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August 25, 2011

Movies You Missed 1: Road to Nowhere

Road-to-nowhere There are many great things about living in Vermont, but movies aren't always one of them.

Sure, we've got great theaters — the Roxy, Palace, Savoy and Catamount Arts. But I can't tell you how many times people have asked me something like "When is The Messenger/Blue Valentine/Attack the Block coming to Burlington?" And the answer is: "It hasn't yet." Or, "it did and you missed it."

If you happen to be interested in a movie that's weird or depressing or subtitled or otherwise box-office poison, you may have to wait for the DVD. Or the download, or whatever. And if you're like me, by the time it's available, you've forgotten about it.

That's why I keep going back to the New Releases section of Burlington's Waterfront Video. It's a gallery of the movies I missed. Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void? Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins? Rutger Hauer as Hobo With a Shotgun? They're all there.

Sure, Netflix has its uses, but there's nothing like browsing a good selection. Beyond Burlington, Montpelier's Downstairs Video and Stowe Video (I'm told) also still buy lots of new DVDs.

And I want to draw attention to those DVDs, just like we do to new theatrical releases when we review them in the paper. That's why I asked Seth Jarvis, the buyer at Waterfront, to pick out a new DVD release each week for me to review on this blog.

An assignment, if you will — because, left to my own devices, I'd probably just rent a bunch of movies I'm sure to like. And that's boring.

As blog subjects go, movies may be less compelling than mayoral malfeasance, and less mouthwatering than homemade sausages. But here's a DVD update from Vermont, where the arthouse is our house.

MYM Week 1: Road to Nowhere

What You Missed:

The first feature film in 21 years from 79-year-old director Monte Hellman, famous (to cinephiles, anyway) for his 1971 film Two-Lane Blacktop, which is about car racing, sort of. (Think Samuel Beckett's version of The Fast and the Furious, with great footage of Route 66 back in the day.)

According to this interview, Hellman shot Road to Nowhere on a shoestring budget with a Canon 5D digital camera. Despite the title, it is not about car racing. It's about filmmaking.

A young hot-shot director (Tygh Runyon, pictured above) is making a movie based on the story of a mysterious theft and double suicide that occurred in North Carolina, as chronicled by a blogger (Dominique Swain). For his leading lady, he chooses an obscure actress (Shannyn Sossamon) who happens to look exactly like the story's central figure, a shadowy young woman named Velma Durand. He also falls in love with her. Big mistake.

Why You Missed It:

It's not hard to see why Road to Nowhere never reached our local screens. First, its pace is leisurely, featuring long (and beautifully photographed) takes of Sossamon dressing or drying her nails. Second, as a story, it lives up to its title.

Imagine Hitchcock's Vertigo told as a series of fragments, out of chronological order, without an end reveal. Or Mulholland Drive without the star-making performance from Naomi Watts. Even with big names in the lead roles, this would not have spelled box-office success.

Should You Keep Missing It?

I've noticed that in the world of hard-core movie lovers, there are two basic kinds: story people and image people.

I am a story person. So I couldn't help noticing that Road to Nowhere has a script full of stilted dialogue ("She's so bright she'll blind you!" says the director of his actress) delivered by a bunch of (mostly) stilted actors. Sossamon (pictured below) is gorgeous, but she failed to become a star after A Knight's Tale for a reason. Watching the director-within-a-film swoon over her awkward takes is painful. (Did Hellman intend that? It's possible, but I don't think so.)

Road-to-nowhere-2At the same time, I am enough of an image person to swoon over the beauty of Road to Nowhere itself. Shot in North Carolina, Europe and Hellman's own house in L.A., the film is a series of carefully composed, painterly tableaux that may stay in your mind long after its "story" has been forgotten.

People keep talking about the magic of DSLR cameras, and how they achieve a film look in a digital medium, but this is the first time my untrained eye has seen what the fuss is about. Hellman captures a phenomenal play of color and light and shadows. If I'd watched with the sound off, I might think this was a masterpiece.

In that AV Club interview, Hellman says that screenwriter Steven Gaydos "dreamt a major part of it, the movie-within-the-movie." It shows — more than even David Lynch's work, this movie resembles a dream. As such, Road to Nowhere has the power to mesmerize you even as it bores you. Because dreams — particularly someone else's dreams — aren't always that interesting.

Verdict: For cinephiles, something to savor and/or argue about for hours afterward. For a casual Saturday night rental, go for something more linear.

More DVD releases this week that you may have missed:

  • Win Win (Paul Giamatti mentors a wrestler)
  • The Beaver (Mel Gibson talks to a puppet)
  • Troll Hunter (Norwegians with vidcam seek trolls)
  • NEDs (Scottish kid becomes a gang member)
  • Secret Sunshine (Korean widow converts to Christianity)
  • POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock does product placement)
  • Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff (doc explores work of legendary cinematographer)
  • David Holzman's Diary (mockumentary from 1967 anticipates YouTube)

"Sossamon (pictured below) is gorgeous, but she failed to become a star after A Knight's Tale for a reason."

Ouch, usually critics try to avoid fallacies like this one. Because Sossamon didn't become a household name this implies it was because is a bad actress and for no other reason? Are all good actors known by the mainstream?

Do get me wrong you're entitled to your opinion I just hate to see a fallacy in movie review is all.

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