April 21, 2007

Philly Leftovers

The 16th Philadelphia Film Festival has finally wrapped up, so while I finish off a few more capsules for publication next week, just a few more errant thoughts.

The festival's Closing Night film was Waitress, my belated introduction (save her brief role in Factotum) to the late, lamented Adrienne Shelly in her final film as writer, director, and actor. It's a light, fluffy thing, a movie that's built on a foundation of silly tragicomedy convention but also takes the time to examine the stereotypes that we so often assign to southern caricatures. Perhaps the most pleasant thing about it, however, is confirming that Nathan Fillion is more of a well-rounded actor than people give him credit for, too charming to be shackled to genre pictures alone. (After seeing him as a small town doctor/earnest weirdo in Waitress, I'd like to see him try his hand at a "Rex Morgan, M.D."-style melodrama.) It all might be a little too mawkish for its own good, but imagine my surprise when tears came streaming down my face once the end credits rolled and "In loving memory of Adrienne Shelly" came up. You can tell, just from Waitress, that the woman had so much love and hope in her, and this was probably the film that was going to catapult her into the mainstream consciousness. The fact that the little fucker that murdered her tried to make it look like a suicide seems that much more wrongheaded, that much more nonsensical from every possible perspective.

The spectre of the Virginia Tech massacre hung in the air in the festival's final days as well, as they featured two films starring "rising star" Mark Webber as a disturbed, potentially violent loner desperately looking for an emotional anchor: The Memory Thief, wherein Webber is a toll-booth collector without a past who attempts to identify with the pain and the suffering of the Holocaust, and The Good Life, where he's a poor schmuck stuck pumping gas in a sports-obsessed town, looking for solace in a depressed singer (Zooey Deschanel) and a senile movie theater projectionist (Harry Dean Stanton). The latter tacks a ninety-second happy ending onto a straight hour-and-a-half of emo misery (imagine if Capra had agreed with the despondent George Bailey until the very end of It's a Wonderful Life); the former, however, is a somber contemplation of replacing the void with the abyss, so to speak--the essential danger in attempting to correlate inhumane acts that were, nevertheless, committed by humans. The difference between the two works has been on my mind lately as experts and pundits attempt to find rhyme or reason in Seung-hui Cho's horrifying rampage.

Also saw Alan Cumming's "solo directorial debut," Suffering Man's Charity, more or less an excuse for Cumming to scream and ham it up for a straight hour, Bette Davis/What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? style--but at least it finally verbalizes what people find so damned appealing about David Boreanaz: he looks a lot like Warren Beatty from Splendor in the Grass.

I hope you'll read my review of Fracture that's up on the site--it was the festival's annual sneak preview screening, and a far cry from last year's Lucky Number Slevin. Be sure to also check out Walter's review of Hot Fuzz; it takes active resistance to not place an exclamation point at the end of that title.

Speaking tangentially of Edgar Wright, I saw Grindhouse for the second time this week in an attempt to see it in its natural state as many times (and with as many friends) as possible, before it's taken out of theaters to be chopped up into nonsensical halves. It's been said before, but I'll say it again: Planet Terror is tiring junk, but I can't see my grindhouse experience being the same without it. I do wonder, though, what Planet Terror would have been like if it was shot in Rodriguez's vaunted 3-D process--maybe it would have put the man in a better frame of mind concerning exploitation sensationalism, or maybe it would have just been unbearable like Spy Kids 3-D and The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl. Considering that he too often views the cinematic experience as masturbatory stupidity (think about what Planet Terror essentially skips over with its "missing reel"), probably the latter. But I'm curious.

And finally, check out this fine bit of hypnosis: David Lynch Thinks About Thinking.


Jason said...

Having Rodriguez film Planet Terror in 3-D would have little effect, I think, on the way his film would actually turn out. You need only look at the difference between Planet and Death Proof in regards to the vaunted fake scratches and "wear-and-tear": For Rodriguez, trying out a new gimmick is the only real reason to do a film anymore. For Tarantino, the gimmick is just to help set the film up - after the "missing reel" in Proof, the film is pretty much pristine and played straight.

The general attitude Rodriguez has towards filmmaking anymore - as a way to fuck around with his computer and his workshop - has been bothering me a lot more as of late. However, if he ever does make Machete into a feature, I'd actually like to see how Grindhouse plays out with it replacing Planet Terror.

I'm curious, though, Ian - what do you think about the fact that an revised Death Proof, and not Grindhouse in its entirety, is being entered into competition for the Palme d'Or at Cannes?

rachel said...

As an avid reader of syndicated comics, I have to say that Rex Morgan has really been hard-up for real drama as of late. The only times it's not a total snoozefest is when it's flaunting its homoeroticism. I'd far prefer Fillion as the titular ranger in "Mark Trail" ("Where no poacher goes un-punched!") or Randy Parker in "Judge Parker" ("Very rarely about the judicial system!"), or even Eric Mills in Apartment 3-G ("Like Sex in the City, except no one ever gets laid.")

Of course none of these things will ever happen; these scenarios are just to distract me from the awful truths of "B.C." continuing to exist after Johnny Hart's death, and the blonde couple in "Funky Winkerbean" on the cusp of finding out they're brother and sister.

Ian Pugh said...

True, Jason, that the two ideas are related--and labelling Rodriguez as a gimmick director is probably the only way you can label him anymore--but the difference between the 3-D process and the faux-aging process lies in the difference between being the purveyor and the consumer for exploitation films. With the film scratches, Rodriguez is attempting to mimic the experience of watching those flicks, while the 3-D may have forced him into the role of the guy throwing all that sleaze at us. Not being saddled by kiddie expectations could have helped him better utilize the process itself--of course, then you're still dealing with the B-film fan expectations. Maybe that's the problem with Planet Terror; Rodriguez never really wants to take control of the situation--he only wants immediate gratification as the dude in the theater. Tarantino's a fan, too, but at least he gets off his ass and does some heavy lifting.

I guess if you're going to slice up the double feature at all for submission to Cannes, Death Proof would be the one to send in--to be honest, I don't know how the Cannes juries respond to conceptual gigs like Grindhouse.

Still, Grindhouse doesn't just operate better as a double feature because that's how it was conceibed, but also because Planet Terror acts as a sanitizer for the devastation that Tarantino has in store for his audience. The first few bursts of violence in Death Proof are supremely uncomfortable, but since we've already seen buckets of depravity in Planet Terror, it's easier to see through the horrific acts themselves to understand why they're so uncomfortable: Tarantino equates himself with Stuntman Mike. He's the lone fellow with the encyclopedic knowledge of movies that no one else seems to have even heard of; a man who knowingly puts women in danger for the sake of a cheap thrill--he gives himself away here as an artist attempting to reconcile his love for women with his love for cinema. (Not to mention his ego--I love how he casts himself as the wingman for his own avatar.)

theoldboy said...

I dunno on Planet Terror. It's too much fun for me to have any real animosity towards Rodriguez's insincerity. I almost lump it in his good camp, but it's more in the middle ground. (the low ground being Once Upon A Time In Mexico, the high being Sin City and From Dusk Till Dawn)

Anonymous said...

It seems like my frustrations with Planet Terror are the same as everyone else's, although what I thought was most ridiculous was not only adding in copious amounts of fake scratches and flaws, but adding them onto a DIGITAL canvas. I was practically shaking my head at how pointless it was to watch this supposed wear-and-tear scrape over an image of zombie Tarantino's balls melting into a CGI puddle.

But Death Proof left me grinning like an idiot. I wanted to watch it again as soon as it ended.