Wednesday, September 06, 2006

FitzFilm Festival

An unplanned FitzFilm Festival over the weekend took an unexpected and ironic thematic turn. We started with "Capote" on Saturday night. This was my choice, and the Doc drifted in and out of sleep as I watched Philip Seymour Hoffman show his Oscar-winning form. Great movie, beautifully filmed, and somewhat troubling to those of us who harbor a writer's aspirations. Brillliant writer publishes an astonishing work in an entirely new genre and achieves fame and celebrity of a level he has always dreamed. Over the next twenty years, he never finishes another book and slowly drinks himself to death. "Isn't there something else you could do?" the Doc asks as we get ready to go to sleep.

The next night, the Doc selects "The Weather Man," starring Nicholas Cage, Hope Davis and Michael Caine. Maybe it's not on your must see list, but I have liked Cage since "Raising Arizona" and the Doc's affection for him goes all the back to "Valley Girl." So, here again we find a protagonist on the cusp of greatness in his field; Cage's character is on the short list for weatherman on a national morning show hosted by Bryant Gumbel, cleverly titled "Hello America." So that's wonderful, except that his marriage is over, his teenage kids are struggling, people keep pelting him with fast food leftovers, and his father (Caine), winner of both a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, is dying.

(Let me just stray here a moment to say that it would be nice to see Hope Davis in a happy marriage just once. "The Secret Lives of Dentists" - husband thinks she's cheating on him. "The Matador" - child dies and a tree crashes though her house. "About Schmidt" - marries a big loser. Okay, she's happy with Harvey Pekar in "American Splendor," but in almost all her other movies, she embodies angst or agony. Very odd for a woman named Hope)

So back to "The Weather Man." Is splitting the title into three words supposed to make us think he's some sort of superhero? Cage has tried to follow his father's path to success, but the one novel he labored to finish is terrible, even his wife hated it, and every step he tries to take forward becomes a stumble in the wrong direction. He finally ponders homicide as a solution, but the film's lighter moments don't let us take this seriously. In the end he trashes the novel, takes the national job, lets his marriage go, buries his father and reconnects with his kids. Oh, and carries a bow and arrow around New York City, which seems to ward off the food throwers.

So the inspiring message to writers is what? Don't try to be a writer? It will destroy your family and make you feel worthless? Caine dismisses writing as "Just something I'm good at because I've had a lot of practice." So Cage embraces his role as a grossly overcompensated TV clown who brings pleasure to millions. Maybe it's because I don't watch morning news shows, but I found the plot resolution pretty annoying.

Moving from Oscar nominated fare to forgettable to largely unknown, the Doc picked out "Winter Passing," with Zooey Deschanel as a young stage actress in New York City who is estranged from her father, a former National Book Award winner who hasn't published anything for seven years. Hmm. Note for the future: movies advertised as quirky and offbeat are usually not sidesplitters. So poor Zooey's doing okay as an actress, but she's got some real problems with men and cocaine, and when she goes home to Michigan to try to find some of her parents' love letters to sell to a publishing house, she finds that her dad (Ed Miller), who's an old school academic radical, has gone loopy. How loopy? He has moved into the garage, although sometimes he sleeps in the backyard, where all his bedroom furniture is, because the bedroom is where he plays golf. Will Ferrell plays his live-in caddie, handyman, and bodyguard (asking Zooey for some ID before he will let her into the house), and Amelia Warner handles the cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping, including a steady supply of bourbon for Miller. The acting is fine, except for Ferrell, whose celebrity prevents him from contributing quietly. But the story ends wrapped in a tidy bow as Zooey easily kicks the coke, starts jogging and makes friends with her dad's pals. She also comes to terms with her mother's suicide, saves her father from the same fate, and decides not to publish the letters. And when she returns to New York, she gets the role she auditioned for, and the nice boy brings her flowers on opening night.

Now, this final installment of the festival worked out better for the writer character (first of all, he lives, and, it appears, happily), but, the fantasy ending reminds me of the John Grisham novels where the protagonists live out their days on a sunny tropical beach without a care. It turns out "Winter Passing" is writer and director Adam Rapp's first effort as a filmmaker. His film credits heretofor are as a "Creative Consultant" on "The L Word," but he has published numerous plays and novels for young adults. So, he writes novels for kids, TV dramas about lesbians, and this movie appeals to which of those audiences? It's actually a nicely filmed movie, but even before I checked Rapp's resume, I thought he needed to grow up. I just pity the poor kid who's read this guy's books, sees Deschanel and Ferrell on the cover and grabs what he thinks will a be a hip reteaming of the successful duo from "Elf."

So, I think we'll take a little break from the movie rentals, at least until I find out if there are any writers in "King Kong."

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