Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More from Spain, CRASHING with Campbell Scott and Gary Walkow, and everybody's favorite "MAMA"

If you're a Spanish-film buff in the NYC region, check in here and here for TrustMovies' recent GreenCine posts covering films in the current FSLC's Spanish Cinema Now. The latest GreenCine post features the best couple of programs I've seen so far -- and each has one more showing you can catch: the splendid Suso's Tower

screens Fri., Dec. 19, @ 6:30 and Shortmetraje, a very fine and diverse collection of short films, plays again Thurs., Dec. 18, @ 9.

One of the best movies about the writing process I've seen since David Cronenberg's weirdly insightful adaptation of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Gary Walkow's little (79-minute) CRASHING has arrived straight-to-video. Had it not been for the appearance here of Campbell Scott (below right), an actor I always enjoy and whom I doubt has ever given less than a good performance, I might have passed on this one. Don't you. How a story happens -- this way and that -- in the mind of a writer is the movie's subject, and its execution is clever, witty and surprising. It'll keep you just a tad off-base until the very nice conclusion. Walkow (with Alain Silver, co-credited for story), whose earlier film The Trouble With Dick is referred to often in this new one (I have not seen this but will now try seek it out), handles everything (dialog, incident, daydream) with such economy, intelligence and flair that it's a pleasure to follow him wherever he chooses to go. Mostly, he travels into the writer's mind, making very good use along the way of the male fantasy life. While his film is about writing, it is also about the teaching and criticism of writing, and about male/female relationships, as well as the uses of agents and publishing houses. The mostly female supporting cast -- Alex Kingston (below left), Lizzy Caplan and Izabella Miko -- is quite attractive and up-to-snuff in the performance department. In the credits, there is even a lovely "thank you" to André de Toth. (Maybe the director will tell us about this someday...?) Why on earth, when there is so much dreck distributed to theatres, did something this good miss out? Maybe it's just too damn smart.

Yes, Meryl in the MAMMA MIA movie is now on DVD, where it will probably be as big a success as it was in theatres worldwide. While I can fully understand why it brought down the wrath of many critics (it begins very poorly, Abba songs or no). Yet, if you do not exit the room fast enough (or simply turn off entirely as you sit there), I swear you may finally be won over. My theory is that, because the movie does indeed seem to get better as it goes along, first-theatrical-film director Phyllida Lloyd was simply learning on the job. On-the-job training is important in all walks of life, so why not movie-making? And, if she filmed the movie in anything close to "sequence," this explains a lot. If not, well, I'm wrong again, and it must just be that Abba thing.)

Oddly, as much respect as I have for La Streep (above right), I think she manages to drag the movie down, overall. I know she's had musical theatre experience and that she can sing. But she doesn't always bring much meaning to her lyrics (yes, they're Abba, but there are times when the proper inflection might have done wonders). Pierce Brosnan (above left) received a number of critical raspberries for his singing, yet when he first opens his mouth to do a solo, the result is surprising -- in a good way. The man brings real drama and caring to the moment, and his voice is not that terrible, either. Are many of our critics simply tone- and drama-deaf? (He's no Callas, but she had, as he has, the smarts to put dramatic talent over vocal talent.) Of all the cast, only Christine Baranski (above center) manages to make you know you are watching a musical. Her deft, subtle sense of movement, smart and stylish line readings and ability to handle choreography, melody and more all contribute to the relaxation the viewer feels when she takes over. If only she were able to do it more often. Still, as I say, this "Mamma" gets better as she moves along.

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