We all know that studios chase success.
The problem is that they often chase it in the wrong ways. Instead of truly digging into an audience's reaction and looking at ways to help serve a certain desire the audience has, they frequently just imitate on a surface level. I'd like to think that the conversations that have no doubt resulted from the phenomenal success of "Gravity" would lead to something along the lines of the proposed film version of "To Reach The Clouds" by Robert Zemeckis, with a script by Zemeckis and Christopher Browne.
Philippe Petit was the focus of the riveting documentary "Man On Wire," and the thought of what Zemeckis could do with 3D cameras during Petit's attempt to walk between the two World Trade Center towers a full 1350 feet off the ground is pretty exciting. I don't have many phobias that are genuinely a problem for me, but heights is the one that gets me. When I am in a very high place, even if I know I'm safely protected behind glass, I get vertigo so extreme that I want to fall down. Always have. And if Robert Zemeckis does what I know he's capable of doing with the Petit story, I fully expect I will collapse out of a theater seat.
We all know that studios chase success.
PARK CITY - David Cross has never seemed to me like someone who is completely comfortable with his own role in pop culture.
There are a number of things Cross should be proud of, with "Mr. Show" holding a deserved spot at the epicenter of '90s alternative comedy in Los Angeles. One of the reasons that show was so endlessly great was because Cross and his creative partner Bob Odenkirk both knew tons of wildly funny people who they could call on to come and play when they had their show. When Cross and Odenkirk made the "Mr. Show" movie, "Run Ronnie Run," it was not an easy or satisfying experience for either one of them, and while I think there are things to like about it, they never quite managed to figure out how to make a film feel as free and inventive as the show did from week to week. I think they were both frustrated by choices that were made that they couldn't really challenge or change since they weren't the directors, and Odenkirk made the jump to directing films for himself a while ago. It certainly wasn't a foregone conclusion that Cross would also end up directing, but it's a natural progression.
PARK CITY - When I saw "The Trip," I saw the feature film version, not the six-episode television series, and I thought it was an enjoyable lark. It's not the most profound or the most enjoyable film from Michael Winterbottom's filmography, but it might be the easiest to share with other people.
After all, it's basically just Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan trading riffs on food, love, and Michael Caine for a few hours. One of the things I found most fascinating when I saw it again was how Coogan and Brydon are playing fictionalized versions of themselves, so you can't call the film a documentary, no matter how much it feels like one at times. One of the stylistic touches that I appreciate is that they aren't trying to pretend it's a documentary. It allows Winterbottom to shoot very intimate moments without having to justify why a camera would be there or why Coogan and Brydon would allow certain things to be shot. It's a subtle approach, but a careful distinction, especially in this one as we see that Brydon's not quite the amiable family man he appeared to be in the first one and that Coogan doesn't quite fit the role of perpetual cad that he's been associated with so often.
PARK CITY - What makes a great action filmmaker truly great?
Is it just the ability to orchestrate and shoot mayhem? If so, then David Ellis would have to be considered one of the greats simply for the highway crash sequence in "Final Destination 2," and pretty much every other scene he ever shot would negate that idea. And if pure mayhem is what makes you great overall, then the destruction of Chicago means that none of Michael Bay's weaknesses as a filmmaker matter, right?
There are a number of directors out there right now who deserve more credit than they get as action filmmakers. Isaac Florentine does fantastic work in conjunction with various great fight choreographers like Larnell Stovall and Tim Man and working with action stars like Scott Adkins, for example, and I love the films that Ernesto Diaz Espinoza made with Marko Zaror, who should be a gigantic star just based on his physical presence and both the fun and the elegance of the way he fights.
At this point, there are several familiar stages in the life-cycle of a new film by Quentin Tarantino. There's the part the general public is part of, involving the trailers, the press screenings, and the eventual release. But well before that, another cycle has become somewhat set in stone, starting with the moment that each screenplay leaks.
It happened on "Kill Bill." It happened on "Inglorious Basterds." And it happened on "Django Unchained" at a speed that seemed to shock even Tarantino.
Now word has broken that the cycle was accelerated to a point that has infuriated the filmmaker, and as a result, it appears that "The Hateful Eight" will no longer be his next film. Right now, fingers are being pointed, and I can't wait to see how this story unfolds because someone is going to end up being blamed for this film going down in flames before it even set a cast in stone.
PARK CITY - When you attend a festival like Sundance, one of the great things about it is the diversity of voices and styles and stories that you'll experience over the course of your stay. I love discovering filmmakers here, I love stumbling into small movies that I might otherwise never have seen, and I love the sheer range of human experience on display.
So of course the film I'm most excited to see while I'm here is about Indonesian guys kicking the holy hell out of each other.
I haven't exactly been shy about expressing just how excited I am for "The Raid 2" tonight at the Eccles theater. It was the first ticket I booked for the festival, and I built my entire schedule around it. Absolutely nothing is going to stand in the way of me being there for what I hope is a very special evening. They even announced a secret screening for tonight of what Sundance is calling a "major motion picture" that is coming out in theaters later this year from "a major filmmaker," and I didn't consider for a moment skipping tonight's "Raid 2" premiere. Hell, it could be my first movie premiering in that spot, and I'd still be at "The Raid 2."
PARK CITY - Going from the bruised beauty of Ana Lily Amirpour's "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night" to the brutally silly majesty of the mockumentary vampires of "What We Do In The Shadows" only points up just how easy it is to start from similar places and still end up with very different movies.
Before the film began at the Egyptian, co-directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi took the stage to talk about how the film came together. They said they were approached by the New Zealand Documentary Board about making this in 2010, asking them to look into the vampire population of Wellington. Sure enough, the opening logo for the film is for the NZDB, and they play the film as a fairly straight-faced documentary, but let's be clear: this is one of the silliest comedies I've seen in a while, and it is so packed with laughs that before they even got to the opening titles, my face was already sore.
PARK CITY - Elijah Wood has become a mainstay on the festival circuit, but not because he has a film playing every festival. Instead, he's one of those guys who I see showing up at an event like Fantastic Fest simply because he genuinely lives and breathes movies. He is a fan first, and I've had so many great conversations with him over the years after staggering out of something, flattened by what I saw, seeing that same love of movies reflected back in his own response.
As a result, I knew he was one of the people I had to sit down with at Sundance this year to discuss the various films playing here that he's involved with, along with his producing partners. Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller are listed alongside Elijah on both "Cooties" and "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night," and so it seemed perfectly natural for them to join him to talk about developing those two very different films.
In both cases, whether you like the films or not, you can't help but be struck by how strong the voices of the filmmakers are, and that's a real testament to what Noah, Waller, and Wood set out to do as a production team. They are all about supporting the filmmakers they choose to work with, giving them room to try to come up with something singular, and they don't seem to be afraid of challenging or even shattering formula in the process.
PARK CITY - The easy joke is to call this film "the best Iranian vampire film I've ever seen," but that's reductive and unfair to this gorgeous, sad, haunting accomplishment by writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour.
Why do we make so many movies about monsters? What do they tell us about ourselves? At this point, if someone's making a film about a vampire, they have to be doing something else at the same time or there's no point. Amirpour draws on the traditions of the genre, but by setting her story in Bad City, an Iranian town on the edge of an oil field, she is also telling us about the dreams and frustrations and fears of being a woman in this society, powerless by definition, empowered by this fantasy. The Girl (Sheila Vand) rarely speaks, but we know what she wants and how she feels based on who she makes victims and who she spares.
Fans of "Let The Right One In" may get a similar vibe from some scenes in this movie, but The Girl is no child, nor is Arash (Arash Marandi), a gardener struggling with his feelings about his junkie father Hossein (Marshall Manesh). Hossein keeps buying heroin long past his ability to pay for it, leaving Arash to pick up his mess and deal with Saeed (Dominic Rains), a drug dealing pimp who proves that every society has its own variation on the Guido. One night, Saeed makes the mistake of inviting The Girl into his home, taking her silence as a sort of cowed obedience. Once she feeds on him, she leaves, and when Arash arrives a few moments later, he realizes that he has an opportunity. He takes Saeed's briefcase full of drugs and money and sets himself up as the new Saeed, dealing drugs to anyone except his father, who is trapped in their apartment, grappling with withdrawal.
PARK CITY - Well, at least now I know why smooth jazz exists.
It's uncommon to see more than one good horror-comedy in a year, much less two within 24 hours, but "Life After Beth" proved to be a fascinating follow-up to "Cooties," both films ostensibly building off of the current fascination with zombies in pop culture, but each approaching the subject in totally different ways.
"Cooties" really does want to scare you and freak you out, and the humor is mainly from watching those particular characters handle an otherwise not particularly funny situation. "Life After Beth," on the other hand, is a comedy first and foremost, and it showcases a great cast, including two leads who both seem to be stretching here in ways that are exciting to see.