Thursday, December 17, 2009


What is it about first time filmmakers? It's all the same, especially when the director, also writer of SAINT JOHN OF LAS VEGAS, Hue Rhodes "has a circuitous path to filmmaking, following many interests and careers before deciding to focus on becoming a director in his late twenties" (taken from the production notes). What I saw was a bunch of poorly shot scenes totally unrelated within a very small story. It's like going off on tangents while telling an overly-long bad joke. Typical of the first time writer/director is the character's bland narration, inconsistently placed, lacking originality and freshness with the obligatory opening: a start-in-the-bathroom scene staring in the mirror, doing some personal hygiene, standing in front of the closet in underwear, getting dressed. The rest of the movie takes place in badly lit convenience stores (three), gas stations/office bathrooms (three), cheap hotel rooms (two), very long car rides, harsh blinding desert light into total blackness of a strip club, strippers parading around to obnoxiously audio-mixed music, naked militants reassessing their philosophy. None of the characters with their trite one-liners are funny, surprising or add anything to a weak script.

What is surprising is that Steve Buschemi is starring in this lowly, low budget class exercise coming out of the film-related extension courses taken by the director because that is the reason why I went to see this film in the first place. Buschemi consistently takes an odd-ball character to new heights, midtones and ranges as shown in so many excellent films and his attempt to do so in this film is commendable. Recently, THE MESSENGER was screened at the Hamptons Film Festival and I saw him at different social gatherings deeply engrossed in conversation with producers and filmmakers who probably pitch him left and right. Perhaps after reading the script about a down-on-his-luck character -the trials and tribulations of a former gambler trying to change his luck- made an impression on him and I could understand what may have drawn him to the project. It makes sense especially seeing a credit "in association with" Olive Productions where he and partners Stan Tucci and Wren Arthur have various film and television projects in development and signed a first look deal with Lionsgate Television. On the other hand, a very talented Peter Dinklage who has not had a role that outshines the one in THE STATION AGENT (then named as one of the "breakout stars" of the year) should have been more selective. The character he plays in the film is especially offensive.

This type of film and filmmaking may be what's in store for years to come since the end of the indie film distribution model as we know it where films are submitted to festivals, screened competively with audience awards as a kind of focus group, picked up by a distributor and theatrically exhibited. Not that there weren't problems with that and often unfair to first-time filmmakers, but the filters have been removed and in place of film aficionados there are financiers, lawyers and acquisition coordinators turned producers raising funds up front to cover low budget production through investors, product placement and video game development and then financing an independent theatrical release. Oh yeah, don't forget a drop dead great trailer with rearranged scenes and dialogue to make this look like a funny, exciting film is a must. A case for false advertising if ever there is one where so many features are guilty of this ruse. While it's still true that filmmaking itself takes a "circuitous path" once made until theatrically released, this one goes straight downhill from the start.

No comments:

Post a Comment