Tuesday, November 22, 2005

"Rent" Rant, Capote and Good Night and Good Luck!

Where do I start? "Rent"? "Capote"? "Good Night and Good Luck"? I'll start by ranting off on "Rent." After all, it's easier to be snarky than complimentary!

'Musical Drama' is a difficult creature to transfer to film. 'Musical Comedy' is much easier, as the camp quotient is already inherent in the material. When a cinematic musical drama is successful, it needs to be brilliant, i.e. "West Side Story," "Oliver," and even if you allow, "1776." Musical comedy can be good, not necessarily brilliant, and still get away with it, i.e. "Moulin Rouge," "Chicago," and nearly anything by Disney. "Rent," the movie, is not brilliant. The source material is not brilliant to begin with. So, Chris Columbus, who is nothing if not slavishly devoted to source material ("Harry Potter..." 1 & 2), apparently found himself in a trap this time. He does attempt to go 'outside' of the stage production, but to ludicrous effect. He can't seem to decide exactly what the style of the piece should be. He has included flashbacks, fantasy escapes and 'audience/extra participation' (are the customers in the diner audience or participants?). The piece as a whole felt quite episodic and disjointed. Columbus doesn't seem to 'invent' sequences as much as steal them: "The Tango Maureen" is straight out of "Roxanne" from "Moulin Rouge"; "La Vie Boheme" IS "Hair" from "Hair," down to the ogling bystanders; "Rent" is something out of "Network" ("I'm as mad as hell..."). And don't get me started on flashback sequences he used to 'fill the time' taken by ballads he obviously didn't trust. By the time we reached "La Vie Boheme" (the end of the first act), I had to check the time to see that we were 90 minutes into it and only half way! The film is made endurable only by some of the performances. Ironically, Columbus' apparent fear of this adaptation worked in his favor in casting 80% of the original Broadway cast in the film. The quartet of 'Angel, Collins, Joanne and Maureen,' played by Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Tony winner), Jesse L. Martin, Traci Thoms and Indina Menzel (Tony winner) respectively, were a joy to behold! They seemed to be the only ones who didn't fear what the camera was seeing and played it as large as musical drama insists on. The other leads, Anthony Rapp (who annoys the HELL out of me!), Adam Pascal (pushing 40 and looking everyday of it) and Rosario Dawson ('Mimi') seem too aware of the camera and afraid of overplaying it. Pity that Columbus didn't remind that that a) it's melodrama!; b) it's loosely based on an opera ("La Boheme"), so GO FOR IT!!; c) it's a MUSICAL melodrama! You know that Robert Wise told Natalie Wood to go for it in the Big Climax of "West Side Story!" These people just sort of sniff and tear up in front of the camera during the Big Climax! Whereas Menzel and Thoms are fighting for their relationship's life, Pascal and Dawson seem content and letting theirs drift away. Part of that is inherent in the script, but that's what adaptation is about: FIXING IT! Ah well... it went on for 2 and a half hours. And it's not even pretty to look at: 30+something slackers in tenements. blech.

"Capote": I've seen twice and LOVED it! The script is quite good, though on first viewing it gets lost in Philip Seymour Hoffman's BIG performance as Capote. On second viewing, you can see how Hoffman is so invested in the outcome of the script, that he is hitting a ton of foreshadowing. Dan Futterman (screenplay) has laid out a psychological maze for Hoffman to wander through as he disseminates Capote's ethical and emotional collapse as being the first truly exploitative novelist, if not brilliantly so. His entire being seems to focus on the age-old gay theme of "each man kills the thing he loves." It's NOT a happy movie, but I loved it!

"Good Night and Good Luck" is probably one of the most beautifully shot black and white films made in a LONG time! I hate to overuse the word, but 'stunning' is totally appropriate, especially during the opening shots. George Clooney has helmed a production team to specific brilliance in capturing the period. The script itself is a bit off, but David Strathairn's performance as Edward R. Murrow is rock solid, as are the monologues he is given. The world that is whirling around him is a bit more cloudy, however. In fact, I'm not sure what the subplot involving Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. had to do with the film as a whole, except that their work is always lovely to see. I remember 'pictures' from the film, though no 'moments.' It'll be interesting to hear what the designers went through to recreate that world, on the dvd, I hope!

There are a bunch of others I've seen, though not necessarily passionate enough to remark on here, i.e. "Harry Potter..." "Shopgirl" "Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic!" "The Constant Gardener." I LIKED them all, but not enough to spew a paragraph or so...

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