Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."
In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with the Milwaukee International Film Festival, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including the comedy Web site, comicwonder.com.
He also finds time to write about movies for OnMilwaukee.com. In this week's installment of the Screening Room, Mark looks at "Flannel Pajamas" and "Out of Sight."
FLANNEL PAJAMAS (2006)
In 1979, I produced a feature film called "Chilly Scenes of Winter." It was called "Head Over Heels" when United Artists released it in 1979, but we took it back from them and re-released it under it's original title, "Chilly Scenes of Winter," in 1980, or thereabouts.
But that is another, longer story.
The final moment in that film was supposed to be of the child, Rebecca, staring out the window watching the snow fall. Her mother comes up behind her and asks what she is doing. She says she is counting snowflakes. Her mother, played by Mary Beth Hurt, says, "But honey, there are so many. You'll never count them all." Rebecca says, "Don't worry, I'm only counting the ones that are exactly alike."
The movie was a kind of a love story. The moment never made it into the film, though I lobbied hard for it. I thought it was a great metaphor for hope and for love. That was the ending of the book by Anne Beattie that the film was based on and I thought it deserved to finish the film as well. It's a many-headed monster that creates a film so other heads prevailed and that image does not end the film. It does in the book. I recommend the book. And the movie.
One of the people who worked on finding distribution for that movie was a really great guy named Jeff Lipsky. Now Jeff Lipsky has written and directed a movie called "Flannel Pajamas" and the very last moment in his film is of a man, whose wife has left him, staring out the window of his 35th floor apartment in New York City across the Hudson River. And he says, to no one in particular, "I just saw a boat with a colored pinwheel spinning in the wind on the front of it." It is a wonderful film that goes on a little too long but loves abides in it, even though it doesn't last. I liked the last moment and I wondered if Jeff thought at all about what could have been the last moment in "Chilly Scenes of Winter." The egocentrism of people and their work when they really love their work amazes me, especially when I succumb to it.
"Flannel Pajamas" is a really well written and acted story of a man and a woman meeting in New York City, falling for each other, dating, dealing with each other's friends and families, going home for Christmas, getting married, not having children, not getting a dog, not loving each other quite well enough, and eventually leaving each other.
Both people are very smart, but only marginally successful, and it's a fine romance, as Cole Porter would have said. It reminds me of a Woody Allen film with more heart than style. Because the people are smart and self-conscious, it never gets too schmaltzy even when it tips that way. And because they are smart and should know better, it is really sad when they can't support each other when they need it most and they walk away from the love that obviously abides within.
Justin Kirk, who is very funny in the Showtime series "Weeds," plays Stuart and Julianne Nicholson, plays Nicole. Jamie Harrold plays a kind of truth telling, suicidal, Mercutio character who is also Stuart's brother. He has brief moments of brilliance. Too brief. I would have liked to have seen more of him. But that is the way you should feel about a good performance. So ... no real stars, good writing, well acted, and a charming story. That's enough for me. But Dan Lawton has said about me that I never met a movie I didn't like, so I guess that makes me easy.
Some adaptations of Elmore Leonard books are good, some are very good and some are just ways of making money and a movie. It is a lot of fun making a movie. "Get Shorty" is good. I don't think it's great. It is from a Leonard book that is very slick, very self-conscious, filled with lots of "in" jokes about the movie business and the film indulges in all those vices. It's funny and has lots of good characters, but it isn't overly ambitious. It is, quite simply, an entertainment. I don't think Barry Sonnefeld is ever overly ambitious.
"Out Of Sight," on the other hand is very good. It's not a great movie but it is ambitious to be so. I think Steven Soderbergh is almost always trying to make more than just an entertainment. All the way back to "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," through "Erin Brokovich," "Traffic," even the "Ocean's Eleven" films, he is either playing with a genre, with the style of movie he is making, and he is pushing that style to new limits, or he is creating a new style, a new way of doing things, as he did in "Bubbles."
"Bubbles" even attempted to create a new business model for movies by being released in theaters, on the Internet and on DVD at the same time.
On many of his films, he is cinematographer, editor, director, writer and producer, all using different names. He is a complete craftsman. However, on "Out Of Sight" he is just a director for hire. It came fairly early in what has become a very successful career. The "Oceans" movies put him in that I-can-do-anything-I-want-no-matter-how-self-indulgent-or-esoteric-it-is category.
He began his relationship with George Clooney on "Out Of Sight," and it has been a very fruitful relationship. He has executive produced films that Clooney has directed, including "Good Night, Good Luck." Clooney has starred or played supporting roles in several films he has directed and/or executive produced, including "Syriana" and "Michael Clayton." I'm sure they have dinner together when they're in the same town and probably send each other birthday cards. I think they are both very smart fellows. Clooney obviously has a strong political conscience and Soderbergh a very passionate love of cinema. They make a good team.
"Out Of Sight" is about a man who is more comfortable doing a crime or doing time for doing a crime than anywhere else. When the film opens, he is interviewing for a straight job. It doesn't go well. He walks out and crosses the street to rob a bank, in a very charming, George Cooney kind of way. But he gets caught so he does the other thing he is good at: doing time.
Even though he is good at it, he doesn't like doing time so he manages to bust out. That's when he meets Jennifer Lopez, who plays a Federal Marshal. They are not a good pair, but several hours locked in the trunk of a car will cement a relationship and it does theirs.
The movie is charming and entertaining. The characters are strong, as is the narrative, which is always true with Elmore Leonard. And Soderbergh knows what the best directors of film noirs know: that there must be a strong morality and an integrity, a code, that the principal criminal lives by -- even though it is not the code of society, even though it transgresses the laws of civilization, it must be adhered to or a kind of chaos will ensue that will destroy everything.
Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."
Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.