Sundance Film Festival 2008!!!
For the first time, a student film critic from UVSC was given press credentials to the Sundance Film Festival. Boo-yah! I caught 15 movies in four days. Several were very good and worth driving through the worst weather; others weren’t worth the walk from the car to the theater.
So, here it is: my Sundance Film Festival 2008 review!
ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT
A small indie film titled BRICK was featured in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. BRICK is a completely entertaining high school throwback to classic detective and noir flicks of the ’40s and ’50s. It has remained fairly off the radar because of its artsy quality, but if there were a mainstream version of BRICK, it would be ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT.
ASSASSINATION is a fun spin on retro flicks about snoopy reporters trying to crack huge cases; in this instance, it’s the theft of ACTs from a prestigious high school principle’s office.
The writing of ASSASSINATION is witty and intelligent, transforming big, adult scenarios into the perfect teenage equivalent. The characters are natural, smooth and charismatic, which is mostly due to a fitting cast.
Although ASSASSINATION mostly features unrecognizable actors, there are a few big names involved. THE O.C.‘s Mischa Barton plays the popular, desired vixen, and Bruce Willis plays the strict Desert-Storm-soldier-turned-principal of St. Donavan’s private school.
Yari Film Group acquired the rights to ASSASSINATION, with a tentative release date scheduled for later this year.
BE KIND REWIND
In 2004, French music video director Michel Gondry knocked the film industry out with one of the best indie films of all time, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. His latest film, BE KIND REWIND, is a completely different type of film but still as entertaining as could be.
Though not nearly as artsy as ETERNAL SUNSHINE, BE KIND lacks nothing any Gondry fan would desire: It’s visually dazzling and an extremely fun idea to see played with.
BE KIND stars Jack Black and Mos Def as two dimwits in charge of managing a video store while the owner (Danny Glover) is out of town. After being electrocuted at a power plant, Jack Black’s now magnetic persona erases all of the videotapes. Instead of having their boss return home to a ruined store, this dynamic duo decides to remake each movie and rent those out to the public.
It doesn’t take long to fall in love with this feel-good movie, just as the community falls in love with the almost eye-popping remakes of such hits as RUSH HOUR 2, GHOSTBUSTERS and DRIVING MISS DAISY.
BE KIND REWIND is set to open nationwide on Feb. 22.
People became acquainted with writer Chuck Palahniuk after director David Fincher brilliantly adapted his first novel, FIGHT CLUB, in 1999. Nine years later, someone has finally had the gumption to take on the difficult challenge of putting another Palahniuk novel on the big screen: CHOKE.
CHOKE tells the story of Victor, the sex-addict son (Sam Rockwell) of a dying woman (Anjelica Huston) with a dementia-like illness. Because of her condition, she never recognizes Victor as her son, but sees him as one of the lawyers she knew in her deranged life.
As his mom’s condition gets worse, Victor’s obsessive, life-long objective switches from random sex with strangers to learning the secret identity of his true father, which task will lead him down a divine road mixed with deception, love and confrontation.
Many people are hoping CHOKE will be another FIGHT CLUB, but the ride they’re going to get is incomparable. CHOKE, in a completely different way from FIGHT CLUB, is a genius, brightened dark comedy. It succeeds in every aspect. From irreverent laughs and unimaginable imagery to the surprise ending, CHOKE will satisfy anyone who can stomach the viewing the world through a sex addict’s eyes.
CHOKE has been acquired by Fox Searchlight and is scheduled to open August 1.
DIARY OF THE DEAD
Known as the father of the zombie genre, George A. Romero has yet another entry into his OF THE DEAD series – this latest, DIARY, being the most forgettable. Romero’s last entry, LAND OF THE DEAD, was less than desirable among zombie fans, so bashing on DIARY doesn’t mean much.
Instead of taking on the predictable formula of zombie movies, DIARY uses the exact same concept that CLOVERFIELD creators used to evolve the genre: home videos – only CLOVERFIELD knew how to execute it properly.
DIARY follows a group of film students who stop pointing their cameras at a cheesy mummy project and start pointing them towards the world to document the real-life zombie crisis.
There are no surprises, jumps or unexpected turns in this diary. Instead, it feels like a movie made by someone who is making a movie only he finds fun, funny and entertaining, leaving any “normal” audience at the theater door. You’ve got a real problem when you think your movie is funnier than your audience does.
DIARY OF THE DEAD is set for limited release on Feb. 15.
Instead of being accepted for artistic value or originality, some Sundance flicks are picked for their raw, disturbing nature. DOWNLOADING NANCY is one of those.
DOWNLOADING NANCY stars Jason Patric and Maria Bello as the most disturbed and disgusting married couple. If their portrayal of marriage resembled in any way what marriage really is, nobody would ever get married in the first place.
Patric’s character is so obsessed with golf and business that he hardly notices when his wife disappears, leaving only a note claiming she went to Baltimore to visit unknown friends. He is so disinterested in her that after four days without contact, he still hasn’t called the police.
Little does he know that she’s ran off with a friend she met online, deliberately keeping their sexual rendezvous from her husband.
It doesn’t take any time at all to get completely grossed out by the violent affair that ensues. The shock value does not meet the content’s, so all you’re left with in the end is a sickened stomach and the regret of watching something so unpleasant, boring and gross.
THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD
Coming from Playtone Productions, Tom Hanks’ production company created for and named after the faux record label from THAT THING YOU DO, comes another feel-good movie that’s just as fun as THAT THING YOU DO.
Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son, star of ORANGE COUNTY and KING KONG) plays Troy Gable, a law-school student who’s dropped out to become a writer. After making this life-changing decision, Troy seeks an above average job to pay the bills. And though the job he finds – “personal assistant to a celebrity performer” – isn’t exactly what he was looking for, it paves the way for relationships and life-long hope that will never leave him the same.
Enter Buck Howard (John Malkovich), a washed-up, full-of-himself mentalist who can’t quit doing what he loves. To get a feel for his arrogant personality, when consider when Buck is mistaken for a magician, quickly snapping, “I was a magician when I was three years old, but I evolved out of that. Not that I have anything against magicians, as long as they’re dead.”
Even though Troy ends up hating his job, there is some undefined magical, hope-inspiring aspect to it that he cannot leave behind.
THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD isn’t the best movie ever, but it is very fun and lightweight, much like THAT THING YOU DO.
Nepotism is alive and well at the Sundance Film Festival. None other than Robert Redford’s own daughter, Amy Redford, directed what may end up being the worst movie of Sundance ’08.
THE GUITAR stars Saffron Burrows (REIGN OVER ME, BOSTON LEGAL) as Melody Wilder, a young woman thrown into a downward spiral when she finds out that she’s only got two months to live due to throat cancer. As if the news isn’t bad enough, that same day Melody gets fired from her job and dumped by her boyfriend. Because nothing she has is worth living for, Melody decides to live the remaining months of her life they way she wishes she’d have lived her entire life. From her apartment to her clothes, Melody ditches every single possession from her prior life, living solely on credit cards she’ll never have to pay back.
While trying to experiment and live the life she never could, Melody has an affair with the married man who delivers all of her over-the-phone credit card purchases. As if that wasn’t enough, Melody has a gay affair with the girl who delivers her food. And then, like some dream sequence straight out of THE MAN SHOW, she has a threesome with her two new lovers.
The ending to THE GUITAR is so drawn out and hokey that it feels like a bad Lifetime Network made-for-TV show. Some elements were so poorly written that audience members laughed out loud during supposedly intimate moments.
Don’t be surprised if the only light of day that THE GUITAR sees is on the Oh! Channel.
Great comedy, action and gangsters: What could you want from a hitman movie that feels like the perfect blend of RESERVOIR DOGS, SNATCH and GROSSE POINTE BLANK?
Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two hitmen sent to lay low in Bruges, Belgium after a botched job in London. Because one loves the historically rich medieval town that the other despises, IN BRUGES takes on the feel of an ‘80s buddy flick, and because the two have such chemistry together, it’s a good thing.
IN BRUGES is a sort of extreme movie. The violence is rough and gritty. The dialog used is adult and vulgar. The filmmakers looked for every way to make your jaw drop from shock humor. Politically incorrect dialog is spread throughout, from midgets and race to sex and sexual orientation – nothing is taboo.
Focus Features will be opening IN BRUGES in Utah on Feb. 15.
Michelle Williams (DAWSON’S CREEK, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) has proven that she can carry a movie as the lead. Her harrowing performance in INCENDIARY is noteworthy, even thought he film may not be.
INCEDIARY tells the story of a woman coping with her husband’s dangerous job as a bomb squad diffuser in London. Usually, every time he gets called off to work, she focuses on their four-year-old son for comfort and distraction. But one night when he’s called off, their son is asleep in bed, so she seeks distraction in a local pub and ends up caught in infidelity with a charming reporter (Ewan McGregor).
A few days later, while her husband and child are away at a rival soccer match, the two end up together once again, participating in an action with consequences casting a dooming shadow of guilt over her mind forever. The soccer stadium ends up being the location of a terrorist bombing where both husband and son are killed.
Just as we all remember where we were when the towers fell, she will never forget where she was during the attack that didn’t take her life, but sure did crumple it.
From that moment on, the movie gets scatterbrained, and loses all direction, making it an almost unbearable film to watch. It would be one thing if you only watched her go crazy from the guilt, but instead you follow her through an hour of unmotivated and odd actions.
Low budget South American films usually show little promise, but MANCORA broke that norm with fine acting, beautiful lighting and top-notch cinematography.
MANCORA tells the story of Santiago and friends on a road trip away from the troubles of Santiago’s life. His mother left when he was little and died a few years ago. His dad, a Peruvian rock legend, recently committed suicide. Santiago is all alone.
The trip these friends take together place their relationships in the refiner’s fire. The only question is what will remain when it’s all over.
MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH
MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH, based on Michael Chabon’s novel, starts off with a feeling identical to that of the 2004 Sundance-audience-favorite GARDEN STATE: a numb, college-aged kid running from a confrontation with his dad, perfect indie music, and natural characters. And it’s a shame it didn’t come close to sticking with it.
It’s the summer of ’83, Art Bechstein’s last summer before moving into a real-life job as a stockbroker. With a stressful job ahead of him, Art decides to take the laziest job he can find to have as much fun as possible. While partying with a former college roommate, Art meets his dream girl, Jane (Sienna Miller), but she has a shady boyfriend named Cleveland (GARDEN STATE‘s Peter Sarsgaard) who ends up being Art’s childhood acquaintance. The three of them start off partying the summer away, but then the movie takes a turn for the worse.
Cleveland disappears. Jane and Art hook up. Cleveland reappears. Cleveland and Art hook up.
It’s a gay movie. It’s a heist movie. It’s a gangster movie. You might think the only genre it doesn’t turn towards it’s science fiction, but then again Art did, in fact, ditch Sienna Miller for a hair covered Peter Sarsgaard, so it did touch down in science fiction territory.
All of this from the director of DODGEBALL.
PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND
The same festival that killed Dakota Fanning’s career last year with a child-rape picture is going to build her little sister’s with the educational, child psychology and parenting drama PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND.
In the picture, nine-year-old Elle Fanning plays Phoebe, an imaginative child hoping to play Alice in her elementary school’s production of ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
As the film progresses, you watch Phoebe uncontrollably become the person she does not want to be. Without meaning to, Phoebe shouts profanities at people she loves, becomes caught up in and obsessed with routines and rituals, and sometimes drifts into her own false wonderland.
The purpose of PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND is to show you what it feels like to be in the body and mind of a small child who uncontrollably, unexplainably comes down with a condition foreign to her understanding.
While this happens, her parents, played by DESPERATE HOUSEWIFE’s Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman, go through the battle of blaming themselves for her unknown condition and trying to find the best way to treat it: with or without the drugs.
There is not yet a release date for PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND.
Actor Paul Schneider (ELIZABETHTOWN, ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD) takes his first hack at directing and his second at writing (the first being the story for LARS AND THE REAL GIRL) with PRETTY BIRD, based on the true story of a group of guys trying to design, build and market a rocket-belt.
The movie stars Billy Crudup (ALMOST FAMOUS, BIG FISH) as the “president” of Fantastic Tech who lacks people and business skills, even though he believes he’s got both. With the help of his buddy’s bank account, the two are able to hire a laid-off bitter rocket scientist (Paul Giamatti) to build it.
The only drawback in PRETTY BIRD is the changing feel of genres: It starts off as a corky comedy, but as shady events unfold between the trio, it takes a darker and more dramatic tone – and by the time it ends, you’ve been all over the place.
If the darker parts of the story were true, then the comedic introduction was unfitting and uncalled for. But if not, then it was a purely directorial decision. Either way, PRETTY BIRD feels like it should’ve been tackled from a different route. Even with all that said, you should still know it is not a bad movie. It’s at least worth watching for a story you might never know otherwise.
Being Alan Ball’s (creator of SIX FEET UNDER, screenwriter for AMERICAN BEAUTY) directorial debut, TOWELHEAD is successful at what it tries to do, even though most won’t agree with its topic and content: It will show you exactly what it feels like to be a 13-year-old Lebanese girl, obsessed with looking pretty like nude models in trashy magazines, who moves to Texas and gets raped, but doesn’t know it was technically rape.
The story is about cultural integration, living up to society’s extremely high standard for beauty, doing uncomfortable things to feel beautiful, and the ease with which men manipulate young women.
TOWELHEAD is a very hard-to-watch drama that isn’t afraid to and doesn’t apologize for showing the frightening truths about the unspoken-of America, one alive in every suburban neighborhood.
A release date is not yet known.
THE WACKNESS is possibly the most hyped fan-favorite of the ’08 festival. Don’t be surprised if it takes an award.
THE WACKNESS follows Luke through his first post-high-school summer in New York City. Luke is the kid everybody knows, but doesn’t hang out with. He’s their marijuana supplier. But he doesn’t only supply it to his high school peers – he deals it to his shrink (GANDHI’s Ben Kingsley) in return for therapy.
What makes THE WACKNESS work so well is that it tells a story everyone knows so well and can connect with, and it tells it in such a cool way. You’ve gone through all of the things you see Luke go through: first love, botching a relationship, getting used, getting your heart broken – the drama of it all. And for those who grew their teenage years in the mid ’90s, this will be a throwback to your youth.
THE WACKNESS hasn’t been picked up by a studio, but with all the positive buzz from Sundance, it won’t be long.
Photo credit: Sundance.org