By Other Voices voices@moviecitynews.com

LETTERS FROM LARRY

DEAR DAVID:
Heading up at some ungodly hour to Sundance, tomorrow morning.

Have noticed that there are three films playing at the festival this year that I’ve seen already, and I thought all three of them happen to be utterly worth seeing.

Sympathy for Delicious is the directorial debut of Mark Ruffalo from a script by the film’s star Christopher Thornton. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked with Mark and think he’s a terrific guy but that is emphatically NOT why I like this film as much as I do.)

Starting off with a convincing depiction of the homeless community in downtown LA and focusing on one particularly bitter guy (Thornton) whose poverty is compounded by his being confined to a wheelchair. We’re also introduced to a compassionate priest (played by Ruffalo) who tries to make sure the community gets fed. The story seems to be a pretty worthwhile, if familiar, piece of social realism for awhile. Then it makes a dangerous and difficult swerve you don’t see coming:

SPOILER ALERT

‘Delicious’ Dean O’Dwyer displays healing powers. He fixes people, but not himself. The priest tries to get him to channel this gift in constructive ways, but O’Dwyer harbors a passion to make rock-and-roll music—and he’s not above using this new power in manipulative ways to advance his career.

SPOILER ALERT OVER
One of the many complicated ideas this film gets at is that having a gift doesn’t necessarily make it easier for you to be a better person.

The film makes a dizzying and largely successful turn toward social commentary and religious allegory, always done with a mixture of realism and dark humor worthy of some of the most interesting movies written by Paddy Chayefsky, like Networkand Altered States.

What’s mainly amazing is how skillfully Ruffalo is able to represent rise to glory and fall from grace of this character on a tiny budget.

What’s not amazing perhaps, given Ruffalo’s background, is the uniform excellence of the cast. Thornton is restrained and persuasive in what is clearly the role of his life…Juliette Lewis is spunky and sad as the rock chick who reaches out to help him,…. Laura Linney, Ruffalo’s acting partner from the much-loved You Can Count on Me, is both funny and scary as a rapacious showbiz attorney…

But the real revelation is Orlando Bloom as a rock-and-roller with the ego to be Mick Jagger but not quite the talent. Bloom is so utterly into this part that for a long time I couldn’t recognize him. The talent that seemed exclusively limited to and defined by the Pirates of the Caribbean andLord of the Rings movies flourishes again here in this completely fresh and unexpected setting and Ruffalo deserves great credit for seeing and believing that Bloom could do this.

The first step in Mark Ruffalo’s career as a movie director, and the artistic rebirth of Orlando Bloom’s acting career could make Sympathy for Delicious one of Sundance 2010’s upbeat stories.

The other two movies that I want to very much recommend are French films I saw last year at Cannes, A Prophet and Enter the Void. (New chief Cooper’s decision to show stuff from other festivals is worth some discussion… personally, I’m for it.) More on them a bit later. We have to pack.

Larry

_______________________________________

Larry Gross is a 25 year screenwriting veteran and Winner of Sundance’s Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for his most recent release, We Don’t Live Here Anymore.

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“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes. It’s the destruction of our business. I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful. People don’t realize what goes into making a movie like that. It’s mind-blowing. It’s just insane, it’s hurting the business, it’s getting people to not see a movie. In Middle America it’s, ‘Oh, it’s a low Rotten Tomatoes score so I’m not going to go see it because it must suck.’ But that number is an aggregate and one that nobody can figure out exactly what it means, and it’s not always correct. I’ve seen some great movies with really abysmal Rotten Tomatoes scores. What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.”
~ Brett Ratner Has A Sad

“The loss of a local newspaper critic is a real loss. People who know the local audience and know the local cultural scene are very important resources. You can’t just substitute the stuff that comes in from nowhere through syndication or the wire. I think at the same time, some of the newer outlets have really beefed up and improved their coverage and made room for criticism. The real problem is in the more specialized art forms — fine arts, classical music, dance and jazz, say. There is a real slowing of critical voices, partly because those art forms have smaller audiences. Newspapers and magazines can say that doesn’t get enough traffic, so we don’t have room for that. To me, that’s especially worrisome. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, which is not to try to figure out what people are already interested in and recite that back to them, but to hopefully guide them to something that they should be interested in, connecting potential audiences with more interesting work.

“Then again, not everyone needs a critic. People have been going to movies for more than 100 years now, and probably the vast majority of those people have not read movie reviews or cared what critics thought. But there has always been an important subset that wants to know more, that wants to think about what they’ve seen and what they’re going to see, and wants someone to think along with. I think critics are important, not just as dispensers of consumer advice — though that’s certainly part of it, too — but as trusted voices and companions for people to argue with in your head when you’re going to movies or afterwards.”
~ A. O. Scott