SXSW: SURVIVING EDEN, MIND THE GAP & I LOVE YOUR WORK reviews
Published at: March 14, 2004, 7:58 a.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here with my first official report from SXSW proper. During the fest, I love living at the Paramount Theater and just letting whatever plays there, hit me. I decided I would watch 3 films there today. The first is Greg Pritikin's second feature film, SURVIVING EDEN, coming one year after his wondrous debut with DUMMY at SXSW 2003. Next was a film I hadn't a clue about, called MIND THE GAP (brilliant movie btw) and then to fulfill my Christina Ricci fetish, I had to attend I LOVE YOUR WORK by Adam Goldberg. Originally - I was going to stay through BUSH'S BRAIN, but frankly... I got tired and wanted to grab a salad and get some sleep.
11am - Paramount Theater - SURVIVING EDEN by Greg Pritikin
Last year I attended Greg's DUMMY, not because I knew him, but because I was an Adrien Brody fan and the thought of Adrien being a shy ventriloquist, who could only communicate through his doll... well that sounded like a wonderful start to a movie. However, through the film I discovered another talent - which was Greg Pritikin's wonderfully quirky and beautifully touching finesse with comedy and actors. In DUMMY - I got such a sense of love for his characters, the camera seemed to hug each of them and let them bloom on screen. It is a very rare gift to find in a director. So - when I heard that the TBA 4.0 was Greg's new film, I was anxious to see if it was a fluke.
Before getting to the theater, I looked up the cast and was a bit concerned. Other than Jane Lynch, Sam Robarbs and Peter Dinklage... I didn't know anyone in the film. His last film had such a great cast that I was concerned about the material not being brought to life as well as what I found with his previous cast. INSTEAD - what I discovered was Pritikin's ability to find perfect comedy gold in actors that most of us do not know.
MICHAEL PANES - This guy is a genius. He plays Dennis - an obese lay about Convenience Store sad sad sad man with a pet pig and Peter Dinklage as a roommate. He wears terrible clothes, stands quietly in the corners of rooms - moving mainly with his eyes. He's effortlessly funny and seems to be the reincarnation of Peter Sellers. As Quint said in his review, "Holy Shit, He's not dead!" INDEED. This whole film is a Peter Sellers movie that was never made. Panes goes sheds the weight by starving on this crazy Survivor-esque TV show and wins a Million Dollars and instant fame. The result is hilarious. Publicists and agents get a hold of him. People begin to transform him into an egotistical monster that throws crazed Little Annie Fanny parties with silicon tits and coke floating around the room like crazy. See - Panes doesn't only capture the quiet Peter Sellers, but that wild eyed - he could do anything at any moment Peter Sellers. The result is hilarious.
SAVANNAH HASKE - Wow. She plays Sister Agnes - an ex-metalhead Nun, who tells us that not all nuns are virgins, but her chastity is with Jesus. I loved Savannah Haske in the film. In fact - if there's anything that I disliked about the film, it was that when she was off the screen - it was as if the bulb lost wattage in projecting. She is sweet and lovely... Very much the center you hope that Panes' Dennis finds.
CHERI OTERI - a Saturday Night Live vet and man... her Maria is a terrible super bitch. My god. When she gets her claws into Dennis - you can feel his life hitting the tubes. She leads him to excess - taking him step by step into white trash rich hell. His 60's Italian Fashions and Diva attitudes being milked by her. Cheri did such a great job creating both her monster and effectively making me hate Dennis too - that I genuinely wanted a piano or a safe or a spare boulder to strike her. Like a grown up Rhoda Penmark, I felt like she needed to take that trip to the end of the pier so that God could fucking make a grease spot out of her with a lightning bolt!
Peter Dinklage is fantastic. In the astonishingly awful film TIPTOES - his Maurice was the sole bright spot. His crazed excess as a French Canadian biker dwarf in that film nearly saved the movie for me... Ok, I wouldn't go that far, but he's the only reason I smiled in that entire 72 hour nightmare of a film. In ELF, his Miles Finch was smart, articulate and suave. A true debonair man that seemed to even make James Caan shrink on screen. In SURVIVING EDEN - he plays the stoner best friend, STERNO - that is forgotten when his friend Dennis is devoured by fame. Peter is truly a gifted comedian and performer. The montage of him waiting for a call was wonderful.
Those four actors shine so brightly in this film, that any of the pacing concerns that strike the middle third and beginning of the final act of SURVIVING EDEN are minor. The reason those portions begin to feel off is that is when the fame is most tearing at these characters... turning them from people and personalities we love into monsters... creatures of inflated egos and power-trips. However, if we didn't explore that side of these characters, it wouldn't make the end as sweet as it was.
Greg Pritikin has made a successful second film that is funnier than DUMMY - but rougher around the edges - of course - this wasn't the final edit - it was temp tracked and digitally projected --- so there's still a ways to go with it. The main point is that the film is very funny. The audience was constantly laughing with the film and it was nice to walk away from the film knowing that Pritikin is going to keep on being a very funny filmmaker.
1:30pm - Paramount Theater - MIND THE GAP - directed by Eric Schaeffer
I knew NOTHING about this film. Didn't know who the director was, who was in it or what it was about - but this was the best film I saw of the day. Essentially - it was filling the gap between two films I did want to see - and oddly was titled MIND THE GAP - so I felt that I should listen to the fates - follow the happenstance and wow what a film. I love films that come out of nowhere to just warm you through and through.
This is truly a wonderful film.
The film seems to tell 5 completely unrelated stories about 5 completely unrelated people. There's the great Alan King on a pilgrimage to a far off locale in New York taken in baby steps. There's the electrically charming Elizabeth Reaser, who seems to be passing the moments in life by bringing smiles to people's faces... She makes crazy Montana hats, corresponds with folks that send her audio tapes of things like... a restaurant in Beijing or a subway tube in London. Trapped taking care of her bed-ridden mother. She also seems to take photos of Rapists, their victims and their mothers - all for an art project. She's a flower in a dump. Beautiful. Then there's John - an Arizona accountant - moving like a zombie through life. Separated from his family. Desperately missing his son - tormented by an affair he'd give anything to reverse. A very powerful story. Then there is Sam played by Eric Schaeffer - he plays a single father - quirky as hell with a son named Rocky that is a spontaneous wonder. Early on, the 10 year old Rocky says he wants to shave their heads so they can look like Michael Jordan. And they do. Really wonderful story between these two - we start with him drawing an egg with hair on a computer screen and calling it mom... later we learn he is the product of an egg his father bought off the internet and fertilized and had a woman carry to birth. Lastly we have Jody, played by the wonderfully talented Jill Sobule - and she's a woman that has spent 10 years singing on the same street corner in Astoria - never going into New York City - having made a deal that she wouldn't do so till she landed a gig.
You take those 5 stories - and you tell a bit of each. There are moments of pain and hilarity, tragedy and success, fear and friendship. As the threads begin to get closer - all coming together in New York - there's such a feeling of kinetic purpose... as if something big was about to happen... that somehow each of these strangers carried some magic missing piece, that each needed to continue with life. I loved this film. When it all comes to a steam - there's unconventional happiness and joy - not necessarily at all what you would expect - and you can never again quite think of these characters as being disconnected... In fact - the film is a bit about the magic of the small world we live in. How - each of us as individuals exist within our own little microcosm completely unaware of the drama that might be driving a stranger towards another stranger, that could cause a reaction in another stranger that could ultimately change your life forever.
This is a beautiful film - do not miss MIND THE GAP!
4:15pm - Paramount Theater - I LOVE YOUR WORK - Directed by Adam Goldberg
This is one of those indie films with one of *those* indie casts. I mean - look at this... You have Giovanni Ribisi, Franka Potente, Joshua Jackson, Marisa Coughlan, Nicky Katt, Christina Ricci, Elvis Costello and Vince Vaughn. With a cast like that - you get a packed 1200 people strong theater loaded with folks teeming and talking about... I LOVE YOUR WORK. It's that sort of crazed wrap around the block type of line - that has forced breaks so that entrances to other buildings are not blocked causing Fire Marshall issues. All on a cold rainy soggy day!
It's the sort of energy that can lead to one of those wonderful / amazing / electric screenings... if the film delivers. Unfortunately - though the cast is wonderful - the story really isn't. Though the cinematography is breathtaking the soundtrack is flaccid. While Christina Ricci is glowing and radiant - Giovanni Ribisi is quasi-asleep. There are bright moments in the film, but ultimately I feel the film just doesn't work. Which is a shame, because I quite enjoyed Goldberg's previous feature as director... SCOTCH AND MILK.
This isn't a total disaster - the story has its moments. The idea of a star that is in a disintegrating relationship - imagining stalkers and then stalking one of his own fans... well - it is fun. With a cast like this it is very rare to have a complete misfire - instead you can enjoy the film, I just found myself wishing it was much more than it was.
After this, I needed a rest - so I missed out on the next film BUSH'S BRAIN - which had lines around the block I just didn't think they'd show Karl Rove's torture cells beneath Washington, D.C. or his Mad Scientist Lair where he concocts his Doc Doom style "Rule The World" insidieous plots. Some friends saw it, and based on their thoughts, I'll probably end up checking it out. Overall - a very happy Day 1 of my SXSW experience.