Quick Hits: Ashley Greene in 'Skateland,' 'Imperialists Are Still Alive,' 'Killer Inside Me'
The 2010 Sundance Film Festival is almost over and the whirlwind of screenings sometimes make it difficult to get all a critic's reactions to a film up as timely as possible. With that in mind, here is some quick commentary on a number of prominent titles that have debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Lowdown: Sharing too much similarity to Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" as well as a bit of a faux John Hughes vibe, "Skateland" centers on 19-year-old Ritchie (Shiloh Fernandez) a roller skating rink manager who is at a crossroads in his life. Does he stay in his small town and just go from one lame job to another or does he use his writing skills to get into a good university? Complicating matters is his relationship with "best friend" Michelle (a pretty good Ashley Greene) and the return of her older brother Brent (Heath Freeman who also wrote and produced the flick). Unfortunately, there is little original in this familiar scenario or how its executed. More disappointing, Fernandez has little on screen charisma which doesn't help. And when it all comes down to it, the film is just a big bore.
Acquisition Chances: Probably a DVD deal to showcase the "Twilight"-friendly Greene, but that's it.
Lowdown: Set in Missouri's Ozark Mountains, "Bone" is a harsh tale of a poor 17-year-old-girl (Jennifer Lawrence) who is practically raising her much younger brother and sister. Her father's gone missing and she's quickly informed if he doesn't show up for a court hearing she'll lose their home to a bail bondsman after he put it up as collateral. When she starts asking around trying to find him, the locals aren't too happy and things get dangerous. Lawrence is pretty fantastic and carries the film on her shoulders, but the heaps of praise the picture has gotten is a bit puzzling. It's a nice, small film, but certainly not one of the best of the fest.
Acquisition Chances: Pretty good. Lawrence should get a lot of critical awards attention and that should draw the interest of buyers like Sony Pictures Classics, IFC Films and Magnolia. Although we'd bet on the former ourselves.
"I Am Love"
Lowdown: This critically acclaimed Italian language film centers on the illustrious Recchi family, but is really a portraits of its matriarch, Emma (the amazing as always Tilda Swinton). A former Russian Immigrant, her marriage to the inheritor of the family empire has little passion and she spends her days preparing elaborate meals for company and family events. When her oldest son introduces her to his new friend and business partner Antonio, there is an instant connection. Dramatically, what occurs when that attraction is acted upon has dire consequences for everyone. Immaculately composed with a stunning score from noted opera composer John Adams, "I Am Love" is a true work of art that cannot be missed.
Release Date: June 16
"Night Catches Us"
Lowdown: Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie deliver stellar performances in this period drama about a former Black Panther who returns to his old neighborhood in Philadelphia, but discovers old prejudices die hard. The actors and the original music by The Roots is fantastic, but director and screenwriter Tanya Hamilton makes a wrong turn in the third act and the picture can't really recover.
Acquisition Chances: Maybe. Samuel Goldwyn or Oscillope could be good fits here.
"Sympathy For Delicious"
Lowdown: A decade long endeavor for director Mark Ruffalo and longtime friend Christopher Thorton, "Delicious" finds former up and coming DJ "Delicious" Dean (Thorton) living on skid row after losing his ability to walk and with few prospects as his turntable career seems over. After the bizarre and out of left field discovery he can heal almost any ailment or injury with the touch of his hands (except his own of course), he ends up being the centerpiece of a new rock band (a funny Orlando Bloom and Juliette Lewis among others) who use his new power as a marketing tool. The rest of the picture is a conventional rise and fall of a misguided rock star, a tale told many times before. Strangely, neither Ruffalo or Thorton know what they really want to say about this scenario. Should Delicious be using his power for good with no benefit for himself? Should the Church that supported him on skid row use his miracle and only to their own benefit without compensating Delicious? Is this all part of some divine plan by God? The movie doesn't seem to know any of these answers and it leaves it quite an expensive mess. (Although it's worth noting Laura Linney is pretty great as a gold-digging music manager.)
Acquisition Chances: Guessing no. Even with Ruffalo, Bloom and Linney, this misfire feels like it will find more of an audience on cable or DVD.
"The Killer Inside Me"
Lowdown: Based on Jim Thompson's classic novel, "Killer" is a film noir thriller which finds Casey Affleck as Lou Ford, a West Texas Sheriff who slowly weaves a web of murders and cover ups while constantly justifying his disturbing actions to himself. Jessica Alba plays a whore he falls for, Kate Hudson is the "better catch" who doesn't excite him in the same way, Simon Baker pops in as the detective who doesn't buy his story, Elias Koteas is the local Union leader who holds all the secrets and Ned Beatty makes a fine return to the screen as the rich boss seemingly running the town. There is nothing wrong with "Killer," but it's not as riveting as it should be. Director Michael Winterbottom takes an almost stand off approach in terms of his tone and pacing which diminishes many of the most intense moments. The actors are all superb here, especially Alba and Hudson who provide some of their best work of late.
Acquisition Chances: Probably. Affleck, Alba and Hudson's notoriety could find a Sony Classics, IFC Films or even Apparition taking a chance on this noir thriller.
"Imperialists Are Still Alive"
Lowdown: A fascinating look at the day-to-day life of a French born artist living in New York with an Arabic background in the shadow of 9/11, "Imperialists" is one of the most intriguing surprises of the festival. Zeina Durra's film juxtaposes the deadly events happening to the main character's brother in Lebanon with the privileged party life of a rich Manhattan woman. A secondary storyline finds a friends fiance renditioned on a flight to Houston and how the wealthy family deals with it is blended with genuine concern and smart observational humor. Durra's point is that while all these events transpire, this segment of wealthy and rich Arabs go about their lives trying to be as immune as possible to the stress of having their freedoms (our artist is probably being tapped by the FBI) whisked away from them. Durra also covers the multi-culturalistic world of Manhattan more effectively than any filmmaker in years. A truly impressive piece of work.
Acquisition Chances: Let's hope so. Probably won't be a major, but here's hoping someone takes a chance on showcasing it to a larger audience. It could certainly make some noise on the art house circuit.