DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of The Dying Gaul, Sun Kissed, Sunset Boulevard, The Barefoot Contessa, All About Eve, I'll Cry Tomorrow, The Lost Weekend, In the Land of Women, Fay Grim, The Journey, Starting Out in the Evening, Full Frontal , The Last Shot, Stuck on You, The Fall, Oedipus Rex, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont; Gonzo: The Work and Life of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Hamlet 2, Were the World Mine, The Deal, Adoration, The Ghost Writer, The Last Station, The City of Your Final Destination, The Secret in Your Eyes

Title:  The Dying Gaul

Release Date:  2005

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 101 min

MPAA Rating: R

Distributor and Production Company: Strand Releasing; Palisdades/Holedigger/Rebel Park

Director; Writer: Craig Lucas

Producer: David Newman

Cast:  Campbell Scott, Peter Sarsgaard, Patricia Clarkson

Technical: 1.85:1  Dolby

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  screenwriting and gay issues

 

The film opens in a sunny Hollywood office as articulate producer Jeffery (Campbell Scott) counsels screenwriter Robert (Peter Sarsgaard) about his scripts, particularly “The Dying Gaul,” a symbolic title literally based on an Italian sculpture, and metaphorical for dying with AIDS. They toss around some famous movies: Tootsie (mentioned in my DADT book in conjunction with the William and Mary “tribunals”) in which Jeffrey claims that the protagonist pretended to be a woman in order to discover his manhood – so that was all right; and Philadelphia, where gay male AIDS victims are shown as hated. Jeffrey asks Robert whom he would like as a director, and Robert suggests Gus Van Sant. Spike Lee also gets mentioned as a director who figured out how to get the market to recognize his ideas. Jeffrey says that audiences will not go to movies that present gay men sympathetically. So he asks Robert to change the AIDS victim to a woman—after all, AIDS is increasing rapidly with heterosexual transmission—and offers a million dollars. After some visual wrangling. Robert agrees.

 Now at this point the content of the embedded screenplay matters. Apparently it is basically autobiographical, and much of it deals with Robert’s loss of his own love Malcolm to AIDS. There are flashbacks, and the possibility that the script is self-incriminating; Robert may have given him a dose of potassium chloride (used in executions by injection) to perform a mercy killing, after graphic brain surgery for CNS mycobacterial infection.

 Then the fun in this Hitchcockian daylight film noir begins. It seems as thought there are plenty of hidden motives to go around in the all-way love triangle that naturally follows. Jeffrey is bisexual, and needs Robert (who remained negative) for diversion. There are some short scenes of mansex with hairy chested men. But then Jeffrey’s wife Elaine (Patricia Clarkson) gets into the act. Oh, yes, they have kids. She inveigles Robert into chatrooms and teases him with blurbs that apparently come from his screenplay. Here is a case, then, of layering, in which a story that someone has written is used against the person, as it starts to come true.

 Now, in my own work, I could never “change” a homosexual character to heterosexual just to please an investor. Instead, I like the idea of framing a homosexual’s story by showing the effect of a homosexual character on heterosexuals in his life, and then show the heterosexuals’ own genuine relationships. 

Sunset Boulevard (1950, Paramount, dir. Billy Wilder, wr. Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder) is the quintessential movie about screenwriting (until “The Dying Gaul” in 2005). The plot sounds corny by today’s standards. A failing screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden) is running from car repo men when he winds up in the mansion of former star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), who first wants her pet monkey buried. She contracts him to write a screenplay (Salome, and then some) to get her career going again. He moves in, with this typewriter. Today people can circulate scripts on the Internet, but this story starts with the presumption that screenwriting is a profession. She winds up possessing him, and he winds up dead face down in a pool, telling his story as a narrator and a ghost. In delicious black and white. William Holden looks very manly in this film at 32, and is allowed to display a very hairy chest.

Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey made a parody of this film, "Heat", in 1972.

The Barefoot Contessa (1954, United Artists, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 128 min, sug PG-13) is another film that combines the entry of a star into the movie business with politics. This film, in gentle pastel Technicolor with gorgeous visual restraint in its European locations, was viewed in the 50s as a "moviegoer's movie." Director writer Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) is hired by the manipulative Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) to write and direct a movie, and Dawes find dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner). Her love changes hands a couple of times until she marries the Count (Rossano Brazi) who desperately wants to continue his line of nobility--yet his sartorial tastes cover up a body torn to pieces by war, with resulting impotence. When Maria tries to have another man (Dawes?) father a child, the Count shoots and kills her. The movie is told in a series of flashbacks from her funeral in Italy, narrated by Harry. There are a lot of philosophical lines, such as the one where Faust sells happiness to a person back for knowledge. And there is some brutal tinseltown infighting, as when the boss Kirk threatens to blackball Maria. But in the modern movie world, the establishment has much less power, itself a controversial point for future movies. An interesting sidebar: the Contessa's first film is "Black Dawn," which becomes a TV film with George Segal in 2005. Also, the phrase, "Don't call me, we'll call you," used in the WB reality show "The Starlet" appears here.

All About Eve (1950, 20th Century Fox, dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 139 min, sug PG). This film has a long list of memorable quotes about the theater. "That's all television is, nothing but auditions." "She's an agent with just one client." "Now you get normal." "The piano didn't invent the concerto." "The woods are full of one scene sensations." And the best from the mouth of dame Bette Davis herself: "You can leave your award where you should have left your heart!"  Cringe!  (Bette Davis, of course; who else!) Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) has grown up in the Midwest and made her sacrifices during the War, then working as a secretary in a brewery. She has started "stalking" famous actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis, in a role that anticipates her move into horror), and, with the help of of a friend (Celeste Holm), gets introduced in a testy scene (Margo is smoking when she is introduced and goes on as to how she has already noticed that Margo follows her around) and actually gets hired as an understudy, to the consternation of Bette's beau Addison (George Sanders). Eve begins to manipulate things for her own career, fully justified by the belief that she has already "paid her dues" in life.  She vies for one of Channing's parts. Finally Addison confronts her with the fact that some of her past she made up. He and she are two of a kind. The film has lots of play-like scenes about the values of theater people. There is even a comparison between theater and the movies, when Eve leaves for Hollywood but promises to come back. The final scene, with a lot of white fur (ported by Phoebe (Barbara Bates), who will become Eve's understudy (she has practically done a private investigation from Erasmus on her clothes and lifestyle), probably, continuing the cycle of covetousness), provides an emotional climax with the music score by Alfred Newman (the main theme is rather like Richard Strauss: A _A- F#ED etc and Fox even replaces its customary fanfare with the theme in its opening credits -- does someone know if this originated in one of Strauss's later operas? Why don't movies end this way with orchestral music today?)  This movie was made before celebrity stalking became a serious law enforcement issue. But what a wonderful piece of 50s schmaltz, directed with jaw-dropping brilliance.  

I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955, MGM, dir. Daniel Mann, book by Lillian Roth and Mike Connolly, 117 min). Lillian Roth (Susan Hayward) becomes a Hollywood star at 20 after forced out of a normal childhood by an over ambitious mother (Jo Van Fleet) who tells her "you can cry tomorrow."  Her first fiancee dies, after she has taken her first drink, and two more failed marriages follow. Her drinking quickly spins out of control, and her story becomes a classic story or alcoholism and recovery. "I can't live and I can't die."  There is a scene where she looks down from a window on Manhattan streets and is ready to jump, and it is particularly harrowing in black and white. This is one of the first major movie in the intermediate wide screen (1.85:1) format that would eventually become standard. There is one early scene with where the nature of work is discussed, to the effect that not everyone can be in Hollywood. "I am a man; I go to work" says one husband in the lumber business. The closing scenes, involving "This is your life" and then the self-confrontations at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, are famous. There is a line about knowing what you can do something about and what you can't. 

The Lost Weekend (1945, Paramount, dir. Billy Wilder). Ray Milland plays unproductive writer Don Birman and takes him into a weekend alcoholic binge ("moral anemia"), and with some subtlety into madness, enough to be locked up. Everywhere he goes he gets turned down for a drink. Cam Helen (Jane Wyman) tame this man? She says there is no way to stop but just to stop. And he wonders why he no longer has talent or ambition.  He has writer's block. Can a writer legitimately work out his shortcomings by writing them out for "to whom it may concern?" Finally he decides to write a book about his lost weekend. There is an early scene with an effective chorus from Verdi's "La Traviata", the "Drinking Song" which actually somewhat instigates Briman's first drinking binge. "La Traviata" has a later plot development about "family reputation" that foreshadows today's concerns about "reputation defender." 

Full Frontal (101 minutes, Miramax, rated “R”, 2002) is a mess, that I first discussed on my film festival page (below) when talking about low budget amateur video. I must admit, the film threw me when I saw it. The credits come on as Rendez-Vous, the film-within-the-film, and I actually went to the theater manager and asked if they had mounted the wrong movie! (I thought that Project Greenlight actually had a screenplay called the latter, and maybe it got made.)  Well, it is story-within-a-story with a docudrama on top, which provides a confusing, non-linear mishmash of a day in Tinseltown.  The trouble is that the free fantasy format has led to an excuse to take all the tension out of the stories.  This screenplay would not win Project Greenlight!  There are some neat scenes, but not enough continuity to keep the viewer engaged, as would John Sayles or Robert Altman, masters of this style of screenwriting. The split between true film and digital video seems arbitrary, rather than anything that builds up like wedding cake layers. And the video technically sometimes is awful.  I do better than that with no money. It is over-exposed, grainy and fuzzy (and this is not Monet-style impressionism), and distracting. (The prologue for the film with the embedded iPicture stills is interesting, if the false title is confusing.)  Now, a few of the scenes to work. For instance, a guy gets fired and goes home to find his pooch sick from eating his brownies inside out. An HR executive tortures people with geography quizzes and personal questions. A former actor soliloquizes over becoming a screenwriter, as he knows his work still will not be entirely his own. And the massage scene is the one place where the ambiguity of digital video may really work. As the masseuse kneads at Gus’s (David Duchovny’s) calves, you first are disturbed by the tattoo (I personally think that body art (Denish D’Soza’s “Starbucks guy”) is tacky self-expression, but that’s just how I feel) and then you wonder if the hair on his legs looks thinned out and balding from aging (this is his 40th birthday, not his 22nd) or just from the imprecision of the pixels in digital video. Perhaps Gus is going downhill fast, but he doesn’t last very long. Miramax proudly displays its corporate headquarters and trademark in one scene. Cast: Julia Roberts, David Duchovny, David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener, Blair Underwood, Nicky Katt, Mary McCormack.

In the Land of Women (2007, Warner Bros. / Castle Rock, dir./wr. Jon Kasdan, 97 min, PG-13) Carter Wells, played by Adam Brody, is a kind of reincarnation of Seth Cohen from The O. C.  Except here, he writes soft-core heterosexual erotica films rather than atomic county comic books. And, he smokes. (That's depressing.) He says he's 26 and healthy. He jogs. He looks healthy in shorts, with shaggy legs. Is this a way to keep the same character going? Well, he wants to get his life going in another direction, especially with America's Top Model UPN-CW style gives him up for Colin Farrell. He's not quite on the A-list as a screenwriter. So he offers give up his life in LA (and write by modem) to go to Michigan to look after his ailing grandmother, and enters a world of tender mercies among women. This film is a curious mix of "One True Thing", "The Dying Gaul" and even "Garden State." (In a Dreamworks or Fox Searchlight world Zach Braff could have played Carter, but I think Adam is just right here.)  The babushka grandmother (JoBeth Williams) is sinking into depression, and indeed (although the movie never quite says it) has early Alzheimer's. She wants to curl up and die and talks about hospice care. Carter tries to cheer her up, even doing the housework, changing linens, which he is surprisingly good at. Carter meets Sarah (Meg Ryan) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and must undergo chemotherapy, with all of the side effects (including one on camera vomiting scene). He also meets daughter Lucie (Kristen Stewart) and can love both of them.

Now there is a side plot going back to life in LA. He and Lucie meet an Orange Julius soda jerk Eric (Dustin Milligan (Runaway), born in the Northwest Territories, Canada) and winds up at a party where he gets into the first fight of his life. In the meantime, his writing meanders. The movie shows his scripts in Final Draft format (standard indented screenplay format), even to mentioning Final Draft in the credits. He gets into writing a children's book for his grandmother ("Panda") and finally writes another script about his life in Michigan, which makes the setup of the movie, as a film about writing movies, reflexive.  

The Michigan shots were actually filmed in Victoria, BC (I think this is a DGC film), and looks more lush with flowers than suburban Michigan probably is, with all of its milepost roads. (I think the movie could have used a baseball scene in Detroit's Commercia Park, but they didn't want to film there.) It is in 2.35 to 1 anamorphic, and the screen space is often wasted with blurry backgrounds; a standard format with attention to closeups might have worked better, and made Carter even more central to the film -- but, after all, this is The Land of Women.

Fay Grim (2007, Magnolia/HDNET, dir. Hal Hartley, 118 min, Germany, R) is a quasi sequel, ten years later, to this director's "Henry Fool." Fay (Parker Posey) goes on a global chase for her missing and possibly deceased husband Henry after her appealing son Ned (Liam Aiken) gets a pornographic kaleidoscope in the mail from the government, and he takes it to school, getting him expelled. We learn that Henry (Thomas Jay Ryan) has an unpublished book in composition notebooks, except that it seems quasi published, with the government and CIA pouring over it as a Turing-like code, based on John Milton's "Paradise Lost" as a codex or concordance. We don't learn too much about it, other than it seems to be a James Joyce-like manifesto (see "First Snow") with nouns and verbs changed around in some sort of apparent poetic device. Fay's brother Simon (James Urbaniak) is in jail (apparently for obstruction of justice relating to Henry's case) but is a legitimately published author, well known for his poetry, which provides Fay and her son income. Simon gets out, and the chase to Paris, Berlin and Istanbul begins. The film is low budget, with most of it in simple sets, and only the Istanbul scenes capture much real atmosphere. Apparently it was designed by HDNET (it seems to be one of Mark Cuban's own projects) as a largely DVD event. The plot seems artificial, and has a lot of funny lines (one agent played by Everyman Jeff Goldblum tells another, "go walk in the rain." There is a confrontation between Simon and The Terrorist, where Simon essentially calls the terrorist a coward, and that scene is well written.  DC Film Festival website for this film. 

The Journey ("Yatra", 2007, Egeka, dir. Goutame Ghose, India, in Hindi with subtitles, Cinemascope, 129 min, NR but sug PG-13) is a layered epic, spectacular in scenery of Delhi and the surrounding country. The basic issue is art becoming life. A novelist Dasrath has a book signing party for his novel "Janaza". He sets out to imitate the torrid illicit love affair in the novel (hence "the journey") and will come to a similar tragic end. (The novel is played out in sepia, giving the movie a layering.) At the same time, he has a wonderful family and musician college age kid. He starts a second novel "Bazaar" which seems to be about multicuturalism in the western India, coastal Pakistan (Karachi) area (there is a line about Farsi, Urdu, and Hindi becoming interchangeable, if only the people in the region mixed more with illicit affairs -- perhaps the tribal culture that has led to terror would break up. (Even some of that novel, as it is being written un Hindu script, is displayed in sepia.) Yet, when speaking in Delhi, Dasrath rails about materialism and how we set up self-destructive impulses in our youth with our media and video games. There are many trains in the movie, tying the story threads together. Early on the journey, Dasrath meets a young filmmaker, and tells the filmmaker that movies must be based on compelling stories. They have a discussion of screenwriting, which sets up the idea that real life will follow the models already envisioned in his writings. A fascinating concept for a film.

Starting Out in the Evening (2007, Roadside Attractions / Indigent, dir. Andrew Wagner, novel by Brian Morton, 111 min, PG-13). A graduate student builds rapport with an aging and perhaps dying novelist, whose books have gone out of print and may become forgotten. Frank Langella is the novelist (he bellows truths like a Paul Rosenfels) and Lauren Amrbose is the graduate student Heather Wolfe. Lili Taylor is the daughter having trouble with "real life." There is a lot about how novels relate to life as they are written. Blogger discussion here.

Sun Kissed (2006, Wolfe / Willing Suspension, dir. wr. Patrick McGunn, 92 min) is a curious gay erotic thriller again based on the idea that art (in this case a novel but it could just as well be a screenplay) creates real life (an idea prominent also in "Southland Tales," a much larger film that I saw today, too; in another way the film paraphrases "Dying Gaul" a bit).  Here a young gay male writer Teddy (John Ort) house-sits at a ranch in the desert (filmed in CA and NY) normally caretaken by a gig actor Leo (Gregory Marcel).  Teddy wants peace and quite to finish his autobiographical novel (called "Goodbye") -- or does he want life experiences to round it out. Soon the whole situation is shrouded with questions, as the lives from both characters flash by in video (the DVD goes full screen for the flash backs, a curious effect). Leo apparently has a setup with an agent to get a script from the writer, to use as his own. But there is also a dark side to his past; he once was married, and his wife (Laura Hofrichter) was mysteriously murdered. He is unsure that he wants to admit that he is gay. The movie starts to tease us with nefarious motives possible with both characters and keeps us guessing almost until the end. The direction could use a little more tension between the men in the opening scenes. 

DVD includes featurette "Catching Sun Kissed."  

The Last Shot (2004, Touchstone, dir. Jeff Nathanson, 93 min, PG-13). Alec Baldwin plays FBI agent Joe Devine assigned to nab a mob boss (Ray Liotta). He comes up with the scheme to "produce" but not "make" a movie (which will be called "Arizona" and will involve a woman recovering from breast cancer with the help of Hopi Indians), with a naive director Steven Schotts (Matthew Broderick). Then there is the issue of writing the screenplay, that might reveal some clues. When does art predict life? Problem is, Steven makes too much progress and eventually there is a "shot." 

Stuck on You (2003, 20th Century Fox, dir. Bobby and Peter Farrelly, 119 min, PG-13) Matt Damon once posted an essay on his Project Greenlight website saying to amateurs something like, "if you're thinking of going into the movies, don't do it."  Well, here, as Bob Tenor, is conjoined with fraternal twin Walt (Greg Kinnear), which, they say, is possible only for identical twins. Okay, this is only a movie, and a situation comedy. It is an attempt to see what can be done to manipulate a situation for humor and a little bit of wisdom.

Walt has more obvious ambition, to go to Hollywood and become and actor and sell his screenplay (Sunset Boulevard again -- or maybe "Adaptation"-- remember the twins played by Nicholas Cage?). Bob is happy as a baseball jock. (With conjoined twins on the mound, the pickoff move is particularly effective), as well as owning a fast-food joint where they don't welcome freaks even though they work as a "team."  Well, eventually they go to Tinseltown, and Walt gets the gigs ("Honey and the Beaze" and "Dubble Bubble"), and, despite joined livers, medicine at Cedars Sinai can eventually separate them.

The conjoined barechested scenes are technically remarkable. They share a common abdominal sack that looks continuous and convincing. They both have Greg Kinnear's chest hair, which for Matt Damon is not supposed to be allowed. (That's in the very first scene.)

The brothers can have separate intimacy with women. The hang a curtain down the bed, just as in "It Happened One Night."

The climax of the movie, after they are separated, has Walt acting in a stage rendition of "Bonnie and Clyde" which is quite effective and filmed in the tradition of all the old Fox Cinemascope musicals (it's 2.35 to 1). During the closing credits, one of the directors thanks Matt and Greg for performing in the film, a device I haven't seen before. 

The Fall (2007, Roadside Attractions / Googly, dir. Tarsem Singh, wr. Dan Gilroy and Nico Soultanakis, 107 min, R) This "experimental" film presents an embedded fantasy story as told by an injured Hollywood stunt man and perceived as a child. Blogger review.

Oedipus Rex ("Edipo re", 1967, Water Bearer, dir. Pier Paolo Pasolini, play by Sophocles, 104 min, Italy, PG-13) is an adaptation of the Greek tragedy with a middle section set in antiquity. The DVD also includes a short about the director, "A Film Maker's Life" about the paradox of his values. See the blogger link above.  

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont (2005, Cineville, dir. Dan Ireland, novel by Elizabeth Taylor, 108 min, PG-13, UK). Mrs. Palfrey (Joan Plowright) enters a retirement home in London, with apparently little contact from her biological family. Soon a kindly young writer Ludovic Meyer (Rupert Friend) befriends her after a minor fall. He starts spending time with her and pretends to be her grandson, and soon starts writing a book about her on a conventional typewriter, while having a robust romance on his own with a girl friend his own age. When the "real" grandson shows up, she tells him that relatives are not welcome as guests without appointments. We gradually learn that her "real" family wanted to put her away so as not to have to take care of her physically, although she seems quite able to care for herself in the film, and gradually develops a second life. But then she falls and breaks a hip, and even in the British health system, it's challenging. She has to find out who the new "real family" is. This is an important film about eldercare as well as about the issues for the "creative writer." 

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008, Magnolia / HDNet, dir. Alex Gibney, 118 min, R). This film is a biography of gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson, who covered the Vietnam and Watergate era and lived the life as a super-macho hippy in Colorado while raising a family. He resisted the establishment and, in his own way, dabbed in some of the psychedelic drugs and cocaine, although the film is not necessarily an argument to remove drug laws.  His life would end with a "romantic suicide." The film shows a striking time-lapse progression of his image and body from young man to old man, with the hairy limbs and virility of his poses early in adulthood fading. Blogger discussion.   

Hamlet 2 (2008, Focus, dir. Andrew Fleming, 94 min, R) is not a sequel, but rather a rewriting by a high school drama teacher with a "time machine," "very offensive" to the school's administration. Blogger.

Were the World Mine (2008, Wolfe / Speak / PS, dir. Tom Gustafson, 95 min, PG-13) encapsulates a high school rendition of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and turns it into a gay "HSM4". Tanner Cohen plays the read like he is a match for Zac Efron. Blogger.    

The Deal (2007, Peace Arch, dir. Steve Schachter, wr. William H. Macy) a comedy about the making of a "Jewish" film about Ben Disraeli; a screenwriter is trashed, and a lead actor, when the script is changed, is kidnapped by terrorists. Blogger

Adoration (2009, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Atom Egoyan, 100 min, R) is a layered story about a Toronto teen who invents an internet hoax about an almost terrorist attack to dig into a family tragedy. Blogger

The Ghost Writer (2010, Summit, dir. Roman Polanski, novel by Richard Harris, 128 min, R, UK/Germany).  A British ghost writer is hired to take over writing the memoirs of a tainted former prime minister about to be accused of war crimes. Ewam McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams. An “island” thriller. Blogger.

The Last Station (2009, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Michael Hoffman, book by Jay Parisis, 110 min, R, Russia/Germany). Jim McAvoy plays a young man who gets hired as a personal secretary to Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) in his last days, when he wants to turn to ascetism and communism, to the chagrin of his wife (Helen Mirren) who wants his books to provide for her. Blogger.

City of your Final Destination (2009, Screen Media, dir. James Ivory). A graduate student seeks permission to write a biography a Latin American author who had committed suicide, and becomes involved in family secrets. Blogger. No pun on the “Final Destination” movies intended!

The Secret in their Eyes” (“El secreto de sus ojos”) (2009, Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Juan Jose Campenalla, Argentina, R). Hitchcock-like mystery as a novelist tries to solve an old mystery on which he had reported and finds corruption. Blogger.

 

Related reviews:. Philadelphia , The Secret Lives of Dentists GLBT films, Strand Films,   The PlayerBad Education,   Tootsie  Film festivals   One True Thing   Garden State  First Snow  Love and Death on Long Island; The Swimming Pool; D.O.A.    The Namesake; The Darjeeling Limited   Andy Warhol's Heat   Adaptation  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Thompson)  Baghead

 

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