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Fringe Report is now closed. Fringe Report closed on its 10th anniversary, Thursday 12 July 2012. It remains online as a record of 10 exciting years in the arts. Till July 2013, previously unwritten content is being added to the site from the past 10 years, but we are no longer reviewing new material. You can still write to us on the existing email addresses. Good luck with your shows.
Film - The View From Dallas - September 09
by Kevin Gillette
Rachel Getting Married (2008) (imdb). Jonathan Demme directs a lively drama penned by Jenny Lumet. It focuses on a pivotal event in the life of a family that has been torn by divorce, tragedy - and self-destructive behaviour on the part of Kym (played with chutzpah by Anne Hathaway), sister of Rachel (played with tremendous nuance by Rosemarie DeWitt). Kym is released from her latest stint in rehab just in time to stir the pot for Rachel's wedding. Bill Irwin portrays their father, Paul, who is tender-hearted to the point of being almost too vulnerable - it's clear that even he is barely holding it together - and he's just the father of the bride. The film takes a long, introspective (and occasionally very funny) look at the dynamics of both the bride's and the groom's families and friends, who come from an assortment of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Leavened into this mix is Rachel's and Kym's mother Abby (the always-estimable Debra Winger). Abby is brittle and embittered; her resentment at the volatile mix of family tensions simmers just below boil until late in the film. Anne Deavere Smith plays the sisters' stepmother Carol, whose kindly countenance and indeterminate ethnicity exemplify both the occasion and the company of persons involved. Soft, slow music pervades the landscape of this heartfelt drama, and underscores the most important lesson of all: that family, however acquired or attached, remains the most important substrate upon which to build a life.
Angel-A (2005) (imdb). Luc Besson directs this comedy/drama, filmed in black & white, starring Jamel Debbouze and Rie Rasmussen - an unimaginably tall, leggy Swedish-born model-cum-actress who is mesmerizing in this film. Rie Rasmussen plays Angela - or, as the movie title playfully suggests, Angel-A - a gorgeous and mysterious woman who appears out of nowhere to thwart André (Jamel Debbouze) in his suicide attempt from atop the Pont Neuf in Paris. André has become deeply in debt to some nasty loan sharks, and feels that he has no choice but to end his life. But Angela has other plans for him, and from the moment she enters his life, his luck begins to change. Together they begin a whirlwind courtship dance around the City of Lights, stopping in at venues both lofty and ignoble, to reconcile André's debts and obligations, and to allow Angela to show him that despite his self-image as a loser, he's actually very hot on the inside. And Angela reveals herself to be something more than she first appears to be. Despite the edge that typifies Luc Besson's adult films, this film has a huge heart, and the combination of Jamel Debbouze's slovenly slouch and Rie Rasmussen's otherworldly looks combine to give the film real magic and depth.
September Dawn (2006) (imdb). In 1857, a group of settlers from several of the central states in the United States (US) were on their westward journey when they chanced to pass through a region in Utah, and stopped to rest their pack animals and regain their strength for the final push to California. What happened during their two-week stay became known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, in which virtually all of the settlers were brutally murdered by either a band of renegade Mormons (as this film alleges) or a group of Native Americans, possibly acting at the behest of the local Mormon community. Either way, the result was the same - over 140 souls lost in a senseless act of violence that left no person over the age of 3 alive. Director Christopher Cain, whose son Dean Cain appears in the film as Joseph Smith - the principal prophet of the Mormon faith - interweaves a love story with what amounts to an act of war. The film is framed by some extraordinarily lovely scenery, and although it is uneven in pace, the film works fairly well as a straightforward action/drama story. It also features top talent, including Jon Voight and Terence Stamp. The only big flaw is the clear intention of the director to portray the Mormon adherents as ruthless, paranoid zealots with a horrifically twisted view of life. Some may feel that this is far afield from the mainstream religion itself. The events took place; what precipitated them is far from certain, and is most probably lost to history.
Phoebe In Wonderland (2008) (imdb). Director Daniel Barnz, who also wrote the screenplay, has fused a number of fascinating elements into what is essentially a family film (except for a few brief moments of bad language). Lovely Elle Fanning, who plays the title character, is a young girl in a busy but loving household with her mum and dad and younger sister Olivia (played to perfection by a toothy sprite named Bailee Madison). Phoebe is intelligent and spirited, which would present normal challenges for any girl on the cusp of adolescence who is trying to find her way in the world and through school. But Phoebe is different. Her difference is difficult to pin down, but its manifestation becomes more and more pronounced as the movie proceeds and as Phoebe struggles to cope with her environment. Relief for Phoebe comes in the form of an enigmatic and unconventional school drama teacher, Miss Dodger (Patricia Clarkson). Miss Dodger seems intuitively to understand Phoebe and what she's struggling with. She takes her under her wing while orchestrating a student production of Alice Through The Looking-Glass. The evolution of Phoebe with her unique gifts and challenges, and the interplay of the mostly-befuddled adults in the story make for an exceptional drama. The astute filmgoer will put the pieces together well before it's revealed in the film, but that does not in any way diminish either its power or poignance. Elle Fanning finds here the role that allows her to graduate from child actress to actress full stop. Ian Colletti is very very funny as Phoebe's friend Tommy, a sexually-ambiguous stage kid. Bailee Madison as Olivia is an outstanding foil for Phoebe. Bill Pullman and Felicity Huffman, playing the concerned but bemused parents, have a wonderful rapport on-screen - hopefully one that will recur.
The Escapist (2008) (imdb). Frank Perry (Brian Cox) is a hardened criminal serving a life sentence in a British jail. Frank gets word that his only child, a daughter, is in danger, and he goes to any lengths to escape from prison to save her from making a horrible choice. The film graphically explores prison life and inmate politics, even as it slowly metes out details of Frank's escape plan. The movie moves backward and forward in time with an organic ease, and although it at first feels noisome, it doesn't take long to realise that this is really the only way the story can be told. Whether or not Frank succeeds is secondary to his process of breaking free of shackles that bind, be they physical or metaphysical. This film is brutal in places, but honest. British film veterans Joseph Fiennes and Damian Lewis round out the cast.
Lightbulb (2009) (imdb). This edgy comedy/drama is for anyone who's ever had an idea for what they thought was the next big thing. Dallas Roberts and Jeremy Renner play two best friends who eke out a living running a novelty mail-order house in Tucson, Arizona. Matt (Dallas Roberts) is the creative genius, cobbling ideas together whose inspirations are drawn from unlikely sources - like the cluster of radio and television antennae atop a nearby mountain. Sam (Jeremy Renner) is the cheap-suit-fast-talking-wise-cracking salesman, flying below the radar of the big operators, alternately cajoling and offending prospective customers and co-workers. Also in the mix is Matt's long-suffering wife Gina, played by hauntingly alluring Ayelet Zurer. Gina works as a flight attendant to support herself and Matt, while Sam seems to be a serial moocher from friends and girlfriends. Matt comes up with a brilliant idea – a 'lightbulb' – but can he and Sam get it manufactured and properly marketed in time to recoup their investment and prevent their ruin? And will Gina forbear to watch them tilt at yet another invention-windmill? The dialogue sparkles as the three mix wonderful heat and tension - it's a true indie treat.
Felicia's Journey (1999) (imdb). Director Atom Egoyan explores the tender underbelly of human emotions in this low-key psychological thriller. Bob Hoskins plays Joe Hilditch, a catering manager at a large factory in North West England. Hilditch is an obsessive cook, spending his spare time in the evenings going through recipes presented on old black-and-white recordings of a pretty television chef (played by the director's real-life wife Arsinée Khanjian). There is an odd, quasi-symbiotic connection between Hilditch and these recordings, which is fleshed out gradually. Into his life walks Felicia. She's a gorgeous young Irish lass (Elaine Cassidy) who has come over from Ireland to try and find her boyfriend - who left for England ostensibly to work in a lawnmower factory. The truth of his emigration is not as simple nor as innocent. Hilditch offers help, cautiously and indirectly at first, but eventually in a more fatherly manner. Felicia - confused, bewildered, and eventually penniless - navigates her way through the industrial English countryside and through encounters with religious zealots and the seemingly omnipresent Mr Hilditch. This film is indeed a thriller, and for that reason the denouement must simply be experienced - it can neither be described nor alluded to. Atom Egoyan keeps the scenic tension honed to a razor's edge most of the time.
My Architect (2003) (imdb). American architect Louis Kahn (1901-1974) has been hailed by his profession as one of the quintessential architects of the 20th century. His works include the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas and the main library at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire (both in the United States), as well as the stunning National Assembly Building (Jatiyo Sangsad Bhaban) and complex in Dakha, Bangladesh, along with numerous other structures great and small (including a novel river barge converted into an outdoor concert hall). His artistic vision, as well as an extensive look at his varied and often bizarre personal life, are documented by his son, Nathaniel Kahn in My Architect. This two-hour opus reveals Kahn the architect to be a flawed but brilliant artist, whose professional success was counterbalanced by an unorthodox marriage and liaisons with other women, two of which resulted in children. Nathaniel Kahn set out to document his father's life in an attempt to draw closer to the man he knew, and even closer to the man he didn't know growing up. Louis Kahn believed that structures ought to be designed to be permanent landmarks to human achievement. As a consequence, many of his best-known works have a palpable sense of the monument. These are not light, airy wisps of buildings; these have more the atmosphere of a redoubt. And yet as seen through Nathaniel Khan's eyes, each creation breathes from within - sometimes literally. The film reveals an entirely different approach from inside the buildings, one that embraces light and nuance; a harmony between the feelingless materials of the shell and the human, organic beings who inhabit it. These revelations are set against the backdrop of Louis Kahn's personal affairs - women in his life; work colleagues; students. My Architect may have begun as a personal excursion by his son; but the result is a compelling bedtime story recounting the life of a phenomenal artistic intellect.
17-Inch Cobras (2004) (imdb). Director and writer Geoffrey Brent Shrewsbury appears to channel a snippet of his own childhood in Tennessee in 17-Inch Cobras, a short film about the little dilemmas and decisions made during all-too-short adolescence. The cast is a small ensemble. Will Bell plays Brandon, an older teenager caught between his loyalty to his little sister Emilie (Hailey Anne Nelson) and his desire for a smokin' hot set of 17-inch cobras (fancy hot-rod wheels for his car). He staves off the shrill, sniping comments of his mother (Daryl Burton with exquisite white-trash flair), all the while trying to establish his own place in the world. Emilie looks up to her big brother, but knows not to ask too much of him. In the end, his loyalties and priorities become clear. This is a gem of a little film, told simply and directly and without overweening sentiment, and yet at heart it is a sentimental and big-hearted movie.
Der Wachmann und das kleine Mädchen (2007) (The Watchman And The Little Girl) (imdb). Director and writer Christoph Englert gives alternate views of a seemingly banal scenario - ordinary pictures on display at an art museum. Johannes Silberschneider plays the watchman at the museum. In the beginning, he shuffles into his daily routine. His world-weary expression convinces that this is a day like countless others, without alteration or energy. On his rounds, he hears someone's shoes squeaking on the stairs. He cannot see who it is, but he sees a red balloon bobbing slowly up the staircase beyond the balustrade, and as curiosity seizes him, he mounts the stairs to investigate. There he encounters a little girl, played adorably by Gina Altner, sitting and patiently examining one of the works of art. As he sits beside her, she takes his hand, and each of the pictures in the gallery is magically animated, revealing what the little girl sees in the works. The watchman's perspective on the art under his custodianship is forever altered. This charming vignette has no dialogue, allowing it to appeal to audiences of all ages worldwide.
Gosia's Witch (2009) (imdb). Creator Dominika Waclawiak is a Polish émigré to the United States. Her delightfully-rendered short subject Gosia's Witch evokes the tensions and apprehensions of a child setting about to integrate herself into a new home far from her native land. Gosia (real-life émigré Maria Schneider) is enrolled in a strict Catholic school in a classroom overseen by a fairly tyrannical nun. The nun treats Gosia rather harshly regarding her limited facility with English. As an escape, Gosia retreats into a fantasy world inhabited by Baba Yaga, a witch in a fairytale told to Gosia by her mother. The two stories blend in the end of the film, and the strength Gosia derives from this fairytale allows her to confront not only the mildly despotic teacher, but also her own trepidations as a fish out of water. The director keeps the violence in this film very mild and symbolic - a lovely short film for all ages.
Ink (2009) (imdb). This short animated film from writer/director Justine Wallace has a true art-house feel. May, a young girl, lives with her mother and her mother's cruel boyfriend. May takes solace in her favorite toy, a stuffed-animal octopus. When the boyfriend takes the octopus away, May is devastated. Fast-forward to present-day, when May is a young adult, adrift in the big city, tagging walls with graffiti art that always contains some sort of stylised reference to her beloved toy octopus. In a parallel story, a young boy, Charlie, loses his father, who later as a young man sees May's graffiti and realises that he and she are somehow connected. As man, woman and childhood symbol are united, the film brings the story full circle.
You Don't Have To Love Me (2009) (imdb). New York City-based singer / songwriter Dan Zweben's eloquent ballad You Don't Have To Love Me is a heart-breaking story about love and opportunity lost. This short is a paragon of film craft brought to life by director Rebecca Gwynne (Fringe Report interview). It stars Dan Zweben playing opposite Michaela McManus. The interplay of scarce colours (much of the film is in black and white) and the sweet melancholia of the story bring the viewer into an almost first-person dreamscape, sharing the singer's anguish - thinking of what might have been.
(c) Kevin Gillette 17 September 2009
Kevin Gillette is Fringe Report's correspondent in Dallas, USA
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