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Laramie Movie Scope:
Chelsea Walls

A story about those wild and wacky creative people

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 8, 2003 -- "Chelsea Walls" is a movie about those wild and crazy folks called creative people, you know, the ones who use that side of the brain opposite the rational one? The story, appropriately enough, is set in the Hotel Chelsea, a famed Manhattan hangout for artists (the poet Dylan Thomas died there in 1953, and the film is dedicated to him). The screenplay is also loosely based on Dylan Thomas' radio play, "Under Milkwood." Dylan Thomas' poetry is the best thing in the movie. There are also some offbeat, but effective musical performances.

The movie follows the relationships of a number of people, Altman-like, in the hotel as they struggle with their art and their relationships as the ghosts of the past drift through the scenes, spouting poetry and song. The movie, directed by actor Ethan Hawke, is an avant garde film with a lot of style. There are also some good performances by members of a very talented cast. Characters include a novelist (played Kris Kristofferson), a songwriter (Robert Sean Leonard), poets (Rosario Dawson and Uma Thurman) and various other lonely souls all seeking love in vain. Steve Zahn of "Joy Ride" also appears in the movie as a guitar player. Vincent D'Onofrio (who plays a painter) and Natasha Richardson round out the cast, along with Tuesday Weld. Weld plays Kristofferson's wife, and Richardson is his mistress.

One of the more interesting stories is the one involving the novelist (Kristofferson). He is boozy and restless and unable to sustain relationships with the women in his life. He is sort of the archetypal dysfunctional artist in the Hemingway mold. Kristofferson really gets into this role and does an excellent job with it. Pain and disappointment just seem to come pouring out of him, yet he remains self-absorbed enough to fend off the women who try to get close to him. Richardson is also effective in her emotionally complex scenes with Kristofferson. I've seen Robert Sean Leonard ("Tape") in several movies recently, and he's very impressive. He's also effective singing some songs in the film. Leonard always seems to rise above whatever material that comes his way. He has a real screen presence. Another impressive performance is turned in by rising star Rosario Dawson ("Men in Black II"). The trouble with Dawson, is that she is so beautiful it is hard to believe any guy would run off and leave her behind. Uma Thurman is effective as person who seems withdrawn from people. The story line is very jagged, with constant interruptions caused by numerous cuts, not only in between story lines, but to other scenes on the far periphery of the story as well. Beautiful Dylan Thomas poetry and some good song lyrics help elevate this film to a higher level. It is best viewed on DVD in multiple viewings to catch the nuances. This is a very ambitious project for a fairly inexperienced filmmaker, but good actors, good poetry and good music help sustain it. This film rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2003 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)