Thanks to the marvelous D--who spent an hour and a half fighting the egregiously inept Sundance web site yesterday while M and I tried to lend moral support over the phone--we've got our Sundance tickets! Whee! We got all but two of the movies we wanted, and we're going to try for stand by on those and see if we can squeeze in.
Some of the films we're seeing look very promising, and some are almost certain to be a complete train wreck, but that's part of the fun of the festival experience! If we didn't see at least one painfully horrible film I'd feel ripped off. In case anyone's interested, here's our Sundance viewing agenda:
Movies we've definitely got tickets to...
Australia/United Kingdom, 2005, 104 Minutes, color
Director: John Hillcoat
Screenwriter: Nick Cave
Cast : Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, John Hurt, David Wenham, and Emily Watson
Nick Cave, the iconic Australian musician, marks his debut as a solo screenwriter with an intense, superbly crafted Australian western and journey through the mythology of the bush frontier. The Burns brothers' gang–Arthur, Charlie, and 14 year-old Mikey–are allegedly responsible for the savage rape and murder of a settler family. After capturing two of them, British trooper Captain Stanley offers Charlie a proposition: young Mikey will hang on Christmas day unless Charlie finds and kills Arthur, his older brother and leader of the gang. What follows is a mythic exploration of colonization, racism, rituals of violence, and familial bonds in this compelling, and at times astonishingly violent, story that re-energizes the genre. The Proposition boasts full-bore performances by Guy Pearce and Ray Winstone. Pearce gives Charlie a stillness and grave introspection overlaid with feral cunning, while Winstone, as Stanley, rumbles with a tempered intensity as only he can. Equally impressive is the wild barrenness of the terrain; with its shimmering heat, flies, dust, and dead trees against a vast, empty sky, it becomes an integral character in itself. Despite its savagery, The Proposition is a superbly poetic and original film, showcasing the immense talents of director John Hillcoat in a graphic, haunting story of brotherly love, betrayal and redemption, and the consequence of violence.
U.S.A., 2005, 84 Minutes, color
Director: Jeremy Passmore, Hal Haberman
Screenwriter: Hal Haberman, Jeremy Passmore
Cast : Michael Rapaport, Paul Blackthorne, Josh Peck, Robert Baker, Jack Kehler, Alexandra Holden, Ian Bohen
The life of parking-enforcement officer Les Franken is so remarkably unremarkable that it barely qualifies as quiet desperation. He eats lunch alone in a park, dinner alone at home, and reads superhero comics procured from his only friends, a pair of stoners who run a comic-book store. Hoping that it may make him feel...different, Les enrolls in a clinical trial for antidepressant pills that do indeed give him a lift. Literally. They give him special powers. While his doctor insists it's merely an adverse psychological reaction, Les packs in his meter-maid uniform and sets out to harness his new superpowers. Getting great mileage out of their low-budget aesthetic, filmmakers Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore offer a thoroughly refreshing perspective on superheroes. With a spare style and minimalist score, they've found virtue in their limitations and fashioned an otherworldly landscape with one foot in reality and the other in allegory. Michael Rapaport so fully embodies Les's desire for empowerment that he actually brings Special much closer to the spirit of early comic-book superheroes (marginalized men expressing fantasies of strength) than the studio films we see. Special is about loneliness and insecurity, and people encumbered by self-doubt. It's a subtle, philosophical comedy that gets its special powers from clever filmmaking.
OFF THE BLACK
U.S.A., 2005, 90 Minutes, color
Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenwriter: James Ponsoldt
Cast : Nick Nolte, Trevor Morgan, Rosemarie DeWitt, Sonia Feigelson, Sally Kirkland, Timothy Hutton
Ray is a mess. Instead of being a baseball player, he's an aging high school umpire. Instead of being married, he's divorced. Instead of having a real relationship with his son, he makes grandiose video diaries to send him. Instead of being sober and fearless, he's drunk and scared and alone. Ray is the stuttering heart and soul of Off the Black, James Ponsoldt's fearless portrait of small-town lives in crisis, and acclaimed actor Nick Nolte utterly devastates us in the raging lead performance. Coaxing Ray's self-discoveries is the chance friendship he forces on troubled teen David, a local pitcher who can't refuse Ray's demands after being caught vandalizing the umpire's house. Ray's alcoholic and urgent needs escalate until he strikes a deal to wash the slate clean with one last request–David must go to Ray's fortieth high school reunion and pretend to be his son. Perceptions and realities then collide as the men find in each other the surrogate companionship obviously missing from their daily lives. Off the Black develops patiently and rewardingly, pulling us deeper into the inner lives of its characters with each redemptive discovery, and exploring what it means to be a son, a father, a man...sometimes all at once.
LA TRAGEDIA DE MACARIO
U.S.A., 2005, 71 Minutes, color
Director: Pablo Véliz
Screenwriter: Pablo Véliz
Cast : Rogelio Ramos, Milicent Figueroa, Tina Rodriguez, Victor Agustin, Juanita Castro, Allan Horwath
When his native town of Sabinas Hidalgo can no longer provide much more than nightly beans and tortillas, Mexican peasant worker Macario finds himself drawn uncontrollably to thoughts of crossing the border to find work and a more dignified life for his wife. When his struggles worsen, he can no longer wait, so Macario and his best friend set out on the dangerous journey north to Estados Unidos, guided by faith, determination, and a watchful holy eye. But even divine intervention cannot save Macario from the fate implied in the film's title, and tragedy inevitably arrives. First-time filmmaker Pablo Véliz orchestrates the magical realism of La Tragedia de Macario with a beautiful eye and ear for the inner lives of the truly desperate, while exploring the spirituality they must survive on in place of real food. Using a stylized narrative score, Véliz penetrates easily into his character's hearts, unleashing an exciting sense of purpose. Along with a talented cast, he creates a film far more accomplished than his youth and modest budget would suggest possible. Inspired in part by the 2003 events in Victoria, Texas–the worst immigrant tragedy in American history–La Tragedia de Macario explores the complexities of home, love, and spirit with moving results.
THANK YOU FOR SMOKING
U.S.A., 2005, 120 Minutes, color
Director: Jason Reitman
Screenwriter: Jason Reitman, based on the novel by Christopher Buckley
Cast : Aaron Eckhart, Maria Bello, Adam Brody, Sam Elliott, Rob Lowe, William H. Macy
The last time he was at Sundance, we jokingly told Jason Reitman, "After three short films, you can only return with a feature." Ask, and you shall receive. Thank You for Smoking is not only hilarious, but it also demonstrates a confident filmmaking maturity that should skyrocket a long career. Thank You for Smoking is nearly perfect in three ways: First–premise. Nick Naylor, fast-thinking master of media manipulation, is tapped to turn the tide of animosity away from the tobacco industry. Nick can talk his way in or out of anything, but this time he pulls out the big gun–Hollywood Second–pace. Reitman's script is crisp and tight. Every joke and sight gag lands a punch. This hard-hitting satire takes us right to the edge but never over. Setups take place in real-world situations just close enough to the truth to scare us into laughter. Third–casting. The whole ensemble, led by Aaron Eckhart with his smug good looks, could not be better. Maria Bello's liquor lobbiest and David Koechner's gun advocate complete the mod squad of merchants-of-death who meet each week to brag about the spin they have unleashed. Film number four is a charm for Reitman, who achieves the near impossible: making us think and laugh at the same time.
New Zealand, 2005, 94 Minutes, color
Director: Toa Fraser
Screenwriter: Toa Fraser
Cast : Ruby Dee, Tuva Novotny, Mia Blake, Taungaroa Emile
Nanna Maria dreams of her youth in the islands of Fiji with nostalgia, remembering sunny days filled with family and celebration. Her memories may be glowing, but Nanna's house, No. 2, is far from it these days. The front door was sealed in Fijian tradition after the death of her husband, and family members have sunk deeply into their daily lives in urban New Zealand, too busy to gather or share in a family moment. But Nanna Maria decides she wants a party thrown in traditional Fijian fashion, with roasted pig, kava, music, and laughter abounding, so she can name her successor as head of the family. The only problem is that some members of the family are too busy, many have never roasted a pig, and others simply aren't speaking to one another. Accomplished playwright Toa Fraser brings his stage play to life in his directorial debut with stylized storytelling and a camera that glides effortlessly through the peaks and valleys of the story. He gives us an effectively emotional portrait of a family trying to pull itself together as it's actually falling apart. Veteran actress Ruby Dee boldly leads a stellar ensemble cast, and even with the frays and loose ends of familial drama exposed, the love and resilience of this family are still inspiring.
LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN
U.S.A., 2006, 104 Minutes, color
Director: Paul McGuigan
Screenwriter: Jason Smilovic
Cast : Bruce Willis, Josh Hartnett, Sir Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Lucy Liu
It all starts with a horse. Then an innocent man is mistaken for someone who owes money to a bookie. And when Mr. Goodkat (Bruce Willis), the most notorious assassin around, blows into town, everyone knows something big is about to burst. But what? Paul McGuigan's delectable murder mystery, Lucky Number Slevin, is a fun, fast-paced thoroughbred of a thriller that is a sheer delight to track. Try and crack it, if you can! Slevin (Josh Hartnett) comes to New York to visit his friend Nick, but finds his apartment empty. "I think Nick is in trouble," says Lindsey (Lucy Liu), his neighbor. This becomes clear to Slevin when he opens the door expecting to see cute little Lindsey and gets a henchman's knuckles instead. The boss (Morgan Freeman, and later Ben Kingsley) wants to see Nick, and Slevin can't prove he's not Nick because his pocket got picked that morning. Soon he finds himself in the middle of a high-profile murder being plotted by one of New York's biggest crime bosses. Exactly what kind of trouble is Nick in? McGuigan has crafted a densely stylish film noir from Jason Smilovic's swift, tight, and furious script. Lucky Number Slevin's sly humor leaves you smiling as you contemplate the beauty of a Kansas City shuffle.
CLEAR CUT: THE STORY OF PHILOMATH, OREGON
U.S.A., 2005, 72 Minutes, color
Director: Peter Richardson
Philomath, Oregon, is a small timber town with a very generous benefactor. The Clemens family, owing their success to the local logging industry, decided to give back to their community by offering college scholarships to all graduates of the local high school. For more than 40 years, they provided thousands of students with free college tuition–no strings attached. As the fading lumber industry gave way to new high-tech industries, Philomath found itself in flux, with old and new ways of life dividing residents. As one of the descendants in charge of the Clemens Foundation, Steve Lowther was determined to change what he felt was a "politically correct" (read "antilogging") curriculum and lack of morals among students. He pressed the school board to stop the liberal bias that was allegedly overrunning the school's administration. What unfurled was a drag-out fight–under intense national media scrutiny–involving the future of the foundation, with the students caught in the middle. While the action takes place in Philomath, the film's ultimate strength is the way it serves as a microcosm for the vast ideological divisions within our country. Director Peter Richardson has crafted a seamless portrait of a clash of differing values. With those on both sides of the issue well represented, Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon is a triumphant piece of filmmaking.
U.S.A., 2005, 89 Minutes, color
Cast : Hadjii, Kaira Whitehead, Tyler Craig, Carlos Davis, Patt Brown, David "Nick" Lewis
Somebodies takes a lighthearted jab at what it is to be young, carefree, and reckless in America from a distinctly fresh perspective. Scottie, a 22-year-old African American college student, is just living life as it comes; he and his roommates are more than happy to live up to the standards of typical college students–partying, women, and flat-out fun. But eventually, Scottie's nonchalant approach toward life, combined with his love of a good time and appreciation of a "cold one," lands him in some hot water. Encircled by a wild group of friends, an eccentric love interest, off-the-wall family members, convicts, and a fire-and-brimstone preacher, Scottie's road to recovery ultimately becomes a hilarious journey of self-discovery. And the Lord said, "Let there be Hadjii." ...Can I get a hallelujah? From the alt-rock hotbed of Athens, Georgia, comes an invigorating new comedic voice in independent film. Triple-threat writer/director/actor Hadjii uses the distinct flavor of the South and an immensely talented supporting cast to create memorable characters and lines that will leave you laughing long after the film ends. By portraying young black men who aren't thugs or Mr. Nice Guys, he infuses the film with insightful perspectives on people who are living ordinary lives as they try to make sense of the senselessness that is America today.
Movies we're going to try to get stand by seating for...
United Kingdom, 2005, 107 Minutes, color
Director: Julian Jarrold
Screenwriter: Tim Firth, Geoffe Dean
Cast : Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sarah-Jane Potts, Jemima Rooper, Nick Frost, Linda Bassett
With the sudden death of his father, Charlie Price takes up the reins of the family's Northampton shoe factory. But Charlie quickly discovers it is not business as usual, and without new shoe orders, bankruptcy is imminent. As if in a dream, enter Lola, fresh from London and larger than life: sexy, sassy, cabaret-singing man in a dress. These two unlikely friends become allies in a plan that will change the future of the factory and its workers, and the hearts and minds of anyone who crosses their path. Kinky Boots is a whimsical romp spotlighting the very best in British cinema, including an achingly charming performance by Joel Edgerton and a spectacular reintroduction to American audiences of Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things). Julian Jarrold pulls off an auspicious directorial debut by creating a glittering gift of a film about human dignity and compassion. From pub to factory, England to the big shoe show in Milan, two themes ring through: There is much to learn from the people you least expect can teach you; and in life, it is usually best to accept who you are as well as who you are not. Just in case you haven't figured it out, these kinky boots are made for walking.
FRIENDS WITH MONEY
U.S.A., 2005, 88 Minutes, color
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Screenwriter: Nicole Holofcener
Cast : Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Jason Isaacs, Scott Caan
Friends with Money portrays a world we may think we know all too well: the liberal, professional, sophisticated lives of women and their husbands on the west side of Los Angeles. But director Nicole Holofcener's depiction is so authentic and detailed, so exact and honest, that it's like seeing something familiar for the first time. And the film is constructed with a discerning eye and a tone that's both loving and funny, its characters are fully fleshed out by a great ensemble cast, and it boasts a witty, carefully crafted script. Jennifer Aniston, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack, and Catherine Keener are a quartet of lifelong friends; three of them have achieved a certain level of success and financial comfort and now enjoy lives that focus around their husbands and offspring, friends, and various social activities. Olivia (Aniston), however, faces a different dilemma: because she recently quit her job and is cleaning houses in the interim, she is unclear about her future and even the state of her longtime friendships. As all their worlds evolve and then fracture, their comfortable milieu may be facing real changes. Like a great Russian playwright, Holofcener flawlessly addresses the social and the personal, class and gender, and the frustrating aspects of people's day-to-day lifestyles, especially the uniqueness of each couple's relationship. Simply put, this is marvelous filmmaking and a pleasure to watch. Friends with Money's voices and vision will remain with us long after the film ends.
Possible back ups if the stand by seating doesn't work out...
France, 2005, 93 Minutes, b/w
Director: Gela Babluani
Screenwriter: Gela Babluani
Cast : Georges Babluani, Aurélien Recoing, Pascal Bongard, Fred Ulysse, Nicolas Pignon, Vania Vilers
A most unlikely protagonist, Sébastien is 20 years old with nothing going on in his life except a willingness to follow the rules. But when a serendipitous chain of events hands him a train ticket and set of instructions, clearly intended for someone else, he uncharacteristically decides to accept the challenge. What begins as a lark soon delivers him like an innocent lamb to the slaughter. Sébastien finds himself at the very brink of human decency, a place whose only inhabitants are the underbelly of society. Yet there is no turning back for our young hero; he must forge on with only two tools for survival: his luck and his wits. Ironically, his number may be up, and in this case, it's 13. Director Géla Babluani's hand is firmly at the throttle of this neo-noir thriller that may instantly rise to the rank of cult classic. Borrowing from cinematic traditions (Hitchcock is the first), 13 Tzameti perfectly combines story and style to produce an explosive effect. It is superbly crafted with finely honed acting and writing, and the elegant black-and-white cinematography creates just the right atmosphere. This film's budget may be small, but its payoff is large. 13 Tzameti is a satisfying adventure, building slowly, drawing us in, and ending with a white-knuckle ride into the surreal.
Australia, 2005, 52 Minutes, color
Director: Tony Krawitz
Screenwriter: Tony Krawitz
Cast : Ewen Leslie, Naomi Wilson, Saskia Burmeister, Leah Vandenburg, Nicholas Eadie, Chris Haywood
The first frames of Jewboy linger in extreme close-up on the fingernails and waxen limbs of a corpse, and on the grieving faces of the men who carefully wash it clean, signaling a world infused with exacting ritual and insular collectivity. A Hasidic rabbi has died, and his son, Yuri, a religious student in Jerusalem, has come home to Sydney to bury him. The community elders expect him to resume seminary and complete his orthodox rabbinical training, but Yuri's grief ignites a personal rebellion–a compulsion to contest tradition and step beyond its sacred threshold. Despondent, hostile, yet innocently curious about profane life, he lands a job as a taxi driver, spurns his grandmother by moving to his own place, and even pursues a beautiful, non-Jewish coworker–albeit clumsily. Yet in each of these new and transgressive situations, an ingrained duty to his faith subtly tugs at Yuri's conscience, creating palpable inner turmoil. Immensely talented first-time feature director Tony Krawitz wields a restless camera that intimately mirrors Yuri's anxious longing, never shying from the emotional intensity of his characters. He keenly maximizes every moment, relishing the meaning and sensuality latent in tiny gestures and silent glances. Newcomer Ewen Leslie is spellbinding as a torturously restrained soul who–like young people everywhere–defiantly turns his back on the familiar to find himself.
U.S.A., 2005, 98 Minutes, color & b/w
Director: Paul Rachman
Screenwriter: Steven Blush
Generally unheralded at the time, the early '80s hardcore punk rock scene gave birth to much of the rock music and culture that followed. There would be no Nirvana, Beastie Boys, or Red Hot Chili Peppers were it not for hardcore pioneers such as Black Flag, Bad Brains, and Minor Threat. Hardcore was more than music; it was a social movement created by Reagan-era misfit kids. The participants constituted a tribe unto themselves–some found a voice, others escaped in the hard-edged music; some sought a better world, others were just angry and wanted to raise hell. American Hardcore traces this lost subculture from its early roots to its extinction. Based on Steven Blush's book of the same name, American Hardcore takes the audience on a frenzied joyride through the movement and across the country, showing the various regional incarnations, distinct in style but pulsing with the same frenetic energy and aggression. Director Paul Rachman brandishes phenomenal archival concert footage and interviews with many of the key players, letting them tell it like it was in their own words. The end result is an onslaught of sight and sound that captures the spirit of the bands and a movement that said a big "f–k you" to politicians, music labels, and anyone else who got in the way.