Another technical knock-out from one of film's slyest pranksters
After "HOWL," I had to hurry across Park City from the Eccles Theater so I could make it to the Egyptian in time for the Shorts Program I. Dan Fienberg already reviewed the majority of the films from that program tonight, but the one he left out is the one I was there to see, the new short film from director Spike Jonze.
There have been rumors about this one floating around for a while now, and there was some confusion on my part when the Kanye West short by Spike showed up. I thought at first maybe that was the same one. But it turns out "I'm Here" is an ambitious half-hour love story about robots starring Andrew Garfield and Sienna Guillory, and it kicked off the Shorts Program with style, ambition, and a gentle romantic touch.
As with the Wild Things in "Where The Wild Things Are," the robots here are a combination of practical costumes and digital post-production, and the end result is sort of magical. Both robots come across as living things, and the low-tech design of the world is charming, giving it a handmade quality that really works.
The fim is unabashedly romantic, the story of library robot Sheldon (Garfield), shy and retiring, following every rule. There's a sense from the way the film plays at first that robots are not valued members of society, and that Sheldon has accepted his place. He's amazed by robots who don't just keep their head down.
Even more infuriating, this true story isn't.
Y'know, my first thought after suffering through the puerile "What Happens In Vegas" was, "Wow, I hope someone hires this director to remake 'Lorenzo's Oil,' only really, really dull."
And, lo, my wish was granted.
I'd feel worse about beating up on this overly-earnest tearjerker if the "based on a true story" part of the equation were actually true, but it's not. I've done quite a bit of reading in the last week on the story behind the film, and everything that's been changed was changed in service of what William Goldman once famously referred to as "Hollywood Horseshit."
Which, coincidentally, was a cop movie starring Harrison Ford, wasnt it?
Okay, okay, I'll dial back the snark a bit. To be fair, the film's not as bad as "Legion," also opening today, and it's not as dull as "Creation," which opens next week, but anyone worried that CBS Films would basically make glorified TV movies will find plenty here to justify that fear. Brendan Fraser, who is evidently on an all-butterfat diet these days, stars as John Crowley, a man who has two children who are afflicted with Pompe disease, a rare degenerative disorder that usually kills children very young. Last year, when I was at Sundance, my wife called me to tell me that our oldest son had been diagnosed as pre-asthmatic, and I felt like my world was caving in. Since then, I've learned it's not serious and that it may never turn into anything worse, but at the time, there was a powerlessness that hit me like a sledgehammer.
With that strong a cast, the movie's got to be good... right?
I, too, love "The Terminator."
But just because I enjoyed that film in 1984 doesn't mean I want to sit through a witless dinner-theater retread of the movie featuring a cast that is capable of much better.
Take Adrianne Palicki, for example, who plays Sarah Connor in this film. Beautiful girl, and her work on "Friday Night Lights" proves she's more than just a pretty face. She's a genuinely skilled actress who seems to be drawn to roles where she gets to play damaged or where she's pushed to extremes. Or take Lucas Black, who's been consistently good in pretty much everything he's done since he was a kid in "Sling Blade." Then there's Dennis Quaid, who has often been better than the movies he was in, a big bag of charisma in search of the right vehicle. Even Charles Dutton strikes me as a guy you shouldn't just waste like this.
My guess is Screen Gems paid well to make sure they had a big cast they could sell since they knew they were working with a first time filmmaker here. They were smart enough to put their one great image -- angels with machine guns -- front and center in all the marketing materials, and it seems to get people excited. But it's a shell game, because there's not a single fresh character beat or a genuinely good scene in the film.
You like that red-band trailer with the foul-mouthed fanged granny who runs up the wall? Well, that's the whole scene. You like that clip of Doug Jones as the freaky ice cream man? You've seen every second of his screen time. And the worst part about showing those two bits out of context is that there's not another moment in the film that even comes close to the invention on display in those beats. And in context, they're so thrown away that they really don't resonate at all.
James Franco does a nice Ginsberg impression, but the film just doesn't work
It's always tough to be the first film in a festival. And at Sundance, the conventional wisdom I've always heard from veterans is that the oepning night film is rarely good.
Let's just say conventional wisdom held true tonight.
Before the film, Robert Redford talked about the way this project worked its way through various arms of the Sundance Labs on its way to the screen, and at one point, it was supposed to be a documentary. I'm puzzled why the decision was made to shift the project to a narrative feature, since the end result is dramatically inert, a showcase for James Franco's technically adept but entirely unilluminating impression of Allen Ginsberg.
For those not familiar with their hipster history, Ginsberg wrote a four-part poem called "HOWL" which was published in book form by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1955. As a result, Ferlinghetti was put on trial for the distribution of obscenity, and a chunk of the film deals with that trial. Jon Hamm stands in for the defense, David Strathairn is the prosecution, and Bob Balaban plays the judge. The courtroom scenes are all carefully constructed from transcripts, but despite the subject matter, these sequences are all surprisingly sedate. You'd think that a trial about obscenity in the '50s would have been explosive, but based on what you see here, you'd be wrong.
We get a first look at one of this year's Sundance midnight movies
I'm not claustrophobic, thank god, but I know plenty of people who are.
This may not be the movie for you.
Then again, I have a profound phobia of being kidnapped, so maybe this isn't the film for me, either, although I'm certainly planning to see it this week while I'm here in Park City. "Buried" has been chosen as one of this year's midnight movies at the Sundance Film Festival, and I'm sure that's in no small part to the star power offered by Ryan Reynolds, who stars as an American contracted to drive trucks in Iraq. He's taken hostage, told to record a message about a ransom, and then buried alive to wait as his kidnappers see if they're going to be paid or not.
When you're dealing with a premise like this, the first question is how do you make it visually and dramatically compelling. You're talking about a movie where your lead character is locked in a box. It's a real test for an actor, too, since you don't have someone else to play off of for long stretches of the film.
The teaser's fairly smart. It just sets up the concept, but it still doesn't really show you what the experience of the film is going to be. It was just sent out to websites today, and so we wanted to share it with you before the festival gets too crazy and we start to get overwhelmed:
Magnet Releasing set to distribute the Fantastic Fest award winner
Magnet Releasing recently announced that they'e going to be handling the U.S. release of 2009's Fantastic Fest award winner "Down Terrace," and this week in Park City, Alamo honcho and genial lunatic Tim League is going to be throwing a skull-destroying party in support of the film, which is playing Slamdance.
All of this finally spurred me to pop in my screener of the film, and I'm glad I did. Ben Wheatley's film, co-written with star Robin Hill, is a scabrous look at an English family whose venal distrust of of one another makes the Sopranos look like the Waltons by comparison. There's an extra kick provided by the casting of real-life father and son Robert Hill and Robin Hill as Bill and Karl, both just released after a short stretch in jail, ready to jump back into whatever criminal entertprise got them in trouble in the first place.
We never actually learn what it is that their family's involved in, but that's actually a crafty bit of screenwriting since it doesn't really matter. We know that they're lawbreakers, and that their turf is everything to them. That's enough. They went to jail because they were informed on by someone close to them, and since they have no idea who could have done it, they make the only sane, rational decision.
They'll kill everyone.
An expertly crafted film that makes me glad I don't have daughters
Andrea Arnold's filmography so far is not a particularly long one, but it seems that even in the span of a short and a couple of features, it's a significant one. Cut from the same cloth as fellow English miserablist Ken Loach, she seems fascinated by the grey areas inherent to a certain sort of UK upbringing. With "Fish Tank," she's made her best film so far, and in the process, reinforced just how glad I am I didn't have any daughters.
Don't get me wrong... I have friends with daughters, and I know how much they love them and what a particular type of joy that relationship brings them, and I'm sure they wouldn't trade it for the world. But I know myself and I know how I handle stress, and as girls get older, the anxiety would probably kill me. As a friend once said, "With a son, you only have one penis to worry about. With a daughter, you worry about ALL OF THEM."
Katie Jarvi makes her film debut here as 15-year-old Mia, angry and aimless, a creature of pure impulse, and as the film starts, she's already on a collision course with self-made disaster. She's angry all the time at her mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing) for reasons to drift from bad idea to bad idea. Then a new form of chaos enters her life when her mother, after a long drunken night out, brings home a man named Connor, played by Michael Fassbender.
From the moment he shows up, Fassbender injects an uneasy energy into the film, too focused on Mia, too interested in the one thing that seems to crack the grim facade she projects, her dancing. Alone in a room, a stolen beer to loosen her up, Mia dances with abandon, with something even approaching joy. Katie Jarvis perfectly captures that strange, powerful moment when a girl becomes aware of just how much sexual charisma she actually has, and the cat-and-mouse between her and the much-older Fassbender made my stomach hurt from tension as I watched it. Fassbender's been racking up one great performance after another in the last few years, but he still somehow retains the ability to vanish into his roles. I know it's the same guy in "Hunger" and "Inglorious Basterds" and this film, but the characters are nothing alike, not even visually. The extreme control of his craft as an actor works in perfect counterpoint to the raw unpolished nature of the work that Jarvis does.
Some truly awful things happen in the film, and even if Arnold gives us some release at the end, it's still shot through with a bleak melancholy, and it's a rough ride getting there. Arnold doesn't offer up easy explanations for Mia's anger, and she doesn't let her off the hook with some easy fix at the end. That's what makes this one linger, and it reaffirms that Arnold is a voice worth the attention.
Can't get enough of Motion/Captured? Don't miss a post with daily HitFix Blog Alerts. Sign up now.
Don't miss out. Add Motion/Captured to your iGoogle, My Yahoo or My MSN experience by clicking here.
Not part of the HitFix Nation yet? Take 90 seconds and sign up today.
British film about bruised masculinity offers style, but seems familiar
But throw in a screenwriting credit for Louis Mellis and David Scinto, who wrote "Sexy Beast," and that's a genuine cause for celebration. And if you're a fan of Malcolm Venville as a photographer or for his striking commercial work, then that's just bonus on bonus since this film marks his feature directorial debut.
So with all that potential in front of and behind the camera, does the film live up to it?
Yes and no.
The film is great looking, moody, with a constant sense of simmering violence thanks to cinematographer Daniel Landin, which is no surprise. He's been one of the most impressive guys working in music videos for the last 15 years or so. And the cast is uniformly good, led by Ray Winstone as Colin Diamond, a powder keg of a man who has just learned that his wife Liz (the still-gorgeous Joanne Whalley) has been unfaithful to him. Upon learning this news, which she tells to him with a matter-of-fact cruelty, he goes totally caveman, and with the help of his friends, he tracks down and abducts Loverboy (Melvil Poupand), tying him to a chair while he decides what to do with him.
We also discuss 'Master and Commander' and 'The Right Stuff' with the stars
The more interviews I do in a year, the more I hear from other reporters about stars who are supposedly difficult on-camera, tough to get anything out of. And on occasion, that's true. I think a lot of it is where you talk, the mood they're in, who was in the room before you, and any number of other factors.
For example, at the "Legion" junket, some jackass was walking into the rooms dressed in a cheesy angel robe with a tinsel halo on his head, screeching at the actors in a weird falsetto, absolutely poisoning the mood. I saw the same thing at the "Jennifer's Body" press day in Toronto, where some guy threw a glass of water on himself while talking to Megan Fox, then tried to take his shirt off. These idiots don't realize that someone else who has a job to do has to walk in there after them and try to have a real conversation, and that's already difficult when you've got six minutes total.
When I was on the set of "Inkheart," Paul Bettany sat with us during lunch, and while he was soft-spoken and somewhat quiet, I didn't think it was a problem. It just seemed like he was busy with his own process, and we were a distraction. That's fair when you're on a set... different actors need different things from their environment, and journalists have to respect that when they're the ones who are intruding on the work. But at a junket, the actor's whole job is to speak about their work all day, and try to convey some sort of excitement, and in this environment, I thought Bettany was actually really easy to talk to, a whole different level of energy evident from the moment we sat down.
What can you expect in the week ahead?
We have descended on Park City en masse, and this year, we come to conquer.
Last year, HitFix had been up and running for about a month when we flew to Sundance, and I was still getting my bearings, having just left Ain't It Cool after a decade or so. I hadn't been to Sundance in almost that long, and so I had to adjust to both a new outlet and re-establishing myself with publicists, and I had to relearn the Sundance system all over again.
This year, I feel like I've got a head start on everything, and I'm looking forward to covering as much as possible for you guys, starting opening day and maintaining a constant pace until the evening of the 28th, when I'm flying back to LA. In addition to me, Greg Ellwood, Dan Fienberg, Melinda Newman, and Katie Hasty are all here in Salt Lake City as well, which means we'll be bringing you a fairly diverse line-up of interviews, reviews, and reactions as the week unfolds.
I'm all about the midnight line-up this year with films like "Splice," "Buried," "Frozen," and "Tucker & Dale VS Evil" already scheduled, and I'm trying to hit a wide range of things including documentaries like "Smash His Camera" and "Teenage Paparazzo," international titles like "Vegetarian" and "Bran Nue Dae," and premieres like "Cyrus" and "The Killer Inside Me." I'm set to talk to folks like Spike Jonze, the Duplass Brothers, Michael Winterbottom and even Gaspar Noe, and I'm going to work to get you those conversations as soon as possible after they happen.