Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Holiday ramblings

Behind the wheel on a wintry I-70 (December 24, 2004/Mark Pfeiffer)

As it is for many, the time between Christmas and New Year's is a busy one for me. I'll be spending 2004's final days keeping stats for eight basketball games played over today and tomorrow, finishing (rather, starting and finishing) a piece for the next issue of The Film Journal, and summarizing my Film Journal and Central Ohio Film Critics Association ballots. On top of that there are some other things I'd like to get done, but then again, I intended to take another crack at reading MOBY-DICK during the downtime over Christmas, and I never opened the book.

I've posted a photo of what road conditions on I-70 were like around the Dayton area two days after the record snowfall. All the grime on my windshield helps make this my homage to THE BROWN BUNNY. What is typically a two hour drive turned into a three and a half hour ordeal with plenty of nervewracking moments. It'd be clear sailing at the speed limit for a stretch until becoming bumpy, icy terrain that demanded slow speeds. Several times I felt like the car would spin out if it weren't wobbling equally in both directions. And there's nothing like having a semi bearing down on you with nowhere to go in those conditions.

I've been tracking down Charles Burnett's films after seeing his powerful NIGHTJOHN at the Wexner Center's Children's Film Festival earlier this month. NIGHTJOHN was made for The Disney Channel, but it's subtler and more artful than you'd think. Of the three films that I've managed to see--a poor sampling since two of the three are TV movies, with THE GLASS SHIELD being the lone theatrical feature in the trio--NIGHTJOHN is definitely his best. After returning home on the 23rd from a failed attempt to drive to my parents--they called to tell me I-70 was closed--I watched THE WEDDING, his Oprah TV movie that I had on my DVR. Halle Berry stars. The film also features Lynn Whitfield and ALIAS' Carl Lumbly, who played the title character in NIGHTJOHN. Patricia Clarkson and Marianne Jean-Baptiste have small parts, so the cast is fairly impressive for a television melodrama. The film peels back the history of a wealthy black family on Martha's Vineyard in the 1950s as the wedding of the youngest daughter approaches. The bride-to-be's groom and great-grandmother are white. The family's history, interracial and otherwise, is complicated and all about keeping up appearances. THE WEDDING provides a different view of African-Americans at this point in history, something which probably attracted Burnett, but the script is a soppy mess.

Jhumpa Lahiri's INTERPRETER OF MALADIES and THE NAMESAKE are two of the best books I've read this year. I read in the latest issue of Cineaste that Mira Nair will be directing a film version of THE NAMESAKE. She should be the right director, and the film jumps onto my list of the most anticipated in 2006. This bit, from Karin Luisa Badt's introduction to the interview, causes a little concern, though:
"This should be closer to a film produced on her own terms. A bicultural story about a young Tamil woman caught in a communal conflict, it promises to let Nair delve into what she excels at: thoughtful and esthetic examinations of the human striving to belong (particularly that of women), told in a style at once compelling and gentle."
While THE NAMESAKE focuses on the young woman in the beginning, the story is about her son, the titular namesake. I'm hoping that Badt misunderstood instead of Nair completely changing the film's focus, a possibility that this comment implies.

Two more items for today... It's increasingly rare that I see films in multiplexes outside of press and promotional screenings. While I'm aware of the "pre-show entertainment", the euphemism for advertising before the trailers, I didn't realize how out of control it's getting. Seeing BLADE: TRINITY at a Cinemark theater was a real eye opener. 25 minutes from the start time, at least ten of them advertisements, the film began. That's totally unacceptable. It was one of the deciding factors in choosing to see the crummy horror pic DARKNESS last night at AMC Easton rather than Movies 16 in Gahanna. (Movies 16's quoted running time for the film led me to believe there were 27 minutes of pre-movie content.) The AMC theaters in Columbus have switched to digital projection for the now-animated slides and videos that play before the movie. They still had the "pre-show entertainment", but to their credit, it began before and ended at the advertised start time. Sure, there were still ten minutes of trailers to watch, but I don't think most people, such as the Captive Motion Picture Audience of America, are vexed by trailers.

As for DARKNESS, it lacks any connective tissue or reasonable amount of sense, even for a genre movie. It may be the first film I've seen where, rather than saving one for DVD release, the ending and what seems like an alternate ending are contradictory. This is prime evidence for losing a film in the editing room.

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