Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sundance - Monday

On Monday I managed to see two movies and get one interview in. The rest of the day was spent packing for the big move.

The first movie was The Fan starring Patton Oswalt. He plays the world's biggest New York Giants fan. Before and after every game, he calls his favorite sports talk radio show to give his opinions. He spends hours writing down exactly what he wants to say. He is obsessed with Quantrell Bishop, the Giants' quarterback. One night, he and his friend spot Quantrell, stalk him for a while, approach him, and things get ugly. The movie has some really funny parts, but it really dragged in a lot of other places. I really can't recommend the movie.

My second movie was much better. Good Hair is a documentary by Chris Rock. In the movie, Rock investigates African American hair culture. I had no idea how much time and money some African American women put into their hair. Rock interviews celebrities, hair care experts, and even travels to India where Indians donate the hair that is shipped to Beverly Hills and made into weaves. The movie was very funny. I liked it a lot.

I was also able to score a brief interview with John Krasinski (The Office) at the premier of his movie Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I will try to see it today or tomorrow. Kraskinski was every bit as friendly as Jim Halpert, his character on The Office. Before hitting the press line, I saw him talking to fans and signing autographs. He is very gracious to his fans.

That was all for Monday. All day Tuesday was spent moving into my new house. I am about to head to Park City for another day of movies.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sundance - Day 4

I spent the morning packing. The first thing I did when I got to Park City was attend the press and filmmaker luncheon. I got to meet a few very nice and interesting people.

The first was Wendell B. Harris Jr. He wrote, directed, and starred in Chameleon Street which won the Grand Jury prize at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival. I have never seen the film, but I promised I would. I have just put the movie on my netflix queue, and will post a review after I watch it.

I also met Marie-Helene Cousineau, one of the directors of Before Tomorrow. Its the final chapter in the trilogy that started with The Fast Runner. I enjoyed The Fast Runner, and I'm hoping to catch Before Tomorrow before the festival is over.

Last, I got to meet one of the stars of the short film Countertransference about a woman who's therapist may be more disturbed than she is. I thought the movie was weird and quirky.

I only managed to see one movie today: Over the Hills and Far Away. Its a documentary about a boy with autism and his parents take him to Mongolia hoping that a shaman can cure him. It was a very interesting story and the young boy broke my heart, but overall the movie didn't work for me. There is a stretch of about a half hour towards the end of the movie where nothing much happens. We are just watching them ride horses in Mongolia. The movie opens and closes with some talking heads trying to explain autism, and I was surprised to learn that the experts don't even agree about what exactly autism is.

I tried to see a second movie, El General, but I only made it a half hour into it. Its about Mexico's president from 1924 - 1928. I'm interested in Mexican history, but this documentary felt like watching paint dry. My first walkout of the festival. And I rarely ever walk out of movies.

I will be moving on Tuesday, so I am not sure how much I will be able to post for the next couple of days.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sundance - Day 3

First up was a press screening of Taking Chance. Kevin Bacon plays a marine who is escorting a fellow marine's body home to Wyoming. The movie was 85 minutes, but it felt like 120. You really have to be patient to sit thru this movie. The first 10 minutes in, I thought about leaving. But I stuck it out. I will admit, it made me tear up. But it hits you over the head with the emotion of a fallen marine. Too many slow motion shots of Kevin Bacon watching the coffin and saluting.

After that, I went to the premier of The Greatest. I wasn't able to get in to the movie, but I was able to get pictures and sound bites of Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon. I tried to get a couple of questions in, but its hard fighting with TV reporters from Access Hollywood, Reel Talk, ect.

At the moment, I am updating from the Sundance Cafe. I'm trying to decide what to see next. There are so many choices. But I think I am going to focus on seeing more movies, and less celebrity premiers. I think. I may change my mind. Jim Carrey is supposed to be here tomorrow and then John Krasinski (The Office) may be here Monday.

Update: I ended up seeing two more movies. The first was the Documentary Shorts. Most of them were not very good, but the best one was I Knew It Was You, a 40-minute documentary about John Cazale. It was really good.

The last movie I saw was Rudo Y Cursi. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna from Y Tu Mama Tambien starred. It was not bad, but definitely not as good as Y Tu Mama Tambien.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sundance - Day 2

The first movie of the day was Lymelife. I'd give it 3 stars. I liked it partly because it reminded me of The Ice Storm, which I really liked. The performances were great, especially Rory Culkin and Alec Baldwin, who has my favorite line reading of the week: "F*** him and his medical bills!"

After that, I went to the Sundance Press Office and watched a screener of Dead Snow, a Norwegian movie about Nazi Zombies. I'd also give that 3 stars. It was gory as hell and it had some humor to it. I could tell the fillmmakers were inspired by movies like Evil Dead II and Shaun of the Dead. Its not as good as those, but its a worthy entry in the attacking-zombie, stuck-in-a-cabin horror category.

After that, I decided to hit a couple of public screenings. First I went to the premier of Brooklyn's Finest, the new movie from Antoine Fuqua, director of Training Day. I wasn't able to get in to the screening, but I did stand with the press and cover the arrival of the director and stars Don Cheadle and Wesley Snipes. That was pretty cool.

After that, I did the same thing for Rudo y Cursi. I was able to briefly interview Gael Garcia Bernal, Carlos Cuaron, and best of all, the great Guillermo del Toro! I asked him if he had his sketch book on him, because I know he carries it around all the time, and I was hoping to see some of his ideas for The Hobbit. He said it was back at the hotel. I also asked him if there was any chance of Ian Holm playing Bilbo Baggins. I know he is like 100 years old, but I don't care. He was so great as Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring, I don't want anyone else playing Bilbo. I told him he could slap that brown wig on his head again and it would work. He said he couldn't even discuss it with me, or he would be shot by snipers. He is as friendly as I have heard he is.

Alfonso Cuaron was there also, but I didn't get a chance to talk to him. They were running behind, and I was at the end of the line.

I didn't get in to see the movie. I got a wait list number, but they called it while I was interviewing the guys. Oh well, I will try and catch the movie later in the week.

That's all for today. I may edit this post and add some audio, once I figure out where to host it. And hopefully tomorrow I will add pictures (forgot to charge the camera battery today). I'm still planning out this weekend, but I hope to interview Pierce Brosnan tomorrow, and Jim Carrey on Sunday. Stay tuned.

Sundance - Day 1

The first item of the day was New Frontier on Main. This is where they show a bunch of new technology and how it can be implemented for movies and storytelling. Some cool stuff, movie-wise, but nothing incredible technology-wise.

Next up was the opening press conference with Robert Redford and Geoffrey Gilmore. They talked for a while and then took questions. Redford wasn't sure if this year was the 25th anniversary of Sundance, or 24th or 26th, or what. He reiterated several times the difference between the Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival. He mentioned that they have had international labs in the mideast (Iran and Jordan) for some time, and there has been talks about a festival in Abu Dhabi.

They talked about the wall between art and commerce, distribution issues for independant films, they touched on proposition 8, and someone asked Redford if he would serve on the NEA board if he was asked (he said no, he wouldn't).

A couple of hours off and then it was the opening film - Mary and Max, a claymation movie about a 40 year-old obese man in New York and his 10 year-old pen pal, a little girl living in Australia. The movie was funny and charming, but I thought it would have worked much better as a short. Halfway thru the movie I was ready for it to end.

The last item of the day was the opening night party. I quickly realized that it doesn't matter how cool a party is, its no fun if you are there alone, and don't know anybody. I did bump into a couple local critics that I chatted with, and met a few other people, but nothing interesting happened. They had a DJ, free food and free drinks, and there were so many people in there it was a nightmare trying to move around. And no, I didn't see anyone famous.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sundance - Day 0

The Sundance Film Festival begins tomorrow. This will be the first time I have covered the festival as a member of the press. I have always tried to attend a few movies during the festival, but between my schedule and ticket prices, I've only been able to average 2 movies per festival for the last few years. This time I will be seeing several movies per day. I hope to keep this up until the end of the festival, but I have a feeling that I have no idea what I'm getting myself into. Its no coincidence that some local critics take a week's vacation right after the festival ends.

Today I went to the press office at festival headquarters to pick up my press credentials. As I was driving to Park City I had this image in my mind of a ballroom full of press, and waiting in line for an hour to get my pass. Imagine my surprise when I only had to wait about 30 seconds. There were only two people in front of me.

So I picked up my press pass, my FilterForGood reusable bottle, and my festival guide. Then I waited a minute for someone to tell me what came next. I quickly realized that they were wondering what I was still standing there for. I guess I assumed that there would be more to it. I was really hoping some helpful person would say "Orientation for first timers is right over there." I introduced myself to some of the publicists, went to the general information booth, asked a couple of questions about press screenings, and left.

Tomorrow the plan is a press preview at noon, opening day press conference at 2, then a screening of Mary and Max at 6:30. Good times.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Gran Torino - 3 1/2 stars

I have to make a confession right away: I have never seen a Dirty Harry movie. But I think I know enough about the character to compare Dirty Harry to Walt Kowalski, Clint Eastwood's character in Gran Torino. Of course, just about every other critic has already made the comparison. Imagine an old, retired version of Dirty Harry. Imagine he worked on the Ford assembly line instead of being a cop.

I loved this movie. It was a lot funnier than I expected it to be. Sometimes I laughed from embarassment, like when he says to a room of Asian Americans "What are all you fish heads staring at?" I've always felt that the best kind of humor comes from characters. If a character is well developed, then he doesn't have to do much of anything to make you laugh. We know Walk Kowalski so well in this movie that all he has to do is look at the old lady next door, narrow his eyes a little, and its hilarious.

There are several scenes that show what a fearless badass he is. When the Hmong gang is fighting with the neighbors, he doesn't hesitate to pull his gun and threaten to kill them. He says "We used to stack gooks like you 5 feet high in Korea. Use you as sandbags." When he sees the black gang picking on Sue, the girl from next door, he isn't afraid to get out of his truck and say right to their faces "What the hell do you spooks think you're doing?"

I've seen this movie 3 times now, and I will probably see it again soon. Make sure you stay thru the credits so you can hear the beautiful title song.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Worst of 2008

Here are my 20 worst movies of last year.

20 - Fool's Gold
Matthew McConaughey. Kate Hudson. Wants to be National Treasure. Makes National Treasure look like Raiders of the Lost Ark.
19 - Vantage Point
Pretty simple premise. The president gets assassinated while speaking at a summit in a foreign country. But if you're going to tell the same story over and over again from multiple perspectives, you have to give us something interesting every time. By the 3rd time, we knew everything we needed to know. And it still replayed the scene another 97 times.
18 - The Forbidden Kingdom
I hate, hate it when fight scenes are edited so much that you can't see what's going on. Why hire Jackie Chan and Jet Li if you are going to edit each punch and kick? I could film my brother and I fighting and edit it to look that good. And Michael Angarano is the most boring actor since Paul Walker. And don't get me started on the horrible scene with the bullies that bookends the movie.
17 - W.
This movie should have been great. Maybe if Oliver Stone had taken another month to edit it, he could have structured it better. But cutting back and forth in W.'s life got annoying. And the movie didn't have an ending. Its like he looked at the running time and said "let's end it here." And Thandie Newton's performance as Condoleezza Rice? WTF???
16 - The X-Files: I Want to Believe
I'm so glad I'm not a huge X-Files fan. How disappointing to wait this long for another Mulder / Scully adventure, and this is the best they could come up with? If this were an episode of the series, it would never run in syndication.
15 - 88 Minutes
Laughably bad. Pacino has become a caricature of himself. Its getting old.
14 - Wanted
This movie really should have been more fun. But it took itself way too seriously.
13 - All Roads Lead Home

This was like the worst Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movie I had ever seen. As many endings as The Return of the King. And someone should have looked at the dailies of Peter Boyle and realized he was in no condition to act in a movie.

12 - The Fall

I have seen 4 star reviews for this, and I can't believe it. It looks great, but that's because Tarsem is a visual artist. If this movie was running in the background of a party or something, it would give the guests something nice to look at. I'm sure he was inspired by The Princess Bride; man tells a story to a young child, the bulk of the movie is the fantasy story he is telling. But the story was boring. He really should have gotten help writing the fantasy part. And the movie looked so much like a car commercial I kept expecting the camera to pan over to a luxury car sitting on the edge of a cliff with a voiceover saying "The new Cadillac CTS."

11 - The Spirit
I have seen Sin City, and you, sir, are no Sin City.
10 - 21

Its like someone wrote this using a screenplay outline. So predictable. Why do they keep going to the same casino? Why didn't they stick to the facts in the book? Why didn't they cast Asian Americans? Jim Sturgess and Kate Bosworth are two of my least favorite actors.

9 - Semi-Pro

Remember when Will Ferrell was funny? Between this and my #6 pick, he is the new Adam Sandler. Or Eddie Murphy. And I'm a big fan of dirty language and R-rated movies. But it has to be funny. Superbad was dirty, but funny. And as Gene Siskel would have said, it had heart. The vulgarity in this movie offended me. It didn't serve any purpose, and it makes good vulgarity look bad.

8 - Seven Pounds

A movie doesn't have to spell everything out for me, but an hour in, I was really tired of not knowing what was going on. There was about 20 minutes of the movie I liked. It was Will Smith and Rosario Dawson's romance scenes. For a little while, I believed in the characters and I wanted more of that. They should have made the whole movie about their romance.

7 - Death Race

The people who made this movie have no idea what makes Death Race 2000 a great movie. And just like the fight scenes in Forbidden Kingdom, the action involving the cars was so choppily edited that I had no idea what was going on. No sense of geography. Would it have killed them to show a wide shot for more than 1 second without cutting to a close-up?

6 - Step Brothers
I don't think I laughed once in this movie. Are the brothers supposed to be mentally challenged, or are they deliberatly lazy / stupid / ignorant? I can buy a lazy man living with his mom or dad, but to have no idea of how to behave in a job interview? Sometimes they acted like they were kids in adult bodies. Maybe they thought they were remaking Big. And I hope Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen got paid a lot of money. I also hope the money explains why they didn't read the script before signing on.
5 - Eagle Eye
I didn't believe any of the characters. I didn't believe anything they said or did. I can suspend disbelief when it comes to the omniscient supercomputer. I can buy all the sci-fi elements of this movie. But not one character talks or acts like a believable human being. And Shia LaBeouf gets shot like 6 times in the chest and lives.
4 - Four Christmases
Vince Vaughn has never given a less funny performance. And Reese Witherspoon has never been funny. Who thought this would be a good match? The only time I laughed in this movie was when they were playing Taboo, and the funny actors were Jon Favreau and Sissy Spacek.
3 - Bedtime Stories

Just when I thought Adam Sandler couldn't make anything worse, we get this. They tried to make a movie for kids. I think 4-year olds are too mature for this movie. Any movie that has to cut to a shot of a guinea pig with giant CGI eyes for a laugh is in trouble. They're eating smores. Oh look, the guinea pig has marshmellows all over his face. They're eating hamburgers. Oh look, the guinea pig has ketchup and mustard all over his face. Shoot me now!

2 - Strange Wilderness
I spoke too soon about Adam Sandler. As bad as his movies are, they aren't as bad as the ones his friends make. If you have your own production company and your friend wants to make a movie, you should give him one condition: it needs to be at least a little funny. What a waste of talent. Steve Zahn. Justin Long. Jonah Hill. Ernest Borgnine. Robert Patrick. Kevin Heffernan (Officer Farva from Super Troopers). Joe Don Baker. I would kill for a DVD extra of the cast talking about how bad the movie is, and explaining why they signed on. Once again, I hope they got paid a lot of money.
1 - The Happening
The worst of the worst. Most filmmakers learn more about their craft as they go along, but M. Night Shyamalan's movies are getting worse and worse. He is the Benjamin Button of filmmakers.

My favorite movies of 2008

Here are my top movies from 2008. Rather than do a top 10, I decided to do a top 17. The order is pretty much in order, but some days I remember a movie more fondly than the day before.

17 - Son of Rambow
This was a charming movie. Its one of those rare movies that kids and adults can enjoy. I was never one of those kids that tried to make a movie with my friends (I think very few kids actually do this), but the movie makes me wish I had. And the scene with the flying dog crashing into the teacher's class, as well as the callback a few minutes later in the teacher's lounge? One of the funniest scenes in any movie.
16 - Milk

A very good biopic. Sean Penn is one of the best actors working today. Compare his performance in this to his performance in Mystic River. Almost unrecognizable. And Josh Brolin was very good too.

15 - Role Models

This was much funnier than I had expected. And I feel like they cast against type. I expected Seann William Scott to be the slacker, and Paul Rudd to be the more responsible of the two. But it was the other way around. I like it when they do that in movies. And Jane Lynch is the funniest woman alive.

14 - Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I liked the first Hellboy, and I thought this was better. And funnier. I loved the scene where Hellboy and Abe Sapien drink beer and listen to Barry Manilow. And Seth MacFarlane stole every scene he was in as the voice of Johann Krauss.

13 - The Incredible Hulk

Totally made up for Ang Lee's Hulk (2003). The CGI bugged me a little, but I guess short of Lou Ferrigno with green paint and a wig, there is no other way to do the Hulk in a live action movie. I was a big fan of the TV series, so I loved all the nods to that show, especially the use of Joe Harnell's Lonely Man Theme. Now if they would just release the extended Edward Norton cut on DVD ...

12 - Mamma Mia!
Yeah, I'm gay for this movie. Don't care. I didn't listen to Abba growing up, so almost all of the songs were new to me. And I would rather see a good actor who can't sing than a good singer who can't act. The songs don't have to be radio friendly, but I need to believe the performances. And get off Pierce Brosnan's back, everybody! He didn't sound bad. The biggest problem with his performance of S.O.S. is that they used a close up shot of his face. They should have filmed that scene as a wide shot.
11 - Boy A

This was a great surprise. A young man is released from prison. We don't know what he did. He tries to start a new life with a new name and he is successful. He gets a job, he gets some friends, and he even gets a girlfriend. Then someone finds out who he is and his secret is out. Job? Friends? Girlfriend? All gone. This was a powerful movie.

10 - Trans-Siberian

The less you know about this movie going in, the better. A couple is taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Beijing to Moscow. They meet a couple who may or may not be drug mules. They meet a Russian police officer, played by Ben Kingsley, who may or may not be corrupt. There are several really good surprises in this movie that I didn't see coming.

9 - Frost / Nixon

This is one of those movies that is for you if you really enjoy good acting. Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Kevin Bacon are incredible. No one has portrayed Richard Nixon better.

8 - Wall-E

No dialogue for the first 45 minutes or so of this movie. Its like a great silent movie, except the silent movies did have dialogue, just printed as title cards. The robot Wall-E is a more interesting character than most live action characters. If only George Lucas had hired Andrew Stanton to direct the prequels ...

7 - Iron Man

A great comic book action movie. Seamless special effects. And another great performance by Robert Downey Jr. If you want to see more of that Downey Jr. magic, go rent yourself Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

6 - Zack and Miri Make a Porno

I'm a huge Kevin Smith fan. Last time he made a movie without Jay and Silent Bob, we got Jersey Girl. Not a bad movie, but not the type I want from Kevin Smith. Now we have the first great non-Jay and Silent Bob movie from Smith. The sequence at the high school reunion with Bobby Long and Brandon St. Randy is the best cameo since Chuck Norris in Dodgeball. And Craig Robinson totally steals the movie. A hilarious movie with lots of nudity.

5 - Gran Torino

This may replace Unforgiven as my favorite Clint Eastwood movie. I love his character's transformation from mean old man to kindly, protective father figure. And at 78 years old, he can still kick anyone's ass.

4 - Ghost Town

I love Ricky Gervais. If it weren't for him, this movie would have been just another Ghost ripoff. But Gervais has so many funny lines that you miss half of them because you are laughing so much.

3 - The Visitor

This movie is a treasure. If you haven't seen it, you really need to. But be warned: it will make you mad. I don't care what your political beliefs are. How can anybody justify the way things are as portrayed in this movie?

2 - The Dark Knight

How often does a movie actually live up to its hype? And what movie in recent memory has been hyped as much as this was before it opened? Its hard enough to take a superhero movie seriously, but they made a great crime drama as good and respectable as anything by Michael Mann, Martin Scorsese, ect. And Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker will be remembered 50 years from now. If he was still alive, there would be just as much Oscar buzz. When was the last time an actor was nominated for a role in a superhero movie?

1 - In Bruges
Definitely my favorite movie of the year. I love the combination of the comedy and the dark stuff. When you find out why the guys are hiding out in Bruges, its like a punch in the stomach. Then the movie gets funny again. And once Ralph Fiennes shows up, to movie goes to a whole new level. I have talked to people who didn't like this movie very much, and it really surprises me. How can anyone not enjoy this movie?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Repo! The Genetic Opera - 1/2 star

Wow, where to begin? This movie is a mess. Set in 2056, the company GeneCo supplies people with new organs. But if they don't pay for their new organ, the Repo Man comes and takes it back without anesthetic. This could have been a pretty good story. They could have had a main character, or several, who have organs that they can't pay for. The Repo Man could be a scary villain like Jason Voorhees who pursues the heros while they try to escape.

But instead, this is just the backdrop for a pretty boring story. The main character is Shilo Wallace, played by Alexa Vega from the Spy Kids movies. Shilo is 17 and she has a blood disorder. Nathan Wallace, her overprotective dad, is her doctor. He is also the Repo Man, but she doesn't know it. Her mom died in childbirth, and her dad may have accidentally killed her. Her dad (the Repo Man) works for Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), the head of GeneCo. Rotti was in love with Shilo's mom until she left him for Nathan.

Rotti has three kids: Luigi, Pavi, and Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton). Amber is addicted to surgery. Luigi wears someone else's face over his own, and we never see what he actually looks like. The face he wears at the end of the movie is a very creepy joker-like smile. Pavi has this habit of ripping his shirt open to show us his scars. I might have mixed up Luigi and Pavi, but really, who cares? The three kids want to inherit GeneCo when their father dies.

There is also a singer named Blind Mag, played by Sarah Brightman. Sarah got here eyes from GeneCo, which means that she is owned by Rotti Largo. I think the idea is if she sings for anyone else, they will take her eyes back. But there comes a point when Rotti wants the Repo Man to take her eyes, and I don't think they explained why. She hadn't betrayed Rotti, as far as I could tell.

The movie is over-the-top rediculous. Some of the actors play it straight and sing the numbers like they are performing Wagner or Puccini. Others seem embarassed. A movie like this really lives or dies by the songs (since the characters are singing 90% of the time), and the songs are really, really bad. They are boring. I can't imagine anyone going out and buying the soundtrack after watching this movie.

Strangest moment: a cameo by Joan Jett. She shows up for about 30 seconds then disappears. And she doesn't sing. She just plays her guitar. WTF? All the singing going on in this movie and they didn't have her sing?