Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tuesday and Wednesday at Sundance

I did not make it up to Park City on Tuesday due to the snow. I got about halfway up Parley's Canyon before deciding to turn around and head for home. The roads were so bad that I couldn't go more than 30 mph up the canyon.

On Wednesday I started off with Lord Byron. I only made it 45 minutes in before I had to walk out. It was just horrible. The worst thing I had seen at Sundance up to that point. There was no story, one scene had nothing to do with the previous scene, and it seemed like there was no script. It was probably improvised, and the actors were not good enough improvisers to pull it off.

Next movie was Granito, a documentary about the 1982 genocide in Guatemala. It's heart was in the right place, but it managed to make the subject pretty dull. The filmmaker kept making it more about her than about the subject or the victims. It was also a bit scattered. A good editor may have been able to make a more coherent and effective movie out of it.

Next up was The Flaw, a documentary about the financial collapse of 1998. Rather than assigning blame, it explored the housing bubble and it compared the collapse to the crash of 1929, showing how many similarities there were. This movie is no where near as good as Inside Job or Capitalism: A Love Story.

Next up I saw a movie called Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same - craziest title ever! Three lesbian aliens come to Earth to save their planet. It was unique and funny. The movie was in black and white and had some really cheap special effects, like something from an Ed Wood movie. But that added to the charm. Not an essential movie to see, but a pleasant diversion.

The last movie I saw was The Oregonian. This is the craziest thing I have ever seen. There is no plot. A girl was just in a car crash. She gets out of the car, covered with blood, and starts walking through the woods. I will not try to explain what happens after that. I think she is either having a nightmare or she is dead and in hell. Because she starts having strange encounters that make no sense. The movie is not exactly a horror movie, but it is scary and unsettling. It's like an experimental student film.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Monday at Sundance

First movie of the day was The Son of No One, a corrupt police drama. Channing Tatum stars as a cop who killed a couple of junkies when he was a kid. At least one of the killings was in self defense, but he has felt guilty about it for years. He didn't tell the police what happened. The only people who knew were his two friends. The cops pretty much knew he did it, but didn't care because they could care less about a couple of dead junkies.

The local paper starts printing stories about the murders and asking why they haven't been solved. For some reason, his captain starts harassing him about the murders. This movie sucks. It is slow and boring, and the characters' motivations make no sense.

Next movie was Vampire. It takes guts to make a vampire movie and title it "Vampire". This is the strangest vampire movie I have ever seen. It has an intriguing premise. A vampire named Simon meets girls on a suicide chat room. He tells them he wants to kill himself too, and they meet with the intent to commit suicide together. He drains their blood and drinks it. The first 15 minutes or so are pretty good as they set up this story.

Then the movie takes a bunch of left turns. He goes to a party with a bunch of vampire-loving people. They dress up in capes and watch vampire movies. One of them figures out that Simon is a vampire, takes him for a ride in a car, kidnaps a woman, then kills and rapes her. This is where people started walking out of the screening. Simon sits there doing nothing. He is obviously repulsed by this, but he does nothing to stop it. Not sure how we are supposed to feel about Simon.

There is also a subplot about a cop who right away wants to be best friends with Simon for no reason, then introduces Simon to his sister who immediately likes him. We never get any idea that Simon likes her, but she starts coming over to his house, cooking for him, and helping care for his catatonic mother.

Weird movie. I have never seen so many walkouts. Every 10 minutes or so more people would walk out, and by the end only about 10% of the audience remained.

My last movie was The Troll Hunter. From Norway, this is one of those "found footage" movies, like Cloverfield or Paranormal Activity. Three college students follow a strange guy into the mountains of Norway and discover that giant trolls actually exist. The guy works for the government keeping trolls a secret and killing them when they leave their territory.

The movie is kind of fun and interesting for an hour or so. Then it gets kind of tedious. I almost recommend it, but not quite.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sundance, Saturday and Sunday

Saturday morning my first movie was Uncle Kent, the new movie from Joe Swanberg. Like all of his movies, it was very low budget, unwritten-sounding dialogue, and lots of sex and nudity. Actually, not as much sex and nudity as his other movies, but still quite a bit.

The story was about a guy named Kent. Kent is a single guy living in LA, and he meets a girl from New York over chatroulette. He invites her to come out and stay with him for the weekend. She accepts, even though she has a boyfriend. Obviously he likes her and is hoping something will happen between them. Something does, but not what we expect. They find a girl on craigslist that is advertising for a threesome.

I liked the movie, but like all of Swanberg's movies, it really could have used a re-write and some editing. There are parts with very interesting discussions, but also parts where nothing happens and we are just watching Kent sitting around doing nothing. I'm not sure who I could recommend it to.

Uncle Kent was proceeded by a short called Ex-sex, which was very good.

The next movie I saw was Happy, Happy. This Norwegian movie claims to be a comedy, but I didn't laugh much. It was more of a drama. It's about an unhappy housewife. Her husband won't pay attention to her, and she starts having an affair with the neighbor next door. The only thing unique about the movie was the setting. Other than that, this type of story has been done before, and done much better.

The strange thing about the movie was the musical interludes. Remember the scenes in There's Something About Mary where the guitarist and drummer would appear and sing a song randomly? Kind of like that, there are interludes where we see a vocal quartet singing. It makes no sense and the movie is not the kind of comedy that can pull off those kind of absurd interludes.

Next I saw The Last Mountain, a documentary about coal and mountaintop coal removal, a destructive process that was outlawed until the Bush administration made it legal. It was very good and it pissed me off, like all of these political documentaries do, because it shows once again how laws are written by corporations.

The last movie of the day was Abraxas, a movie about a Japanese monk who used to be a punk rock guitarist. He decides he wants to play again, so he gets a band together and performs outside at the monastery. It was very interesting and unique, but also very tedious. Not recommended.

On Sunday I started off with Terri, a movie about an overweight high school kid. He lives with his uncle (The Office's Creed Bratton) who is usually heavily medicated, he goes to school in his pajamas, and he has no friends. So it's a feel good.

Things get entertaining when he is talking to the vice principal (John C. Reilly), but there are quite a few boring scenes where he is off by himself doing things like setting mouse traps. Late in the movie it starts to get really interesting when he starts making a couple of friends. A really cute girl in his class starts to get interested in him because he is nice to her, and eventually he invites her over to his house to hang out. His other friend comes over and the three of them start drinking and taking his uncle's pills, then things really get interesting.

Yet another movie that I liked, but it isn't easy to sit through and most audiences probably won't enjoy it.

Next I went to check out A Machine to See With at the New Frontier. This is no movie. You register, they take your cell phone number, and 15 minutes later you get a call. For the next 70 or 80 minutes you are walking around town following instructions from a pre-recorded voice. The basic idea is you are planning to rob a bank. It was a fun experience, but the end was kind of a letdown. Although, the end really depends on how many other people are currently participating, and how they behave. It's a very interesting idea and I'd love to see the company behind it take the idea further.

The rest of the afternoon was spent at the Eccles Theater trying to cover Red State. The Westboro Baptist Church was in town to picket Kevin Smith's latest movie, and he invited his fans to show up and protest against the protest. There were some very funny signs out.

I covered the red carpet and managed to interview the actors from the movie, including Stephen Root and Melissa Leo. I will post some video once I get a chance to do a little editing.

I wasn't able to see Red State. There is no press screening, and there are only 2 public screenings, which made it the hottest ticket at the festival. There was a lot of hype about how he was going to auction off the rights to the movie right there in the theater after the screening, but he ended up deciding to release it himself. He will take the movie on a tour then release it himself in October.

The last movie I saw on Sunday was The Devil's Double. It's partly based on the true story of Latif Yahia who was chosen to be a double for Uday Hussein. Dominic Cooper plays both Latif and Uday, and this is the best work I have ever seen from him. He plays both parts so differently that I forgot it was the same actor.

There is some really tough stuff in the movie. I have read about Uday Hussein and some of the horrible things he did, like kidnapping random girls off the street, raping them, then dumping their bodies. We see a bit of that in the movie. We also see torture, disembowelment, shootings, all that gory stuff.

The movie uses the true story as a base, then it invents some stuff. I don't know how much is true, but at some point Latif decides to try to escape Iraq. I had some problems with the movie but it was worth seeing for Dominic Cooper's performance.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday at Sundance

On Friday I only managed to take in 1 1/4 movies. I will explain.

I got up to Park City in time to see Kaboom, the new film from Gregg Araki (The Doom Generation, Mysterious Skin). It ended up being a great first movie.

The story is about Smith, a bi-sexual college student. His best friend is a lesbian named Stella. He is attracted to his straight roommate, Thor. For the first while, it seems like it is just a movie about these characters. And they are very enjoyable characters.

Then things start to get wierd. The girl Stella is seeing seems to have magical sexual powers. These creepy guys wearing animal masks start lurking around. A red haired girl asks Smith for help, slips a flash drive in his pocket, then seems to be killed by the animal masked men. Was it a dream, a hallucination, or did it really happen?

The movie was a lot of fun, but I haven't decided how I feel about the end. It starts ramping up the crazyness, and the audience I saw it with was laughing the entire last 5 minutes. The end comes so abruptly that it's like a punchline. In a lesser movie, the ending would ruin it for me. But I liked it enough that I think it just adds to the fun.

After Kaboom I decided to see Magic Trip, which is a documentary about author Ken Kesey's 1964 trip across America. It was doing absolutely nothing for me and bored me to tears, so I left after 20 minutes or so.

I had to leave the festival early for a family thing, so that was it. Saturday I plan to stay in Park City all day and see as many films as I can.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sundance Day 1

Day one at Sundance. This afternoon Robert Redford, Keri Putnam (Executive Director) and John Cooper (Director) held their annual press conference to kick off the festival. Here is one short video from the press conference. Excuse my shaky cam style. I was sometimes trying to film with one hand.

Update: I also went to New Frontier to check out the exhibits. I took a few pictures but they didn't come out. It was too dark.

In years past the New Frontier has been on Main Street, but this year it is being held at the Miner's Hospital. Not as good a venue. Instead of having everything on one level in a big open space, everything is crammed into 3 buildings. The main building is very cramped and darkly lit. As you are walking through it is hard to tell what is an exhibit and what is an employees only type area.

The exhibits are pretty interesting, but I was disappointed with the Three's Company: The Drama setup. It is just a room where footage from the first season of Three's Company plays. The dialogue has been re-recorded by James Franco and his friends. They try to make it a drama rather than a sitcom.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Country Strong - 1 1/2 stars

This movie is a lot like last year's Crazy Heart - if Crazy Heart really sucked!

At the beginning of the movie we meet Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund from Tron: Legacy). Beau is a country / western singer. We know this not only because we see him on stage performing, but because he always wears jeans, western shirts, cowboy hats, and he drives a beat up Ford pickup. During the day he works as an orderly at a rehab facility.

One of the patients is a country superstar named Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow). Kelly likes Beau to play and sing for her, and she helps write his songs. Her husband/manager James (Tim McGraw) shows up and takes her out of rehab, even though she is not ready to leave.

The next night, James sees Beau perform at a club and asks him to come on the road and open for Kelly. Here is where I checked out of the movie, because Beau says no. Anyone who loves performing wants 2 things: to perform for as many people as possible, and to make a living doing it. But Beau says no. He likes performing for people, and he doesn't care where. He's perfectly happy to keep playing in local bars.

Of course he changes his mind and does join them on the road, or else we wouldn't have a movie. But if we didn't have a movie, I wouldn't really mind. In fact, I would prefer it. This movie is so badly written, the only fun I had was watching Kelly get drunk and try to perform. She is so bad she has to be helped off stage while the curtain comes down and the band continues to play.

The dialogue is horrible. There is a scene where Kelly asks Beau "you think I'm crazy, don't you?" He should answer that no, she isn't crazy, just an alcoholic. But what he says is "love and fame just don't mix." What the hell does that mean? It does go along with the message of the movie, which seems to be being a star is bad, it's better to remain unknown. The end of the movie (spoiler alert) is Beau performing in a small club on a ranch somewhere. He has passed on the opportunity to record, tour, be a star and make lots of money.

The movie tries really hard to be dramatic. I think they expect people to cry. But during what should be the saddest moment in the movie, I was just chuckling. The movie just doesn't work.