Film writer Andy Spletzer reports from the Sundance Film Festival.
Everyone knows Park City during Sundance is a zoo, but that didn't prepare me to see an actual camel walking down the road while on my way to Main Street. The camel was surrounded by people holding film promo posters. I didn't see what movie they were promoting and I don't really care because I don't think animal abuse is a good way to promote a film. A camel in 20 degree weather? Come on!
Indie Star Sighting of the day: Sundance alum and Amazing Race runner Mike White sitting on a couch.
Opening-night party report: It's always fun watching LA folks in winter weather, all Ugg boots and open-toe shoes while nighttime temps drop into the single digits. The party itself was your typical film fest fete with a couple nice twists: bags of white chocolate popcorn everywhere, bourbon by Bulleit and beer by Stella Artois, DJ with a dance floor that was slow to fill up. (Side note: Speaking of Bulleit bourbon, I figured that with Utah being a conservative, anti-alcohol state that prices would be as high as the altitude here. Not so! Compare this to Washington's Costo-sponsored new liquor store prices: A fifth of Bulleit can be found on sale for $23. "Ah, but what about after taxes?" you ask. Then it's $25. Is it too late to repeal that Costco initiative, or have it declared unconstitutional?)
Enough of the zoo, let's get to the movies. Here's a few that I've seen:
This Is Martin Bonner
Seattle actor Paul Eenhoorn is the star of this lovely low-budget film, and he's been drawing great and worthy buzz for his performance. He's fantastic as a lonely man who'smoved to Reno for a job helping released prisoners transition back to society. It's a deceptively simple movie, but it's shot so well and the performances are so good that it works. It reminded me of Buffalo 66, not because of the characters but in how it was shot: deliberately observational with realism in the details. (Bonus points for the Carlos Reygadas-inspired, slow 360-degree pan.)
Who Is Dayani Chistal?
This documentary humanizes the plight of Central American and Mexican illegal immigrants, many of whom die after crossing our border. The title is taken from a tattoo found on a dead, otherwise anonymous body. The movie then follows three tracks: one about the difficulty of identifying that and every dead body they find; another about the history of that dead man; and a third where co-producer and Mexican heartthrob Gael GarcÍa Bernal retraces the steps of the immigrant from Hondouras to the American border. Weaving the three tracks together seamlessly, it's an excellent take on the issue of border crossings.
The murder of Dr. George Tiller left only four doctors who perform late-term abortions. After Tiller goes behind the scenes to interview these doctors, showing that abortion is never an easy choice for the mother or the doctor.
Part of the NEXT program of low-budget filmmaking (as is This Is Martin Bonner), A Teacher is about a teacher (surprise!) who becomes obsessed with the student with whom she's having sex. What's great about this story is that the filmmakers never explain why she's drawn to the young man. For him it's obviously an adventure, but for her it's part of a self-destructive downward spiral. It's fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking to watch her act like a schoolgirl around him when she could have so much more power in the relationship.
Don Jon's Addiction
Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed, and stars in this story about a New Jersey ladies man who is also addicted to porn. Think Jersey Shore meets Entourage. He can usually pick up whoever he wants at the club, until he sees Scarlett Johansson, who forces him to play a "long game" which starts with lunch and doesn't end with sex for weeks and weeks. But it's not until he meets Julianne Moore that he can see his porn addiction is getting in the way of true and meaningful sex/love. The actors chew the scenery, none as hungrily as Tony Danza as Gordon-Levitt's dad.
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