Introducing 'Conversations': The film 'Down in the Valley' | Rock Candy

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Introducing 'Conversations': The film 'Down in the Valley'

Posted on Thu, Jul 20, 2006 at 1:24 PM

click to enlarge unknown.jpg

We're starting a new Little Rocking blog feature we're calling "Conversations." It will be just that, conversations about movies, theater and TV with Times reviewers and other local "experts," such as Blake Rutherford, who is not only in a movie club with me but is the driving force behind Movies in the Park, and he also loves films, especially the ones that come to Market Street Cinema. We'll also include Times reporter and movie critic David Koon on these conversations, and other reviewers we use, and we hope to include KATV's Renee Shapiro and Market Street's Matt Smith in the future.

But, the important thing is, YOU'RE INVITED to participate as well, either through the comments on the blog entries, or by telling me or emailing me that you'd like to join in on the round table, whether we're discussing a new movie or a TV show like "Entourage." Your participation is welcome.

For our first "Conversations," Blake and I will discuss the movie "Down in the Valley." Bad news is, today and tonight will be the last chances to see "Down in the Valley" at Market Street, as it's here two weeks and moving on. But, it will certainly be available soon enough on DVD through Netflix or the usual rental outlet.

This very good film has a sterling cast of Edward Norton and Evan Rachel Wood (in the photo above), David Morse, and Rory Culkin. For a synopsis, Morse plays Wade, a California correction officer who is step-father to Tobe, or October (Wood), and Lonnie (Culkin). Wade is having a hard time dealing with the pretty Tobe's spirited independence, while Lonnie is quiet and meek, seemingly unsure of himself and easier for Wade to hold back. When Tobe and her friends head for a day at the beach, they meet Harlan (Norton), who's working as a gas-station attendant. Tobe seems attracted to danger, and sparks immediately fly between Tobe and Harlan, and she invites him to join her friends -- who call him a hick -- and go to the beach. He's willing even to give up his job to do so. Their relationship grows to scorching hot almost immediately, and Wade tries to put an end to it, ordering Tobe not to see Harlan. Wade already senses that the drifter-like Harlan may have a screw loose,

Harlan not only connects with Tobe, he also is able to draw Lonnie out, and he helps both gain a better realization of their station in life, while he doesn't seem to have a firm grasp on reality about his. He dresses in cowboy hat and rancher duds, and seems lost in an old Hollywood like Western, professing to be a ranch hand looking for work. He has a way with horses and guns that give him credibility. Wade has a growing distrust of Harlan, and with Tobe's attraction to him, and Lonnie's building believe in Harlan, everything's building to a head. Fair warning: Spoilers are included in "Conversations."

More "Conversations" after the jump ...

Jim: I thought the film was fascinating. Ed Norton is amazing. That was some dang good gunslinging. He does insane pretty well, too, in every film that calls for it, to varying degrees. I heard that you went and that it messed you up a bit, the sudden violence, or at least that’s how it was described to me.
Blake: I went on Sunday and it stayed with me for a few days. I thought Ed Norton was outstanding and Evan Rachel Wood gets better with every film she makes. Did you ever see her in “Thirteen”?  I thought the entire dynamic between David Morse (who was also first rate); Rory Culkin (who was very good in his debut film "You Can Count on Me" with the brilliant Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney) and Wood was haunting. 
I kept waiting for Norton to reprise his "Primal Fear" role (and Oscar nom role, it was) and turn psychotic. It sure happened. Out of nowhere violence is disturbing, though. 
And then when he came back for the brother and they went away. The scene in the dark when the torch goes out . . . whew.
Jim: I wonder if I would have enjoyed the movie even better, or seen it the way you describe in the last two sentences, differently had I seen it on the big screen instead of with a reviewer's screener watching it on a 3x6 DVD player? I liked it a lot, but it didn’t shake me up like you describe.
I did wonder about these things, though: Why would Harlan pull the gun on Tobe anyway, that was a tad rash; where was the mass of California state police, etc., etc. on the scene at the end; I mean, you’re not going to walk away with some kid, out in the wild, and not have Entertainment Tonight, the Today Show, evening news, etc. on it and every police force in the valley already on it in minutes, are you?
Blake: I think you always get a different feeling from seeing a movie on the big screen. That, and you how Market Street is, pitch black. You feel like you're the only one in the theater.  I got there a bit late, so the lights were off. I ended up sitting on the front row, which in this theatre, was almost perfect seating. I was right there. No one moved throughout the entire film. It made it all-the-more eerie. 
Jim: The scene where Harlan and Lonnie ride in on horseback in the dead of night into what seems like a Western ghost town, and the next morning you realize it's a TV or movie set. Was that supposed to be a pseudo “Deadwood” being filmed? I was fascinated the way Norton played that scene, like he was lost in time in the old West, with the actors in Western clothes all around him. I thought the whole Western idea was well done. The wild thing is that Norton to me never really reached "Primal Fear" crazy as much as it was just matter of fact, pull out the gun and fire.
Blake: I assumed so [about "Deadwood"].  I agree that the Western idea was incorporated well into the film. But I also wanted to know why he adopted the "cowboy" persona?  There was not a lot of background, other than he'd spent a year in jail. 
Jim: Evan Rachel Wood is adorable. I saw "Thirteen," but in this she is just downright sexy, though I know I'm just a dirty ol' man. That had to be fun for Norton getting to film a few of those scenes with her. I kept wanting to scream at Rory Culkin to get a haircut or pull the hair back and get it out of your face. I think I wrote about "You Can Count on Me" that he seemed like he’d be the best of the Culkins. He was great, all of the actors were great. The cinematography was great, those shots showing the 14 lanes of highway through what your mind knows was just a wild West open plain a century ago -- it was just all well thought out and presented.
Blake: We're going to see Evan Rachel Wood for years to come. She's brilliant. She may very well be the female Ed Norton of her generation. She's about to appear in the upcoming "Running with Scissors" which a lot of bloggers seem to think will finally get Annette Bening an Oscar (it's an all-star cast). She follows that up with "Across The Universe," directed by Julie Taymor, who last directed Salma Hayek to an Oscar nom in "Frida." She's filming "The King of California" now alongside Michael Douglas. She's in pre-production on "The Mermaids are Singing" with Jessica Lange, Neve Campbell and Dougray Scott directed by Geisha scribe Robin Swicord.
Cinematography was outstanding.  There were blends of Michael Mann, Terence Malick and even Rober Redford's eye in different scenes.
My review would have been very favorable. The film, however, disturbed me. 


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