The Sundance Wrap-Up!!
I promised the Schmoes a Park City recap, so (despite my snot-clogged brain and lingering fever) here you go! I'm going to focus mainly on the movies, mostly because I'm an unpopular nerd loser who doesn't get invited to all that many parties, but mainly because...who really CARES about the parties and shwag-bag giveaways? Not me...and I was there! I can only imagine how little interest the rest of you have in what celebrity wore which free coat and which other celebrity didn't say "thank you" when I held the mall door open for them. Sundance (and Slamdance) may mean a lot of things to a lot of different folks, but to me it's just another film festival, and the only thing really worth reporting from a film festival is the MOVIES.
THE BIG THREE!!
MIRRORMASK: (read my full review here) Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman create a fantasy world on par with Oz, Wonderland and Fraggle Rock. Expect this one to be a bug cult hit among animation aficionados, gothy girls and dungeonmasters.
THE MATADOR: (read my full review here) Great to see Pierce Brosnan letting his hair down, and boy is he a vulgar little nutjob in this movie! Great supporting work from Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis, but the former 007 is who steals the entire freaking movie. Miramax snapped this one up, so you should be able to see it sometime soon.
PRETTY PERSUASION: (read my full review here) I seem to be in the vast minority on this flick, but who gives a wet slap about that? I thought it was wonderfully harsh, admirably abrasive, and sure to rankle a few snooty types. Plus it's got that Evan Rachel Wood...and who wouldn't want to just look at that lass for 100 minutes? It's funny, it's nasty, it's James Woods in horrible underwear. What's not to enjoy?
MIDDLE OF THE PACK
(worth seeing, but not what I'd consider "groovy awesome")
212: A bunch of unrelated characters slowly gravitate towards one another...and then they begin to "relate" - and how! It's funny, honest and surprisingly insightful, plus it's stingy with the dialogue, which means you won't have to listen to endless monologues about the angst of loneliness and the joy of intercourse.
LOVERBOY: (read my full review here) Kyra Sedgwick as the world's creepiest single mom. It's funny, it's sad, it's weird, it's populated by a collection of great actors. Not exactly a crowd-pleaser, but a solid little flick throughout.
LAYER CAKE: Matt Vaughn moves beyond being Guy Ritchie's producer and directs his very own movie of Britville criminals. Colorful and fun, but we've kinda traveled this ground already....
POLICE BEAT: A kind-hearted cop from South Africa tries to juggle all sorts of insane criminal activity while stressing out about his girlfriend, who is off on a camping trip with some other bloke. Takes some getting used to, but this is a pretty intriguing little movie...once you get accustomed to the vibe it's slingin'.
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE: (read my full review here) It took me about an hour of post-movie contemplation before I could figure out how much I "liked" this one. It's very well-written and the acting is strong across the board, but the movie kept me outside the bubble because, well, I pretty much detested every single one of the pretentious and precious little characters. Then again, I suspect that's done on purpose, so it doesn't seem fair to knock the movie on that count.
THREE...EXTREMES: (read my full review here) Just like any horror anthology, this one's only as good as its best segment. Luckily the third and final segment is ball-blisteringly COOL! Sections 1 and 2 move slower than a dead cat on a cold morning, but keep your eyeballs peeled once you see a woman with her fingers glued to a piano. THAT's when things get admirably icky!
THUMBSUCKER: (read my full review here) Sorta like IGBY GOES DOWN and/or TADPOLE...only a better film than both of those combined. Lou Pucci gives a fantastic breakout performance, and he's surrounded by a lot of great veterans, too. (Who can say no to a movie that co-stars Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeves and Vince Vaughn?)
- or -
movies I just didn't "get"
THE GIRL FROM MONDAY: (read my full review here) Hal Hartley's uber-goofy tale of futuristic weirdness. I freely admit not "getting" much of the movie, but that's just as much Hal's fault as it is mine.
THE JACKET: (read my full review here) A movie that had no real purpose at Sundance is the movie that will undoubtedly have many of you scratching your heads when it hits your local multiplex. Well-directed nonsense that borrows heavily from many other time-twisting mindbenders of years' past...plus it's just not all that interesting.
REEFER MADNESS: (read my full review here) I love the herb, so obviously I was pretty pumped to sit back and giggle at this flick. Unfortunately it feels precisely like the made-for-cable flick that it obviously is. You can catch it on Showtime later this year and then call me an idiot for not loving the thing, but "campy kitschy kooky" does not automatically equal "funny" in my book.
WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN? Didn't GET it. Not one bit. But I didn't really feel the desire to GET it, either. So it's not all on me.
WOLF CREEK: (read my full review here) The one Sundance horror flick I was itchin' for. Sorry to say I found it 60 minutes of yawning set-up followed by 30 minutes of oh-so-typical stalky stuff. Horror freaks should absolutely decide for themselves, but I suspect lots of you will end up agreeing with me.
I was 8-for-8 in the doco department, and I firmly recommend that you see any and all of these titles A.S.A.P. After Innocence, The Aristocrats, Frozen Angels, Grizzly Man, Inside Deep Throat, Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story, Twist of Faith and Unknown White Male.
MOVIES I'M PISSED I MISSED!
The Devil and Daniel Johnston, Dirty Love, Duane Hopwood, The Education of Shelby Knox, The Emperor's Journey, Game 6, Hard Candy, Hustle & Flow, Lackawanna Blues, Mysterious Skin, Rock School, Strangers with Candy: The Movie, The Upside of Anger, What Is It?
THAT OTHERS SAW...
...and since I'm only one man (goddamit!) and able to see merely one movie at a time, I point you now to my colleagues, Erik Childress and Eric Snider, both of whom have graciously agreed to contribute their opinions on some of the flicks I missed. First up is Mr. Snider.
KUNG FU HUSTLE: "Kung Fu Hustle" is my favorite film of the festival so far. It's a sheer joy to watch, an endlessly inventive and funny martial-arts film about a little slum being harassed by a gang of ax-wielding thugs. It seems to be set in the '30s, and sometimes the thugs (who are dressed in black suits and tall top hats) break into dance, and sometimes the characters can run super-fast like the Roadrunner. It's a wonderful movie.
WHY WE FIGHT: "Why We Fight" is essentially "Fahrenheit 9/11" with Michael Moore removed (which, yes, makes it several hundred pounds lighter). It purports to be about why America has gone into battle in general in the past 50 years, but it's really about why American went to Iraq. (Answer: No good reason.) The film is very sobering, but I wonder if we sort of already did this last year, with Moore's film. Did we need another one?
STRANGERS WITH CANDY: THE MOVIE: The movie is very funny for the first 45 minutes, just a wonderfully absurd comedy, and then it mellows out considerably. It commits to a particular plot line early on, and then has to see it through, and it gets bogged down in that. You can almost hear the movie saying, "Oh, geez, we introduced this story, didn't we? Crap, now we gotta finish it."
THE PUFFY CHAIR: This is an easy-going little comedy about a slacker 30-year-old who still calls everyone "dude" and "man" (including his girlfriend) and who recently quit his rock band to become a rock band promoter. He finds this old chair on eBay that is an exact replica of the chair his dad used to lounge on, so he buys it as a birthday present for the old man. He has to drive from New York to North Carolina to pick it up, and then on to Atlanta to deliver it, and his girlfriend and his pseudo-hippie brother come along, and it's a big road trip full of awkward confrontations and emotional maturation. I liked the movie.
WHAT IS IT?, the writing/directing debut of Mr. Crispin Glover, who is the craziest person I have ever met. The film confirms it. It's not so much a movie as a cry for help. Most of the cast are people with Down syndrome, I kid you not. Glover himself plays a kingly underworld sort of guy who seems to be afraid that one of the Down syndrome guys thinks he (the Down syndrome guy) is Glover. I don't know why Glover thinks the kid thinks that, but he does. The Down syndrome kid himself, meanwhile, is fond of tormenting snails. Also, there is a man in blackface who wants to be an invertebrate. Also, there is a scene where a naked woman with a monkey mask on brings a watermelon to a naked middle-aged retarded man who is reclining on a giant clam shell. All of this is joined together by absolutely no plot, at least not that I could discern. It is probably the strangest movie I ever seen. I kinda liked it.
And from the inner rumblings of Mr. Erik Childress:
MURDERBALL (* * * 1/2): Wheelchair bound victims turn into heroes on the gym floor as rugby players. Utilizing reinforced chairs out of Mad Max, the Olympic competitors focus on the annual USA/Canada rivalry while finding time to provide inspiration to those newly constricted as they look to regain a little bit of their old life. A hilarious and incredibly moving documentary that is begging to be turned into a big-screen feature.
BRICK (* * * 1/2): Take a hard-boiled detective story and put it in a modern high school entertaining and the results are terrific. It's this year's Zero Effect. Extremely well-acted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the cast. A bit long at 119 minutes, but has the feel of the old hardball stories with some nice modern twists on the dialogue.
HUSTLE & FLOW (* * * 1/2): When the white folk leave the theater singing "You know its hard out here for a pimp," you know you have a true audience pleaser on your hand. The story of a down-and-out pimp looking to reform his life as a rapper features a first-rate screenplay from writer/director Craig Brewer and a performance from Terrence Howard that will have agents fielding offer after offer. The biggest sale at the festival involved in the three-picture deal for producer John Singleton.
HARD CANDY (* * *): An intense battle of wills occurs between a 32-year old man and the 14-year old honor student he meets in a chatroom. The tables turn on a dime and soon the adult is set to lose more than just this little game. Patrick Wilson makes up for The Alamo and The Phantom of the Opera with a full-tempered performance, but Ellen Page gave one of the best performances at the fest as the brainy, inhibited teenager that no man wants to mess with. Despite one major misstep in the narrative, Hard Candy is a well-made, claustrophobic two-character thriller in the style of Misery and Oleanna. Lions Gate will be bringing it to a theater near you.
DEAR WENDY (* * *): Lars Von Trier is back with another "AMERICA SUCKS" screenplay, but sometimes heavy-handedness makes a point and this indictment of the second amendment frequently hits where it hurts. When a group of pacifist teens in a mining town discover guns for the first time, their curiosity inadvertently turns into tragedy. Thomas Vintenberg's film will likely divide the camps of Dogville once again, but it pulls no punches and there's something admirable about that.
LONESOME JIM (* * *): Steve Buscemi has made Garden State-Xtra Lite about a depressed guy in his mid-twenties who moves back home and meets a hot girl. Casey Affleck is no Zach Braff and Liv Tyler is certainly no Natalie Portman. But the movie is funny enough and doesn't take itself too seriously.
THE EMPEROR'S JOURNEY (* * *): The Winged Migration of PENGUIN MOVIES!!! YAY, I like penguins! Nutty French narration knocks it down a few pegs putting words into the penguin's minds. But beautifully filmed and very sad. Who knew penguins made love by donkey punching?
HAPPY ENDINGS (* * *): Don Roos' kinda long-in-the-tooth, but very reasonably entertaining multi-character dramedy. Borrows MANY plot points from The Opposite of Sex. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the second biggest bitch at the fest.
THE BEST OF SLAMDANCE
ABEL RAISES CAIN: (read my full review here) A seriously cool documentary about the world's cleverest media prankster. If you believe that breast-feeding should be banned the world over, this is the movie for you. You nut.
THE DRY SPELL: (read my full review here) Find me a guy who needs to get laid and I'll find you a guy who needs to see this pretty damn hilarious little indie comedy.
ILL FATED: Dustbowl drama that's actually quite engaging! Good stuff!
MALL COP: (read my full review here) A mall security guard loses an arm, but still has nowhere to hang out other than the place that took that arm. Young lovely Kathleen Robertson delivers some great work here.
ZOMBIE HONEYMOON: (read my full review here) Equal parts romance, horror, drama, comedy and tragedy. And, bizarrely enough, it ALL WORKS!
OK, here's the dirt: I went to TWO whole parties. (Hey, you try seeing 40 movies in six days and see how much partying you can squeeze in!) The first shindig was sponsored by the fine freaks at "Femme Fatales" Magazine, and it was there that I found a few other online critics, got drunk with 'em, and then met a few actual filmmakers. I had a good time, but I also knew I had to be up in 4 hours for a bunch of screenings, so I was kinda being a baby girl, too.
The second party was on Sunday afternoon. It was sponsored by the Philadelphia Film Office, which meant that we were WATCHING FOOTBALL! There we were, a bunch of misplaced Philadelphians, gathered together with free cheese steaks and tastykakes, so we could root the Eagles on to the Super Bowl. Needless to say, this party was an absolute ball! (I shudder to think of how much fun we'd have had if the Eagles (gulp) lost!)
FAMOUS PEOPLE I MET
The sweet & lovely Elizabeth Pena stayed at our house a few days. She liked my blue flannel shirt! (Awwww...) One afternoon I got invited to the PRETTY PERSUASION round table, which meant that I had to act like a professional when I met Evan Rachel Wood, Jane Krakowski and (the amazingly brilliant) James Woods! Wooo! Scattered throughout the week were introductions and mumbled hellos to folks like Carmen Electra, David Schwimmer, Thora Birch, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Jenny McCarthy and (almost!) Michael Keaton - but I'm not one for ass-kissery and star-gazing adulation, so let's just leave it at that.
YOU'RE WITH JOBLO.COM? NICE!
My #1 favorite part of any film festival (aside from the movies, obviously) is always this: I'm sitting in a shuttle or I'm standing in line. A conversation begins (among strangers) about which movie that and which movie that... Once we're all done listing which flicks we liked the most (and the least), someone will always stare at my press badge and ask who I write for. Usually the responses are something like "Hollywood Bitchslap? Haha. That's a funny name that I've never heard of before!" or (maybe) "Yeah, that site rocks!" (Even if they're lying, it's nice to hear.)
But this year I mentioned JoBlo's in the same breath as my own beloved website, and the gushing practically DOUBLED! "Ah, you write for JoBlo? The site with all the archived screenplays? They rock!" and "Great, funny, down-to-earth movie site. I wish more critics had the passion of that website." and (best of all) "Dude, if you write for both of those websites, you should know you're like, the FUTURE of film criticism. Why should movie freaks read dishwater reviews when they have YOU?" Seriously, schmoes, you should know that JoBlo's is considered one of the gold standards among movie sites. And this is from a SUNDANCE crowd. Just imagine what the folks at the Trenton Horror Convention must think!
Having said that, I admit that I'm quite proud to have my name plastered across JoBlo's - at least once a year. I was asked by SEVERAL different websites if I could provide some Park City coverage, but I'd put all my eggs into the HBS and JoBlo baskets, and there just wasn't room for anyone else. Hopefully you enjoyed the coverage and will stop back again next year. And if you happen to be up there next January, make sure you drop us a line! We can split a $7.00 Starbucks coffee and talk about which movies have the best nudity!