Volume 3, Number 19
This Week's Reviews: The Dish, The Tailor of Panama.
Shooting Gallery Reviews: Too Much Sleep, The Day I Became a Woman.
This Week's Omissions: Nikita Blues.
(Dir: Rob Sitch, Starring Sam Neill, Kevin Harrington, Tom Long, Patrick Warburton, Roy Billing, Genevieve Mooy, Tayler Kane, Lenka Kripac, John McMartin, Billie Brown, Andrew S. Gilbert, Carl Snell, Matthew Moore, Eliza Szonert, and Billy Mitchell)
BY: DAVID PERRY
If there were any justice on television, The Dish would have followed the recent Fox special that attempted to prove that American astronauts did not walk on the moon. In such a flagrant attempt for ratings that meant belittling a huge scientific achievement like the space walk, Fox chose to take only one side and make some Inside Edition exposé on this, which more or less threw journalistic integrity out the window.
Watching The Dish in a barely attended screening, I was taken back to that special and how 10 times more people probably watched it compared to the amount that will see The Dish. This motion picture focuses on something great in history and takes pride in an achievement that was as momentous for America as it was "for all mankind." Heaven forbid that people take pride in something like the moonwalk, when they can instead sit and hypothesize on the idea that it was all one complex farce.
End rant -- I'm in too good a mood from The Dish to allow the anger at Fox to continue. The Dish is one of the few films these days that leaves the audience feeling great at the end without pandering to them once. It's like the old days, when Preston Sturges would deliver another great little fare to make us feel good after Alfred Hitchcock boggled our minds and Nicholas Ray depressed us. The Dish is not a great film by any means, but it is certainly refreshing.
One of the facts behind the airing of Apollo 11's moonwalk that has been long forgotten in the U.S. is that the transmission of the first steps on the moon was not from an American satellite dish, but from one in Parkes, Australia. As part of the long chain of workers at NASA on that project, the radio telescope in Parkes was meant as a way to keep up with the traveling rocket when above the Southern Hemisphere (the Northern Hemisphere, by the way, was covered by a dish in Goldstone, California), and as fate would have it, was the only one available when Neil Armstrong decided to leave the lunar module early.
Now, everyone knows how things happen and whether or not Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins made it back -- any school child can nearly transcribe the entire events behind the 11th and 13th Apollo missions. So, instead of working with the long known, director Rob Sitch takes on the film almost completely dealing with the various people of Parkes. While there is a moment that is completely reliant on the emotions that come from the moonwalk -- and, might I add, the film's finest moment -- the main emphasis in the film is on the people in the Parkes dish and those in the city waiting for their townsmen to make them proud.
The leader of the dish team is Cliff Buxton (Neill), who takes on the task in part for his own pleasure in the work, in part for the memory of his late wife. He is very passionate about the place -- he has worked there for a very long time and never thought that it would actually have such an importance. Cliff is joined in the dish with technician Mitch (Harrington) and mathematician Glenn (Long). Also there is a straight-as-an-arrow NASA representative (Warburton) who causes anger from Mitch merely in his attempt to remain as close to NASA protocol as possible.
This is merely the second film from Rob Sitch, who made the 1999's Aussie crossover hit The Castle, and his novice standings show in this film. While his approach did not hurt the strict comedy The Castle, it shows much more here. There are times that seem pushed and lost even though the actual events in the scenes are otherwise interesting. I was especially unhappy with Stich's decision to frame the film with the horrid present-day sentimentality that also hurt Saving Private Ryan in 1998. I have nothing against a film using non-linear storytelling (i.e. Memento, Amores Perros), but this present framing looking back device always seems sloppy, a type of directorial touch of inexperience.
Nevertheless, The Dish is enjoyable to watch -- it
one of those rare crowd-pleasers that do not feel contrived and forced. Rob Sitch may not
have the directing chops to make it great, but he did succeed in making it good.
|The Tailor of Panama
(Dir: John Boorman, Starring Geoffrey Rush, Pierce Brosnan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Leonar Varela, Brendan Gleeson, Harold Pinter, Catherine McCormack, Daniel Radcliffe, Lola Boorman, David Hayman, Mark Margolis, Martin Ferrero, John Fortune, Martin Savage, Edgardo Molino, Jonathan Hyde, Dylan Baker, Paul Birchard, Harry Ditson, Ken Jenkins, and Adolfo Arias Espinosa)
BY: DAVID PERRY
With The Tailor of Panama, director John Boorman goes into a world of intrigue that he has yet to handle before hand. In the midst of a filmography that includes a horror film (The Exorcist II: The Heretic), a family drama (Hope & Glory), a historical biography (The General), a gangster noir (Point Blank), a period epic (Excalibur), a thriller (Deliverance), and a political exposé (Beyond Rangoon), Boorman delivers his first try at the spy genre and all that it involves. The lies, the double-crossings, the sex -- everything has been wrapped into the package. But Boorman takes it one step beyond expectations -- as is perhaps his calling card -- he does not leave everything to the cliché-ridden rules of the genre.
In perhaps his best touch in getting away from genre restrictions, John Boorman hires Pierce Brosnan to play the spy. Now, of course, this automatically sounds the antithesis of Boorman's unconventional style: to play a spy, he hires an actor automatically associated with the spy character. But Boorman does not make Brosnan's Andy Osnard into another variation on James Bond. In fact, Osnard is a complete change of face for the actor, trading in his suaveness for brutishness. When Osnard gets the girl, it's from her lack of defiance, not the tired come-ons he throws at her.
Osnard is a MI6 agent sent to Panama to keep an eye on the goings-on in the nation and helping to continue Britain's interest in the upkeep of the Panama Canal. He has tarnished his record in England, and the people in charge see Panama as a safe place to tuck away the ineffectual agent. But something happens in the country: within days Osnard is filling the minds of the British ambassador (Hayman) and his subordinates with the ideas of a pending sale of the canal to foreign powers and of a Panamanian underground movement that is intent on taking over the government.
These ideas are not completely from Osnard, he has merely become the envoy for the lies. Upon arrival in Panama, Osnard went to work on the most malleable Brit in the country that he could get information from: Harry Pendel (Rush), tailor to the finest men in Panama. Through his work, Harry hears all the gossip, all the ideas that are fit to print. Sometimes he gets information from the local newspaper's gossip columnist (Ferrero), other times from the Panamanian president (Espinosa). Beyond merely talking continually while he prepares their suits, they even stay in a lounge found inside Harry's shop where the well-to-do smoke cigars, drink scotch, and tell of their latest efforts.
Harry has debts and a past, both of which Osnard has learned of. In fact, Harry's shop is called Brathwaite and Pendel, even though the Braithwaite, whom he often speaks of fondly, did not exist. The real man behind Braithwaite was Harry's Uncle Benny (who Harry still sees occasionally looking like, of all people, Harold Pinter), a smalltime schnook, who had Harry torch his shop in England to collect the insurance. That action would lead to Harry's stint in prison.
No one in Panama knows of this past, not even Harry's wife Louisa (Curtis). In all actuality, Harry is not the destitute that Osnard thinks he is. Even though he works in one of the lower professions, his prices are high, his customers are the best of the country, and his wife is an employee of the company that overlooks the canal's business. Everything looks good for Harry's life: the money that he and his wife have made in their jobs allow them to drive nice cars, live in a fine villa, and send their two children to private schools. But Harry still feels like something is missing, his bank is about to ask for their loaned money back knowing that he does not have it, and Osnard is perfectly feeling for Harry's need for importance.
Osnard lets Harry tell him lies that involve his friend (Gleeson) and secretary (Varela), both of whom were scarred during Noriega's reign, as leaders of a silent rebellion ruminating under the government's radar. Does Osnard believe anything Harry tells him? Who knows -- Osnard probably doesn't care, just as long as the information will make him look good in the eyes of his superiors.
By far, the film seems slightly fixated on Osnard even though his story is much more of a supporting part. One meeting between Osnard and Louisa leaves a definite feeling of burden -- it's almost as if in John le Carré's novel (which I have not read), Osnard had as much importance as Harry or that his was a minor character that was slightly enlarged due to Brosnan's starpower.
Nevertheless, the one that really shines in the film is Geoffrey Rush, who gives his requisite great performance here. Rush usually plays men of power (Les Misérables' Jevert, Elizabeth's Francis Walsingham) or flashy showboats (Shine's David Helfgott, Quills' Marquis de Sade); it is rare to catch him in such a resigned yet intricate character. Rush did this once before, to my recollection, with Philip Henslowe in Shakespeare in Love, though that role has a great deal less to evoke in the performance. As I continue work with 2001, I would not be too surprised if I still have Rush down on my final five when choosing the best actor of the year. He really is terrific as the title character in The Tailor of Panama.
John Boorman and master cinematographer Philippe Rousselot
do a good job capturing Panama City and the beauty that can be found in such a dirty
place. At one point, Harry muses that Panama is "Casablanca without the heroes."
Yeah, that seems about right, the beauty of that Moroccan city is just as noticeable in
Boorman's Panama. And Osnard and Harry are definitely not heroes.
Shooting Gallery Reviews: The second batch of Shooting Gallery screeners came in. Though both films are already in release in the main cities in the Shooting Gallery release platform, there are still some cities awaiting Too Much Sleep and The Day I Became a Woman.
|Too Much Sleep
(Dir: David Maquiling, Starring Marc Palmieri, Pasquale Gaeta, Nicol Galinsky, Judy Sabo Podinker, Mary Ann Riel, John Stonehill, R.G. Rader, Ruth Kaye, Jon Langione, Joan Maquiling, Jack Mertz, Glenn Zarr, Raj Kanithi, Peggy Lord Chilton, and Temme Davis)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Has anyone noticed that suburbia gets a bad rap in cinema these days -- whether it be the splendid You Can Count on Me or the innocuous suburbia, no one really seems to scream the happiness of a home where families are close and neighbors are even closer. I lived there until last year, when I went back to my urban dwelling, but I have no real qualm with the life I left behind -- generally, the people you meet in the burbs are far more cordial than the urbanites I know.
Nevertheless, I am often saddened as people scurry aside the small manners of the suburbs -- they have undeservedly been relegated to the world of only the abhorrently rich, hiding from the lesser, working class living in stuffy apartments in the city. Movies do not really latch on to the town halls, the little league games, and the two-bit parades that clutter Main Street on the occasional Sunday afternoon. When Too Much Sleep begins, you get the feeling that there is going to be an acknowledgment of this life -- with the sprinkler drenching the lawn and the small child playing in her front yard. But serene as this opening may be, the subsequent moments come closer to the fractured fairy tell found in Blue Velvet.
Director David Masquiling yearns for that homespun Pacific northwest found in Blue Velvet and the geniality of the northeast in Henry Fool while creating something along the lines of Martin Scorseses After Hours -- all the while failing to make something that could compare to any of those films. Masquiling states that he means for it to be an allegory of a warrior growing into maturity through the search for his rapier, yet the end product is more like a listless, unimportant individual stumbling into situations that are closer to contrivance than interest. The films lead is more like a Buster Keaton version of a warrior without the laughs. For the audience to feel any position on whether or not he matures is dependent on whether or not they accept him as someone to even care about.
The films subject, Jack (Palmieri), sleeps all day and sleeps all night. He still lives with his mom, who wakes him up to go to work, where, as the security guard, he sleeps. On one normal day, while daydreaming on the bus, a beautiful woman (Zanzarella) asks for him to give up his seat to a sickly old lady (Podinker) -- he happily does so only to then notice that his paper bag has been stolen from the seat. Inside was his unregistered handgun -- the mark of both his occupation and his journey into adulthood. Without the gun, he is neither secure nor grown, making this inheritance from his father an important object to retrieve.
He asks for the help of Eddie (Gaeta), the wannabe mug who tells tales that would make Joe Pesci envious. Eddie talks him into finding and tailing all those involved, which brings Jack to stalking the old lady and sleeping with the beautiful woman -- but, hey, his mind is only on getting this gun back. By the films finale, we have been everywhere from a Chinese restaurant to a gay bar -- the latter of which results in his inexplicable roughing up for, egad, asking a question to the bars owner.
This, the third from Shooting Gallerys latest slate
of releases, fails to work with the suburban setting that has been beautifully recreated
twice under their distribution -- the acclaimed You Can Count on Me and Judy
Berlin. I can see why they decided to take this film under their wing -- it features
some interesting choices for cinematographer Robert Mowen, though his continuity between
two lighting setups needs to be fixed, and a nice little score from Mitchell Toomey.
However the film may fail under the direction and screenplay of Maquiling, the experience
is not all that bad from a technical standpoint.
|The Day I Became a Woman
(Dir: Marzieh Meshkini, Starring Fatemah Cherag Akhar, Shabnam Toloui, Azizeh Sedighi, Hassan Nebhan, Shahr Banou Sisizadeh, Ameneh Passand, Sirous Kahvarinegad, Mahram Zeinal Zadeh, Norieh Mahigiran, and Badr Iravani)
BY: DAVID PERRY
"The Day I Became a Woman is about woman whose problem is being who they are: women."
In Iran, women are second-class citizens, the people that sit back and await their fate. They are here only to serve their husbands. In the press notes for the film, director Marzieh Meshkini tells of how "upon learning that a newborn is a girl in these societies, the family and friends console the parents by wishing them a boy for their next child."
The film is divided into three episodes, all looking at the female standings in the Iranian society expecting them to hide their faces behind veils and keep their opinions and needs to themselves. This idea is strong in all of the stories, they are each dependent on their subjects losing everything as a ritual of Iranian survival (and Iran is actually one of the more liberal nations in dealing with women).
The first story is about a young girl named Hava (Akhtar). She wakes up one morning to find her grandmother excited over the fact that it is Hava's ninth birthday. According to Muslim tradition, nine is the age in which a girl becomes a woman and must begin acting like one. No longer can Hava go out and play with her male friends, she must instead don a chador to cover her face from the eyes of men. Through a little manipulation and hope, Hava is able to convince her mother and grandmother to let her spend one more hour as a child -- it is 11 o'clock and she was born at noon. With a stick in hand to tell time, she sets out to spend one last hour in the life that she has always known.
The second story is less a pleasure and more exigent. Following a young wife named Ahoo (Toloui), the stage is set for one woman's defiant attempt to get out of her cultural restrictions. She is in a bike race with dozens of other women, all wearing a chador. But their faces of joy are not shared with Ahoo, who, though in the lead, looks much more unstable. Her husband rides a horse next to her and implored her to come off of the bike and join him -- not only does she have a bad leg, but he also believes that the bike is a device of the devil. Through a multitude of other men, Ahoo is left to scorn them with her decision to not get off the bike and continue riding -- it is her one shining moment of individuality.
Houra (Pasand) is the subject of the third story -- the only one that really attempts comedy. She is elderly, long waiting her time to live in a life that restricted her to solitude. She has come to the city to buy appliances and trinkets, things that she was never allowed to own when with her husband. She does not seem spiteful to her place in society, just thankful for this time in which she can make decisions for herself. The only real problem is that her dreams are so miniscule by Western standards: most every American woman has owned her own refrigerator.
Like nearly every film from Iran, The Day I Became a Woman is more about the moment than the full story. Everything is brought to the fore 'as is,' nothing is really explained beyond their relevance at the time. For some people, this storytelling technique, or lack thereof, could make the tales hard to care about. But that is not what Meshkini means with her quick vignettes. Each story does not rely on what happened before; all is dependent on this singular time.
By far, the most demanding story is the second, which is also the only one that really fails. While the story is one of the most important, it does not come across too well in the repetition of styles that Meshkini employs. The ethereal first story and comical third story are much more pleasurable to watch -- the second story is instead challenging. I can certainly see how some would consider it to be the best of the three (in my opinion, that title goes to the first story), but I was only lost in its redundancy to continue its saga.
In her film, the status of women is shown in each episode
taking a stab at different walks of life all looking at the same fate. Meshkini has been
lucky enough to go beyond the culture's restrictions: her husband is the highly successful
director Mohsen Makhmalbaf (Gabbeh), who taught her to direct films as part of
his Makhmalbaf Film House, a film school that has also brought about The Apple
director Samira Makhmalbaf, their daughter. The Day I Became a Woman is
Meshkini's senior film project and shows a great deal of promise for a fine future --
something that none of her subjects share.