Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Breakfast On Pluto


Breakfast On Pluto has been getting so-so reviews. The film, which opens Friday at the Varsity, currently has a 51% rating on the Tomatometer. The common complaint seems to be that it's a superficial, insufficiently political piece of fluff with a shallow, unchanging character at its center. True, and yet these very qualities make it fairly enjoyable. The film is invariably compared to The Crying Game, but has more in common with The Velvet Goldmine. As in Goldmine, Pluto builds its framework from a 70's glam aesthetic, but Jordan does a far better job of investing his fondness for that period in his characters. Patrick 'Kitten' Braden is not a riff on Bowie or Bolan, but on the common sources they shared, namely rock 'n roll and Hollywood glamour and, like both of those wellsprings, the charm of the character resides in the faith that he shall never die. Kitten is indeed an unchanging, un-ageing, indestructible figure who weathers fire, explosions and assaults, both physical and emotional, virtually unscathed. In that regard he shares more in common with Candy than Candide, though foregoing either's satirical purpose. Like Candy, Kitten is a love magnet, winning if not warming the heart of every potential adversary whether they be bikers, rockers, IRA members, cops or clergy. Whereas in real life such a person would come to a dozen ignoble ends, Kitten nimbly traverses through a cat's worth of lives. Although the film skits upon the Troubles of Ireland and has a note to say about intolerance, it is really more a fantasy of survival and acceptance, which is, when you really come down to it, what the romance of the movies is all about. Like James Bond, the allure of Kitten is that he can't be killed or rejected. Breakfast On Pluto, then, is a feel good film, a Disney movie for grownups, complete with talking robins. It's true that Cillian Murphy's unique performance [which, at turns, reminds one of Sissy Spacek and Miranda July] has a frilly, solipsistic quality that would become grating if encountered for more than, say, the 135 minutes of the film, but then, would you really want to date Holly Golightly? Breakfast On Pluto also has the virtue of sporting a fine supporting cast and perhaps the best damned soundtrack of the year, featuring three songs by Harry Nilsson, two by Van Morrison, a brace of tunes by Slade, T-Rex and Dusty Springfield and one by Britain's greatest furry band, The Wombles.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Potter blindness

Yesterday due to an unexpected block of free time totaling over an hour, I went to the first film I've been able to attend in, what, six months? My car was in the shop getting a new clutch, making the film (or the commute) one of the most expensive in living memory, for me.

It was a screening of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Pacific Place, and I enjoyed the film. At this point I think the franchise has more-or-less figured out how to deal with the overly-formulaic books and barring a sudden change in plumerie from Ms. Rowling, expect the films to deliver a richer experience than the written precursors.

However, it's three months too late for a review of this film, so what I'm really interested in reporting is that in theater, um, 3 (?) last night, for whatever reason, a) there were no previews whatsoever for any filum, and furthermore, the interminable ad reel portion of our evening was presented, radically, entirely sans image. In my excitement, I failed to note if the good patrons were storming the gates in search of animated polarbears and the like, but that failure in and of itself constitutes reportage - there was certainly no hub-bub of complaint.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Evaluations: Quick And Expensive Comments on The Talent In The Room

The Writer has noticed that, like an ill-fated space launch, Seattle films have a tendency to be shot into the cosmos, never to be heard from again. Indeed, many fail to even complete a sub-orbital flight, bouncing back upon the stratosphere, disintegrating upon re-entry. The Writer thinks that, perhaps, there should be an Ansari X Prize for the first locally made film to achieve full orbit [i.e. a significant number of people not related to, personally acquainted with or employed by the filmmakers, paying money to see the film in at least 100 theaters not located in Seattle]. Is there such a project waiting in the wings? Let's review the line-up.

Given Guy Maddin's status, The Brand Upon The Brain! would have to be considered the most favorable contender. If the film is half as good as Cowards Bend The Knee it will be a lovely masterpiece. Although the film, still in post-production, has missed the trajectory for Sundance it will, without doubt, land at a festival of choice and receive a healthy measure of notice. However, Maddin, being a Canadian, cannot be considered a local, so one must sadly disqualify him. The film, nevertheless, should be a gilded feather in the Film Company's cap.

Activist, Lovecraft fanatic and Belltown Messenger columnist Grant Cogswell might have a winner with Cthulhu. The Writer has heard fairly favorable things about this production, a first-time effort for director Dan Gildark, and many warm wishes are to be sent their way as they endeavor to wrap principle shooting.

The NWFF is in discussion with a distribution company for the Charles Mudede, Robinson Devor film, Police Beat, but word has yet to emerge of when a deal might be expected. Mudede and Devor also have a promising project on their hands with Minotaur, a political thriller to be shot in Vancouver and Seattle, but word has is that the production is in the cooler. However, they appear to be plunging forward with their documentary In The Forest There Is Every Kind of Bird, a philosophical rumination on the universality of desire and the intersection between man and animal; mainly in the guise of the guy who got fucked to death by a horse in Enumclaw. Though not many people enjoy philosophy, many people love animals, so the film has the potential to be a classic along the lines of March of the Penguins or Barnyard Playmates 6.

Admirable productions all! And yet, The Writer, if he were a betting man, would feel quite confident on placing a sum on David Russo's #2. The Writer has long felt favorably towards Russo, even though he has only recently seen his films. The Writer first became aware of Russo at a NWFF membership meeting where Russo contentiously called into question the NWFF's selection process for the Start to Finish films. The Writer felt that for a filmmaker, Russo was stupendously brash and impolitic in questioning the Film Forum's method in choosing their projects and became an admirer of his from that moment on. Since then The Writer's admiration has grown with every outrage Russo has thrown at the complacency of the local scene. His use of the Fly Film program to critique the Fly Film program; his use of his Stranger Genius Award acceptance speech to critique The Stranger. One could dismiss these hand-bitings as the gestures of a well-tolerated crank if it were not for the fact that if he wasn't always right, he was always deliciously funny. If one can forgive an artist for being a bit of a grouch one can do so more easily if the artist lightens one's spirit with amusement. In this regard Russo bares a faint resemblance to Vincent Gallo, but without the horrendous politics. In any case, The Writer has always found Russo's candor to be refreshing. Now with his very own Start to Finish project [the irony!] Russo finds himself within the bosom of the machine and has been given the opportunity to ask himself if he measures up to his contentions.

Several weeks ago, The NWFF held a gathering to formally announce #2 as their new project. The Writer was not feeling well, but attended with the conviction that something satisfying would be witnessed. The gathering was small, no doubt due to the fact that Werner Herzog was in town. Russo's producer, Jennifer Roth, suggested that the meeting be postponed and that a decampment to Herzog's screening might be in order. Russo considered this notion but concluded that even if only three people showed, he owed them the courtesy of his presence and since Werner Herzog had never attended any of his screenings he didn't see the need to attend one of his. The decision was sound as numerous people began to arrive. Refreshments were made available. One table held snacks of various order, but The Writer was in no mood to eat. Another table offered drinks of an alcoholic and non-alcoholic nature. Given The Writer's struggle to stave off a cold, the imbibing of alcohol was out of the question, but water was very much in order. The Writer consumed several glasses, which he poured from a plastic bottle. The participants, some of which The Writer knew, some of which The Writer recognized, made small talk. The Writer mostly listened. The meeting was called to order. Seats were taken. Announcements were made.

Michael Seiwerath spoke briefly, introducing #2 as the NWFF's latest project. Then Jennifer Roth spoke quickly and modestly, but with the evident satisfaction of one who has taken on a pleasing task. Then came the main attraction. Bounding out in front of the assembly, Russo capered about, introducing himself with the humor, joy and enthusiasm of a student let loose on the last day of school. He gave precious few details of the film, other than to say it was about janitors, but as he spoke visions of Gondry danced in The Writer's head.

The Writer spoke briefly with Russo afterwards. Russo expressed the desire to craft a tight, but generous film. He had rehearsed the script with a group of actors and had videotaped the rehearsals. He learned much from the actors, what lines would work and what wouldn't and drew inspiration from their improvisations, often incorporating them into the work. The Writer might be over interpreting, but sensed Russo's concern about his directorial leap from shorts to a feature film. Russo has spent years making films, some of which he would barely show. His furtiveness reveals a canny hand, a cool desire to build his craft in secret, only revealing his talents when they became too strong to conceal. Russo spoke with a notion of responsibility, but a sense of liberty. He was aware of the necessity to deliver, but would be damned if he would be constrained by it. If Russo has any first feature jitters he can rest easy. As far as the logistics of production go he couldn't be in better hands. Jennifer Roth is as seasoned a producer as one could hope for. Having worked for over ten years as a production coordinator, line producer, co-producer and producer, her credits include The Squid and The Whale, Dead Man, Bad Lieutenant, Smoke, Black and White, Blue in The Face, Chinese Coffee and The Crow. Having dealt with Al Pacino, Abel Ferrara, Harvey Keitel and James Toback one can assume Ms. Roth will have little trouble managing the fractious Mr. Russo. The minute he gets out of line, she'll pick him up by his ears like a pup. As for whatever concerns Russo may have over the artistic aspects of #2, The Writer can only observe that Russo has a quality which cannot be acquired at the Sundance Institute or bought off the shelf at B&H Photo. Namely, a distinct sensibility. The primary flaw of most first features is not any technical shortcoming, but the sense that there was no particular reason the film needed to be made and that the director could just as easily been spending his day making oatmeal. If Russo has one quality it is that he is, as W.C. Fields would say, a definite personality. This might not be enough to carry him to the stars, but it may well be sufficient to get him to the offices of IFC Films.