2002 - R - 105 Mins.
|Director: Alex Proyas|
|Producer: Topher Dow,|
|Written By: Alex Proyas, Dave Warner, Michael Udesky|
|Starring: Kick Gurry,
Brett Stiller |
|Review by: David Rolston
After a hiatus following the lukewarm reception to 'Dark City' Australian director Alex Proyas was at a crossroads. While critics praised the unique look of his previous films, both had substantial flaws, and one was at least as well known for the tragic on set accident during the production that took the life of its star Brandon Lee, as it was for its much admired production design and visceral action sequences. In many circles Proyas has been seen as a potential heir to the throne of Ridley Scott -- a technically sophisticated film maker trained in commercial directing with a natural affinity for things dark and futuristic.
Another shrimp on the Barby mate?
Frustrated by his experience with the Hollywood machine, Proyas retreated to Australia where he’d cut his teeth as the director of over a hundred music videos, and took on what appeared to be a project tailor made for him. 'Garage Days' would be a low budget, independently produced affair, with the opportunity to use a small Australian crew, and with local actors of his choosing. Prior to its release, there was a fair amount of excitement about the project, even before it was announced that Proyas had been signed to direct Will Smith in 'I. Robot.' Proyas, not unlike a few other internet savvy filmmakers, had created a personal website devoted to his film making, including some short films he had made, and with a community where fans could gather electronically to fete him and engage in speculation about his new project. The sense at the time, was that for an experienced music video director, a film about a struggling Sydney rock band just seemed brimming with potential.
The film opened in the U.S. and to call it a small release would be an understatement. It came and went and was seen by less people than the number "allegedly" molested by Michael Jackson. Now in the wake of the huge success of "I, Robot", "Garage Days" has made its way to pay cable and has been released on DvD.
Succinctly speaking, 'Garage Days' is a misfire of such collosal proportions, that although I paid nothing to see it, I’m still angry about those ninety minutes I'll never get back. From the opening frame there are warning signs that this is going to be a bad film, as we're treated to "the protagonist voice over opening" which almost never works, and almost always indicates that the writers (of which Proyas was one on this project) were too tired, lazy or untalented to come up with an original alternative to this pedestrian and tired cliché. Worse yet, the voice-over crutch is that much less forgiveable in 'Garage Days' because it's a film which doesn’t have much in the way of plot to excuse its use. This isn’t a mystery, it's not a caper film, or a historical drama, and there's really nothing in the way of back story to set up. In fact, I found it easy to summarize the plot nicely in one sentence:
"Down on their luck group of Australian twenty somethings, struggle to find an audience for their rock band, while squabbling, drug use, and love affairs threaten to tear them apart before they’ve even begun."
Now I have two points to make about my summary. First, if it manages to make the film sound even remotely interesting to you, trust me, it isn't. Second, if this sounds anything like about one hundred better movies about struggling musicians you might already have seen, then you won’t find anything surprising or original in 'Garage Days'. I don't mean to imply that every film about a topic must be original to be worthwhile. With a better script, better actors, and a better director, someone really talented could probably make an entertaining film with these elements, if it did nothing more than tell the story well, and make us care about the characters along the way. What’s shocking about 'Garage Days' is just how incredibly far off the mark it is, in every single area except for one (which I’ll discuss shortly). Certainly the first mistake was in the tone chosen for the the film. Proyas employs a slightly amped up version of the same style Danny Boyle used in 'Trainspotting', with a healthy dose of Jeuneut thrown in for good measure. We have the shifting color schemes, the hallucinatory drug sequences, the odd angles and fisheye lenses, and a number of mostly gratuitous special effects, along with the "hey look at me I’m making an interactive storybook" transitions and odd little visual diversions that worked in 'Amelie' but here simply remind you that this is a car wreck and you’re sitting in the passenger seat without a seat belt. It feels like the screenplay was adapted from a somewhat witty book that they just never figured out how to transform to a viable film, but I suspect that in actuality, any assumption along these lines would be giving the original source material far too much credit. The co-writer, Dave Warner enjoyed a career as a regional pubrock star in Australia, and one expects some observation about how musicians act, or what motivates them, or what the music scene is like. 'Garage Days' has nothing whatsoever to say about these people as musicians, and what it has to say about the music scenes is that it's dead. Hmm, a film about musicians, who we don’t see play, and who spend a significant amount of time grousing about how the Sydney music scene is dead? Before too long, you’re asking the question, if this film isn’t really about struggling musicians, and the music scene within which they’re struggling, what is it about?
Which brings us to the topic of the characters. Because this in an episodic film without much in the way of plot to keep our interest, the characters better damn well be compelling, beautiful, tortured, charming or some combination of all four. In 'Garage Days' we get instead characters who alternate from unfathomably dense to simply annoying. I guess that the supposition of 'Garage Days' is that since it’s ostensibly a 'comedy', we’re not supposed to care that the lead singer of the band (and lead character) is supposed to be likeable but really is the opposite. Or that the band manager is a buffoon, whose antics make you cringe, or that the moody guitarist is suicidal and yet we don’t care, or that the drummer is constantly dosing his unsuspecting friends with powerful narcotics at exactly the worst possible moments, because – well we all know how funny and original *that* can be.
To give you a taste for the sophisticated level of comedic brilliance on display, there is a scene in the film where the buffoon band manager has been deployed to convince a powerful executive that he should come watch the band rehearse. As it happens, at the moment the manager finds the executive backstage at a club, the executive happens to be receiving oral sex courtesy of a groupie with her sights set on a recording contract and career of her own. In return for her favors, the manager agrees to listen to her demo tape on his ipod. The buffoon of course, doesn’t realize this, and proceeds to engage in a conversation with the record exec, who has no idea the manager is even there because he’s listening to the ipod, has sunglasses on, and is preoccupied by what’s being done to him under the table. The result is a farcical slapstick encounter where the ‘buffoon’ once again demonstrates that he’s a dipshit (painfully evident in the other ten scenes where he’s portrayed as -- a dipshit). Only here, rather than leading up to any moment of high hilarity, the entire scenario, ripped straight from the playbook of Benny Hill circa 1978, and so completely lacking in believability you actually pity the poor actors who had to perform it, utlimately results in a major plot point that spins the film in an entirely new direction. When the plot of a film is derived from scenes that are this implausible, it’s virtually impossible to take anything else seriously, nor is it possible to care about what the characters might say or do. The crux of the matter is that 'Garage Days' treats its characters often times, as if they were cartoons rather than human beings.
Which brings us to the one thing that’s good about the film, namely its soundtrack. The film is peppered with eclectic music, just about all of it great, even when it’s meant to be tongue in cheek. The problem is, that considering this is a movie about musicians, none of the music seems to be particularly connnected to the plot or the characters. When you consider how the right song, in the right situation, with the right character can create an indellible cinematic moment – Peter Gabriel’s "In your eyes" in Cameron Crowe’s 'Say Anything' for example, the music in 'Garage Days' is that much more disappointing, because this is supposed to be a movie about people for whom music, is not just important, it's their very lifeblood. The music in 'Garage Days' does make for a nice sampler, perhaps a way ultimately for Proyas to get out his own mix tape, but it doesn’t really do anything to help the film. It doesn’t evoke place or time, or supplement the plot emotionally, it just plays like a jukebox on random.
I should mention that the big tease of the film is that although it's about this band, we never see enough of them rehearsing any particular song, to get an idea of whether they're any good or not, despite their shared belief that they’ve got a “unique sound” and are "really great." Now if the point of this film was that people in bands have been known to take the "band coolaid" it might be an acceptable gambit, but in the case of 'Garage Days', not only was I convinced early on that this band of uncharismatic misfits had to suck hard, as it turns out, the film doesn’t really care whether they’re any good or not itself. Instead it ties its wagon to that tired cliché, the old: "Oh my god, you mean the girl of my dreams is leaving town today, and I have the biggest gig of my life, but dammit I’m gonna drop everything at the last minute and chase her through the streets because I just realized – I loooove her!!!!!" -- gimmick. What's unintentionally hilarious about the setup is that they couldn't even think of a way to infuse a little drama into it. As it turns out, she’s simply moving out of town, and going back home to live with her parents. What? The hero couldn't just call her at her parent’s house later in the afternoon, or perhaps drive out there to see her once she’s got settled? No, of course the illogic of this setup is that, the girl can only be won over, if the declaration of love comes in impetous fashion, through the window of a moving automobile.
'Garage Days', is a film that Alex Proyas would be wise to shelve as he continues to pursue his career as a director. The real legacy which remains in the wake of the utterly dismal failure of this film, is the lingering questions it raises about Proya’s inadequacies as a director. Given a star, or actors with an unerring sense of what they're doing, Proyas has shown that he usually gets out of the way, although I could easily argue that had he restrained and improved the performances of the villains in "The Crow" for example, that film might be considered not merely an adequate comic adapatation, but possibly a masterpiece. This is the great frustration of Proyas's output to date: the flashes of visual brilliance offset by the clunking moments when you shake your head and wonder if the editor accidently spliced in the wrong take. 'Garage Days' proves that left to his own devices, Proyas just doesn’t seem to know how to engage with actors, to protect them, or to ellicit good performances. What remains to be seen is, can he grow as an artist and find a way to work with actors and transform himself from someone who is admired simply for visual flair and evocative atmospherics in ultimately disappointing films, into someone who is is a genuinely skilled storyteller, and midwife to great and moving performances from living breathing actors.