Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Reeler Bursts With Upward Mobility

Great news: The lovely people at indieWIRE have invited The Reeler into their fashionable fold, so I will be packing up and heading out of Blogspot. For all two of you who may have been so kind as to bookmark this site, please note The Reeler's new home:

Or you can never go wrong with just I hope to see you there...

Cinderella Man: Free to Good Home

Cinderella Man may have failed for a number of reasons, but AMC Theaters is not giving up on Ron Howard's boxing melodrama that easily. In fact, the chain is so smitten (or desperate, or both) that it is offering a money-back guarantee in each of its 3,500 theaters: If the film is not good, then it is free.

Cinderella Man, now with fewer calories and bearing the AMC "Stamp of Earnest Pandering"

Obviously, this is an exercise pulled from the ages-old "loss leader" lesson of Marketing 101, which states that even if you do want your money back for Cinderella Man, the theater is betting you'll just turn around and drop it on War of the Worlds or Lindsay Rides Herbie since you are already there. And you will buy more popcorn, or get another $4 box of Junior Mints. Fall for it at your peril.

But now I am wondering who at Universal got to AMC; after all, the studio is still about $38 million in the box-office hole on Cinderella Man, and the last time AMC so shamelessly pledged a similar guarantee involved the 1988 Julia Roberts dazzler Mystic Pizza. Either way, The Reeler wishes the policy could somehow be applied retroactively for the 2.5 hours it will never get back from the first viewing of the film. Or that maybe AMC will introduce 0% financing for its ball-shrinkingly high ticket prices. That might get me back to the the theater.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Film Forum: Tangled Up in Buñuel

Well, this sucks: The Reeler recently learned that the venerable Film Forum is involved in a multi-party lawsuit stemming from its repertory presentation of the Luis Buñuel masterpiece Los Olvidados.

According to Variety, Film Forum and American distributor Koch Lorber are named in a suit filed by Mexican media titan Televisa, which claims it holds exclusive rights to the 1950 film. Film Forum, which featured Los Olvidados both as part of its 2004 Mexican cinema program and in a reprise last March, secured its print from Koch Lorber--which in turn had secured the film from French distributor Films Sans Frontieres.

So Televisa and FSF are now challenging each other in a Buñuel steel-cage match, with poor Film Forum caught in the middle. A settlement is reportedly in the works; FF repertory chief Bruce Goldstein did not return The Reeler's phone calls requesting comment.

At the end of it all, Buñuel fans are likely to be rewarded with the long-awaited, full-length American release of Los Olvidados on DVD. So at least something good comes out of all this kerfuffle.

Here is Your Royalty Check, Mrs. Dahl. Now Please Stop Talking

Just as Batman Begins begins its slow box-office wane, Warners has the PR ball rolling in earnest for the only summer film The Reeler has been genuinely anticipating: Tim Burton's adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Johnny Depp is featured in the current issue of Newsweek describing the "Snoopy dances" he did upon earning the role of Willie Wonka, while screenwriter John August has been detailing some of the difficulties involved in conforming Roald Dahl's genius to the rigors of the screen.

Mitchum as Wonka: I will de-juice her in no time flat!

But my favorite commentary thus far has to be that of Dahl's widow Liccy, who not only laments that the English comic Spike Milligan never got the chance to play Wonka in the 1971 version, but also throws down a casting advisory for 2005:
She's happy with Depp's performance, too, although she admits she doesn't quite understand the actor's sex appeal. "Women just adore him, don't they?" she says. "I have to be honest, I think he's a little too pretty. Terribly nice, but he's no Robert Mitchum."
Yes, right, Robert Mitchum. He would have been a great Wonka; after all, he had always done so well with kids in his career.

Woody Allen, Ethnologist

So we knew Woody Allen was deserting us for the more burnout-hospitable climes of London, but a report in today's Page Six only intensifies the sad dread all of New York feels at losing one of its favorite sons.

Allen went on the record with Der Spiegel to discuss the possibility of returning to NYC to make a film dealing with the ideas and aftermath of 9/11. Well, maybe "discuss" isn't the right word. Let's try "shrug off with his hard-wrought ethnological eminence and authority":

The history of the world is like: He kills me, I kill him, only with different cosmetics and different castings. So in 2001, some fanatics killed some Americans, and now some Americans are killing some Iraqis. And in my childhood, some Nazis killed Jews. And now, some Jewish people and some Palestinians are killing each other. Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral, not important.
OK, look, Woody, the Beekman's closure has got me down, too, but I think we can work through this. If the vacuum of decent 9/11 films has left the door open to a new movement of puerile horseshit that shall not be named, then it doesn't look like you have much choice. So leave the expat pose to Hal Hartley and come home already. Don't make me beg!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Craig Brewer: Black, White and Rich All Over

You may have heard about Craig Brewer's post-screening discussion of Hustle and Flow at the MGM Screening Room last Friday. The first-time filmmaker joined producer Stephanie Allain in chatting up indieWIRE editor Eugene Hernandez's film class, discussing the trials, tribulations and five-year process of getting his troubled pimp opus Hustle to the screen.

You know, it is hard out here for a pimp. Director Craig Brewer explains with producer Stephanie Allain (Photo): STV

During the discussion, Brewer had some remarkably candid comments about the racial politics that he claims almost scuttled his film. He referenced one unnamed executive who explained the trouble with whites directing "black" films: "One studio person actually told me, 'If it's a comedy and we have a star, we can sell the star. If it's a small personal indie film, we have to sell you. And that's too confusing.'"

Hmmm. Typical Hollywood logic. Brewer continued: "Stephanie and I were getting cautionary tales about this one movie because it was being financed independently, outside the studio, for about $40 milion. It was packed with incredible African-American actors and they said, 'No one is going to buy this movie. They are being ridiculous making this movie about Ray Charles.' And we totally bought it. We thought if there's no way Ray Charles was going to work, there's no way that a pimp is.

"There is the sense in Hollywood that says: 'We know how to make money off films with a predominantly black cast. It is in this avenue and this avenue. But inbetween, you get into a grayer area, and nobody wants to explore that. But actually, I think that in the last year and this year, that's going away. Race is no longer something to be a gimmick. It's something to be celebrated or explored. That's why I think that our movie is an earnest hip-hop movie. Hip-hop has always been inclusive, as I feel rap as been."

Well, Paramount must have seen something inclusive enough to make it worth throwing $9 million at during Sundance. And it was learned last week that Brewer will dig deeper into the phenomenon with his next project, Black Snake Moan, featuring Samuel L. Jackson as a blues musician.

Warner Bros. (Hearts) NY

Attention, film geeks and fledgling NYC writer/directors waiting tables until your landing your big break: Warner Bros. is prowling the city for talent.

All right, so we are not talking about an American Idol-esque hunt, so don't go revising your treatments just yet. Basically, the studio's execs have made a succession of recent deals that mean business might be a little brisk around here in the months ahead. Last week, WB hooked up with Tod Williams to adapt Norman Maclean's Young Men and Fire, and now they are bringing Dylan Kidd to follow up his tiresome P.S. with an adaptation of the novel Urban Tribes. Playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and SNL writer David Iserson have also committed to blind script deals, while Putnam County Spelling Bee star Jay Reiss sold his comedy Lonny the Great.

The Reeler does not endorse crashing studio offices at 1325 Sixth Avenue with your unsolicited scripts, but I would be more than happy to publish stories of anybody who did.

Army Shuffles Into Bronx

On Sunday, Variety columnist Army Archerd got the honor of at least the last few weeks when Bronx President Alfonso Carrion bestowed him a spot on the Bronx Walk of Fame (also known as Grand Concourse).

Army Archerd (with wife Selma) can finally cross "Bronx immortality" off his list of things to do (Photo: Variety)

Archerd was born in the Bronx in 1922 and became Variety's resident gossip in 1953 after an apprenticeship with the AP and the L.A. Herald Express. Just to help you put the Bronx Walk's selectivity in some kind kind of perspective, Archerd received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on this day back in 1984.

Of course, this is New York City--it is not the first or the last time anyone will wait 20 years for a street sign to be fixed.

Make Them an Offer They Can (and Probably Will) Refuse

Pretty much everyone has a thing for Marlon Brando. But for New Yorkers who have that thing AND a few hundred grand to toss around, this is your lucky week.

Like new! Barely used after 1973! Brando's Health-O-Meter scale (Photo: Christies)

Christie's is featuring an auction of some odds and ends from the late Method Maniac's estate—everything from a fertility statue given to him by Val Kilmer to his exhaustively annotated screenplay from The Godfather. They are even unloading the poor guy's foosball table, which according to the Times is drawing some of the hottest interest of the whole lot.

But fear not, cheapskates: Christie's is also hosting a viewing of Brando's belongings prior to Thursday's auction, as well as offering free viewings of A Streetcar Named Desire (tonight) and On the Waterfront (Wednesday). On Tuesday, Arthur Penn, Eli Wallach and critic Richard Schickel will be part of a panel discussion about Brando's life and influence.

If nothing else, the viewing will remind you of the halcyon days when crazy actors bought islands instead of trying to turn themselves into one.

Hal Hartley: Berlin or Bust or Both

Hal Hartley dropped by SoHo's Apple Store last Friday to answer questions from a standing-room only audience that sampled behind-the-scenes footage from his latest film The Girl From Monday. Among the film-school geekery ("Um, who are your influences?") and techno-wonkery ("Is that camera the Panasonic X-12-DVmatic-zzzzzzzzzzz…?"), Hartley also fielded a few inquiries about his forthcoming escape from New York.

Eins, zwei, drei: Hal Hartley, the elementary German (Photo: STV)

A native Long Islander, Hartley simply reiterated his plans to flee to Berlin when The Reeler asked about the current state of the Gotham film scene. When another audience member asked him if his move was a political statement, the normally soft-spoken Hartley offered his most animated answer of the program.

"It's not a political statement," Hartley replied. "I just can't make films anymore in America. It's too expensive. It's too expensive in New York. If you want to make films that are based on your interests or the people around you, you can't necessarily be tied to being a commercial success. And that's all that happens here."

Conveniently, Hartley's next project is set in Berlin, or basically anywhere he feels like taking Parker Posey in his quasi-sequel to 1997's Henry Fool. Posey will reprise her role as Fay Grim, the loose, "naïve American" of Hartley's original who must learn the ropes out in the real world. Sounds great, Hal—auf wiedersehen and good luck and everything, but I see you working. Don't even think about inducting Parker in your little expat cult. I will come and rescue her myself.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Please Excuse The Reeler

I will be spending some quality time today upgrading the site and preparing for an imminent move, so please pardon the three-day weekend. I swear that I am not having any fun.

The Reeler will be back bright and early (or at least early) Monday, June 27. Thanks as always for your understanding. -- STV

Screening Gotham: June 24-26, 2005

The Late Bloomer's Sumida Masakiyo: Not a happy boy (Photo: Subway Cinema)

--Arguably the best (and easily the most wrenching) film playing at this year's New York Asian Film Festival, Go Shibata's The Late Bloomer tells the story of Sumida, a wheelechair-bound loner whose unrequited love for his caretaker plunges him into psychopathy. Call it what you will: an experimental bloodbath, Taxi Driver with cripples… In a festival puncuated with rhapsodic masterpieces (and Godzilla finales), it is as close to required viewing as anything going down in New York this weekend. The Late Bloomer screens Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Anthology Film Archives.

--I have never tried movie-hopping at Lincoln Center, but today might be the time I give it a try: The Film Society of Lincoln Center opens its Louis Malle retrospective with a one-two-three punch of the noir Elevator to the Gallows, the, um, familial Murmur of the Heart and his 1987 classic Au Revoir Les Enfants. The series continues through July 19, but remember: God hates procrastinators.

--Tonight at 7:30, Hal Hartley will take part in this month's installment of indieWIRE's filmmaker discussion series at the SoHo Apple Store. Hartley will have a few things to say about his new film, The Girl From Monday, and probably at least one thing to say about what is on his iPod. You walk in that place, you can't help it.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Tom Cruise Channels Kim Jong Il

Defamer and NYDN's Rush & Molloy tag-team Tom Cruise's New York sojourn today, which is great for The Reeler since I am still awaiting a returned call from Paramount about tonight's War of the Worlds premiere. Please excuse my choking sobs. OK, I'm done.

Anyway, if I can't cover the premiere, the least I can do is help you save time by parsing the second-hand news:

1) Cruise banned print media from tonight's event
2) Cruise's sister is bad at PR
3) Cruise is a Scientologist. It's like Kaballah, but without the Jews
4) Cruise is supposed to marry Katie Holmes. Except he is gay
5) Oprah Winfrey's couch
6) Repeat

If this service was of any value, please let me know and maybe I'll try it for next week's Dark Water premiere, which Disney is also stonewalling me on. Thanks!

IFC Center, Part V: Pennebaker Weighs In

The Reeler had heard from a projectionists union source that an IFC Center opening-day screening of D.A. Pennebaker's classic Dylan documentary Dont Look Back featured four false starts and a disgruntled Pennebaker associate complaining to the union.

That's news to Pennebaker.

On the DVD tip: Pennebaker

"No, I don't know anything about it," Pennebaker just told me. "The theater was great. I remember the old Waverly falling apart like some octagenarian temple in Cambodia, and it was kind of wonderful to see what (IFC) had done to it. Picking it up."

Pennebaker was in attendance to introduce a Friday night screening and to catch a look at Me and You and Everyone We Know. Former collaborator Richard Leacock was visiting from France and joined him in addressing the packed house.

The director acknowledges talking to protestors on hand. "One of them was very young. I don't he'd been projecting very long," Pennebaker said. "Nobody wants to pay for a projectionist any more if they can help it. But it was once a very organized coalition of people who had careers and did know something about doing it. But that's long since passed. Now I think the number of people who know how to run those big arc machines is fewer and fewer. They haven't got much to hold onto anymore.

"We were so happy when the DVD came in because that was a new era and we wouldn't have to have projection anymore. So I wasn't exactly on their side when they asked me for attention. But I did talk to a couple of them."

Pennebaker also described the sea change he has witnessed since premiering a 16mm print of Dont Look Back at a seedy porno theater in San Francisco 40 years ago.

"My feeling about projectionists, you know, there were two or three who were wonderful. There was one guy up at 105th Street and Broadway who was terrific. We ran all our films through that theater because they were so good, and we checked them very carefully. But we'd take a $2,500 print of Dont Look Back and we'd send it out someplace and it would have pictures cut out of it and it would be wrecked. And the guy on the projector had just not watched it."

Film Licensing Campaigns Lauded In NYC; Satan Pleased

I had read something about this on Ain't It Cool yesterday, but I did not believe it. Would not believe it. Alas, the International Licensing Excellence Awards are real, and now they have official winners whose souls are a little bit crispier this morning.

Omigod omigod! Another fucking Shrek movie! Yay licensing! (Photo: Moriarty, Ain't It Cool)

Variety's Willa Paskin reports:
Spidey nabbed three prizes from the Licensing Industry Merchandisers Assn., including overall license of 2004 and best promotion. Disguise nabbed the kudos for film and TV brand licensee, soft goods, for its Spider-Man products.

Dora the Explorer won film and television brand license of the year, and Fisher Price took home film and TV brand licensee, hard goods, for Dora wares.

Dora beat out some bad-ass competition in the form of Scarface, Sex & the City and Kill Bill, which I think only proves we all underestimated the chick's juice. The Care Bears also took home some hardware, and Sponge Bob Square Pants helped Target nab the "distinguished" Retailer of the Year prize.

At any rate, Hell's incursion into NYC might explain the weather phenomena that doomed Snapple's 25-foot popsicle yesterday in Union Square. Just a hunch.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

One Hell of a "Talent" Show

Breaking down last weekend's box office tallies reveals a stunning fact: Andrew Wagner's self-financed, self-distributed, self-referential classic The Talent Given Us collected the second-highest per-screen gross in the country.

The Wagners were everywhere in New York last weekend (Photo: STV)

Strong reviews and word-of-mouth helped Wagner's film pull in $12,700 on a single screen at the Angelika Film Center. That figure trailed only Miranda July's much-hyped debut Me and You and Everyone We Know, which grossed $30,800 on "one" screen (it was really two) at a brand-new movie theater you may have read about.

"It is wonderfully gratifying," Wagner told The Reeler today. "When I finished the film, I had a powerful feeling that if we could find our way into theaters, then people would connect with it. And judging from the turnout and the Q&A's from after the screenings, that seems to be happening."

The New York premiere's success has also resulted in additional interest from theaters nationwide. Wagner said at least 10 additional cities booked Talent since reports of its phenomenal opening, and a dozen more have expressed interest.

Grady Hendrix: The Accidental Festival Chief?

The Reeler recently had a chance to catch up with Grady Hendrix, the NYC writer/film buff/raconteur behind Subway Cinema and the New York Asian Film Festival. Hendrix contributed a great piece to Slate last week about the hassles of organizing a film festival on your own--perils on which he elaborated before another packed screening at Anthology Film Archives.

Asian film fans roll up their sleeping bags, stow their lawn chairs and geek up for Arahan (Photo: STV)

"This is about as big as we can get," Hendrix said, taking a second to redirect a group of filmgoers from the theater lobby to a line queueing onto Second Avenue. "We've all got day jobs, and we're all on our last warnings for spending too much time away from the office. Next year, we're hoping it will still be this size. And if keeps going the way that it is, it definitely will."

Hendrix added that while the festival benefits from limited corporate sponsorship (hotel rooms, distributor packages, etc.), the overriding gauge of success is audience support "If the audience doesn't come, we don't have the festival," he said. "We all go into credit card debt. We pay all the expenses out-of-pocket and hope to make them back on ticket sales. As the audience has gotten bigger, we've been able to expand the festival."

That expansion has taken the NYAFF from a couple of screens at Anthology to a couple of theaters (the ImaginAsian will begin hosting screenings this weekend), and from 11 films in 2002 to 31 films in 2005. "This year has been a little different from last year. Last year, we had Hero, and that was a big sell-out. This year, it's been sort of steady across the board. Godzilla: Final Wars is a big show. Princess Raccoon is doing well. Arahan and Three ... Extremes are doing well. It's been kind of nice to see things spread out, but it's still hard to sell things that aren't genre movies, but that's just the nature of the beast."

Check The Reeler next week for continued coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival.

Grown Men Fight Over Comic Books--Again

Remember when life was simple and comic book heros were free to save the city without prohibitive legal restraint? Yeah, well, me neither, and the same probably goes for the clowns running the show at 20th Century Fox, who are worried that Sony's sure-to-be-Earth-shattering new Tim Allen project will threaten their $700 miilion X-Men franchise.

Fox is so terrified that Zoom--based on a graphic novel in which an out-of-shape superhero returns from retirement to train would-be teenage-mutant crimefighters--is going to undercut next summer's X3 that the studio is suing Sony not only for copyright infringement, but also to prevent Sony from releasing Zoom two weeks before X3's May 26 opening.

Sony is poop! Fox lawyers, litigating their little hearts out

These brats have squabbled about this crap in the past with both X-Men and Spider-Man. In this instance, Variety's Ben Fritz and Nicole Laporte have the specifics:

"Zoom's release in May 2006 immediately before the release of X3 (or any release in proximity to the release of X3) is an unfair attempt by Sony and Revolution to manipulate the market and trade off the time, energy, resources and effort Marvel have invested in X-Men," the lawsuit states.

In other words, Fox is planning a huge marketing campaign for X3 and doesn't want Sony and Revolution sharing in the results.
Look, I know Marvel is bent on selling out every character it has ever contrived (even Captain America will soon belong to Merrill Fucking Lynch), but please. Come. On. We are talking about Tim Allen versus Hugh Jackman. Chevy Chase versus Ian McKellen. Courtney Cox versus Halle Berry. Pete Hewitt versus Brett Ratner (OK, it's a push). Trust The Reeler: The lawyers aren't worth it. And neither is the movie.

Hairspray: Now Available in No-Stick Formula

Variety reports that Broadway's Tony-winning musical take on Hairspray has stalled on its way to the screen. New Line pushed production to spring 2006, which--excuse me!--does not work for rookie co-directors Jerry Mitchell and Jack O'Brien, the latter of whom is previously committed in New York. Tom Stoppard, Lincoln Center, something like that. Producers are now gunning for director Rob Marshall, who actually bailed from Hairspray a long time ago for the chance to make Chicago.

Velma Von Tussle (R) presents "The Legend of Miss Toronto Crabs"

As if all this Gotham incestuousness is not disturbing enough, New Line explained the delay was necessary because it is skittish about not wrapping before winter--in Toronto! Does John Waters know that only the second-unit action is setting up shop in his beloved hometown of Baltimore, where Hairspray and his entire low-class canon is set?

I suppose the next shocker is that Divine won't be reprising his role as Edna Turnblad. What?!? They are considering John Travolta?!? Oh, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Woody Allen, Londoner

Tennis sucks, Woody. When can we go to a Knicks game again? (Photo: BBC)

The imminent closure of the Beekman Theater has me kind of maudlin, especially when recalling the great scene in Annie Hall in which Alvy Singer spars uneasily with an autograph-seeking fan outside the theater while waiting to meet Annie. Losing the landmark sucks enough, but Variety reports that--gasp!--we could be losing the filmmaker as well?
"It's a treat to be filming in London again," Allen said. "The weather is overcast and rainy, and so I'm in heaven... I play a low-grade American entertainer, which is perfect for me because that's what I am."
Oh, Woody! Match Point is great and everything, but New York knows you too well to think you have succumbed to such moribund self-pity. And sure the English government is underwriting your films--but maybe the mayor will give you some tax breaks if you come back. And our tabloids are counting on your transgressions! We promise we don't hold Melinda and Melinda and your last decade of work against you! Please don't stay away for long!

Cancer Claims the Beekman Theater

You are down to your last six days to check out a flick at the Upper East Side's iconic Beekman Theater, one of the city's few remaining single-screen movie houses. Reuters reports that the landlord is reclaiming the property next week to turn it into--like New York needs more of these--a medical facility:
That leaseholder is Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the Beekman -- along with the other buildings in the immediate area -- will be replaced by a breast and imaging center for outpatient care. Which more or less nullifies the argument for preservation.
Oh, OK. The Reeler will let you pass on this one. Next time, though, they are gonna need a better excuse than trying to save lives. No one is falling for that twice.

Monday, June 20, 2005

J. Lo + Oribe = Mexican Clusterfuck

The Reeler is shocked--SHOCKED!--to hear about Jennifer Lopez's latest travails in Mexico, where the Bronxette is shooting Bordertown for director Gregory Nava. Rumor has it that J-Lo is pissed off that Mexico is poor and dirty and that everybody laughs at her Uggs and that nobody will rent her a villa and nobody can find $10,000 a day for her hairdresser Oribe.

But wait: A quick bit of research determines that Lopez is producing the movie. A bit more research reveals that Lopez plays a journalist. So there must be some mix-up, because not only does Lopez hold the pursestrings, but everybody knows that journalists are biologically incapable of looking good.

Translation: Judith Miller of The New York Times uses only the finest hair care products when being held in contempt of court (Photo: AP)

And jeez, J-Lo, maybe nobody figured Oribe into the budget because they thought you fired his ass a long time ago. I mean, really!

Knowing Nomi

Film Threat features a new interview with director Andrew Horn, whose spellbinding documentary The Nomi Song recounts the rise and fall of New Wave New York's resident alien Klaus Nomi. The DVD is now available from Palm Pictures and features enough falsetto rock to send your dog into seizures. For those of us too young to experience the city's rock scene when it was, um, good, Horn's film provides the rare insight (and archival footage) we have been aching for.

Because Katie Holmes Can't Date a Car

You have to give Warner Bros. credit for taking marketing in new, apocalyptic directions with Batman Begins. First, the studio sold its leading lady to Tom Cruise (or did Katie Holmes maybe, just maybe, sell herself?). And on Sunday, NASCAR featured the Batman Begins 400, the first race to ever award naming rights to a movie.

Besides wondering when and where studio marketers souls will combust, one has to ask how a nation so disenchanted with Gotham is actually going to react to the city taking over a day at the races. Either way, we should have seen this coming last year, when Warners pimped its animated Justice League franchise on the sides of stock cars at several races and in a commercial that made the rounds at the nation's speedways.

That's Greg Biffle. With a "B," asshole (Photo: Autostock)
But come on, comics geeks--tell me you would not take up auto racing for a chance to win a trophy like that.

IFC Center, Part IV: The Wrong Kind of Lines

Current score: Union, 5--IFC box office, 0 (Photo: STV)

IFC Center was a little sleepy on its grand opening weekend, owing in no small part to the projectionists union presence in their cattleguard corral on Sixth Avenue. The Reeler spent a while surveying the scene on Sunday, observing the empty Waverly at IFC restaurant and eavesdropping on filmgoers' mixed impressions of Me and You and Everyone We Know. The day before, a giant inflatable rat greeted prospective ticket buyers--not exactly the first impression the Center wanted to make in the community.

For those of you just tuning in, Projectionists Local 306 has called out IFC Center management for opting to employ non-union projectionists in its booths. Some debate persists about whether the Center's projectionists possess the city requisite operator's license (the union says they do not; IFC staff told patrons Sunday that they do), but the union continues to wield a pretty formidable trump card with its picket line. (Read more of The Reeler's coverage here.)

In a kinda-related note, the Times reports today that Cablevision bosses Charles and James Dolan are looking to spin off Rainbow Media, the auxiliary catch-all that counts IFC among its assets. The Dolans' proposal has them taking Cablevision private, buying out its shareholders at $21 per share and giving them $12.50 stakes in Rainbow. Lest you think James Dolan would relinquish control of his "passion," he will head up the offshoot while keeping his title as Cablevision CEO.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Screening Gotham: June 17-19, 2005

This weekend's worthwhile cinematic diversions in New York:

James Marsden takes Elizabeth Banks for a ride in Heights (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

--Chris Terrio's Heights (above) adapts Amy Fox's one-act play about five New Yorkers whose lives interweave over the course of one day. That's a new one. At any rate, Glenn Close chews plenty of delicious city scenery as a Shakespeare-quoting diva whose daughter (Elizabeth Banks) struggles through relationship and career woes. Also starring James Marsden (expertly channeling the halting spirit of Eyes Wide Shut-era Tom Cruise) and beautiful cinematography by Jim Denault.

--Subway Cinema kicks off the fourth annual New York Asian Film Festival tonight at Anthology Film Archives. Highlights include the latest fucked-up Korean sci-fi psychodrama Save the Green Planet and the eagerly (if bittersweetly) awaited finale of the 50-year-old Godzilla franchise, Godzilla: Final Wars.

--Get all the Gotham you can handle in the first week of Thirteen's Reel NY series. Featured filmmakers include Greg Pak, Jem Cohen and Todd Downing, whose short adaptation of Mike Albo's The Underminer brings the acclaimed book's destabilizing title character to passive-agressive life.

We Interrupt This Broadcast Because Peter Jackson's Contract Says We Had To

NBC/Universal--keepers of the King Kong flame and some pretty shitty Nielsens of late--is unleashing its 800-lb. gorilla on prime-time TV June 28 as part of a "roadblock" campaign, which will flood all nine of its subsidiary networks simultaneously with a trailer for Peter Jackson's NYC-shattering remake:
The specific schedule for the airing of the teaser trailer on each of the NBC networks is as follows:

NBC -- immediately following "Fear Factor"
USA Network -- immediately following "Law & Order: SVU"
SCI FI Channel -- immediately following "Stargate-SG1"
Bravo -- immediately following "West Wing"
Universal HD -- immediately following "Airport '77"
MSNBC -- immediately following "Countdown with Keith Olbermann"
CNBC -- immediately following "Cover to Cover"
Telemundo -- immediately following "La Mujer en el Espejo"
Mun2 -- teaser trailer will premiere during the two-hour block of "The Roof."
Oh, so that's why nobody watches Keith Olbermann--he's been going head-to-head with blockbusters like Airport '77 all this time! And La Mujer en el Espejo! In fucking high-def! No worries at "Countdown," though--King Kong is gonna fix everything.

The Talent Given Us: Wagners Take Manhattan

Imagine if you will: You are a 40-something independent filmmaker striving to break out with your first feature film. You have $30,000 on hand, you have a crew of two (including yourself) and you have a 12-year-old script resurrected pretty much by accident. You have one shot to make it work. And you compound the pressure by casting your immediate family. In a road movie. For a month.

Are you deranged? No—you are Andrew Wagner.

A man, a van, a cabal: filmmaker Andrew Wagner (Photo: Backstage)

"Looking back on it, I know exactly how you feel," said Wagner, the do-it-yourself auteur behind the brilliant new comedy The Talent Given Us, opening today at the Angelika Film Center. "Those same feelings come up for me. But at the time, I was just so driven to make the film and just sort of blast open the door to my directing career, that it didn't take long for me to find that degree of separation one would need to direct his family and be a storyteller."

In Wagner's case, storytelling meant walking the lines between everything from fact and fiction to truth and consequences to Mom and Dad. The film chronicles his parents Judy and Allen, who realize after running into their son's former high school teachers on the Upper West Side that they have no idea where Andrew is or what he is doing. They know he is OK from frequent contact with their daughters Emily and Maggie, who live near him in Los Angeles. But no sooner do the sisters come to visit their parents in New York than Judy wildly insists on a detour away from the airport—3,000 miles away, in fact, all the way to Andrew's door in L.A.

In the end, Wagner rejoices in blurring those aforementioned lines—elevating what could have been an exploitive gimmick to the level of truly sublime filmmaking. Viewers are invited to parse the Wagners' authenticity in matters as grave as divorce, mortality and sexuality, the latter of which reflects with unflinching candor the ways aging can frustrate an otherwise happily married couple.

"The circumstance is completely fictional, but the inner life of the story is drawn very much from emotional and even historical truth," Wagner told The Reeler. He explained that he had sought characteristics that had "grown dormant," adding that persuading his family to work on the film was easy compared to the protracted period of self-discovery that followed.

But here is the thing: The movie is funny. Wagner's mother Judy kvetches and kvells in garrulous, impulsive bursts. His sisters Emily and Maggie prattle on with the benign narcissism of New York transplants who have achieved upward mobility in their L.A. acting careers. His cantankerous father Allen indulges all of them despite struggling with an unknown ailment that impedes his speech.

Where he could have capitalized on cartoonish extremes or stereotypes, Wagner instead divined his family members' instincts. The result is dialogue that snaps and overlaps naturally—and often hysterically. Much of the fun of viewing The Talent Given Us is the rush of not knowing where the family's natural tumult overrides Wagner's narrative.

"Andy gave us a lot of leeway," said Judy Wagner. "The script said certain things, but he would let us explore. So if I felt I was getting very involved, then I went further than the script in some places."

The idea came to Wagner in 1991, when he wrote part of a script about a mother who falls out of contact with her son. He was winding down his graduate work at the American Film Institute in L.A., where he had moved in 1987 to work on a screenplay for United Artists and his uncle, director Mark Rydell. The mother/son story sat in a drawer for more than a decade before Judy Wagner called to tell him that she had happened upon his old Collegiate High School coaches one day and couldn't tell them what Wagner was up to in California.

Once he heard about it, Wagner latched onto the coincidence and reworked the earlier story to a piece including his family, friends and even the coaches.

"Andy said, 'This is a great opportunity for you. We'll all be together as a family,'" said Judy Wagner. "Now, this is something that I liked, and that appealed to me. I'd finally be with my children, who have lived in California for a gazillion years. We'd all be together. That was one of the reasons I decided to make the film. I also wanted to help Andy, because I knew he had to make the film."

Allen Wagner joins wife Judy and daughter Emily in the age-old road-trip ritual of flat-tire changing (Photo: Daddy W Productions)

Wagner recruited actress Judy Dixon and actor/director Billy Wirth to round out his cast, emptied his wife's and his savings account and fashioned a completely independent production with himself shooting and directing. His only other crew member was Tommy Hines, who crouched in the Wagners' minivan recording sound. The team left New York in June 2003.

The 37-day shoot was a typically grueling indie endeavor. Wagner followed long days of driving with late-night set-ups in hotel rooms and poolsides. The van's interior cooked with the air conditioning shut off and the windows rolled up to achieve quiet. He filmed ceaselessly, collecting over 100 hours of footage that Wagner and editor Terri Breed spent nine months masterfully whittling down to 97 minutes. He gathered takes upon takes of scenes of flubbed lines and improvisations.

"My mother definitely had her nose in the script, memorizing her lines," Wagner said. "My father, I just wanted him to get close. I didn't want him to be self-conscious."

But to the extent Allen Wagner and his entire family were actually playing themselves, a certain level of self-consciousness could never be dodged. The most stunning example arrives early in the film, just before the Wagners leave New York for California. "Allen, I want you to fuck me," Judy says to her sleeping husband, who refused to shoot the scene and had to be filmed surreptitiously for Wagner to get the coverage.

Wagner says his father warmed a bit each day to the subject matter as the shoot progressed. "He said, 'You must be crazy to think that I'm going to shoot scenes of my bedroom life with your mother,'" Wagner explained. "And it's nothing he would ever say, but I think there is something moving to him to watch an honest and naked portrayal of his afflictions and his struggles and his journey at this point of his life, in service of a story about two older people reinventing themselves. It's essential to make change at all costs, at any age."

The more unsettling subplot stemming from the Wagners' 45-year marriage is the mystery of Allen Wagner's infidelities, which lead Judy to demand a divorce in her son's film. How authentic was this plot point in his parents' real relationship?

"My mother's quest to know what's wrong about her life is very much anchored to what's wrong in her marriage," Wagner replied, adding that his parents did separate for a time years ago. "And that's what is coming forth in those scenes. So to the degree that we needed to bring that out in the story—the question of disappointment in her life—we had to really go there."

And how the hell do you direct a love scene between your parents—even if it is just kissing?

"It's a fair question," Wagner said. "Luckily, I knew that most of those were going to be primarily thwarted love scenes, but in many respects, they were some of the most important scenes of the film."

If nothing else, The Talent Given Us is worth lauding just for such honest appraisals of love and family. Roger Ebert agreed, as did Variety and the jury at 2004's CineVegas Film Festival, which awarded Wagner's film its Special Jury Prize. Distributors, on the other hand, have yet to bite, so Wagner is distributing the picture himself. He said he booked his movie at the Angelika by simply walking up to the box office and asking for the manager. Vitagraph Films' David Shultz helped Wagner network with theaters in other markets across the country including L.A, where The Talent Given Us opens July 1.

If you like Zabar's, you will LOVE The Talent Given Us. Maggie, Emily and Judy Wagner (L-R) snag another fan on the Upper West Side (Photo: STV)

Meanwhile, his family has been busy promoting the film around New York. The Reeler caught up with Judy, Maggie and Emily Wagner outside Zabar's on Wednesday, where they had joined Judy Dixon and Wagner's wife Chelsea in publicizing the picture to passers-by on Broadway.

"I've been doing this for 14 days now," Emily Wagner said between handing out fliers and explaining the film's premise. "We've been down in SoHo, and now we're here and we'll go back out later. After it gets dark, we get in the van with posters and head back downtown. You know."

She smiles. Yep, I know. And soon enough, thanks to a resourceful son and his fearless family, everyone will know the Wagners. It is only what they deserve.

IFC Center, Part III: Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

The Reeler hears that top-level IFC brass sent out an e-mail Thursday promising a comp lunch to its addressees who attend today's noon showing of Me and You and Everyone We Know.

Yes, they have learned as we all have: Despite a new theater, industry hype, a critically acclaimed film and a little award called the Camera d'Or, there's nothing like free pub food to put asses in the seats.

Related Links:
IFC Center, Part II: Yellow auteurs, "Incredible Foresight"
IFC Center: Free Test Drive

Thursday, June 16, 2005

IFC Center, Part II: Yellow Auteurs, "Incredible Foresight"

It is sooooooooo past your bedtime... IFC President Jonathan Sehring (L) and Miranda July with Me and You co-star Miles Thompson (Photo: STV)

The Reeler returned to the IFC Center on Wednesday, this time to see an actual movie: The new venue premiered Miranda July's buzz-packing debut Me and You and Everyone We Know to not one, but two packed theaters of rapturous applause and accolades, along with maybe just a few people for whom closing credits signify the countdown to an open bar.

At any rate, we were all in it together, and just about everyone was a pretty good sport about it—including July.

"I didn't realize that no movies had been shown in here yet," July said during her self-effacing introduction, gazing around the theater. "So you can always say you saw the first movie here. Even if it's not good, it doesn't really matter."

Exactly. It didn't matter that July's film was uneven and self-aware and too cute by half. What was more important was that IFC Center be worth the toil and hype its benefactors placed behind its development. That Me and You has been as well-received as it has seems like almost too serendipitous a circumstance to coincide with the Center's grand opening; I mean, God knows the last thing IFC (and its corporate parent, Cablevision) wanted was to open its flagship theater in March with the distributor's anemic The Ballad of Jack and Rose.

Of course, such conspiracy theories are not exactly fair to July, who owns an established international following from her decade as a performance artist and whose deft auteur touches are no simple case of beginner's luck. She has crafted the story of Christine (July)—an old-folks' chauffer and aspiring artist—and Richard (John Hawkes), a shoe salesman and newly single dad prone to platitudes and epiphanies. Richard's sons, 14-year-old Peter (Miles Thompson) and 7-year-old Robby (Brandon Ratcliff) hover between the mythos of Internet relationships and their own fractured family life.

Christine wields a wide-eyed, damaged innocence that zeroes in on Richard's own vulnerability, resulting in her mild stalking and an awkward courtship. Their struggle to connect forms the thematic thread along which July's other characters are also forced to find a balance: a pair of oversexed teenage girls; a 70-year-old smitten with a dying older woman; Peter and the appliance-collecting little girl next door; Robby and an anonymous Web cruiser who shares the boy's taste for, well, never mind.

The list goes on, and probably for a little too long. July's emphasis on pairs and polarity (as evinced most plainly in her film's title) provides the source of the most cloying storytelling since Garden State, which suffered from the overwrought motif of identity crises. Where July triumphs over Zach Braff, however, is in her handling of Me and You's muted irony. She limits her visual gimmickry in favor of her subjects, whose blank faces seem to simply absorb and accept the absurdity of their surroundings. Even Richard's abortive self-immolation isn't enough to get a rise out of his sons, and Peter is so nonplussed by his first sexual encounter—with two girls, no less—that his only acknowledgement of the act is to ask them for a towel.

I admit it--the cool poster got my hopes up (Photo: IFC)

Inevitably, July's frank treatment of children's sexuality will draw comparisons to the Bard of the Kid-fucking Subplot, Todd Solondz. Each filmmaker seems to be saying, "Hey, these things happen," which is more or less accurate in a real-world sense. But more interesting is how Solondz and July so fearlessly aetheticize these moments, as though they have an emotional resonance equal to adult sexuality. This is a little on the disingenuous side, considering how the shock value of kids having sex is what appeals so much to adult viewers in the first place. It is a cheap subversion that Solondz is much closer to mastering, if only because he has so much more experience with it.

That said, I really like Todd Solondz while I really want to like Miranda July. I felt like Me and You succumbed to pulling punches after establishing an early tendency toward nuanced cruelty, whereas someone like Solondz (or even Sam Mendes, whose American Beauty is plenty evident in July's quiet langour) is close enough to his characters to know their deep flaws are unresolvable in the space of a two-hour narrative.

July did not stick around to view the film again Wednesday night, opting instead for dinner with her father. But after the screening, she told The Reeler that past viewings introduced only a few slight problems she wouldn't mind fixing. "You know, there are a few little edits here or there," she said. "I guess there's other stuff, but I'll let that feeling of incompleteness push me into my next project."

And how is July holding up with the belle-of-the-ball role at Cannes, Sundance and now in New York?

"Oh, I'm thrilled for all of this," she replied in her resplendent yellow dress, gesturing toward the cocktail reception. "Yeah. You just have to learn to have a different relationship with yourself. This is nothing like my real life at all. I have to take care of myself, and sometimes it means just not giving an interview."

Spoken like a true independent. On the business end of things, IFC boss Jonathan Sehring thanked the audience—largely comprising readers and friends of—for coming out for his new baby's baptism. "Nerve has been great," Sehring said before commenting curiously, "We think they had incredible foresight to partner with us."

Wow! And all this time I just thought Nerve was getting by on its appeal to young people's raging hormones. Boy, did I misread the situation.

We Would Like To Thank The Academy

The Reeler's dear friends at indieWIRE report today that the educational wing of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has passed along $83,000 in grants to New York City film programs. Award amounts range from $20,000 for Flaherty/International Film Seminars to $2,500 for Women Make Movies, with another $30,000 earmarked for programs upstate.

We knew that given enough time, even a place like Hell-A could eventually get something right. So thanks, guys.

Cancelled Interview: $500,000. A Reflective Judith Regan: Priceless

Apparently, the efficient work of a Regan Media mole will keep runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks off Katie Couric's couch--and a percentage of $500K out of Judy Regan's pocket. But all is not lost! Now Regan is resolute in getting this bitch a made-for-TV movie come hell or high water, because it will touch us deep in the cockles:
"I am looking forward to developing the scripted project with Wilbanks and [fiance John] Mason," company President Judith Regan said in a statement. "Theirs is an unexpected and compelling story of love and forgiveness that has certainly taught me a thing or two."
In a related note, Verizon tells The Reeler that Bernard Kerik requested a new, unlisted number this morning.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Morgan Spurlock--Master of the Obvious

In case you have yet to fill the Wednesday-night TV vacuum left behind by another trenchant season of American Idol, the FX network offers tonight's premiere of Morgan Spurlock's reality show 30 Days. The premise concerns regular folks who spend a month living outside their social or ideological comfort zone to see how it, you know, really feels to be gay or Muslim or a filthy hippie in America.

Spurlock kicks the show off at 10 p.m., yanking himself and his fiancee from their Manhattan idyll to lead minimum-wage lives in Columbus, Ohio. Shockingly, he struggles to makes ends meet. I do not know if I or the FX viewership would have seen this coming if Barbara Ehrenreich hadn't beaten him to it three years ago (however disingenuous her own slumming--er, scraping by--happened to be).

Future episodes feature a red-state homophobe who spends a month living in San Francisco's super-gay Castro district, as well as a mother who binge drinks for 30 days to get a taste for the pressures and horrors of college life. Horrors, indeed.

On the bright side, if Spurlock is as broke as he says he is, maybe this time around he will starve.

Cinderella Man, Oh, Man

Sharon Waxman reports that the powers-that-be at Universal are scratching their heads about the failure of their Summer Movie Sweepstakes entry--Cinderella Man--to recoup half of its $88 million cost in two weeks of wide release.

The expensiver they are, the harder they fall

Yeah, wow, great question, guys. Let's think about it:

--You plunked your June 3 release date square between Star Wars and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, two of the most eagerly-awaited films of the year. You went relatively head-to-head with The Longest Yard, a remake of a comedy that had a built-in audience from 30 years ago. Which reminds me...

--Lugubrious boxing dramas aren't exactly "summer fare," gang. The last successful boxing film to get a summer release was On the Waterfront in 1954, when Marlon Brando was about as bankable a star as there was--even moreso than Russell Crowe. Which reminds me...

--Your Oscar-winning leading man alienated your biggest market by chucking a phone at a hotel desk clerk. I can guarantee you more New Yorkers saw Crowe in handcuffs on the front page of the tabloids than watched (or even heard about) his Letterman mea culpa. Which reminds me...

--The movie is a sentimental, treacly piece of shit.

But who knows? Maybe Brian Grazer can pick Sumner Redstone's brain about the whole mess when he finishes humping him later this summer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Swede Smell of Success

Gothamist features an intriguing interview today with Swedish filmmaker Teresa Fabik, who says she drops into the city from time to time for inspiration, renewal and the occasional bum-baiting:

"I didn’t know anyone, and at first I was pretty lonely. The first or second day I was talking to a bum in Tomkins Square [sic]. He was about to leave, but then I offered him a bottle of vodka so that he would stay and talk to me for a while longer. "
So, there you have it, LES'ers: That puke on your doorstep? Thank a Swede.

The Drive-In Lives--Kinda

At the drive-in, IFP-style

IFP is kicking off this year's free Drive-In at the Rock series tonight with a screening of David LaChapelle's kinetic krump-umentary Rize, which should be pleasant in 65 percent relative humdity. The Baxter, SHOW/BUSINESS, Alchemy and Rosanna Arquette's music documentary All We Are Saying round out the week's schedule.

But in related, perhaps more stunning news, an Ontario-based company called Long Road Entertainment is undertaking a quixotic quest to reintroduce the drive-in to the American consciousness, starting this fall in Los Angeles. According to a company statement:

Long Road's development team feels that Southern California is the best place to role out [sic] LREN's extensive expansion plan. The area has the perfect climate and an abundance of expanding, commuter communities featuring large families who have moved there in search of affordable housing.
Let's see: Pleasant climate + large families + affordable housing = A market begging for five years' worth of drive-in development? Hmmm. Check your math--and check your fucking spelling while you're at it, too, would you?

The Wayans Family: No Longer New York's Problem

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the uber-powerful Wayans clan is negotiating to set up shop at the vacant Oakland Army Base, which would mean that New York may at last be rid of their withering burden:

"Oakland stands to gain significant prestige from the establishment of a film production studio," said a report by the Daniel Vanderpriem, Oakland's director of economic development. "Oakland also stands to gain from the Wayans'successful track record."
Jesus Christ--first the Olympics, now the planned Homey the Clown feature. How will New York ever rebound?

Sundance "Iconoclasts": Hot Guy-on-Guy Chat

When Michael met Mario (Photo: Oxfam International)

The Sundance Channel has locked down guests for the first five episodes of the "Iconoclasts" series it announced last month, in which a pair of cultural icons get together for some mutual J/O and a little lite talk about what fuels their creative passions. The pairings Sundance has in mind to start off with, followed by each episode's title (I am not making this up):

--Mario Batali and Michael Stipe ("Chef on Musician")
--Tom Ford and Jeff Koons ("Fashion designer on Artist")
--Jonathan Safran Foer and Michel Gondry ("Author on Filmmaker")
--Samuel L. Jackson and Bill Russell ("Actor on Sports Legend")
--Brian Grazer and Sumner Redstone ("Academy-Award winning producer on CEO")

Wow. Lest you think the Sundance hand release only applies to the likes of fat chefs and creaky old men, producer Christine Vachon is also slated to appear in a future episode with an as-yet-unnamed partner. Typical--leave it to Sundance to make us wait for the good stuff.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Write If You Get Work

No matter how much writers lives depends on selling what they write, their natural inclination is to not even bother. If we wanted to sell—had the nerve, skill, comportment, whatever—we would be salesmen first, writers second and make a better living. I think I'm right on this. I should be querying editors and agents right now, in fact.

This would explain Bob Verini, the giant who shepherded about 300 writers through the five-minute bursts that composed this year's New York PitchXchange. While classes and seminars upstairs at NYU's Hemmerdinger Hall provided the theory—the well-honed witchcraft that supposedly provokes tingles in the groins of jaded production executives—Verini's booming voice supplied the morale before actual practice.

Pitch! Pitch! Pitch! Pitch! The unsinkable Bob Verini (L) exhorts his team to greatness, or at least to the next room. (Photos: STV)

"You've got to bring up the energy," Verini bellowed. "You've got to go right over to that table, hold out your hand, introduce yourself and start talking before you even sit down. Start talking to them. When the one minute warning is called, get ready so that when time is up, you can get up out of the seat immediately—even if you are in mid-sentence, finish it off. Sidestep, shuffle, shuffle. The next person will sit down. That's the way it works."

Verini coaxed and admonished, half coach, half bouncer: Don't offer unsolicited anything. Not a script, not a treatment, not a resume, not even a business card. Then he opened the door to the pitch room, standing aside and waving the team inside. "OK, 10:10, you're on your way."

This surge of advice seemed almost too scattered to do anything but deflect off the blank faces of many of the participants on hand. After all, Scr(i)pt Magazine (the event's sponsor) had brought in some big names: You've got MTV's reality show division, CourtTV, the Oxygen Network, Bad Boy Entertainment and a few dozen other film and TV companies of varying budgets and taste. The pitchers murmured, mouthed and reclined in preparation for their big moments, of which most of the writers on hand had purchased five in advance for $125.

By the time The Reeler arrived on the scene at 10 a.m., many of the attendees had pitched at least once, though virtually all were still experiencing some variation on gut-twisting nervousness

"I know my story," said Diane Gitler, a science teacher who had traveled into Manhattan from Middlesex, N.J., to pitch her reality/education hybrid Science Knowbodies. "I know what I want to say, now it's just a matter of the point I want to get across."

Would she like to practice on The Reeler?


Gitler eventually explained that the show would send two families on vacations to desirable destinations with a high concentration of unusual natural phenomena. The families then compete to pass along the greatest wealth of information to the viewer. "They have to go from being nobodies—N-O-B-O-D-I-E-S—to being knowbodies."

Across the room, while Gitler continued describing the show, Paulina Plazas stared straight ahead rehearsing lines under her breath. Her hands folded, unfolded, fingers clasped, unclasped. Her head moved subtly, most of the action generated from her eyes. She had done this before, and spent the previous week preparing for anything.

If talking to yourself were a crime, Paulina Plazas would need a lawyer.

"I've been waiting, working on rewrites. Then you're changing and changing to make it more interesting and more marketable," Plazas said. "They ask what's so unique about your story, what should make them want to be interested in it. Why is it important to you as a writer? Are you flexible to changes on the script? Some people aren't."

If you can't be flexible on one script, you can always do what 23-year-old Michael Flynn does. The Chelsea native says he has as many as 10 ideas to tailor to the companies themselves, from a racially charged football story to a Sophocles adaptation. Before I could ask what separates a football exec from a Greek tragedy exec, Scr(i)pt marketing director Zack Gutin stepped into the Silverstein Lounge to tell the gathering that Branded Entertainment had just joined the event. The company had recently worked on an animated version of Batman Begins and was seeking stories for future animated projects.

So there you go, Michael. You have you animated-film treatment ready to go?

"Yeah," Flynn laughed. "Actually, I do."

Preparation was clearly the keyword, no matter how solemn the lines that formed near Verini in those brief five-minute cycles actually got when they sank into their goofy, silent rigors. With that in mind, it was refreshing to find a couple of guys like Harry Yotis and Dave Quintas, a pair of 33-year-olds from Montreal who left for New York at 1:30 a.m. after finishing their reality-show proposal a few hours earlier.

Dave Quintas and Harry Yotis have their Canadian flags ready to brandish if they sell anything at the PitchXchange.

"We're very organized," Yotis said, grinning. "We figured we would have more adrenaline pumping to carry us through if we did it this way."

"I didn't even know this thing went on," Quintas said. "You called me like, what, a week ago?"

"Yeah, well, we were already prepared."

As we discussed their propensity for clubgoing and its role in their pitch, another Verini blast overtook the room. "What you're selling is you!" he shouted. "Your idea may be of no use if someone is already making it. It's up to you to keep the energy up! If they like your idea, they get the idea and a fun person. If they don't get your idea, they get a fun person."

Yotis watches him. "He looks like my high-school principal," Yotis said. "Gilbert Plaw. 'Now, Harry, when we go to New York for lit class, we want you to behave.' "

At 11:40, the pair entered the pitch room. Seconds later, a few of their linemates re-emerged to check the hyper-sophisticated, hand-scrawled diagram detailing the room's lay of the land. This type of detour eats into their pitch time, and their frustration nearly glowed in their faces.

The "terrifying rejection" table? Oh, sure: up two rows on your right, between "abject humiliation" and "glassy-eyed nodding." Go get 'em!

Gitler possessed nary a trace of frustration the next time I saw her. She beamed and held up her treatments. "I handed out two treatments," she said. Evidently, Piranha Pictures and Front Row Productions considered giving her show a closer look. She added that the Oxygen Network had liked the idea but was in the market for scripted programs.

But two bites is a great showing. And so now you are off to Middlesex?

"No, I'm going back," she said, gesturing to Verini's frazzled, shifting huddle. "I'm psyched! I know I'm not nervous anymore." Then she walked away—sidestep, shuffle, shuffle, ready to go.

Jonas Mekas: In It For More Than a Gondola Ride

Manohla Dargis reports that New York avant-garde film pioneer Jonas Mekas is representing his native Lithuania is Venice's Bienniale, which is kinda like the Olympics for visual artists. But, you know, without the judging scandals or $2.2 billion stadium pushes. Look for plenty of doping, however.

Friday, June 10, 2005

IFC Center: Free Test Drive

This is probably not what the folks behind the new IFC Center had in mind. On the Sixth Avenue theater complex's opening night, staff seemed to outnumber guests three-to-one, the projectionists' union stood by protesting the theater's eschewing of union labor and Harvey Weinstein dropped in just long enough to kick the tires and declare the place a winner.

The old Waverly balcony, 114 French-upholstered seats later. (Photos: STV)

Nevertheless, it was a hell of a party, and the Center—a curious and luxurious hybrid of theater/production facility/bistro—received overwhelmingly positive reviews from those on hand, including Weinstein, Naomi Watts, Rebecca Miller and James Dolan, the Cablevision scion whose subsidiary Rainbow Media owns the Independent Film Channel and wielded the capital that got the brand's bricks-and-mortar (um, make that stucco-and-glass or something) outlet off the ground at the site of the old Waverly Theater.

IFC Entertainment President Jonathan Sehring praised Dolan and dedicated the center before a gathering of more than 400 people.

It is Jonathan Sehring's world, and you are just living in it...

...until Naomi Watts arrives, at which point my money is on the movie star.

"We set out to do more than build a movie theater," Sehring said. "We really wanted to create a home for the New York independent film community. What better place could we be than in this historic theater, which is so near and dear to many of our hearts? Or in Greenwich Village, which is the epicenter of the independent film world?"

Right. Not that there's any real trace of the Waverly left (with the exception of the restaurant's name, "Waverly at IFC," which seems a little derivative of the actual Waverly Restaurant three blocks away, but whatever), but it is nice that some of the heritage continues and that IFC takes the legacy seriously enough to give it a state-of-the-art update.

Director James Toback lingered for while in the main theater, munching on sushi and studying the Center with awe. "It's gonna put every other theater to shame, and it's going to be a challenge to every other theater to renovate itself," Toback told The Reeler. "Because why would you ever—except for the movie—why would ever want to sit in the Film Forum? Any movie you can get on DVD?"

It seems like a bold, even combustible statement, but keep in mind that Toback has the experience of a native New Yorker who grew up with the historically high standards of city cinemagoers. "All those great, old theater palaces were there when I was a kid," Toback said. "I mean, the Loew's State was a great theater, the Roxy was a serious theater. Radio City Music Hall, TransLux. There were a lot of really comfortable, beautiful theaters that are gone, but this shows what you could do. I mean, why can't the Angelica and the Sunshine be comfortable like this?"

An image of Klaus Kinski flashed on the theater's screen. "Oh, look at Klaus!" Toback paused for a moment, gazing up through his dark glasses at the famously temperamental (some would just say mental) actor he directed in 1982's Love and Money. "I'm the only guy alive who directed both Klaus and (his daughter) Nastassja. He was a wild lunatic, and he's terrific in the movie. He's only in it for 20 minutes, but every minute he is on the screen, you can't take your eyes off him."

Did Kinski ever threaten to kill Toback, as he had his frequent collaborator Werner Herzog?

"No," Toback said. "But he threatened to kill Ray Sharkey, who was a lying scumbag junkie and who supposedly was off heroin during the movie, but wasn't. And Klaus caught him and pulled the needle out of his arm, slammed him down on the ground, kicked him in the stomach and said, 'If you ruin my friend's movie, I'm going to come back and kill you.'

"Ray came to me crying afterward and said, 'Jimmy, the guy is a maniac. He almost killed me.' And I said, 'Well, he found you with a needle in your arm.' And he said, 'Yeah, but you don't kick a guy and slam him down.' And I said, 'Get over it, because (fear) will show in your performance, which is already weak.'"

Not much later Toback was gone, having left behind a room of anonymous, martini-guzzling men in suits. Attempts to get quotes from Dolan were stalled ("Mr. Dolan, congratulations—I didn't know you were such a champion of independent cinema." "Tawk tuh my publicist."), and Harvey Weinstein had quietly exited long before that—much more quietly, anyhow, than the interview he gave IFC camera crews outside the Center, where the Projectionists Union Local 306 spooked him by heckling, "IFC hates workers. Harvey, how can you support this?"

Projectionists union rep Barry Garfman (L) tells the kids at home to keep it reel.

Harvey Weinstein, gone in 60 seconds.

I do not know what is behind the union's claims, but the atmosphere inside left me a little disinclined to find out. After all, this is the type of event where you can overhear successions of surreal exchanges like this one:

"Oh, hello! I've never seen you in America! I've only seen you in Cannes."

"No. Cannes and Sundance."

I can neither tell a lie nor make up something as terrifyingly sick as that. And when cretins such as the ones who bear responsibility for this exchange surround an answer man like Jon Sehring, even the most emboldened reporter would flee in terror.

But not before checking out the theaters upstairs, which were far smaller than the first-floor auditorium and are more plausible as screening room—which is fine, considering the Center's overall purpose as a host to filmmakers as well as filmgoers. The chairs are reminiscent of first-class airplane seats (not that I would know anything about that), made of various synthetics and even a few leather seats in the smallest theater, which in some ways felt too small, like an overboard home theater.

Ladies and gentlemen, our inflight movie today is Me and You and Everyone We Know.

Meanwhile, guests were not allowed to visit the third floor editing suites, which were guarded as though Naomi Watts was changing her clothes upstairs. In reality, I never learned where Naomi disappeared to, nor did I give it too much thought after my chat with the mad genius Toback. I had Klaus Kinski on my mind, imagining his depraved ghost arriving on scene to ravage the bar and swing at people with union pickets. Now that's a party.

The new kid, all tuckered out.

Harvey Would Have Killed 'Em

Laura Holson writes persuasively--if not indirectly--today about yet another reason why New York is superior to Hollywood. Maybe when Bill Gates can get his dick out of Hutch Parker's mouth long enough, he can memorialize it in cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater.