#84 - Stray Cat Rock

Dedicated To
Yasuharu Hasebe
1932 - 2009

Added 6/23/9

Ladies and Gentlemen, Damen und Herren, Mesdames et Messieurs…welcome to yet another week at Jahnke’s Electric Theatre. We have some interesting ground to cover this week but before we head to the screening room, I’d like to call your attention to something a little different.

2009 has already been a pretty decent year for movies. Even the summer season has offered up a few big studio pictures that are keepers. But the most fascinating movie of the summer is actually playing on the screen you’re looking at right now. It’s the David Lynch Interview Project, 121 brief on-line documentaries interviewing men and women of all walks of life from across the US. The Interview Project team, headed by Austin Lynch (David’s son) and Jason S., road trips across the country and back, interviewing people they meet along the way. They tell us who they are, where they’re from, their hopes, their dreams, and their regrets. Their stories are moving, heartfelt, funny and deeply compelling.

The first eight episodes of Interview Project are up now with new ones posted every three days. This is one of the few online movies I’ve seen that harnesses the unique strengths of the internet. Even so, I sincerely hope that when the project is complete that it will be collected in its entirety on DVD. The internet’s greatest weakness is that it is simultaneously both eternal and ephemeral. Once posted, something is theoretically available forever. However, you aren’t likely to run across it unless you know what you’re looking for. These voices are too unique to risk getting lost in the shuffle.

Interview Project is brilliant in its simplicity and beautiful in execution. If you’re a fan of the books of Studs Terkel or films like David Lynch’s The Straight Story, you will enjoy this. And if you’re an aspiring writer or filmmaker, you owe it to yourself to follow this journey through to the end. It’s a welcome reminder that everybody has a story. All they need is the encouragement to tell it. Head over now to check it out (but don’t forget to come back here…I ain’t done yet!) and if you’re on the Facebook or the Twitter, you can sign up to follow the project and find out when new episodes are online.


Whatever Works

As much as I love Woody Allen, his output over the past decade has been increasingly hit-or-miss. Oddly, most of his misses have come from his stabs at comedy. Match Point was absolutely terrific and last year’s excellent Vicky Cristina Barcelona, while sunnier than the earlier film, can hardly be described as a laugh riot. I sort of enjoyed Scoop, although I have to admit it takes an awfully forgiving fan to get much out of it. As for Anything Else, the title perfectly sums up what I would rather do than have to sit through that movie again. So it is with no small amount of relief that I say that the Woodman’s latest comedy, Whatever Works, is truly, genuinely funny.

Larry David stars as Boris Yellnikoff, a brilliant physicist who hates the world and pretty much everyone in it. After a failed suicide attempt, he quits his job, divorces his wife and begins teaching chess to kids, a role he is totally unsuited for since he just berates his students for being idiots. One night, a young runaway from Mississippi shows up at his doorstep (she’s played by Evan Rachel Wood). Melodie is naïve and downright stupid at times but relentlessly good-hearted and cheerful. Boris and Melodie gradually develop a relationship and get married, with Boris’ rationale being that since his previous failed marriage seemed like such a good, rational match on the surface, a completely irrational match might actually work.

Larry David is an unlikely choice to star in any movie, even one by Woody Allen. Still, he’s very funny, spitting out Allen’s dialogue like thumbtacks and making his Curb Your Enthusiasm persona seem like Santa Claus by comparison. Evan Rachel Wood is surprisingly charming as Melodie. Without her in the role, Melodie might seem simply grating and dense. The movie begins to lag a bit as Boris and Melodie grow comfortable with each other but perks back up with the arrival of Patricia Clarkson as Melodie’s southern belle momma, Marietta. Her transformation and seething dislike of Boris inject new energy into the movie just when it needs it most.

Woody Allen’s movies tend to fall into three categories: great, good to very good, or awful. Whatever Works isn’t in the upper echelon of Woody Allen classics. This is more along the lines of Mighty Aphrodite or Bullets Over Broadway than Annie Hall or Manhattan. It’s good to see that Woody hasn’t completely abandoned New York, nor has he totally lost his comedic touch. After a string of painfully unfunny comedies, I had genuine cause for alarm on that score. Fortunately, this one works. (* * *)


Some Girls

Before I watched this week’s TFTQ recommendation, virtually all I knew about Some Girls was that it was released in 1988 and starred Patrick Dempsey. Given that Dempsey spent most of the decade starring in trifles like Can’t Buy Me Love and In The Mood, perhaps it’s understandable why I was expecting more of the same here. In truth, there’s more going on in Some Girls than meets the eye. While the movie isn’t entirely successful, it’s interesting enough to warrant a look.

Dempsey stars as Michael, a college student whose girlfriend Gaby (Jennifer Connelly) left school to go home and spend time with her dying grandmother. She invites him to come spend Christmas with her family in Quebec. Once there, Gaby promptly tells Michael she’s no longer in love with him. This opens the door for some heavy flirting by her two sisters, Irenka (Sheila Kelley) and Simone (Ashley Greenfield), even though Gaby herself is still sending some seriously mixed messages.

Much of this material is underdeveloped and somewhat confusing. Indeed, the best sequences in Some Girls and the real reason to watch involves Lila Kedrova as the Alzheimer’s-inflicted grandmother. Granny connects with Michael, mainly due to the fact that he shares his name with her late husband. These scenes are deeply moving and beautifully done. In fact, the entire movie is lovely to look at, with gorgeous cinematography of the Canadian countryside and Connelly’s gothic family estate. Andre Gregory is amusing as Connelly’s eccentric father, a writer who can only work in the nude. Perhaps the film’s biggest drawback is that its lead character remains something of a cipher. We can assume he’s an aspiring writer, thanks to his narration and the fact that he’s frequently shown writing in a journal, but beyond that, we don’t get much sense of who he is or will become. A more charismatic actor may have been able to compensate for the script’s weakness in this department but Dempsey is never more than amiable. By the end, it seems clear that director Michael Hoffman and screenwriter Rupert Walters are striving for something more than a typical romantic comedy-drama. At times, they succeed but for the most part, they aren’t quite able to articulate their meaning.

Despite its flaws, Some Girls is never dull, sometimes amusing and occasionally quite touching. There are some truly wonderful moments buried in here and if I was somewhat disappointed by the film itself, it’s only because I found quite a bit to enjoy. (* * ½)

Thanks to Dave Steiner for this week’s Tales From The Queue recommendation! As always, if you have a movie that never seems to ring any bells when you recommend it to friends, I’d love for you to recommend it to me, too. I can’t promise to love it but I do promise I’ll be glad to have seen it.

Your pal,