Greetings from somewhere that has the worst internet signal known to man.
Even the phone signal might be better.
But I can’t complain – well, I can, I’m as tired as a hooker on Valentine’s, and as sleep-deprived as… well, most of the other folks who are involved in the thing I’ve been working on.
But movies help. And I’ve seen quite a few good ones of late. Saw a Nicolas Cage one last week, that was passable, and I’ll speak about it shortly, but right now I want to throw some praise confetti in Eddie Burns’s direction.
If acting is his soda, filmmaking is Edward Burns’ tasty strawberry daiquiri.
In the 90s Burns, some may recall, left his job in the editing room of TV fluff-fest ‘Entertainment Tonight’ for the exciting but ruthless world of filmmaking. His pass came with little New York-set rom-com “The Brothers McMullen”, which hit big with critics and audiences alike. Like a browning banana, it didn’t look like much from the outside, but once you got into it “McMullen” was oh-so-tasty. Still is.
One of the films many fans was big- time movie star and Sundance shepherd Robert Redford. Convinced Burns was the next big thing in moviemaking, Redford lent Burns the coin for his next film (“She’s the One”). The rest is history. ET were forced to offer Burns’ replacement a permanent contract.
Some might say Redford’s investment didn’t quite pan out – “She’s the One” wasn’t a major hit (though it was a great little movie – dare I say, one of Jennifer Aniston’s filmish high points!?), and each film he directed afterwards – what was that Jon Bon Jovi thing? – disappeared quicker than a homeless man out front of a Police station.
But acting- wise, Burns’ career did take off – from flashy studio fare like “Fifteen Minutes” (teaming Burns with Tribeca chief Robert De Niro) to Oscar winning ensemble orgies like “Saving Private Ryan”, that SAG card got a good workout.
But the filmmaking? Burns first love?
Sadly, that was seemingly put on the backburner – or at least, it became more of a hobby than a business.
Be it his lack of hits, the industry’s tendency to only greenlight films that carry an established brand (I.e. they’re based on a comic or they’re a sequel) or the fact that Redford’s not opening his wallet as often, Burn’s filmmaking aspirations took a back seat to… whatever paid.
Burns, seemingly very frustrated at the whole moviemaking process, particularly under the watchful, overbearing eye of the studios, has been toying with making movies for different mediums of late. His last couple, for instance, have premiered either on video-on-demand or the internet. But you only have to squiz the budget for Burn’s latest film to recognize just how hard it is to make a buck via these unorthodox distribution systems.
“Newylweds”, which recently premiered on PPV, cost just $9000.
It goes without saying, the Burns written-directed-starring venture looks and feels like a film made by a film school graduate. It’s definitely Burn’s least expensive, least flashy movie – from the production values to his no-name co-stars, it’s more Indy than Dr Jones.
Guessing the only way Burns could get the film up – with the assistance of American Express and De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival – was if it cost less than the trailer for any movie Burns acted in.
But you know what? Burns proves it doesn’t take money, just a good story, good actors and compelling characters, to make a good movie. And I fucking salute him.
Filmed with handhelds and crafted like a documentary, “Newlyweds” takes place entirely south of Canal street, in the Tribeca district, where we fellow newlyweds Buzzy (Burns) and Katie (impressive newcomer Caitlin Fitzgerald) as they live out their unrealistic idea of a marriage- both being so busy, the duo are unlikely to see each other much besides on weekends, so are convinced it’ll last because they won’t be getting in each other’s face.
Katie’s sister Marsha (Marsha Dietlein) and her husband Max (Max Baker) and aren’t so convinced that Buzzy and Katie will be able to remain happily married – after all, it’s seemingly been nothing but misery for them.
And once Buzz’s unbalanced half-sis (Kerry Bishé) arrives from California, turning her brother and his new bride’s life upside down, the perfect marriage feels it’s first tremor.
Some might say the doco approach isn’t right for this one, if only because Burns is a reasonably well-known actor and his presence takes you out of the piece. But that’s the thing, Burns hasn’t ever been a major star and for the most part, people don’t know him from a bent spoon. His face may ring a bell but most will be hard pressed remembering where they know it from him. As such, I think it’s just fine having Burns headline a fly-on- the-wall mockumentary like this – - and hey, Chris Guest and the Spinal Tap guys do it all the time, so who gives a lick!?
All that is besides the point, for $9000 Burns has made a perfectly enjoyable, very well-performed and, regardless of production values (no booms, no costume or make-up department, no expensive cameras), attractive looking movie.
The winning element here is the same thing that worked for Burns’ early films, predominantly “McMullen”, and that’s the filmmaker’s savvy insight into relationships – be it romantic or family. The man’s ability to make an interesting story out of normal people doing normal things is again on full display – and it works. The man knows people.
“Newlyweds” isn’t the gem “Brothers McMullen” was (some will be glad to hear Burns is writing a belated sequel to that), and it’s not as enjoyable or polished as “She’s the One”, but if Robert Redford sees “Newylweds”, I’ve a feeling he might be tempted to open up his chequebook to Burns again.
If I’m still alive in a couple of days, I’ll give you the good word on that Cage thing.