Jesse Peretz's follow-up to the painfully mediocre but wonderfully soundtracked First Love, Last Rites sounds like something George Costanza and his buddy Jerry might pitch to NBC after frantically coming up with the idea during the ride to 30 Rock. While nobody is court-ordered to become somebody else's butler, The Château (which screens Saturday, March 8, at the Dryden Theatre) does feature one chief manservant and his small staff, whose lives are turned upside-down when two very odd American gentlemen become their new bosses. And like a proposed Costanza production, nothing really happens in the film, but that doesn't stop it from being pretty darn entertaining.
The Americans are brothers, and they're an extremely unlikely pair of siblings at that, as one is white and the other is black. Graham Granville (Paul Rudd) is a nebbishy pseudo-intellectual from Lawrence, Kansas. Sibling Allen (Romany Malco) sells "dick products" online from his Los Angeles home. He acts like he was raised in the 'hood, despite the fact he was adopted by what we can only assume was an upper-middle-class family.
The Château takes place over one week, and as it opens, Graham and Rex (the name Allen insists on being called) have just learned they've inherited a French estate from a dead uncle they didn't even know they had. Upon arriving at their new digs in Pithiviers, the boys have communication problems with the château's staff (highlighted by Graham's hilarious attempts at speaking en Français, which is all spelled out with subtitles). They eventually discover the manor is in utter disrepair and buried in mounds of debt, and realize they'll need to sell the place before it collapses and is rendered worthless.
This, of course, doesn't go over too well with the staff, even after Graham and Rex promise to only accept offers from potential buyers who agree to keep the butler (Didier Flamand) and crew. As if that wasn't stressful enough, the brothers start to compete for the affections of a young maid (Sylvie Testud). Mostly, though, The Château is about the Jarmuschian communication difficulties between the characters, whether it's between English and French speakers, black and white, man and woman, clueless American buyer (Donal Logue) and slightly less clueless American seller, or even via phone between France and the United States.
It's all enough to make you think The Château was crafted by an Englishman who harbors ill feelings toward both the Americans and the French, since neither comes across too sympathetically here. The film was actually penned by Peretz, based on his own experiences traveling through Europe, though the word "penned" might be an exaggeration. Filmed with handheld digital cameras, The Château was shot over just 10 days and without much of a script, as Peretz let his talented actors improvise with a loose idea of where things were headed. The only major drawback is that the digital video is sometimes distractingly grainy after being blown up to 35mm, especially during the dark scenes (part of the château's problem is a lack of electricity, so there are plenty of scenes lit only by candles).
If I were ever hiking through the woods (heaven forbid) and came across one of Andy Goldsworthy's projects, I'd probably scream and run, assuming I'd either just missed some kind of alien landing or had the Blair Witch hot on my tail. As depicted in Thomas Riedelsheimer's documentary, Rivers and Tides (opens Friday, March 7, at the Little Theatre), Goldsworthy creates art with materials provided by the same nature that will usually destroy the work in short order. He incorporates whatever he can find --- sticks, rocks, flowers, icicles, sheep's wool --- and crafts fragile, awe-inspiring works that are often ruined like a sandcastle when the tide rolls in.
The 46-year-old Scot with perpetually filthy fingernails makes things that look like giant eggs, or birds' nests, but seems particularly obsessed with the squiggly pattern of a river --- to the point where he constantly attempts to recreate it (a la downstate's Storm King wall), like Richard Dreyfus and those delicious mashed potatoes from Close Encounters. Additionally, we hear Goldsworthy talk about searching for closeness with nature in anything from the way a river meets the ocean to the way the wind whips the snow around. It's a far cry from watching a wind-blown plastic shopping bag, but Tides would have been more effective if the film had focused more on the stunning visuals and less on the weird New Age stuff flying out of Goldsworthy's mouth.
Then again, a wacky New Age state of mind may provide the patience necessary to cope with the heartbreak of having a nearly completed sculpture collapse because of the improper placement of a single stone. You can tell Goldsworthy is slightly bothered when this occurs (and it happens several times in Tides), but the disappointment appears to be tempered by a sense of enlightenment. After all, he's making the sculpture just so it can be wrecked by wind and water. Even with this knowledge, I'd still probably be lying on my stomach and pounding the ground with my fists as I wailed about the injustice of gravity.
Just when you think Goldsworthy might by nutty enough to live outdoors in a hut or a teepee, Tides cuts to his normal-looking family and normal-looking home. And the drastic change in the noise level when Goldsworthy goes indoors helps you understand why he spends so much damn time outside.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.