Monday, October 16, 2006

Good and plenty

Much of last week was spent interviewing. MovieMaker magazine sent me to the Regency Hotel to give the third degree to three-time Academy Award nominee Ridley Scott about his first out-and-out comedy, A Good Year (20th Century Fox), which opens Nov. 10. Russell Crowe unveils what for many will be a hitherto-unsuspected light side in a slight but charming yarn about an arrogant master of the universe, London-issue, humbled in his efforts to sell off the crumbling French chateau and vineyard he has inherited from his bon vivant uncle, played in flashbacks by Albert Finney. Scott suggested a thread of the storyline, about black-market vintages, to his friend, former ad agency colleague and wine country neighbor Peter Mayle (author of A Year in Provence) and the novelist ran with it. I don't know how it stacks up to his 2004 novel but Scott's film (pictured) will feel like a gentle summer breeze when it reaches theaters next month. My interview with the director, who is shooting his latest film, American Gangster, in New York, will appear in the next issue of the magazine, also due in November.

Harry's Bar, in the Park Lane Hotel, was the site of a sitdown with Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To, who latest film, Triad Election (Tartan Films), played at the New York Film Festival. This is the sequel to To's gripping Election, which will get a Region 1 DVD release when Triad Election (or Election 2) begins its national release at New York's Film Forum next April 25. I'm not sure Film Forum is the best place for a launch, frankly; the theater has had no luck with its Asian aquisitions (the excellent Korean movie, Save the Green Planet!, sank there without trace in 2004), though it might make sense bundled with a To retrospective. The sequel, where the Hong Kong underworld comes under close scrutiny by the Chinese government, stands on its own despairing, dog-eat-dog (and, in one scene, people) merits, but you'll miss the back-and-forth between the two pictures and might mistake Lok (Simon Yam), who schemed his way to the top in Election, as some sort of hero, besieged by the more business-like Jimmy (Louis Koo), who played a smaller role in the first film. [Or you can just head over to your nearest Chinatown and pick up both on DVD, not that I want to sabotage Tartan, a commendable importer, in either market.]

The prolific To's very latest, Exiled, which Magnolia will release here next spring or early summer, also screened last year. A gangland caper set in Macau, this is a more playful film, with flourishes and themes that recall Sam Peckinpah and fellow HK-er John Woo, and a wonderful Bogart-type performance by jack-of-all-trades journeyman actor Anthony Wong (a little Beat the Devil here, a little Treasure of the Sierra Madre there, and a dab of High Sierra, too). The screening room erupted in cheers and clapping when the film ended, something that virtually never happens in New York (usually the journalists just file out quickly, well before the closing credits have concluded. Dereliction of duty, I say). I interviewed To with my Cineaste colleague Martha Nochimson, who has written a book on HK and Hollywood gangster movies, and I figure it will run in the spring issue.

I did not interview David Lynch, who showed up at the just-concluded NYFF with his latest film, Inland Empire, looking very much like I saw him when he last took the stage at Alice Tully Hall, with 2001's Mulholland Dr. Then again, Lynch is not forthcoming with questioners, deflecting queries about this-and-that interpretation with great politeness. Before I was enveloped in its three-hour running time Cineaste's Richard Porton told me that Inland Empire (nothing intriguing about the title, unless you look at it as some sort of metaphor for the life of the mind; it's the name of the belt of cities east of Los Angeles) was "Lynch's most avant-garde film, even more than Eraserhead," and he may just be right.

The movie, which was shot on digital then (a little smearily) transferred to film over a lengthy period, without a firm shooting script, earns its surreal stripes with minimal shock effects or violence. Like Mulholland Dr. , Inland Empire focuses on an actress, Nikki (Laura Dern, who with her long flaxen hair and green dress looked smashing at Lincoln Center and gives a staggeringly committed performance), who lands a big new part in a new film directed by Kingsley (Jeremy Irons). Almost immediately, however, the movie jettisons the real world for the Lynchian rabbit hole, where an apparent murder mystery involving subtitled Poles is taking place, bunnies perform in a bad TV sitcom, a scary clown and flame animation appear, and there are many Twin Peaks-like rooms and corridors for the prowling camera to explore. Nikki, who gets wrapped up in the Polish mystery (shades of The Double Life of Veronique), seems to expire on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (or is it the character she is playing?) and there are teasing interludes and a closing musical number with a bunch of young vamps. Rather than face cuts (which would be absurd for something as all-of-a-piece as this) Lynch is self-distributing Inland Empire, and his acolytes are urged to seek it out wherever it turns up. [It has crossover possibilities with his website.] For as much as I admired Dern once was likely enough from this corner, though I got a kick out of the rabbits and a heavily accented Grace Zabriskie.

And I made the rounds on and off Broadway last week, taking in the revival of A Chorus Line, a revival of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House, and the controversial solo show My Name is Rachel Corrie, a London import. I'll have more to say about the latter two on the Live Design website. As for A Chorus Line, I was lukewarm; the cast is made up of good dancers but good singers and especially good actors are in short supply--the lovely "At The Ballet" suffered grievous injury--and when Zach seems more interested in Paul than in Cassie you have a problem. But it's better than the movie.

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