Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New on DVD/Blu-ray, Special "Dumped By Their Distributor" Edition: MARGARET (2011) and BEING FLYNN (2012)

(US - 2011)

Kenneth Lonergan's follow-up to his acclaimed 2000 breakthrough YOU CAN COUNT ON ME wasn't supposed to take a Kubrickian amount of time to get released.  Filmed in 2005, MARGARET trickled onto 14 screens in the fall of 2011 after a nightmarish six-year post-production that saw two of the film's producers pass away (Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack both died in 2008), and multiple lawsuits going back and forth between Fox Searchlight, producers, and Lonergan.  When the film missed its projected release dates in 2006 and 2007, word spread that Lonergan couldn't finish the film.  Lonergan's eventual cut ran a bit over three hours and the studio refused to release it, demanding that it be cut to no more than 150 minutes, and pulling the plug on Lonergan's funding (the director reportedly borrowed money from co-star Matthew Broderick to continue editing his cut). Finally, Lonergan's friend Martin Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker assembled the theatrically-released version, which comes in at exactly 150 minutes and was reluctantly approved by Lonergan.

So, was MARGARET worth the wait?  Not really, though some declared it a masterpiece.  It's too ambitious and grandiose to just disregard, but it's overwritten, melodramatic, cumbersome, and maddeningly self-indulgent, no matter how remarkable it is at times.  In an unforgettable scene, NYC teenager Lisa (Anna Paquin) witnesses a horrifying accident where a bus runs a red light and drives over a pedestrian (Allison Janney), who has both legs torn off and bleeds to death before the ambulance arrives.  But the thing is, Lisa tells the police that the light was green and doesn't tell them that she was distracting the driver (Mark Ruffalo) by banging on the door as the bus was moving because she wanted to know where he bought his cowboy hat.  Lisa's guilt over this tragedy is too much for her to handle or properly articulate, so she starts acting out.  First by breaking the heart of a classmate (John Gallagher, Jr) and immediately sleeping with a total tool (Kieran Culkin).  She also gets into constant arguments with her stage actress mother (J. Smith-Cameron, Lonergan's wife), and joins forces with the dead woman's best friend (Jeannie Berlin) to launch a haphazardly-conceived civil suit against the city and get Ruffalo fired.  Oh, but there's more.  Much more, with numerous characters drifting in and out of the story with little or no purpose.  Jean Reno plays a cultured Colombian widower romancing Lisa's mother, and he has absolutely nothing to do other than be a laborious set-up for a minor point to be made of one of Lonergan's numerous aimless tangents (believe it or not, the film works in everything from 9/11 to the Israeli-Palestine conflict to a cameo by opera star Renee Fleming as herself).  Broderick plays a square English teacher who exists in the film only to read the poem from which the film gets its title, and to oddly sip orange juice through a tiny straw while losing patience with an argumentative student during a Shakespeare lecture.  Matt Damon plays a math teacher with whom Lisa constantly flirts.  A very young-looking, pre-JUNO Olivia Thirlby plays a classmate of Lisa's, and Lonergan himself plays Lisa's father.  More than anything, MARGARET looks like an unfinished film that just got away from its maker, who obviously felt that everything he shot was too precious to cut.  Even in the Scorsese-supervised edit, scenes either go on past the point of necessity or they're cut too soon.  In the scene where Paquin and Berlin have lunch with lawyer Michael Ealy, watch how Ealy looks up from the table and has a shocked expression on his face--he's about to open his mouth, and...cut to next scene.  It seems like something potentially important was about to happen.  It's a very long, arduous haul for a film whose point seems to be "teenagers are overly dramatic about some things," though Berlin (who's quite good) does get a fantastic zinger when she yells at Paquin, "We are not supporting characters in the fascinating story of your life!"  Lonergan ends this rambling yet hypnotic mess of a film with a very powerful scene, but it still doesn't change the fact that Lisa spent the last two hours behaving like a sociopath.  The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack, currently sold exclusively by Amazon.com, gives you the choice of the 150-minute theatrical version and Lonergan's 186-minute director's cut.  As of now, Netflix isn't carrying either version, but the theatrical cut is available on some VOD services.  (R, 150 mins, theatrical version)

(US - 2012)

Focus Features didn't really know how to sell BEING FLYNN.  Trailers made it look lighthearted and vaguely comedic, when in fact, it's often devastating and sad.  Perhaps they would've been better off sticking with the title of Nick Flynn's memoir on which the film is based: Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.  The film ultimately made it to 88 screens at its widest release, grossing around $540,000.  With two narrators, one of whom is at best unreliable and neither of whom are particularly appealing, BEING FLYNN is a tough sell and a difficult film to warm to, but it's got a pair of outstanding performances and is emotional in a very real way, without being cloying and manipulative or caving to maudlin sentimentality.  Nick (Paul Dano) is an aimless and jobless would-be writer in NYC.  He gets a job at a homeless shelter and reluctantly renews his relationship with his long-absent ex-con father Jonathan (Robert De Niro), an alcoholic, delusional, irresponsible, self-absorbed, racist, homophobic, and possibly schizophrenic part-time cab driver and full-time bullshit artist who's convinced he's a great American literary talent.  After being evicted for assaulting a neighbor and losing his cab after a DUI, Jonathan begins staying at the homeless shelter and, as is his way, eventually gets himself kicked out.  Nick, meanwhile, still has unresolved issues over the suicide of his mother (Julianne Moore in flashbacks), who raised him alone and did her best while working two jobs, and starts falling deep into hard drugs.  De Niro and Dano are both superb in difficult roles where neither of them are particulary likable, and screenwriter/director Paul Weitz (atoning, along with De Niro, for the sins of LITTLE FOCKERS) does an excellent job with structuring the film to play like a visual memoir via alternating narration and interesting editing and directorial choices.  It's a fairly standard story when stripped to its basics (father and son coming to terms with the past and the flawed, damaged men they've both become), but it strives to be something more, and for the most part, it succeeds.  And it's terrific unseen De Niro performance to go along with STONE, another film that was completely mishandled by its distributor.  Also with Olivia Thirlby, Lili Taylor, Victor Rasuk, and Wes Studi.  (R, 102 mins)

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