Friday, December 10, 2010

Two look at Inside Job... via Creatively Stumped

As you may or may not know by now, I participate in a podcast- it's not weekly or monthly, it's basically when we can get around to it and/or have something to talk about that we all agree upon.  It's called Creatively Stumped, and the latest episode has myself and C-Stumper Jon squaring off on Inside Job (since then Matt, our leader C-Stumper dude, has seen the movie, and is kind of in the middle in terms of opinion on it: Jon really disliked it, I loved it, and Matt was... it's okay ultimately).

Here is the Stumped podcast.  And if you scroll back into November you can find the original posting on the film (we also recorded the podcast sometime around when I first saw it).

Also, for future reference, you can also check out our blog here (though mostly the other guys post there, I post there periodically however since I have this blog I would likely post here first).

William Shakespeare's THE TEMPEST by Julie Taymor

The Tempest shows a filmmaker just itching to let loose her turbulent, big-splash-of-a-canvas vision of Shakespeare onto the screen, and the itch, for better or worse, is scratched sufficiently. This is a work that takes the delightfully and eerily dark take on the Bard that Julie Taymor had before with Titus and suffuses it with the computer-generated surreal landscape of Across the Universe. Whether you can really dig into Taymor's films or not, to varying degrees for some, at the least it's hard to ignore her artistic prowess, of pushing the envelope of what might be acceptable or just what is "normal" and stretching the boundaries until you wonder what boundaries are even for in the first place - that is, you wonder so that people like Taymor or Terry Gilliam can break them, fuck them about, and give audiences something different with the acting and the mood of the piece while, oddly enough, staying true to at least the original spirit of the source material (Beatles, Frida Kahlo, the Bard).

This time her Tempest is almost nearing all over the place visually, but luckily it's anchored on one of Shakespeare's most underrated works ; it's one of my personal favorites from him actually, a work drenched in fantasy and ideas of late 16th century God's law and man in the high and low areas of class, meaning those who have it (i.e. explorers) and those that don't Djimon Hunsou's native character. The big change to anyone who has read the play is that Prospero is now Prospera, played with big emotions and big movements of poise and stamina by Helen Mirren. Oh, she's a force to be reckoned with, as a star and as a character that she's playing, and she's a practitioner of alchemy. This might already be subversive - in that time and era women like that were branded witches right away, but here it's something that is not only encouraged but flaunted - but then comes more 'colorful' though normal elements of explorers, washed up on the shore, and part of the King's army of sorts (Alfred Molina and Chris Cooper make up some of this bunch).

There's also a love story thrown in the mix between the two youngest members of the cast, actors whom, I'm sorry to say, I don't remember their names as they are kind of forgettable due to the script and Taymor's direction of them. I get the sense that among the rest of what she has to work with this is either the thing she's least concerned with, or she botched this part of the film. I didn't really buy any of this young-love stuff, not the interactions or the dippy acting, or even (to go back to the source if it's that) Shakespeare's dialog. This and a few other odd moments, such as a few scenes with CGI (some of it, though not all of it, with Ben Whishaw's spirit character Ariel who is up there with the clouds and the smoke of air) do detract from the quality of the rest of the film.

The rest of it, I should add, is a lot of fun, and extraordinary to take in. Djimon Hunsou makes his Caliban a terrifying but oddly sympathetic character, one who will do bad things and can- the scar on his face says 'Don't mess with me, Whitey' pretty clearly, even if it's said in old-school Bard speak- but has also been damaged over time. There is some depth there that isn't with some of the other supporting characters, as interesting as they are and acted as well as they are. Among the lot that I've mentioned and who are really excellent in scenes that just need plenty of good close-ups and not too much music, Molina, Cooper and a magnetic David Straitharn take up really good chunks of screen time.

The oddity here is Russell Brand. Appearing as himself, or what I can figure is him"self" after playing a similar crazy rock-and-roll type in Judd Apatow comedies, here he's kind of the Fool character, Trinculo, and it was kind of delightfully bizarre to see him here doing his thing with such gusto and humor. Maybe that was Taymor's intention, as with Mirren as Prospera in a way, to give this work that is centuries old and dealing with the aspect of Post-Colonial theory a modern uplift and change up the nature of the characters without taking too much away from their roots. But more to the point, one of the strengths of the film and that Taymor connected with is that Prospera's an artist in her own right, only with magic, and may be reckless with her 'art' but will go to the lengths that she will do to her will. An extreme example, but I have to wonder if what Taymor is doing here, as all over the place and great and not-so-great as it is, in its broad strokes its a really raw expression of her own art through this flawed ex-member of royalty.

Taymor's work is an "acquired taste" as the euphemism goes, another way of saying "go in at your own risk". The wild takes on set-pieces like the ship-crash, the trippy-hallucinogenic visions of characters, and the eccentric acting turn the Tempest into a curious delight, but you need to expect something like that. This is Shakespeare for the Modern Museum of Art group, not for stuffy intellectuals looking for Masterpiece theater. For its faults, some of them crucial, its alive and throbbing and that's good to have in this Awards season.

Johnnie To's VENGEANCE @ Film-Forward

Check out the review HERE

In short, it's a fun homage to gangster shoot-em-ups but with a sense of its own style.  Very good, though not great, work with shades of Melville and Memento.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The R.I.P. Train (#2) Irvin Kershner's EYES OF LAURA MARS

(It should be of slight interest that, somewhat unintentionally, I've managed not only this week to see two Faye Dunaway movies by way of Puzzle of a Downfall Child earlier this week and this one by way of the R.I.P. train, in each she plays a fashion model and fashion photographer respectively, almost maturing into one role from the other- though the former performance is far greater in a scope of artistic integrity the latter- and with the 1970's mood and style changing around her as well.  But I digress, on to the movie itself).

Looks closer...
The plot of Eyes of Laura Mars could have made a cracking good thriller- nay perhaps a masterpiece- for a director like Dario Argento, or especially Brian De Palma, who at this same period had two other whacked-out-entertaining psychic thrillers with Carrie and The Fury.   However the credit (or for some might be blame) for this project comes from John Carpenter, who sold his spec script most likely as a way to get funding for Halloween.  And indeed one could note that when it comes time for the killing scenes they're staged (or if nothing else probably written) the same as the opening killing scene in Halloween.  This isn't to really note if the killing scenes are particularly great, or if they're bad.  They're shot with a high level of competency, maybe close to tastefulness compared to a blood-hound like Argento, all from a first-person POV.  They are some of the highlights of the movie though, if that's squarely your thing.

But I've gotten ahead of myself, what about the plot?  A fashion photographer (Dunaway) of the film's title is one of those oppressively "hyped" photo-Goddesses who make photos staged like ridiculous horror stills unto themselves where models are being killed off and sometimes men as well.  They're a big hit (Andy Warhol, sadly, wasn't available for comment on screen), though they don't quite impress some of the press, nor a police detective played by Tommy Lee Jones who uses terms like "hype" and "rip-off" for the style of the photos.  And yet we learn quickly that this style is more than personal for Laura; it's as if the vision of the shot comes totally into focus in a flash.  And, suddenly one night, it's more than a flash: she sees with an unknown and untapped psychic energy the killings happen with her own eyes as the killer him/herself sees them in real-time!  Spooky.  And hard to write out in a statement for the police.

Soon she's given bodyguard detail, in some large part from Jones himself, and there are a couple of suspects in the midst: Raul Julia as Laura's drunk louse of an ex-husband who sneaks up like a coiled snake in the night in her apartment and begs her to take him back, or the driver/sorta-bodyguard played by Brad Douriff, who has a thick beard, thick NYC accent and a kinda thick rap-sheet, but he swears, Miss Mars, he's clean now, he's all good (OR IS HE?!)  The guessing game of a whodunit is not quite as fascinating for Carpenter and his co-writer as it is about the nature of this unwanted talent of Laura's.  They take it on, or Kershner by proxy of being the director of the thing, the aspect of the photograph and the vision of things as a heavy-duty aspect.

A gaze can be a very powerful thing.  Hitchcock was notorious for it (no pun intended), and many horror films take on a first-person point of view during a killing scene to heighten that tension (mentioning De Palma again, think back to the opening scene/shots of Blow Out for a spot-on satire of such a slasher-style POV).  But it's significant that a fashion photographer gets these visions, and then can't get them out of her head as she tries to go back to work.  How does she have this psychic connection?  Who is it with?  It has to be someone she knows, right, or is it a total stranger?  The hows only come to play later, which I'll get to in a moment, but what I was absorbed by was the suspense ratcheted up from this captivating, truly cinematic premise.  At one point Laura has to try and explain what this 'seeing' is like, and has a camcorder (late 70's style, oh yeah), and points it in a room for Tommy Lee Jones to see, and he realizes it: hey, that's me, and that's the following technique.  Not entirely too all-self-knowing meta, but not disregarding the aspect of watching, taking it in, being voyeurs.  That the killings are all eye-shots is an irony not lost on any of us.

For Laura, this is a double-edged sword; I wonder what will happen to her after the story of the film ends and the visions possibly stop with (spoiler) the end of the killer (I make such a minute detail of the 'spoiler' here as, really, I'm not revealing who the killer is, but you can bet your panties that in these movies, a killer always gets his killing right back at him/her).  That's a question that the filmmakers don't quite bother to answer.  Sadly in Kershner's quotes on IMDb he stated that he felt the film didn't have the same meaning as others he made since the producers were the ones mostly calling the shots (sad, though it's what you get with Jon "Spiders in Superman" Peters).  This might be fair on his end as it is, even compared to the rest of his body of work save for his glaring masterpiece of an exception, pretty conventional studio fare, at least relatively to stuff going on at the time.

But there should be credit where it's due, either on the director's end of the screenwriter's, or maybe some of the actors like Jones and Douriff, conventions are given a little extra 'umph' by attention to the realism, in the face of the dark fantasy of psychic-visions-of-killings-of-eyes, and there's sometimes a good urgency and dramatic take on scenes, with Kershner's love of close-ups that fill up the frame, and Michael Kahn's cleverly instinctual editing.  It lacked the feverish style that De Palma or Argento would have heaped on the material, yet its charming (yes charming) in smaller scenes that bring out the humanity, both the bright (a birthday party for one of Laura's best colleagues and confidants) and the low (limo scenes with Douriff that get contentious). And when action and chases and suspense occur, save perhaps for part of the ending, it's always with an enjoyable professional attitude to staging, composition, timing in the cuts and the actors reactions to things.  It's a solid thriller that is mostly unpretentious, if as with many of these urban thrillers, a little unbelievable with the quick pairing of the leads romantically.

And that brings me to the ending.  I can't spoil it, mostly as I'd prefer not to, but I can note this much: half of the ending, in retrospect, is pretty fucking stupid.  To call it a twist might not be entirely correct, more like a reveal that shouldn't be of any surprise to Hitchcock-knock-offs out there.  It's mostly in the delivery of the actor and how rapidly something has changed in the actor that makes it kind of weird... and yet the very last minutes of the film, where the killer asks the poor victim Laura to do a favor with a gun, it reaches a tragic proportion, perhaps not unlike the very end of The Fly in an odd way.  Mercy killings aren't usually found in these thrillers- let's call it an American Giallo perhaps? - and it's refreshing to have a moment where there is humanity in the situation, an understanding of the grim nature of what life and death has been brought to.

For the late and much beloved Kershner, it's a, not least of which by himself, underrated little treat, and also a cool little thriller from Carpenter just as he was getting into the peak of his powers as a writer.  Nothing too spectacular, but I'm sure better than some bullshit like The Eye with Jessica Alba.  Oh, and one last thing, Dunaway is very good, though mostly manageable for what's required in the plot.  When it comes to the fashion world, her status as a model (Puzzle) as opposed to photographer (here) is preferred.  Except for this pose:

Strike a pose!

David O. Russell's THE FIGHTER

"How you like me now?" (song from opening of the movie)

Most people will note that The Fighter, based on the real-life up-from-the-bottom story of "Irish" Mickey ward, the boxer who had some spectacular fights, has a resemblance to Rocky. That film, too, had an underdog who came up out of nothing to if nothing else be a contender.  This film has that, but I couldn't help but also think of The Wrestler (in some part due to Darren Aronofsky, that film's director, also executive producer here and the original director for The Fighter). Really just in its tone perhaps; this has a similar dark and depressing story to tell, and David O. Russell really harnesses on the similarity to The Wrestler, of it being as much about family in the scope of the glory of the sport one is in, while finding his own voice in the material. It's been a while since Russell has had a full on dramedy of this sort (maybe his first film, Spanking the Monkey, had a similar aspect of the dire strait between sons and mothers). Thankfully, he's hit his stride here in a big way.

Maybe also, like the Wrestler, one of Russell's wisest achievements is to let it be more of his actors' movie than anything else. This is always a good choice when one has good players to work with, and here
there is one good one (Mark Wahlberg), one better one (Amy Adams), one who astonishes in a surprising "who is she? no way!" kind of performance (Melissa Leo), and one who tops them all (Christian Bale).  In this story Mickey Ward is the underdog almost by default of the family hierarchy, at least on the surface: his brother, Dick Eklund (Bale) is the guy who was a huge-big-time boxer - he knocked out Sugar Ray Leonard as we're told many times by his family as a point of pride with them and the town they live in, Lowell, Mass - and yet he's now a crackhead, full-time, with some time given to training his brother.  Mickey is fine with the  training, even with his mother/sisters mob-like control over his career. That is until he is offered another shot, a big one, and actual training.

Some of the Rocky comparisons may be a little more obvious in some spots. The love interest is certainly there as one point, although I found Amy Adams' Charlene a tougher 'broad' (so to speak) than someone
like Adrian; different levels of strength, perhaps, though one can stand up to the Ward clan and one probably couldn't. That side of the story, matter of fact a lot of the story, is probably conventional to a degree. The protagonist has to overcome odds that seem insurmountable.  The Fighter is distinguished by the flavor of Russell's direction of the actors, the flavor of the low-rent town of Lowell, and how he very likely, as he had in previous projects, infused improvisation into the material. The actors feel very real and raw even under some scenes and circumstances that could have been out of a B- movie. There's not one character that isn't given a level of depth and heart and pain and agony to work with, even a minor character like Mickey's father played by Jack McGee.

Not Jack McGhee.  More like "Um... Nice lady!"
I can't say what will appeal to audiences, either looking for a mainstream drama (Rocky 1) or something a little more "art-house" like something of The Wrestler. For myself it was a fusing of Russell's best
talents at giving actors room to breathe, letting them own the characters completely and wholly (though with Bale is there any other way?) and for his camera to be part of that action. I liked how he would let things track along with characters, or to stay put to heighten the drama like when characters in various locations are watching the documentary that airs on TV - not about Dickie's comeback but about crack-heads in America. It may also seem deceptive with the direction, that it's not the in-your-face style of Three Kings or I Heart  Huckabees. Maybe Russell is taking a cue from Ward himself, the 'Rope- a-Dope' method.

But however good the direction is (and save for some of the shots in the boxing scenes, almost but not quite ruined by the switch to HD from film just for these scenes, it is), it's the actors' movie all through.  And really, I can't go through talking about The Fighter without mentioning Bale. This time Bale is back to the skeleton-man figure he's dropped to when he made The Machinist and again to a slightly lessor extent for Rescue Dawn (and, once again, he'll gain it all back for Batman, but I digress). It's the kind of performance that would be dubbed "Oscar bait" by some laymans, and he might even win. He's completely immersed in a character who is by turns charming, funny, crazy, nasty, stupid, sympathetic, and awful. I never doubted him for a second that he could be as bad as he was, or later that he could possibly redeem himself. And yet Bale brings to the character a frightening sense of doubt that is palpable: this guy could crack any moment, any second, even when he is sober. Or he could achieve what is possible. He's the tragic figure that practically steals the show.

But less not forget Melissa Leo, also disappearing into this tyrannical mother figure who is the type to kill souls with the one statement: "I'm his MOTHER!" I wish I would say more kinder things about Wahlberg, but he's basically good at just being.. well, maybe himself, I'm not sure. Maybe Ward was like this, however unlike the other players I didn't see him quite transform himself past other dramatic parts he's done save for the excess body muscle. He's still a commanding figure, just not quite like the rest of the supporting cast. Among dramatic ensembles this year it is one of the finest and most emotionally touching. It's more of a story of family than boxing, and the ties that bind and break, and in that sense it's amazing. If you're going just for the blows  you might not quite get what you expected. Hopefully that's a good thing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The R.I.P. Train (#1) Claude Chabrol's INSPECTOR BELLAMY

(This is the first of a trio of films I'll be looking at this week by, well, directors who have left us recently; while I did Chabrol already in previous posts, I thought it might be fitting to do one last RIP tribute as this was his last theatrical-completed film.  Other directors in this series will be Irvin Kershner and Mario Monicelli)

Inspector Bellamy is on vacation.  Why shouldn't he be?  He's earned it, being on the force for so many years.  He spends his time resting and doing odd things around the house - that is, trying to distract himself from an odd presence in a thin man who stalks his house and steps on his flowers.  For shame!  Paul Bellamy calls up this man who stopped by to speak to him and leaves a stern message.  This man calls up Bellamy at midnight- such an odd hour but what the hell- to meet with him.  This man, a guy with big, nervous and possibly frightened eyes, names himself Emile Leullet, and he thinks he may have killed someone.  Thinks being the operative word as he's not quite sure.  Bellamy, not having a lot better to do, takes on the case informally, interviewing his girlfriend, and other people like a dance instructor who might know what's going on.

As it turns out Leullet is not just one guy, he's two, or three.  Claude Chabrol does a playful Hitchcok trick (Hitchcock and Chabrol, no way) where Leulett is played by the same actor, Jacques Gamblin, and also appears as Noel Gentil, a businessman, and a homeless guy, who may be the one that Leulett killed.  Whether he did or didn't is a guessing game Chabrol toys with and curiously keeps his main character equally engaged and annoyed by.  Would he rather focus on this case while on holiday when his (to him and maybe to us) sexy wife is at home?  But then again, what about his brother, Francoise?

The brother part of the story, or who might be a step-brother, is what adds the interesting dimension to Inspector Bellamy.  With just the crime-plot in the story it might just be a fun but diverting and inconsequential little thriller that is so much a slow-burner that Andy Warhol might have filmed the candle.  But it's the introduction, relatively early on in the story, of this brother that suddenly makes the film matter more than it did before.  Or, rather, it becomes a more interesting film the more one thinks about the duality of the situation.  Bellamy is caught in the middle of two men who are just there: his brother Francoise, a louse and a drunk and usually a pretty miserable guy who is 'in-between' jobs and is amusing 20% of the time and the other 80 percent Paul can't help but want to smash his face in.  And then there's Leulett, or Noel or Denis Leprince or whoever he is.  Did he kill this person?  Does it matter?  Maybe Paul, as he even notes, has a liking for murderers, or just their style.

Chabrol is in no rush with his story, which takes some detours here and there with dinner talk and trips to the hardware store and conversations with a female employee who is young enough to be Paul's daughter.  This is just fine if you can get into the rhythm he's telling.  For some (like a gentleman sitting next to me in the theater and insane to me due to the $13 ticket price) it might be sleep-inducing.  But Chabrol does have more on his mind here than the usual police procedural or provincial murder mystery with twists in the story and the 'show-don't-tell' aspects where we see Leulett in "action".  Those scenes, and seeing Depardieu in this role, is fun.  It's when we get this personal dimension, of this brother who for all rights should be like a bad case of fleas and yet has some kind of sympathy to him, that the film takes on another light.

Chabrol is neither over the top nor too subtle.  When he has a scene like when Paul has a moment of unlikely jealousy thinking that perhaps his wife has slept with his brother, it's presented in a straightforward dramatic style- probably just one shot in the bedroom for the confrontation- and in the resolution it's kind of peaceful.  Again, this duality for Paul, of a man in his life who is very frank and dangerous in his honesty, and the other who is a total fake and possibly proud of it (though he does snap back to reality when he hears of his girlfriend sleeping with another Inspector!), is what counts.  I liked seeing how Depardieu made his character smarter than others around him, but humble and with some humility to him.  He's not a Sherlock Holmes, he's just a guy trying to put together a book-shelf and have some sex with his wife, what's wrong with that.  That the actor playing his brother as well (I forget his name at the moment) is as good, if two-dimensional, in his role brings out the best out of the film's star.

This was the director's 50th film, and it feels every bit like a Chabrol film, all the way down to its sad climax (and what a wonderful quote to end a movie, and unintentionally a career: "... there is always another story, there is more than meets the eye."), and his very reasonable and/or crazy cast of characters.  It's a story without frills, as one would hope an old man would make, though perhaps a bit too long in some spots (there was a moment I thought the story would naturally end, and it didn't, though it ended up in a special place), and the camera and editing are loose and relaxed.  

This doesn't mean Inspector Bellamy is meant to be too slow, or not-involve its viewers.  It's the quiet work of a master confident completely in what he's doing, be it a flash to a dance scene drowning in darkness and slivers of light, or having fun with little surprises.  One such one, as a final note, is when the Leullet character is on trial, and his attorney breaks out into song (he's the only one, no music, just his voice) to explain his defense.  I've never seen that in a movie.  Glad there's one more curve-ball to throw, and a hilarious one at that.


Puzzle of a Downfall Child tells the story of Lou Andreas Sand.  Not quite the name one would think of immediately for a fashion model, certainly not one as conventionally (but still ravishingly) beautiful Faye Dunaway in the role.  She tells her own particular story, or how it's fragmented like a puzzle, to her former best-photographer and once-almost-love Aaron Reinhardt.  This is when she has gone through it all, and looks a little more than weathered and tired, and perhaps doesn't have all of her marbles together in the same bag.

She started at the bottom, being given the photo-job of, say, holding an eagle on her arm and posing nervously only for the eagle to make the front cover of the magazine.  She started to gain attention for just being... well, a model, with her own set taste for make-up and hair, and for being the 'it' girl of the moment.  She also was emotionally either a little too cold or distant, or a basket case.  There's a moment between herself and Aaron when they're younger and in the midst of their collaboration that he asks here point blank if she finds him attractive.  "Why do you ask me if I love you?" "No, I said if you find me attractive." This leads to some tears, on her end, but then in another moment later she's just fine.

Oh, the mind-set of a model, always on the edge of "must be BEAUTIFUL" and yet without any real friends, or at least those she can really hang on to.  Lou finally has an affair with her long-adoring photographer, and Schatzberg and writer Carole Eastman make it into a kind of theatrical production that Lou stages; she instructs him in a car that she must approach her in a bar, not use his name, then to go to a motel, and do it all just right.  The story jumps usually back and forth in time, but here the cuts and the time fragmentation gets more condensed than in any other point in the film (according to Schatzberg this was his doing as it wasn't quite written that way in the script).  In her own sometimes quiet way, Lou is a heavy-duty seductress...

That is when her past demons don't come to light.  Schatzberg means to give us, in the style of Ingmar Bergman, a full character portrait of this person, a woman who may not really even know herself very well.  When we see Lou as a 15 year-old - her memory of her first "time" with an older man, as he pulls over the side in his car driving along as she walks until she gets in - she is played by Faye Dunaway.  I don't think she was used in this scene because she looks 15, since she doesn't.  It's apart of the projection, her way of putting herself back in time, and then when it comes time to be intimate or have something emotional, that sliver of a strange and harsh memory comes rushing back.  And then later, when what every model fears, getting a little too old or just not quite the "new thing" like the newer models coming in, the real madness- the crying phone calls, the "trips" to the insane asylum- come right back.

This was Jerry Schatzberg's first film, an underrated director who would go on to make the desolate character studies Panic in Needle Park and Scarecrow, both with Al Pacino.  He said at a Q&A for the film that I went to that he wasn't so much worried about the cinematographic aspect of the picture- he'd been a photographer for 20 some-odd years- but that he had never directed actors, the kind of movement they required.  Having Bergman as an inspiration helps, but having good actors is all the better.  Somehow Schatzberg, perhaps through the nature of the scripts he works with having emotionally raw characters who have inner-lives that have some really dark contours that just have to be explored (it is the 70's after all), can get actors to bring out the best in them.

Certainly for Faye Dunaway it's a career highpoint.  For Lou, this is a person who should be hard to peg down: she's not a total nutcase, just enough to be a New York neurotic; I could see her being a supporting character in a Woody Allen movie.  Her problems are half self-created and half from this world she's in.  Why do it to herself, this modeling world?  Being someone else, perhaps, or the nature of performance and escaping in a role in front of the camera.

But what makes Dunaway's performance so important and special is to get past some of the potentially hazardous conventions and get to the heart of the matter: what makes her tick, why does she harp on the past, why, when she's older and giving her quasi-interview with Aaron is she so tangential in conversation (this aspect takes on a thing in the film, by the way, with an audio recording of her playing maracas over walking around a destroyed church building as a kid)?  But most harrowing is that she can make Lou so captivating when she's just trying to find words, or having an over-long/pleasant conversation with an attractive male model in the dressing room.  If she can make the small moments matter, then the big power-house scenes when she's in the mental hospital are just easy as pie.

Puzzle of a Downfall Child is one of those "I kinda feel sorry for this movie" kind of movies due to its lackluster availability.  This is a film that one can only see in special screenings- at least until next year when its purportedly to be released on DVD... in France only - and usually with the director present.  But if you can find it it's a minor gem of psychological depth and creativity with non-linear storytelling.  Schatzberg doesn't want to make it too easy of a portrait, even if we think we might have seen this in more recent years (Gia anyone?)  Because it's not so straightforward a story, we have to pick up some of the pieces of the story for ourselves, about her relationships (an underused but fun to watch Roy Scheider as her boyfriend Mark), about her up-and-down career, and her own self-made mania.  I could almost imagine Lou having a moment like Derek Zoolander does when he's having an existential crisis and looking at a puddle.  "Who am I?" he asks.  His reflection: "I don't know."