Last Minute Sundance Addition

From the press release just sent out:

"Park City, UT -- December 29, 2008-Sundance Institute announced today the addition of THE WINNING SEASON to the films screening at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival in the out-of-competition Premieres section. THE WINNING SEASON will have its world premiere on Monday, January 19 at 8:30 p.m. at the Library Center Theatre in Park City. The 25th Sundance Film Festival runs January 15-25, 2009 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Sundance, Utah. A complete list of the films is available at Sundance Institute's website at www.sundance.org/festival.

Directed by Jim Strouse (Lonesome Jim, Grace is Gone), The Winning Season stars Sam Rockwell as an adult misfit brought on to coach his local girl's high school basketball team. Cast: Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry, Shareeka Epps and Emily Rios.

"We are thrilled to welcome back to the Festival Jim Strouse who once again displays his talent for storytelling in this superbly witty film," said Geoffrey Gilmore, Director, Sundance Film Festival. "The Winning Season is a completely gratifying cinematic drama marked by sharp dialogue and perfectly toned performances."

For the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, 118 feature-length films were selected including 91 world premieres, 16 North American premieres and 5 U.S. premieres representing 21 countries with 42 first-time filmmakers, including 28 in the non-competition categories. These films were selected from 3,661 feature film submissions composed of 1,905 U.S. and 1,756 international feature-length films."

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'Diva'
'Diva'

My DVD Shelf: Diva

Jean-Jacques Beineix was Luc Besson before Luc Besson was, and "Diva" is the reason.

When I visited the set of "Sherlock Holmes" in London recently, one of the things I was most excited by was the opportunity to meet cinematographer Philippe Rousselot.  And again... "Diva" is the reason.

It's strange how this film's reputation really hasn't sustained over the years.  When it came out, it was a sort of phenomenon, and the ripples it sent through the commercial world were unmissable.  People ripped this movie off.  A lot.  And once you see this, you'll see what I mean about Besson... I'd argue that his film "Leon" is a sort of direct reaction to what he must have loved when he first saw this one.  It's amazing that "Diva" was a debut feature, and what's even more amazing is how little impact Beineix has had since.  His only other film to really register internationally was "Betty Blue," and he's dropped off the map completely at this point.  I hadn't seen "Diva" in many years, so when The Miriam Collection put it out, it was a nice opportunity to revisit the picture and see if it still seems cool after all this time.

And the answer is absolutely.  This is not a particularly deep picture.  Beineix is too busy just getting drunk on the potential of filmmaking itself to bother saying much.  That's okay, though, because the film offers up visual and aural pleasures at every turn.  Working (loosely) from a novel by Daniel Odier, Beineix tells the story of Jules (Frederic Andrei), a bike messenger in Paris who is absolutely infatuated with an American opera singer named Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelminia Fernandez).  She's notorious because she absolutely refuses to allow any recordings to be made of her live performances.  She believes that an audience has to be there, in person, to truly understand what it is that she does, and that any recording would only diminish her work.  Jules doesn't care.  He's so in love with her voice that he follows her on tour from performance to performance and now, finally, he's taken the ultimate step of bootlegging one of her concerts.  That's where the film opens, and the tape he makes leads him down a rabbit hole into a very, very strange adventure.  Seems there are some unscrupulous businessmen from Tokyo who want his bootleg so they can blackmail Cynthia into a recording contract, promising to release the bootleg if she says no.  But another tape ends up in the mix, too, when a woman being chased by some goons drops a tape into the storage compartment on Jules's scooter.  That tape features evidence that could put away a corrupt police commissioner who traffics in white slavery.  Jules ends up on the run, assisted by a crazy cute little Vietnamese girl named Alba (the dangerous 14-year-old Thuy An Luu) and her mentor/boyfriend, a philosopher/fixer named Gorodish (Richard Bohringer), and the entire thing unfolds with this wild sense of style that absolutely must have had an impact on guys like Michael Mann and... well... pretty much everyone who directed anything for MTV in the '80s.  The loopy visuals, the soaring opera, the oh-so-French attitude... it's a heady cocktail, and absolutely holds up as a New New Wave classic.

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Hulu's Got Milk!

I'm crushin' on Hulu so bad these days.  I love it as a way of watching a full series of TV episodes, but more and more right now, they're putting full films up, and their selection so far has been really strong.

I quite liked Van Sant's "Milk" this year.  It may not have made my final list, but it's a really rewarding film overall.  One of the reasons it didn't quite knock me on my ass is because of how much I already love "The Times Of Harvey Milk," a documentary that I feel represents the best of what documentaries are capable of in general.

And now, thanks to Hulu, you can see if you agree with me or not.

 

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The Morning Read (12.29.08)

Oh, it's slooooooooooooooow out there right now.

Makes sense, of course.  The year's over for most people, and everyone n town's looking forward to Sundance.  As a result, there's not a lot of new material out there aside from year end lists, which you can find everywhere.

Over at Ain't It Cool, Vern wrote what may be his very first script review ever, and it makes perfect sense.  Stallone's "The Expendables" is gearing up to shoot soon, and Vern's got a ton of details about what we might expect from it when it's released.

"This is a movie where a team of 5 can take on an army of 100, where armed men still sometimes engage in martial arts and fisticuffs, where many, many things blow up, where occasionally a character might have something sarcastic to say during combat. In other words, a good old fashioned action movie. An endangered species."

Quint's been busting ass, as normal, with his AMAD column.  He recently announced that the column's coming to an end soon, which is a bummer, but in the meantime, he did a Daryl Duke double-feature of "The Silent Partner" and "Payday."  Glad to see he liked one, sorry to see he didn't like the other.  I love both those underseen little films.

One of my favorite sites is The Art Of The Title, which is all about opening and closing title sequences in movies.  Their latest entry is about "Edward Scissorhands," and it's stunning.

"There's a sophisticated fairy tale for you."

Devin Faraci on CHUD?  Totally insane.  Nice guy, but he's obviously cracked.  He just embarked on a quest to review every episode of "Star Trek: The Original Series" and all seven films with the original cast, all before the new JJ Abrams take on the property hits theaters in May.  That's a crazy amount of writing on top of all his other obligations, but Devin's inner Trekkie seems to be ready for the challenge.

His intro is up already, as is his first review.  If you click either of those links, just know one thing:  you are a nerd.  I clicked both.

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'Hammer'
'Hammer'
Credit: Independent Film Circuit

My DVD Shelf: The Hammer

Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld seems to be conspicuously absent fom all the promotional materials for "The Hammer," including the DVD cover.  Adam Carolla, star of LA's morning drivetime show on 97.1 FM and host of "The Man Show" and MTV's "Loveline", is the one who is front and center, and if you listen to Adam talk about the film on his show, it sounds like a real labor of love on his part, and something that is pretty much all "his."

I guess I feel bad for Herman-Wurmfeld, who also directed "Kissing Jessica Stein" and some very funny "Stella" episodes.  I'm not sure if "The Facts Of Life Reunion" is the low point of his resume or the best thing ever, but whatever the case, he deserves some credit for making "The Hammer" work.  This is one of those "Rocky"-esque underdog stories that we've seen fifty million times at this point.  This variation is about a forty year old construction worker who gets a shot at the Olympic trials for the U.S. boxing team, the exact dream he gave up chasing when he was younger.

The film works for many of the same reasons the first "Rocky" worked, although definitely not to the same degree.  There's a genuine, grimy, low-rent feel to things, so Jerry Ferro (Carolla) and his desperation ring true.  "Rocky" worked because he really did seem like a loser for the first half of that film, and Jerry Ferro's the same way.  Carolla has an easy charisma that carries the film.  He's unflappable.  The love story is perfunctory, and there's no real doubt how things are going to wrap up, but it works because of Carolla's charm.  He obviously believed in the film, paying money out of his own pocket to four-wall it for theatrical release, but in the end, a film like this has its best shot at connecting with people on home video, and I suspect it will have a fairly long life as people take a chance on it and word of mouth spreads.

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'Speed Racer'
'Speed Racer'
Credit: Warner Bros.

Runners-Up 2008: #5 (Tie) - "U2-3D" and "Speed Racer"

#5. (TIE)  "U2-3D" and "Speed Racer"

Yeah, that's right.  I said it.

These two films are tied for most times I saw anything in the theater all year long.  I would have seen U2-3D ten more times if I could have.  It's just incredible on the biggest screen you can find showing it.  It is the single most effective use of 3D that I've ever seen.  Watching the film in a great digital house is NOT like being in the best seat in the house.  No... instead, watching the film is like being in a seat that no one could ever sit in, a seat that took you personally swooping in over the crowd, up close on the stage, overhead, in the front row... there is one moment in the middle of the film where Bono plays right to the camera, close up, and what makes it remarkable is that it's the only time he really plays right into it.  It's so intimate in the middle of this spectacle that it's a little shocking.

I remember seeing U2 in Atlanta for the Unforgettable Fire tour.  And at that point, they weren't a mammoth commercial force.  They were still gathering steam.  And the show at the Omni was packed, but it felt small, intimate.  Like they were playing for you.  That, of course, is what makes anyone's favorite band their favorite band... that personal connection where you feel like that is the music you were listening to everything else to get to.  I've seen them over and over since then, all the way through the last big swing through the States.  But in all that time, I've never seen a U2 show like the presentation of this particular set of concerts in Buenos Aires.  Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington did spectacular work in shooting and then building these shows into one powerful visual experience.  I don't think I'll be owning a suitable home video version of this for many, many years, so I guess I'm left hoping it will play during slow seasons at digital IMAX houses near me.

And I wouldn't complain if the same thing happened to "Speed Racer".  The IMAX screenings I went to of this film are my favorite non-festival theatrical experiences this year.  "Speed Racer" doesn't make my top ten because of some screenplay issues, but they could have pretty easily been solved with a quick 20 minute trim after Speed's first visit to Royalton's offices.  Just have Speed say no there.  Back to the racing.  Movie solved.  Otherwise, I think this is the best live-action kid's film since "Babe: Pig In The City."  It has its heart in the right place in terms of family, and the Racer family emerge as the most improbably well-realized movie family of the year.

And did I mention the racing?  Cause, um, holy shit.  The racing.  Say what you will about the crazy cartoon reality of the film (I think it's entrancing and pop-art beautiful), but the pace of the action stuff is impeccable.  If you can't sense a real control of rhythm and tension in the way the races of "Speed Racer" are constructed, then I'm not sure we speak the same language of "action filmmaking."  The Wachowskis redeemed themselves completely as far as I'm concerned, after the flopsweat of the "Matrix" sequels.  And even if "Speed Racer" didn't make a dime, it exists, and the BluRay version's pretty sweet.

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'Timecrimes'
'Timecrimes'

Runners-Up 2008: #6 - "Timecrimes"

6. "Timecrimes"

So I've officially decided... I do not want a time machine.

Nope.  No good can come of it.  I've suspected as much over the years, and sure, "Back To The Future" was a lot of fun, but... I have a strong suspicion I'd unravel the wrong thread and suddenly find myself trapped in a nightmare akin to the one that is sprung on the audience by madman Nacho Vigalando, writer and director of this ingenious no-budget Spanish film.  Karra Elejalde is a powerful force as the average putz, spending a weekend at the country house with his wife, who stumbles into a time loop that I suspect it will take several viewings to puzzle out.  And I like that.  I like that it's a crazy little puzzle box, and the way things just keep getting worse as Elejalde struggles along in the timestream, fucking it up as badly as he can.  The film's ending is a foregone conclusion... and that's sort of what makes it great.  It's not about outsmarting the screenplay so you can say "I figured it out!"  You need to know what's coming so that when it gets there, and Elejalde realizes that it's always going to be him that makes it happen, no matter what, it is not just a clever filmmaking game.  It's like watching something small and furry struggle in the grip of a predator.  Elejalde never stands a chance once he jumps out of time, but he goes down swinging.  That Vigalando is able to also wring some huge dark comic laughs out of all of this, even during the climax of the film, is a testament to just how good he is with tone. 

Like "Let The Right One In," this is part of an ongoing Magnolia Films series in theaters and on video, the Six-Series Shooters, and you'll be able to catch up with the film at home in 2009.

 

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'Slumdog Millionaire'
'Slumdog Millionaire'
Credit: Fox Searchlight

Runners-Up 2008: #7 - "Slumdog Millionaire"

7. "Slumdog Millionaire"

At some point, I'm going to stop underestimating Danny Boyle.  Not that I'm alone in that, of course.  He seems to be a perpetual underdog, even though his work has an energy that is unmistakable, film to film.  I may not love this adaptation of Vikas Swarup's novel "Q&A" as much as some people did this year, but I still think it's a lovely, open-hearted film, a Dickensian take on Indian street life and the way following a dream can take us to the most unexpected places in life.  My favorite thing about the film is the way Boyle cast the characters over the various stages in their lives.  He did a great job of matching each of the kids who plays Jamal or Latika or Salim.  He also did an amazing job as a Westerner of getting inside Indian culture, and the film feels authentic. 

Even if the film as a whole didn't knock me flat, that sequence cut to M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" is one of the most blissful, confident sequences in any film this year, and you've got to love the cheek that it takes to actually pack in a dance sequence during the closing credits.  I don't think Simon Beaufoy's screenplay actually does connect all the dots, but the notes it hits right are sweet, indeed.

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'Hellboy II: The Golden Army'
'Hellboy II: The Golden Army'
Credit: Universal Pictures

Runners-Up 2008: #8 - 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army'

8. "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"

Guillermo Del Toro's just making one big movie, and each time he releases something, it just adds brushstrokes to this one giant-scale phantasmagoric painting that won't really come into focus until he's finally finished.  He is the American Miyazaki, a fantasist who is intent on not just thrilling us from film to film, but who is actually building an alternate world on film, brick by brick, monster by monster, his unique gifts becoming stronger and stronger each time he makes a film. In its own way, this feels as much like a series reboot as Universal's other big comic book movie, "The Incredible Hulk."  Del Toro seems to both acknowledge and correct most of the problems with the first "Hellboy," which I liked a lot, but which had a few major missteps built in.  This time out, everything works better.  The characters are looser, more alive.  The world is more vibrant, more filled-out.  And there's a sadness here that really does seem to be part and parcel with Del Toro's best work, a sense that we live in an age where wonder and magic aren't valued at all.  I have to give special credit to Del Toro for doing something i didn't think was possible... making me like Seth McFarlane.  A lot.  That may be the greatest special effect of the year.

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Empire Posts First 'Transformers 2' Images

Right now, our tech guys are busting ass to make sure all of HitFix is up and running right, and they're constantly tweaking code and fixing things.  I know how hard I'm working right now, and I'm sure it's about 1/10th of how hard they're working.  So with that in mind, I'm posting this story for Arash, hoping it'll make him smile for five minutes before he has to dive back into the guts of the site.

Empire.com has scored a spiffy exclusive, and this weekend, they posted the very first exclusive images from "Transformers 2: Rise of the Fallen," including a cover for their new issue featuring Optimus Prime.

You can see the images for yourself at their site.

I think Bay and "Transformers" is a good fit.  Giant robots, insane mayhem... it seems like it was made for him.  And to his credit, he seems to take it just seriously enough.  I like these images, particularly the one where it appears to be raining cars, and I'm looking forward to seeing a trailer with real footage soon.

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