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Fighting drug dealers, gainful employment

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There were three high-profile biopics unveiled at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival, and two of them were about print journalists with very different work ethics. One was Shattered Glass, about New Republic writer Stephen "The Original Jayson Blair" Glass, while the other chose to focus on the exact same subject covered in 2000 festival entry When the Sky Falls.

            Falls, which practically vanished off the face of the Earth after Toronto (it eventually premiered on Showtime), told the tragic tale of Dublin's Sunday Independent investigative journalist Veronica Guerin, only without using Guerin's name because its producers couldn't afford to acquire the rights. Enter the suddenly omnipresent producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and you get Veronica Guerin, a flashier, more manipulative, but in absolutely no way better version directed by the increasingly erratic (and growingly inconsequential) Joel Schumacher.

            Here, Falls' Joan Allen is replaced by Cate Blanchett in the lead role of a journalist hell-bent on doing something about her city's sudden rise in heroin consumption, as well as the usual crimes related to the rampant use of that drug. Veronica has the tenacity of a pit bull, as well as the hair of Princess Di, but it's the former that makes her husband Graham (Barry Barnes) and mother (Brenda Fricker) concerned for her safety. Even Veronica's editor (Emmet Bergin) thinks his star reporter goes too far to get a story, but nobody seems able to stop her from putting herself in harm's way.

            Veronica's investigation into the skag trade leads her into a seedy underworld which contains the likes of Martin "The General" Cahill (Gerry O'Brien). She's fed information by an informant (Ciarán Hinds) with close ties to the area's big drug kingpin (Gerard McSorley). She butts heads and takes risks, and before long Veronica is beaten, shot in the leg, and has some disturbingly specific threats made against her young son (Simon O'Driscoll). But does that stop her? Absolutely not.

            One of the problems I have with Guerin (the film, not the woman) is the fact the filmmakers reveal the ending of the story in both the trailer and in the opening minutes of the film itself. Because Guerin is not a well-known personality on this side of the Atlantic, this gravely diminishes the impact of the climax to the point where everything leading up to it becomes rather trivial from a cinematic standpoint. That is, unless you're a Colin Farrell fan, because Shumacher's boy-toy makes a brief appearance here as an Irish hooligan.

            As gifted as Blanchett is, she never really connects with the audience, and I don't think it's her fault so much as Schumacher's. The Batman butcher seems unable to decide whether to make Guerin a gritty, realistic drama, or sell out and make it all flashy and Hollywood. The result is, as one would expect, a mixed bag at best. A main hindrance is that Guerin's bad guys just don't seem very threatening, and Veronica never appears to be frightened of them. Is she naïve, stupid, or relentless? We never really find out.

There exists in Rochester, as in most other medium and large cities, a group of insatiable (and usually unemployed) human packrats who lie, cheat, steal, and God knows what else in order to get into advance screenings of films and grab the promotional novelties (posters, t-shirts, etc.) that are often distributed there. I've heard them called everything from Passholes to Prize Pigs to Movie Gypsies.

            An offshoot of the Passholes' Manhattan chapter (they usually pay for admission, though) is the subject of the documentary Cinemania (screens Saturday, October 18, at the Dryden). Directors Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak follow five of its members as they scurry around to New York theaters, coming up for air only to hop on the subway that will rocket them to their next film screening. Some see as many as 2,000 pictures a year. 2,000! And people look at me like I'm from another planet when I tell them I see 300 a year.

            My favorite subject was Jack, who said movies are "better than sex," though one wonders if he has the frame of reference from which to make that comparison. The hairy man obsesses about things like print condition, projection quality, and screen masking --- all things most people couldn't give a fig about (you wonder how he'd feel about this movie, which was shot on video and blown up to film). Jack even goes into detail about his special diet, which involves precious few fruits and vegetables. Because you don't want nature calling when you're seeing La Dolce Vita for the 17th time.

            Harvey lives with his mother and has an impressive collection of soundtrack LPs but no turntable on which to play them. Roberta was banned from the MoMA venue after she pulled a choking move right out of the WWE on an usher who had the gall to tear her ticket (she collects them, along with --- judging from the state of her home --- everything else she's come in contact with over the last six decades). They're both on disability, as is Eric, who pretty much vanishes for some reason --- perhaps he didn't end up being eccentric enough on camera. Bill is, though for completely different reasons. He fancies himself a philosopher but worries about his unemployment benefits carrying him through the New York Film Festival.

            Cinemania shows there's a very fine line between an obsession being kinda cute and completely insane. Some will find it depressing, especially those who realize the doc hits a little too close to home.

Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.

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