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Manitoba-made Oscars Buzz

This is turning into a remarkable year for movies made in Manitoba.

They’re still shooting Brad Pitt’s new Jesse James movie in Calgary this week and next, but then it’s on to Winnipeg for one week.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was the talk of the town at the Toronto Film Festival for his portrayal of Truman Capote in the movie “Capote” which was shot in only 36 days in and around Winnipeg last fall. The words used most often were Academy Award.

And, believe it or not, there’s some teeny-weeny Oscar buzz for another movie shot (partly) in Winnipeg---The Big White. Written by former Winnipeg newscaster Collin Friesen, the movie stars Robin Williams, Holly Hunter and Woody Harrelson. Shooting was finished almost 18 months ago, and the movie still has no American distributor, but The Black Rod has found the first reviews from film festivals where its being shopped around.

THE BIG WHITE has its world debut in Frankfurt, Germany at the German FantasyFilmfest in August and its North American premiere last weekend at the inaugural Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, four days of science-fiction, fantasy, horror and animated movies from around the world.

Don’t ask us how, but the producers somehow snuck The Big White in under the category Horror.

Here’s the rough plot:

Robin Williams runs a travel agency, but his wife has Tourette's and her medical bills have driven him to the brink of bankruptcy. He figures his only hope is to collect the life insurance on his brother, who he hasn't seen for five years, and who he hopes to have declared dead. But the plan hits the shoals when an insurance agent says that it will take at least three years to process the claim unless there is a body. Williams discovers the body of a murdered man in a dumpster in front of his shop and decides to scam the insurance company. Then the hitmen who put the body in the dumpster show up and things get very, very twisted, indeed.

Reviews covered the gamut from raves to lukewarm to outright pans. If there is one consistency, it’s lavish praise for the performance of Holly Hunter as the wife with Tourette’s. Though barely a whisper as yet, the words Oscar and Holly are being bandied about in the same breath.

We discovered the latest reviews for THE BIG WHITE, plus an earlier one from Germany, on Harry Knowles’ website AIN’T IT COOL NEWS and here are some excerpts:

It's easy to compare THE BIG WHITE to FARGO... there are hitmen, there is lots of snow and lots of quirky characters. The tone is pretty similar as well, so it's an apt comparison.

Robin Williams - I like him better in ONE HOUR PHOTO, but he does a good job here, especially in scenes with his wife. This isn't crazy ADD Robin Williams, but more the "serious actor" Robin Williams. …

Holly Hunter - She is the reason I would recommend this movie. Everybody is good in the movie, Hunter is great…. Her interaction with Tim Blake Nelson in the movie are hilarious and make the movie a solid recommend instead of a "it's alright..."

THE BIG WHITE won't change your life and a lot of it has been done better before, but it's a solid little movie that's worth seeing if it ever swings by your neck of the woods. I don't think it has been picked up yet, but I think it'd be a really solid arthouse release.

This comedy is too self-consciously quirky at times with not the amount of dark humor it wants. The first two-thirds are plodding. It gets better at the end due to Woody Harrelson and tighter pacing. The performances are very good with Williams, Hunter, and Giovanni Ribisi getting special kudos.

The latest independent film starring Robin Williams breaks his streak of interesting indie roles, proving to be a fairly uninteresting mess that strives to be this decades Fargo and just barely misses becoming this decades Drowning Mona.

A “Dark Comedy” (and I use the term comedy in the loosest of all possible terms) about a down on his luck travel agent in Buttfxxx Nowhere Alaska …

What’s odd about this film is that the first two acts are borderline bad, never quite getting terrible, but never being funny or interesting either. There were times, however, that I just wanted to walk out because of how bored I was. But the third act, the place where most films fall apart, is actually where The Big White comes together. The last 20 minutes accomplishes what the first hour and ten never do - they make you actually care about every single character in the film. And the resolution is pretty great. …

There are a few chuckle worthy moments, and one decent belly laugh at the end, but mostly the film is a series of misfiring jokes not worthy of the fantastic cast assembled for them. The ending certainly doesn’t make the first 2/3rds of the film worth watching again, but it might make hardcore fans of dark comedies happy enough to remember having seen it. Come Monday I’ll have probably completely forgotten it.

Augustus Gloop
There is no stopping people from comparing this one to Fargo. That situation isn't helped by the fact almost everyone talks like they're from Fargo, even though this is Alaska. If I had to call this anything, I might describe it as the 'Anti-Fargo'. If everything in Fargo had gone the other way, if the cops just took everything at face value and dropped the investigation, if the main character wasn't completely batshit-crazy, if the die-hard killers weren't mean as shit and picking up hookers but instead gay lovers, then you wouldn't have Fargo, you'd have The Big White, or as I think it should be called, 'The Big White Lie'.

Giovanni Ribisi, who I have always greatly enjoyed, basically reprises his role from Flight of the Phoenix.. But the best performance, for me, was Holly Hunter as the foul-mouthed, mentally ill wife . Oh yeah, and Woody Harrelson had a part, as basically, Woody Harrelson.

All I can say is it worked well for me; I really enjoyed it, and I left satisfied that I had not wasted my time watching a Fargo wannabe. The only thing I feel hurt the film is that an amazing talent like Robin Williams was not used to his fullest. Almost anyone could have played his part. In fact, it would have been interesting to see William H. Macy in the role just to see the flipside of that other movie.

And after the German premiere, this review:


…the film reminded me a little bit on Fargo but this one had more funny and comical moments…I really recommend this one and I'm sure you'll have a good time with strong performances by Holly Hunter (MUST SEE...I'd say Oscar worthy)
August 17th, 2005

Even Harry, the big guy himself, joined the chorus of praise.

Hey folks, Harry here... and look... Robin Williams is in another small quality genre film. With FINAL CUT & ONE HOUR PHOTO - Robin has been taking very good parts in very small films - and doing a great job with them. Looks like he's made another great one... Meanwhile THE BIG WHITE doesn't even have a U.S. distributor yet. This is a shame, sounds fantastic!

The producers were hoping to release The Big White in December. They’d better if they’re hoping to ride the reviews to an Oscar nomination for Holly Hunter. Oscar season has moved earlier and earlier each year.

Capote has opened in limited release in New York and Los Angeles, and will be swung out across the U.S. and Canada during October. There’s no word when it will reach Winnipeg.

Here is the link for a sneak preview on the Big White

Here is Capote's preview link

And, while we’re on the topic of awards….The Black Rod has been nominated for Best Whistleblower Blog in a national poll. We’ll have details for you shortly.

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