Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Movie: Owning Mahowny (2003)

There’s such a glut of independent movies that a few are bound to fall through the cracks. If they don’t hit, they disappear quickly, even from film-friendly markets like Seattle. Every once in a while I catch up with one that I wish I’d seen on the big screen. Not because its look demands it, but because I would have liked to have added a few more bucks to the till.

Herewith, I apologize to OWNING MAHOWNY. I should have been there for you, man.

Richard Kwietniowski made one of the great indies of the ‘90s in LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND. Few things are funnier than hearing John Hurt utter the deathless words ‘Hotpants College 2.’ And the subject matter of his follow-up film is fascinating. Dan Mahowny was a meek Toronto bank clerk who embezzled millions of dollars to feed his gambling habit. (Although it is Canadian money, so you have to factor in the exchange rate.)

The movie plays like the blackest comedy, because it’s set long after the point when most addiction movies end. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Mahowny as someone incapable of feeling highs or lows. At the casino where he blows most of ‘his’ money, he’s dubbed the Iceman. In the words of the Mephistophelean manager (Hurt), he’s a purist who only cares about the next hand.

Mahowny gets away with stealing money because he appears so blandly competent. Such a recessive smudge of a man can tell any lie to auditors and superiors and be believed. The casting of Hoffman is an uncanny choice. He’s extraordinary here, as is Hurt and Maury Chaykin as Mahowny’s oddly solicitous bookie.

As recently as fifteen years ago, a filmmaker like Kwietniowski would have been swept up into the arms of the studio system. Now directors are largely left to their own devices. It was six years between films for Kwietniowski. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait six more. Even if we do, I promise to show up next time.

TV: On The Air With Ryan Seacrest

Without a sparring partner, Seacrest is the Oakland of talk show hosts: there’s no there there. He needs Simon Cowell, or the twenty-something version of Kelly Ripa. Maybe he should just bring back Dunkleman.

He referred to VAN HELSING as ‘the new monster drama.’ So if you spend more than $75 million it’s no longer a horror movie?

Miscellaneous: Links

A look at science in the movies and the remarkable true story of screen siren Hedy Lamarr. January magazine has a great, long interview with Lawrence Block. And Major League Baseball and Sony Pictures finally go too far. The press release is a little coy, so I'll spell it out. ‘On-field ... signage’ means that first, second and third base as well as the on-deck circle will feature the Spiderman logo.

We're through the looking glass here, people.