At the online Style Magazine of the New York Times, an arty, 12-part web series starring twelve of film’s most promising stars wraps up this week and puts the unknown Brody Baker on the filmmaker map.
Baker, previously uncredited with any projects, was hired by T: The New York Times Style Magazine (which had already curated an impressive collection of short videos) to direct T Takes, a series of vignettes taking place in a Utah motel. The episodic films feature a couple of big actors (Josh Lucas and Josh Hartnett) and a number of up-and-comers already familiar to indie film and cable TV fans (such as The Wire’s Morena Baccarin and Andre Royo and Funny Games’ Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet).
Baker went to this year’s Sundance Film Festival and snagged the actors, offering to give them a respite from endless screenings, junkets, and parties (sounds miserable, right?), and enlisting them to improvise in a series of linked short films at a small, funky Utah motel (in the film, it’s named "Viking Lodge") outside of Park City, UT.
The actors play residents of the motel, whose individual stories loosely interweave with one another, and where each swatch is an exercise in style and technique. Dialogue – and come to mention it, even monologue – is scarce in each installment. The audience can deduce some semblance of a plot, but nothing is too obvious or particularly literal. There’s a lot of inferring to do.
###Some of the stronger pieces include a comical short starring Jason Ritter (son of Nancy Morgan and the late John Ritter, and grandson of Hollywood Western actor Tex Ritter) in which he calls a restaurant to get some grub. What starts as a simple food order, grows into an absurdly large request for one man’s appetite, and even though we can’t make out the guy on the other end of the line, he’s amazed by the sheer volume of Ritter’s nervous request. The short begs the question, "Why all the food?"
In another intriguing piece, the stunning Morena Baccarin gives us an exercise in method acting as she spends her three minutes on camera capturing the excruciating, yet mesmerizing, routine of a woman with OCD getting ready in her room (for what, we’re not sure). From the cliché of flicking the lights on and off three times to the delicate practice of pulling on her thigh-high stockings in concentrated repetition, Baccarin tells her part of her troubled story without uttering a word.
The idea that T Takes is an episodic film, meant to be viewed in order, somehow adding up to a succinct narrative, is tricky. Daily installments at three minutes a pop make for a fine series, so long as they are spread out with enough space for adequate rumination and perhaps a recharge of patience. Strung together, the almost-complete film is exasperating, if not a touch self-indulgent.
Yet, even though T Takes suffers from a case of ‘concept over content,’ the magazine’s ongoing effort in the space of internet video, with its independent spirit and impressive roster of personalities, has proven to be stylish and smart. And not for nothing, but the folks over at the Times should also be commended for fostering fledgling talent and giving it a chance to shine.