Title: Five Lines
Release Date: 2000
Nationality and Language:
Running time: 110 min, approx
Distributor and Production Company: Brainbox
Director; Writer: Nicholas Panagopolus (also with Christian Zonts)
Cast: Nat Taylor, Marianna Houston, Emily Townley, Josette Murray-Ballo, Christian Zonts
Technical: Widescreen High Definition HDCAM
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: gays in military; marketing; independent film
I attended a special screening at the AFI Silver Theater
But, the real importance of the film is its content,
issues, and screenwriting concept. And it was a labor or love, made
apparently in 1999 and 2000, when the
Now this sort of story of intersecting lives is rather popular in the art movie world, at varying levels of ambition and expense. Well known examples include Robert Altman’s Shortcuts, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), and Jill Sprecher’s Thirteen Conversations on One Thing (2001) (Sony Pictures Classics). In Sprecher’s film, several of the acting performances are particularly poignant, such as Matthew McConauhey as the assistant DA who hits someone with a car, and Alex Burns as insurance agency executive Ronnie English, who treats a scene where he fires a subordinate with great finesse. The idea of having strangers interact in a geographically interesting place is often tried, as in the 2003 film Lost in Translation. Even the nature of a Metro system has been used before to generate screenplays, as in the 1998 film Sliding Doors, by Peter Howitt, exploring alternate universes with the London Underground. European film, especially French, likes to explore the connection of characters to specific places (remember Swimming Pool in 2003).
This film really keeps the moviegoer on edge, however, because of the problems it creates for the characters, the relevance of these problems to major societal issues, and because of the way it exposes, reveals, and develops the characters with increasing visual and precise visual detail.
For me, the most interesting problem was the young Army
Staff Sergeant (E-6) Mike Catalano, played by Nat Taylor. Actually he looks
too young to be that well-ranked as an NCO, and he seems rather clean cut and
serious. He is challenged in a bar (after getting off the Foggy Bottom Metro
near GWU on the Blue and
Also interesting in the scam artist Bench, played by Christian Zonts, a college dropout who will make his fortune the easy way, with pyramid schemes exploiting his frat brothers. He gets in trouble, of course, with the loan sharks and quickly becomes desperate, but his interpersonal charm and “always be closing” salesmanship comes across. In a typical cheesy telemarketing call he starts out with “How are you today,” then talks people into phony ID’s or signing over their bank accounts. People fall for it. The problem here is that Christian is gradually unveiled and he becomes only more and more likeable.
Then there is the homeless woman Anna played by Josette Murray-Ballo, for whom life is a shopping cart and a chance to see pretty lights one more time. She bails a young teen out of trouble (played gently by Ben Fernchok), and he will invite her to his home for dinner, where he encounters unexpected prejudice.
There is the young woman Stacie dying of an aneurysm (facing a fate similar to the character Colin in TheWB’s Everwood) but trying to live in denial. And there is the party girl Kathryn playing off two male lovers, one apparently an ex-husband, who now takes hidden videos of their sex scenes. The film plays back these videos as a well to show off, incidentally and by comparison, the benefits of High Definition. The filmmakers are not afraid to show hairy men—“bears”—even heavy, in very intimate scenes, a far cry from the buffed look of a lot of the stars on daytime soaps.
The Green Line con man Bench draws some extra reviewing attention I think. Christian Zonts plays this role with a degree of satiric comedy, which sets him apart from the other four main characters. Is this because he wrote the part for himself? I get the impression that comedy is his forte, and, after all, good comedy sells (remember Anything Else?). Bench is a bit of the wild man risk-taker here, and Christian plays it kind of like Sam on Trump-a-Dump’s The Apprentice. There is a great scene where Bench has gotten away and teases his chaser from inside a Metro car, after the doors close. (They really will take a train out of service if a customer holds it open.) But, his own demise is then all the more brutal.
All of the outdoor scenes are on location, and use the Washingtin, DC metro area accurately. There are shots of
the Capitol, Library of Congress, Rosslyn,
The showing started with a brief Brainbox short or prelude (in regular MiniDV), which I wasn’t sure whether it was a preview or a symphonic introduction to the film itself.
My own experience at this film presents a certain irony. I
had to leave a few minutes early to catch the last Metro leaving Silver
Spring (against the backdrop of
I did, however, get the
For more about the film see
This film would seem to me to make an attractive offering for a distributor like Miramax, New Market, or Fine Line Features.
I mentioned the film from the audience at the June 2007
Digital Media Conference at the AFI Theater in
Nine Lives (2005, Magnolia, dir. Rodgrio Garcia) is another film with short segments,
mostly independent but with a little overlap, as the lives of nine women are
shown in roughly 12-minute dramatic snapshots. There is a teenage girl who
doesn’t want to leave home for college but who can tell her dad about
At this point, I would like to draw comparison of this (5
Lines) with a well known “big plot” and “big
(2003, ThinkFilm, dir. Nimrod Antal,
R, 105 min) was a hit at the 2005 DC International Film Festival, and it will
come across to film buffs as a companion piece to “Five Lines.” From
There is other fascinating action in the film, such as a man sliding down along the escalator (it looks like the Dupont Circle Metro escalator—do not imitate the stunt!), and the red lighting in the scene where Bulcsu is interrogated is fascinating and dream-like. There is one brief anti-gay remark.
Some other observations need to be made here: the subway looks a bit dilapidated for a European city, with graffiti. The entire cast is white, but there is plenty of homelessness and poverty around.
Slices of Life 2: The 50-50 Club (The Urban Alternative, 2004, 75 min, PG-13, DV,
dir. Russell Burger) was the senior project for the Arlington Career Center. This is another converging story, this time
of high school students (call them “the kids”) in
The first film (2003) is Slices of Life:
The House Party, PG-13, dir. Russell Burger, Matt Cavanaugh and
others, wr. Matt Cavanaugh. Here the teens, dealing
first with resistant parents and other subterfuges, converge at a house party
thrown by Jayden (Martin Ocegueda)
while his parents are out of town looking after grandma in the hospital. So,
the teens seek freedom, of being home alone, away from family responsibility
as well as parents themselves. Here the story lines are pulled forward by
simple things: a confrontation between a son Jacob (Matt Meyer) and his
working-class but beer-gizzling dad over leaving
the water dripping, a girl Pooja (Sheekja Singh) facing an arranged marriage lest a
horrible future as an old maid, or the teen who, when stoned, can’t remember
the word “kitchen.” There is an
intriguing early scene where an English teacher teases her class about a
“horror writer,” whom you first think might be Victor Hugo designing his
hunchback Quasimodo, but then turns out to be Mary Shelly with Frankenstein,
which she wrote as a nineteen year old—a point that I believe had been made
in an old 1963 black-and-white movie “Blood of Dracula” that they used to
play on Saturday night “Chiller.” Now, you can guess that the teens will get
into trouble (police, parents who return home). They do. You want them to
find more to live for. The
The “House Party” concept would be covered on NBC
A student, Steven Vaglas, at
Yorktown High School in Arlington made an eleven minute film of Edgar Allen
Poe’s short story The Telltale
Heart (Poe gives high school kids a chance to read horror for grade
points), as reported by the Arlington Sun
Of course, we have
heard that kids in
Napoleon Dynamite (PG, 86 min, dir Jared
Hess, Fox Searchlight/Paramount/MTV films) presents a comedy of a gawky,
introverted teen Napoleon (Jon Heder), which could
have become an exercise in nihilism except for the basic integrity of the
character that comes through at the end. (Doesn’t “Napoleon” sound like an
appropriate name for a cat instead?)
He seems to have his eyes closed, he speaks
in a mildly depressed monotone like someone with Asperger’s
Syndrome. It seems as though his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell)
and evil Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) have it, too. In fact, it’s hard to believe that Rico
could hold down a job as a salesman at all (here he sells plastic bowls and
then breast enlargements). They all lead a pedestrian existence in
Heder hosted NBC “Saturday Night
Antares (Film Movement/Lotus,
2004, dir. Gotz Spielmann,
NC-17) may be one of the largest red giant stars but it is also a three-part
Primer (New Line/ThinkFilm, 2004, dir. wr. Shane Caruth, 77 min, PG-13) is a fascinating sci-fi film made for just $7K. Three attractive upper-middle-class young men (Aaron, Abe and Robert played by Shane Caruth, David Sullivan and Casey Gooden), usually overdressed, it seems, in white shirts and ties, contemplate with what to do with an accidental discovery of a time machine (it has to do with a fungus and argon gas), that they work with “secretly” in a public storage warehouse. They wonder how to sell it, or even whether to sell it when they could use it, say, to play the stock market or win lotteries. The dialogue is sharp and detailed and often conveys a lot more information that is typical in many smaller scripts. There are lots of clever little lines that foreshadow the bigger issues, like an early conversation about whether to have steak or Tacos for dinner. Later, the writing does deal cleverly with the time paradoxes, which are visually managed with changes in film saturation—I might have been tempted to use black-and-white instead. Family life is barely suggested in a few scenes, as if it were encapsulated and made invisible. The story suggests a certain paradox for me—how do I “sell” my own work?
Crash (2005, Lions Gate, dir. Paul Haggis, R, 100 min) is a “big” art film with a non-linear structure that reminds one of Altman, linking at one level from one plot thread to the next. Specifically, one scene will have a character make a comment about another character based on some kind of stereotype, and then the next scene will move on with that referenced character, as in a daisy chain. The film, in the first half hour, introduces a number of characters and plot strings this way, and creates a drama that seems like a number of parallel stories that (as in 5 Lines) gradually converge. The little stories demonstrate various aspects of racial tension in modern, post-Rodney-King LA, and circle around a couple of car crashes and, well, one of them may be intentional. Don Cheadle plays Graham, a black police officer fighting a false promotion. A young DA Rick (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (Sandra Bullock) get carjacked; a racist officer Ryan (Matt Dillon, who looks genuinely middle-aged now) shakes down and abuses a black couple (he incorrectly believes that the wife is white), and then his white partner Officer Hanson (Ryan Phillippe) will try to make things right, leading to the denouement. There is a lot of other stuff, like a rescue from a burning overturned car, a gun shop owner tensed up over anti-Muslim sentiment (and confusion among different kinds of Muslims), and even snow in Los Angeles (it does happen sometimes, and the movie is set around Christmas). Now this film needs to be set apart from other layered films like Adaptation or Bad Education, where one level of storytelling encapsulates another (as in a movie being made)—a technique that I use myself in one of my scripts.
There was an earlier film named Crash (1996, Fine Line Features, dir. David Cronenberg, NC-17, based on a 1973 novel by J. G. Ballard), features a “scientist” (James Ballard, played by James Spader) and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) whose marital relations flounder. One night Ballard causes a car crash in which he is maimed. He becomes obsessed with sex in cars with car crash victims and even the anticipation of more wrecks. This is very much an exercise in abnormal psychology. There is one girl with artificial legs at the hips, covered in pantyhose. This bizarre film used to be a cult hit.
Hustle and Flow (aka “Hustle & Flow”) (2005, Paramount Classics/Crunk/MTV, dir. Craig Brewer, 114 min, R) was a sensation at Sundance and has enjoyed runs in major theater chains despite being a small indie film, particularly in areas where there is a large African American audience. The story is somewhat the inverse of what I attempt in my screenplay “Make the A List”. Here, a fortyish rapper (DJay, Terrence Howard) who will go for the hiphop or rap music world A-list by making a demo tape to impress a childhood ex-friend Skinny Black (Ludacris) who did make it big and who returns to Memphis, TN for the Fourth of July. This follows his finding an old digital keyboard and showing it to his kid. He befriends a club owner Arnel (Isaac Hayes) and churchgoer Key (Anthony Anderson) to help him make the tape. A skinny and articulate southern white music artists Shelby (DJ Qualls) helps with the keyboard and techie stuff. The film has a long middle section with various heterosexual entanglements as well as some good technology stuff, as when he needs to buy a better microphone (Electrovoice?) It seems his friend may be exploiting him, however. (In my screenplay, it is the A-list candidate who is the manipulator, although usually in a constructive way. By way of comparison, the aspirant in this film starts out as down and out.) There is a lot of black talk that sometimes makes the script a bit hard to follow. At the end, there is a confrontation in a bar, where a friend dumps the tape in a toilet. (After Djay pulls up his pants – “I am not a faggot!”) A brawl ensues, and a shootout, and Djay goes to jail, but the music takes off. There is a great song in here, “It’s hard out here for a pimp!” (Is DJay the “pimp”?) I felt that the film had a lot of choppy editing, which made the climax hard to believe; it would have been all right for a film like this to be 2-1/2 hours long (thirty minutes longer) if necessary to make all the loose ends and details clear. The hip hop music sends locked in to one repeating note as it develops its poetry, then blossoms out into real music. It’s just not my kind of music.
Undiscovered (2005, Lions
Gate/Lakeshore, dir. Meiert Avis, 92 min, PG-13) is
written by “John Galt”. I knew a man in
(aka , 2004, New Line, dir. Greg Marcks, 86 min) is another coincidence plot film like “5 Lines” and works backwards like “Memento” from a precise time when all of these life-threads come together. It starts when a corpse thrown from an overpass in Middleton (Ohio?) lands on a car driven by Jack (Henry Thomas). He thinks he has hit a deer, and then he sees a girl. Afraid of getting caught, he tries to pack the body into the trunk but a good Samaritan woman Norma (Barbara Hershe) arrives, and she calls the policeman (Clark Gregg). The policeman tries to arrest Jack, and complications and chases ensue involving various other groups of young rascally characters, one of whom gets his penis chopped off in another accident. The plot works back to a deliberate convenience store shooting of Buzzy (Hilary Swank) and another hit-run. The problem here is that the situations, while clever, don’t get much interest or sympathy from the viewer.
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