Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Sundance/Slamdance The first batch.

As you may or may not know, I was the only member of the FFT team not to get press credentials, but since I paid for the hotel room and they won't give me a full discount, I'm going anyway, and a number of publicsts were kind enough to let me see pre-festival screenings. With any luck, I'll actually be able to do my job, but if not, I've got a few more I saw in New York plus there will be some at Slamdance. Here is the first batch:

HBO Films 90mins, NR

Directed by
Tom Hooper

Heroes are often wrong, and when they are they can pay a heavy price. Witness the case of the seventh Earl of Longford, who got involved with a notorious child murderer, and campaigned for her release, something the British people had never forgiven him for.

HBO and the BBC have made a TV movie tracing the sorry events, where a good, but naïve man causes personal disaster by doing what he thinks is the right thing. The film starts on a radio talk show, where Frank Packenham(Jim Broadbent), the aforementioned Earl, is promoting a book, he's just written, and the callers begin to denounce him about his relationship with Myra Hindley(Samantha Morton) the abovementioned serial killer.

Back in the early 1960s, Hindley and her boyfriend Ian Brady(Andy Serkis) had raped, tortured and killed a number of little children. The British media was just as sensational then as it is now, and Myra became the most hated person in British eyes since Hitler.

As Leader of the Government in the House of Lords, he had special interest in prison reform and had visited many prisoners convicted of infamous crimes and had gotten them paroled. This embarrasses Prime Minister Wilson(Robert Pugh), who fires him. As an ex minister who is independently wealthy, he goes full tilt on his pet projects, and it's at about this time, he first hears from Myra. At first, his wife, Lady Elizabeth(Lindsay Duncan), is against his visiting her, but he thinks that everyone can be rehabilitated, and he goes forward regardless of the consequences to him or his family.

The acting is excellent. British movie stars aren't adverse to appearing in TV movies, so HBO has gotten some of the best character actors to play the lead roles. Andy Serikis does a great Hannibal Lector impression, and that he isn't lying about Myra doesn't really sink in for much of the film. Samantha Morton's Myra is all over the place, alternately calculating, sweet and pathetic, and it isn't until the end where we know what really happened. Broadbent is the heart and soul of the piece, of course, and he plays the fool for the entire time. He's sweet and likeable, but aside from his vigor, it's amazing how he could have made it as far as he did in politics. He's an upper-class twit. This gives”do-gooding” a bad name, but it's an interesting film none the less.

American Fork
Alkaline Industries, ??mins, PG-13

Directed by
Chris Bowman

Who the hell is Hubbel Palmer and how did he manages to get all those C-listers in his movie? Apparently, a year or so back, a film he was in that was never seen again, won an award at Slamdance and, and he's done some small parts in some minor films, but that doesn't explain how he got all these people to work at scale on this inferior little trifle. Maybe the fact that the producer worked on “Napoleon Dynamite,” had something to do with it, but still, while that seemed to have struck a nerve with some of the public [I still think it sucked], any imitations are going to be even worse. Witness this…

Palmer plays Tracy Orbison, a nieve supermarket clerk who's still living with his mother(Kathleen Quinlan) and sister(Mary Lynn Rajskub). Aside from the fact that he's huge, and has an eating disorder, he has no real characteristics. Sure he doesn't get laid, but he's happy! It starts as what might be a slapstick comedy, but it isn't. What it IS isn't made clear, it's not funny at all and Tracy just goes forward on a trip to nowhere.

His boss(Bruce McGill) gives him a ticket to a local play starring a nobody named Truman Hope(William Baldwin), and it's love at first sight. He decides to become an actor, and tries to befriend his new mentor, but is betrayed. Then he befriends one of his coworkers (Vincent Caso) and is betrayed again, we have some more betrayals involving William Baldwin. This is more of a Greek tragedy than anything else, and since the entire film revolves around Hubbel Palmer and his alleged charisma, it fails entirely.

The success of “Napoleon Dynamite” may have something to do with the fact that the there are a number of major minor movie stars here, but the fact still is that nobody's going to get anything out of this except maybe most of a month's water bill paid off.

Don't worry about this, it's never going to see the light of day again.

Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America
Working Films, 86mins, PG-13

a documentary by
by Marco Williams

Before we start, let's get one thing clear: Every inch of land in the United States is stolen. The Europeans stole it from the Indians and the Indians stole it from other Indians and so forth back down to the age of the Mammoths. The same goes for the rest of the world as well. The question is how far back does one go before one's claim is declared invalid.

This is important, considering what happened to some African American families in the first decades of the last century. There were lots of lynchings and other atrocities in the South back then, and among these were throwing families off their land. This has been a dirty little secret in many places in the former Confederacy since before living memory.

So what to do about it? This is a short look into tiny piece of a much larger issue which most of the planet would rather not think about. Documentarian Marco Williams checks out three cases. The Strickland family who's ancestors were thrown out of Forsyth County, Georgia in 1912. The Cobb brothers try to disinter their great grandfather from a graveyard in Pierce City, Missouri, which banished its black residents in 1901, and the people of Harrison, Arkansas, where the KKK still has a large following, tries to figure out how to improve race relations in a place where Blacks are absent. His results are mixed.

Most of the film is about research. Going to the library and checking out ancient real estate transactions and newspapers can be really boring if it isn't done exactly right, but here it is. It's actually rather engrossing.

It's the reactions by the White residents which is most interesting, because they're all over the map, from full cooperation to utter hostility. The question of reparations is addressed, and while this is one of the more compelling cases for them, Williams' occasional snarkyness ruins it. Still, this is an excellent doc and we can see why it got into Sundance.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

Great stuff ... The doco sounds particularly intriguing ... Living down here as I do in Georgia, I can attest that the county of Forsyth still has a long way to go in race relations