Sunday, 17 January 2010

Man in the Chair (2007)

It's a no-brainer to guess that just about any movie about filming and film-buffs will find my soft-spot, even if the movie in question is far from perfect. This was certainly the case with the above film from writer-director Michael Schroeder whose filmography is a little underwhelming and who has not made a completely winning movie here. He has, however, given us a masterly performance from 80-year old Christopher Plummer, as a curmudgeonly and somewhat boozed ex-movie lighting man, now residing in a charitable industry home for old and penurious movie folk.

The hero of the tale is 20-year old Michael Angarano playing younger than his age as a semi-delinquent high school student, obsessed with old films, and eager to make his own movie in the attempt to win a contest offering a movie-school scholarship. He first comes across Plummer in a nearly empty repertory cinema where the latter is screaming at the on-screen Orson Welles in "Touch of Evil", criticising his mumbly acting style and having a few choice words as well about a Mexican Charleston Heston in a role where he is actually wearing trousers! It turns out that Plummer has worked with many of the greats during his better years and Angarano persists in trying to pick his brain and to get help with his own would-be project. Plummer dismisses the young upstart as a hopeless case until he realises that Angarano could become his new source of obtaining his forbidden cigars and his important Wild Turkey.

Plummer introduces the lad to moneyman Robert Wagner, a spritely 77-year old (and not terribly convincing here) and to a former Oscar-winning screenwriter, played by M. Emmet Walsh (a mere 72 years, but looking older and more confused than either of the other two veteran players). He also enlists the skills of his fellow residents (a motley selection of industry types) at the Movie Home to contribute their no-longer appreciated knowledge of cinematography, editing, costume design, and so on. This allows Angarano to succeed in completing his dream project which sets out to expose the failings of senior care. Unfortunately not all of the players survive the scenario and the youngster does not win the contest, but the life-lessons he has acquired, together with new technical skills, have made him a better person.

Although Plummer and Walsh give remarkable performances, I am less enamoured of young Mr. Angarano whom I first encountered in the Jackie Chan-Jet Li funfest "The Forbidden Kingdom" (2008) and whom I thought added very little to the party there. While this film is the earlier one, it has not altered my perception of him and I somehow doubt that he will make more impression upon me in the future. Enough to say that he was adequate for the role here, which could have been played by any puppyish young man. The biggest fault of the film however was the director's artsy crafty fast-motion shooting style which, each time he chose to deploy it, detracted from what was an involving story. This created a strange situation where I found myself moved by certain scenes and then totally alienated from the action, having to pick myself up, dust myself down, and start all over again.
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