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.

Saturday, December 5, 2009


On Wednesday, December 2, the red carpet rolled out in front of the Paris Theatre in New York City to welcome cast and crew who all came out for the film to celebrate the special screening event of THE LOVELY BONES directed by Peter Jackson. Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Rachel Weisz, Michael Imperioli, Susan Sarandon (who looked absolutely stunning at the premiere), the acting including Sairse Ronan and Rose McIver was excellent, the entire cast was outstanding as was the film production and special effects.

The drama takes us through the afterlife of Susie Salmon, a small-town Pennsylvania girl who was murdered by her neighbor, a local serial killer. She looks down on her shattered family from her place in limbo seeing her mother abandon the family and her father becoming increasingly obsessed with finding her killer on the verge of a mental and emotional breakdown. From this celestial vantage point, she starts to fear for the safety of her little sister who may become the next target of this seemingly innocuous neighbor.

The trailer is awesome. I didn't read the book but read how great the book was in the production notes and why everyone was so excited about it. It is intriguing and challenging. Just as other great books turn into movies, some translate well, others do not. Since the film premiere, I have been watching the trailer over and over again. It's a great trailer that makes me want to see the film and then I asked myself - what happened with the movie?

There were individual, separate vignettes of characters, all well presented but they didn't gel. Where one story begins, another becomes attached and then forgotten as another becomes introduced and takes over the film. From a crime ripped out of the headlines, followed by grandmother and grandson stealing scenes from one another for comic relief, then the marriage that inevitably falls apart without really knowing the cause culminating with the tense, horror film genre where the young heroine puts herself in harms way only to be saved at the last minute. Finally, the suspicious neighbor seems to get away with murder. Tough story for the big screen. I still like the trailer best.