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Buffalo gets another boost at the movies

"The Savages" opens Wednesday in New York City and on Christmas Day in Buffalo -- where some of it is set and where a few scenes were filmed.

This is Tamara Jenkins' movie starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as two grown children who have to deal with what is, unequivocally, the final moment of childhood -- the moment when a failing, indeed dying, parent is so deep in dementia that he's smearing feces on walls. Nothing quite says "you're a grown up now" the way a needy and failing parent does.

It's a good film in exactly the way you expect it to be -- sensitive, poignant, acted with tact and grace and truth, every second of the way. We'll have a full review of it when it opens in December.

I saw it three months ago at the Toronto Film Festival. There was no point in going to the festival, even for a few days, and missing the one promising independent movie that was, in part, filmed here. So I arrived early for the Sunday morning screening and stood in line outside in a frigid drizzle for 45 minutes to make sure I got into a critics and industry screening.

Writer/director Jenkins recently told a Chicago interviewer that Buffalo scenes brought a "cramped dark" to her film that contrasted well with Sun City, Ariz. And I must say, there's a lot of gray in "The Savages" -- tough weather inside people and out.

Hoffman plays an academic who still lives here, which means the milieu we're watching isn't working class but rather mildly boho middle class, where people are actively engaged in trying to determine just how much of the completely examined life is actually worth living.

It doesn't exactly prettify Buffalo in any way but there's some honor and truth to the city you see in it, no matter where scenes were filmed.

It occurred to me that this city has been uncommonly lucky in the films that have actually been filmed here.

"Best Friends" -- that middling Norman Jewison fluff with Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn -- had a nice snowy coziness in the Central Park-area home scenes filmed here. James Caan's "Hide in Plain Sight" was a grubby-looking film but was, I think, hilariously memorable for its off-camera brouhaha during filming between Caan and the good gray Buffalo Club, where Caan wanted to film an exterior.

Upholding the traditions of a place where, at the time, they still had gender-segregated entrances (not to mention Millard Filmore portraits on dining room walls), the Buffalo Club turned Caan down. Caan, in turn, upheld the time-honored tradition of obnoxious Hollywood interlopers reacting as crassly as humanly possible, by going ballistic and spraying four-letter invective and expletive at the club's hierarchy.

No matter how much I enjoyed the movie when I finally saw it (it was based, after all, on news stories originally written by friend and former colleague Lee Coppola), I must confess that it might have been even more fun to watch a documentary of how Caan filmed here, with special attention to his obnoxious, big-mouthed broadsides and those whose mission, at the time, was trying to preserve whatever was their idea of gentility.

There is, of course, no good reason on this earth why anyone should let a Hollywood film be made anywhere on or near one's premises. In fact, there are quite a few things against it. Still, Caan's a colorful fellow (unsavory friends, some have long gossiped) and I'd love to see a documentary movie made of his directorial debut in Buffalo.

The most famous film, of course, made in Buffalo is Barry Levinson's "The Natural" starring Robert Redford, now accepted as a classic by both cable TV's sports channels AND the Oxygen network. Name another film of which that is true.

The movie may have junked the bitter ending of Bernard Malamud's novel in favor of Hollywood corn syrup but, hey, I'm betting anything that Oprah would have liked Levinson's better than Malamud's any day.


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