February 14, 2003

Indie Film Review: February

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

Here's my February indie film review... of some of the flicks I watched late night the last couple of weeks.

Igby Goes Down

Igby Goes Down (2002) was a witty and well-written script by writer/director Burr Steers. Susan Sarandon did a sensational job as the overbearing, impossible to please mother Mimi, as did Keiran Culkin as her delinquent, slacking son, Igby, who manages to get thrown out of every prep school in the East Coast. I guess I’d say this film is sort of like Catcher in the Rye super-imposed over American Beauty, as far as the societal and family themes that are underlined in this film. Someone tried to tell me it’s a post-modern version of Catcher in the Rye. I’d say that is partly true. Igby admits, “I’m drowning in assholes,” a line I felt I understood completely (at more than one time in my life), and his astute understanding of “old money” and the hypocrisy of his appalling family members and their affluent friends is reminiscent of Holden Caufield’s decent into insanity, as he slips away from that inner circle of decadence and drifts into the pseudo-bohemian life of New York City. The characters are all slightly unique from a bi-sexual, performance artist, drug dealer named Russel (Jared Harris) to Igby’s Republican, neo-fascist brother Ollie (Ryan Phillippe), to his parody of a Godfather (Jeff Goldblum) and his sexy-junkie mistress (Amanda Peet) to a bored, eccentric, rich girl from the Upper East Side named Sookie (Claire Danes). One of the stranger scenes in the film involves a cameo from Cynthia Nixon (Sex in the City). It’s a sad flick for sure, but made me laugh. I would have casted some of the roles differently, but the gloomy, dark, realness of the script is why it’s one of the better screenplays written in the last few years.

Business of Strangers

Business of Strangers (2001) was a unique film written and directed by Patrick Stettner. Very few films center around lead roles for 40 something actresses, and this story was centered around the life of a successful business woman in a male dominated industry. Stockard Channing plays Julie Styron a big shot exec who fires her new assistant Paula (Julia Stiles) for being late to an important meeting. She later finds out she’s promoted to CEO, and stuck in an airport hotel with no one to celebrate until she finds Paula who is also stranded. The smooth things over and begin to party, eventually getting to know one another, in several one-on-one scenes, which both actresses handled splendidly. When Paula spots a date-rapist that she went to school with, the film takes a turn, and the women plot to get revenge on the guy, and the tension escalates and the final scenes reveal a more honest depiction of how these women really are.

No Such Thing

No Such Thing (2002) is a Hal Hartley film. I admire Hal Hartley as a writer and director. He ignores trends and makes his films exactly the way he wants to. But his works are an acquired taste. Perhaps because we were all raised in the glowing arms of Hollywood studio cinema, it’s hard to adjust to different forms of film making, and you really need to see some other of his films first, like Surviving Desire (1991), Trust (1990), and The Unbelievable Truth (1989), before you see his most recent release. Any sampling of his previous films will give you a better sense of how his characters all have a certain ambiguous and distant quality to them. Critics and first time viewers often walk away thinking that what they saw was bad acting, but on the contrary, the actors did their jobs exactly as Hartley wrote them.

This film was also set mostly in Iceland, which gives it a surreal, futuristic feel and rhythm to it. Sara Polley plays Beatrice an up and coming reporter who goes to Iceland to investigate the disappearance of a film crew, one of which happened to be her fiancée. Helen Mirren did a kick ass job as the Boss, a cold blooded, sensationalized story seeking TV exec. When Beatrice gets to Iceland, she is confronted with a monster (Robert John Burke), whom after centuries has grown tired of human evolution and had decided to kill everyone that chose to disturb him. She forges an unexpected friendship with the monster and agrees to help him kill himself if he agrees to come back to New York and be interviewed.

La Fille Seule (A Single Girl)

La Fille Seule (1995) is a French film staring Virginie Ledoyen (she was the French chick in the Leo flick The Beach), and written and directed by Benoit Jacquot. This film is shot in real time. Virginie Ledoyen plays a young woman whom we learn is pregnant and in the process of breaking up with boyfriend in the opening scene. Meanwhile, she begins her new job as room service waitress at a hotel in Paris. We follow her around, again in real time, as she works. When she walks to the hotel through the streets of Paris, we follow her for three blocks. As she walks down a hallway, we follow her. When she gets in an elevator, we are with her for every second. This film has a voyeuristic quality to it, as we never leave her alone with her thoughts. Her co-workers are odd, strange, mean, sex-starved, and cynical and her somber and rude customers are even stranger. I assume that during the times she walks down long corridors in this hotel dropping off breakfast, we are supposed to be thinking about how this will be her everyday routine, until she gives birth to her child, and then afterwards, perhaps the rest of her life, she will be doing this as her job in society, an empty, sad existence, to raise and support her baby by herself. It’s slightly morose, yet thought provoking none the less. The French try to attain reality in films shot during real time instead of what American TV has been doing the last few years. This gives you a more genuine feel of what it’s like to follow someone around for ninety minutes, in the middle of one of the more dramatic moments of their life.

Where the Buffalo Roam

This 1980 film opens with the graphic: Based on the Twisted Life of Hunter S. Thompson. It’s a loosely based film, directed by Art Linson, on some of Hunter’s early writings, not to be confused with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (starring Johnny Depp as Hunter and directed by Terry Gilliam). In Where the Buffalo Roam, Bill Murray plays the gun toting, drug and booze guzzling journalist as we follow him and his attorney Lazlo (Peter Boyle playing the real life friend of Hunter’s, Oscar Zeta Acosta). Murray is more Bill Murray than Hunter Thompson (versus the accurate portrayal by Depp in Fear and Loathing) but he has his moments for sure. The film jumps around from San Francisco in 1968, where Lazlo is defending hippies busted for illegal searches and seizures to the Super Bowl in 1972, where Hunter is supposed to be covering the Big Game for Blast magazine and their annoying editor (Bruno Kirby). In reality, Hunter wrote articles for Rolling Stone, and was notorious for turning in articles months late after getting hefty advances and running up extraordinary hotel room service and bar bills, often disappearing for months at a time. Hunter then gets tapped to cover the 1972 election and some stories are pulled right out of his novel Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail 1972, when he covered the presidential election between McGovern and Nixon. Many political pundits almost reluctantly admitted that his book was one of the best and most truthful attempts about American politics ever written. I actually read that book first in a Political Science class at Emory, before I delved into his more visceral writings. Hunter’s zany, and questionable hijinks include dosing a Washington Post columnist on the Zoo Plane (Hunter was kicked off the journalists plane and banished to the Zoo Plane which jetted the media, TV & film crew-mostly hippies, beatniks, and long hairs, from each campaign stop) to cornering Nixon in a bathroom to give a rambling speech on the “doomed” in America in 1972, the lonely, confused people who genuinely felt the world was going to come apart. And there, without any sympathy, pulling up his zipper, Nixon turned to Hunter and uttered, “Fuck the doomed.”

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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