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Down to Earth

 

 

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24 HOURS OF
MOVIE WATCHING

by
Ed Owens

 

T'BONE N' WEASEL (F)

I was shocked to find that this movie had been made for TV. About halfway through, I'd decided that the only possible explanation for the choppy editing, lack of any sort of transitions from scene to scene, and the virtually incoherent ramblings that passed for a narrative was that the movie had been randomly and with malice aforethought edited for television. Alas, the film can't even use that as an excuse.

Gregory Hines and Christopher Lloyd "star" as two ex-cons/drifters floating from city to city in an attempt to make their way through the deep south to the paradise of southern Florida. Along the way, they have various close encounters of the worst kind with corrupt sheriffs, racist townsfolk, and in-breds of all shapes and sizes (my apologies to any of that description reading this). The movie occasionally tries desperately to make a point, usually through long, blustery speeches by Hines, but more often fails to have one. One of the worst moments (and I use the plural purposefully) involves a plump southern woman who hires our illustrious heroes to shoo the birds from the marsh and service her when she rings a bell.

There are three reasons I watched the film through to its conclusion: 1) I was heavily medicated, an alibi which would easily stand up in any court of law, 2) I was morbidly fascinated at just how bad the movie actually was, and 3) it was 4:30 in the morning and the remote was across the room. Even despite the pain and suffering I endured, there is good to come from my experience. I now know that I was put on this earth for a reason, and that reason is to tell people what I have learned - don't watch T'Bone n' Weasel, avoid making TV viewing decisions under the influence of heavy medication, and, most importantly, never, ever, let the remote leave your hand if the TV is on.

That was how time off from work started. I had left early Wednesday with a fever of 102. By that evening, I was sleeping the sleep that only medicine or a swift blow to the head can induce. I had somehow managed to call in through the fog and haze and arrange a sub for the next day, and I had drifted off thinking of the endless movie-watching possibilities which lay before me. T'Bone n' Weasel made me realize that I couldn't leave my schedule up to TV alone, but that I would have to take things into my own hands if I were to truly minimize my suffering. I had recently acquired several new DVDs which I had been dying to watch, and had been handed a bag of videos by a friend (though I had not yet mustered the courage to peer inside,given his shameless affection for Police Academy).

I took some more medicine and settled in, figuring I would wait until I next awoke before beginning another movie.

THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (Supplements: B, Movie: A)

From El Naufrago de la Calle de Providencia, the homage to Luis Bunuel included on the first disc of Criterion's special edition release of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, one could easily assume that Bunuel was a notorious drunk. The featurette, barely long enough to accurately be labeled a documentary, intercuts snippets of interviews with friends and family with shots of Bunuel himself mixing drinks on the veranda just outside his home. Many of the stories involve drinking and getting drunk, and the subtitles themselves seem rendered by someone under the influence (grammar is tertiary and even events themselves become their own entities - at one point, a man refers to "the Spanish War"). While the featurette is certainly entertaining in its own right, it is insubstantial enough to be easily forgotten.

A much more coherent picture can be drawn from A Proposito de Bunuel, the documentary which occupies most of the second disc. The film details Bunuel's life specifically as it related to his work, and includes sections on each of his most influential films. Best of all, the documentary manages to achieve some depth, thereby appealing to those already familiar with Bunuel and his works while providing a strong foundation for a newcomer (not to mention preserving the infamous eye-slashing scene from Un Chien Andalou on DVD until more works of Bunuel make to the format). I would recommend the documentary to anyone interested, though I think it may be exclusive to the Criterion DVD.

The film itself is a true delight, especially given the work Criterion has done on the transfer. The picture revolves around a group of friends trying to meet for dinner (and in at least one case, lunch), only to be constantly interrupted by reasons both real and surreal. While the events of The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie are often absurd, they are certainly not without meaning (the film seems to me the logical next step in the cinematic journey that began with Un Chien Andalou), and the strong performances of the central characters help to anchor the narrative madness which surrounds them. Much more information would, I think, interfere with the experience of the film. Suffice it to say that it deservedly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, and is a welcome addition to anyone's film library.

A note on the disc itself: One of the benefits of seeing it in widescreen is a new appreciation for Bunuel's framing and composition, something he was clearly very aware of throughout most of his film career. There are some particularly striking shots, and the images presented on the disc are pleasantly sharp, given the age of the source materials.

I had managed to use The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie to avoid wading through the desolate wasteland of afternoon TV. That left the evening to kill before another long night of medicated slumber. I suddenly realized that I had been in the house now for almost 30 hours, and that I should probably get out, even if only briefly, in order to maintain my sanity. Besides...I would need to rent some movies if I was going to make it through the weekend.

THE MEXICAN (D-)

To be honest, the only thing keeping me from slapping an F on this affront to movie-goers is the fact that I had just seen T'Bone n' Weasel less than 24 hours before. At least The Mexican has Tony Soprano.

The movie, if you can call it that, details the on-the-rocks relationship of Sam (Julia Roberts) and Jerry (Brad Pitt). Seems Jerry is in debt to a very important criminal (although the mechanics of Jerry's indebtedness are established in the opening credits, the exact nature isn't fully explained, or even touched on for that matter, until late in the last reel), and as part of his indebtedness must travel to Mexico to retrieve a legendary pistol known as The Mexican. This doesn't sit well with Sam, whose dreams involve the English-speaking deserts of Las Vegas. All of this is annoyingly set up in an early fight scene where Roberts throws Pitt's belongings off a balcony along with any respect she may have earned for her performance as Erin Brockovich.

The nature of their relationship isn't the only thing established early on. In the first ten minutes alone, the film exhausts its supply of musical motifs and proceeds to recycle them ad nauseum for the next 113 minutes. Fans of redundant soundtracks would have to go back as far as Dances With Wolves to find one this horrifyingly repetitive. (Note to John Barry: while changing tempo can certainly alter the mood of a piece, it's not enough to carry a three hour film.)

If there is a bright spot in the film, it's James Gandolfini, although the character and dialogue the film saddles him with seem intent on hobbling him beyond recovery. He manages to bring some weight to the proceedings, despite Pitt's continued combination of mugging and frantic gesticulation. The various "developments" of Gandolfini's character made me wonder if he had read the script in its entirety before signing on to the project (my guess would be no).

Oddly enough, the film tries to revive it's already failing vital signs with a cameo so absurd, it appears the actor mistakenly wandered onto the set and stuck around to do a scene (notice that he didn't stick around long enough to do the pivotal voice-over). The result, assuming you still cared by this point, is one last "What the hell...?!" in an already lengthy and exasperated string of them.

I was left wondering what theater had actually allowed Ebert to shoot up at the press screening, given that some pretty strong crack is the only reason I can think of that he would have given The Mexican three stars.

To say the day had been a mixed bag would have been an understatement. I only hoped day two would be better.


CineScene, 2001

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