Day 5: September 8

Something new at this year's fest - hired goons. Sure, there have always been big security guys, but this year (at least in bigger numbers) they're after something more elusive - those damn internet pirates.

Shameful, those pirates.

The studios have moved in highly powerful forensic equipment that does thermal and RF scanning to determine if, during a screening, somebody's trying to tape the flick. It's been pretty much those films you'd expect, the genre pics (like, say, the new Alien cut) or big Hollywood releases (like Matchstick Men). Sure, based on my examples it sounds like the technology is strictly used for Ridley Scott films. That's not entirely inaccurate. Rumours persist that he's the only one who insisted on the bank of rotating knives and the blood gutters in that old folks' home they're building across the street.

Bit of a cock-up at this MM when some jumpy studio rep started freaking that some people (say, me and a couple others) were taping the intros and Q&A for Underworld. I'd already discussed it with the main security guys, and it was all cool - they were getting my battery for the duration of the film. I'm not an idiot, they're trying to do their job, fair enough, and if you treat them with respect all's good. That message didn't get through to the studio gorilla, however, as he freaked on someone who was taping Kate Beckinsale et. al. as they stumbled on the stage.

It all worked out, but the situation's obviously a bit tense when this stuff goes on.

This was all aggravated by the fact that the screening didn't start 'till about 1am - the previous Uptown engagements had all run late. I was in for four consecutive screenings - Dogville, with no "talent" showing up, went in and out smoothly. "Talent", of course, is that lovely word used to describe anybody from the actors from the film to their vapid entourage. There was a veritable mob for Val Kilmer and friends for Wonderland which pushed the screening back a half hour or so. Furthermore, for the 21 Grams screening they were 45 minutes late. The director of that film at least admitted he was drunk out of his mind, having just come from their party. Who wants to leave the fun when there are people waiting for you?

I sound harsh, but it was particularly galling as there were a tonne of stars on hand just to stand there in the stage when the film started. One minute, tops. No Q&A, no interaction, they stood there, smiled and waved, and went and sat and watched their movie (or, in the case of Kilmer, fucked off to a strip club). Exacerbating the situation at the 21 Grams screening, there were some 150 reserved seats blocked off, meaning that some actual paid ticket holders had to sit in the aisles. From what I could gather, some 40 of those seats were set aside for the "Hollywood Foreign Press Association", those nefarious beings who get to decide on the Golden Globes. It felt kinda spooky, like seeing the film with a roomful of Masons or the Star Chamber guys or sumthin'.

All that said, this year it really does seem like the organizers, volunteers and particularly the technical and programming staff have been going out of their way to work cooperatively. They've overcome quite a few challenges, both logistical and technical, and are again to be commended. If only that attitude could get through to the fascist ape freaking about taping Kate B's overly teased and hairsprayed noggin, it'd all be good. Man, she looked like a hooker.

    

Five Obstructions
Directed by: Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier

The conceit of this documentary/film hybrid is simple: Jørgen Leth, one of von Trier's cinematic heroes, made an experimental film called The Perfect Human in the late 60s. von Trier wants Leth to remake his film with a number of given "obstructions". The execution, however, is breathtaking, as the theme-and-variation of the ideas of the original are teased and modified based on von Trier's mad obstacles.

The film plays as if Leth is Faust to von Trier's Mephistopholes, while each bargain or limitation in fact proves to be the source of a new creative solution. Each solution is a remarkable achievement, resulting in a wonderful moviegoing experience. Never to my mind has the process of theme-and-variation for filmmakers been so cleverly and compellingly presented.

Grade: A+

    

Dogville
Directed by: Lars von Trier

Dogville is a masterpiece. Many comparisons have been made to Brecht plays, with their insistence on breaking down the barriers of what we mean by theatrical presentation. For me, the film plays as a minimalist, dark Barry Lyndon. With a lugubrious, world-weary narration by John Hurt, witty title cards designating chapter stops, and an extended period of time for the film to unfold, it reminded me of Kubrick's overlooked period piece. Dogville is an exceptionally literary film that at the same time employs extremely theatrical set design. Leave it to the mad genius of Denmark to kick cinema's ass once again.

Grade: A+

    

Wonderland
Directed by: James Cox

Several years back, the doc Wadd played the MM screens. I noted at the time that the only real flaw, ironically, was that it was just too damn long. Now comes Wonderland, the latest vehicle post-Doors for Val Kilmer to go crazy-like. I'm not sure how they did it, but the filmmakers took a gruesome murder connected to the owner of the world's most famous and girth-y "town tamer" and made the whole thing, well, boring. The film is trying to be far more stylish than it needs to be, and employs sophisticated narrative techniques (think Rashomon) that serve to confuse the story rather than lift it beyond exploitational fluff. Bonus marks for showing what Lisa Kudrow obviously really looks like without pounds of pancake makeup attempting to keep her ageless on Friends. An A&E Investigative Reports would have done the story far more justice than this watered down silly film ever could.
Grade: C

    

21 Grams
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Ah, clever editing. "Look at me! I can put the ending in the middle!" While there are strong performances in this intertwined tale from the likes of Benicio del Toro and Sean Penn, it all feels forced, so "I'm acting for the camera and possible Oscar recognition." Lots and lots of yelling and crying. Enough, already.

The story never grabbed me, and the jumps in narrative time seemed arbitrary, soon becoming a distressing obstacle rather than a narrative lynchpin. Not as good as it wants to be.
Grade: C+

    

Underworld
Directed by: Len Wiseman

Mediocre Vampire/Werewolf (THERE wolf!) flick. Plastic costumes, sets, and editing style. Ripping off everything from Matrix to Queen of the Damned, a Play Station game would have done the look better.

Did end up being fun playing "spot the colour" (red showed up on the blue/grey palate about ten minutes in, and there was even some green!). Boring, Hollywood fluff, lame fluff for even the most ardent genre fans.
Grade: C-