Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Buscemi Now?

"It's simple for everybody else. You give them a Big Mac and a pair of Nikes and they're happy. I just can't relate to 99% of humanity." - Seymour (Steve Buscemi) GHOST WORLD (Dir. Terry Zwigoff, 2001) 

I'm right there with you Seymour. Everybody I know - every fellow film fanatic, co-worker, and passerby on the street (yes, I've polled people) loves Steve Buscemi. I've never heard a hating word from anyone about the hero of indie cinema who right after 9/11 donned his old fireman gear and put in weeks of 12 hour days to sift through the rubble at Ground Zero. Every time out - whether it is in his run through the classic Coen brothers canon, scene stealing turns in Quentin Tarentino flicks, and, my personal favorite, the above quoted GHOST WORLD he pulls off the enviable task of being extremely creepy yet incredibly lovable at the same time. 

So why is it that his last 2 films, both critically acclaimed, did not get wider releases and are virtually unknown by those same fellow film fanatics, co-workers, and passerbys? Neither INTERVIEW (which he directed) nor DELIRIOUS came anywhere close to a theater near me. In fact apart from his brief but brilliant appearance in PARIS, JE T'AIME (again with the Coen bros.) his most visible showing at the multiplex in recent years was the voicing of Templeton the Rat in the live action remake of CHARLOTTE'S WEB! INTERVIEW, Buscemi's 4th film as director (the others - TREES LOUNGE, ANIMAL FACTORY, and LONESOME JIM) was just released on DVD but unfortunately I'm going to have to wait til March to see DELIRIOUS. That's a shame because after reading director Tom DiCillo's frustrated email to Roger Ebert in which he says "I’m kind of struggling on my own to make sense of how a film I put my soul into, that Buscemi put his soul into, a film that generated such strong, positive reviews, had no life in the market" (you can read more here on DiCillio's blog) - 

I'm really dying to see it. However I am happy to have just viewed INTERVIEW which I'm also happy to review:

INTERVIEW (Dir. Steve Buscemi, 2007) This remake of the 2003 Dutch film by Theo van Gogh (1957-2004) is an engrossing vehicle for the acting directing Buscemi. The sweet rub here is that his cynical political journalist (for the fictional Newsworld) character Pierre Peders is in danger of being seriously one-upped by his assigned subject Sienna Miller as Katya, a complicated and possibly deranged B-movie/TV show star. 

Apart from the waiter and a few restaurant patrons and some voices on cell phones this is a two person show. It is essentially a stage play, being that it appears to happen in real time and takes place mainly in one location - Miller's opulent and over-sized loft. "Why do you choose only the most commercial crap that's out there?" Buscemi attacks. Miller counters "I enjoy entertaining millions upon millions of people." She goes further - "How big is your readership?" He smugly replies "Oh, you know, I have dozens of readers." 

With that only being the icing on the acidic exchange cake we follow these two through a series of mind games and mood swings and never lose interest in either character. Both are deluded and seem to base their existence on their ability to bullshit more articulately than most people to the point that their careers hinge on it. Their tortured talk is never tedious and feels almost all too natural so if you get past the initial cringe factor INTERVIEW is well worth your time. 

So since I have to wait to see DELIRIOUS I thought it would be fun to recount: 

5 Classic Steve Buscemi Characters:

1. Seymour - GHOST WORLD (Dir. Terry Zwiggoff, 2001) "I couldn't imagine you'd have any interest in me except as an amusingly cranky eccentric curiosity" he tells Enid (Thora Birch) but there's a lot more to him than he lets on. This old jazz record collecting, Cook's Chicken archiving, and desperate personal ad declaring dude may be a "dork" as Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) calls him but he's our dork. Buscemi is at the top of his game here and there's a nice bonus after the end credits - there's a reversal of fortunes of sorts. A scene in which Seymour has his ass kicked in the convenience store is replayed but this time he kicks ass and even yells "Motherfuckers! Fuck with me?"

2. Mr. Pink - RESERVOIR DOGS (Dir. Quentin Tarentino, 1992) This is the role that turned the world on to the beauty of Buscemi. As the smartest of a crew of jewelry store thieves (though that's not saying much), Buscemi had the most memorable dialogue ("I don't tip because society says I have to") and the most entertaining 'tude. His reaction to the name his character is given is also cemented in cineste's psyches - "'Mr. Pink' sounds like 'Mr. Pussy'. Tell you what, let me be Mr. Purple. That sounds good to me. I'm Mr. Purple."

3. Carl Showalter - FARGO (Dir. Joel Coen, 1996) Another thief but this time far from smart, Carl is constantly described throughout this stone cold classic as "kinda funny lookin'". Nothing ever seems to go right for the guy - he's beaten up, shot in the face, and finally wood chipper fodder but every time I see this film I cherish Carl's crisises more and more. When he angrily says to a airport lot attendent "You know these are the limits of your life man" I feel the Carl that is within us all smile.

4. Donny, Who Loved Bowling * - THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dir. Joel Coen, 1998) Yes another Coen bros. outting but one I couldn't leave off the list. Theodore Donald Kerabatsos (betcha didn't know his full name) is probably the stupidest character Buscemi has ever played - he never seems to follow what the Dude (Jeff Bridges) or Walter (John Goodman) are talking about, always weighing in way too late with comments like "His name's Lebowski? That's your name, Dude!" Still, talk about a lovable lug! Like his other Coen Brothers parts Donny doesn't live to see the end credits. Semi-narrator The Stranger (Sam Elliot) breaks the 4th wall and says to us at the end of the tale - "I didn't like seeing Donny go". I didn't either. * I call him such because it's not just the way Walter eulogized him - it's also the name of a electronica band from Austin, Texas.

5. Tony Blundetto - The Sopranos (1999-2007) It was sweet that Buscemi came aboard the HBO powerhouse as a major player in the 5th season. He played Tony Soprano's (James Gandofini) just released from prison cousin Tony B. At first he tries to go legit as a licensed massage therapist but gets pulled back in to the mafia underworld. Seething with rage but still armed with cutting oneliners - this was primo Buscemi and that he directed 4 episodes of the series was pretty sweet too.

Okay, that's my fave Buscemi five - if you have prefered other characters of his (perhaps Nick Reve in LIVING IN OBLIVION, Rex in AIRHEADS, or even Rockhound in ARMAGEDDON maybe?) then send 'em on! Also it used to be said that somebody has only truly made it if they were on the cover of Rolling Stone or if they hosted Saturday Night Live, these days I think it's if you've appeared on The Simpsons which Buscemi has twice - first as himself in a typical celebrity cameo and second as Dwight, a bank robber who Marge tries in vain to help. Okay! I'm all Buscemi-ed out now. As Carl said in FARGO "that was a geyser!"

More later...

1 comment:

Nick Plowman said...

I really like Steve Buscemi. Especially when he works with Joel and Ethan Coen,he was so good in Fargo and The Big Lebowski, and pretty good in Paris Je T'aime. He is really underrated though, many people may like him, but people I have asked don't have a clue who he is. That's a damn shame if you ask me.