But in practice, the mock-doc is much more accessible than that. There's an engaging sense of wonder in the voice of Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings director, co-director of this film) and his friends as they talk of the discoveries they've made about their subject. It's as if Orson Welles had made his films in obscurity, only to have them discovered last week in an attic in San Marcos. It's a very funny little film, even if — as with Orson's War of the Worlds — many New Zealanders who saw its first TV broadcast mistook it for non-fiction.
Fiction and truth are strangely swirled in A Sign From God (World Artists), in which filmmaker Caveh Zahedi (featured in Waking Life's most memorable scene) plays a filmmaker named Caveh who is having troubles with his girlfriend, Laura, who is played by Laura Macias. Over the course of one day, everything in the world goes wrong for the couple, who were on the verge of breaking up anyway. Infuriatingly, Caveh, who causes most of these disasters, insists that they were all signs from God, that the universe is pushing them onto the correct path, that if Laura will just suffer through non-payment of rent while he blows cash on an unreleasable movie, everything will be okay.
Shot with a Jim Jarmusch-like deadpan drabness, the film will annoy the hell out of some viewers; but Zahedi's neuroses and pretensions are like early Woody Allen without the shtick. He comes across here as a true madman, carrying his dubious convictions far beyond the point of no return. Oddly, the film is able to show all this while occasionally conveying a sense of real spirituality, as if to say that just because Zahedi's nuts that doesn't mean God isn't talking to him.
Speaking of Woody Allen, Hollywood Ending (DreamWorks) is, true to its name, the only one of this batch that really shoots for the mainstream. But in aiming wide, Allen misses the oddball element that made his early comedies so perfect: The part of the movie in which Allen (playing a down-and-out filmmaker who has gone blind) tries to bluff his way through production is just so clumsy, and passes over so many chances for belly laughs, that it's easy to forget that the first part of the film is actually pretty funny. It's just setting you up for a payoff that never comes.
Richard Harris, R.I.P.
The great Richard Harris died last month, but it's redundant to mourn him: Repeatedly through his career, he had already been an eloquent screen embodiment of nostalgia and melancholy. Famously, he eulogized Camelot; in the recently spruced-up masterpiece Unforgiven (Warner Bros.), his character not only represents the lost thrill of the West, but is forced to watch as the myths he has built up are destroyed. It's a smallish role, but a crucial one in this film that is somehow able to deliver the violent thrills of the Western while simultaneously showing how artificial the genre's conventions are. Around fifteen years ago, I sat a few rows behind Harris at a Broadway production of Pygmalion, starring his colleague Peter O'Toole — even then, both actors carried with them the aura of a golden age that had died long ago ...