The teasing has begun.
There are not nearly enough Brad Bird films in the world. I just went and counted, and it's still way less than 1000, a situation I find completely unacceptable. As long as I've been writing about movies online, I've been writing about Brad Bird movies. I would still call the coverage I did on "The Iron Giant" some of the best stuff I've ever published, and it's been a real pleasure catching up with him on "The Incredibles," "Ratatouille," and "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol." In addition to have a remarkable story sense and a great knack for comic timing, Bird just plain loves movies, and that love informs pretty much every scene of everything he's ever made as a director.
Knowing there is a new Brad Bird film in development has me anxious enough. I want to know everything, but I don't want to know anything. I would love to see the whole thing right this second, but I'm terrified that I'll ruin it for myself as I cover it between now and whenever it finally comes out. For the most part, Bird's been playing mum, and even as people have been clamoring for him as one of the best possible director choices Disney could make regarding the new "Star Wars" movies, he's been hard at work on "1952," a film that Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen are currently writing for Bird to direct.
The teasing has begun.
When I was at the "Star Trek Into Darkness" press day at the end of last year, I noticed something that I mentioned in the article, a passing reference to "April" on some of the production design artwork.
Keep in mind this was the same day we first learned the official name of Benedict Cumberbatch's character in the film, "John Harrison." This seemed to confuse people who have been reading every single word about the sequel that has been printed online. After all, Bob Orci said at one point that the villain in the new movie is a character who appears in canon, which is one reason why many people made the jump to assuming that it was Khan or maybe Gary Mitchell.
Mitchell had to be ruled out early, though, because he made an appearance in the IDW comic tie-in to the Abrams film, and Orci and Kurtman have both said that the comic series is meant to be taken as part of the continuity of the film series. If that's true, then maybe the half-baked theory I posted after seeing that mention of April isn't that half-baked after all.
PARK CITY - As we were waiting for a press and industry screening of "Toy's House" to start today, I said to a few friends I was sitting with, "This Sundance is distressingly light on Nick Offerman sightings so far." When they informed me that he was part of the cast of "Toy's House," I took that to be a very good sign indeed, since I had no idea that was the case. I knew nothing about the film when walking in today except that my friend Erik Davis saw it at an earlier screening and really enjoyed it.
As you can see from the photo at the top of this review, Nick Offerman and Allison Brie are both in the film, and they're certainly good in it. It would be deceptive to say they are the stars of the film, though, because the real center of this picture, written by Chris Galletta and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is the unlikely summer friendship between Joe Toy (Nick Robinson), Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso), and the official winner of the "Oh my god have you seen this guy?" award for this year's Sundance Film Festival, Moises Arias, who plays Biaggio. These three guys have just finished their freshman year of high school, and while it wasn't exactly a living hell, they don't seem to have made any real shift in their spot in the social pecking order. Joe and Patrick are old friends, while Biaggio just sort of starts hanging around. He decides these are his friends and he just joins them. Constantly. Whether he's been invited or not.
PARK CITY - I think it's safe to say that at this point, I have no idea what constitutes a David Gordon Green movie. Is he the filmmaker who directed "Snow Angels" and "All The Real Girls" and "George Washington"? Is he the comedy fan who made "Pineapple Express" and directed episodes of "Eastbound and Down" and who made "Your Highness"? He's one of these guys who seem to have slipped loose from any sort of box that Hollywood tried to put him in, and so walking in to see something he's made these days, I've learned to leave expectations at the door and to meet the films on their own terms.
Set in the aftermath of some brutal Texas wildfires, "Prince Avalanche" is a small character driven film about two guys working a road repair crew through a seldom-used rural area. Alvin is the older guy, the one who got the job in the first place, the one who knows how to live out in the Texas woods. He's got a girlfriend back home, he's sending her money, he's using his time to read and paint and better himself. Lance (Emile Hirsch) is the younger brother of Madison, the girl Alvin loves. Lance doesn't know the first thing about camping or working or much of anything. He's all impulse, a jittery little goofball. Alvin finds himself frustrated with the kid most of the time, but he's making the effort because he loves Lance's sister and he wants to help her.
PARK CITY - I called my wife tonight when I got out of the theater where I saw "Before Midnight," the new film by Richard Linklater that follows up his first two movies about Jesse and Celine, because that seemed like the most urgent thing in the world at that particular moment.
I was 25 years old when "Before Sunrise" came out. I was living with a woman, on my way to married, working as a screenwriter and making a living with my writing for the first time ever, and when I saw the film, it hit me dead center. I was blown away by the gentle, clever, romantic voice of the movie. Ethan Hawke is practically the default avatar for white dudes my age, an '80s survivor that has grown up interesting and seemingly intact, and Julie Delpy… well, come on. I grew up in love with European cinema. I certainly had my "OMG French girls" phase, and Delpy looks like the walking embodiment of it.
What really seemed dazzling to me was the way the script by Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan did one of the things I find most difficult in writing: they carefully crafted something that felt utterly spontaneous. At the end of that film, I don't remember thinking, "Okay, now I want a sequel." I just loved it as a standalone thing, and it went into my regular rotation of films I adored.
PARK CITY - Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant addressed the fact that they seem to have two very distinct careers that they are enjoying simultaneously when they stood in front of the packed Library on Sunday night a few minutes before midnight to introduce their directorial debut, "Hell Baby."
Lennon and Garant are incredibly talented, incredibly funny guys. The work they do that is pure comedy, like "Reno 911" or "The State," tends to be very funny, and Lennon is one of those comedy character actors who works pretty much non-stop, and he's able to weave minor miracles out of weak material at times. I say all this so that when I say that the films that have most defined them and their success are largely terrible, you'll understand that it's not an all-or-nothing proposition with me. I really don't like the "Night At The Museum" films or "The Pacifier" or "Herbie Fully Loaded," but that's pretty unimportant. Those are big broad mainstream movies, and writing two "Night At The Museum" films is what gives Lennon and Garant the freedom to do things that they want to do. So be it. Especially if the end result is something as non-stop filthy, crass, and funny as "Hell Baby."
PARK CITY - Seeing the insane line outside the Eccles Theater today, I couldn't help but wonder how many of those people knew what sort of movie they were getting into when they sat down for Shane Carruth's "Upstream Color" this morning. Based on the conversations I overheard on the bus afterwards, I'd wager the film caught a lot of those people by surprise, and little wonder. Dense, beautiful, hypnotic, and almost willfully opaque, "Upstream Color" is a great movie, but it is not an inviting one. Carruth expects you to do a certain amount of the work for yourself, and for some viewers, there is no more frustrating kind of film than that.
Personally, I see plenty of movies every year where every little detail is spelled out in such an obvious manner that I don't mind when I see someone change it up. Carruth's movie starts strange, gets very dark, then takes a left-turn into one of the most damaged movie romances I can remember before finally lifting off into about a half-hour long finale with no dialogue whatsoever. It is completely different in aesthetics and narrative approach than Carruth's previous film, "Primer," but like that film, it seems to have no real interest in conventional narrative.
PARK CITY - It's hard enough being expected to walk out of a movie, sit down, immediately process and write and publish, and then repeat that process several times a day, but when you throw in the added element of interviews, many of which are done right after you see a film, things get interesting.
In the case of "Touchy Feely," I was still digesting the movie when I walked over to the Stella Artois Studio (everything at Sundance is sponsored and branded out the wazoo) to chat with the people behind the movie. There were seven of them total, and so we broke things up into two groups. First up, I've got my conversation with the cast.
Rosemarie DeWitt was here last year for "Your Sister's Sister," and we spoke about that film at that point. I think she's really taken to the style of filmmaking that Shelton practices, and in this film, she's as appealing as she's ever been. Josh Pais is one of those guys you've seen in a number of things, and it's about time we all learn his name because he is consistently good in everything he does. The same could easily be said of Allison Janney, and when you throw Ron Livingston into that mix, that's a group of actors who are very easy to talk to because they all obviously brought their A-game to this film.
PARK CITY - Chan-wook Park has built a reputation for himself as a very smart and very perverse filmmaker, and it is safe to say his reputation will be intact once audiences get a look at "Stoker," a character-driven thriller that made its world premiere tonight at the Sundance Film Festival.
Written by Wentworth Miller, "Stoker" tells the story of India (Mia Waskikowska), an unusual young woman who has a very close relationship to her father (Dermot Mulroney) until the day he dies, which also happens to be her 18th birthday. Shattered, she goes numb, especially since this means she's going to have to deal now with her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), who she seems to despise. India is a withdrawn, sullen girl, and she feels alone in the world, which is one of the reasons she is so confused when her Uncle Charlie shows up to pay his respects. Played by Matthew Goode, Uncle Charlie has a surface-level charm that's hard to deny, but it's obvious from the moment he arrives that something is wrong with Uncle Charlie and his story.
The last thing India expects, though, is that there is also something wrong with her.
PARK CITY - Last year, the anthology horror film "V/H/S" made its premiere as part of the midnight selections, and I was there for the first screening. I really liked "V/H/S," and I think the format for the film is the greatest part of it. It is an invitation to filmmakers, basically. A "What If?" game that any horror artist would be happy to play. I said in my review of the first film that the last segment was the one that impressed me most. "The final segment by Radio Silence feels like the brakes are off and you're flying off the mountain into the void." Well, this entire film feels like it starts at that place and then raises the stakes. The first film told the story of some rotten deaths of some people in the wrong place at the wrong time. The second film feels more like a document proving that the end of the world is underway.
Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard have spent the last few years carving a space out for themselves to play, and their fingerprints are all over this second film. The wrap-around segment is written and directed by Simon, and there is a segment written by him and directed by Adam who also stars in in. Simon appears onscreen in his own wrap-around segment. Naked. So you have that to look forward to, America. Wingard's story mines a potent notion about our increasing relationship to technology. I have joked that my kids are both cyborgs, but I'm not really kidding. They think of technology less as individual objects and more as the way the world works. Wingard is given an experimental replacement eye that also holds a recording device, and in accepting his new extension, he also has to accept access to a whole new visual realm. Wingard's house becomes a trap, and the rhythm of the piece is aggressive, new scares piled one after another.