Thursday, December 08, 2005

Sort-of-real life: Capote and "Tennis, Anyone..."

Donal Logue & Kirk Fox's Q&A after the Monday fund-raising screening of "Tennis, Anyone...?" at the Brattle may be one of my all-time favorites, if only because no-one asked the "how much did this cost" question. And when Logue brought money up himself, it was in a refreshingly humble way - mentioning that it cost half a mil, and mocking people who said they "only" had $4M to make their movie ("can you get that out of your ATM? No? Then that's a lot of money!"). I wish I'd remembered to bring something to be autographed, since my brother Dan is a big Grounded For Life fan. But, then again, Dan works for the Portland WB affiliate and probably had opportunities before now.

It was cool, though - Logue mentioned that he saw a lot of great movies at the Brattle when he went to Harvard back in the eighties, so he seemed enthused about this being a fund-raising screening, and imploring us to spread good word of mouth on his movie (probably the only time I can remember host Ned Hinkle ever suggesting people go to Kendall Square). He'll be hosting another fundraiser there on Sunday, for one of the charities mentioned in the movie. It's pretty decent, and worth a look.

Independent films like this are why I'm kind of excited at seeing what will happen when HD-quality camcorders start to take off. Logue mentioned that they got the film free, and did a lot of shooting sans permits, but what it costs to make a movie is sort of mind-boggling to me - this shot for just seventeen days, with Jason Isaacs, Stephen Dorff and Danny Trejo the only thing close to name actors who weren't partners in the film's production (Paul Rudd seems to have been doing an uncredited favor for a friend)... And between camera rental and everything else, it still cost five hundred thousand dollars. That's a lot of money, but the day's coming when you'll be able to produce an HDTV-quality movie on consumer equipment. How much will something like this cost then?

Anyway, a cool/not-cool about Rick Fox.

COOL: Not shying away from saying that Jason Isaac's prick of a character was based on Tom Siezemore.

NOT COOL: Hitting on the college girl sitting right behind me. I mean, dude, you just made a movie mocking Hollywood stereotypes here.

Oh, and I also wrote a review for Capote.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 November 2005 at Coolidge Corner Theater #2 (first-run)

When we first see Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman), his popularity seems very odd, even for the crowd he runs with. He's schlubby and self-centered, and his jokes aren't nearly as funny as his voice. Capote the man draws attention less for being attractive or charismatic than for being peculiar and appearing utterly indifferent to his effect on people. Capote the film, being so focused on its title character, has much the same appeal.

As the film opens, Capote has grand plans for his next work, a "nonfiction novel" , though the right story to use as a basis eludes him. He finds inspiration in the story of a gruesome crime in Kansas, with an entire family killed by two intruders. He travels there with childhood friend Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who serves as a buffer between small-town people and the thoroughly citified Capote, gathering information wherever he can, whether it be from Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the crime's lead investigator, or Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), one of the accused. He finds Smith's personal history quite similar to his own, and helps to fund the killers' appeals - though his motives are more complicated than sympathy for someone with a similar background.

Read the rest at HBS.

"Tennis, Anyone...?"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 5 December 2005 at the Brattle Theater (Special Fundraising Screening)

There's no getting around that a chunk of "Tennis, Anyone..." is autobiographical. The thing that entertainment news addicts will remember as having actually happened doesn't happen until almost the very end of the movie, but even before before then, the film is filled with a number of characters, situations, and digressions that don't really become story-critical at any point. It hands together, though, doling out two funny bits for every philosophical one, and pulling together at the end.

Danny Macklin (Donal Logue) and Gary Morgan (Kirk Fox) are actors who meet up shooting a direct-to-video movie in Mexico. Danny's been at it longer and is at it full-time, while Gary has a day job as a tennis pro, having once been on the tour. Danny mentions that he used to play in high school, and they promise to stay friends after the movie wraps. They don't see each other until a year later, when Danny's got a popular sitcom and a failing marriage, and Gary suggests Danny join him at a celebrity tennis event. One of those leads to another, which leads to another, and another...

Logue and Fox not only star as fictionalized versions of themselves - the characters' backgrounds match those of the actors - but also served as producers, collaborating on the screenplay, with Logue directing. Friends and family show up in small roles. Since they made it well outside the studio system, they dodge the need to conform any specific template, and can leave in scenes that would be the first to hit the cutting room floor (I can see a studio executive yelling "what is all this 'RIA' stuff Gary's talking about his dad saying? And what's with the guy building a mountain?").

It does mean that the leads aren't, perhaps, as sharply defined as they would be in other movies. Logue and Fox are, for the most part, playing themselves, and when you're doing that, the temptation both when writing and acting is to put down what you'd do in real life. Thing is, people in real life are fuzzier than people created for a two-hour movie, so the characters don't necessarily have these very specific behaviors that the audience can identify and use as shorthand. This is a bigger problem with Logue's Danny than with Fox's Gary; Gary is the one who does wacky things like deciding his character should die in a scene, despite already having shot a later scene, or taking Danny to a strip club a week at a rather inopportune time. Danny's the straight man, getting put into ridiculous situations and flailing. Also, Danny's job as a sitcom lead, and thus the work-related stress, is a bit hard for most of us to grasp - fifty thousand dollars and episode probably sounds pretty good to most of us, but the job obviously only middling success in his chosen field. Rick used to be a pro tennis player, but we see him working at a country club and wanting to be an actor. It is, I think, easier to relate to trying to break in than having broken in.

The other characters they encounter on the "celebrity tennis circuit" have clearer purpose within the movie. Jason Isaacs's Johnnie Green is the villain, a hateful and arrogant sitcom star who has made the leap to features and is a little too "on" for the crowds. Kenneth Mitchell is his soap-star double partner. Stephen Dorff and Paul Rudd are tennis-loving stars of country music and pornography, respectively, and Maeve Quinlan is the former pro covering these events for The Tennis Channel. It's a joke on these celebrity charity events that it's always the same people at every event (kind of like John O'Hurley in the real world), and they come off as something between eccentric and pathetic.

It's a funny movie, though, with Danny seeming to find himself in a series of bizarre situations, from a disastrous stand-up bit where Green convinces him to dress in desert gear to tell racist jokes to the inevitable revelation of just who his wife was sleeping with. It's astonishing how grounded this movie is, with its Hollywood setting and string of weird incidents. Credit to Logue and Fox for hitting a nice balance.

And, most amazingly, no-one takes a tennis ball to the groin until the last act. That it happens is predictable, but satisfying.

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