Sunday 11 October 2009

Kill the Poor (2003)

Director: Alan Taylor
Stars: David Krumholtz, Clara Bellar, Paul Calderon, Jon Budinoff, Heather Burns, Zak Orth, Larry Gilliard Jr, Otto Sanchez, Victor Pagan, Fisher Stevens, Jaime Tirelli, Millie Tirelli, Cliff Gorman and Damian Young
After watching last week's episode of Numb3rs, I couldn't resist following this feature film starring the same lead actor, David Krumholtz. Oh sorry, Numb3rs is supposed to be a Rob Morrow show... well, I tend to disagree about who the main star of many TV shows is. This one is about Charlie, Krumholtz's character, and it's deservedly made him something of a star. I have seen him on the big screen before, as early as the wonderful Addams Family Values in 1993 when he was a geeky 15, and as late as a guest spot in the painful Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny in 2006 when he was a lot older. The family knows him from the Santa Clause movies. Perhaps Numb3rs is such a success because he's so good at being a charming and irresistible geek, whether it be mathematician Charlie Epps or Mr Universe in Serenity.

Here he finds himself in New York in 1982, with close cut hair and a very strange situation. He's Joe Peltz and he's working at his uncle Yakov's newspaper stand when Annabelle, one of his customers, proposes to him, because he's the only American she can trust. He accepts, even though she's a French girl looking for a marriage of convenience, and even though she promptly gets stabbed in the face at the adult club she apparently works at. The payoff means they can go live somewhere together, because the marriage of convenience becomes the real thing and soon they'll be three.

They pick a tenement on the lower east side because the price isn't bad and because Joe's family has history there. As he keeps enthusing to people and reiterating to Uncle Yakov, his grandparents grew up there and his mother lived over the street and got married in a synagogue that isn't there any more, meaning that to him it's also his neighbourhood. However, things have changed in a couple of generations and the place is now a complete and utter dump, full of gunshots and alarms and drugs. They move in and try to turn their new home into a place of safety, with the assistance of a ragtag bunch of misfit tenants who have formed a corporation where they each have an equal say in things. He soon becomes the president.

They're an eclectic bunch. There's Beneficio and Beneficia, who are the only couple who've ever lived there who have stayed together. There's Delilah, a transsexual who walks into Joe's apartment, grabs drinks out of their fridge and gives them the lowdown. He knows everyone and introduces them and their stories to Joe and Annabelle. There's Butch, a grad student who's writing his dissertation on the tenants; Scarlet, a junkie; Negrito, a Hispanic thief and handyman; and Spike, a black avant garde artist. Most importantly, there's Carlos, who's been there longer than anyone else and yet still doesn't pay rent. It's his son Segundo that keeps kicking in the front door but it's Carlos whose baseball bat has done more than anything else to keep the junkies out of the building.

Beyond being a fascinating story, full of hope and possibility, populated by fascinating characters that all develop over the course of the film, what makes this work so well is the editing. It jumps around all over the place, in time and space, to weave disparate scenes and clips and conversations into a coherent whole. It plays out like a jigsaw, one with plenty of misleading turns. The underlying subplot is about who burned out Carlos's apartment by digging a hole in the roof, pouring down gasoline and setting the whole thing on fire. We see everyone in the building do the deed but only one actually did. Everything else is misdirection.

Krumholtz is perfectly cast as Joe Peltz, a young man dreaming bigger than his circumstances, caught up in life and not always able to keep on top of everything. The rest of the cast is made up of capable character actors unafraid to look bad on camera as often as they look good. I only recognise one: Fisher Stevens, who was the lead in a TV show I loved called Key West and who I've seen a number of times on film. These are the sort of people who I'll have seen in films before without remembering who they are, but who over time will embed themselves in my memory and become favourites. I get the feeling that many of them made this film just for the opportunity to play their parts than for the paycheck, but hey, that's what real independent filmmaking is all about.

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