Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Wrestling With Angels, 3 Needles and Tideland

I have procrastinated this set of flicks over several months. As well intended as they are, not to mention how available they have been for preview and festival screenings and screeners, I just have had the damnedest time sitting myself down and getting through them. Fortunately, I have FINALLY gotten these out of the way!

"Wrestling With Angels" (dir. Freida Lee Mock, US, 2006, 98 mins.) is a documentary following the life of playwright Tony "Angels in America" Kushner, from 2001 through 2004, aka 9/11 through Bush's re-election. One assumes that this was no accident or coincidence on the part of director, Freida Lee Mock, a five time Oscar nominee and winner for "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision". Ironically, "Wrestling With Angels" doesn't seem to have such a 'strong clear vision' itself.

Kushner was preparing his play "Homebody/Kabul" to open only month after the 9/11 attack. I was prepared to witness an enormous amount of stress regarding the timing of the play and its political fall out. However, what we see is Kushner explaining the play to the camera, why he wrote it and then reminiscing upon its success. This is the pattern that is repeated for each of the pieces that are focused upon during the period: adapting "Angels In America" for HBO, "Caroline or... Change", "Brundibar", etc. The creation of these pieces seems to be removed from the setting. Though Kushner does appear as a guest speaker for innumerable causes, and there are sequences in which we observe Kushner's personal life, even those are underwhelming. I think the trap that Mock fell into was that her subject is a playwright whose power lies in his words on stage and not necessarily in his everyday life. Had she given more significance to his words and how they may or may not have affected the audiences and society in general, I think she may have had a more compelling piece. As it is, and as well intentioned as it might be, it plays as a series of 'authors notes' and some rehearsal footage. And there, as they say, is the rub...

Speaking of well intentions, to analyze or critique an AIDS film can be sort of like poking an injured puppy. "3 Needles" (dir. Thom Fitzgerald, Canada, 2005, 127 mins.) carries its heart so openly on its sleeve that it is aligned with numerous World AIDS Agencies and opens on "World AIDS Day" on December 1st. This is of course a good thing, in theory. Dramatically, however, it is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the solemnity and unrelenting series of grim events that the film presents. It is in three parts and in three locals: China, Canada and South Africa, thus fulfilling its global view.

I want to be a fan of Thom Fitzgerald so badly after having seen "Beefcake" and bared my way through "The Event". But he just doesn't seem to have that warped and crazy mindset that will risk humorous offense to involve his audience. Not to say that some of the events that occur in "3 Needles" are NOT offensive! However, they are played quite safely to be admonished. There are no mixed feelings to be had for any of the characters or their plights. They are good or bad, victims or victimizers. That is not to say that the first rate cast Fitzerald has assembled are doing a bad job. Chloƫ Sevigny, Lucy Liu and Stockard Channing are each stand outs in their sequences. However, their characters have no where to go but to be pitied. I find dramas that insist on my pity to be insulting. The utter despair and lack of hope only isolated me further from the scenes. It was as if these situations left nothing to live for, so why the struggle in the first place?

The only literal ray of sun that is cast on the film is the cinematography by Tom Harting. His landscapes, particularly in the South African sequence are gorgeous and spectacular! They contrasted (and I imagine intentionally so) against the grey interiors, particularly in the Canada sequence. The editing by Susan Shanks is not as smooth as one would hope, as certain shots linger and other cuts are quite abrupt as to question why they were included at all. The film score by Christophe Beck and Trevor Morris is all over the place! The score for the Canada sequence is particularly puzzling and nearly annoyingly so. However, the South African sequence is beautifully done.

Even though it is an 'AIDS Drama of Global Proportions' (my quotes), there is nothing that can empathize the dilemma than to engage us in the humor and thus the humanity of its victims. There is little if any humor in "3 Needles" and it becomes a task to watch and not a discovery of peoples who must be saved.

However, regardless of the emotional impact the film creates, the producers have set up a "3 Needles" MySpace Page to benefit numerous agencies, as well as the fact that for every "add as friend" that it receives before December 1, 10 cents "will go to fight AIDS in Africa".

And, finally, after having spent the day dealing with thwarted attempts at my mind and heart, I came home to pop in a screener of "Tideland" (dir. Terry Gilliam, Canada/UK, 2005, 115 mins.). Terry Gilliam has apparently been UNLEASHED! I think. I don't know. I do know that this Gilliam-meets-David-Lynch-does-Alice-In-Wonderland was so endlessly quirky that I had a VERY difficult time getting through it. However, I DID finish it, if only for Gilliam's and cinematographer Nicola Pecorini's ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") ever morphing visual angles. Pecorini literally turns the world on its edge, as a little girl (Jodelle Ferland, who might be brilliant?) lives what can only be described as a nightmarish life, bordering on the psychotic. Ferland spends a great deal of time alone on screen, which is both amazing and annoying. Amazing in that I don't how such a young actress was able to get her head around the ghoulish and macabre setting and actions that she is required to live in. Yet, her diction is annoying. I simply could not understand her at times. However, as the film continued, I realized that words really meant nothing in this piece. It was all a matter of insane episodes and seeing if or how she was going to survive them. There is a small but notable supporting cast of Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Janet McTeer and Brendan Fletcher.

I dare not go into the plot, as each little point could be regarded as a spoiler! However, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the moments when the girl helps her parents shoot up heroin. Those moments are not at all exploited, but handled with a surreal, if nearly ghastly nonchalance, which is the predominate feeling that Gilliam takes throughout. But it is that lack of dramatic tautness makes the two hours seem much longer...

1 comment:

Maxxxxx said...

re "Wrestling With Angels": "What's your name?"

re "3 Needles": "Poopie bird!"

re "Tideland": "What's a chicken say?"