Wednesday, January 19, 2011

There and Back Again - Sundance 2011

I have made it to Park City another year! I am so giddy that I just keep walking around exclaiming "I'm so excited!" After unpacking my bags, registering for my credentials and getting hit by a few snowballs, it feels good to be back. This is my third year at Sundance and I have to say that it just keeps getting more "exciting."

This will be my first year with Industry Credentials at Sundance. I believe that I have explained this before with Toronto, but basically industry is given completely different screening schedule from the public, in a different set of theaters. It is nice being that you do not have to deal with lines or the public and you are with only press and industry folks. Thinking about it, I am a little sad that I will be removed from the hub-bub of Main St. and the packed buses of people running from theater to theater, but really I am excited to be among those that are serious about screening films.

Looking at my schedule today I let out a sigh, knowing that I will have to find a way to sustain my energy throughout the day, with 6 to 7 films to screen. All of which I am so excited to see for different reasons, but it is definitely a learned skill to sit through more than 3 films. In fact, I think the average viewer has a hard time with a double-feature. But I have learned some tricks and ways to keep concentrated, focused and still be just as entertained and engaged in my first film of the day as my last.

Another exciting change this year- a team of programmers from the Newport Beach Film Festival got to come out to Park City. There are seven of us here, a street-team of awesomeness, really. Three of us are tackling Sundance, two at Slamdance and two on events. Our cabin sleeps all of us comfortably, complete with a pool table, board games and an outdoor jacuzzi. I even get to stay on the bottom bed of bunk-beds...something that I have not experienced since I was eight.

Tonight we are going to catch one of the first Industry screenings and my day starts at 9am in the morning. Be on the lookout for some quick picks, favorites and mini-reviews of what I see!

Sundance 2011, here I come.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Last day at TIFF (Day 8)

First, I would like to say that yes, it is true that Joaquin Phoenix from I'M STILL HERE was acting and that it is not a real documentary. Funny how this is all of a sudden leaked. Well, I will be the first to admit that they had me fooled. Even the "home video" footage in the beginning and end of the film is fabricated. Of course, this all happens to come out now, a few days before the next scheduled David Letterman appearance by Phoenix. Casey Affleck also has been holding off on this piece of information until today, saying that he never meant it to be a hoax. Bullshit.

There are two things wrong with this. 1) Why release this now? Why not hold off a little bit longer so that all audiences can experience the film the way the I did- with an uneasy sense of reality and doubt? 2) What are the critics going to say? We have all been duped and when you sit back to think about why would they even need to do something like this and your thoughts don't go that deep; because this is all a gimmick.

Read the full article in the NY Times HERE.

And for my last day of screening, I saw 4 films and I am packed up and ready to leave early tomorrow morning. It has been such a dream this week. I could not have asked for anything better. I hope to be back at Toronto next year.

NEDS (Peter Mullan) UK: NEDS stands for non-educated delinquents and these young boys that become hedonistic gang-members in their small town really are delinquents. The film builds nicely around a young, promising boy who is extremely smart and his brother is a well known and respected leader of one of the local gangs. Sometime in the span of a summer all the boys turn to fighting and even killing. The film begins with a lot of potential but loses its pacing and ultimately the point by the end of the film. This writer/director should have stuck to just one job and not both.


L'AMOUR FOU (Pierre Thoretton) France: This is a wonderful documentary on Yves St Laurent and his emipre of fashion that he built but ultimately the art collection and houses that he lived in. Mainly told from the prospective of his lover of 50 years, it showcases the auction where all of his major art was sold. The film was good but could have been great if more time was spent on discussing the art that he owned and more of the fashion trends that made him an icon.


!WOMEN ART REVOLUTION- A SECRET HISTORY (Lynn Hershman Leeson) US : Although slightly amateur, this documentary about feminist art was compelling and inspiring. There are so many interesting interviews, clips and photos of artwork from the late 60s through the 90s. We don't often think about the lack of female artists in galleries, media or schooling and this film is trying to give a voice back to the female artist.


I SAW THE DEVIL (Kim Jee-Woon) South Korea: This film is simply about revenge. Revenge in the craziest, bloodiest and most consuming way. It is bloody, gruesome and at times I was holding onto the seat next to me. The movie begins with a brutal murder of a young woman. Her husband then sets off to find and slowly torture the serial killer that did this. Done is ways that Quentin Tarantino would be proud, this film never gives the viewer a break and what is so fun about it, is that you don't want one.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TIFF2010: Day 7

Today was a wonderful day of screening but that is because I started with BLACK SWAN. I know that it will be released before our film festival but I simply needed to treat myself.

And now that I think about it, after this...only one more day to go (tear).

BLACK SWAN (Darren Aronofsky) US: Now, I am not ready to fully review this film tonight so I will only say that it is wonderful. Aronofsky is a truly talented filmmaker and with this film he has taken a simple idea, one that is found in many films and made it his own. Natalie Portman gives a breathtaking performance as Nina, who has been recently chosen to play the Swan Queen and the Black Swan in the ballet production of Swan Lake. From the moment that she has to embody both good and evil roles the film plays with your sense of perspective, understanding and expectations leaving you with a true experience.


*OKI'S MOVIE (Hong Sangsoo) South Korea
*22 OF MAY (Koen Mortier) Belgium
* AS IF I AM NOT THERE (Juanita Wilson) Ireland/Macedonia/Sweden

*I began screening all three of these films and after giving them about 20 minutes each I could no longer continue. Therefore I do not feel comfortable grading them, when I did not see them as a whole. I could go into more detail but I will spare you.

MAMMA GOGO (Fridrick Thor Fridriksson) Iceland: This movie had potential in the beginning but lost the lighthearted feeling that it tried to capture. GoGo is the mother of Christopher, who is a struggling local filmmaker who has lost all of his money. GoGo needs constant care as she begins to lose her memory and is becoming a danger to herself and the community. There are a few funny moments between the family as they figure out what to do with each other but that's it! The film does not develop much further, except that GoGo starts to be visited by her dead husband and she runs away to be with him, END.


MOTHER OF ROCK, LILLIAN ROXON (Paul Clarke) Australia: This was a fascinating documentary on Australian music writer and columnist Lillian Roxon. She championed the music that grew out of the dirty streets of New York including Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Alice Cooper. Not only was she close with Andy Warhol and company but she had a knack for spotting new talent and recognizing the potential of rock and roll. Even if you have not heard of her (she is the author of Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia) if you are interested in any of the music to come out of NY in the 60s and early 70s you should catch this film.


NORWEGIAN WOOD (Tran Anh Hung) Japan: This film is based on the book with the same title. Now, I have not read the book but the movie is not worth catching. Although beautifully shot, the film fails to capture any of the main themes that must be in the novel. We are introduced to three best friends in their late teens, two of whom are dating, when one of them commits suicide. The two friends, Watanabe and Midori, deal with his death by leaving town and when they reconnect years later they fall "in love" with one another. Watanabe vows to love and protect Midori but she is haunted by her first love's death and can never love him back. It is really a sad story on love and love lost but NORWEGIAN WOOD relies on inaction instead of action and emotion is hard to capture without explanation.


I am sad that there is only one more day of screenings. I do not want to return but I am excited to continue screening, searching and writing about movies when I get home.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

TIFF2010: Day 6

Alright, this has to be a quick re-cap today because I have to be up early to see BLACK SWAN (I am giddy with excitement)!!! In between screenings today was the first time that I thought to myself that I have to come home on Friday. I am terribly sad that this all has to end and at the same time I have a new burst of energy to screen as much as I can. I will obviously let you know how the latter one goes.

Today was a bit of a light day, only 4 films but all rather interesting.

BLESSED EVENTS (Isabelle Stever) Germany: This was an interesting, simple film that somehow came together but still left a lot of questions unanswered. A guy and a girl hook up one night and the girl becomes pregnant. They decide to become a couple and have the child together. They are never very intimate and you never find out anything too personal therefore there are many things left unsaid that any displays of emotion are strange.


CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (Werner Herzog) US: Yes, Herzog tackled 3D and yes, it looked great (at times) but as a film it was strange, slow, sometimes informative and patch-worked. Herzog is given permission to enter into a cave in France that houses the oldest known cave paintings, dating back over 30,000 years. The use of 3D is so amazing at these points that it is truly awesome. Other times your eyes cannot adjust and it is blurry and you are unable to concentrate on the image on screen. As for content of the film, Herzog trails off and brings in some pretty interesting subjects for interviews. It is definitely worth seeing but just be prepared for how weird it is.


JOHN CARPENTER'S THE WARD (John Carpenter) US: John Carpenter is back with a new thriller that takes place in a mental institution. Kristen (Amber Heard) is taken in as a new mental patient after she is seen burning down a house. All of the other girls on her floor start disappearing and when she tries to get out, she finds out that there are some scary things happening in her ward. This movie is ridiculous in a gory, fun way. Enjoy it for its campy qualities and do not judge it for the flaws in story because it actually comes together in a very interesting way.


AFTERSHOCK (Feng Xiaogang) China: Talk about a tear-jerker; there was not a dry eye in the house after this one. A family is torn apart after a devastating earthquake in Tehjung, China in 1976. Here the mother, who has just lost her husband has to decide which of her children to save (the son or daughter) who are both caught under a slab of concrete. She chooses her son and must live with the guilt of her dead child and husband her whole life. At the same time, the daughter never passes away and is adopted months later by another family. Years go by as the brother and sister grow up, have children and begin their own families and yet you wonder if the family will ever reunite and if they can ever really be a family again. The production of this film was incredible and epic. It was a little long and really capitalized on the emotional journey of its characters, making it a very heavy drama.


More to come tomorrow!

Monday, September 13, 2010

TIFF2010: Day 5

By the end of my 4th film today my butt hurt. I walked out and started massaging my tailbone. I was actually afraid that I had sprained it from all of this sitting in tight spaces. I am noticing that I don't really fit in movie theaters very well. My legs are far too long to stay straight, they bump into the chair in front of me. For one film I am fine-I will sway my feet back and forth, cross one over the other and switch when one starts to fall asleep. I even do that move where I lean forward and watch about 20 minutes of the film with my elbows on my knees-I look like I am really into the film. But doing those moves four or five times a day starts to wear on the body and believe me, today I felt it. I might have to stretch before I get started tomorrow.

I got through 5 films today, making my total 21 films thus far. It is finally getting hard to remember what I had seen a few days ago so it is good that I am keeping track. I haven't even begun to assemble the "master" list of films and reviews from the other two people here from the festival screenings. I'll be sure to post that when I get home.

SILENT SOULS (Aleksei Fedorchenko) Russian: I went to see this film on a recommendation. I would have to agree that it was "good" but I should have asked for a little more information on why it was good. It looked good and flowed well, but it was a simple art-piece reminiscing about an old tribe in Russia. A man loses his wife and asks his friend to accompany him on a journey to give her a traditional burial, which includes burning and spreading the ashes into water. That's really all that happens with a few simple stories about the wife when she was alive. It was a nice film but for having a short running time it felt long, probably because there is something about a story that keeps the viewer entertained.


MONSTERS (Gareth Edwards) UK: This movie wants to be DISTRICT 9, but it falls short in so many ways and only comes close to its look-a-like that you ask yourself "why didn't I just watch DISTRICT 9?" Aliens have invaded the planet and the contamination zone is Northern Mexico. Our two characters must walk through the risky area to make it to the US and just so happens that the aliens are kept out by a giant wall. The illegal immigration agenda is so obvious but in case the audience did not catch on the male lead says something about how crazy it is to look at the US from the outside. The aliens are the best characters in the film and they and the entire production look amazing. I just have a problem with characters that state the obvious, over and over. For example, the female lead (who is engaged, but doesn't care for her husband) knows that they are traveling through an alien-infested area and when they run into these other creatures she actually asks questions like "what is that?" and "what are they doing here?"


THE PROMISE: THE MAKING OF DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN (Thom Zimmy) US: This documentary chronicles the making of the Boss' third record. You do not just have to like Springsteen to appreciate this film, in fact Bruce gives a lot of great insight into the obsessive, creative and dark places an artist must go to make a record. The film doesn't delve into anything too personal, just what was going on in the studio for the year that they were recording.


ROUTE IRISH (Ken Loach) UK: Ken Loach has proved again that he is a talented director. In his latest film he tackles the topical subject of the war in Iraq in this political thriller. Always one to glorify the middle-class, this is about two best friends who were contracted soldiers from the UK for Iraq. It begins with the funeral of one of the men, Frankie, who was killed in the line of duty but in a very suspicious way. His best friend Fergus then begins an investigation that leads to some interesting information and he takes it upon himself to find out who killed Frankie. Using the war as a backdrop, Loach seamlessly intertwines stock footage of wartime news clips with the film and creates a real feeling of chaos and despair. He also does not demonize the effects and terrible nature of war, with characters that are severely flawed and who realize that war is not humane so you cannot judge by normal standards. This was an intense, engaging and well made film.


BLAME (Michael Henry) Australia: Five prep school kids kidnap and plan to kill a piano teacher because they think that their friend committed suicide because of him. But then things go wrong. From the beginning of this film it is intense and very dramatic with suicide, murder and lies between friends. It it interesting how the students sway back and forth with their decision to kill the teacher or not. It is a dark first feature film from the director Henry and a film that is well acted and well executed but the end result is something sad and provides no catharsis being that teenagers have killed themselves and now teenagers want to kill.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

TIFF2010: Day 4

So I haven't fully hit my stride with the amount of films that I want to be viewing. I am finding that I have to pace myself properly if I want to get through 6 films a day. Believe this was not my day, being that I was up so late last night, so I only got to four films.

LOOK, STRANGER (Arielle Javitch): I don't really recall what I was expecting from this film, but it wasn't a lot and I was severely let down. Granted, I did view this early this morning, but thinking back on it, it is a minimalist film with two characters that never really describe what they are doing, where they are going and why. Whether or not I caught this film in the middle of the day I don't think that much would have changed in the story. We are introduced to a woman that is "trying to get home" (although we don't know where home is) and he helps her, until he gives up and leaves her in a place that is exactly how they started. Basically, just not good.


LAST NIGHT (Massy Tadjedin): The more that I think about this film, the more I realize how much that it stuck with me and I liked its premise, although sad. Joanna (Kira Knightley) and Michael (Sam Worthington) are a married couple that have dated since college. We are introduced to them at a party where Joanna sees her husband flirting with his colleague, played by Eva Mendez. After arguing that evening over potential infidelities the couple make-up and when Michael leaves on a business trip the next day with Mendez, Johanna runs into an old fling on the street who is only in town for one night, played by Guillaume Canet. What happens next is an evening between two couples, both cheating in their own way. One couple is far more interesting to watch than the other, being that Canett is magnetic and so charming around Knightley that you wonder how she could not be with him. But what is great about this film is that it begs to ask the question of which is worse, to cheat on someone because of physical attraction and lust for something new or to emotionally cheat by being in love with someone else?


WHAT'S WRONG WITH VIRGINIA (Dustin Lance Black): Dustin Lance Black won the Academy Award for best screenplay for MILK and WHAT'S WRONG WITH VIRGINIA is his first feature film with writer and director credits. Virginia, played by Jennifer Connelly, is the town freak; she sleeps around, is coughing up blood and has an interesting son who is trying to figure out his feelings towards women and God. Things get tense in the town when Virginia reveals that she is having the baby of the town Sheriff (Ed Harris) who is running for senator and married. This film is tough, being that there is a lot going on. It is layered with interesting feelings towards religion, age, marriage and love. It often tries to be funny and some moments really are, but the rest falls flat and becomes strange. Black is trying to take cues from David Lynch, but failing to minimize all of the ideas that are going on. Connelly saves this film with her wonderful performance as Virgina.


AMIGO (John Sayles): Unfortunately, this was simply a dud. I walked out after an hour and that was me being kind, compared to the rest of the industry audience. AMIGO is about American take-over of the Philippines and what happens to a town of people that must bow down to this occupation. The film felt inauthentic in style and costuming. The dialogue was cliche and painful and after an hour of this 2 hour film I decided that if it was unsure of its characters and of its conflict this far into it, it was not worth my time.


That's all today! Until tomorrow! (I can't believe that I am half way done...sigh)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

TIFF2010: Day 3

This one is going to have to be quick-not because I am too tired, but simply because the internet connection at the hotel is so sporadic right now, I am not sure when I will be able to post again.

I only got the 3 films today. That was not all my fault and timing just didn't work out for me. It was finally a day that I needed to relax and enjoy the city and get myself to an industry party. Not going to lie, it was fun, but probably because I needed a drink pretty badly and I ended up getting into a conversation that went from hypnotism to fake breasts to orgasms to relationships...gotta love Hollywood.

But of the films that I did see, I enjoyed them all and for different reasons.

LITTLE WHITE LIES (Guillaume Canet) France: This was such a pleasure to start my day with. This film follows around a group of friends who all take their annual summer vacation together after one of the members of their group gets in a serious car accident. Almost too slowly at times the film unravels secrets that affect the entire group. It boils slowly and methodically in a way that makes you laugh and cry by the end of the film, growing with these characters. It is beautiful and it doesn't hurt that the cast includes Marion Cotillard.


SUPER (James Gunn): Here comes the next interesting superhero movie. Take KICK-ASS and think more gritty. This film removes ALL of the fantastical elements of a superhero flick. It is sometimes grotesquely violent, but that it what is so charming about it. This is a "real" guy that is going into the streets and fighting crime, ultimately to get back his wife who was taken by a drug lord, so it gets pretty raw when his weapon is a wrench that he bashes skulls with. But at the same time, it fails to make these people easy to relate to, therefore it is hard to care. But it is funny, cute and worth a viewing.


GRIFF THE INVISIBLE (Leon Ford) Australia: This is a different perspective of the superhero, taken from inside the mind. What if you truly believed that you were a superhero and were fighting crime to help you community but it was all in your head? That is how Griff, a middle-aged, middle class guy who believes that he is special. That is until he meets Melody, who wants to help him save the world. This is a charming film that is done in such an interesting way that it must be seen. The way that events unfold and characters are developed is a very foreign technique and works wonderfully here.