Monday, June 13, 2011

Triskaidekaphilia: 13 Moons

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

In the early '90s, Alexandre Rockwell was an important part of the vanguard of new independent filmmakers, along with people like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. He collaborated with those two (as well as Allison Anders) on the 1995 omnibus film Four Rooms, and he won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for his 1992 film In the Soup. It seemed like he had a promising future ahead of him.

But unlike Tarantino or Rodriguez or Kevin Smith, Rockwell was never able to translate his initial acclaim into a lasting career, and he's made films only sporadically since the '90s. By 2002, he still had enough goodwill to assemble a pretty impressive cast for 13 Moons, including Steve Buscemi, Peter Dinklage, Sam Rockwell and Peter Stormare, along with both the filmmaker's ex-wife (Jennifer Beals) and his future wife (Karyn Parsons). There isn't anything impressive about 13 Moons beyond the casting, though, and even the many capable actors in the ensemble turn in some pretty lackluster work. Rockwell shoots on ugly, cheap-looking video, and half the time it looks like the cameraman is running to catch up with actors who've wandered away from the set. The rest of the time the camera sits uncomfortably close to the actors' faces, not in a revealing, well-composed close-up but like an awkward, inept home movie.

The plot involves the tired device of disparate characters coming together over the course of one night, in this case all connected to a bail bondsman (David Proval) whose son is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. The unlikely crew works together to track down an unstable donor (Stormare) who's run off from the hospital, in the process coming to terms with their own personal issues, etc. None of the actors seem to have a handle on who their characters are, and most of them never evolve beyond their initial one-dimensional portrayals. The movie ends with one of the phoniest, most random "moment of clarity" bits I've ever seen, as a yellow hot air balloon flies over the city (via incredibly fake-looking special effects), somehow symbolizing rebirth (or something?) for these damaged people. It's a fittingly nonsensical ending for a movie that can never justify its own existence. I haven't seen any of Rockwell's earlier films, but whatever he had in the '90s, he'd clearly lost it by 2002.

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