Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sundance wrap-up (or why I haven't been posting much this week)

The Sundance Film Festival has kept me busy all week, which explains the relatively few posts. So even though my blog is not about film, I thought I'd do a post about what I saw and what I thought, just for my own record. I promise to get back to photography tomorrow.

Here is what I was so busy seeing (but not photographing. I don't do the paparazzi thing):
  • "Daddy Longlegs"—A story about a divorced Dad who only gets to see his two sons for a couple of weeks each year. His zany antics make him look like the "fun" parent at first—that is, until he decides to drug his kids with his sleep meds so he can go to work. It was a well made film, but I hated it because the Dad was so despicable and the only redeeming quality was that most any parent looks great by comparison.
  • "All that I love"—It's punk rock meets the Solidarity movement in Poland. A lyrical coming of age tale with addictive youthful energy.
  • "Obselidia"—A socially awkward neo-luddite librarian is compiling a dictionary of obsolete things when he meets a fun-loving woman who is inexplicably fond of him. Is love obsolete? Who knows? But a good plot and fleshed out ideas certainly are. Trite.
  • "Restrepo"—A brilliant documentary about the war in Afghanistan. An incredibly moving and politically neutral look at troops serving a hellish 15 months in the worst area of the war. See this whenever it comes out.
  • "Enter the Void"—Director Gaspard Noé is one sick puppy. The opening credits are the best I've ever seen, but then we enter the void...The story of a brother and sister (with an incestuous relationship, of course) living in Tokyo. He sells (and does) drugs. She strips. He dies and then we get to hover above the action in Tibetan book of the dead spirit-cam mode for the remaining 2 and a half hours of the film. Plenty of psychedelic interludes, gratuitous gross-outs, and a sperm-meets-egg sequence that had the audience bursting out laughing even though it wasn't meant to be funny. When asked what his next film will be, Noé said "3-D porn." Everyone laughed, until he said, "No. I'm not kidding."
  • "Smash his camera"—A documentary about Ron Gallela, the famous paparazzo taken to court by Jackie O and punched in the face by Brando. Wannabe paparazzi take note. A few rules are 1. Dress for the occasion, 2. Forge credentials, 3. Use the kitchen to gain access to an event. Director Leon Gast was a delight and so is the film.
  • "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil"—If you like horror films you should love this hilarious spoof in which the hillbillies are the good guys and the college kids end up being their own worst enemies. Instant cult hit. Way better than last year's Nazi zombie story, "Dead Snow."
  • "Welcome to the Rileys"—I predict a future Oscar nomination for Kristen Stewart, who plays a 16-year-old runaway stripper/prostitute in this touching story of a couple trying to cope with their eroding marriage and daughter's death. James Gandolfini (or "Jim" of you want to sound like you know him) and Melissa Leo are also flawless in their roles. Although the sensitive viewer might be impressed by the lack of gratuitous nudity (given the subject matter), the pervasive language might still be a deterrent. Too bad, if so, because I think most parents would love this film. One of my favorites of the festival.
  • "Jack Goes Boating"—Based on a stage play, this film features Philip Seymour Hoffman (who also directs) as a man who needs a woman in his life. Set up by a friend and his wife, things go well for him but not so well for them. Tender, funny, bittersweet. Worth seeing.
  • "The Dry Land"—A soldier back from Iraq tries to cope with post traumatic stress. The director looks like he's about 18, but clearly knows what he is doing. The unknown lead gives an amazing performance as does Wilmer Valderrama ("Fez" on "That 70s Show"), even if he does seem to be in love with his own body in real life. The film is well researched and will likely get some play through Army venues.
  • "Blue Valentine"—Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a couple in a disintegrating marriage. The director said that when he was a boy, his two biggest fears were nuclear war and that his parents would divorced. When he was 20 (circa 1998, I believe), his parents got a divorce (sad, but preferable over nuclear war, right?) and he started to work on this screenplay. After 11 years of planning, every single detail in the film is well crafted. Beautiful and tragic.
  • "Howl"—James Franco plays Allen Ginsberg in this film about the ultimate beat generation poem. I found it to be tedious and glib, but my friends loved it (as will Freshman composition English professors everywhere, I'm sure).
  • "The Killer Inside Me"—Casey Affleck, one of my favorite actors, plays a sociopathic deputy in a small Texas town. If you want to witness nihilistic glee and women being beaten to death with bare fists, knock yourself out. Personally, I don't see the point.
  • "The Kids are all right"—But the adults are way messed up. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a lesbian couple whose kids track down their anonymous sperm donor Dad. Most ironic line is when the son asks his moms why they don't watch lesbian porn and they respond "They often get straight women to pretend to be lesbians and I find the inauthenticity to be very unappealing." Pretty entertaining, great acting, but that's about it.
  • "The imperialists are still alive"—I can't even give a resume of this movie except to say that it involves overprivileged New York hipster middle-easterners being blasé and paranoid at the same time. Very clever in the first half then it all unravels. When a director says "I don't try to please the audience" in a Q&A, that's code for "People aren't responding well to my film." Still, it was fun to spot them wandering around Park City oozing coolness.
  • "Joan Rivers: A piece of work"—Straightforward documentary about Joan Rivers and her insatiable appetite for fame. She attended all the screenings until the last couple of days. If you're not a fan, don't bother.
  • "Waiting for superman"—The people who brought you "An inconvenient truth" are taking on the messed up educational system in America. An inspiring and brilliantly executed documentary that will infuriate the unions. This is a must-see. At the screening, the film was only 5 days old, but by the time it hits public release, it will have a lot of suggestions for change in the end credits (à la Inconvenient Truth).
  • "A small act"—A perfect double bill with "Waiting for superman," in my opinion. This moving documentary shows how a Swedish holocaust survivor's small donation to a Kenyan child has changed many lives. That child grows up to go to Harvard, to work for the UN, and to found a charitable organization named after his benefactor. The film makes a compelling argument for education as the best way to prevent violence, and it makes you want to be a part of the solution. To the director's surprise, $90,000 in donations came in as the result of the Park City screenings.
  • "Winter's Bone"—Creepy and realistic heroic quest in which a girl from backwoods Missouri (we're talking squirrel eating "I done put the hurt on her" and "I told you once with my mouth..." country) has to find her bail-jumping meth-cooking Dad or else lose her house and land. Incredibly authentic and striking film. One of the best of the festival.
  • "3 Backyards"—The melodramatic score features feedback-like flute parts that will make your ears bleed. Three stories, all of them unresolved. Well acted, but what's the point? This is the kind of "indie" film that gives indie films a bad name.
  • "Son of Babylon"—A road trip movie about a 12-year-old boy and his grandmother who travel across northern Iraq in search of the boy's missing (probably dead) father. Director Mohamed Al-Daradji carefully selected non-actors for the film. The central message is one of forgiveness and shared humanity. Let's hope that message gets heard.
  • "I am love"—ugh! Why did this have to be my last film of the festival? In this incredibly pretentious melodrama, Tilda Swinton plays a Russian-born woman living an aristocratic life in Italy (and yes, she speaks Italian throughout the movie). An overwrought score, heavy-handed film-school style references (Tilda's hair has the "Vertigo" swirl, several Antonioni-style mise-en-scène moments, etc.), and a lot of "profound" shots of insects and factories make this film smell at least 40 years past its expiration date.
So, that's what I've been up to. Next on my to-do list: the start-to-finish portrait retouch recipe. I've been planning on it for a long time. I will finally tie together my tutorials into a complete portrait retouch workflow. And then there's the next "monthly special." Hmm...what will that be?


michelle said...

Well, there are at least a couple that sound interesting to me...

Heidi said...

Thanks for the update, hated missing it this year and you made it easier.

michaela said...

Wow, Marc, thank you for all the tips. I am looking forward to some of these. Thank you for taking the time to share all this.