Sunday, February 22, 2009
Unavailable for at least two decades, Eagle Pennell's landmark film has been lost in the conversation of influential American independent films. But with its low-budget filming, engaging yet hapless characters and Pennell's semi-doc handheld shooting of Central Texas, The Whole Shootin' Match is a precursor to almost any indie made today.
The film, shot on B&W 16mm, follows two slacker cowboys who spend their time chasing women and getting drunk while trying to cook up get-rich-quick schemes.
Legend has it when Pennell screened the film at the U.S. Film Festival in 1978, where it won the Audience Award, Robert Redford was so taken by what he saw he founded the Sundance Institute, which then took over the festival, renamed it and, well, you know the rest.
New Line Cinema distributed The Whole Shootin' Match, but unsurprisingly the film didn't do much business in 1979 and was soon forgotten while Pennell dug himself deeper into drugs and alcohol and eventually died penniless in 2002. But what Pennell left behind is a masterwork in low-budget, regional filmmaking. A good ol' boy version of Cassavetes, his influence can be found in films as varying as Return of the Secaucus Seven to Dazed and Confused and countless others.
Watchmaker Films has restored the film from one of the few existing prints in a beautiful package that includes a 48-page booklet with essays on the film and its creator, a bonus soundtrack disc of the film's twangy score by Eagle's brother, Chuck Pinnell, and a documentary on Eagle.
The DVD goes on sale Tuesday. It's certainly a must own.
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Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Oliver Stone is no stranger to mixing presidents and controversy, so his look at the 43rd president in his latest film, W., comes to no one as a surprise.
But unlike JFK or Nixon, decades have not passed in Stone's look at George W. Bush. As time has judged the actions and events depicted in those films long before Stone made them, the wealth of information on Bush's decisions in office and our addiction to have everything instantly has lead to the making of a film that was released while its subject was still in office, and is probably its biggest flaw.
W. is in no way as stylized or provoking as Stone's earlier work (neither have returned to his films since 1999's Any Given Sunday), but with a tour-de-force performance by Josh Brolin as Bush Jr., Stone has arguably created one of his most engaging characters. A study of an underachiever who through tenacity (and a little help from the family name) reaches the heights no one every thought he could achieve, Brolin gives Bush an every-man likability (he is either eating or drinking in almost every scene, showing him as a common man) as opposed to his portrayal in the public-eye as a bully. Brolin is also able to play him convincingly from college to president.
Stone hits all the major moments in Bush's presidency (even some small ones, like the pretzel incident) but what's most engaging is not the heated discussions leading up to the Iraq War -- where Stone portrays Jeffrey Wright's Colin Powell as the voice of reason and Richard Dreyfuss's Dick Cheney as the tyrannical war hawk out to stamp the U.S. as the lone superpower -- but Bush's alcohol-fulled past, that's filled with stints in lock up, falling in and out of jobs and his emotional conflict with his father.
Bush's obsession with his father (played by James Cromwell) is the main interest for Stone. Bush Sr. has his middle son, Jeb, primed for the presidency, leaving George, the black sheep in the family, bitter and determined to make something of his life. (Similar in some ways to the Kennedy family.) Stone surmises this as the reason for Bush's blind stubbornness to go to Iraq -- to win the war his father couldn't and to get the man (Saddam Hussein) his father didn't.
Though there is a filmmaker's research and annotations guide in the special features, in the director commentary Stone admits that some of the events depicted in the film didn't happen exactly the way they are shown. He also simplified and condensed many of the key scenes. Regardless of the poetic license (which isn't new to Stone), the director puts the film best in the commentary during the closing credits: "It's got a feel for Bush, it may not be the real George Bush -- who knows who he is -- but it feels like him."
The W. DVD hits stores today through Lionsgate.
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