Thursday, April 26, 2007

Overlooked Report #2

Roger Ebert has apparently taken a lot of grief for his decision to actually attend his own film festival this year in light of the medical problems he faced over the past year due to a bout with salivary cancer. The biggest issue for his detractors it seems would not be his health, but his appearance. The Chicago Sun-Times ran an article by Ebert defending his decision today, and it is a good way to familiarize yourself with just what Ebert has been through during his writing hiatus and a nice thumb (not in his usual manner) in the face of celebrity paparazzi. Read it here.

The Weather Man. I have to admit that of all the films at the Overlooked this year, Gore Verbinski’s 2005 gift project “The Weather Man” was the one I was least excited about. Although I did enjoy this film about one man’s desire to be more than he is actually willing to be, it didn’t exactly blow me away. It was the one film I did not attempt some form of tribute to in my film screenings over the past month. I did not choose to watch it a second time or replace it with another film.

The performances by Nicolas Cage, as the titular underachieving weather man, and Michael Caine, as his father who is perennially disappointed in everything his son has, or hasn’t, done in his life, are worthy of a viewing in and of themselves. But the rest of this film, where life never seems to live up to what should be promised these characters, is a little too deprived of success to get excited about.

The fact that so little seems to work out for Cage’s character is really the point of the piece; but when things do turn around on the surface at the end of the film, even his apparent success seems undeserved. I almost wanted the character to fail completely at everything by the end of the film, because even in success he never lived up to his potential. But that is life, I suppose.

Moolaade. While “The Weather Man” was the one film I did nothing to celebrate, “Moolaade” was the film that I just couldn’t get a hold of or replace. Written and directed by the father of African cinema Ousmane Sembene, “Moolaade” is a 2004 Cannes Film Festival winner of a special jury prize and the Un Certain Regard Award and has yet to find any sort of distribution in the U.S.

It tells the story of the Senegal tribal tradition of ceremonial circumcision of girls. A woman shelters the village girls under the law of “moolaade,” a word meaning “protection.” No, it certainly doesn’t sound like a film that is a barrel of laughs, but in Ebert’s own review of the film he claims to be at a loss for words because he knows no description of the plot could even hint at the life and urgency of the film contained within.

These very foreign films of the Overlooked are often some of my favorites. Two years ago the Zulu language feature “Yesterday” was one of Ebert’s festival features that I was unable to see at the time of the festival, but I did catch it when it premiered on HBO and it wound up on my 2005 Top Ten list. And the adaptation of Friedrich Durrmatt’s play “The Visit”, aptly titled “Hyenes” (also from Senegal), from the first Overlooked I attended will forever remain one of my favorite films. I do hope “Moolaade” will soon be released in some format in the U.S., so everyone will be able to enjoy its treasures.

Run, Lola, Run. In the closing moments of 2006, when Oscar hype was on the rise and every film in release was fighting for prize recognition, German director Tom Tykwer quietly released his American directorial debut. Satrring Dustin Hoffman as a perfumer who discovers a boy with an amazing nose for odors, “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” is based on a book that plays to Tykwer’s strengths of directing quirky thrillers. The boy (Ben Whishaw) is so obsessed with the perfection of the smell of women, he eventually turns to murder.

Ebert brought this film to his festival this year based on the amazing feat this story seems to have pulled off in each of the mediums which it has existed. A book that evokes the sense of smell so well is amazing enough, but Ebert was so impressed with Sean Barrett’s audio book performance, he would bring parties to a halt showing it off to guests. Tykwer seems to have impressed Ebert just as much with his film adaptation. Alas, for those of us not lucky enough to have seen it during its extremely limited theatrical run or without passes to the Overlooked, we will have to wait a few more months for it DVD release.

In its stead, I have chosen to watch the film that put Tykwer on the map, the 1998 German thriller “Run, Lola, Run”. Netflix describes this film as “a thrilling post-MTV roller-coaster ride.” I have to admit, I can’t imagine what the hell that statement is supposed to mean. It’s the whole “post-MTV” thing that’s throwing me off. But it is a non-stop kinetic, frenetic, balls-to-the-wall ride; that is for sure.

Have you ever wanted to be able to call a “do over” in life? Well, if you’re thinking about that when you’re trying to fix your lawnmower, try to imagine how much an action hero might want to utilize such a gift. Lola gets that chance in her movie. She and her boyfriend are having a very bad day. Lola is trying to get 100,000 marks to her boyfriend before he robs a grocery store to replace some money he owes to a gangster.

Tykwer employs a number of tactics to pump up the frenetic energy of his film, from animations, to stills with brief future stories for the people Lola runs into along the way, to jump cutting and extreme close ups. Every time things end poorly for Lola, Tykwer takes the audience back to the beginning until she gets it right.

This is the rare thriller that is joyous in its execution, rather than somber. Even when Lola’s story ends badly, it is hard not to delight in the events of this film. Plus, after one time through you get the concept that she’s going to get a chance to try it all again with a different outcome.

I’ve heard it compared to a video game, and I suppose that is true in the way Lola starts again from a certain point in her story after a poor choice leads her down the wrong path. But the added elements of dialogue and melodrama make this film so much more fun than watching your buddies work their way through a bunch of zombies, or whatever obstacles their particular choice of video game has to offer. And I can only imagine that playing this game a second or third time would only reveal more details and tidbit to delight and amaze.

Here is the trailer for Tykwer’s latest film “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”.

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