Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lodge Kerrigan....For Beginners.

( This is and introduction to a pair of films made of the rare brand of genuine vision that reminds me why I bother to ever watch movies in the first place.)

There is a little girl at the heart of it all. Through the mire of maniacal, static sounds capes that only intermittently show reprieve. Or the panorama of bustling strangers at a bus terminal, at once overwhelming and unyielding. Said girl lies just out of reach for two desperate lives barely at functioning par within the final vestiges of sanity.

For Peter Winter, the girl is his last tangible fragment of a life abandoned for the mandated confines of a mental institution.

For William Keane, she is either a victim of a heinous abduction in the blink of an eye, or a fabrication in the troubled recesses of his mind.

For New York based filmmaker Lodge Kerrigan, these men serve as protagonists in two compatible yet separately effective meditations on the sometimes fragile nature of the socially imperfect.

'Clean, Shaven' is Kerrigan's debut effort and it builds its power off a sharp, minimalistic approach and the performance of one Peter Greene. Greene is probably most fondly remembered by all in movie geek land as the guy who laid uninvited pipe on poor Ving Rhames in a dank cellar in 'Pulp Fiction'. Here he plays Peter Winter, a wide-eyed apparent schizophrenic just reintroduced to the challenges of 'normal' life. He first whiles away his moments in his rundown auto adorned with layers of old newspapers (meant to keep him 'safe'). He then pays visitation to his less then welcoming mother before finally setting out to find the one thing that may bring him stability, his daughter. At the same time, a rather middling detective is developing suspicions about Peter in relation to the recent murder of a child.

The Winter character is etched out by Kerrigan and Greene through a series of panicked gestures and hectic actions. He is often subject to a barrage of grueling internal noises. Baring the likeness of harsh radio waves funneled through half blown speakers, the sounds are enough to push a questionable psyche toward dire extremes. At one telling point, Winter is seen crudely removing one of his own fingernails in hopes of diffusing the nuisance. Winter does such things, one must presume, in hopes of making himself more accessible for his inevitable reunion with his daughter.

'Keane', however, provides a more elliptic scenario for its titular character. See, William Keane spends the bulk of his days skulking around the New York City Port Authority bus terminal. It is here, we are lead to believe, that his only child was taken from him, leaving him broken and destitute. When away from the terminal, Keane exerts himself in multiple avenues of self-destructive behavior (i.e. drug intake and unsafe sex in public restrooms). Eventually he carves out a sort of companionship with a woman and her young daughter. Both are residents in the same moldy motel as he and apparently have their own problems to solve. Soon Keane is entrusted with the care of the child as the woman attempts to address her mounting personal woes. It is in the next few passages that the real tension develops. Is Keane stable enough to play guardian to this child? Is he at risk of some manner of outburst that may place the child in harm's way? Do his wires get crossed to the effect that he mistakes her for his own lost offspring?

In one scene the pair are in the midst of a friendly game of bowling. Keane loses all composure and lashes out verbally to both everyone and no one. Shortly thereafter, the little girl approaches and attempts to comfort and calm him. This is not entirely how I expected the sequence to play out, but it oddly feels right. Kerrigan has a natural gift for drawing realism via simple motions and gestures. Both his movies are built of them.

The major accomplishment made here by the director is bringing the audience as close as can be to the chaos of serious mental disorder. By maintaining consistent and unwavering focus on his central character in both pictures, Kerrigan is able to draw a more articulate performance each time. For instance, in 'Keane', the main character is shown making a noble attempt to maintain an attention to good hygiene care the sink and hand drier of a men's bathroom. The scene is deliberately played out just long enough to generate a tone of slight discomfort. The actor, British born Damian Lewis, embodies the moment with a perfect level of fervent contradiction. We can see this man struggling to retain some basic human dignity while aggressively trying to out wit the demons at large in his head. Likewise are the scenes in 'Clean, Shaven' when Peter finally tracks down his daughter. She is in the backyard of her adopted mother's house swinging on her swing set. Peter watches her from a slight distance, quietly, until she notices him. He blurts out a nervous greeting as he clings to a nearby tree, almost afraid she might run away screaming. Quite the opposite, she is moved to approach him and his frantic social paranoia partially subsides. In both scenarios these damaged, awkward men are brought closest to normalcy by the delicate trust of a child.

Lodge Kerrigan is the type of directer who in movie nerd terms is labeled a maverick. This would be the kind of filmmaker who does things for reasons deeper and of greater import then mere box office postings. He kicked his career off with 'Clean, Shaven' in the mid 90's generating solid (artsy) hype but scant else. Kerrigan has patiently produced a total of four features to date, only three of which have made the journey all the way to at least a handful of cinemas. One film ('In God's Hands') will most likely never see life in front of an audience, as it fell prey to extensive negative damage upon completion. In the remaining three (the two aforementioned and 1998's 'Claire Dolan' about an Irish prostitute trying to ultimately better herself away from pimps and johns) Kerrigan plays caretaker to deeply troubled souls at large who can only truly be redeemed by the purity of innocence.

So it goes without saying that this pair of less than mainstream character studies warrants the Fringe seal of approval. If you've made it this far into the article, you must be hooked (that or you've already read the rest of the stuff in this issue and have to kill more time). The extras on the discs themselves are rather spare. The Criterion reissue of 'Clean, Shaven' boasts the customary solid transfer, a commentary track and an audio essay on the films unique use of sound. 'Keane' features a shorter, drastically rearranged alternate cut put together by producer Steven Soderberg. This makes for an interesting example of a different perspective, I suppose, but in the case of both films I was really longing for some type of behind the scenes footage. Kerrigan's work is so intensely fascinating that it makes this particular audience member curious to see him in action. Either way I think you owe it to yourself to track down the Kerrigan filmography, and I've provided some links to help you get started. (for 'Clean, Shaven') (for 'Keane') (for unreasonable rounds of debasement in hopes of electing a cheap laugh at someone else's expense).

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Some folks just gotta go that extra distance to afford them cheap dollar store toiletries.

Rumor has it, however, that my man right here is an eccentric, reclusive millionaire.

If this is truth, what is his secret?

A lesser mind pines for the answer.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Abortion is a hard sell, no mincing words. It's a challenge to garner a substantial audience around any type of film even touching on the deletion of a pregnancy. The concept rears its ugly head as an 'edgy' plot device in the occasional, often Oscar starved, mainstream drama ('Cider House Rules', 'Revolutionary Road'), fest-friendly indie satire ('Citizen Ruth') and the occasional dose of button pushing, low budget schlock ('The Suckling'). Yet for this complex and predominantly troubling social puzzle to take center stage usually means the over baked confines of cable network hard journalism or some right wing neo-zealot tirade. Recently, however, there has arisen a break from these trends in that filmmakers are employing more concise reportage and classier aesthetic approaches to attempt to sift through the convoluted wreckage that most reference as the abortion debate incorporating pro-lifers, pro-choicers and all the ground up little flesh-lings between them. Whilst brainstorming over potential focal points for this month's piece, I discovered a handful of such films that achieve (to greatly varying degrees) a level of intelligent insight across this oceanic battle of wills, beliefs and fanatically divided opinions.

Two minor works of note are worth mentioning in passing en route to a third, and irrefutably superior, film that is deserving of more intricate analysis. 'Unborn in the U.S.A.' (First Run Features) and 'Soldiers in the Army of God' (HBO) eye up mainly some of the more extreme representatives of the religiously inflicted pro-life stance. Much is made of the need to fight for the protection of innocent lives sucked from their mommy's tummy into a bloody oblivion. What, pray tell, does the opposition often do to help enforce the will of god? Badger all those who dare to enter a clinic, condemn the wayward heathens to eternal damnation and, when all that subtlety proves ineffective, bomb the fuck out of the clinic and/or gun down the heinous personnel either in the parking lot or (ever better) in front of their own home. Their lord sure works in mysterious (read:hypocritical) ways. The scariest thing about all of this is the blissful air content at large in the faces of convicted perpetrators of such an eye for an eye distortion of justice. Take Paul Hill (who's name and face are a reoccurring item in each of the films I viewed), this cracked nut is as devout in his homicidal conviction of 'doing the right thing' as any one being could ever be, and that is what gives the glaze in his eyes a unique form of menace. If this man claims to be a true man of god (he is a preacher don't ya know?!) then what madness in his degenerated mind passes for heaven? I pray to remain ignorant of such things.

In both these films we get a solid (albeit abbreviated) overview of the massive divide at hand across this nation when it comes to siding up on abortion. There is plenty of yelling and self-righteous banter to behold. Yet these two films are also exemplary of a shortcoming that holds them well afar of anything touching 'definitive' status. Neither work devotes quite enough time to let such ultra-touchy subject matter breathe and bare more encompassing analysis, both fall under the 90 minute mark (with 'Soldier's' just easing past one hour) and, thus, must pare their way past much essential information. It is best to regard both films, in hindsight, as tamer warm-ups to a far more substantial study like 'Lake of Fire' (THINKFILM). This is perhaps the bar-raiser that will remain unchallenged for, I would venture to guess, a long time to come. If abortion has tested audience endurance in the kind of compressed doses covered above, than the sprawl of this bastard should guarantee a truly selective following.

Now, devoting an entire 152 minutes directly to the subject, that takes resilience. In the case of director Tony Kaye, resilience and determination served as the foundation upon which he would power his way through some fifteen years or so of dogged research, interviewing, fact-checking and seemingly endless patience in his pursuit of covering all potential bases. Kaye is an audacious Englishman who has spent his career too far outside the creative envelope to even be concerned with pushing it. He has fine tuned his directorial hand behind award winning commercials and music videos for years before being handed the reigns to the neo-nazi soul searcher 'American History X'. It is with this fierce debut that Kaye made a name and reputation for himself more for his post-production battle of egos with star Edward Norton then for the considerable attributes of the movie (for details of this dude's often surreal behavior, check this confessional; / Such hot headed tantrum tossing secured Kaye's protracted estrangement from the Hollywood elite and brandished him a 'problem child' to this very day.

The sad fact of all this is that, when one observes the work Kaye has completed, it is immediately apparent that he is a legitimately gifted film maker. His eye for startling imagery is impeccable, this is a large reason why 'Lake of Fire' is so damn engrossing, even as it delves into ever more unpleasant waters.

'Lake of Fire' charts several avenues in the abortion debate with a neutral eye (or, rather, as close to such as the makers can muster). It pays visits to players on both sides of the court, weathers the fury, fanaticism, politics and pained pleas for peaceful solutions from voices across the nation who have had differing levels of interaction with babies, clinics, churches and protests. Along the way we meet saints (mostly debatable),sinners and middle ground folk who'd rather see us all 'get along'. There are vivid visions of pro-choice pride, pro-life extremities (the grim reaper even has a cameo, raising a handy plastic baby up high) and scholarly celebs from Noam Chomsky (who effortlessly details how, if one is truly 'Pro-Life' then they should-by extension-be against war, the manufacture of weaponry, poverty and so forth. Sadly, this is often not the case), Norma McCorvey (the 'Jane Roe' of the famous 'Roe V Wade', now happily 'born again') to Alan Dershowitz. The images range from casual to poetic to flat out questionable (more then one actual abortion is graphically represented for the unflinching camera), all of it presented in a cool black and white schematism running the scale from smooth to grainy.

Kaye's labor gives the film a gravity which mostly supersedes the easy temptation to settle for a cheap thrill or selfish bias. One complaint of note may directed toward the near-total absence on the pro-life side of more steady minded types who simply stand against abortion rather then the more flamboyant, brimstoners who tend to revere the Paul Hill types as 'heroes'. I mean, I have beloved family members who hold a strong sense of resistance to the concept of baby slaughter, but they are in no way prone to go eye for an eye with a bomb in their palm at the nearest clinic. Granted, these people are far less theatrical, but they still have a voice and could offer balance with the more prominent radical types. Not a fatal flaw, but the one missing element that would take this closer to perfect.

Now, everyone has a piece of mind set aside for the subject of abortion. I, myself, am of the humble opinion that the bulk of the decision making should be left up to the woman. Besides, if you really run it through your mind (putting aside any prejudices that may cloud your better judgment), if a woman has chosen to forsake impending motherhood, who's to say she won't follow through whether it's legal or not? (remember them coat-hangers people, they ain't no joke!-and this concept is touched on vividly as well) A wide span of voices stake out screen time serving to point/counterpoint this whole messy lot into some manageable shape and Kaye's lens is equally transfixed throughout. Some in the film argue, with sane articulation, that the absolute moment a sperm hooks up with an egg-that's the point when a new human life begins, and this is a process that should never be interrupted. Others lay a like minded concept out in more prehistoric terms, claiming all abortionists are blasphemers and should therefore be executed. We even hear from the mouths of several young women (all facing away from the camera) seated in a clinic waiting room, their crucial decision already made. Information and perspectives fly back and forth enriching the weight of this dilemma to a level that is staggering and, ultimately, frustrating.

What makes 'Lake of Fire' an important work is the lengths to which it emphasizes the glaring fact that, no matter which side you take, there are no easy answers (even if your religion, militia or sect has pounded it into your head to believe otherwise). It's like the esteemed Mr. Dershowitz says, recalling a story of a Rabbi relating his attempt to mediate a marital squabble to his seminary students, 'He hears the husband's view. "You're right," he tells him. He hears the wife's view. "You're right," he tells her. One of his students interjects: " But, Rabbi, they both can't be right." The Rabbi nods. "You're right," he says.

No one is ever truly right when it comes to abortion.

P.S.......Footnotes (to feed the mind further?)

'PRO-LIFE' (Anchor Bay)

Second contribution by elder statesman John Carpenter to the often underwhelming Showtime anthology 'Maters of Horror'. Carpenter improves well upon his previous offering (the dreadful 'Cigarette Burns') and even manages a few decent cheap (and gory) thrills along the way. The rather simple storyline involves a frantic teen convinced she was impregnated by an evil, inhuman presence. She finds convenient refuge in a nearby clinic and attempts to get her insides cleared out before she becomes a fatality and something horrible is spat out into the world. Problems ensue, however, when the girl's God fearing Father (Hellboy himself-Ron Perlman) and three brothers lay siege on the clinic (riffing on the director's 'Assault on Precinct 13') in order to protect the impending ankle biter. Major low budget gun play follows and there's even a late in the game cameo from the fetus's demonic pappy. Slight, hokey and altogether disposable, yet not with out B-level merit and is surely more then a few steps ahead of many of the series' other contributions.

Carpenter's long sabbatical from the big screen has gone on far too long, the restraints of the television frame are unsuitable for this man's bold, wide-screen eye. Allegedly, this drought is soon to pass as Carpenter has several feature projects in development (nevermind the unfortunate remakes of 'They Live' and 'Escape From New York'), the first of which is said to be the institutional ghost story 'The Ward' due out sometime in the next coming year. Cross thy fingers.


Two Romanian collage students team to procure an abortion for one of them care the shady black market in an unnamed town during the final stretch of Nicolae Ceau┼čescu's communist reign. Their quest proves unnerving and emotionally damaging as the pair must navigate the underworld in grim secrecy with nary a guarantee of success. Tight, tense and coordinated with great skill by director Cristain Mungiu who, here, displays that he is a born filmmaker with the tools to lock an audience in without beating his message or themes over their head. The movie works to unsettle the viewer and keep him on edge and it addresses the subject matter with a clinical objectivity. These are not people the movie cares to judge, only study as they wrestle with the circumstances they have found themselves in.

A solid piece of drama and a rewarding (if not always pleasant) examination of certain unpopular avenues of the human condition.

That's enough dead baby banter for me, any feedback (or directionless word salads) may be directed this