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NewCityNet On The Ground

By Ray Pride

FEBRUARY 7, 2000:  "Never eat pork," baseball great Satchel Paige used to say, "It angries up the blood." That's how I feel about film festivals sometimes, particularly when I'm not in a theater watching movies. Never swallow hype. It angries up the blood. Film festivals--the other white noise.

A non sequitur from a druggy 1970s Firesign Theatre album keeps running through my brain: How can you be in two places at once when you're not anywhere at all? Everyone's got an agenda or else they're hurtling headlong to the end of next week. Places to do; people to be. There are many potential ways you can spend your day at Sundance, but all will involve a little slush and a little overlap and a lot of frustration unless you resign yourself to the flow of the day.

The smell of burning firewood dances off the soft damp chill of snow melting on the ground. A squirrel is trying to come in out of the woods from the condo patio to where I am typing this. How can this bushy-tailed creature look so attentive and yet so vacant? He hasn't been burned by the movies.

My tally has been fair. Friday's debut of "American Psycho" made for an ironic spectacle, as the NC-17 version of Mary ("I Shot Andy Warhol") Harron's film played to an audience wanting either to be amused or abused. Most of the audience, judging from their sleek winter wear and cell phone headsets and Kate Spade bags and buttery leather shoes that have never known moisture or salt, were of the class that the April Lions Gate release is meant to send up. The money is thronging for a slap on the wrist.

I wasn't enthralled by everything in the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' funny, overkill-filled novel, but there's a part of me that's always keen on cool compositions and staid decors as the setting for fevered behavior. And that's the case here, where the 1980s moneyed Manhattan manors are as serenely delineated as anything in a David Cronenberg film. Christian Bale is remorselessly buff, and seems to be in on the same dry joke as Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner, at least when he's not called on to do a little, then a lot, of Jack Nicholson in "The Shining."

Directly before "American Psycho," I caught the premiere of Stanley Tucci's film of "Joe Gould's Secret," written by Howard Rodman and drawn from the wonderful New Yorker profiles by the late Joseph Mitchell. Ian Holm is inspired and agile in the role of brilliant madman Joe Gould, a 1940s-1950s Greenwich Village regular who would recite selections from his unending "Oral History of the World," for just a small donation, of course, to "The Joe Gould Fund." Tucci plays Mitchell as a listener, a man content to ask a few questions and allow the journalism to take care of itself. The visual style of the film is similarly restrained, mostly staying at a distance and watching how two figures move around each other in all sorts of conversation.

Stacey Cochran, who made 1992's inspired suburban fantasia, "My New Gun," hasn't had a prolific career over the last decade, but her premiere here, "Drop Back Ten" demonstrates an agile sense of how people flirt, cajole and bullshit each other in the modern world. The look of the film, shot in a brisk twenty days, is simple, leaving us to savor some marvelous dialogue. A few friends I saw at the screening found it "punishingly slow," but I was caught up in the talk between magazine writer James LeGros, his ostensible subject, a seductive teen star (who may be in his 20s) named Spanks, and the invisible, long-buried wife, Amber Valletta, who reappears to change everyone's lives. Valletta's got more screen time than in "In and Out," and shows enough resilience to suggest that she's a model who'll have a decent acting career.

"Gigantic" is a German production from Tom Tykwer's outfit, X Filme, and it's odd in contrast to his 1999 hit, "Run Lola Run." "Gigantic" is a lusciously lit, deliriously scored bubble-gummy tale, and director Sebastian Schipper (who acted in "Lola" and "The English Patient") is interested in thwarting expectations. While his lovingly cast trio of twentysomething Hamburg layabouts course through their last evening together as friends, even conflicts with Gypsy Elvis impersonator stunt drivers and foosball hustlers named Snake turn out to be pretty much meaningless without a pop song behind them. Which in fact seems to be Schipper's ultimate point. The foosball face-off is a pretty remarkable post-video-game bit of cutting and camera placement, though.

Tammy Faye Bakker is slogging the slopes to promote Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato's "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," a semi-documentary about her life from the makers of last year's wonderfully appalling "Party Monster." Their keenest stroke is to cut away from interview material about her life with disgraced evangelist Jim Bakker to footage from "Fall From Grace," the mediocre 1990 TV movie made of his life, starring Kevin Spacey.

Critics are divided on Miguel Arteta's "Chuck & Buck," a shot-on-digital-video comedy that, based on its subject, should have been abhorrent, but in fact dances marvelously along the lines of bad taste and perversion to arrive at something that is laugh-out-loud funny and even frighteningly sweet at the end. Arteta manages to avoid the pitfalls of his erratic first feature, "Star Maps." Screenwriter Mike White also plays Chuck, a 27-year-old emotionally stunted man who's been shielded from the world by his parents. When Chuck's mother dies, and his old pal Buck (a comically wooden Chris Weitz, also known as the director of "American Pie") comes to the funeral, Chuck rekindles his obsession with their games at the age of 11. One angry journalist dubbed it "a gay stalker comedy," but that's quite right. "Chuck & Buck" is actually an eccentric take on how prehensile childhood sexual experiences shape our adult lives, and it's the kind of niche feature with fresh, strange material that the digital video revolution will, one hopes, provide audiences with more of.

Saturday night's debut of Keith Gordon's "Waking the Dead," from the Scott Spencer novel, was a homecoming, stoked by festival co-director Geoffrey Gilmore, who dubbed Gordon's newest "a film after my own heart." I'll be talking to Gordon, and I look forward to finding out some of what drove the luminous, tragic love story between two very pretty but very talented actors who turn in simply great performances here: Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly. This is a true romance. The Q&A after the show found Gordon and his actors cutting up happily, although producer Jodie Foster was content just to wave from the stage before the lights went down.

My Sunday afternoon was consumed with doing the publicist tango, trying to suit my schedule in the week to come to those of the "talent," and I wound up missing the first screening of "Crime and Punishment in Suburbia," crackerjack screenwriter and essayist Larry Gross' update of Dostoevsky (his original title is better, but less marketable: "Crime and Punishment in High School"). Frustration runs high among the oft-pampered ranks of journalists: there were more cries of "Jesus Christ!" in the corridors of the Shadow Ridge Hotel this Sunday morning than you might year in most churches. After filing this, I'll check out a couple of lesser-known titles that have been touted to me, leading up to the premiere of the talented Michael Almereyda's "Hamlet," a Shakespeare update set in the high finance environs of contemporary Manhattan, starring Ethan Hawke, the wonderful Julia Stiles and the always-welcome Bill Murray. (Almereyda made the Pixelvision classics "Another Girl, Another Planet" and "The Rocking Horse Winner" as well as "Nadja" and "Trance.") Then to a party for the Independent Film Channel and their half-dozen films in the festival, a few words of advice and gossip, a few too hours of (I hope) dreamless sleep followed by the 7am alarm to start the cycle again with an 8am press screening. Long live Frappuccino.


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