SUNDANCE: Day 7 w. MORIARTY - ROAD HOME, MAELSTROM, BELIEVER, DIARY OF CITY PRIEST, DOE BOY, Hedwig LIVE!!
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
It snowed last night. A lot. Everything’s covered again with a clean fresh powder, including Robie’s car. Of course, we didn’t realize it, and when we went to sleep last night, there was no sign of an approaching storm. Things had been getting steadily warmer. We set aside less than a half-hour to make it from our Heber City motel to the Yarrow, where THE ROAD HOME was set for an 8:30 screening.
Yep. 8:30. In the morning. Brutal, eh?
Oddly, no. For the first time in days, I woke up refreshed and ready and feeling good. Robie and I made it up the hill in plenty of time, and he dropped me at the Yarrow, then took off for parts unknown. I arrived just as the lights were going down and slipped into my now-familiar front row seat. In a screening room as intimate as the press ones at the Yarrow and the Eccles, the front row provides two things: a big screen and ample legroom. I was determined to see THE ROAD HOME because I wanted to see if Zhang Ziyi would hold the same amount of power over me in a film other than CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, and it’s interesting to see how differently she’s been used by Ang Lee and her "boyfriend", 243 year old filmmaker Zhang Yimou. In this film, based on the novel REMEMBRANCE, she’s Di Zhao, a local girl who falls in love with the teacher who has been sent to their provincial Chinese village. The film is about memory, about a courtship, and it’s built around a central flashback. The beginning and the end of the film take place in the present-day, where Zhao Yuelin plays Di Zhao as an old woman. It’s so strange to see this small peasant house that she lives in with TITANIC movie posters on the walls. One can only assume this is Yimou’s sly nod at the global impact of Hollywood. The flashback to the past is set off by the death of her husband, Yusheng Luo (Sun Honglei), and her desire to have a traditional burial for him. Her son, Changyu (Zhang Hao), tries to talk her out of it, saying she’s living in the past. Her story is meant to demonstrate just why the tradition is important, and just what respect should be paid to her husband, his father, their teacher.
The film is both stunningly photographed by Yong Hou and beautifully scored by Bao San, and there’s a lovely simplicity to the whole thing. I heard people complain that the film was boring, and I suppose it might be if you went in looking for thrills like CROUCHING TIGER delivered. This is a totally different type of film, though, and Zhang Ziyi does sweet work here as a girl who somehow finds the strength to fall in love despite all the warnings of tradition and common sense. She’s luminous, looking both younger and softer than she does in CROUCHING TIGER, her face rounder. As lovely as she is, there’s something fundamentally child-like about her. Watch her run or watch her cook, sneaking peeks at the object of her affection as she does. Her face is incapable of masking the building love within. One thing that both performances have in common is her extreme hardheadedness. She’s stubborn to the point of endangering her own health in both pictures. I thought the film did a nice job of building quiet power as it progressed, and the strangest things became important: a bowl full of dumplings, a comb, a reading from a children’s primer. These things are important to Di Zhao, and they become important to us. I found the film gentle and touching and worth the effort it took to wake up and be there so early.
MAELSTROM, on the other hand, was not worth the effort it took to race over from the Yarrow to the Eccles. I can’t believe this just swept the Canadian Genie awards, their equivalent of our Oscars. Was it really that horrific a year in Canada? This is a piece of pretentious piffle with one of the most ridiculous framing devices I’ve ever seen, a one-note joke that never pays off. Denis Villeneuve directs the surreal wraparound material like he’s seen a little too much Terry Gilliam or Juenet and Caro. In some sweaty industrial underworld, a big fat man roughs up a talking fish on a bloodstained carving board. The fish narrates our way into the story of a young woman (Marie-Josee Croze), the daughter of a famous fashion magnate, whose life seems to be slipping away from her. She has run her own botique business into the ground, and is about to be forced out by her brother. Her abortion opens the film in a series of clinical shots. Things seem to bottom out when she hits a man with her car and flees the scene. He crawls to his nearby apartment, climbs into a chair, and dies. She reads an account of this in the paper and ends up wracked with guilt and remorse. Villeneuve plays with time as in RUN LOLA RUN or PULP FICTION when he plays events twice, leading up to them from different perspectives, but he’s not using it for any discernable reason beyond empty reflexive technique. As a model, Croze would be striking, fascinating. As an actress, she’s a blank. Her performance seems disconnected, more mannerism than actual emotion. I found myself irritated by the movie to the point that I left 15 minutes before the end. I went out to the lobby of the Eccles, where people were filing into the main auditorium for that afternoon’s showing of Henry Bean’s THE BELIEVER. Robie and I had missed the press screening of the film, and I wasn’t sure we’d get another chance to see the movie. As I was contemplating ways to get into the theater, a woman walked up to me and asked if I wanted to buy two tickets to the show. There was a massive wait list line outside, but here were two tickets just presenting themselves to me as if on demand. How could I say no? I bought them both just as Robie walked out of MAELSTROM, laughing out loud about what a massive cocktease the ending was. Together, we walked into the main auditorium, found two near-perfect seats, and settled in just as the lights went down. Sometimes, it just works out.
Especially when the film turns out to be something as powerful as THE BELIEVER. I didn’t get a chance to see THE DEEP END or IN THE BEDROOM, the other two films that seemed to have the strongest followings in the Dramatic Competition, but if they were on par with Henry Bean’s film, then I can’t wait to check them out. Ryan Gosling gives an astounding, star-making performance as Danny Balint, one of the most complicated lead characters I’ve seen in a film in a long time. I’m amazed at how misinterpreted the film seems to have been by many who saw it. I thought Bean’s writing was clear and intelligent, sometimes to the point of overexplaining things, and I think the film is very direct in its agenda. True, it takes its time revealing itself, but that’s not a fault. It’s a strength. Bean’s written a number of thrillers before this, including INTERNAL AFFAIRS and DEEP COVER, both of which were above-average procedurals helped in large part by strong character performances by actors like Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Gere. This time out, he’s written a film that’s shaped like a thriller, but which is after something deeper. If the film has any major fault, it’s the last ten minutes which seem to buckle under to convention to some degree.
Still, that’s one thing wrong versus a whole lot of things that are right. Danny Balint is a frightening skinhead at the start the film. We meet him on a subway, where he picks on a young man dressed in Orthodox Jewish garb. He follows the boy off the subway and attacks him. It’s a brutal, nasty beating, and as Balint struts away, a snarl etched on his face, it seems like we’re in for a film like AMERICAN HISTORY X or ROMPER STOMPER that just gives us a portrait of race hate in action. Balint’s no normal skinhead, though, as we see in flashbacks to his childhood. Instead, he was raised Jewish, his keen intelligence working against his desire to have faith. We see him in his Torah classes openly questioning the stories he’s being taught, questioning the nature of God. As Danny hears stories of the ways God tested the characters of the Old Testament, he is horrified. He views God as a bully, a monster, and the confrontational way he takes over his class is a perfect indicator of the man that Balint is going to become as an adult. He’s smart, able to argue anyone into a corner. When he and his friends attend a meeting given by Curtis Zampf (Billy Zane), an outspoken fascist organizer, Balint quickly asserts himself as a voice. He and Zampf have a private discussion after the meeting in which Zampf speaks of the importance of leaving racism against the Jews out of any discussion of the fascist agenda. Balint argues back that it’s crucial and that it’s easy. Zampf and his girlfriend Lina Moebius (Theresa Russell) are both impressed by Balint and they invite him to become part of the organization they’re building. Balint begins a strange, broken sort of love affair with Lina’s younger sister, Carla, played with sad eyes and bruised beauty by Summer Phoenix.
The crux of the film lies in figuring out what Balint is doing. Is he the ultimate example of a self-hating Jew, out to destroy himself and anyone like him? Or is he infiltrating this organization to destroy it from the inside, repulsed by the idea of not fighting back against hate? Gosling’s performance is riveting, focused and angry and passionate, and he manages to illuminate the darkest corners of Balint’s conflicted soul with ease. As I said before, there are problems with the very end of the film, as Bean pushes Balint to some actions that become too heavy-handed, too obvious, including some unfortunate cutaways to what is supposed to be Balint’s imagination. The film didn’t need to put this fine a cap on things, but considering how some people didn’t get it even with this ending, maybe Bean’s choice was a necessary evil. I hope this film is given a chance at wide distribution at some point this year. It deserves to become part of our national dialogue. It’s not just exciting; it’s important.
After the film, Robie and I walked out into the lobby of the Eccles to absorb what we had just seen. As we were standing there, we saw Roger Ebert holding court with a few people. I couldn’t resist. We walked over to him and waited for him to finish chatting with the other people, then introduced ourselves. Roger was gracious and friendly, taking a picture of the two of us and spending a few minutes talking about what he’d already seen and liked. Robie headed off to the Yarrow to see SOUTHERN COMFORT, while I decided to follow up a film that tackled Judaism with a movie about Catholicism, hoping the contrast would make for an interesting double feature. It seemed like a pretty safe bet. The film, DIARY OF A CITY PRIEST, was being compared to Bresson, according to the buzz I had been quoted. It starred David Morse and was based on the real-life daily struggles of an inner city Catholic priest. Sounded like an easy home run.
I almost feel bad for bringing up my problems with this film. It’s obviously well-intentioned. The thing couldn’t have cost more than about $37.50. It’s described in the press notes as a "serene but powerful drama," and I’d certainly agree with the serene part of the description. David Morse is one of my favorite characters, one of those guys who automatically livens things up just by appearing onscreen. When he’s got a great role to dig into, like in THE INDIAN RUNNER, he’s proven that he can be a heartbreakingly great lead actor. The idea of him playing Father John McNamee, an actual priest who works in one of Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods, is a good one, but the problem with the film is that nothing happens. There’s no story whatsoever. Eugene Martin, a Philadelphia filmmaker who was actually christened by the real Father McNamee, has worked very hard to write something that captures the daily struggles that are faced by a priest working to maintain an impoverished parish, and there are moments that hint at the very real conflict between purity of spirit and the realities of the world. Early on, McNamee goes to a party in the suburbs, where everyone gives him donations "for the kids." One couple actually gives him the title to a car, a five year old model that they’ve just replaced. Watching McNamee swallow his pride and accept the car, one gets a real sense of how much it hurts to play the role he’s chosen for himself. There are other moments that come together, but they’re few and fleeting, and they never string together for any sort of sustained effect.
Even worse, there’s a gimmick that Martin uses several times in the film that fails completely, and sitting through it becomes a real grind. He has Father Mac (as everyone calls him) engage in lengthy conversations with imagined saints. These saints are played by actors who appear in costumes straight out of a high school play, but that doesn’t seem even slightly disconcerting to Father Mac. The conversations are meant to each be turning points for him as a character, but the dialogue rambles with such lack of focus that there’s never any urgency to anything being discussed. Father Mac doesn’t appear to change one bit from the start of the film to the end. I mean, it’s hard to convey just how complete the feeling of inertia is, and it’s a real shame. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a film like this before, a film that just sort of starts and ends without any impact whatsoever. It’s not that the film is poorly made. I’m not wild about the hi-def look of the film, but it’s not offensive. The cast around Morse is, for the most part, fine. No one distinguishes themselves in any way, and I wouldn’t be able to point any of them out in anything else, but they seemed entirely adequate. The fault lies entirely in the hands of Martin, who may well have been hampered by his obvious admiration for Father Mac. Making a film about someone you admire who’s still alive is a tricky prospect at best, even for the most skilled filmmaker, and Martin’s sense of reverence seems to cripple his ability to shape the facts of Father Mac’s life into something watchable or interesting. This film’s going to premiere on PBS in April, and if you’re a real fan of Morse, it might be worth tuning in, but it’s so thin that even if you do see it, you might not remember afterwards.
I walked out of the screening and signed up for the next movie at the same theater. Robie joined me within the half-hour, and we passed the time trying to describe the movies we’d just seen to each other. As the lights were getting ready to go down, Jeffrey Wells came darting into the theater and stopped beside me before sitting down. "This is your fault, you know. You’re the one who said this was a must-see." He settled in somewhere behind us and THE DOE BOY began. I first wrote about this film when I interviewed my buddy James Duval just before Sundance. I was honest then that Jimmy is a friend, and that puts me in an awkward position when it comes to reviewing this film. He’s in DONNIE DARKO, but that film doesn’t rest on him entirely. THE DOE BOY does. Jimmy is the star of the film, playing Hunter, a hemophiliac half-Cherokee growing up in Oklahoma. He actually doesn’t appear for the first 20 minutes or so, though, as we watch the younger Hunter (Andrew J. Ferchland) struggle with his identity under the watch of his parents Hank (Kevin Anderson) and Maggie (Jeri Arredondo). Hunter’s frailty is rubbed in his face by everyone. His mother is overprotective to the point of suffocating him. His father has a hard time finding any sort of common ground where he can communicate with Hunter, and when he offers to take his son deer hunting for the first time, there’s an almost desperate quality to the gesture. Hunter ends up shooting a doe, a disgraceful act, and it only solidifies the rift between father and son, between boy and community, between the person Hunter wants to be and the person he is.
That’s where Jimmy comes in, and it’s also where writer/director Randy Redroad starts to lose control of his film. The setup is all effective stuff, and it sets up some interesting stakes for Hunter. What Redroad does with those stakes is less interesting than it could be, though. At times, his dialogue can’t support the tricky emotional landscape he’s navigating. When you’ve got someone as amazing as Kevin Anderson in your film and he spends a good deal of it looking a little stranded, there’s something wrong. Redroad’s best touches are the little ones. Like Chris Eyre, the director of the wonderful SMOKE SIGNALS who also produced this film, Redroad does a good job of etching in the details of this particular community of Cherokee in a small Okahoma town. There’s a believable sense of detail. I don’t know why he chose to set this in the ‘80s as a period film, unless it’s so he had an excuse to shoehorn in the rather awkward AIDS subplot that crops up late in the picture. The ‘80s detail is almost nonexistent, and when it does pop up, it adds nothing to the movie. There’s a lot of small quiet moments where Jimmy or Anderson or Arredondo or Jade Herrera, Jimmy’s love interest in the film, all have their chances to shine. I think Jimmy’s got a great physical presence in the movie, a tangible sense of sadness that follows him through the film tempered with an exuberance that he seems to just barely keep in check. Anderson does more work with his eyes than he does with any 20 lines of dialogue, and that’s because Redroad seems to feel the need to spell things out. It’s a shame. If he had the faith to simply let people’s actions tell the story instead of putting a name on every little thing, then maybe THE DOE BOY would be the story of redemption and reconciliation that it tries so hard to become. As it stands now, it’s a near-miss, a well-intentioned almost.
As we emerged from the Eccles press screening theater, I decided to call in and see if I had any phone messages waiting on the official AICN voice mail. Gordon Paddison from New Line had left me a message with a cryptic reference to a live appearance by Hedwig and the Angry Inch, "a real hard ticket," as Gordon put it. I called him back and arranged to meet him at Club Creation, just up the street from the Egyptian Theater on Main Street. Robie and I grabbed the car, sped over to Main, and parked again. We talked to the rather sizable bouncer at the front door of Creation, which seemed to be housed in the basement of the Park City Youth Hostel and he let us in to find Gordon. I’ve met Gordon several times over the past few years, and I was glad to see him when we got downstairs. The fact that he was still there, still involved in a New Line party, meant that he had survived the massive layoffs that had been announced during the first few days of Sundance. There was a palpable sense of relief pouring off everyone setting up the party. We were slipped a couple of tickets and then headed back down the street to the Red Banjo Pizza restaurant. They were just closing up, but Robie started crying in the most unmasculine way, and they told us that they’d cook us a pizza if he’d stop. We split a small pepperoni, and as we dug into the delicious pie, Stephen Baldwin came in with his group. This was the second sighting of him for the week, and I’ve come to a conclusion: Stephen Baldwin is blind, and everyone around him thinks it’s funny to give him really ugly clothes to wear. Either that or the part of his brain that knows how to match colors and define style was damaged in some sort of accident. Whatever the case, I’ve never seen someone dressed as bizarre as him unless it was part of some holiday. Imagine a guy in a tight orange tank top, neon pink ski pants worn under a spangled speedo swim suit, big flourescent green goggles, a black ski hat, and boots the color of an early Wham! video. They tried to get a pizza, and they were told that they could buy slices of whatever was left, but that the ovens were closed. As much as I was hypnotized by Baldwin’s sartorial sense, we finished up and headed back to Creation, where there was already a small line stacked up.
Across the street, there was a pretty hefty crowd building for the evening’s big Hugo Boss party, but I didn’t care. We’d been given invites to that in our mailbox earlier in the day, but even with the promise of a glow-in-the-dark Hugo Boss jacket, I couldn’t think of any reason to go to that sort of crowded social squaredance again. No, I was jazzed by the idea that Club Creation filled up as soon as it opened its doors, letting us in. There was a remarkable energy in the room as people packed every available space. Robie and I were right down at the lip of the stage with Andrea Grunvall, the producer of Roger Ebert’s show. She’s a hip lady, a dead ringer for Velma from SCOOBY-DOO with a great honk of a laugh and a really sharp sense of humor. Chatting with her and with the various hotties packing in around us made the time pass quickly, and it seemed like mere moments before Yhitzak took the stage and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, whether you like it or not... HEDVIG!!" It wasn’t John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask and other actors who strode out onto the stage as the crowd went wild. It was Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and they fucking rocked. There’s no other way to fully convey the sheer wall of sound, the incredible intensity of the performance. I’ve seen bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies and Slayer live, and this was the same kind of club energy, the same reckless punk abandon, the same genuine buzzsaw attack. As much as I loved the film adaptation of HEDWIG, seeing them live cemented it for me. This film deserves a major audience, and Mitchell deserves real stardom. He’s astounding. At one point, somebody came bouncing up through the crowd and slammed into me full-force, almost knocking me off my feet. All those years of conditioning in punk clubs snapped right back in and I slammed the guy back without really moving, sending him spinning like a top into the stage. I certainly didn’t mean anything by it, and the guy seemed unphased. He smiled back at me, still bouncing wildly around, and I recognized him as Michael Pitt, the actor who played Tommy Gnosis in the film. He got pulled up on stage to do a number with Stephen Trask. Yhitzak got to do a number by hirself, and Mitchell led the band through savage versions of "Tear Me Down," "Angry Inch," "Midnight Radio," and "Wig In A Box." It was one of the best extended moments of the whole festival, a night when a great movie spilled off the screen into a great live event, and the DV footage that Robie shot of the event is incredible. Once we decide what to do with it, we’ll figure out a way to give you guys a peek. When the party broke up, we headed out, down the hill to Heber City, worn out from a full day of screenings and other fun.
My one regret? That goddess in the crazy sweater who was standing right down front with us. I was getting my flirt on something fierce before the show, and then I lost her in the crowd. In a city that was full of transplanted models and actresses that week, no one even came close to this one spiky-haired sparkle-eyed beauty. Of course, there was no graceful way for either Robie or I to get our mack on at Sundance. We were staying 20 miles outside of Park City proper. No girl in her right mind would get in a car with the two of us in the middle of the night and ride down to the Ted Bundy Motor Lodge. Maybe it’s better. This way I can fool myself into thinking that she was genuinely digging me, and that it wasn’t just the vast amounts of Ecstasy she was obviously on. That’s what I told myself as I went to sleep, anyway. But more on that later...
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Feb. 5, 2001, 11:44 a.m. CST
by Lance Rock
Feb. 5, 2001, 1:53 p.m. CST
but in a way,the pending "BOYCOTT HEDWIG' international punk action will draw attention to JAYNE COUNTY,where it's truly deserved(www.jaynecounty.com) as opposed to an'andrew lloyd weber' rendition of a real life!(the mass public will flock to 'dedwig' like they flocked to'flawless'-NOT>one more step to NEW LINE becoming NO LINE!
Feb. 5, 2001, 2:25 p.m. CST
Damnit! I'm gonna have to steal her comb.
Feb. 5, 2001, 7:17 p.m. CST
Perhaps since Moriarty see that they have the same surname, or perhaps he was just offering a sarcastic jab toward Zhang Yimou's affinity for young starlets for his films. For a frankly far better review of The Road Home by Elaine, see http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=7027 .
Feb. 6, 2001, 1:49 a.m. CST
Zhang Ziyi and Zhang Yimou are not married; nor do they share the same family name. Their names may be transcribed similarly, but they're different characters with different meanings altogether. (Oh, and thanks for the vote of confidence, Virtualight...)
Feb. 7, 2001, 11:06 a.m. CST
Thanks for taking the time to watch "The Doe Boy" at Sundance. Regardless of your feelings about the movie, I appreciate them and the opportunity to respond, which I hope not to make a habit of mine. Chris Eyre is not the executive producer of the film, he is a producer. He was not the writer of "Smoke Signals" either, that was Sherman Alexie. Just thought you'd want to get these facts right. I will say that you are the first reviewer to concentrate so heavily on the dialogue in writing about "the doe boy". I love the lines, but this movie is told mainly in it's silence (Jimmy says almost nothing for the last fifteen minutes). I wanted it to be more of an allegorical cave painting than a soap opera. The film is set in the 80's because it is autobiographical and i'm 34. You may be right about the period being understated to a fault, but that has to do with time and money. Thanks again and great website ya'll. rr
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