By • Mar 1st, 2001 •

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Has anyone noticed that 2001 has started off with some pretty bleak fare in the theaters. I don’t mean bleak as in bad; I mean bleak as in tone. My favorite film so far is The Pledge, and at the NBR screening, half the members of the screening group were wishing Sean Penn had changed the ending from the book (which was set in Switzerland, so it was even bleaker!) For what I assumed would be a change of pace, I caught a screening of Patrice LaConte’s The Widow of St. Pierre. Good Lord! Bummer ending # 2. I staggered out of that one and, in a last attempt to resurrect my spirits, caught up with The Luhzin Defence with John Turturro and Emily Watson. What th! Now I knew I was doomed. What was the meaning of this trend? Was it a precognitive reflection of the Presidential results? And in the weeks that followed, things didn’t get better. I mean, The Million Dollar Hotel… What’s up with all that?! When I have to rely on Hannibal for an upbeat ending, things in the cinema are pretty bleak.

But to backtrack for a moment, The Pledge is Penn’s best directorial effort to date. None of Nicholson’s painful grandstanding in The Crossing Guard, and The Indian Runner I write off as his testing the waters. Nicholson is low key and powerful, the story is compelling and tragic, and you should be supportive and catch it while it’s still around. Just make sure to bring some chocolate to keep your spirits up; if you’re depressed when you go in, they’re gonna be calling 911 to get you out.

Brian Cox in Manhunter

Up and coming: a revisit with actor Brian Cox to coincide with the DVD release of Michael Mann’s Manhunter which, many of you should remember, was Hannibal Lecter’s debut a decade before Silence of the Lambs. Also Kenneth Geist’s voluminous coverage of the New York Film Festival – and at this moment I’m deciding whether to run it all at once or in four installments. And the DVDs keep pouring in, so we’ll doll out a copious amount of coverage of those for you.

And what about Hannibal? Any opinions out there? You have Victoria Alexander’s review to peruse and enjoy, but drop me an email if you have more to add. I found Hopkins charming, but what was with the first hour? I guess Ridley Scott felt he was building a dark mood in which any time Lecter moved within two feet of someone the audience was going to gasp in anticipation. Sadly, it didn’t work, and that first hour, artistically shot and art directed and all that, is the longest buildup to a monster appearance since King Kong in 1933, and far less successful. I’d still prefer to see Fay Wray doing scream tests to watching a dour cop moping around Italy pondering the best way to fund his young wife’s rich tastes.

Now the second half is a different story. The film has made hundreds of millions by now, so I’m not destroying the experience by saying that while Ray Liotta didn’t hit his mark in the first two acts with all pistons going, he did some of his best acting in the third act with only half a brain. Does this mean he’s a cinch for the scarecrow in the remake of Wizard of Oz? Only time will tell. But I mean it when I say that effects work aside, he really upset me in those final minutes, and he was damn good. Julianne Moore – last year’s NBR winner for Best Actress – I’ve got no problem with Ms. Moore, but I think she was miscast. A few times during the film the character of Clarice Starling is referred to as trailer trash who raised herself out of redneck territory but never quite escaped the stigma. Julianne Moore never gave off a suggestion of that background. Jodie Foster did. And Hillary Swank, who I heard was being considered for the role, would have. And a little makeup could have aged her properly. Too bad.

Saw a wonderful documentary by Californian Ted Bonnitt called Mau Mau Sex Sex, the subject matter of which is “the two oldest independent filmmakers in the United States”. Dan Sonney (84) and David Friedman (76) created most of the nudie cuties of the 50s, the nudie roughies of the 60s, and the gore films of the 60s and 70s – the ones that played the 750 theatres around the country that were off the Hollywood main stream. Titles like The Defilers, She Freak, The Erotic Adventures of Zorro (the first film rated ‘Z’), and Trader Hornee. Not films for every taste, but in their own way path-setters in the field of exploitation. The amazing thing is how charming, and what raconteurs, these old guys are. The film is certainly enlightening, but its most amazing achievements are being sweet and touching. And of interest to all independent filmmakers out there, it was shot on digital video, edited on Final Cut Pro, and is being self-distributed in the 40 or so theaters around the country equipped to project digital video. The opening in NYC is April 6th, and I highly recommend it.

That’s it for now. Keep tuning in. Plenty of goodies on the runway.

Stay well!

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