Friday, March 17, 2006

ASK THE (guy sitting in front of you)

So there I was at the 4pm show (Loews 3rd/11th, Manhattan) of Robert Towne's ASK THE DUST, a respectable, if mostly inert, attempt to wrestle something cinematic out of John Fante's highly regarded, and highly prosy, Los Angeles novel about a would-be writer's simmering passion for a Mexican waitress in less racially enlightened times. It's one of the those long-on-the-boil movies, like ALEXANDER and GANGS OF NEW YORK, that prompts great director interviews but not a great film.

Closer, thankfully, to our day and age than he was in ALEXANDER and THE NEW WORLD, Colin Farrell (period pieces threaten to wipe out whatever promise he has after six years of being The Next Big Thing) is a little livelier than usual, cast opposite Salma Hayek, who is I think acquiring Bernadette Peters' eternal kewpie-doll face. I admit to ever so slightly cat-napping between occasional lovely bits of period recreation (South Africa standing in for L.A. as convincingly as Morocco for New Mexico in the new THE HILLS HAVE EYES and Prague for Newark in RUNNING SCARED; the developing world is clearly at our doorstep) but was awake for their full-frontal night skinny-dipping scene, amidst crashing waves that must have terrified them. Elsewhere, there is a lot of voiceover narration, some arresting images (notably a tactile composition of cigarettes ground up in orange rinds), a strange role for Broadway's Idina Menzel (reminding me to rave about the new CD of the SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE cast album), and the return of Farrell's thrusting buttocks for a sex scene, which was pretty much how the actor was introduced onscreen in 2000's TIGERLAND.

At age 40, I was by far the youngest person in the modest crowd, which does not bode well for a wide release in the malls of America. I was sitting in front of a raucous elderly couple who became confused and agitated during a scene where TB was mentioned. The exchange went like this:

ELDERLY LADY: TV? TV? They have TV? How could they have TV? It's the 30s.

ELDERLY MAN: No, not TV--VD. Venereal disease.

ELDERLY LADY: Venereal disease.

ME (Turning to face them): No, not TV, not VD, but TB--tuberculosis.

THEM (In unison): TB. TB. Tuberculosis. That makes more sense.

There was scattered laughter from elsewhere in the audience over all this. [It's not a bag of chuckles, this movie.] Then we all fell back into our film-watching states.

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