Thursday, May 13, 2010

(Time) capsule review

My regular readers know I like to rank all the movies I see each year, and also that I'm fairly obsessed with choosing rules for which film belongs in which year. In fact, I devoted an entire (long) post to this dilemma as my second post ever -- you can find it here if you have a half-hour to kill.

So you can imagine my surprise that I ranked a film in 2007, and am now faced with possibly having to rank it again, three years later. I've never been off by that much before.

That's right, it's taken three years for Sol Tryon's brilliantly quirky The Living Wake to finally get a proper theatrical release, albeit a very limited one, this Friday. I've already seen the movie twice, both times in 2007. Once was on a DVD that was making the rounds, and once was in a special screening that was held in one of LA's best theaters, the Arclight in Hollywood.

My role as a film critic didn't have anything to do with this. Actually, the more relevant role was my role as the husband (then boyfriend) of a woman who works for one of the movie's producers. We had a copy of the DVD for a month or two, and we also got to attend the special screening, sitting a row ahead of the movie's star and co-writer, Mike O'Connell. (Sitting in front of him was by no means an indication of our importance relative to his -- it's just where we ended up.)

They tried like heck to get a wide release for the film back then, which also features recognizable names like Jesse Eisenberg and Jim Gaffigan. When I realized that wasn't happening, not only did I rank it with 2007, but I also reviewed it for my website. The site had already posted a plot synopsis for The Living Wake, based on some festivals and special screenings like the one at the Arclight, and the existence of a plot synopsis is what always encourages me to request the film to review. That lets me know it's on their radar.

So now, three years later, my review is materializing again, as if emerging from a time capsule. Actually, it's emerging in a couple places. For starters, it's currently appearing as the lead item on the website. That's always fun for me, since it usually only happens when I review a film that's newly released, which I've only done about ten times. (The way the website is set up, I'm often in a position to review films that have been out for a couple years, which works out quite nicely, allowing me to pick and choose what I want to review, and still get paid for it.)

But my review has also showed up in a place that I would never have expected. Because I reviewed it so long before this formal release was scheduled, my words of praise actually appear as a block quote in the press materials. That's right, if you have Living Wake press materials, you can figure out my real name. Or at least, you can narrow it down to seven, which is how many critics are quoted.

I actually don't have the press materials myself, and logically, you'd think I would have found out about this, only the second time I have ever been quoted, through my wife's boss. Actually, it was my contact at my website who told me. "Did you know that you are block quoted in the press notes?" And then he sent me along a pdf of them. Pretty exciting.

I wouldn't be doing this film justice if I spent this whole post talking about its relationship to me. I'd love to see this film perform well in its limited release, in the hopes of a wider release being possible someday soon. So let me spend a paragraph or two pimping it to you.

The Living Wake is the story of a larger-than-life character named K. Roth Binew (Mike O'Connell), who's led a life somewhat like Garp or Forrest Gump or Ignatius J. Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces -- a life that seems appropriate to document in newsreel footage, which is how the film starts. The poster should give you some idea what type of fellow he is, as should this photo I've included. The man is loud and boorish, yet also strangely charming and whimsical. We learn that he has been diagnosed with a "vague, grave and punctual disease," which is entirely lacking in symptoms, but which proves to be fatal at an exact moment in time, which doctors can predict. What follows is Binew's last day on earth, as he travels around the village where he lives, has a variety of contentious interactions with various people in his life, and tries to enjoy some final pleasures while also securing his legacy. He's followed everywhere by Mills Joaquin (Jesse Eisenberg), his faithful manservant who chauffeurs him around in a rickshaw. The two also prepare for the final event of the evening -- a "living wake," which is essentially a one-man performance by Binew that's a tribute to his own life, timed to end at the exact moment his life is supposed to end.

To say I liked it is an understatement. It's an oddball film full of non-sequitors, but it also creates a very specific quirky world with its own distinct set of rules, a world that's divorced from place and time. It would be accurate, I think, to describe the film as "picaresque." O'Connell is brilliant in the lead role -- he brings such gusto to it, that the only way I can think to describe it is early Jim Carrey with more intellect and less mugging. But even that description sells O'Connell a bit short, because there are a lot of people who don't like Jim Carrey, and I think O'Connell's performance is universally appealing -- if also necessarily containing an aspect that leaves you occasionally annoyed by and frustrated with his character. It's a stellar performance.

The Living Wake currently has a one-week run in New York starting on Friday, a one-week run in LA starting the following Friday, and a one-week run in Seattle starting the first week of June. If you're in one of the above cities and the above description sounds at all appealing, go check it out. Here's the website for more details: There's also a spot on the website where you can request a screening in your city.

Or, at the very least, keep the title handy in the back of your mind for the eventual DVD release, which is where The Living Wake really figures to fulfill its destiny of becoming a cult classic.

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