Sunday, January 29, 2006

The antepenultimate batch


Written and Directed
By Joey Lauren Adams

Arkansas is just like anyplace else. You have the same people with dysfunctional families looking for love in all the wrong places. Sometimes they make good stories and sometimes they don’t.

This film gives an opportunity for all those actors with southern accents to do a romantic, slice-of-life melodrama that would otherwise take place in New York or LA.

Lucy(Ashley Judd) is a contractor who when not working or taking care of her grandparents likes to get drunk and get laid. This is what basically happens until she meets Cal(Jeffrey Donovan) and there’s the beginnings of a romance, something that freaks Lucy out, annoying both Cal and her roommate Kim(Laura Prepon). She also finds her long-lost Dad(Scott Wilson), who was once a brilliant guitar player, and there’s a tentative reconciliation while they go to church together, but it never gets that far.

In fact this film is generally about nothing. There’s an attempt to show some growth in some relationships, but there really isn’t and we’re left where we started.

Joey Adams, who’s one of those quirky ingénue actresses has decided to further her career in a new direction before losing her good looks to aging. This is not a great film by any means, but it’s a good start all the same.


Written and Directed by
Josh and Jeff Crook

It's interesting to go back to the IMBD and see who's ripped off who. For instance, take Jack Sholder's TV movie “12:01” which first came out in 1993. It was an expansion of a similarly named short, which came out a couple of years before. Now there was a delay in bringing it to the small screen, and in the meantime Harold Ramis and screenwriter Danny Rubin the concept off as “Groundhog Day” and “12:01” was considered a cheap rip-off of a brilliant film.

Now, “Groundhog Day” was remade in Italian in 2004 and the concept was used as the basis of an “X-Files” episode called “Monday.” The concept of living recycling a day or two over and over again has become so famous that doing it again would seem gratuitous and redundant. So why did the Crook brothers even bother?

This time, the victim of this cosmic nightmare is college student
Claire Parker(.Lauren Currie Lewis), who works at a gas station in order to pay for school. She doesn't like driving, so after work she gets her boyfriend Jimmy(Cody Darbe) to drive her. But today, someone else is in the car, a creepy fellow by the name of Duke Desmond (Chris Ferry). He looks like a serial killer, and talks like one. Clair is scared, and locks him out of the house, although he gets in via the back door and does his murderous thing.

This is “Groundhog Day” as horror film. Clair gets to live the same day again, but this time is fear of what she thinks is a dream. Various apparitions of Duke come and go. He attacks her and the cops, who know that he's already been killed by them, think that Clair is nuts.

We go through about three more variations on the theme before a really nifty supernatural ending. This ending is telegraphed from near the beginning of the film, but we don't really notice that until near the end. It's a quarter the way decent for a cheesy little horror film, which is actually better than many of them. For genre fans only.


Written and Directed
by Nick Cassavetes

“Based on a true story” is one of those taglines that could mean anything. There was this drug dealer with the unlikely name of Jesse James Hollywood who was the youngest person ever to make the FBI’s “most wanted” list. He was still on the lam when production of the film began, and the prosecutors wanted this to become a theatrical episode of “America’s Most Wanted” and thus gave Cassavetes all the help he needed.

In order to avoid lawsuits, the names were changed to protect the innocent, but that didn’t work as is besides the point, however….

We begin with a TV reporter interviewing a certain Mr. Truelove(Bruce Willis), who’s son Johnny(Emile Hirsch) is the top teenaged drug dealer on the lam. He makes some comments and we go into flashback, where our villain and his homies
Frankie (Justin Timberlake), Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) and Tiko (Fernando Vargas) are hanging out in Johnny’s palatial estate. All seems to be going well when former friend Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) comes up short with the full amount of a loan that he owes. Johnny throws the money in his face and tells him to come back with the whole thing. This leads to a yet another feud for Jake, since his father(David Thornton) and stepmother(Sharon Stone) won’t give him another cent.

While his reaction to his parents’ rebuff is one of just yelling and cursing, his reaction to Johnny’s is a little more “energetic” and they retaliate by kidnapping Frank’s little half-brother Zack (Anton Yelchin). Is it for ransom? No actually. It’s basically a bunch of stoners babysitting the kid and having a good time while the kid’s family goes nuts with worry and grief.

It’s really amazing that this is based on a true story because the progression of events are so incredibly dumb [they number the witnesses in the case and it’s something like fifty] that it’s barely believable, Zach especially. I mean various characters tell him to escape and he doesn’t, he ‘s having too good a time. That’s California, I guess.

The acting is really good. Timberlake has his breakout performance here, proving that he’s not some pretty boy from a teen pop idol group. The rest of the cast does a good job too. The film is decent but not as good as it should have been given the cast and director. Maybe it’s the story. Wait until it hits cable.

there's so much left to do

Well, here I am back at home. I didn't have time to put up anything as I had screenings and a planeflight, and now that I'm home, I'm still pooped and haven't been able to do anything except get out of bed, unpack and turn on the TV, there's going to be a few more batches in the next day or two and then I"m done. The early press screening have started in Miami and I'm not there, which is pretty good as I don't think I would have the energy to go. The thing starts in about a month or so, just around my 49th the meantime, here are some reviews I wrote at the airport before leaving Utah....


Directed by
Jonathan Demme

Concert films are concert films. They are pretty much all the same. Sure, some are badly shot, and some have lousy music, but if a director and cinematographer are at least halfway decent, and the music is good, then you’d have a good time, that is if you like the musician.

So you have a few brief interviews with Emmylou Harris and a few of the background singers before we head over to the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee where we see and hear rock icon Neil Young do his legendary stuff.

Shot over two nights we’ve got the best of the concerts, and the music is all it’s advertised to be. If you like Neal Young, you have to see this. There is no choice.


Written and Directed
by Neil Burger

Before we start, lets discuss the MPAA’s rating system. For the most part the G-rating means that this is kiddy stuff. But what if you have a film that’s for adults and doesn’t have any swearing, nudity, and has a minimum of blood. Should it be rated G? Would it mean that many people would stay away because they think it too immature for their tastes? Let’s hope that this gets a PG, so that won’t happen, for this may be the best “family film” not targeting little kids in many a year.

This is a fairy tale in 19th century drag. It’s the tale of a young peasant boy who falls in love with a princess, only to have the adolescent romance forcibly ended by the authorities. Our hero goes away on a long journey lasting years, only to return as Eisenheim the Illusionist(Edward Norton), the greatest magician of his time. His feats of prestidigitation are so profound, people think that he really has super powers.

Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) knows that it isn’t the case, but he recognizes his talent and soon a relationship of sorts begins. Also Austria-Hungary’s Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) brings his fiancée Princess Sophie (Jessica Biel) along, and we know immediately, that these are the young adolescent lovers from the prologue. The conflict is set, for the Crown Prince is up to no good, and the Chief Inspector and the Princess know this all to well. The romance in rekindled and there is murder offstage and philosophy and special effects on.

One of the things that annoys me is that Sewell is typecast as evil princes. He hasn’t actually done anything else since “Dark City” a number of years back. Oh, he’s really good here, and he’s got some fine scenes but is might be nice to see him in something slightly different. Ed Norton is in Oscar® territory here and so is Giamatti. The special effects are understates and spectacular at the same time. This is the kind of thing for which they invented the movies in the first place for. When Esenheim does is act, we are mesmerized by the artistry of it all, rarely has the act of a stage magician seemed so magical.

This may be the first in the list for Best Picture nominees for next year. See it.

The Aura/Argentina

Written and Directed
by Fabian Bielinsky

The Aura is that moment just before the epileptic fit takes hold of it's victim. Consciousness and perception change markedly before he or she passes out. This is what happens frequently to a pacifist taxidermist named Espinoza(Ricardo Darin) who works with corpses but cannot stand the sight of blood.

Invited by a colleague(Alejandro Awada) to go on a hunting trip after his wife leaves him, our hero accidentally shoots another hunte(Manuel Rodalr), who just happens to be the lodge he's staying in. One thing leads to another, and soon our hero is involved with not only the victim's much younger wife Diana (Dolores Fonzi), but her brother Julio(Nahuel Perez Biscayart) and her husband’s accomplices(Pablo Cedrón and Jorge D'Elia) in a plot to rob a casino.

This is just the thing our hero, who wants to be a master criminal when he grows up, has been waiting all his life for. This is a really cool film. Bielinsky is Argentina’s best director at the moment, and his “Nine Q ueens” was one of those gems that is soo much better before it gets remade by Hollywood. Darin is a revelation as an actor, being brilliant and pathetic all at once. There’s lots of suspense here, and the ending is actually perversely satisfying. See it.

Friday, January 27, 2006

the latest "batch"

Okay, the schedule was all screwed up as I waited over an hour for a screening I didn't get to. I saw the film at the press screening at ten PM, which means I was only able to get one review finished. Here it is:


Directed by
Terry Zwigof

You write what you know, and Daniel Clowes, the last of the big underground cartoonists, went to art school in the late 1970s, He knows the pretentiousness of art and it’s establishment.

Jerome Platz (Max Minghella) has talent. He’s good enough to go to art school, and winds up at the prestigious Strathmore academy, which is probably a copy of the prestigious Pratt institute (being a grad it looks and feels exactly like it). Here he finds that art of bullshit to be supreme in this petty little world.

While taking Professor Sandford’s drawing class, he comes upon Audrey (Sophia Myles), the girl of his dreams, who’s working as a model. He’s totally smitten, but she’s going for Jonah (Matt Keeslar), a jock with little or no artistic talent. Soon everybody loves Jonah’s artwork, and this makes Jerome furious. He gets some solise from his pal Bardo(Joel David Moore) a cynic who introduces him to a
a failed artist named Jimmy(Jim Broadbent), who teaches him the true meaning of art and the art world. It isn’t very pretty. Where talent and hard work don’t work cheating might.

There’s also a subplot about a serial killer which isn’t particularly interesting, but this is a cartoon movie, and the problem here is that there’s not enough of anything. The film has to go to far, and for the most part it doesn’t go near much less anywhere far or even too far. .

I like Dan Clowes, but this wasn’t one of his better commix, and the film isn’t one of Zwigof’s better either. If you want to see something good in this genre see “Ghost World.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

a minor miracle

Yesterday, I forgot my laptop at the Sundance press and industry offices. I didn't realize it until I had finished watching my first film of the day. Naturally, I panicked, and toot to the bus back to the festival headquarters. When I got there, I found the laptop exactly where I left it. I was in shock most of the rest of the day, my faith in humanity, at least the part of it working in the Sheridan hotel in Park City, Utah being here are the latest reviews:


Directed by
Jason Matzner

It's tough being a saint. Audrey(Agnes Bruckner) is stuck in the dreamland trailer park somewhere in New Mexico living with her physically fit but mentally damaged father(John Corbett) and thus she has nowhere to go. Her best friend and neighbor Cindy, er, Calista (Kelli Garner) is dying of some horrible desease and thus she has to take care of her as well.

Is a talented poet who should be going to college in the fall, but her responsibilities to these two needy people is too great. Poor, poor Audrey! Then Mookie(Justin Long) comes along, and there's love, but Callista is in lust with him too, so gives way. Pure soap. But don't worry, she works in the local bodega with a nerd named Abraham (Brian Klugman) and they have hot sex.

The problem with this trailer trash version of “Days of Our Lives” is that it's too predictable. Tom Willett's screenplay tries to bring nobility into this piece of fluff, but the third act is far too stupid to really keep one interested. The ending is entirely predictable, that everyone lives happily ever after, or at least achieves a minor enlightenment, is something we can see coming within the first fifteen minutes of the film. While the performances are quite good, Kelly Gerner is hot, the piss-poor script just isn't worth the time and trouble to get out of the house and go to the theater. Pass it by.

Subject Two/U.S.

Written and Directed
by Philip Chidel

It was said that there are only seven stories in the world. This is not true, but there are concept remakes. For instance in the comedy “Death Becomes Her” Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn find a magic potion that makes them immortal despite the injuries incurred.

Now this very concept is remade into a science fiction thriller of sorts, “Subject Two.” Subject One (Thomas Buesch) has been killed by Dr. Franklin Vick(Dean Stapleton) off-stage, although we see it in flashback, and so the research must go on. Taking the bait is one Adam Schmidt(Christian Oliver), a medical student who's just flunked an ethics course. Needing to get away from a bad situation, he decides to take the Doctor up on his offer and goes way up into the rocky mountains to a secret libratory, where he's given an experimental elixir which turns his eyes from blue to white, and gives him immortality.

So in order to test this immortality, Dr. Vick kills Adam over and over again, only to revive him. This is about blood as much as relationships. We're not too sure if they actually like each other, as they bicker incessantly. The elixir's side effects are painful, and the doctor performs ghoulish operations while Adam asks questions are procedure. Other problems arise, and the ending, while not exactly predictable, is pretty much expected.

This is an interesting film, although it's nowhere near great.

American HardcoreU.S.

Directed by
Paul Rauchman

Inspired by Steven Blush's book "American Hardcore: A Tribal History," This is a chronicle of the underground hard-core punk years from 1979-86. The fact was that movement was going on for quite a while before that, and the music was for the most part lousy and there was a good possibility of one's getting the crap beaten out of you.

Beginning in 1980, when Jimmy Carter was in office and America was in the grips of malaise, We trace the art form from it's roots in California and Washington, DC all the way to it's ignominious demise in 1986, when the artists realized that they were getting to old for that sort of thing. The interviews with the original artists were interesting enough, and the music itself is shown in concert clips and one realizes how truly bad it was.

If you are one of the tiny minority who liked that sort of thing, and there aren't that many people who are connoisseurs of old Circle Jerk or SSD albums, you will probably feel nostalgic. If you're not, then it's a mildly interesting historical artifact. Britney Spears fans need not apply.


Written and Directed
by Dito Montiel

If you have only one story in you, it's best to have a good one. Dito Montiel has written a memoir and then had it made into a movie.

Fortunately, Montiel has an interesting story to work on, or at least he has managed to get a whole bunch of really good actors to play his mediocre script.

The film begins as our hero's mother(Dianne Wiest) calling our him(Robert Downey Jr) on the phone to ask him to come home to Queens, NY for the first time in 20 years as his father(Chazz Palminteri) is very sick. So he does.

Meanwhile we flash back to the mid-80s, where young Dito(Shia LaBeouf) and his friends(Martin Compston, Channing Tatum, Adam Scarimbolo, Kyle Devon Benitez, Melonie Diaz and some others) go on with their life of hanging out, walking dogs, and getting into trouble, all the while dreaming of a better life.

Unfortunately, his dad doesn't really want him to leave the neighborhood. Then there's a useless feud with some gangbangers from down the road, and that leads to the last straw.

The acting is what makes the picture. The ensemble is an extremely good one, and the young cast makes the slightly lame script sing. The result is a lyrical evocation of a time quickly fading, and all that it implies. Worth a look.


Written and Directed
By Chris Gorak

Suppose the incompetence of the current administration continues and those pesky terrorists manage to do what the media reminds us what they want to do, blow up a terror weapon that kills thousands in a big city. What exactly would happen?

Lexi (Mary McCormack) is a high powered executive living in Los Angeles with her slacker musician husband Brad (Rory Cochrane). They live in an expensive house near Beverly hills. She's on her way to work when the terrorist get lucky.

Toxic materials of all types are blasted into the air by humongous bombs and the fallout begins to rain down on the northern neighborhoods. Brad is frantic, as Lexi might not have survived. He waits as long as he can until he and a neighbor's handyman (Tony Perez) seal his house tight. Then, after it's too late, Lexi returns and neither the handyman or Brad will let her in. drama divided by plastic and duct tape. It's surprisingly effective.

The special effects and the acting disguise the utterly preposterous script, which plays upon the paranoia that has characterized the decade of the '00z. This is a perfect piece of Neo-con propaganda, bringing to life what the Republcans have been warning us about.

All in all, not a bad little horror flick.


Directed by Johnathan
Dayton, and Valerie Faris

Long, long time ago, there was a magazine called “The National Lampoon,” which in it's day was a very important cultural dynamo. The brand started to make movies in the middle 1970s and some of them were major hits. One of these was “National Lampoon's Vacation” starring Chevy Chase. Come to think of it, this is the standard “hero's journey” tale that has been done to death for thousands of years….nah, it's lot closer to the Chevy Chase flick.

Somewhere in New Mexico lives the Hoover family. They're that typical dysfunctional group that is the stuff of many a sitcom. It's led by Dad (Greg Kinnear) is a failed motivational speaker with a perfect plan for success. Mom (Toni Collette) is a relatively normal housewife, and they have two kids. Dwayne(Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence because he hates the world, and his sister Olive(Abigail Breslin), who very much wants to be a beauty queen,and has actually had some success in the sport. Also there is Grandpa(Alan Arkin), who is a loveable old curmudgeon who likes porn and got kicked out of a retirement community for ludness.

We actually begin with the addition of a new family member, Uncle Frank (Steve Carrell), Mom's brother, who has just failed in the commission of suicide and needs outpatient supervision. As soon as they get home the inciting incedent happens. Olive, who had come in second in the Little Miss Sunshine competition, has just been promoted to Florida state Champion when the actual winner ceased to qualify. So a six hundred mile long road trip is hastily organized.

The comparison with “Vacation” is most apt here because it seems that screenwriter Michael Arndt has done a bit of plagiarizing. Many of the same travails there occur here and they're just as funny.

The scary part of the film is the pageant itself. The girls aside from Olive all look like forty year old hookers. But I guess that was done deliberately. The cast has a bunch of Oscar® nominations between them, and it shows. This is one of those fun for the whole family type of things, despite the fact that they say “fuck” all the time,which may very well make this an R instead of a PG. Take the kids anyway

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Wednesday morning batch

Yesterday I saw six features, most of which were rather good, I managed to see two documenteries, thus failing in my boycott of same, although they were the ones I was thinking fo seeing's today's batch.

American Blackout

Directed by
Ian Inaba

Extreme left-wing propaganda films are stylish nowadays. For instance, this documentary that recounts the fall of Rep. Cynthia McKinney(D-Ga) from respected politician to national joke is treated as the tale of a put-upon heroine.

The filmmakers talk incessantly about the truth while lying through their teeth. They say that in 2002 white voters in McKinney's racially gerrymandered district violated the Voting rights act of 1965 by VOTING!!!! Horrors!!! This particular part of the film is by far the most hypocritical thing I have seen in ages. Especially as the film goes on interminably on how Blacks are disenfranchised and the and there's an apartheid voting system in the United States. This is so over the top that it makes one feel sorry for George W. Bush.

This is the sort of thing that's got the President reelected in the first place. This is preaching to the converted only and will do the cause NO good.


Written and Directed
by Kirby Dick

Ever wonder how a film gets that rating? Why some films that are really gross get a PG-13 and a otherwise chaste film with a little bit of pubic hair gets an NC-17? Why, for example does an ultra-violent comic book flick get an “R” while a flash of penis is given NC-17?

Well, so does Oscar-nominated Kirby Dick, a documentary filmmaker who like many an independent doesn't understand why the hell they got themselves screwed by the MPAA's film raters.

So, Dick hired private eye Becky Altringer of Ariel Investigations, to find out exactly WHO has this power and how they wield it.

This is a breakthrough investigation, as these people are secretive and powerful to the extreme. Who they are and why they do what they do is one of Hollywood's best-kept secret. Do these people actually have the children of America's interests truly at heart or are they just tools of the movie industry who want to destroy independent cinema?

This is both a very funny and very disturbing film. The idea of an unaccountable group with absolute power (there is an appeal system, but it's just as bad and the appellates almost never get satisfaction.) The reasons that a film gets the dreaded NC-17 is completely subjective. They actually count the “fucks” and “shits” and sexual positions are analyzed in a particularly prudish way.

Dick interviews some of the top independent directors and some really nasty horror stories are recounted, while the investigators actually find who's actually doing the ratings and names are named. This is going to cause a big stink, which if you think about it is really good. If they let you see it do so.


Written and Directed
By Maria Maggenti

Allegra(Elizabeth Reaser) is a lesbian. This is important as so are most of the people in the film. She has been going out with
Samantha(Julianne Nicholson) for a while and the relationship is going sour. In fact, Sam has decided to give up homosexuality and marry Jeff(Brian Letscher).

So depressed, Allegra lets her straight friend Molly(Jennifer Dundas) take her to a party and there they meet Philip(Justin Kirk) and the obvious happens. Love and good ol' hetero sex!!! Allegra is conflicted but decides to go with the flow, and smitten, Phil decides to leave his girlfriend of many years, Grace(Gretchen Mol). Now guess who Allegra is going to meet and fall in love with? That's right.

Predictability isn't necessarily a bad thing, and while the climax is something you can see a mile away, the journey there is actually an extremely witty and intelligent rompMaggenti's writing is first rate and all the characters have lots of chemistry together.

This is definitely worth the bucks, and may, in fact be the best lesbian romantic comedy ever made.


Written and Directed
By Goran Dukic

According to the Catholic Church, if you kill yourself you wind up in Hell. So when Zia(Patrick Fugit) offs himself, he goes to someplace less bad. A place much like Earth but grayer and without any stars.

So with no Heaven in sight, our hero is stuck in a dead-end job and spends his spare time getting drunk in the local bar, where he meets a Russian rock musician Eurgene(Shea Whigharn) who electrocuted himself with a guitar on stage. He still lives with his parents, who are also suicides. They're hanging out when Zia's old friend Brian(Jake Busey) informs our hero that his long lost love(Mary P. Gleeson) has also put herself to death. So, now Zia has a mission, taking Eugene's car and it's owner on a quest to find her.

On the way, he and Eugene pick up a pretty young hitchhiker named Mikal(Shannon Sossamon), who died of a drug overdose and wants to find the People In Charge, and appeal her eternal sentence as the death wasn't intentional.

So we have a longish road trip into the world of magical realism, where we meet all sorts of eccentric characters, including a guy named Kneller(Tom Waits) who runs a holiday camp where minor miracles are performed, and a cult leader(John Hawkes) tries to off himself again and find the next level…and yes, there is the expected romance.

This is actually a fun film and worth at least a mantinee.

Son of Man South Africa

Written and Directed
By Mark Dornford-May

The problem with filming the Gospel is that we already know how it ends. So what's the point? Even though screenwriters Mark Dornford-May, Andiswa Kedama, and Pauline Malefane translates
Jesus' life to modern-day South Africa, and then turn it into a musical. The whole thing seems extremely empty experience.

The music itself is okay, but this passion play is badly acted and rather boring. The penultimate scene is a waste of time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Yet another batch.

Spent some time on main street where I saw a couple of movie stars and snuck into a reception that served bad horderves. Mostly, I just saw lots of movies:


Written and Directed
By Jeff Lipsky

What makes a marriage fail? There are countless reasons. Like they said, there are a million stories in the naked city, and this is one of them. Stuart (Justin Kirk) and Nicole (Julianne Nicholson) meet in a diner in a blind date set up by their therapist(Rebecca Schull). In the next booth Stuart's insane brother Jordan (Jamie Harrold), and sitting nearby is Nicol's best friend Tess (Chelsea Altman) and they are the background to what is the rise and fall of a relationship.

The first half is pure sitcom. All is light and fluffy as love blossoms through gentle humor. Nicole takes Stuart to meet her family, and lets Jordan come along. The extended family, appears to be a happy one even though Nicole's parents are divorced. Up until, and including the wedding, everything seems to be getting better and better. Then things go sour.

We're not exactly sure who's fault it is. Sometimes it seems to be Stuart's and sometimes Nicole's. The various siblings from either side become less and less appealing and we can visibly see the light going out of the relationship. Then, it's over just as Stuart begins to get his second wind. The film is depressing as hell, but this is independent cinema, and innocent people suffering is its reason for being. This is the kind of thing that provokes discussion even though it's not all that entertaining, which is what literature is all about, right?


Written and Directed
by Julian Goldberger

It's difficult doing a one person film. This isn't one but it's close. It's mostly the ravings of one George Gattling(Paul Giamatti) a Central Florida automobile refinisher who's got a bizarre fascination with hawks.

The film begins with George's autistic nephew Fred(Michael Pitt) building a shrine to a dead hawk that George has captured and was trying to train….that is before it died.

But George will stop at nothing of fulfilling his dream as a falconer, and he and Fred go out again and capture another hawk, this time vowing to do it right.

One of the things that George does besides work and his obsession is converse with a graduate student named Betty(Michelle Williams), who very much wants to meet Fred.

She gets her chance when George and his sister Precious(Rusty Schwimmer) go out to a party. She and Fred have sex of a sort, and the following morning Fred is found dead. Drowned in his waterbed. It's at this point that George's bird fixation goes beyond the pale. George, with the bird on his arm, rants throughout the town, followed by Betty who was asked by our hero to tag along.

Giamatti is really good at chewing the scenery and here he takes some really huge bites of the stuff. It's not exactly a one-man and a bird show, but it's as close as we're going to get. This is worth a matinee.


Written and Directed
By Hilary Brougher

Pregnancy changes people, and miscarriages can ruin lives. This is basically two case studies in that sort of thing.

Stephanie Daley(Amber Tamblyn) is the poster child for teenage pregnancy. She had sex once with a guy named Casey White(Kel O'Neill), and while he didn't ejaculate, or claimed not to, she became pregnant regardless, although she claimed not to know it.

But the relatively public stillbirth became a public bruhaha and the prosecutor's office wants to charge her with criminally negligent homicide. In order to do everything properly, they hire a psychologist named Lydie Crane(Tilda Swinton), who by sheer coincidence is also pregnant.

She had had a miscarriage the previous spring, and it had hurt her marriage with her husband Paul (Timothy Hutton), who may or may not be cheating on her.

The film follows two tracks: The first are flashbacks while Lydie interviews Stephanie, and the second is the relationship between Paul and Lydie in-between said interviews.

The performances here are solid, and the juxtaposition between the two plotlines is timely, it's mostly just the personal pain of relatively innocent people. The ending is a real bummer as it basically betrays the basic thesis of the film, which that miscarriage is not a crime. This is probably going to wind up on Oxygen or Lifetime eventually, so don't bother blowing ten bucks.

The Descent

Written and Directed
by Neil Marshall

Now for the big question: Why do some films work, while others that are almost exactly the same don't? Now I'm not talking ripoff here, no. Both films were made about the same time, and in the UK they came out almost simultaneously.

Bruce Hunt's “The Cave” was, to put it mildly, a disaster. Looking back on my review from way back last summer, The main problem was that the plot didn't make much sense, the dialogue was bad and the monster was too big to fit into the tiny cracks and crevices in the spooky underground cave.

Now take a look at this film here: “The Descent.” The plot is very similar, a bunch of really buffed up bimbos go down a cave and are attacked by monsters. This time it's intelligent and exiting.

We start with three of our heroines Sarah(Shauna Macdonald), Juno(Natalie Jackson Mendoza) and Beth (Alex Reid) going white water rafting. Watching on the shore are Sarah's husband Paul (Oliver Milburn) and daughter Jessica (Molly Kayll). Everyone is happy as a clam until there's that auto accident that kills Sarah's family. Exactly what does this have to do with the rest of the film?

Not much.

Cut to a year later, and Juno has invited Beth and Sarah to North Carolina with further friends Rebecca (Saskia Mulder), Holly (Nora-Jane Noone) and Sam (MyAnna Buring) to go caving. We get to know the gang of six as they cavort in a sort of slumber party the night before, and then they head for the cave.

Now in “The Cave” the expedition before the monsters showed up was really high tech and was quite deliberate. In this Juno has decided to take everybody to a new cave without telling anybody, This builds more tension as they get lost and the expedition begins to bicker among themselves.

There's a paranoid claustrophobia pervading the film, especially, as they have to get through some really tight tunnels and do some really nifty acrobatics, all this before the monsters show up.

Then it's full scale war and a question of which gets offed first and how many monsters get taken along. There is also plenty of conflict and unexpected violence. This is scary, the acting is surprisingly good, and the effects are really good.

This is one fine film. See it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Halfway through...a new batch


Written and Directed
By Laurie Collye

Motherhood is instinctual. Sherry(Maggie Gyllenhaal) has just gotten out of jail on parole and has a fight on her hands. Her brother Bobby(Brand Henke) and sister-in-law Lynn(Bridget Baker) have been taking care of her daughter Alexis(Ryan Simkins) and Lynn doesn't want to give her up. So what we have is a mostly depressing tale of possible salvation.

The odds are somewhat against her. Sherry plainly uses sex to her advantage, screwing the twelve step program leader(Rio Hackford) for fun and the employment councilor in order to get the job she wants. But that doesn't work with her relations, and it's there, in the suburbs, that the real war takes place.

Until the sort of uplifting ending, Sherry goes from one minor disaster after the other, from hostile housemates in the halfway house, to her sister-in-law, who poisons Alexis' relationship with her mom, and a none too sympathetic parole officer(Giancarlo Esposito). This doesn't actually make her stronger, in fact it goes exactly the other way, and had it not been for the somewhat uplifting ending, this would have been a total disaster.

So what to make of this? Well, the performances are better than average, and Gyllenhaal makes the title character more sympathetic than might be expected given the script. The romance angle with another 12-step guy named Dean(Danny Trejo) doesn't really help all that much, but the relationship between mother and child is the most that most affects the audience. However, while this isn't that bad a film, it's not much more than a movie of the week. As such, wait 'till it comes out on cable.


Written and Directed
By Bob Goldthwait

Amy(Melinda Page Hamilton) and John(Bryce Johnson) are a happy young couple in love. She's got a job teaching school and he's�well�a newspaper delivery boy. She has a secret that she shouldn't tell anybody, but we know from the first couple of seconds of the film. It really doesn't matter what it is, lets just say that this is rather disgusting.

So what is expected to be one of those raunchy teen comedies goes forward when Amy takes John to meet her silly family, which are her conservative parents (Geoffrey Pierson and Bonita Friedericy) and her totally degenerate cartoon of a brother(Brian Posehn)

The secret is revealed and everything does to hell in a hand-basket. Now while this may be a really good idea for a TV sketch, where all the characters are one-dimensional cartoons, it doesn't work in a feature where you have the live action cartoons interacting with what appears to be real people with feelings and the like.

While John appears at the beginning to be a perfectly nice guy, he turns out to be one of the less likeable characters, his reaction is what would be expected, but this sort of thing gets really old after a few minutes. So Amy has to grow, and she does in a romance with a married colleague(Colby French), which is actually kind of sweet.

But being neither fish or fowl, the thing just doesn't work. However it's a good try, and maybe Goldthwaite will get it right the next time.


Written and Directed
By Brian Jun

There is no greater love than that for which a parent is willing to sacrifice his liberty for child. This is what Carl Lee(John Heard) does for his son PJ (Thomas Guiry) when the latter runs a woman over with his car.

It goes without saying that the Lee family is highly dysfunctional.
Carl was an abusive husband who left his wife Marianne(Laurie Metcalf), PJ and his older brother Ben(Clayne Crawford) years before. The outcome is that Ben is cheating on his wife Maria(Jamie Anne Brown) with the local floozy barmaid (Heather McComb) and PJ just can't seem to hold a job or a girlfriend, although he's beginning to develop a romance with one Amy Barnes(America Ferrera), who works in a resturaunt where PJ washes dishes and scrubs the floor.

To make matters worse, PJ's stepfather (James McDaniel) doesn't like him very much. In fact nobody seems to like each other very much at all.

From prison, Carl contacts his estranged brother Vic(Raymond J Barry), who selflessly helps out when PJ gets kicked out of the house when the mortgage comes do. White trash soap opera if there ever was one. We don't really like the characters all that much, and that's the problem. Not caring what happens to an ensemble means that seeing the whole thing through is less likely.

Not worth the price of a full ticket, although it may be worth a look on cable someday.


Written and Directed
by Bent Hamer

Hank Chinaski (Matt Dillon) fancies himself a writer. That he may be, but for the most part he's a bum. Going from low-paying job to low-paying job, while he and his girlfriend Jan (Lili Taylor) screw and drink. This cannot last, and they part. Then our hero takes up with Laura (Marisa Tomei), who's being kept by Pierre (Didier Flamand), who runs a home for wayward floozies.

Welcome to the world of Charles Bukowski, the greatest slacker of the 20th century.

Exactly, why should we care about this loser? Because Hamer has used the exquisite prose of Bukowski to the maximum advantage, making Hank and his useless friends somewhat interesting. Also, we have bravura performances by Dillon and Taylor, which are Oscar quality, but probably won't get much kudos because the characters and the story are quite pathetic, and I don't mean that in a good way.

Watching this film is sort of like watching a train wreck, it's horrible, but you can't take your eyes off of it. Which means that it's probably worth the bucks for a bargain matinee. This is one of the best bad movies of the entire year.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday's batch

Another five film day. I was running around in the snow and cold and discovered that the New York state film board has set up a coffee shop. They serve free Choc Full'o'Nuts coffee, which I though had gone out of business years ago. Now for the new batch:

BATTLE IN HEAVEN (France/Belgium/Mexico),

Written and Directed
by Carlos Reygadas

Marcos(Marcos Hernandez) and his wife(Berta Ruiz) kidnap a baby for ransom money, but it goes tragically wrong when the infant dies. We never see the crime take place. The couple area arguing about it the next day when we meet them, and then Marcos goes to the airport to pick up Ana(Anapola Mushkadiz), the general's daughter that our “hero” has been hired to drive every now and again.

He's upset, she's not to thrilled with the situation and there's very little going on for most of the film besides Marcos driving Ana around. She takes him to her place of work, a brothel, and tries to get him laid. There's lots of sex here, but none of it is in the least bit scintillating. It's some of the most boring sex in the history of cinema.

We don't really know why Marcos and his wife did the crime. They don't seem to be that badly off. They're both quite fat and so are their kids. The girth of the family may be symbolic of something, I'm not sure, but what is sure is that this film is overrated. It's been given kudos in a number of film festivals and it may be due to the theme of people suffering and how justice is done. There's also a religious angle, but the fact is that most of the film is deathly dull, and during those few moments near the end when the pace begins to quicken, we're faces with a film so boring that the characters begin to fall asleep before we do.

Don't waste your money.

Awesome, I Fuckin' Shot That!/U.S.

Directed by
Nathanial Hornblower

On Oct. 9, 2004, the Beastie Boys handed out 50 HI 8 cameras to audience members at their sold-out performance in New York's Madison Square Garden. The footage shot by a crowd of amateurs was knitted together into a film

Now this is a pretty nifty gimmick. But that's all it is. What we've got is a rather pedestrian concert film completely gunked up by some really horrible post-production visual effects which make the whole thing look bad, and in some cases headache inducing.

On the one hand, I've really nothing against rap and hiphop. The Beastie Boys aren't all that bad, and they've got lots of fans. Fine, if those who like the music want to see a concert experience at popular prices, fine. But the visuals stink. Granted some of the great directors of our time have done concert movies, but still it's the cinematography and the visual effects that make a really good concert film. Whether the music is good or bad is generally a matter of taste. If you're a fan, this might be worth a look, but for everyone else, this is a fucking piece of shit. I can say that because the word fuck is in the title. Blame the director, not me for that.


Written and Directed
By Hadjii

Every filmfest needs a stinker that's why they invited this. I think that someone on the Sundance selection committee should be fired. For this is one of the worst films I've seen in months and months. Ewww!!

We begin with the Reverend Hill (Tyler Craig) giving one of those stereotype black gospel performances aided by the over serious Deacon Thomas (Eric L. Register). It's entirely pathetic.

Forced to sit through this is Scottie(Hadjii) who is a pre-alchaholic college student, who had to go because otherwise Officer Milton (Ako Cromwell) would put his ass in jail faster than you can say “Stepin Fetchit.”

This is what might be termed a “neo-Minstrel show.” The kind that Spike Lee tried to lampoon in his notorious “Bamboozled.”

His friends Six (Quante Strickland) Jelly (Corey Redding),and Marlo (Nard Holston) are a bunch of stoners who talk jive and rap his new girlfriend Diva (Kaira Whitehead) is a religious sex maniac who has rapid and bizarre mood swings. Our hero's relatives(Carlos Davis, Patt Brown, Roland Williams, Jr and David “Nick” Lewis.) are a bunch of morons who talk in a dialect right out of the worst days of the radio version of “Amos and Andy.” This thing could have been written by the propaganda committee of the KKK itself, Jeez!

Yeah, some of the jokes work. A scattershot work such as this always accidentally has a few good laughs, but most of them were of the nervous variety.

They should burn this piece of shit and take away Hadji's cinematic learner's permit. FEH!!!!

"13 Tzameti"/ France

Written and Directed
By Gela Babluani

Sports is one of those activities that are stuff of legend. There are thousands of sports films, and many of them are quite good. But precious few have come from France, almost none are as perverse as this one. There was something like it recently called “Hostel,” and that was anything but a sports story. But what if it was?

Sébastien(George Babluani) is a young contractor fixing up the house of a strange drug addict named Jean François Godon(Philippe Passon), who's nagging wife is sure that he's going to kill himself. He's also broke, and needs the money to pay our hero. He has a plan. A mysterious stranger has just sent a certain offer in the mail, and soon after getting it the expected happens. J-F ODs.

Through a bizarre happenstance, our hero gets his hands on the letter, which contains instructions, a train ticket and a prepaid hotel reservation. Sébastien decides to follow the instructions and maybe get the loot that he surreptitiously heard about.

So where does sports come in to it? Our hero finds himself in the world of professional Russian roulette.

Now this might seem a spoiler, and it probably is, but the most of the film is about the tournament, the guys who bet on who's going to get a shot in the head, and how the players and the officials interact, and the like. This is, in a way just like any other sports movie except for the fact that it's about random murder.

The acting is superb, the script brilliant, and it's really exiting. This is the best film out of France in quite a while.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Slamdance and the next batch

Okay, there were five films yesterday, two were seen at the Slamdance festival on Main street and the other three were at the press venue at Sundance. I wasn't able to actually get into Slamdance officially, as the press office is on the other end of Main and closed by the time I got there, but a kindly executive producer had an extra free ticket and I was able to see The Call of Cthulu which is a silent featurette about forty minutes long, and The Devil which is about motherhood and old age. It's Polish and really nasty. It was about 40 minutes long too.

As for Sundance, here's the stuff I saw yesterday:


Directed by
Paul McGuigan

For all of those people who've been wondering whatever happened to Guy Ritchie, keep on wondering. He's got another film coming out eventually, but in the meantime, some guy named Jason Smilovic has managed to write a script that's a really good imitation of “Snatch.”

We begin with lots of people getting shot before settling down in an abandoned airport, where a guy named Nick has an encounter with a certain Mr. Smith(Bruce Willis) who tells him the story of a sure thing gone wrong and a move called the Kansas City shuffle. Needless to say, Nick winds up quite deceased. We then cut to Nick's apartment, where his friend Slevin.(Josh Hartnett) , that's his first name, is getting out of the shower where he's accosted by Nick's wacky neighbor Lindsey(Lucy Liu) enters without knocking to borrow a cup of suger. Snappy banter ensues.

Now this isn't your ordinary snappy banter, as all the characters speak in full paragraphs. I'm sure Ms. Liu managed to speak an entire page's worth of dialogue without breathing. It's really something to behold. In fact her performance is the best she's ever done, breaking from type as the hard hearted kung-fu mama, or something like that there, and is perky as hell. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Now just after Lindsey leaves, two very nasty black gentlemen escort Sleven from Nick's apartment, still wearing nothing but a towl, and takes him to meet The Boss(Morgan Freeman), to whom Nick owes $96 thousand. In order to pay him back, our hero has to kill the gay son of the Boss's main rival, Shlomo(Ben Kingsley), aka the Rabbi. Meanwhile everybody keeps on talking in full paragraphs and the two godfathers are beginning to rely more and more on Mr. Smith, who's real name is Mr. Goodkat. Things are getting stranger and stranger, and by the two thirds mark, the plot twists into a pretzel that needs to be seen to be believed. Yes, it all makes sense.

It's a silly movie, but in a good way, See it.


Directed by
Julian Jarrold

Now that we're in the 21st century, family films about transvestism should be old hat. Thus we have a ripped-from the headlines tale of one Charlie Price(Joel Edgerton), who inherited a venerable but failing shoe company who rescues a transvestite named Simon(Chiwetel Ejiofor), who calls himself Lola from some hooligans, and then gets inspired.

The company will now make the sexy boots of the title for men instead of old fashioned stuff that used to sell but no longer does for that price. Of course there are problems….

Charlie's fiancée(Jeminma Rooper) hates the town where they live and finds his efforts to save the company both ridiculous and offensive, The relationships between Lola and Charlie, and Lola and the rest of the company after she becomes the corporation's new chief designer is actually more than just stereotypes. Characters grow and change, and the usual predjudices go by the wayside as the big shoe show in Milan gets nearer and nearer.

Ejiofor, who we last saw in “Dirty, Pretty Things” as a doctor is really good as the muscular transvestite, and the rest of the cast gives it the old college try. Geoff Dean and Tim Firth's screenplay has “feel-good politically correct hit of the summer” mushed all over it, and and while it's maniputative as hell, its entertaining. Typical British sitcom writ large.


Written and Directed
by: Baltasar Kormakur

Everybody hates insurance companies, especially when we need them most. The problem is that insurance companies don't want to pay out, and it makes it even worse when the people making the claim are doing it fraudulently.

This is about that sort of thing. Some poor schnook is murdered by a guy named Frank (Jeremy Renner) and it's made to look like an accident. The reason is made clear when the cops find that the charred corpse, who's name is Kelvin Anderson has an insurance policy for a million dollars and has left to his sister Isold(Julia Stiles) so the insurance company sends it's crack investigator Holt (Forrest Whitaker) to find out if the possible claim is legit.

The film is a bit of a wonder, as Holt begins to circle and pick at his quarry. We find out what we don't want to find, and a bizarre love triangle begins to form between Holt, and Isold, and Frank, or is it Kelvin? The bleak scenery of the country, we're not sure where in the 'States it is, except that it's bleak is it summer or winter? Seasons change in minutes from heat wave to blizzard. What will Holt do, turn them in, or let the claim slide. It's a real mystery.

The acting is really good. Whitaker is always good, even when in lousy movies, and it's nice to see Styles back working after a couple of years off. This is definitely worth a look.

Friday, January 20, 2006

In the middle of everything.

I spent the day doing press screenings and have one more. Perhaps I might be able to do the Slamdance opening as well, but I doubt it. I should have a whole bunch of reviews tomarrow afternoon sometime.

Day one, just before breakfast

Getting across country from New York to Park City, Utah was a bit of a pain. Having a two hour stopover in Minneapolis of all places and discovering that the taxi ride (a van with a dozen people in it) cost more than what I'm paying a night to sleep. Then again I'm staying at the youth hostel, but to business. we've got two reruns and our first new film of the festival, and since we're already here, let's begin with the new one first:

The Proposition/Australia

Directed by
John Hillcoat

Westerns don't necessarily have to take place in the United States. Austrailia was a wild and wooly place during the century before the last one, and is a perfect place to do an über-violent allegory of whatever one wants to do.

screenwriter/musician Nick Cave's storyline is just as simple as it appears. The evil Burns gang has just robbed a local homestead and killed the inhabitants after raping the womenfolk. After the really bloody gunfight that follows, two of the Burns boys, Charlie(Guy Pearce) and Mikey(Richard Wilson) are captured alive, but Police Captain Stanley(Ray Winstone) and his men know that their despicable elder brother Arthur(Danny Huston) is the one responsible and has escaped.

So the Captain makes the eponymous proposal: Charlie will be set free. If he kills Arthur and can prove it, then he and Mikey will be pardoned. Otherwise, Mikey will be hanged on Christmas.

So the story splits in two. Charlie is attacked by Aboriginals and is rescued by Arthur, who takes him to the hideout. There's the dilemma. Which brother must die?

Meanwhile Stanley has problems of his own. He very much wants to keep all details of his job from his fragile wife Martha(Emily Watson), who is far stronger than he thinks, he wants to keep his end of the bargain despite the wishes of his superior Fletcher(David Wenham) and the wishes of the town.

The film, while a bit on the opaque side, has some brilliant performances. Winstone and Huston are, in a word terrific, and from out of nowhere comes John Hurt as a drunken bounty hunter with a literary bent, and an amazing act of scenery-chewing like none seen in quite some time.

If you can take the blood, it's well worth a look.

Don't Come Knockin' (Germany)

Directed by
Wim Wenders

Back in the '60s, a young man named Sam Shepherd wanted to be a movie star, but no one would hire him as he wasn't that good an actor. So he decided to start writing his own plays in order to give himself a showcase.

Well, he could indeed write. Very well, in fact. Stuff like “True West” are today considered classics. Then after getting confirmed as one of the best playwrights of his time, he got his big acting break in “The Right Stuff” back in 1983. Following that he made a few movie appearances, but his “Marlborough Man” persona wore out rather quickly and his career as a matinee idol quickly fizzled.

This was, in a perverse way, a really good thing, as it forced him back to his typewriter and go back to what he's doing best, Writing.

So a few plays and years later, he and his friend, director Wim Wenders, got together and talked. Wenders' last couple of films had been flops [his last one was really lousy], and he was in great need of a comeback before his reputation as a genius would begin to fade. A Shepherd-Wenders collaboration would be just the thing to get the two back on top.

The ploy seems to have worked.

In this thing Shepherd has cast himself as one Howard Spence, a Clint Eastwood-type, whose off-screen life has been one screw-up after another. Sex, drug busts, walking off the set, beating up fellow jet passengers. It's surprising that he even gets work any more. But when we meet him, he has, and he's just fled the on-location set on a horse into the great southwestern desert.

The Director(George Kennedy) is livid, as are the rest of the cast and crew, not to mention the insurance company, which has guaranteed the completion of the film for $35 million. With all that money on the line, it's clear to see that they're going to try to bring him back to work. This job goes to their number one tracker, The mysterious Mr. Sutter (Tim Roth).

But our hero doesn't want to be found, and he makes his way to Salt Lake City, where he contacts Howard's Mother(Eva Marie Saint) in Nevada. Howard and Mom haven't seen each other in thirty years, but she's glad to see him anyway, despite the fact that he's acting like an ass.

She asks him about his son in Butte, Montana and he doesn't know what she's talking about. He hadn't a clue that he had impregnated anyone. But he thinks about it for a bit and remembers. Curious, he takes his late father's very old '57 Chevy and heads northeast to the Big Sky Country. Meanwhile…

Sky's(Sarah Polley) mother has just died. She has apparently some connection with our hero, probably she's the love child that Mom had been talking about. Maybe she's another one. We don't figure that out until near the end. So she heads over to Butte too, impelled by an unknown force.

In Butte, the chase, if that's what it is, begins to change direction, so to speak, for our hero has found Doreen(Jessica Lange), the child's mother, extremely quickly, and she points out the son he never knew. But Earl (Gabriel Mann) doesn't want to hear about it and although his Amber (Fairuza Balk) thinks it's a hoot.

Family relationships is a Shepherd specialty, and this shows his genius to it's full extent. Gabriel Mann is a wonder. He comes out of nowhere and takes over the screen. The scenes between him and Shepard are full of the emotional electricity that made Shepard famous in the first place.

This is something to see. A perfect independent film to be sure.


Written and Directed
by Jason Reitman

Bill Buckley's son Chris wrote a novel satirizing the lobbying biz a few years back, and one would think that Liberal Hollywood would have kept far away as possible from this conservative screed. But no. What we've got here is a valentine to everything that's bad about American government and the joys of political correctness. It works too!

We have to call Nick Naylor(Aaron Eckhart) our protagonist, because we're not sure if he's a hero or a villain. What he does for a living is spokesman for the Tobacco industry, which as we all know, kills millions of people all over the world.

He's a great spokesperson indeed. We see him blowing away advocates for good health and envornment on TV, and laughing at how many people are killed by his pals Polly (Maria Bello) Bobby Jay (David Koechner) the chief lobbyists for Alcohol and Firearms respectively. They know what they're doing and they don't care. Fun, huh?

On the other hand, Nick's trying his best to be a good father. This despite the fact that his ex(Kim Dickens) is living with a doctor. His son Joey(Cameron Bright) idolizes him, and with reason. Dad is brilliant at what he does, and shows him when he taks him along on a trip to LA, where Joey gets to see a super-agent Jeff Megall (Rob Lowe) get product placement on a major science-fiction flick and his dad bribe the retired and bitter(Sam Elliott) get bribed into silence. It's a wonder to behold.

What's most fun is the depiction of the defenders of good health.
Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) is made to look like a moron and investigative reporter Heather Holloway(Katie Holmes) a slut. One can tell it was written by a Republican.

The star-studded cast is uniformly brilliant, and this is one swell hoot. See it now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sundance: preview

Park City, Utah is a ski resort. For most of the year, it’s a sleepy imitation of Aspen, Colorado: wonderful scenery, decent slopes and almost kitschy knickknack shops. If you’re not into skiing, it’s nothing particularly special.

But for one week of the year it becomes the movie capital of North America as half of Hollywood’s movers and shakers (not to mention zillions of journalists, poseurs, hangers-on and assorted fans and buffs) descend upon this little town for the annual film festival festival.

Park City hosts the Ultra-prestigious Sundance Film Festival, the recently respectable Slamdance counterfestival, the Slamdunk counter-counter festival, Undance [which was in a hotel room] Tromadance, which is basically a publicity stunt for Troma films, ROADance, which may or may not be there for it’s fifth season, and Sleazedance[which shows porno out of a minivan],

Slumdance, the big counter-counter festival, back in the ‘90s was canceled. It not only suffered from a dearth of submissions but no one would let the guys who ran the darn thing any space.

It seems they left their last venue trashed.

But that’s okay. In fact, there were more film festivals per square foot in Park City, Utah this year than anyplace else in history.

Aside from the snow and freezing temperatures, Park City in the last week of January a cinemaphile’s wet dream. But it wasn’t always so..

The United States Film Festival was a creation of the Utah film commission, and began its illustrious career in 1978. It was a complete flop. The repertoire was primarily, as former festival program director Lory Smith puts it in his book Party in a Box: "... to show old movies and have famous people talk about them." To be frank, nobody outside of Utah really wanted to go all the way to Salt Lake City, where prohibition of sorts was still in effect, just to see that. However, the six independent films shown did get relatively large audiences. The first Utah/US Film festival wound up 40 grand in the hole.

The next year was even worse, although Robert Redford, the famous movie star and Utah resident, was able to get some major Hollywood muscle to show up at the ’79 fest, which took place in late spring, but while it did far better than the first one, it was still a financial disaster.

Something had to be done. Sydney Pollack, whom Redford had recruited for the U/USFF board of directors, made an entirely unserious suggestion: "You ought to move the festival to Park City and set it in the wintertime." It would be, he said "... the only film festival in the world held in a ski resort during ski season, and Hollywood would beat down the door to attend."

The board decided to give this silly idea a try, and the 1980 festival was cancelled and the ’81 festival brought up four months and moved to Park City.

The rest is history.

In 1979 Redford and many of the U/UFF staff got together to form what would become the Sundance Institute, named after his most famous role. (“Imagine,” he’s reported to have said, “If I’d gotten the part of Butch Cassidy”). Redford’s institute was a major player in the programming for the U/UFF, and they and the Utah began to squabble. So in 1985, the commission basically forced ownership of the U/USFF on Redford and his institute. It got bigger. The focus on oldies was dropped, (although retrospectives continue to this day) video and shorts competitions added and some of the winners, like Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 "Sex, Lies and Videotape" became commercial hits as well.

The festival was making money, the Institute had an event to plan around and give structure to many of the organizations many other projects. The transition was complete in 1991, when the U/USFF changed its name to The Sundance Film festival.

The number of independent films went from six in 1978 to almost a hundred in 1990, the last year under it’s original name. It’s grown exponentially pretty much ever since.

Getting stuff into Sundance got harder and harder as the festival got bigger, and in 1994 would-be auteurs Shane Kuhn, Dan Mirvish and Jon Fitzgerald all had their films rejected, so in revenge they decided to have their own counter-festival, called Slamdance, at the same time in SLC. On the second day of the first festival, to get publicity and just tick Redford off, they moved to Park City.

They were wildly successful on both counts, and have remained there ever since. This of course inspired others.

The Slumdance Experience, (Park City officials refused to let them call themselves a festival) was nearly as big as Slamdance in ‘97, but, as was mentioned before, didn’t come back the next year, NO Dance sponsored by Forest Whitaker, lasted at least six years before folding sometime in ’03. Last year there were SchmoozeDance, for Jewish-themed films, and X-dance for sports junkies. This year…who knows?

All we know for certain is that with the exception of Slamdance, Sundance is going to overwhelm everything for a period of ten days.

The Sundance Film Festival is divided into several competitions:

Independent Feature Film Competition

This is limited to sixteen films and every single agent and distributer in Hollywood are going to be looking at these extremely closely. There’s Oscar® gold to be found here, and has been for years.

American Spectrum

Those films that didn’t qualify for the comptetition, but the judges thought should be seen are part of this group. The ticket holders are given a ballot and are encouraged to vote.

Experimental films, weird, artistic stuff by people who are generally unknown are put in this category. Think Matthew Barney.

World Cinema
Since everything NOT made by Hollywood is considered “independent,” and lots of foreign films are entered every year, this is going to be the second year that there’s going to be an official competition. A number of them have already been submitted for this year’s Oscars®.

Native Forum

This is for American Indians, Eskimos and the like to show off their cinematic skills. Most of these films will never be seen again.

Park City at Midnight

These are sometimes the best films of the festival. Small films that scare the bejeezuz out of you, like the Blair Witch Project. The cops are on the lookout for drunks and stoners when these are over.


These are NOT independent films, they’re just pretending to be. They’re usually by alumnus of the festival and there’s really nothing wrong with that. They’re the ones that usually get the biggest crowds, like the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski and the like.


This is sort of like “American Idol” the constestants can get their stuff on the Sundance channel, and with any luck they can make a genuine Hollywood feature. Sometimes these are better than the features.

From the Sundance Collection

After twenty-six years, the festival can now screen it’s OWN oldies.

Special Screenings

Whatever doesn’t fit in any of the above categories, and that the judges think are really interesting are put here.

There are screening rooms all over town and a free shuttle to get there. Remember to wear warm clothing!!!!

SLAMDANCE has Twenty feature films in competition this year and a hundred over all. What it does is take over the Treasure Island lodge in the center of town and has a kind of ten day long party. It’s very informal and if one can’t get into a Sundance screening this is a great place to hang out.

As to the counter-counter festivals, there’s really no information at this moment.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Okay, this is our first new post in months. From here, I'll try to do my coverage of Sundance, which will start in a little more than 48 hours from now, or at least the trip will.

The people at the Golden Globes got some of the awards wrong, not that it matters that much. I'll try to be faithful until the end of the month, and then I'll let y'all go home.