Monday, May 09, 2016

Too Late (and "Sunday Punch")

I was lucky to catch the Brattle's tweet on Friday mentioning that "Sunday Punch" would be playing with the 9:45pm shows of Too Late on Friday & Saturday, although it kind of forced me to rearrange my viewing schedule a bit (doubly so when the Q&A for 3rd Avenue Breakdown on Friday lasted juuuust long enough that I couldn't get to Harvard Square by this movie's start time). An extra twenty minutes of movie, especially with bits one had been looking for from the feature, is no small thing.

I'm glad I was able to catch this, though, because who knows how rare it could be? Director Dennis Hauck held it pretty tight when looking for distribution, because it screening in 35mm is important to him, and while I suspect he won't hold out from DCP and digital distribution forever - on a certain level, you want it seen and your cast was promised residuals - I'm glad it was done this way for what the postcards at the concession stand were calling a "35mm tour". Film looks better, and there's something very satisfying about seeing the holes and hearing the changeover (and, yeah, I feel like seeing this in a place that has dual projectors is even more authentic than on a platter).

The "authenticity" argument is an interesting one. I'm occasionally dumbfounded to see what people will pay at the local comic shop for significant back issues when that stuff is available as legitimate digital downloads or part of collections. The material is the material,right? And yet, I found myself making the argument that seeing Too Late on 35mm isn't about the analog flaws of the format - Hauck actually doesn't display them much at all - but hinges on the audience's awareness of its limitations. When you see it on film, the fact that the way it is shown is tied to the way it was made is important, at least if you're aware of it. Screen it on DCP, and you may see the same material, but your perception is changed; you can acknowledge the impressiveness of twenty-minute long takes, but it becomes arbitrary and the physicality of it is missing.

Of course, the 35mm-only thing isn't necessarily going down well with everyone, and I kind of understand that. My friend Jason Whyte and I had our second social-media argument after I tweeted about it (which saddens me, because I really wanted more response to the quip about him not letting ladies wear pants), because none of his local theaters can run film any more and thus far everyone involved with the movie is talking like there are no plans for it to be shown digital at all. There's a part of me that wants to be callous about it - the places here that care as much about showing movies as selling candy made sure that their DCPs were installed around their film projectors. It's probably not possible in all cases, but being able to show films as they were meant to be seen was clearly a priority with those installations.

It was an interesting, if frustrating, discussion to have, because we did come at it from angles that seemed philosophically different but which were probably influenced greatly by our practical situations. He hammered away at how it's commercially foolish for Hauck to insist on 35mm-only, which is probably true, but kind of irrelevant; he clearly prioritized certain things above that. Try to see it as an art installation, I said - you don't expect those to be everywhere, just places that have a space for it. I do think that's the mindset that leads to this release and that it's a legitimate one, but it's easy for me to say considering what I've got nearby, and I wonder how much our situations would be reversed if he had a local place with film and I was still living in Portland, ME, where there are barely any screens at all, much less ones which are going to show a 35mm boutique movie.

I must admit, though - I wonder how much of this release is working on game theory. Like, Hauck and his distributor know that they will eventually release it as a DCP and then after that to make sure that, during this release, fans who might otherwise wait for a different sort of release pay for a ticket, and venues that don't like showing film for one reason or another (probably related to paying someone who knows the equipment) don't ask for a hard drive rather than a print. You must, apparently, deceive the customer to a certain extent, and hope that they don't call your bluff.

It's a bit of a shame that we're stuck talking about this movie this way, because it's not just an experimental art project, but a well-told story. But, on the other hand, I can't help but admire the defiance involved in doing it this way, making and showing a movie in a way that's not entirely obsolete and by doing so beating that obsolescence back at least a little bit.

Too Late

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 May in the Brattle Theatre (first-run, 35mm)

Ten years ago, Too Late would have been compared to the movies of Quentin Tarantino for its fractured timeline and the way pop-culture-laced conversations often climax in violence; today, director Dennis Hauck's quixotic insistence on shooting and exhibiting on actual celluloid film is just as important a point of reference. To the extent that 35mm is now a gimmick, he makes good use of it (and what he does would have been a neat trick at any point), but even when it's eventually allowed to be seen in other formats, it will still work as an entertaining sort of film noir.

That may be the wrong term, though, as half of it takes place out in the bright California sunshine. That's how it starts, at least, with pretty young stripper Dorothy (Crystal Reed) in a park at the top of the hill, calling a private investigator she met one night the years ago, Mel Samson (John Hawkes), looking for help. It seems she's seen something she shouldn't have and is worried what will happen. Despite that, she's still pretty happy to talk to anyone crossing her path, whether it be a couple of small-time drug dealers (Rider Strong & Dash Mihok) or a movie-loving park ranger (Bret Jacobsen). Samson gets there eventually, though, and is soon on the case, whether it takes him to the ranch where Dorothy's boss Gordy Lyons (Robert Forster) is arguing with wife Janet (Vail Bloom) over appropriate attire, or the drive-in run by Jill (Dichen Lachman), a one-time co-worker of Dorothy and Samson's former lover.

The bit which makes 35mm an important part of the movie's presentation is that Too Late is comprised of five vignettes, each running the roughly twenty minutes that can for on a single reel of film, and presented as a single shot without cuts - even when Hauck uses a split screen on occasion, it's done without a break, and the second image is shot so that it could pass as a blow-up of the first. It's some pretty impressive cinematography on the part of Bill Fernandez, because it's far from bolted down, instead snaking through toothy spaces to follow characters in constant motion and move the audience's attention from one area to another. In the first reel, especially, the effect is akin to raising one's head, floating above the scene, and then focusing on something off in the distance. As much as this is technically difficult and demanding for the cast - there's no covering if one moment in the middle of a twenty-minute take doesn't work - it's also impressive how, even though Hauck makes no attempt to hide what he's doing, it stops just short of seeming intrusive, or making the audience wonder just whose perspective it is seeing. Most movies are a sort of guided objectivity, and between the roaming camera and Casey Genton's playful sound design - where songs on the soundtrack get interrupted by doorbells and background noises suddenly get very loud to alert the viewer that something else is going on - Hauck invites the audience to take note of what he's doing, although never quite to the point of disengaging.

Full review on EFC.

"Sunday Punch"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 7 May in the Brattle Theatre (Too Late, 35mm)

I wonder whether Dennis Hauck already had Too Late in mind when making "Sunday Punch"; there's five years between their releases but getting an independent film financed and made can take a lot of time, and shorts as pilots for a feature aren't exactly uncommon. The plot of the short only making it into the feature as a peculiar reference is a bit unusual in that case, though.

This short doesn't play as a "missing reel", though, but a fairly conventional film about Dichen Lachman's Jill, starting out frustrated and pushed around by men and thriving when she takes matters into her own hands. It's a sarcastic little story that's even more casual with its violence (and potential violence) than the feature which followed it, like sometimes Hauck doesn't know quite where pulp stops being fun and starts being unpleasant.

It's still a lot of fun, though - Lachman may still not have gotten her big break after Dollhouse, but she really should; she makes Jill tough and abrasive and able to also speak with absolute sincerity despite being so cynical and playing someone in this heightened reality. She's joined by Samm Levine, who has a talent for this sort of smarm that's kind of enhanced by his coming across as a muppet, musician Sally Jaye(who plays the same version of herself in Too Late), and Mike Dirksen, whose casual body language as a mute boxer makes several scenes funnier than they would be otherwise.

I'd have liked this one if I saw it alone, although it's fun to see it as explaining that odd line or two in Too Late. It's good pulp regardless, and you can certainly see where Hauck's later feature is coming from when looking at it.

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