Exciting news in enderzero.net land. As of this month, I will be taking on a larger role at the my favorite film website TWITCH.
I’ll be expanding my festival coverage you are used to seeing here with previews, reviews, and coverage of all the top film festivals — as well as following the most interesting movies as they make their way to a theater near you. The mandate it to expand the Twitch audience with coverage of a more mainstream indie film world. What does that mean? Help me to define it. Films that I love and want to share. Films you want to keep an eye out for. Films you might have missed and need to check out. It’s a very exciting opportunity and I’d love your input to help shape the coverage towards the kind of articles you know you don’t want to miss.
To start things off, check out my Twitchfilm.com Cannes 2011 Preview.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and SEE YOU AT TWITCH!
Dropping on the Isle of Manhattan on 4/20 is the 10th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival. This is the hippest of New York’s chance to see some of the best of the past few fests and, as demonstrated by this program, catch the premieres of a whole hell of a lot of new films. Here is a look at what caught my eye.
EVERYTHING MUST GO
Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, and Laura Dern star in Dan Rush’s feature debut about one man’s epic breakdown.
Tony Kaye has directed four films since 1998’s American History X but all have failed to really break through. Maybe this film which stars Adrien Brody as an influential substitute teacher will finally bring out the audiences.
A GOOD OLD FASHIONED ORGY
Jason Sudeikis stars along with Will Forte and Nick Kroll in Peter Huyck and Alex Gregory’s debut feature about, well…
THE BANG BANG CLUB
Ryan Phillippe stars in Steven Silver’s dramatization of a group of photographers risking their lives during the violence of the first elections of post-Apartheid South Africa. The film opens concurrently in LA at Laemmle’s Sunset 5.
Billy Corban tackled the Miami drug world in his 2006 docu Cocaine Cowboys. Here he turns his attention to the destination of all the smuggled coke – the 1980s New York club scene. The film particularly focuses on the rise and fall of now deported club owner Peter Gatien against the backdrop of a maturing Manhattan.
REVENGE OF THE ELECTRIC CAR
Chris Paine is back with a follow up to his hit 2006 docu Who Killed the Electric Car. Keep an eye out for his 2014 doc, The Electric Car: Refueled!
Alex Gibney’s second film this year (after Sundance Kesey doc Magic Trip) is an ESPN 30 for 30 that focuses on the Steve Bartman and the Chicago Cubs inability to ever, ever win a World Series.
Cameron Crowe’s first film since the 2005 bomb Elizabethtown is a documentary about the collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russel. The film is being shown for free as the opening night gala with a concert afterwards by Elton John.
Take a Japanese softcore porn musical monster movie and put long time favorite cinematographer Christopher Doyle behind the lens and you have what might be the most outrageous sounding arthouse film of the year. I can’t wait.
LET THE BULLETS FLY
Last year it was Fang Xiaogang’s heart heavy Aftershock that was touted as China’s highest domestic grossing film of all time. It seems we might be seeing that every year now as China’s domestic market continues to grow. This year the new honor belongs to actor/director Jiang Wen’s (Warriors of Heaven and Earth) 1920s comic Western. The film stars Wen alongside Chow-Yun Fat and none other than Fang Xiaogang.
DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME
Tsui Hark may be one of the most famous HK action directors of all time, but the title of his latest film sounds like a Harry Potter reject. The “fantastical steampunk version of ancient China” might help bring out an audience from Williamsburg.
If this high octane action crime thriller ends up as good as the trailer suggests, people might just start calling director Paco Cabezas the Spanish Guy Ritchie. [However it appears that may not be the case.]
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI
For the love of the fish! This competition documentary about an 85 year-old sushi master looks to be some seriously raw food porn.
FIRE IN BABYLON
Call this the most exciting cricket documentary of the year. Stevan Riley’s film explores the wildly successful West Indies team who dominated the sport through the national liberation and Black Power movements of the 70s and 80s that saw the international press represent the team as brutal terrorists.
This incredible looking doc from first time director Adam Pesce takes you behind the scenes with the contestants in the inaugural Papua New Guinea surf championship. Check out the trailer and you’ll probably want to add this one to your list.
THE JOURNALS OF MUSAN
This interesting looking doc by first-timer Jungbum Park follows a North Korean defector as he tries to make a life on the streets of Seoul.
This docu screening in competition follows the story of a four year-old boy as he is groomed to become India’s greatest marathon runner.
From the looks of this competition doc’s trailer, this verite exploration of the communities struggling to survive along Southern California’s Salton Sea is going to be stunning.
Alex Rotaru’s docu lets us watch as a bunch of high school drama nerds try to put their tumultuous pasts behind them to fight for the crown of biggest drama nerds in Southern California
A MATTER OF TASTE
This SXSW holdover docu by first timer Sally Rowe follows haute cuisine chef Paul Liebrandt as he fights to regain a place in New York’s cooking elite.
TALIHINA SKY: THE STORY OF KINGS OF LEON
Kings of Leon get a bad rap for being radio friendly but from the looks of this docu’s trailer, the story of three brothers and cousin that break free of a heavy religious upbringing as evangelical gypsies to become rock stars might just make a worthwhile film.
THE SWELL SEASON
This docu tracks real life stars of Once Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard as they navigate love, music and fame after the release of their hit film.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
There isn’t much info out there on Panos Cosmatos, but from the looks of the trailer for his directorial debut, he’s got a lot of style. Set in a dystopian 1983, the film “is a Reagan-era fever dream inspired by hazy childhood memories of midnight movies and Saturday morning cartoons.” Sign me up.
Abre Los Ojos, Vanilla Sky and The Sea Inside screenwriter Mateo Gil’s second directorial feature stars Sam Shepard as an elder Butch Cassidy adventuring in 1920s Bolivia.
Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington star in this New York City romantic drama that premieres at the fest before opening from Miramax on May 5th.
Michael Cuesta made a splash in 2001 with his controversial ultra indie L.I.E. which marked the arrival of Paul Dano and won both Cuesta and Dano Indie Spirits. Cuesta returns to features after much success directing for cable (Six Feet Under, Dexter, True Blood) with this film about a roadie returning home after 20 years touring with Blue Oyster Cult. The film stars Ron Eldard and co-stars new fave Bobby Cannavale (Win Win).
Michael Winterbottom has compressed his 6 part BBC mini-series following Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon around the English countryside down to a more palatable 100 minute feature for us easily distracted yanks.
Mumblecore stalwarts Sean Nelson and Steven Schardt team up to co-direct their first feature which is probably about some sort of mundane part of real life with an ironic twist (just guessing). The film co-stars mumblecore stalwarts Josh Leonard, Ross Partridge, Katie Aselton, and the not so stalwart John Hodgman.
It’s been a number of weeks now since the yanks went back to New York City (say like the old Pace Picante commercials) and the streets of Austin have surely been turned back over to the masses of long horns lookin to hook it up by now. But that just gives us plenty of perspective to look back now at the films that caused a stir at the hippest fest of the year.
Without a doubt, the big hit of the competition was old pal Robbie Pickering’s Rachael Harris starring middle-aged road tripper. The film picked up the awards for Best Narrative Feature, Best Editing, Best Score/Music, Best Screenplay, two Best Breakthrough Perfomrances, and the Audience Award for narrative feature. Jeeez. Huge congrats to Robbie! I can’t wait to see it.
ATTACK THE BLOCK
The other movie out of SXSW that I am most looking forward to seeing is Joe Cornish’s London hoodlum alien invasion comedy. Critics were in love with this midnighter and twitter has been awash with controversy on whether or not subtitles for the thick English accents will be necessary for us slow hearin American audiences.
Tristan Patterson’s docu about some skateboarder kids in Fullerton, CA won both jury awards for Best Documentary and Best Cinematography. The trailer linked above definitely does look pretty.
CONAN O’BRIEN CAN’T STOP
Rodman Flender goes behind the scenes of Conan’s 32-city comedy tour to paint an intimate portrait of one of today’s most beloved celebrities. The film was picked up in a hybrid distribution deal by AT&T which will see it released later this year in some form of theatrical (Abramorama) & VOD/home video (Magnolia) as well as an obvious U-Verse exclusive run yet to be determined.
Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurnet, and Christopher Plummer star in Mike Mills’s first narrative feature since 2005’s Thumbsucker. Focus bought the film at last year’s Toronto Fest and it is expected to hit theaters in limited release the first week of June.
Music video director Joseph Kahn’s feature debut is a teen slasher comedy that received mixed marks at the fest.
Evan Glodell’s feature debut is a wild a ride through a post-apocalptic-ish southland that didn’t quite break through at Sundance but killed at Southby. The film was sold to Oscilloscope by the handsome team at CAA and should make its way to theaters in late summer.
Janus Metz’s Danish Afghan War Docu won the grand prize at last year’s Cannes International Critics’ Week and has been called by some the Danish Restrepo.
A MATTER OF TASTE
This competition docu takes a trip inside the haute cuisine kitchen of Paul Liebrandt as he struggles to regain his title of New York’s next hot chef.
THE SOUND OF MY VOICE
Brit Marling’s other Sundance film (as opposed to Another Earth) has gained a lot of popularity since that fest and that train hit SXSW at high speed. Directed by Zal Batmanglij, the film takes you into the crazy world of a San Fernando Valley cult.
The of buzz over this Apatow produced Kristen Wiig maid-of-honor comedy was around whether it was indeed a “work in progress.” But when director Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks) announced it was the final cut, the buzz switched to disappointment from the assembled critics that the film wouldn’t be getting any better. Look for it to be released by Universal on May 13.
Ti West’s follow up to 2008’s The House of the Devil is a haunted inn comic-horror that Gabe Toro of The Playlist compared to Scooby Doo.
This verite doc by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin focuses on an inner city Memphis high school football team as they attempt to win their first playoff game in 110 years. The movie was bought by the Weinstein Company.
A final quick shout for Janet Grillo’s competition film Fly Away. I couldn’t quite get through the trailer, but my boy Matty was the APOC so here it is.
There were also a whole host of festival holdovers that played as part of the Festival Favorites or other programs. Some notables included NYT Doc Page One: Inside the New York Times, Steve James’s Chicago crime doc The Interrupters, Oscar nom’d French-Canadian fave Incendies, and everyone’s favorite Rutger Hauer as a hobo film, Hobo with a Shotgun.
A little good ol human pixilation – with a few very ingenuitive twists – and executed to perfection. This video by Greg Jardin won the Jury Prize for Best Music Video at last month’s SXSW.
Sundance has once again proved to be the most fun you can have in Utah. Between seeing a whole ton of movies, hanging with friends, shredding Rocky Mountain powder, and meeting new cool people, there was simply no time for sleep. I caught 25 Fest Films as well as a very cool short film directed by Lou Reed who ended up sitting right in front of me for the Q&A (photo). My full festival wrap is up at Twitch, but here is the list of everything I saw (in order viewed) with my twitter blurb and a few quick thoughts:
THE OFF HOURS – Next – Rating: 4 out of 10
I wasn’t a huge fan of Megan Griffith’s truck stop romance filmed in Burien, WA. Amy Seimetz is likable enough as bored waitress Francine, but her story just isn’t interesting enough to get too invested in. This super indie will find its fans in people who appreciate the honest script – but ultimately it falls just a bit too flat.
THE LIE – Next – Rating: 5 out of 10
“The Lie is a superbly edited performance driven indie, steeped in Silverlake love.”
The premise of Blair Witch and Humpday star Joshua Leonard’s feature directorial debut is that a dude (Leonard) tells his co-workers that his child has died in order to get out of work. Not a bad concept but it seemed the writers were afraid to ever really commit to it. Instead this very indie dramedy becomes a little too caught up in the dude’s general malaise. It isn’t bad movie, it just never quite went where I wanted it to. That being said, I was a huge fan of all the Silverlake love it shows.
PROJECT NIM – World Docu Comp – Rating: 6 out of 10
“Project Nim is not a feel good movie – but it is an inciteful doc with as many revelations about humans as about chimps.”
James Marsh’s 2008 doc Man on Wire managed the impressive feat of being both a documentary and a heist movie. It was an incredible story and most importantly, it was fun. While Project Nim is a very accomplished doc, it is not very fun. The story centers around a researcher who tries to determine if chimpanzees learn to communicate the same way humans do (but with sign language). To do this, he places a baby chimp in a human home and basically treats it like a human. Where the story takes a rough turn is when the chimp turns five and the project ends, starting the odyssey that is the reintroduction of a chimp that thinks he’s a human to chimp society. It is interesting, no doubt, but at times just too terribly depressing.
THE NINE MUSES – New Frontiers – Rating: 3 out of 10
I’m sure there are some people who will really appreciate John Akomfrah’s lyrical imagery and experimental editing – but the complete lack of narrative was just too difficult for me to get on board with and I couldn’t connect to the film at all. This is more art than movie.
MARGIN CALL – Premieres – Rating: 7 of 10
“Margin Call is a very contained financial thriller buoyed by extremely strong performances by the entire cast.”
I didn’t expect a whole lot from J.C. Chandor’s financial thriller, mostly due to Kevin Spacey’s weak performance in Casino Jack and my assumption that this film would be pretty similar. I was wrong – this is Spacey’s best role in years. The film takes place in the roughly 24 hours right before an investment bank brings down Wall Street and is meant to be a fictionalization of the 2008 crisis. How much of the story is accurate is anyone’s guess, but the film does an excellent job of dramatizing such an event. The key to the film’s success is in the performances by Spacey, Zachary Quinto, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, and even Demi Moore. While it threatens to get a bit claustrophobic at times, the cast and topical subject matter should equal some box office and potentially awards season success.
MAGIC TRIP – Docu Premieres – Rating: 8 out of 10
“Magic Trip is a must see for fans of Kesey, Cassady, and all merry pranksters. Gibney masterfully docus the birth of 60s counter culture.”
Alex Gibney has made some of the best docs of the last decade (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, etc. etc.). Here he turns his attention to the incredible story of Ken Kesey and his magical, LSD-infused bus trip across the US in 1964. The film is made almost entirely of footage shot by the Merry Pranksters on their trip and then never edited into anything sensible (I guess they were busy). This is a treasure trove of footage of a cranked up Neal Cassady driving the bus and jabbering away, a 22 year old Jerry Garcia strumming his guitar on top of the bus, and Kesey – one of the most brilliant men of his generation. This is the origin story of the 1960s counter culture and a MUST SEE for anyone remotely interested in the subject.
SUBMARINE – Spotlight – Rating: 7 out of 10
“Submarine is a very funny British coming-of-ager at its best during its extremely clever self-referential moments.”
With a charming cast led by Craig Roberts as young Oliver Tate, Submarine is very smart and fun coming-of-age story. Oliver lives in Wales with his neurotic parents played by Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor. The return of an old boyfriend of his mother’s (Paddy Considine) coincides with Oliver snagging his first girlfriend of his own and the challenge of balancing all the new aspects of his life provide the ample subject matter for laughs. Wacky and clever writing and hilarious self referential moments as subtle as Oliver flicking his eyes at the audience make this a really enjoyable discovery.
ON THE ICE – US Dramatic Comp – Rating: 7 out of 10
“On The Ice is an engaging crime thriller, similar to Winters Bone the way it takes u deep into a world you’ve never experienced.”
Andrew Okphea MacLean’s directorial debut is a very impressive look inside the world of Alaskan native teens living way above the arctic circle. Shot in MacLean’s hometown of Barrow, Alaska, the film succeeds because the lives of these self styled “arctic thugs” are really interesting. I got a chance to spend a good amount of time with the two stars Josiah Patkotak and Frank Qutuq Irelan. They were very cool guys and it was great to see how much they were appreciating the experience (although true to character 16-year old Josiah had to head back early to his grandma). When I asked Frank if he had hopes of continuing acting, his answer was a very pragmatic, “Maybe – it depends if I get paid.”
Read my full review of On the Ice @ Twitch
HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN – Park City at Midnight – Rating 7 of 10
“Hobo With a Shotgun more than delivers on everything it promises. Blood, guts, gore, & ridiculous laughs. Full commitment.”
I’ve been a big fan of the grindhouse resurgence. Planet Terror, Hell Ride and Machete proved you could make great movies by taking a ridiculous premise and hamming it out – as long as you had good acting. Hobo with a Shotgun is this turned up to 11. If you are a fan of restraint, then do not go near this film. But if you enjoy cheesy technicolor blood and guts squirting from every conceivable orifice, you’ll surely love this movie.
Read my full review of Hobo with a Shotgun @ Twitch
WIN WIN – Premieres – Rating: 9 out of 10
“Win Win is a superbly acted family/sports drama. Another huge success for T. McCarthy – one of the best directors working today.”
Tom McCarthy’s previous films The Station Agent and The Visitor were such successes due to his extraordinary ability to reveal the heartwarming humanity of his characters. This is very much the case in his third film about a small town lawyer-slash-high school wrestling coach who takes in a troubled teen, just as his own life is hitting a difficult patch. McCarthy gets the very best out of his actors – and when you’ve got pros like Paul Giamatti and Amy Ryan in the lead roles, that is saying a lot. Bobby Canavale and Jeffrey Tambor co-star and turn in hilarious performances as well. This is a little movie with a big heart, executed to perfection by one of the best directors in the biz.
KNUCKLE – World Docu Comp – Rating: 5 out of 10
“Knuckle explores feuding families in Ireland. While entertaining at times, the story ultimately isn’t all that interesting.”
I was very surprised to hear that the remake rights to this feuding family doc had been picked up at the festival. The problem with the film is that the story of the two families – who have settled their differences over the generations by engaging in highly regulated fights – is really pretty boring. There is nothing to remake. You would be better off just taking that premise and writing your own original story about people who fight each other. Throw in some infidelity and some crime and you might get something worth watching. Unfortunately, as a documentary, Ian Palmer’s film simply has nothing to say. It is unclear if we are supposed to think this is a barbaric way to settle long running problems or to applaud the families for not letting things get violent outside the ring. I frankly didn’t care.
LIKE CRAZY – US Dramatic Comp – Rating: 9 out of 10
“Like Crazy is a more hopeful Blue Valentine – an incredibly honest look at love and distance. It is a MUST SEE.”
Drake Doremus’s love story cemented itself as the most buzzworthy film of the fest when it took home the top dog Dramatic Grand Jury Prize (last two winners: Winter’s Bone & Precious). But Park City was going nuts for this film long before last Saturday’s awards and its sale to big distributor Paramount for $4M was the first sign that things were looking very good on the biz side of the festival. The film is worth all the hype. Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones turn in very mature performances as the young lovers separated by an ocean of bureaucracy (and a real ocean). It tugs at your heart strings but you never felt manipulated. Admittedly, I am a sucker for a love story done well and this one is done very well. You’ll be hearing plenty more about this one soon.
THE CATECHISM CATACLYSM – Park City at Midnight – Rating 5 out of 10
“The Catechism Cataclysm is a surreal adventure down a wacky winding river that has very little to do with Jesus. Bravo!”
Todd Rohal’s bizarre comedy is basically a showcase for Steve Little (Eastbound & Down) to do his thing. If you are into his thing, there is a lot to like here. I wasn’t completely on board but I did have a few healthy chuckles. What I didn’t understand was why Little’s character was a Catholic priest. This and a few other odd decisions made it tough for me to become a real fan.
MY IDIOT BROTHER – Premieres – Rating: 7 out of 10
“My Idiot Brother is a very commercial comedy with some pretty funny moments. The impressive ensemble should get butts in seats.”
Paul Rudd stars as the very likable Ned in Jesse Peretz’s well executed commercial comedy. Ned is just trying to keep on L-I-V-I-N (and get his dog back) but every interaction with his sisters (Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer) seems to get him in trouble. The cast is excellent and co-stars Steve Coogan, Rashida Jones, and Adam “Are we having fun yet?” Scott all hit it out of the park. There is a lot to like about the movie (although I can see why some critics have suggested it is rooted in a bit of misogyny) and it will surely be rewarded at the box office.
THE INTERRUPTERS – Docu Premieres – Rating: 9 out of 10
“The Interrupters’ is a brilliant & incredibly inspirational doc about people doing good. The only way to stop violence is to try.”
Clocking in at over 2 and 1/2 hours, some moviegoers weren’t willing to commit the time to Steve James’s (Hoop Dreams) doc about crime interrupters on the South Side of Chicago. That is too bad as the film was surely one of the best docs of the fest. The subjects, all ex-criminals who have devoted their lives to trying to stop young kids from killing each other, are some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen. It is easy to see why the kids on the street pay so much respect to people like the particularly charismatic Ameena. There is no answer in this film other than try to keep doing your best – but the end result is a very emotional journey along with some people doing just that.
CEDAR RAPIDS – Premieres – Rating: 7 out of 10
“Cedar Rapids is very funny once it finally hits its stride about halfway thru & commits to its wackiness.”
Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche star as insurance agents gone wild at the big annual convention in this broad comedy from Miguel Arteta. There is a somewhat necessary plot about Ed Helms (playing Ed Helms) trying to win an award to keep his insurance agency open or something but it really isn’t important. The movie gets really enjoyable once Arteta gets away from the plot about half way through and really let’s things go off the rails. Ed Helms smoking crack and getting in fights is much funnier than Ed Helms nervous about getting ketchup on his pocket protector.
THE SON OF NO ONE – Premieres – Rating: 2 out of 10
“Son of No One is a real mess. Baffling character motivations & one of the worst endings I’ve seen. Big slump for Dito.”
One of my favorite parts of this year’s Sundance was following the drama over the Press & Industry screening of The Son of No One. The movie is awful and I’ve spent enough time talking about how bad it is and how little sense it makes and how amazing the awful ending is. But the controversy over exactly how many people walked out of the screening (a lot – but a lot of people walk out of decent movies too) and the ridiculously defensive reaction by the sales agent who said the lights turned on ten minutes before the film ended (they didn’t) has been hilarious. When the film finally premiered to the public on Friday, it found a bit more positive response – but it will be very interesting to see if the movie ever makes it to release. Maybe Katie Holmes will buy it and distribute it herself.
VAMPIRE – World Dramatic Comp – Rating: 6 out of 10
“Vampire is an obscure & original love story. A few very odd artistic decisions – some work, some don’t – but certainly bold.”
I am a big fan of Shunji Iwai’s Japanese films Swallowtail Butterfly and All About Lily Chou-Chou and therefore was looking forward to his English language debut with a fair amount of anticipation. The result is a very different horror movie about a compassionate killer who helps people end their lives and then drinks their blood. It starts out slow and makes some awful missteps (turning the camera on its side sent people out of the theater a full row at a time) but the final product is a very artistic and interesting film with some truly beautiful moments.
Read my full review of Vampire @ Twitch
I MELT WITH YOU – Premieres – Rating: 6 out of 10
“I Melt With You is the most intense midlife crisis ever. Great cast. Beautiful photography. Amazing music. Weird movie.”
I wasn’t exaggerating when I called this a weird movie and I wasn’t at all expecting the experience I got when I walked into the theater. Mark Pellington has a very impressive resume between his features (Arlington Road) and his music videos (U2, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains) but he was hopped up on some crazy pills for this one. Crazy pills are actually a big part of the plot in this movie which is basically about Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, and Christian McKay on a crazy drug-fueled mid life crisis gone terribly wrong. The movie takes a big twist about two-thirds through and at the time I was very against it – but looking back, I am kinda glad it took me where it did. It’s a tough one, but ultimately it is pretty impressive.
THE DETAILS – Premieres – Rating 6 out of 10
“The Details is a black comedy. Like black as night. Tobey Maguire just didn’t work for me but Laura Linney is an absolute riot!”
Tobey Maguire stars in Jacob Aaron Estes (Mean Creek) super black comedy about a dude who keeps making bad decisions. This movie goes just as wacky as I Melt With You, but it does so with enough humor to save you from a brain aneurysm. Unfortunately Tobey Maguire just isn’t a good enough actor to pull it off – though Laura Linney as the neurotic neighbor who blackmails him into oral sex is funny enough to almost save it.
ANOTHER EARTH – US Dramatic Comp – Rating: 4 out of 10
“Another Earth is an uneven redemption story with too many plot problems to overlook.”
Sundance it-girl Brit Marling co-wrote, produced and stars in one of the most buzzed over films of the fest (it won the Special Jury Prize, Alfred P. Sloan science award, and scored a major deal with Fox Searchlight). I know I’m in the minority on this one but I was horribly unimpressed with the film. Marling is obviously a talent but the plot has more problems than the middle east and the attempt at a scientific explanation for the second earth is laughable. I am still waiting for someone to explain to me why we have so much trouble talking to the other planet. We had radio contact with astronauts on the moon in the 1960s – are you really telling me with all our satellites and communications technology we can’t just pull up FaceTime on our iPhones with another planet that’s right over there (they have all the same technology afterall). I hear you saying, “but it isn’t about the science, it’s about the love story.” Yeah, fine, but the love story sucked too.
HOMEWORK – US Dramatic Comp – Rating: 6 out of 10
“Homework treads familiar territory of the outcast kid who the pretty girl falls for. However it avoids cliches and is enjoyable.”
We’ve all seen the story about the loser kid that no one likes that inexplicably hooks up with the prettiest girl in school. There are obviously a lot of directors and screenwriters living out adolescent fantasies in Hollywood. Gavin Wiesen’s directorial debut is pretty much that exactly – but it is that done pretty damn well. A big part of the success is due to young British actor Freddie Highmore who plays a vulnerable yet somehow confident outcast. Emma Roberts is okay as the object of his affection – but she is short of memorable. Wiesen does manage to avoid a lot of cliches and it is kind of fun to see all these high school kids drinking at bars in Manhattan. It’s a decent movie that is worth a watch but won’t likely make much noise – and it is definitely no The Wackness.
PERFECT SENSE – Premieres – Rating: 8 out of 10
“Perfect Sense is a love story that completely commits to its very high concept. A lot to like – though maybe not for everyone.”
Ewan McGregor and Eva Green star in David Mackenzie’s romantic thriller about a world where everyone is losing their senses. It is a very bold concept but Mackenzie commits fully and what results is a highly polished and excellent film. This was one of my surprise faves of the fest.
Read my full review of Perfect Sense @ Twitch
ELITE SQUAD 2 – Spotlight – Rating: 8 of 10
“Elite Squad 2 is a truly awesome Brazilian actioner. Padilha went more political than the 1st = less action – but def a success.”
Jose Padilha’s Elite Squad showed that you could make a very smart shooter without giving up any of the action. His follow-up focuses more on the political side of things in the Rio police force – but it is every bit as impressive. The fact he was able to pull off such a polished product for under $9M is even more of a feat. I’ll be shocked if Hollywood doesn’t shell out some big bucks to get Padilha behind the camera of a big studio picture soon.
Read my full review of Elite Squad 2 @ Twitch
PAGE ONE: A YEAR INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES – US Docu Comp – Rating: 8 out of 10
“Page One is a captivating doc about why journalism will always be important, even in the changing face of the media landscape.”
Andrew Rossi originally set out to make a doc about NY Times media reporter and all around distinctive character David Carr. What resulted was a fascinating exploration of news and journalism in the face of a rapidly changing media landscape. From WikiLeaks to an NBC sponsored media event declaring the end of combat in Iraq, Rossi’s cameras capture the the deliberation the editors at the NYT go to to consider the distinction between reporting the news and creating the news. Carr remains an important figure in the film and an enigmatic force – but the people around him are just as interesting. For those interested in issues of media and you know, the world, this doc is another must see.
Of course there were just as many films that I wanted to see but didn’t get a chance to. One film with a ton of buzz I hope to catch soon is Martha Marcy May Marlene with festival sweetheart Elizabeth Olsen – younger sister of Mary Kate and Ashley. Brit Marling’s other fest film Sound of my Voice had people raving. Kevin Smith was at the fest with his political horror Red State, but the lack of P&I screening made it impossible to score a ticket. I spoke to a number of people who had very good things to say about Terri with John C. Reilly and Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut Higher Ground was also rumored to be well worth a watch. The Paddy Considine directed Tyrannosaur and Take Shelter with Michael Shannon both had people saying great things as well.
On the unseen docu side of things, the film with the most positive buzz was Morgan Spurlock’s product placement expose The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It sounds like everyone who saw it loved Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. Euthanasia doc How to Die in Oregon, Afghan war doc Hell and Back Again and the story of the real life horse whisperer Buck all received top prizes as well.
My Top 10 of 2010 included a stunning 7 films at Sundance 2010 (though I only caught 4 of them at the fest). I can’t help but wonder how many of this year’s batch will be included on my list a year from now. Like Crazy will very likely stick around and it won’t surprise me if The Interrupters and Win Win do as well. It’s exciting to think about all the great movies that are still to be seen.
Sundance 2011 is coming up fast here in T-minus 2 weeks! Here is a quick look at 11 of the dramatic features that I am most excited about. There will be a lot more coming as I will covering the festival for Twitch again this year. Stay tuned for reviews, news, and live tweets from Park City! If you aren’t following me on twitter, now would be a good time to get on board @enderzero. Here are just a few of the many rad looking flicks:
Hobo with a Shotgun – You’d have to be nuts not to be excited about seeing Rutger Hauer go bat shit with a 12 gauge in Jason Eisner’s (Treevenge) feature adaptation of his trailer from the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse. Bam!
The Catechism Cataclysm – This absurd comic-horror about a priest and his buddy taking a wild trip into the woods promises to be a lot of fun. Directed by Todd Rohal (Hillbilly Robot) and starring Steve Little (Eastbound & Down) and Robert Longstreet (who wins the prize for appearing in four films at Sundance this year), this midnight madness flick also sports the best tagline of the fest, “God will fuck you up!”
Win Win – Tom McCarthy has made two of my favorite films of the decade in The Station Agent and The Visitor. In Win Win he casts Paul Giamatti as a lawyer turned wrestling coach. Amy Ryan co-stars in what is sure to be a truthful, touching and hilarious film.
Cedar Rapids – Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, and Anne Heche star in this Fox Searchlight comedy about an insurance convention directed by Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt, The Good Girl).
Elite Squad 2 – Jose Padilla’s (Bus 174, Secrets of the Tribe) first Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite) was a smart and action-packed ride through Rio’s favella. Here’s hoping the sequel is just as good.
Red State – Wait, a Kevin Smith horror movie with a political message? Casting Melissa Leo, John Goodman, and Stephen Root (ahem, Milton) surely can’t hurt. Yes, I’ve got my hopes up.
The Guard – Brendan Gleeson, Don Cheadle and the always great Mark Strong star in this Irish drug smuggling action-comedy. Can writer/director John Michael McDonagh live up to the hefty shoes of his brother Martin and produce this year’s In Bruges?
I Melt with You – Mark Pellington might be well known for directing 1999’s heady TIm Robbins and Jeff Bridges thriller Arlington Road, but Northwest music fans will be excited to learn he also directed seminal grunge videos for Pearl Jam’s Jeremy and Alice in Chains’ Rooster (amongst others). In this film he turns to a good ol’ dude out sesh with Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe, and Christian McKay going on a sex and drug filled adventure to learn some shit about themselves or whatever. The film also co-stars the always fun to watch Sasha Grey.
Son of No One – Dito Montiel follows up his excellent A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints with this NYC cop story that again stars Channing Tatum along with Tracy Morgan, Katie Holmes, Ray Liotta and Al Pacino.
Like Crazy – Anton Yelchin’s (Charlie Bartlett) and Jennifer Lawrence’s (Winter’s Bone) chemistry was the best part of The Beaver. They return together (with Felicity Jones) in this Drake Doremus (Douchebag) competition film about long distance love.
Vampire – Shunji Iwai (Swallowtail Butterfly, All About Lily Chou-Chou) makes his English language directorial debut in this less than traditional vampire thriller that stars Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Leigh Cook, and Kristin Kreuk. Count on a lot of atmosphere.
Much more from Sundance coming soon!
AFI Fest 2010 is once again an absolutely free film festival and this year’s lineup presents some very exciting offerings. All of the free advance tickets are gone but more tickets are released online the day before a screening at 10am and at the box office the day of the screening at 10am. Here is a quick look at some of the highlights:
This year’s fest include’s the LA premieres of a whole ton of movies that have played on the fest circuit. I’ve mentioned all of these before so I won’t spend too much time. On the Hollywood front there is Aronofsky’s Black Swan, John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole, Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, and the premiere of Ed Zwick’s Gyllenhall/Hathaway starrer Love and Other Drugs.
From the Asian film world, the fest will host LA prems of Miike’s 13 Assassins, Takeshi Kitano’s Outrage, Korean thriller The Housemaid, and the Cannes Palme d’Or winning Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Celine Danhier’s debut feature docu chronicles the indie film scene in late 1970s New York City. If you have seen Edo Bertoglio’s Basquiat starring Downtown 81, then you have an idea of the bombed out Lower East Side that directors like Jim Jarmusch and Lizzie Borden used as their backdrops. This looks fascinating. Congrats Aviva!
Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye, and many other notable musicians feature in this docu about fair use, big business, and the first amendment from first timers Georgia Sugimura Archer and Kristin Armfield.
Xu Xin’s documentary questions the Chinese society in the wake of a horrible catastrophe that left 100s of school children dead because they had to wait for government officials to leave a burning building before they could escape. Not only does the subject matter sound pretty heavy, but the film clocks in at a hair short of 6 hours!
Kevin Spacey plays Jack Abramoff in the dramatization of the documentary by the same name, This film is directed by the very recently departed George Hickenlooper.
Los Angeles finally gets a chance to see Taika Waititi’s (Eagle Vs. Shark, Flight of the Conchords) wonderfully funny coming of age story about a Maori boy in rural New Zealand. Do yourself a favor and get to see this one as it isn’t likely to get much of a release elsewhere.
Chris Cooper stars as an American Colonel in John Sayles’ latest film which is set in the Philippine-American war.
Thomas Vinterberg returns to Danish filmmaking with this drama about estranged brothers.
The Myth of the American Sleepover
Playing the Young Americans section, David Robert Mitchell’s indie debut is a story of teen love set in modern metro Detroit.
Today is the first day of Austin’s Fantastic Fest – undoubtedly one of the coolest film fests in the country. Set at the game-changing Alamo Draft House Cinema, Fantastic Fest features best genre and foreign genre flicks of the year. The mission is to show fun, scary, gross, hilarious, and just plain weird movies that you might not get a chance to normally see in the theater. Unfortunately, I won’t be there this year – but here is a quick look at what’s playing.
13 Assassins by Takashi Miike had its debut at Toronto and is a fitting closing night film for the fest. Other flicks playing at Fantastic Fest that I have mentioned here before include Japanese thriller Cold Fish by Love Exposure‘s Sion Sono, the stylized star-studded actioner Bunraku, and trip fest fave Enter The Void. Pretty much every HK action flick at TIFF will be at Fantastic Fest. This includes Dante Lam‘s Fire of Conscience, Andrew Lau‘s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, and Wilson Yip‘s Ip Man 2. Finally two other festival faves that might make their way to a theater near you, the Korean thriller The Housemaid and Matt Reeves‘s very well received Let the Right One In remake Let Me In.
I’m not sure why but the Mel Brooks classic Spaceballs keeps coming up in conversation recently. If I was at the fest, I’d be sure not to miss this raucous Spaceballs Quote-A-Long. Another cool looking flick is the documentary Nerdcore Rising about the new brand of videogame and pop culture reference filled hip-hop known as Nerdcore. Guillermo Del Toro is involved with two Spanish language thrillers at the fest: Julia’s Eyes and Agnosia. The Butcher Bros. out-there horror which I had the pleasure of seeing at Sundance, The Violent Kind will also play.
The Kick Ass
Along with the actioners I mentioned above, there are plenty of cool martial arts flicks at the fest. Tony Jaa returns with his Muay Thai stylings in Ong Bak 3. Action choreography legend Yuen Woo-ping directs Michelle Yeoh in True Legend. Gallants is a martial arts comedy that stars a whole bunch of HK legends. Donnie Yen stars in Black Mask director Daniel Lee‘s latest, 14 Blades.
The Rising Sun
Fantastic Fest always brings in the best in Japanese Cinema – especially when it’s wacky. Co-directed by three of Japan’s wackiest, Tak Sakaguchi (Samurai Zombie), Yoshihiro Nishimura (Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, Tokyo Gore Police), and Noboru Iguchi (RoboGeisha), Mutant Girls Squad promises to be an absolute crack up. On a bit more serious note, Yoshihiro Nakamura follows up last year’s Fish Story with the suspense thriller Golden Slumber. And a film I am very excited about: Takeshi Kitano makes his return to Yakuza films with his ultra-violent Outrage.
The Just Plain Weird
Machete Maidens Unleashed is a hilarious sounding docu about the world of 1960s-70s exploitation films in the Philippines. Norwegian Ninja tells the possibly true story of a ninja sent to spy on the USSR by Norwegian King Olav. Naan Kadavul is a “music-infused Tamil epic about a dope-smoking Vedic superman and a group of beggar slave children.” …wow. Finally – be sure not to miss the action-sci-fi-horror-sfx romp of the season, Sharktopus
Lemme know if you makes it to Austin.
Another season of awards mania is kicking off and TIFF’10 is in full swing. Here is a round up of the 70 or so films playing at Toronto that might be worth having on your radar.
So far, critics have been very kind to Mike Mills’s (Thumbsucker) second feature which stars Ewan McGregor, Chrisoper Plummer and Melanie Laurent (from Inglourious Basterds). The very intelligent “oddly charming comedy” is a partially autobiographical story about a son dealing with his father’s coming-out a few years before his death.
David Schwimmer’s directorial follows up to Run Fatboy, Run has a quite different tone and is said to be considerably better in quality as well. Clive Owen and Catherine Keener star in this dark mainstream drama about a 14 year old girl whose 16 year old online bf turns out to be a 40-year old serial pedophile.
Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, and Kevin Bacon star in James Gunn’s violent superhero comedy. While reviews have been mixed, the film has made one of the notable big sales of the fest to IFC.
Ondi Timoner (Dig!, We Live in Public) is back with this docu about climate change deniers.
Keanu Reeves stars as a highway toll booth operator who is arrested for a bank robbery he didn’t commit in this Malcolm Venville comedy.
Let Me In
Much to my astonishment, word out of Toronto is that Matt Reeves’s (Cloverfield) remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In might be even better than its predecesor. The film stars the girl from Kick-Ass (Chloe Moretz) and the boy from The Road (Kodi Smit-McPhee) alongside Richard Jenkins.
John Curran (The Painted Veil) directs Robert De Niro, Edward Notron, and Milla Jovavich in what is said to be a messy thriller with some good performances.
The festival season is kicking into high gear. Venice is winding down, Telluride just wrapped up, and big daddy Toronto kicks off tomorrow. Most of the movies we will be talking about at Oscar time have just premiered or will premiere this month. Here is a quick look at 10 films that have had people talking from Venice and Telluride. Watch for a more in depth look at the Toronto lineup coming soon.
Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky’s follow up to The Wrestler is shaping up to be one of the most devisive films of the season. It’s premiere at Venice had many top critics split. Though most agree on the film’s quality, it sounds more like one of those films you appreciate rather than enjoy. There is, however, a general consensus that Natalie Portman’s performance will be good enough for a very strong Oscar push. But with the very crowded Best Actress category this year, it won’t be quite the slam dunk it might have been in years past. The trailer highlights the handheld styling which didn’t seem like a hit to me, although it certainly will increase what appears to be the film’s most noticeable feature: it’s dark and brooding milieu. …Well most noticeable after Mila Kunis that is.
Miral – The consensus seems to be that Julian Schnabel’s latest is no Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The film stars Slumdog Millionaire‘s Freida Pinto as a Palestinian orphan (she’s Indian btw). It sounds like Pinto’s lack of experience may be partially to blame for the film’s shortcomings though reviews have not been kind to Schnabel’s tackling of such a difficult story either. It remains to be seen if the Weinsteins are able to translate the spark plug subject matter into box office receipts or if this one will make a quick appearance on the art house circuit before getting lost in the awards shuffle.
Somewhere – I’ve been a huge fan of everything Sofia Coppola has done, even the critically panned Marie Antoinette . So it is no surprise that I am pretty excited for her follow-up. The film tells the story of a young girl (Elle Fanning) and her Hollywood star father (Stephen Dorff). Reviews from Venice have been positive. No one is calling it revolutionary, but it is competently told story that doesn’t stray too far from Coppola’s lovely style. Sounds exactly like what I want.
Never Let Me Go – Mark Romanek has often been called one of the most visionary directors working today due to his incredible music videos (NIN, Jay-Z, The Eels, Fiona Apple). Therefore, I was surprised to realize that Never Let Me Go is only the second feature he has helmed (the first being 2002’s One Hour Photo). This film is adapted from a dystopic Japanese novel by screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days/Weeks Later, Sunshine) and stars IT-girl Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, and future Peter Parker Andrew Garfield. Reviews after its Venice and Telluride unspoolings have been mixed but call it powerful and have universally praised the acting. I am hoping to see it soon and have some more thoughts here.
The King’s Speech – Tom Hooper’s period comedy about the stuttering King George VI has been the early darling of the Fall fests. Critics have consistently put it forward as the film to beat in the run to Oscar gold and called Colin Firth’s Best Actor nom and Geoffrey Rush’s supporting nom sure things. Hooper has so far been better known for his TV success (John Adams, Elizabeth I) than for features (last year’s The Damned United). That may be changing this season.
I’m Still Here – Comparisons have already been made between Casey Affleck’s “documentary” and Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop. Echoes of “Is it real?” can be heard all the way from Venice. But from early accounts, the movie isn’t half of what Banksy’s film is. What could potentially be an interesting look at celebrity is reported to instead be an ego driven star-studded prank. As one review put it, the film is more like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm than a documentary. The question isn’t necessarily whether or not Joaquin Phoenix and Affleck orchestrated the quitting-acting-for-hip-hop stunt for this movie – but rather why anyone should care.
Meek’s Cutoff – I missed Kelly Reichardt’s last feature Wendy and Lucy – but by all accounts it was a bit slow. Reports from Venice about her take on the Western genre seem to echo that sentiment. One review reported that by minute 40, a quick glance around found most people sleeping. Another report called it more boring than watching paint dry. Too bad because star Michelle Williams is supposed to be quite good and I’ve always found the Oregon Trail subject matter particularly interesting.
The Way Back – One movie which has garnered a lot of speculation is Peter Weir’s tale of a group of men who escape a Soviet labor camp in 1941. While early reports from Telluride have been very positive, there is some question as to whether the film will be moved forward from its scheduled January release in time for awards eligibility. Weir’s credits include a number of great films from Witness and Dead Poets Society to The Truman Show and Master & Commander. Given that he has been nom’d for 6 Oscars and never won, I’m guessing the film’s distrib Newmarket gives it a push.
Tabloid – Errol Morris has made some of the best documentaries of all time (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) and it sounds like his latest is up there as well. Tabloid tells the hilarious story of beauty queen turned S&M hooker turned tabloid queen Joyce McKinney. From all accounts, the movie was the star of Telluride and should make a splash when it makes it to theaters (hopefully) soon.
127 Hours – Yet another big director with a big follow-up (Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire in this case), Danny Boyle’s latest stars James Franco as that dude who cut off his own arm after a rock climbing accident. Critics have been mixed on the film – skewing a bit more positive – with many singing Franco’s praises. Could it be his year for a nom? The trailer evokes Into the Wild and the scenery looks gorgeous – but sitting for two hours watching a guy trapped by a rock sounds like a horrifying experience. Here’s hoping Boyle’s mastery of the medium can make it an enjoyable journey.
This year’s LAFF has been moved from its recent Westwood home to the considerably more interesting Downtown Los Angeles. Theaters include The Downtown Independent, The Orpheum, and the Regal 14 at LA Live. This should be a good opportunity to check out some interesting venues. Here’s a look at a few highlights, beginning with the flicks I’m going to try to hit. Lemme know if you are interested in joining.
MANDRILL – This raucous Chilean spy actioner was one of my favorite films at the awesome Fantastic Fest last Fall. I would definitely be into seeing it again if we had a good crew.
Screens Tues 6/22, 7:45pm, Regal & Sat 6/26, 10pm, Independent
TINY FURNITURE – This NYC Indie by Lena Dunham was the darling of this year’s SXSW.
Screens Sat 6/19, 7:30pm, Regal & Mon 6/21, 10pm, Regal
THE TILLMAN STORY – I missed this Afghan War docu at Sundance but it has been lauded as one of the year’s best. It is directed by Amir Bar-Lev who directed My Kid Could Paint That and co-produced the Sundance hit Katrina docu Trouble the Water.
Screens Sat 6/19, 9:35pm, Regal & Sun 6/20, 1:30pm, Independent
AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH: A FILM ABOUT LEVON HELM – Jacob Hatley’s docu about The Band drummer/vocalist got some great write-ups at SXSW.
Screens Sun 6/20, 7pm, Regal & Fri 6/25, 9:45pm, Regal
MONSTERS – This sounds like a pretty interesting indie sci-fi about a pair battling across an alien infested swath of land between Mexico and America.
Screens Weds 6/23, 10:15pm, Regal & Sat 6/26, 7pm, Independent
PARADE – LAFF has a few good Japanese offerings this year including this Tokyo drama from Isao Yukisada.
GOLDEN SLUMBER – Another of LAFF’s Japanese offerings is this absurd sounding adventure by Yoshihiro Nakamura.
UDON – Filed under ones that got away, this 2006 comedy by Katsuyuki Motohiro revolves around Japan’s famous noodle. It is presented by LA Times’ Jonathan Gold.
DOG SWEAT – This film, shot clandestinely in Iran, is a verite examination of current Iranian society.
THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS – Expect this 6/23 FORD THEATER screening of the Star Wars creator docu to be a raucous time.
ANIMAL KINGDOM – David Michod’s Australian crime drama was a big hit at Sundance. It is well worth checking out in its LA premier.
THE RED CHAPEL – Another Sundance flick, this docu takes you into North Korea with a group of Danish absurdist political street performers.
DOWN TERRACE – I’ve mentioned this British indie a few times since its Fantastic Fest unspooling. It bodes well that it made the LAFF program as well.
WAITING FOR SUPERMAN – Davis Guggenheim’s public school Sundance docu is currently known as WAITING FOR because of Time Warner’s reluctance to allow them to use “Superman” in the title. Pfff
PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE – It’s not every day you get a chance to see this Tim Burton/Paul Reubens classic on the big screen. Reubens is scheduled to to be there in person.
Screens Sat 6/26, 1pm, The Orpheum
Don’t get mad at me Seattle film fans – I just heard someone on iW refer to your wonderful fest that way and couldn’t help but repeat it. With 260 features, SIFF is the biggest fest in the country. It is a great opportunity for NWers to see the movies making the fest rounds from the previous year and to catch some otherwise hard to find foreign films. SIFF’s website format makes it hard to weed through the multitude of titles (just put the director under the damn title), but here is what caught my eye in the quick look I took at the program.
The Sentimental Engine Slayer – Wow I somehow missed hearing about this one when it prem’d at Rotterdam and then played at Tribeca, but this is the debut feature from Omar Rodriguez Lopez (yep, of The Mars Volta fame) who wrote, directed, and stars in this tripped out sounding film. Peep the trailer and move this one to the top of your list.
Farewell – Christian Carion’s French Cold War spy thriller is his follow up to 2005’s Joyeux Noel.
Leaves of Grass – Coming off an acclaimed premier at SXSW, this pot growing drama from Tim Blake Nelson screens as part of a Tribute to Ed Norton that includes screenings of 25th Hour, Fight Club, and American History X (what… no Death to Smoochy?).
American Faust: From Condi to Neo-Condi – This is the first I have heard of Sebastian Doggart’s (a former Project Runway producer) political docu that delves deep into the career of Condoleeza Rice as “a woman whose pursuit of power has both destroyed her values and hurled America into a perilous new direction.”
The Milk of Sorrow – This challenging sounding Peruvian film by Claudia Llosa was nom’d for the Foreign Language Oscar.
The Dancer and the Thief – Fresh off his fantastic performance in the Foreign Language Oscar winning The Secret in Their Eyes, Ricardo Darin stars as a reformed thief in veteran filmmaker Fernando Trueba’s post-Pinochet era romantic-thriller. This screens as part of a New Spanish Cinema program at the fest.
Skeletons – This British black comedy by Nick Whitfield about skeleton extractors (like the ones in closets) has a decisively Gondry-esque surreal sound to it and might be worth a gander.
Micmacs – I’ve mentioned it a number of times and I am still looking forward to catching the latest from Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Ondine – Neil Jordan’s (The Crying Game, Interview with a Vampire) Colin Farrell starring mermaid story never quite caught hold after its Toronto prem – but it hung around long enough to play at Tribeca last month and again at SIFF.
This Way of Life – Call me fascinated with New Zealand, but this documentary about a family living in New Zealand’s Ruahine Mountains and their struggles with modernity sounds incredibly interesting. Just check out the trailer.
The Trotsky – Jay Baruchel stars as the young Canadian reincarnation of the Socialist revolutionary in this Jacob Tierney comedy hit from Toronto.
Down Terrace – I’ve heard nothing but good about this British gangster flick which screened way back at Fantastic Fest.
Life During Wartime – Paul Reubens and others star in Todd Solondz’s (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) latest dark comedy.
Under the Mountain – You may think Jonathan King’s New Zealand based film will be a fresh take on the youth adventure genre, but it is snores-ville as evidenced by its unimpressive reception at Fantastic Fest.
RoboGeisha – Get ready for wacky as you delve into Noboru Iguchi’s wild world of genital weaponry.
Air Doll – Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, Nobody Knows, After Life) returns with this odd tale of a man and his doll.
Kanikosen I don’t know much about the Japanese director who goes by Sabu (Unlucky Monkey), but this film about Japanese-Russian relations in the early days of the 20th century takes place on a crab canning ship and sounds suitably wacky.
Bakal Boys – This Filipino docu-drama tells the story of the young metal divers in the heavily polluted Manila Bay.
Little Big Soldier – Jackie Chan’s latest action comedy takes place in way ancient China.
At the End of Daybreak – There aren’t a whole lot of movies that make it here from Malaysia. This noir-ish drama could be interesting.
Mundane History – Thai filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong’s first feature sounds like an impressive exploration of art and life.
Quite a few of Sundance’s best narrative films are making their NW premier at SIFF – including the official fest fave, Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. One of my personal faves, Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil will be playing as a midnight film along side one of the less popular midnighters, the Adrian Brody + Sarah Polley starrer Splice. The John Lennon as a young man Nowhere Boy is playing – as is the James Franco as Allen Ginsberg Howl. Two more flicks that I caught, Cyrus which stars John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Marisa Tomei and the Jesse Eisenberg orthodox Jew ecstasy smuggling movie I enjoyed, Holy Rollers.
There are also some great Sundance docs at the fest – including one I am still excited to see, Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child. Restrepo which won the Docu Grand Jury prize will be there, as will the other big war docu The Tillman Story. The Oath, about a Guantanamo detainee won a special cinematography prize and Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work had a whole lot of buzz. A couple domestic topics, 8: The Mormon Proposition about California’s anti-gay Prop. 8 and the Davis Guggenheim directed public school expose Waiting for Superman are both playing. Finally, one film I enjoyed about Chinese domestic migration Last Train Home is also on the bill.
For more on these Sundace flicks, check out my Sundance Wrap from earlier this year.
VCFest – now known as the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival – begins today at a variety of sites across LA. Here is a quick look at a few of the notable films on the fest’s slate:
The People I’ve Slept With – USA
Quentin Lee and Koji Sakai team up for this rollicking sex and identity comedy starring Karin Anna Cheung. This film serves as the fest’s U.S. Centerpiece.
Screens Sat 5/1 7:00pm at DGA
Bodyguards and Assassins – Hong Kong
VC’s closing night film is a big budget HK historic actioner directed by Teddy Chan. The film takes place in the wild west that was Hong Kong in 1906 and stars such notable HK actors as Donnie Yen, Tony Leung Ka Fai, and Simon Yam.
Screens Thurs 5/6 7:00pm at The Aratani (in Little Tokyo)
She, A Chinese – China
This film from female filmmaker Guo Xiaolu looks to be an interesting character piece about identitiy and gender roles in modern China. It is preceeded by the short film Let Fly by UCSB Film grad Laurie Tsou. Congrats Laurie!
Screens Sun 5/2 4:00pm at Sunset 5.
VC’s Digital Posse – USA
Speaking of UCSB Film grads, VC’s popular Armed with a Camera shorts program is back and includes the short film Slip and Slide by Ms. Emily Lu. A collection of 10 other short narratives and docus screen along side. Pretty cool.
Screens Weds 5/5 8:00pm at The Aratani (in Little Tokyo)
Clash – Vietnam
If you enjoyed 2007’s The Rebel (which I loved), then you might want to catch this actioner directed by The Rebel‘s 1st AD Le Thanh Son and starring The Rebel stars Johnny Nguyen and Veronica Ngo.
Screens Sun 5/2 7:00pm at DGA
Beijing Taxi – China
Female director Miao Wang has put together a modern day portrait of China’s capital from the perspective of three taxi drivers in the days preceding the 2008 Olympics.
Screens Sun 5/2 6:30pm at DGA
The Taqwacores – USA
Straight from critical acclaim at Sundance, Eyad Zahra’s story of a Pakistani-American punk rock and identity makes its LA debut at VC.
Screens Fri 4/30 10:00pm at DGA
Villon’s Wife – Japan
Tadanobu Asano and Takaku Matsu star in Kichitaro Negishi’s highly decorated drama set in 1947 Tokyo.
Screens Fri 4/30 7:30pm at Sunset 5 and Weds 5/5 4:30pm at Downtown Independent
The Mountain Thief – Philippines
This interesting sounding narrative explores the poorest of the poor who live in Manilla’s largest dump. Writer/Director Gerry Balasta went so far as to cast the actual inhabitants, teaching them how to act in the process.
Screens Sat 5/1 12:30pm at DGA and Sun 5/2 5:00pm at DGA
Adrift – Vietnam
“Bui Thac Chuyen’s seductive and atmospheric rumination on sexual awakening as modern day Vietnam enters a social and moral crossroad.”
Screens Weds 5/5 7:00pm at Downtown Independent
Red and White – Indonesia
This historical drama set against Indonesia’s 1947 struggle for independence boasts the highest budget of any Indonesian film and is said to have some pretty impressive battle scenes.
Screens (for FREE) Fri 4/30 5:00pm at DGA
Hope you can make some screenings.
The competition lineup of 16 films for the upcoming 63rd Cannes Film Festival was released today. Here is a quick look at the titles that will be vying for the prestigious (and usually disappointing) Palme d’Or.
Outrage by Takeshi Kitano
Takeshi Kitano returns to his roots with this new crime drama in which he also star. Trailer (in Japanese)
Another Year by Mike Leigh
I wasn’t a huge fan of Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky, but Leigh is a great filmmaker and I’m sure this film starring Lesley Manville and Jim Broadbent will be of the utmost quality.
Tournee by Mathieu Amalric
Amalric is probably best known as the star of Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (he was also in Quantum of Solace). He takes a turn behind the camera in this movie about American burlesque dancers in Paris.
Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Gods and Men) by Xavier Beauvois
I know very little about actor/director Beauvois. This film centers around a 1996 murder of French monks in Algeria.
Hors la loi (Outside the Law) by Rachid Bouchareb
This movie is about the Algerian struggle for independence following WWII. It should be familiar territory for the French-born Bouchareb. His 2006 film Indigenes (Days of Glory) is about Algerian forces in WWII. That film won the acting prize at Cannes and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.
Fair Game by Doug Liman
Okay so Jumper was nothing special but Liman also directed Swingers and Go. This political thriller stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn as Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson. Can you guess who plays who?
Un Homme Qui Crie (A Screaming Man) by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Tough to find much about the film from the Chad-born Haroun.
Housemaidby Im Sang-soo
Ooh, a Korean horror film in competition at Cannes oughta be pretty good.
Poetry by Lee Chang-dong
Lee’s 2007 film Secret Sunshine won an acting prize at Cannes. This movie is about a Korean woman in her 60s who develops an interest in poetry. Sounds exciting.
Copie Conforme (The Certified Copy) by Abbas Kiarostami
Kiarostami is possibly Iran’s most famous filmmaker. He won the Palme d’Or in 1997 for Taste of Cherry. He returns with this romantic drama set in Italy and starring Juliette Binoche.
You, My Joy by Sergei Loznitsa
I got nuthin…
Biutiful by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
Inarritu (Babel) returns with his first all Spanish film since Amorres Perros. It is also his first film not written by Guillermo Arriaga – so expect more cohesion (maybe). The film stars Javier Bardem.
La Nostra Vita by Daniele Luchetti
Luchetti is a protege of Italian director extraordinaire Nanni Moretti.
Utomlyonnye Solntsem 2 (Burnt by the Sun 2) by Nikita Mikhalkov
This is Mikhailov’s sequel to the 1994 Cannes Grand Prix and Foreign Language Oscar winning Soviet epic Burnt by the Sun.
La Princesse de Montpensier by Bertrand Tavernier
This looks to be a 16th century French costumer. Tavernier is most famous for his 1986 film ‘Round Midnight.
Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chaat (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
This Thai director has received a ton of awards over his rather short filmography. 2002’s Blissfully Yours won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes. 2004’s Tropical Malady won a Cannes jury prize. 2006’s Syndromes and a Century was highlighted at both Venice and Toronto.
We will surely be hearing more about these films as the fest approaches.
South by Southwest’s official name may be the SXSW Music and Media Conference, but according to iW’s Eugene Hernandez, the film side of things took over center stage this year with an explosion. I was unable to make it, but I’ve been pouring over the titles in the couple weeks since and here is what caught my eye and had people talking.
TINY FURNITURE – The big Narrative Jury Prize was won by 23 year old Lena Dunham for her very well received semi-autobiographical offbeat New York comedy. Check out the trailer at the site.
BROOTHERHOOD – Will Canon’s college frat thriller won the Narrative Audience Award, claimed some of the very highest critics’ marks, and scored international distribution. Congrats guys.
MARWENCOL – This Docu Jury winner is about a man who creates a 1/6 scale WWII era village in his back yard. It is directed by Jeff Malmberg, who you probably remember as editor on 2008 Paris Hilton hit The Hottie and the Nottie.
WAR DON DON – This heavy duty looking docu about the International Criminal Court system (with a focus on Sierra Leone) won the prize for Docu Jury runner-up. Trailer here.
FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE – The Audience Docu Award went to this inspirational story of a group of disabled musicians. Looks pretty amazing from the trailer.
ELEKTRA LUXX – This movie about a porn star quitting the biz features Joseph Gordon Levitt, Timothy Olyphant, and Emmanuelle Chriqui (as a porn star – but not the title porn star). Even more interesting, this is the second film in a trilogy (the first is titled Women in Trouble) by Sebastian Gutierrez, screenwriter of Snakes on a Plane.
COLD WEATHER – It seemed everyone was a big fan of this Atmospheric looking crime drama by young director Aaron Katz. I mean if Jason Reitman digs it, it has gotta be good.
LEAVES OF GRASS – Ed Norton stars as identical twins in actor/director Tim Blake Nelson’s pot growing comic thriller. I’ve been hearing very good things about this one which is set for a late summer release.
CARGO – This low budget Swiss sci-fi thriller had a good deal of buzz – mostly because there aren’t a lot of low budget Swiss sci-fi thrillers. However the critics have been pretty underwhelmed. The movie seems to have quite a few similarities to Sunshine – just check out the trailer. It is bound to be the best Swiss sci-fi thriller trailer you watch this week.
PELADA – This competition docu is about some soccer fans that traveled the globe looking for the untold stories of the game. Check out the official site which includes the trailer. Looks amazing!!
SATURDAY NIGHT – James Franco directs a docu about hosting SNL. With behind the scenes action rarely captured, I’m pretty excited to catch this one.
THUNDER SOUL – It sounds like people loved Mark Landsman’s docu that tells the story of a 1970s high school band that became a funk sensation.
AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH: A FILM ABOUT LEVON HELM – Jacob Hatley’s docu follows The Band great as he reemerges into the spotlight after 25 years in the shadows.
THE THORN IN THE HEART – This charming looking partially animated docu by Michel Gondry about his school teacher Aunt premiered at Cannes and opened in NYC last Friday. Trailer
HEADLINERS – Like most fests, SXSW has a special out of competition section for hot titles from studios or indies that might not be making their premiers. The section featured Sundance holdovers The Runaways, Cyrus, Four Lions, and Get Low (Winter’s Bone and a number of others screened in the “Festival Favorites” section while Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Enter the Void were in with the Midnighters). Here are a few non Sundance notables:
MICMACS – It has been five years since Jean-Pierre Jeunet gave us A Very Long Engagement (his follow up to Amelie). This film promises to offer another glimpse into his comic-romantic whimsy.
KICK ASS – Most of the pre-fest buzz was for this SXSW opener directed by Matthew Vaughn (Stardust). By now you’ve probably seen the ads for this comic book action comedy starring the dream team duo of Nic Cage and McLovin. It hits theaters April 16.
MACGRUBER – It’s hard not to be excited about the latest SNL spinoff starring Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, and Val Kilmer (as villain Dieter Von Cunth). The film – which only cost a surprising $10M – drops April 23.
MR. NICE – Bernard Rose’s interesting sounding British crime comedy stars Rhys Ifans alongside Chloe Sevigny. The film had the critics relatively happy.
MARS – Mumblecore in space! Mark Duplass stars in Geoff Marslett’s (yep, that’s his name) rotoscoped love comedy sci-fi. Trailer.
CHERRY – This film in the “Emerging Visions” category had many people talking. It’s a witty looking college sex comedy written and directed by unknown TV director Jeffrey Fine. The trailer looks great.
MONSTERS – One of the quick sales at the fest was this cool sounding sci-fi road movie by Gareth Edwards.
CENTURION – Screening as a SXSW/Fantastic Fest midnight surprise, this Roman-Brit epic is directed by Neil Marshall. As a bit of a fan of Marshall’s, I’m excited to hear that the film retains some of Marshall’s B-movie charm that made both The Descent and Doomsday such fun. It also stars Bond girl ultra-hottie Olga Kurylenko. Trailer.
Apologies for so much time in between posts. Watch for a Tribeca preview and look ahead at the Summer fests soon enough.
One of my faves from this year’s Sundance was the street art docu Exit Through the Gift Shop. I pondered in my Twitch review the validity of some of the factual aspects of the film. The film’s premier this week at the Berlin Film Fest finds both IndieWire’s Eugene Hernandez and the NY Times’ Manohla Dargis also pondering the same thing. While I think Dargis is off the mark in suggesting that Banksy and Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash) might be one and the same – there is no doubt that some elements comprise more than meets the narrative eye.
…Or maybe not. Maybe every piece of the story is exactly how it is portrayed in the doc. Is it really so hard to believe that Banksy took over the editing duties from the schizotron Guetta and was able to put together this fascinating piece of documentation? Maybe it is simply hard for us to believe that someone as subversive as Banksy would do anything that straight forward. How can we trust a man who won’t even show his face?
Regardless, the real story here is how successful the film is at documenting the movement. Just imagine if cameras were rolling when Cézanne and Pissarro were first experimenting together with impressionist landscapes – or when Duchamp and Man Ray were questioning art’s very definitions. Exit Through the Gift Shop gives us exactly this look at the rise of street art – even if Guetta’s/Banksy’s lens is a bit greased up.
Sundance’10 is all wrapped up and I’m back home in balmy Los Angeles. What a blast! A lot of great flicks, a bit of powder, and an overwhelmingly friendly and fun atmosphere. I’ve collected a few words about each of the 21 films I saw, including links to my 10 Twitch reviews. After the film write-ups, I’ve said a few words about the flicks I wasn’t able to catch. I’m looking forward to seeing many more as they trickle out into theaters and other fests throughout the year. On to the movies – in order of viewing:
7 DAYS – Park City at Midnight – Rating: 4 out of 10
As one friend told me, “It’s not torture porn, it’s torture erotica.” That may be true but more than anything, this suspense-thriller is torture. I was more turned off by the protagonist than by the visuals and wished the filmmaker had focused his attention on the detective. Unfortunately I just couldn’t get into this one.
Read my full review of 7 Days on Twitch
THE SHOCK DOCTRINE – Premieres – Rating: 5 out of 10
Michael Winterbottom’s econ-doc is basically the film version of Naomi Klein’s thesis about the ability to create radical change in a nation when the people are too focused on emergency (shocked) to notice. It focuses a lot on Milton Friedman and the Chicago School’s theory of free markets and the US and Britain’s exploitation (and creation) of crises to implement these theories. The film systematically recounts atrocities from Chile to Iraq on the road to the creation of the “disaster capitalism complex.” While this is some pretty interesting (and often depressing) stuff, the film is, unfortunately, a pretty bland and academic presentation of the material. I was left wondering what happened to the style of Winterbottom’s great Road to Guantanamo. While you might learn something, you won’t have much fun doing it and the vague conclusion won’t give you much in the way of paths of action either.
FOUR LIONS – World Dramatic Competition – Rating: 6 of 10
This terrorist version of The Office really shines when its hilarious actors are engaging in physical humor. These guys are real idiots and their ideas about blowing up the internet and shaking their heads when they go outside to elude surveillance are pretty damn funny. The film had a fair bit of buzz around Park City, although in the end it went home empty handed.
Read my full review of Four Lions on Twitch
LAST TRAIN HOME – World Documentary Competition – Rating: 7 out of 10
Lixin Fan’s tale of the largest human migration on Earth (130 million Chinese who return home from cities across the country every New Years Holiday) is a touching and interesting look at the “Chinese dream.” Its vivid cinematography and sparse dialog made me forget at times that this Canadian co-production was a documentary. This is a very powerful story of family and society and Fan executes it stunningly.
HOLY ROLLERS – US Dramatic Competition – Rating: 7 out of 10
I seem to be in the minority of people who enjoyed Kevin Asch’s debut feature about drug smuggling Hasidic Jews. I thought Eisenberg did a fine job but was most impressed by Justin Bartha (the guy they lost in The Hangover). With its great cast and subject matter, I think this one has just as much, if not more, commercial prospects as anything at the fest.
Read my full review of Holy Rollers at Twitch
BURIED – Park City at Midnight – Rating: 6 out of 10
Buzz was pretty positive about the Rodrigo Cortes’s Ryan Reynolds stuck in a box movie. The movie literally has nothing other than Reynolds in the box (nothing before, no flashbacks, etc). There were some pretty cool shots but there were also a few pretty lame developments. Reynolds is certainly a good actor. Overall I was impressed – this is probably the best movie you can make about someone stuck in a box. But when it comes down to it, this is still a movie about someone stuck in a box.
THE KILLER INSIDE ME – Premieres – Rating: 7 out of 10
Winterbottom’s dramatic inclusion at this year’s fest stirred up a whole lot of controversy because of its extreme depiction of violence against women. “How dare you Sundance?” one woman is reported to have asked at a Q&A. But I was okay with Winterbottom’s explanation that this is a fiction film – and particularly a fiction film from the viewpoint of a deranged killer. I was won over by the cinematography and performances – especially the strong supporting cast that includes Bill Pullman, Elias Koteas, and Tom Bower. This is a tough movie, but a stylish one and I enjoyed it.
Read my full review of The Killer Inside Me at Twitch
CYRUS – Premieres – Rating: 6 out of 10
Sundance sweethearts the Duplass bros. are back with their first real studio film (to be released by Fox Searchlight). The film stars John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei as a new couple whose relationship runs into a stumbling block when Reilly meets Tomei’s adult son Cyrus (played by Jonah Hill). The cast is good (Catherine Keener also puts in a predictably excellent performance as Reilly’s ex), but I found it a bit hard to believe a babe like Tomei would swoon over a herb like Reilly. Whatever. The movie is funny but nothing incredible. I kept hoping the Duplai would push it to the next raunchy level (thanks Judd). Instead they play it safe and we’re left with a nice but not extremely memorable comedy.
FROZEN – Park City at Midnight – Rating: 3 of 10
My expectations were low and my suspension of disbelief was set to high for this horror about what happens when you get caught on a ski lift after everyone leaves. It didn’t matter, the movie sucked. All the comments I heard were along the lines of, that would never happen because… I say who cares to those. The movie sucked because most of it is these idiots just yackin’ it up – and the dialog is amateur and boring (to be fair, what else are they gonna do when they are caught on a chair lift?). I liked the hilarious gore and wanted more ridiculously hungry wolves. There wasn’t enough of the fun stuff. As I said before, this would make a great short – but there just isn’t enough to sustain the feature.
Read my full review of Frozen at Twitch
BLUE VALENTINE – US Dramatic Competition – Rating: 9 out of 10
Derek Cianfrance’s relationship drama was probably my favorite film at Sundance. This is in large part due to the performances by Ryan Gossling and Michelle Williams – but the writing is also excellent (Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne also share the screenwriting credit). The film intercuts the beginning of the couple’s relationship with its end in a method that I found intriguing and successful. This combination of heartache and heart-melt paints an emotionally realistic portrait that really worked for me. The film was picked up at the fest by The Weinstein Co. and should find an early fall release with Oscar hopes for both the leads.
TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL – Park City at Midnight – Rating: 8 out of 10
I loved this script by Eli Craig and his execution did not disappoint! This movie turns the hillbilly horror on its head – and then it grinds that head up in a wood chipper. I was cracking up from the very beginning – even though I knew what was about to happen. The casting was great and I have always wanted to see the cutie from 30 Rock get more than a couple minutes a week of screen time. This film is a blast and I’m pretty confident that if people see it, they will like it.
Read my full review of Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil at Twitch
THE VIOLENT KIND – Park City at Midnight – Rating: 7 out of 10
It seems this Sons of Anarchy meets The Outer Limit tripped out horror movie has been pretty much panned across the board. Bah! I liked it. Yes it is way, wayyy out there. No it doesn’t have much of a cohesive narrative. Yes the sound work is truly atrocious. But overall it is sexy, bloody, kooky and pretty damn fun. All good qualities for a midnight movie and I would be surprised if this one doesn’t win some fans on its trip through the horror fest circuit.
Read my full review of The Violent Kind at Twitch
HIGH SCHOOL – Park City at Midnight – Rating: 6 out of 10
HIGH school was the only midnight movie I managed to actually catch at midnight (at the Egyptian of course). It is really, really funny right out of the gate. Matt Bush (Frigo from Adventureland) plays a smart kid who gets talked into smoking weed for the first time right before the school institutes a mandatory drug testing policy. So his buddy and he decide to ruin the testing by stealing some super weed from a cracked out Adrian Brody (who is awesome) and bake it up into super brownies. Everyone in the school eats the brownies and gets super high. Hilarious. However at this point the film takes a nose dive into plot problemsville. Why are they only in class when it is convenient? Why does he steal the truck instead of just pushing the cart? Why didn’t Mr. Smartest-kid-in-school think of using his own invention? I thought of it 30 seconds after the problem was presented. No doubt there is some really hilarious stuff here and Brody deserves an Oscar, hands down. But the script simply needed another pass or two to take it from problematic stoner movie with some pretty funny scenes to stoner classic glory.
LUCKY – US Documentary Competition – Rating: 6 out of 10
Jeffrey Blitz had a base hit with his documentary Spellbound and then knocked it out of the park with his comedy Rocket Science. His latest docu about lottery winners is more like a sac fly. It tells some interesting stories and we learn winning the lottery isn’t always what its cracked up to be. But it feels a bit long and there isn’t much in the way of excitement. The best line of the film is when one of the lottery winners friends calls winning the lottery, “like sprinkling miracle grow on your character defects.” The animation by Walter Robot is also quite cool. Look for this one to find a TV audience sometime soon.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP – Spotlight Surprise – Rating: 8 out of 10
My favorite docu of the fest was this street art character piece, directed by Banksy. I have A LOT to say about this one so check out my Twitch review – but suffice to say it is a really interesting exploration of art, the artist, commercialization, and the authenticity of documentary. I had the pleasure of being at both of the exhibitions spotlighted in the film (Banksy’s 2006 Barely Legal and Mr. Brainwash’s 2008 Life is Beautiful), so it was particularly interesting for me to learn the fascinating back story behind the characters. There’s way more going on here.
Read my full review of Exit Through The Gift Shop at Twitch
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT – Premieres – Rating: 6 of 10
Lisa Cholodenko’s family dramedy has been pretty heavily praised for its spin on the family dramedy genre (they’re lesbians). I found it pretty mediocre. It is pretty sweet and pretty safe and the kids aren’t really that good. Ruffalo is okay and Julianne Moore is okay and Annette Bening is a butch bitch – but overall I just didn’t really care that much. Maybe I am not the target audience but I just couldn’t help but feel like I was watching an ABC family drama.
ANIMAL KINGDOM – World Dramatic Competition – Rating: 7 out of 10
David Michôd’s Australian family crime drama is a taut and atmospheric thriller. The performances are great across the board. This film is really dark and at times maybe a bit too cerebral – but the final act when the grandma shows her true colors is cinematic gold.
Read my full review of Animal Kingdom at Twitch
TEENAGE PAPARAZZO – Spotlight – Rating: 7 out of 10
Adrian Grenier’s documentary about young Austin Visschedyk, a 14 year old celeb photographer, starts out as an interesting insider look at the world of the paparazzi. Grenier’s celebrity status allows us the fun of getting the scoop not just from the guys behind the lenses, but also from the celebs themselves. But the docu really gets going when Visschedyk himself starts attracting celebrity and Grenier has to deal with the fact that he is partly to blame. Grenier shows surprising maturity in his directing. Those who are interested in the subject matter should really enjoy this.
CATFISH – Spotlight – Rating: 8 out of 10
This internet love story documentary had by far the most buzz at the fest. It isn’t some amazing feat of film making, but it is a fantastically interesting story. It hits a bit of a slow patch towards the end, but the film had me sitting on my hands with excitement for its majority.
Read my full review of Catfish at Twitch
ENTER THE VOID – Spotlight – Rating: 7 out of 10
Whoa! As one colleague put it, “Enter the Void will rape your brain!” It is worth the price of admission just for the epilepsy inducing opening credits – but those who get a bit squeamish might want to high tail it after that. The film is a spirit’s slow drug addled trip into the afterlife that takes place after a drug deal heads south in a seedy Tokyo night club. There is a surprising amount of narrative cohesion but the film is more about emotion and visuals than story. It is really tripped out and really interesting and, at a few points, the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen on screen. I could say more, but this one really has to be experienced.
BOY – World Dramatic Competition – Rating: 9 out of 10
Taika Waititi’s follow up to Eagle Vs. Shark (after his multiple directed eps of Flight of the Conchords) is loosely based on his Oscar nom’d short Two Girls, One Cup… wait no wrong short. It is loosely based on his Oscar nom’d short Two Cars, One Night. Boy is the coming-of-age story of a young Maori boy named Boy who dreams about his father coming home and taking him away to life filled with father-son excitement. When his pops does show up (played wonderfully by Waititi), he proves to be even more of a little kid than boy. Like Eagle Vs. Shark, Taika infuses every shot with a visual whimsy that makes the film just as much fun to watch. All the characters are likable and the film just exudes charm. There are some wonderful fantasy sequences and the credits dance number is almost as much fun as Slumdog’s. All in all, this is a very special film. Do what you have to do to catch it.
Those were the 21 films I caught but there were another 80-something I didn’t see. The most notable of those is a movie called Winter’s Bone that won both the screenwriting prize and the big daddy US Dramatic Grand Jury prize (won last year by Precious). Everyone was talking about this Debra Granik deep Ozark woods family drama – but I just couldn’t make it fit. The other film that was buzzing was the war docu The Tillman Story about the friendly fire killed ex-NFL star. Another war docu, Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington’s Restrepo picked up the US Documentary Grand Jury prize. Other docus I would have liked to squeeze in were Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, Space Tourists, and Alex Gibney’s Casino Jack. I didn’t hear much about any of the three.
My early prediction was that Jake (son of Ridley) Scott’s James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart starring Welcome to the Rileys would be the biggest buzzing film at the fest. I was wrong – but Kristen Stewart did stir up some buzz with co-star Dakota Fanning in Floria Sigismondi’s punk rock biopic The Runaways (though not all of it good). I saw neither. I was pretty damned excited for my chance to see (Oscar nom’d) Cannes holdover A Prophet – but I guess I’ll have to wait until it comes out in theaters on Feb 12. Both Hesher and Howl had critics in meh mode but both are likely to find their way to limited releases in the next awards cycle. The scientific horror Splice looked like it had some cool visuals but the word in the tent was that things got pretty corny when the love story started up. I also would have liked to have seen Nuumioq. Unfortunately my first chance to see a movie from Greenland was a miss. Finally, the only movie in the Next section that raised any eyebrows was Katie Aselton’s Duplass produced The Freebie. Like many of the films in Park City, I’m sure I’ll have another chance to catch this one as it makes its way across the festival circuit.
Thanks to Todd and Dan for making it all possible. Thanks to Alex for the big hosing assist. Thanks to Carly for the editorial notes. And thanks to all of you for reading. I look forward to your comments.