange to me that there are critics and journalists are just now arriving in Park City, even as others are wrapping it up and heading home. Me and Robie? We started the day off with the intent to hit it hard and see as many films as possible once again.

Of course, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

Have you ever had one of those days where you just can’t seem to wake up? We started our day with breakfast out at a local diner, and I thought the Coke I had with my huevos rancheros would work with the zinc and echinacea to shock my system awake, but for the second day in a row, I was groggy, dazed. This is the condition I was in when I stumbled into the press room at the Yarrow to see Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking new film WAKING LIFE, as fine an animated feature as I’ve ever seen, adult and poetic and wholly unexpected. During the film, waves of exhaustion kept hitting me with increasing force, and I actually found myself holding my eyes open with my fingers just so I would make it through to the end of the film. I don’t know if you’ve ever been that tired, but when you’re actually wrestling with consciousness like that, your perception of time goes out the window and things become a sort of hyperreal, the whole world razor-sharp, colors even more vivid than normal. I didn’t realize that Linklater’s purpose in animating the film was to find a visual equivalent to that sort of half-awake haze, but the strange surreal sort of echo that was created by watching a film that was a perfect realization of my state of mind at the moment stands now as one of my favorite Sundance memories.

I’m not sure how they’re going to sell WAKING LIFE to general audiences, but it deserves to be given a fairly wide shot at finding the viewers that are out there who would respond. For people who are open to something they’ve never seen before, for people who believe that animation isn’t a genre but a tool, and for people who can still get drunk on the sheer emotional potential of film, WAKING LIFE is rewarding and intoxicating. Wiley Wiggins, whose last great role was in Linklater’s DAZED & CONFUSED as Mitch Kramer, plays the lead here, a nameless guy who finds himself adrift in an Austin that doesn’t seem to quite be real, where normal physical laws seem to have collapsed, drifting from one conversation to the next. Or is he drifting from one dream to the next? Has he finally learned how to master the art of lucid dreaming, controlling the landscapes of imagination that he seems to slide into, one after another, or has he possibly died, only to be trapped in that last eternal moment of consciousness, endlessly playing out the possibilities of the life he’s left behind? Unlike SLACKER, Linklater’s early slice-of-mind picture, this film plays with a larger narrative even as it skips from sequence to sequence. Over 70 speaking characters move through the film, all of them contributing bits and pieces of personality. Kim Krizan, Steven Prince, Adam Goldberg, Nicky Katt, Speed Levitch, Steven Soderbergh, AUSTIN CHRONICLE editor Louis Black, and even director Linklater himself all show up along the way. Linklater’s monologue, one of the last ones in the movie, is a remarkable mediation on Philip K. Dick and the fragile fiber of reality, and it’s one of the smartest references I’ve ever heard made to his work.

How can I describe any of the individual moments and accurately convey their impact to you? This is so much a combination of Linklater’s relaxed natural touch with his voice actors, the smart script he’s written, the animation that Bob Sabiston and his gifted team have turned out, and Glover Gill’s wonderful original score and arrangements of Tosca. I could tell you how thrilled I was by the appearance of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, the two of them spending a lazy morning in bed as they continue conversations they began in BEFORE SUNRISE. I could try and approximate the sheer chemical glee that I felt as a little boy looked up at the night sky, his eyes expanding until they floated right up off his face. I could tell you how striking and painterly the images in the movie are, how fluid and startling the visual style is, but it’s like I’m dancing about architecture; one cannot describe the other or convey any sense of it. WAKING LIFE is experimental film in the best sense of the word, something that you have to see to understand. Hats off to Linklater and his grand experiment.

I wish there was even one person working at Showtime that had the same kind of courage, or even a tenth of the sheer craft. I’ve worked for Showtime as a writer, and I can tell you that one thing never changes: you can’t spell Showtime without s-h-i-t. I’m still not quite clear as to why I found myself watching a made-for-cable movie in the Yarrow less than two months before it’s set to make its premiere. When I think of independent film, I don’t think of something produced by one of the arms of the Viacom conglomerate. If I had to sit through something produced for cable, I would have been delighted if it could have at least been HBO, which seems to have a fairly successful track record. They may not make great original movies, but they sometimes makes very good ones. That has yet to happen with Jerry Offsay’s big bag of retards. They’ve cranked out pedestrian crap with a sort of admirable consistency. Working with Spike Lee’s production company, 40 Acres + A Mule Filmworks, they’ve once again scraped the bottom of the barrel to come up with 3 AM, a truly heinous ensemble look at the lives of a group of NYC cabbies.

This project began life as a script called RUNNING METERS that was evidently workshopped at Sundance not once, but twice. That seems impossible to me. How can something this average, this underdeveloped, have had that much attention paid to it? Lee Davis is a first-timer, and so far he seems to be unable to summon any real sense of life in his frame at all. It’s astonishing how you can shoot on real NYC streets and still create something that feels artificial, even antiseptic. There’s four major stories entertwined here, involving Hershey (Danny Glover) and his long-suffering waitress girlfriend George (Pam Grier), a Bosnian refugee named Rasha (Sergei Trifunovic) who can’t drive a shift without some sort of traffic accident, Salgado (Michelle Rodriguez), an abuse survivor played for every horrible melodramatic note possible, and Box (Sarita Choudhoury), the owner of the garage they all work at. None of the stories seems to have anything in particular to do with 3 AM, or any other specific hour of the day. Instead, they’re all just single trait characters that play out a series of tired scenes that occasionally collide. The worst storyline is the one about Salgado. Rodriguez is awful here, and the whole sequence involving her and Fisher Stevens is preposterous, over the top. She’s wasted, her entire character seeming to consist of a scowl. This is exactly the kind of work that I was afraid she was going to get trapped doing over and over after GIRLFIGHT last year. She and her managers should pay close attention to the resounding silence that will greet this film and realize just how easy it will be for her to derail her career if she keeps it up.

And just like that, my day was over. Robie and I went back to Texas Red’s and spent a good chunk of the evening sitting in a booth, working on our articles, and just trying to take it easy. Directly across the street was Harry O’s, where Radiohead was rumored to be performing. Radiohead is, just for the record, my favorite band working, the Coen Brothers of the music world, and I would normally claw through people in an effort to get into a performance of theirs. That’s how I knew I had hit the wall completely. I couldn’t muster the will to walk across the street and use the All-Acess pass that a mysterious benefactor had given me the day before. Part of it was the fact that I took a nasty spill on the ice and wrenched my hip. Part of it was the fact that I could feel myself hovering on the verge of sick. Part of it was feeling like we were behind in our reports. All of it together meant heading back to Heber City early, where I collapsed into a coma that lasted through early Thursday morning. Robie evidently went out to a bar called The Other End, but that’s his story to tell. Mine picks up the next morning. More on that later...

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • Jan. 30, 2001, 11:47 a.m. CST

    3 AM

    by Shrevie

    I saw a cut of 3AM a few months ago and couldn't agree more with Moriarty. Painfully directionless and indulgent. Made by someone with connections who's more interested in being a director than in making films. They should start giving the money to some passionate high schooler instead of Spike Lee's distant relatives. And boy, I'm rooting for Michelle Rodriguez but here, without the benefit of a director who knows what they're doing, she seemed completely lost, unable to take care of her own performance. And I'm a New Yorker. I love New York. And 3AM's New York was so full of shit it made NYPD Blue's Hollywood sets look like Serpico. A must to avoid. Can't wait for Waking Life, though. Before Sunrise is a seminal film for me.