This was a nice way to wake up.
Back in 2009, which was the first HitFix trip to Sundance, I enjoyed two of the movies we saw, "Humpday" and "The Freebie." This year, both creative teams are here in different combinations, and again, I think it's interesting work. In the case of "Black Rock," this is about as far away from Katie Aselton's first film as it could be.
"The Freebie" told the story of a married couple, played by Aselton and Dax Shepherd, who decide to give each other the night off from marriage, with no consequences, allowing their partner to sleep with anyone they want. There are, of course, ramifications to a choice like that, and the film did a nice job of showing how that fallout might land. This time, Aselton is working in a very different genre, one that she's not a fan of for the most part, and she had to develop a tight relationship with the two women who co-star both with and for her.
This was a nice way to wake up.
Day two of Sundance was really my first full day, starting around 7:00 AM and ending at about 2:30 the next morning. I did my best to capture images and moments and a few on-the-fly chats as I went, and hopefully this should give you some sense of things.
One of the things that's a little hard to fully convey, even in video, is the random nature of encounters up here. You'll be sitting in the Yarrow lobby writing and suddenly Mike Judge walks by, or you're walking out at the end of the movie and Malin Ackerman is in front of you, excitedly discussing the movie with her friends, or, as you'll see in this piece, you might even run into a director as he arrives at the festival, film literally in hand.
It was great to catch up with Don Coscarelli, who I got to know a little bit during the "Masters Of Horror" process, and I'm excited to see what he's done with David Wong's novel "John Dies At The End." It amazes me how filmmakers never really get over that nervousness about showing their film to an audience for the first time, and I spent some time talking to him about this movie, our experiences on "Masters," and just catching up in general. We'll have a more formal sit-down in a few days, but it was a great moment.
The other day, as I was working at the Yarrow Hotel, I ran into Chris Pizzello. Chris is an AP photographer, and we feature his work here on HitFix on a regular basis. I've been seeing his name go by for years now when I'm editing stories, but this was the first time I ended up actually running into any of the AP guys, and it was great to put face to name finally.
He was busy uploading some photos to the AP site, and as we started talking about the festival, he showed me a photo which seemed to have him almost giddy.
I can see why.
If you've been following the story of the West Memphis Three since the first "Paradise Lost" was released in 1996, then the photo that Pizzello took would have been unthinkable for most of the past fifteen years. Impossible. Absolutely absurd to even mention.
While we've got Team HitFix here, we're trying to do as many interviews as we can. We've got our awesome video team of Alex Dorn and Michiel Thomas with us on-site, and we've kept them running. On Saturday morning, we all met at the Bing Bar on Main Street, and I sat down with the filmmakers behind the film "Wish You Were Here."
This was the opening night movie that I reviewed, and I wanted to discuss the movie with the cast. I've interviewed Joel Edgerton before, most recently for "Warrior," so there was a slight comfort level there, and Teresa Palmer joined him for our chat, which is never a bad thing.
I like that Palmer gets to play Australian in the film, and it is that national identity for the film itself that I thought was most interesting and worth discussion. Australian cinema has had a number of different ebbs and flows over the years, and it feels to me like Blue-Tongue Films, a production collective that includes Edgerton, his brother Nash, and director Kieran Darcy-Smith, is one of the companies that is part of this new moment that's happening.
Just so we're clear, I have enormous respect for Sean Penn.
I've been a fan since the early days of "Taps" and "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" and "Bad Boys," and watching the choices he's made over the years, both in front of the camera and occasionally behind it as well, I've remained impressed by his talent.
Like many truly gifted people, though, he is capable of spectacular flame outs when they push themselves, and Penn has had his share of terrible moments onscreen. He's been let down by directors sometimes, but he's also made some big crazy choices that haven't paid off in the end, and I think it's only when you are capable of greatness that you are also capable of doing something almost unspeakably bad.
I am still wrestling with "This Must Be The Place," a new film he stars in for director Paolo Sorrentino, because it is a narrative disaster, but a fascinating disaster. The movie's so bad in so many ways, and yet I was riveted by the display I saw unfolding. This is the sort of bad movie that is almost a textbook study. I want to spend time with it and try to really pull apart how many things just plain misfire, starting with the core concept of the picture.
When we bring the entire team to Sundance or Toronto or any other festival, we try to each pick one part of the festival to cover. That doesn't mean we're restricted to only one section, but that's our general focus. For me, any time a festival has a Midnight Movies section, I'll be the one covering that. Sundance is no exception, and tonight, I was at one of the two midnight screenings. They showed "Tim & Eric's Billion $ Movie" at the Library, and I'll catch up with that in a few days. They also screened "The Pact" at the Egyptian, and that's where I was.
I may have chosen poorly.
Last year, Nicholas McCarthy was here with a short film, also called "The Pact," and it appears someone who saw the film decided to give McCarthy the chance to expand it to feature-length. I just saw the short film for the first time on Thursday, and I liked the short. I thought it was stylish and effective, and it demonstrated a clear ability on the part of McCarthy to craft chilling suspense and strong visuals. The short starred Jewel Staite and Sam Ball as a brother and sister who are called back to the house they grew up in to deal with the death of their mother. In the short, it's obvious that these two didn't get along with Mom while she was alive, and it seems that although she's dead, she lingers on in spirit form.
Like many people, I have watched the Berlinger/Sinofsky "Paradise Lost" documentaries as they've been made and aired over the years, and I had my sense of righteous indignation poked and prodded by the filmmakers in regards to the case of the West Memphis Three. I've donated money to their legal defense on three separate occasions, and I have found myself emotionally invested in their eventual release to a degree that surprise s me, considering these are not people I know or am connected to in any way.
Several years ago, I first heard that Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh had become interested in the case, and that they were becoming involved in a very direct way. At the time, there was no talk of a new documentary of the topic, but instead it sounded like they were working to prove who the guilty party was, hoping that would help free Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelly. I was told that Fran and Peter weren't interested in having their names connected to the matter in public, but that they were simply doing this out of a sense of moral obligation. I filed it away as "interesting information I can't do anything with" and didn't really think about it again.
Just as we drove into Park City on Wednesday afternoon, the first flakes of snow were starting to fall, and now, as I prepare to get a few hours sleep on a very, very early Friday morning, we've seen that snow and a fair amount of sleet pile up quickly. And if there's snow, then as far as this Los Angeles resident is concerned, it is time for Sundance.
Now that my year is built around film festivals, I'm starting to really enjoy the way each festival has its own clear identity. Sundance is not SXSW which is not Cannes which is not Toronto which clearly is not Fantastic Fest. Those five festivals give me milestones by which to measure my year now, and so for me, Sundance means the film year is starting from a clean slate, and my first impressions of what sort of year in movies lies ahead start here. This is where I test the wind, read the tea leaves, and dig in for the first real challenge on each new calendar.
I've come to grow quite fond of Sundance overall. I like their mix of films, I like the way they break things down and the different categories, and I like the taste they show as programmers. As with most film festivals, what they program is entirely dependent on what's ready, what's available, and how things time out, and what Sundance has going for it is that it's such a major milestone for filmmakers to show something here that people will intentionally set their post-production schedules on movies around the submission dates for Sundance.
Anyone who watched "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" probably has a pretty good idea of what they can expect from the long-rumored George Lucas production of "Red Tails" now that it's actually opening in theaters.
The story of the Tuskeegee Airmen is a significant one, and worth telling. HBO took a shot at it a while ago, and Lucas has been trying to get his version made for what feels like decades now. I admire the intent, because a film like this and a story like this can be inspirational and connect young African-American audiences to a history they may not know about. If that's the only thing the film accomplishes, then I'm sure Lucas will count it as a success, and I do hope parents take their kids to see it.
I also hope it is the start of a conversation, and not the entire thing.
At heart, "Wish You Were Here" is an effective piece about the way secrets can serve as a cancer in a marriage. It's well-performed across the board, it's incredibly well-shot, and I think much of it works in terms of tone and mood. There are some major plot issues that you have to forgive, though, and it might be enough to derail the experience for some viewers.
Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith, "Wish You Were Here" fractures time to tell the story of a group of Australians who take a trip to Cambodia. During the trip, one of them vanishes, and the rest of them return home to deal with the emotional fallout. Not everyone is working with the same information, though, and little by little, the truth comes out, with some devastating fallout. Dave Flannery (Joel Edgerton) and his wife Alice (Felicity Price, who also co-wrote the film) are parents, and they step back into this life they've built, with their four-year-old and their five-year-old and another one on the way. Alice's sister Steph (Teresa Palmer) was the one who was dating Jeremy (Antony Starr), the guy who disappeared, and she's the one who seems to be most directly affected at first. Gradually, though, Dave and Alice are forced to deal with something unspoken, something that threatens their family, and that's the real driving force in the film.