DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Jerome’s Razor, A Thief of Time, The Mystery of Chaco Canyon, Smoke Signals, Kaaterskill Falls, Virgil Bliss, Mean Creek, Undertow , Trash (Showtime), Game 6 , The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill , The Gronholm Method

Title: Jerome’s Razor

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: US, English

Running time: about 100 minutes

MPAA Rating:  not rated, but would be “soft” R or PG-13

Distributor and Production Company:  Reel Cinema

Director; Writer: John Swon

Producer: John Swon

Cast:   Marcus Edward, Mark Parrish

Technical: 4:3 Digital film

Relevance to site: independent film making techniques

Review:

 

   Once again, here is an independent film with that “you are there” on-location intimacy, filmed in Minneapolis and in the Sandia mountains near Albuquerque, New Mexico. It has this sense of progressive reality that the viewer doesn’t get from the manipulations of high-end Hollywood art. The intensity of the characters in this movies has that edge that the critics noted for “larger independent” movies like “The Shipping News,” “In the Bedroom,” “The Deep End,” and “The Business of Strangers.” And here the point is to keep the viewer on the edge of his or her seat, wondering what is going to happen to the lead character, Jerome (Marcus Edwards), who, looking around 22 or so, has just come of age, started working, and entered the solstice of life.

 

  I’m not sure what the title means, but it is clearly symbolic (maybe it is the name of a mountain). But I can remember an “I Love Lucy” episode based on the comedy resulting from tatking an art movie title literally.

 

  He starts out working (an accountant, maybe) in a typical cluttered suburban office (maybe around the 494 strip) and dealing with office “relationships” that would interfere with the discipline and concentration of work. A pudgy office chum claims to be his “cube mate” and then becomes his boss, while showing what seems an inappropriate interest. But Jerome is carrying on a bit of a (heterosexual) romance with an young lady there, behaving in a manner that would be inappropriate in larger companies. He seems to take his future advancement for granted, but is becoming bored and depressed. He runs on a treadmill yet smokes in bed.

 

  Here the film is bifurcated, as Jerome makes his journey to New Mexico. So the film takes on the format of Beethoven’s 32nd Piano Sonata, or of Profokiev’s Second Symphony, where you start with a sonata-allegro and follow with a huge “theme and variations.”  Jerome runs out of gas near the ski lift for 10,000+ foot Sandia mountain, gets a lift (literally) and finds a small commune of characters with a young rather forceful and virile ring leader Thomas (Mark Parrish).  Thomas is both idealistic and loquacious, and may, as a character, be inspired by a character with the same name in the small 1998 film "Smoke Signals" (review below).  The other characters are the “variations” and they all seem at odds, as if they didn’t want to be there. Is this a cult? Soon, they go off on a life-risking journey into the backwoods, leading to challenges like those in “Vertical Limit” (Columbia, 2000). It doesn’t have to end happily or triumphantly.  It can die away, like Beethoven’s or Prokofiev’s variations (which is how I would have put together the music score), in an “arioso.”

 

   New Mexico is well known as a place for people who “search for meaning,” for  self-made philosophers. Most of this kind of searching centers around Santa Fe or Taos. In both 1980 and 1984, I visited the Lama Foundation (the second time for a “Spring work camp”), on the sides of Wheeler Peak north of Taos.  The property would burn in a forest fire in 1996, and I don’t know if it has been rebuilt. (Maybe a reader does.)  I actually did take a ski lesson on Sandia Peak myself in January 1980.  My first time through the Sandia area was as a graduate student on a Trailways bus from Kansas University to Los Angeles in November, 1967, before I was drafted. So all of this brings back memories. Nearby are the ruins of the Chaco culture, a native peoples that took over two hundred years to dismantle what they had built, for unknown reasons.  How civilization can fail.

There is a recent (as of 2005) head shot/publicity photo and new filmography information about actor Mark Parrish at imdb.com. I am unable to find this film on imdb.com, but it appears under the link "productions" at reelcinema.net with plenty of images. There was an unrelated Canadian film "The Secret of Jerome" in 1994, a 19th Century European adventure.

Hope we'll see "Mustang Sally" one of these days. Sounds like a "House of Wax."

A PBS film in somewhat similar spirit is A Thief of Time, directed by Chris Eyre (120 min, 2004), based on the novel by Tony Hillerman, screenplay by Alice Arien. Here a female archeologist Ellie (Roalia De Aragon) in the New Mexico Chaco region seems to turn pottery thief and then disappears, but she may have uncovered the secrets of the bizarre epoch-stretching behavior of the Anasazi culture. There are also some interesting perspectives on religion here. If you want to explore some more interesting archaeology trails, visit “Dustin” at http://www.wizardworks.net/

 

 

The Mystery of Chaco Canyon (2005, PBS, 60 min) has Robert Redford narrating the research the mystery of the Chaco Anasazi Culture. Hundreds of block-roomed buildings, some with cupolas, were constructed along solstices and equinoxes and, particularly, 18-1/2 year Lunar cycles to an extent unknown anywhere else in the world, over a 250 year period early in the last millennium. Then the people, over a few decades, closed up and disassembled much of their work. The people would make pilgrimages and break pottery as an act of purification. The project seems to have been motivated by a collective experience of wisdom (the culture had no written language), which may have become corrupted during periods of famine. Local Pueblo people today believe that the sages has supernatural powers to control the elements.  

 

I have seen high school (drama) students read the libretto of the musical Anasazi, book by William Strauss, music by Peter Kater. The text deals with Chaco prophecies and beliefts. I have not seen it performed as a whole work yet but believe it will be at some point, perhaps on PBS. There is more information at Life Course Associates

 

Smoke Signals (1998,Miramax/ShadowCatcher, dir. Chris Eyre, book "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heave" aka "Le secret des cendres" by Sherman Alexie, 89 min, PG-13, p-4,r-1,a-3) is a "little" film (almost like a miniature "Western" set in current times) that was a big sensation at Sundance. It is gentle in tone and plays on native America ethnicity, but what is important here is the example of screenwriting; the screenplay is an adaptation of the book author of his own book. It is literally a script about storytelling, with the stories more embedded into the mainline rather than flashbacks in more conventional treatments. Some screenwriting teachers discourage flashbacks as making a story hard to follow and choppy, and in this film some of the transitions are not always immediately clear. Yet, the overall work has the three-part structure with definite crisis and recognition points.

 

Thomas Builds-the-Fire (Evan Adams) survived a house fire in 1976, being saved by the father Arnold Joseph (Gary Framer) of his "fried" Victor (Adam Beach). Both young men live on a reservation near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Victor learns that his estranged dad his passed away and needs to travel to Arizona. Thomas buys his bus ticket, but with a catch: Thomas gets to come on the trip and tell his stories. (I could wonder, why doesn't Thomas publish them on a website.) Nobody wants to hear these stories all the time, and Thomas doesn't fit in to what is expected of a young man in  his culture. So you get a certain structure: the "relationship" between the two young men as they are on this road trip (and it is an odd one, as if Thomas was trying to "buy" a friendship that he can't get with his own interpersonal skills), and Thomas's forcing Victor to unravel the troubling family secrets of twenty years before, involving the house fire. Little by little, the embedded story of the past unfolds during the trip. I can't recall another commercial film right now that really pulls this off (I could go back and look at "Adaptation"). "Jerome's Razor," above, is about a kind of bifurcated unfolding, but keeps its storytelling much more linear. In time, it seems that Victor really is as troubled as Thomas, never having had a productive life that most people recognize. They have a critical conversation near the end about family responsibility; Victor is accused of having pretended to take care of his mother while abandoning her emotionally.

 

There are some other interesting cultural and historic references along the way, such as to John Wayne, or one in particular (near the beginning) about President Jimmy Carter's having refused to let American athletes participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the Afghanistan crisis. That reference sets up a time-based foreshadowing, because the incident that formed these two young men's lives had occurred about the time that Carter was elected.

 

So this is a film that seems at first like a little comedy (it calls itself that), but it is really about a whole lot. 

 

I visited the Coeur d'Alene area in July 1990, during a heat wave. The Aryan Nation in the area has conferred a certain notoriety to the general area (I drove right by the entrance in a rental car). The film is shot on location around Spokane, Couer d'Alene, and Arizona. There is a stunning shot of the Snake River at one point. The director went to great effort to film on location and in ideal light and weather conditions, not always possible with low budget films under a tight schedule; the budget for this film was reportedly about $2 Million. (A Project Greenlight film, which this resembles and could have been, must be made for less than $1 Million.)

 

While living in Minneapolis from 1997-2003, I would hear a lot about the Native American communities, from very positive (the casino ownership like Mystic Lake) to the negative (the alcoholism and diabetes, the rare violent incidents like at Red Lake). In 2002 I visited the Sioux area between Watertown and Sissleton, SD; and the visit of a large reservation, much of it in poverty, is an experience. Tribal sovereignty exists on many lands (such as around Red Lake, a large area), but I'm not sure how much difference that makes.  The legal and moral issues around tribal lands and the history of European conquest and settlement has always created material for movies (especially the "Western") but few films have really tried to probe their moral edges. This film does. 

 

Kaaterskill Falls (2001), from Whiskey Outpost Films (about 90 min.),  is a “home movies” suspense theater shot in 16mm, with just three characters, a young couple that picks up a hitchhiker in the Catskills, near Pheonecia, New York.  Gradually a triangle develops, and when they head out into the woods for a hike, a menace takes over. Let’s say the characters have to deal with that they have done. The story outline is conceptually similar to “Jerome’s Razor,” above. This film, loosely inspired by Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water, was nominated for the IFP/West Independent Spirit Award (as well as nominee for the John Cassavetes Award for best film made for under $500000). The script was supposedly partially improvised (like jazz) and some of the flashback narratives, like that of the smoking Marathon runner who gets lung cancer, are surprisingly chilling. Produced, directed, edited, and photographed by Josh Apter and Peter Olson.

 

Another Spirit Award nominee (as well as nominee for the John Cassavetes Award for best film made for under $500000) is Virgil Bliss (about 100 minutes), an intimate account of a 40-year-old ex-con living in a halfway house, gradually branching out into the big bad world across the East River, and inevitably slipping back into trouble. The low cultural level of the inmates and other characters, such as the prostitutes, becomes a turnoff for me. Written and directed by Joe Maggio; produced by John Maggio and Matt Myers.  

 

Mean Creek (Paramount Classics, Waterfall films, 89 min, R, dir. Jacob Aaron Estes) provides another coming-of-age teen film, and my first reaction is, why make something so negative—all the smoking, drinking, drugs, bullying, homophobia—it’s all so depressing. The situation is this: a fat-boy school bully George (Josh Peck) beats up Sam (Rory Culkin) over a borrowed camcorder, so out of loyalty to blood, perhaps, older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) organizes a boating outing down an Oregon Cascade mountain stream to return the bullying. They will strip George naked (his body is going to look undeveloped and will be embarrassing), spank him, and send him running home through the woods. Well, of course, it goes wrong, and ends in tragedy. I don’t think it hurts to tell the ending here: George can’t swim, at least in a stream with a current, and drowns, and Rocky wants to cover up the crime. The other boys (and one girl Millie- Carly Schoeder, who desparately tries to give George CPR in the drowning scene and may not have the strength to administer rit) get together and go to the police, while Rocky robs a convenience store and escapes to Mexico. Along the way there is a great deal of macho talk (one of the saner boys has two gay dads, who, by the way, do not fit stereotypes of gay sexual attractiveness in the one scene in which they appear), showing off, and hints of various rites of passage. The camcorder clips shot by George are effective, and help add to the grainy effect of the film.

 

All this said, you wonder why even an independent film director here feels that “badness” sells. Several of the boys are good kids, but only are effective when George and Rocky are not present. (And, by the way, teenage actors who play these parts generally are super-kids, often privately tutored by studios to keep up with academic requirements.) You want to see more of them along the way. (Compare to a similarly-genred film like Jerome’s Razor, where all of the characters are likeable along the way). Now, TheWB, especially, has, on it’s hour long series, presented a number of young male characters (Smallville’s Clark [Tom Welling], Everwood’s Ephram [Gregory Smith] and Bright [Chris Pratt], Seventh Heaven’s Simon [David Gallagher] and especially Martin [Tyler Hoechlin], Summerland’s Bradin [Jesse McCartney] and especially Cameron [Zac Efron], or even Cooper [Evan Peters] on ABC’s The Days) who seem to have a positive influence on other’s around them. Also, don’t omit Chad Michael Murray as Lucas (and James Lafferty as Nathan) in One Tree Hill and Matt Long and the precocious Logan Lerman in Jack and Bobby. But this kind of effect seems hard to pull of in feature film, or, at least, most investors seem disinterested in going for it.

 

On other item about bullying. I talk about it a little in the first chapter of my first DADT book.  There is no excuse for anything else than a zero tolerance policy toward bullying in schools.   

  

Undertow (UA, R, 107 min, dir. David Gordon Green) is another kind of rustic, simplified road picture and thriller, this time on foot through a southern swamp. Filmed in the Savannah area, the story is supposed to take place in far south Texas near the Rio Grande and Brownswille area. Maturing teenager Chris Munn (Jamie Bell, from Billy Elliot) leads his sickly younger brother Tom (newcomer Devon Alan) through the wamp from a wicked uncle Deel (Joshn Lucas) with some gold coins as booty after the uncle kills their father John (Dermot Mulroney), slashing his throat in a fight. The uncle is after them and they escape some improbable encounters towards a denouement near the Rio Grande. The film title occurs twice, once in the harrowing opening scene where Chris impales his foot on a nail and jumps in a stream. The story has the right beats, but what makes the movies work is the two young characters. Young brother Tom is always vomiting (quite a demand on a young actor) and in one scene drinks green paint. There are hints that he is “different” and will grow up to be gay. Chris gradually becomes less of a redneck and more sensitive as he takes care of his sibling. Jamie Bell is sometimes photographed provocatively with emphasis on a hairless “swimmer’s body.” The music of Philip Glass adds to the tension and brooding suspense.  

 

Trash (1999, Showtime/Cleopatra, dir. Mark Anthony Galluzzo, dir. 95 min, R) pits two "white trash" brothers in poor rural northern Florida against each other in a test of blood loyalty, a concept that is increasingly tested in the movies these days as family values are tested by the cultural wars. Anthony DeMarie (Eric Michael Cole) has written a story "Early Morning Peace" and his high school English teacher and principal (Veronica Cartwright) pressures him to apply for a scholarship and go to college to escape poverty. This of course inspires the resentment of his brother and other peers. Toward the end, the brother (Jeremy Sisto) robs a jewelry store and then gets caught and then shot when he tries to escape, leading to multiple tragedies. Yet the story plays on the question of whether it is "right" to "desert" one's family and circumstances for one's own better life. 

 

Trash (Andy Warhol) moved to this file.

 

Game 6  (2005, aka "Game Six", Kindred/Serenade/Double Play, dir. Michael Hoffman, wr. Don De Lillo). When I heard about this film, I thought it refered to Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, between the Cincinnati Redlegs and the Boston Red Sox played in Fenway Park, with all its nooks and crannies. I recall lying on the cot in my angular efficiency in the Cast Iron Building in New York City when Bernie Carbo, with his inside-out swing, hit the homer to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth, and Carleton Fisk's home that won it in extra innings. But it turns out that this movie is about the 1986 series. Boston has not won a World Series since 1918, and playwright Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton) has a premiere on Broadway the same night as the sixth game, with the Red Sox playing the New York Mets at the uninteresting, symmetrical Shea Stadium, built in 1962. We all know that Boston took a 5-3 lead in the top of the tenth and had two outs with nobody on in the bottom. Then three singles and a wild pitch tied the score. Then Mookie Wilson hit a trickler through ailing Bill Buckner's legs, and the Mets won.

 

Now the playwright lives his inner life vicariously through the Red Sox, and their losing tears his heart out. In the meantime there is this play critic Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) who lives in a dump. He claims people come after him because he writes the truth. It sounds like he is such a mark that no reputable building will rent an apartment to him. Does this really happen? That's a troubling premise, as it reminds one of Salman Rushdie in England being on an fundamentalist Muslim hit list for his "blasphemy." When the Sox lose, Nicky goes to the theater and hunts down Steven with a gun but has his epiphany, as Steven is a reeling Red Sox fan, too.

 

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003, Shadow/Pelican/Docurama, dir. Judy Irving, 83 min, G) is a gentle small film about a bohemian homeless man Mark Bittner, who comes to San Francisco intending to become a musician, and winds up living relatively well "off the books"  rent free in the Telegraph Hill area of San Francisco looking after a flock of wild parrots. The parrots are the offspring of those that escaped from people's homes and they can thrive on the food available in the mild marine climate of San Francisco. The parrots are much more intelligent and able to adapt to human company than are most other birds here. (I once had a mockingbird "adopt me" at my workplace in Arlington, VA, and follow me around and out to my car, and chase starlings to impress me.) Most of them are "cherryheads" but one bird, Connor, has a blue head and is clearly "different" socially.  Eventually Mark has to leave the property in which he has lived for barter when it is to be renovated for condo sale or high rent. In the end he takes a female partner. The DVD has four short film extras: "Homage to Connor"; "Mingus at the Oasis"; "Mark's Home Movies"; "California Quail".

 

The Gronholm Method (aka "El Metoldo," Alquima, Studio Canal Madrid, 2005, dir. Marcelo Pineyro, play by Jordi Galceran, 115 min, sug R, Argentina/Spain) is a Spanish version of "The Apprentice" without The Donald. Eight candidates for Dekia Corporation show up for a team behavioral interview with the ultimate "rank and yank"  -- they must eliminate each other in The Boardroom without Donald, Carolyn, George, Bill, or anyone else. The first task is to find the mole. Then they have to pretend that they are living in an atomic shelter and have to send someone outside. The way you are told "you're fired" is that your computer terminal suddenly blanks out with the words "No Signal." Eventually the sexual pairings come up. In the end, the Hire wonders if the job is worth is, as outdoors has been decimated by globalization protests (it's quite horrific). Most of the film is liked a filmed dogma-style play, mostly in the Boardroom and sometimes bathrooms. There is a matte painting of the city outside, which is probably Buenos Aires.

 

Related reviews:  Gerry, Open Water, Touching the Void   Fear and Trembling  Peaceful Warrior TV: The Apprentice

 

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