Love conquers all at Sundance

Just last night, I was writing about an assortment of ultra-dark, transgressive films that were getting a lot of ink at Sundance, but it seems the festival journey was in the mood for something a lot gentler. To be specific, a film in which true love poignantly meets its match in U.S. immigration laws has won the top prize at the festival.

The maker of “Like Crazy,” Drake Doremus, is apparently so guileless that he admitted to being partially inspired by “Paper Heart,” a perfectly okay and good-natured little movie that was hated out of all proportion to its attributes by many festival-going sophisticates and duly stomped upon. I already like the guy. Female lead, Felicity Jones, won a special jury prize for her performance. Leading guy Anton Yelchin will just have to be happy that he’s Lt. Pavel Chekhov, damnit.

I don’t have a trailer to show you, but I did dig up this very brief clip in which almost nothing happens except unbelievable romantic tension.

Indiewire has a complete write-up of the awards and a list of winners.

  

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It’s the bloody end of week movie news dump

As this year’s apparently rather upbeat and successful Sundance winds down, this is just a sampling of some of the movie news stories that have been making the rounds.

* There’s a constant stream of stories about indie films being acquired by studios — like, say, artist Miranda July’s “The Future” and the gentle Paul Rudd comedy, “My Idiot Brother.” Most of these sound like more or less traditional “Sundance” films (docs, small relationship-centric dramas and comedies). At the other extreme, there’s also been an undercurrent of transgression in Park City this year as three films are said to be pushing the envelope regarding extreme graphic violence and gore/blood.

“I Saw the Devil” doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time though it’s twisted revenge premise has a kind of sick cleverness to. If this movie really is as gory as people say, I don’t quite get the comparisons to “Oldboy,” which was often unpleasant and, I suppose, somewhat shocking and definitely brutal in places, but not really particularly gory — I don’t think I closed my eyes once and I’m, you know, me.

oldboy

“The Woman,” is a film about a misogynist torturer who eventually gets his that has really divided viewers and caused one gentleman to completely flip out at a screening. Reading Drew McWeeney’s extremely positive review and description of the utterly insane showing, setting aside the issue of the treatment of women onscreen, I sort of fail to see the point of the exercise. Okay, he was traumatized by the movie. Why is that a good thing? Gore and violence aside, in my view, art and that kind trauma may actually be antithetical because it doesn’t allow you any room of your own in which to think. We could maybe use a little more of Bertolt Brecht’s “alienation effect” and a little bit less total immersion cinema these days.

On a somewhat less serious tack, the most popular Sundance premiere with the fanboy set by far is the long ballyhoed “Hobo With a Shotgun,” in which the gore and brutality is mostly, but perhaps not entirely, played for laughs in what I understand is deliberately cheesy grindhouse style. Even so, it sure sounds as if the envelope may be pushed too far for this extreme-gore-phobe, funny or not

Actually, there’s always the matter of festival hype to consider with all of these films. Something about the air in Park City sometimes makes people exaggerate how violent/gorey/scary/upsetting movies are. Remember when “Blair Witch” was the scariest movie of all time?

* Speaking of “Oldboy” director, Chan-wook Park, Mia Wasikowska is in talks to star in his first U.S. film, “Stoker.”

* Yes, the concept that men and women think somewhat differently will be entirely fresh concept for a romantic comedy, I can hardly wait.

* Mel Gibson’s DVD of his new film, “The Beaver” was stolen. Sometimes, the jokes really do all but write themselves.

* A.J. Schnack has some very solid explanations of why “Waiting for Superman” wasn’t nominated and also wasn’t “snubbed” by Oscar.

* Seth Rogen’s going to make a comedy road movie with Barbara Streisand as his mom? It really seems to be happening.

* Another “Hobbit” delay, but a short one caused by a nasty perforated ulcer for Peter Jackson, who surely has had one hell of a year.

  

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Frozen

An audience favorite at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Adam Green’s “Frozen” will likely elicit one of two reactions: nail-biting suspense or unintentional laughter. It all depends on how much you buy into the movie, because while it’s a pretty frightening concept, it relies too often on absurd variables and bad decisions from its characters to be effective. The story is simple: a trio of skiers (Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore and Emma Bell) are stranded on a chairlift and forced to choose between a potentially fatal escape and freezing to death. And since it’s Sunday night and the ski resort doesn’t open again until Friday, they don’t have the option of waiting around for rescue.

So what would you do? That’s the big question, because whether you like the movie or not, “Frozen” will almost always lead to a conversation about what you might have done differently in order to survive. One of the biggest problems with the film, however, is that none of it feels very real. While I’m willing to give any horror thriller a certain amount of freedom to be impractical (it’s the nature of the genre), “Frozen” is too ridiculous at times. The characters constantly complain about the cold weather and the likelihood of getting frostbite, and yet they never once consider zipping up their jackets for more protection. (Because then we wouldn’t be able to see their pretty faces.) And don’t get me started on the pack of wolves that just happen to be roaming around a public ski resort. It’s stuff like this that sucks the tension right out of the movie, and it’s ultimately what keeps “Frozen” from being as terrifying as its inventive premise promises.

Click to buy “Frozen”

  

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Mary and Max

Falling somewhere between Nick Parker’s charming “Wallace and Gromit” shorts and Tim Burton’s more adult stop-motion films, the 2009 Sundance hit “Mary and Max” is a hilarious and poignant tale about two very different people from separate sides of the world. Eight-year-old Mary Daisy Dinkle (voiced as a child by Bethany Whitmore and as an adult by Toni Collette) has no friends in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia, so one day she randomly selects a name out of the United States phonebook and writes them a letter to ask where babies come from.

That person is Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a 44-year-old overweight New Yorker who also has no friends apart from the imaginary one he created as a kid. Against his better judgment, Max decides to answer Mary’s question, thus jumpstarting a 20-year long pen-pal friendship that explores everything from love, religion, and even mental illness. Though the film is told in a storybook manner with narration by Barry Humphries, “Mary and Max” has some surprisingly mature messages at its core. Mary may only be a child, but that doesn’t stop Max from speaking bluntly, which as we later learn is a result of his Asperger’s Syndrome. Pretty heavy stuff for Claymation, but thanks to a wonderful script by director Adam Elliot and key performances from Whitmore and an unrecognizable Hoffman, this is one animated film that every adult fan of Pixar should rush out and see.

Click to buy “Mary and Max”

  

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Trailer time — “The Killer Inside Me” (updated)

It’s a bit glib, but it’s fairly safe to say that Jim Thompson was probably the most hard-boiled among the better known hard-boiled writers of the mid 20th century. The new film version of his best known novel proved his work still has the capacity to shock thirty-three years after his death. At Sundance and elsewhere, “The Killer Inside Me,” directed by the very prolific Michael Winterbottom (“A Mighty Heart,” “The Road to Guantanamo”), inspired praise and walks out, particularly for some reportedly extremely rough and bloody scenes of violence perpetrated by Casey Affleck as the brutally sociopathic lead character against costars Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. Being green band, this trailer merely implies the brutality, of course, but I don’t think it hides from it, either. This really does look like a likely career breakthrough role for Affleck.

This is far from the first time Thompson’s work has been on the screen. Stanley Kubrick was famously impressed with The Killer Inside Me, which came out in 1952. Thompson wound up working on two Kubrick classics, “The Killing” and “Paths of Glory,” but his cult fame had to wait until after his death  in 1977, the year after the first film version of The Killer Inside Me was released to not much interest.

This time, though, that’s looking to be a very different story. Other notable Thompson adaptations include Stephen Frears’ memorable “The Grifters” with John Cusack, Angelica Huston, and Annette Bening from 1990, “The Getaway” (filmed by Sam Peckinpah in 1972 and Roger Donaldson in 1994), and Betrand Tavernier’s haunting 1981 “Coup de Torchon.” None of those were what you’d call family films, but it’s safe to say that this will be by far the most controversial of the bunch.

UPDATE: I just stumbled over an earlier European trailer which is really interesting and a bit more blackly comic. It’s courtesy of a 5/5/10 post made by Simon Dang at the Playlist. Dang also offers that the he thinks the violence has been played up perhaps a bit more than is the case — and this wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened. In any event, the other trailer is after the flip.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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