Sundance Film Festival Roundup 2008!!

Event Date January 17th - 27th, 2008
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SUNDANCE 2008 FILM FESTIVAL ROUNDUP!

 

Hi everyone,

 

Here’s the annual Sundance Film Festival Roundup, complete with my views and reviews on the films, the parties and events, the lounges, and the festival in general, for those who are interested, or weren’t able to make it there. I try to keep it real here, so you’ll not only hear about the great, happy moments (of which there were many!), but also my gripes, complaints, and sometimes outright whining. 🙂

 

I know, I know, it took a bit longer than usual to get the coverage out this year, but things have been more than a little hectic lately, between my 3 or 4 fulltime jobs of running the InfoList, producing films, writing and producing music, and helping out with the hugely successful Billboard Oscar Party at the Beverly Hilton, etc. – and I’d rather the coverage be a little later but be more complete.

 

As with every year, I had a truly wonderful time – met some really fascinating people, and got some great business done – and even got some skiing in to boot! Kudos to Sundance and Park City in general for being able to deal with the huge, instantaneous influx of what is something like 50,000 people that all converge on the little few-block area known as Main Street. I have heard unofficial reports that attendance may have been up to a third lower than expected, possibly due to the writers strike – from my own observations it did seem to be a little less crowded and hectic than last year (no complaints here!), though. So, given all that Park City has to contend with, even with my occasional whining and belly-aching on a few issues, just know that overall it’s always a great experience!

 

While on the surface, and even at its heart, Sundance is about the films and the filmmakers; even though there seems to be an ever-burgeoning prevalence of the “gifting suites” – and I must say the continual temptation of all the free stuff was indeed quite tempting, but I have made my own personal decision after this year to greatly reduce the amount of time I spend in the quest for swag, as it distracted me to the point of not only missing a number of screenings I wanted to catch, but also other events, parties, and opportunities to meet and mingle with like-minded filmmakers and other creative individuals. And will any of the free stuff make my life any better? Probably not, but it does at least give me some cool bragging rights… 🙂 Swag-bashing aside, for those who know where to look, there’s an entire sea (or should I say mountain?) of opportunities to meet, mingle, and network with old friends and new acquaintances, getting work done all the while having ridiculous amounts of fun at the plethora of parties, events, panels, lounges, and yes, even the gifting suites. It is a place where new dreams are born, and old dreams are realized.

 

While Sundance films usually run the gamut from “Wow, you’ve GOT to see this film!” to “good, but not great…” to “downright horrible” (at least to my tastes), the overall feel this year seemed to be a pretty steady stream of “good, but not great.” Nothing that made me want to grab you by the collar, shake you, and say, “You just HAVE to see this film!” – and the upside is that there was not much in the “downright horrible” category either (at least that I saw).

 

So, here’s the inside scoop on the films, the parties, and more:

 

THE FILMS:

 

PREMIERES:

 

HAMLET 2

Director and screenwriter Andy Fleming brought to the screen one of the true gems of the festival. Full of humor, wit, and heart, this film is sure to win audiences over not only because of the top notch writing and directing, but also because of the incredible comedic talents of British actor Steve Coogan. Coogan’s performance was not only uproariously funny, but full of depth and heart as well – we truly feel for the sad clown who in this story is a failed actor and soon-to-be failed drama teacher at a small town high school. In a last ditch effort to save the drama department and his job, he mounts an original production that is a sequel to Shakespeare’s classic tale, and in the process takes us on a journey with unexpected twists and delightful dialogue. The comedy is well balanced between campy sight gags, high level writing, and Coogan’s wonderful ability to make us laugh with simply the look on his face. While Shakespeare might not have anything to be worried about, I’m sure Fleming and Coogan will be making their own unique mark in the annals of comedic, heartful filmmaking.

 

THE GUITAR

The directorial debut of Amy Redford (yes, Robert’s daughter) is a film about life and values, and is a very solid first effort from a directorial perspective. Beautifully shot, the story is about a woman (wonderful performance by Saffron Burrows) who is diagnosed with cancer and finds she has only two months to live, so she completely ditches her old life, changing virtually everything. The film’s shortcomings come from the script itself, rather than the other elements (although I would argue that having a tight script is indeed a primary responsibility of the director) – the characters are underdeveloped and with limited motivations, and the arcs are either non-existent or feel contrived. The film should really have been titled “The Shopping Spree” – after moving into her new home, the plot consists of mostly buying one thing after another from department store catalogs as part of a self-indulgent spree to fill the empty space inside, with one of the items being a guitar, something she has always wanted to play. While a hotbed of opportunity for product placement (or should I say product integration), the story seems to focus a lot more on all the other stuff than the guitar, or the new delivery person-turned friends/lovers she makes along the way (wonderfully played by Isaach De Bankole, and the beautiful and talented up and comer Paz De La Huerta). Shifting the focus on her new relationships rather than the parade of products would have allowed the character development necessary to make this a truly top notch film. All in all, a solid directing job, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing Ms. Redford’s next foray into filmmaking.

 

IN BRUGES

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh in his feature debut, In Bruges is a delightful romp, and at the same time thoughtful and pointed. It is the story of two hitmen awaiting their next job while surrounded by the gothic, storybook setting of the medieval Flemish town of Bruges (pronounced broozsh, without the s – yes, I had been pronouncing it wrong all along as well…) Hit man Ray is portrayed by Colin Farrell, who gives a wonderfully multi-layered performance – from brazenly funny to thoughtful, tender, and dramatic – without missing a beat. Ray is a bit of a broken soul underneath the shiny veneer of quick wit, good looks and tough guy bravado. Brendan Gleeson gives an equally rich performance as Ken, whose pithiness is matched only by his thoughtfulness, and is the ballast around which Farrell bobs and weaves. It is their interaction, however, that causes them each to take a step back and truly look at themselves. In a kind of Seinfeld meets Tarantino sort of way, the clever and entertaining dialogue runs circles around itself in a way that has nothing yet everything to do with the story. Ralph Fiennes gives his usual top notch performance as the overly uptight bad guy, and the rest of the supporting cast more than pull their weight as well. The music score was, however, for me the downside of the film. While I’m used to hearing some very solid and top notch scores from composer Carter Burwell, the music cues in his score for In Bruges ranged from ineffective to downright inappropriate. In a film such as this, which continually dances the line between quite dark and in your face funny, the score is critical in bridging that gap – some of the reviews I’ve heard about this film included words like “disjointed,” and indeed the music score is the culprit in adding an uneven quality to an otherwise wonderful film. For an example of a film where the music score did a brilliant job of bridging really dark material and light comedy fare, one might want to check out Rolfe Kent’s score for Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt.” The music score aside, In Bruges is still both a delightful romp and a hard hitting drama, and more than worth a watch.

 

WHAT JUST HAPPENED

Aptly named, as that is indeed the question you ask yourself while exiting the theater – Academy Award-winning director/screenwriter/producer Barry Levinson has shown numerous times he can make films with heart, such as Rain Man, Good Morning Vietnam, The Natural, etc. With What Just Happened, however, he takes a bit of a new direction, which seems to be more of an anecdotal recollection of the craziness and insanity of his life (or rather screenwriter Art Linson‘s life) in the film business, rather than a well told, thoughtful story. The film is indeed hilariously funny, and the entire audience had belly laughs on more than more than a few occasions – what was great about it is that it deftly crosses the line between the people on the inside of the entertainment industry, who will get the jokes on a personal experiential level, and the general audience, who will still get the jokes and realize just how inane this whole thing we call showbiz really is. What the film lacked, though, was a meaningful plot, and anything even remotely alluding to character development. Robert DeNiro has definitely flexed his comedy muscles in his portrayal of Ben, the stereotypical Hollywood producer who puts career and glamour before everything meaningful in his life, including his two ex-wives and daughter. Ben’s character doesn’t seem to learn, grow, or evolve one iota, which ultimately distances the audience from him, and we have no emotional involvement with any of his trials and tribulations, disasters, and victories, however comical and entertaining they may be. Bruce Willis is wonderfully funny and has no bones about poking fun at himself and his larger than life persona (completely contrary to his reputation as being anything but a prima-donna), and equally great performances are created with the style and flair we can only expect from Sean Penn, John Turturro, Catherine Keener, and Stanley Tucci. While the film doesn’t really tell us anything that hasn’t been done to death already (what, Hollywood is all about money and hype, not integrity?!!), it at least does so with a stellar cast and heaping proportions of hysterics. If you’re looking for the usual heart and thoughtfulness of a typical “Barry Levinson” film, you may want to rent one of his typical Barry Levinson films; if you want a hysterical romp that gives a good indication on the true lunacy of the film business, then this film does it like no other.

 

THE YEAR OF GETTING TO KNOW US

Directed by Patrick Sisam, this is a film that, while relying on a number of overdone plot lines, still finds its voice and makes for a very entertaining ride. It is the story of Chris Rocket, an emotionally stunted writer who must return home to make peace with his father after a stroke leaves him comatose. While doing a great job in the lead role as Chris, Jimmy Fallon in person was as enthusiastic and as charming as a person could be, between jumping on his chair and doing sommersaults on the stage to an applauding audience after the well-received screening at Sundance… 🙂 While Tom Arnold simply has to appear in frame to make a film entertaining, he is indeed showing the deftness of his abilities in choosing to play a number of “not-so-nice” guys in his recent role choices, as opposed to the “always fun and friendly” type with which he has become almost synonymous, and his characterization of Tom Rocket is indeed the perfect jerk. Sharon Stone plays a wonderfully neurotic mother, and Lucy Liu does a terrific job of breathing life into the role of Chris’ girlfriend Anne, in what could have otherwise been a rather two-dimensional character. Illeana Douglas also gets kudos in a fun performance as the father’s girlfriend. Great editing between present day and Chris’ childhood (solid performance from Chase Ellison as the Young Chris) keep the story moving at a good pace, and give insight into Chris’ situation – your life is indeed made up of and defined by the people you are surrounded by. While the film doesn’t really break any new ground (and who says they need to, as long as you’re entertained, or otherwise inspired, evoked or provoked), it does indeed entertain, evoke, and possibly even provoke.

 

BE KIND, REWIND

Directed by Michel Gondry, this is a film with lots of heart, but very little brain. If you can get past one of the main premises of the film that Jerry (Jack Black) has his entire body become magnetized by an electrical shock that would have killed anyone else, and then is somehow miraculously cured by the ever loveable but not too smart Alma (Melonie Diaz), you might actually enjoy this sometimes hilarious, but frequently unintelligent, brainless, and dimwitted story of how a video store clerk erases all the videos in a video store, then together with the help of his friends re-create no-budget versions of classic films that begin to catch on and take the neighborhood by storm. Danny Glover is always good, and gives a warm and endearing performance as the kind, music loving video store owner whose financial troubles may cause him to lose the store. Jack Black is comically brilliant as buffoon video store clerk Jerry, and is limited only by the lameness of the script. Mos Def plays a good straight man to Black’s lunacy, and Melonie Diaz is utterly loveable and charming as Alma, the girl they find to help them with the kissing scene, and subsequently joins their filmmaking team. At the lounge for the film, everyone was asking us if we wanted stuff that was “Sweded,” a term coined in the film, which we had no idea a the time what they were talking about (we hadn’t seen the film yet) – I won’t begin to try to define it here, you’ll have to see the film to understand the true meaning of the term. And while there really isn’t enough space in this column to cover the plethora of problems with the script, but I’ll just say that if you can turn your prefrontal cortex off for awhile, there are a number of truly fun, memorable moments in the film, and heartfelt performances to boot, and you just might leave the theater with a smile on your face after all.

 

DRAMATIC COMPETITION:

 

AUGUST

Previously at Sundance in 2002 with XX/XY, director Austin Chick returns this year with August, a sophisticated tale set against the dot-com era from boom to bust (all 15 minutes of it), which becomes even more relevant given today’s semi-boom of social networking sites. Josh Harnett strays from his normal nice-guy roles in portraying our anti-hero, the cocky, arrogant, and almost likeable Tom Sterling. Tom’s brother Josh (Adam Scott) has created the technology that will take the internet by storm – the company is called LandShark, truly a great name for an internet company (do the SNL writers get any credit for this? 🙂 Of course, their parent company would have to be called “Plumber” or “Telegram” – but I digress. The script purposely (and annoyingly) never quite says exactly what it is the company does, and some of the film’s characters even ask the question point blank. The closest we get to knowing is when Tom so cleverly puts it, “We’re not the vehicle, we’re the road.” While Josh is content to stay in the background, Tom is the slick frontman, wheeling and dealing their company into what could amount to billions, at least on paper, anyway. When the bottom starts to fall out of the market and the flawed numbers in their business model eek their way out, their accounts become frozen, and things start to unravel from there. Even Tom’s arrogant bravado can’t save them. David Bowie makes a quick yet memorable appearance as an old-school tycoon. While the script is clever and well put together, I think the film would have been better served and a more emotionally engaging journey by concentrating more on the relationship between the brothers, and less on the intricate plot points, which would have been the fuel necessary to take this from being a good film to being a great one.

 

BOTTLE SHOCK

Based on the real life events which led to California wines taking on and beating French wines for the first time in history at a major French wine tasting contest (with a good amount of fiction thrown in for good measure), Randall Miller brings an enjoyable crowd-pleaser that will unavoidably be compared to Sideways. While it may not have quite the sophistication and nuance that made Sideways an instant classic, Bottle Shock has more than it’s share of moments and will indeed appeal to the same crowd. Alan Rickman plays the consummate snob and keeps his nose just high enough, without going over the top, and together with his friend and only customer Maurice (delightfully charming performance by Dennis Farina) decide that holding a wine tasting contest between French and California wines is the only thing that can save his failing wine academy. So off he goes to California, where fate would have him encounter the Chateau Montelena winery, where owner Jim (great performance from Bill Pullman) and his carefree, lazy son Bo (Chris Pine) settle their disagreements in the boxing ring while trying to save their economically challenged vineyard. Enter love interest and new intern Sam (Rachael Taylor) to keep things moving along, as well as the additional side plot with hired help and wine expert Gustavo (Freddy Rodriguez), who has ambitions to strike out with his own vintage. Things go a little too far with too many plot lines when a love triangle erupts between Gustavo, Sam, and Bo – the relationship between Gustavo and Sam is forced and contrived, goes nowhere, and is left unresolved – and doesn’t really contribute anything to the storyline or any of the character arcs. And I do hope the producers were able to get significant product placement revenue from the overly-plentiful close-ups of signs for what seemed to be every vineyard in the Napa-Sonoma area… 🙂 Bottle Shock may not be to the film industry what the Montelena chardonnay was to the wine industry, but a indeed a good vintage with a pleasant bouquet that will leave audiences charmed and smiling, if not a little tipsy.

 

A GOOD DAY TO BE BLACK AND SEXY

And also a good day to be Dennis Dortch, director and screenwriter for the six vignettes that combine to make his feature film debut. Dennis has a keen ability to nail reality right on the head, but do it in a way we haven’t seen before, with his own unique voice. The entire cast was talented and spot-on, bringing both enough realism to give us something to identify with, and quirkiness and originality to make the performances fresh, fun, and interesting. Standouts included the tantalizing Kathryn Taylor as a selfish lover who doesn’t quite get the concept of “reciprocity,” Brandon Valley Jones as her lover who definitely does, the beautiful Mylika Davis as an innocent teen struggling to make the right decision, and the sexsational Chonte Harris who is undeniably hilarious as she goes off on her married lover (heartfelt performance from Marcuis Harris) with the brilliantly nonsensical logic that only an “other woman” could conceive of. The adorable Chris Yen makes her “comedy debut” with a performance that is indeed as funny as it is spot on, as the sister to Jasmine (played by the stunning and talented Emily Liu), whose traditional Chinese parents would never allow her relationship with black athlete Jesse (Alphonso Johnson). The brilliantly talented cast is a tribute to the talent of casting director Adetoro Makinde. Dortch’s background in music gave him the necessary skills and edge to create a suitably cool soundtrack, doing double-duty as the film’s music supervisor. A heartfelt, on-the-money film that will surely provoke and/or settle many an argument between couples of all races, A Good Day to Be Black & Sexy is a must watch.

 

BALLAST

Directed by first timer Lance Hammer who received the Sundance Directing Award for this film, this is a polarizing piece that audiences will either love or hate – and you’ll probably have my stance figured out by the end of this review… Love it or hate it, I think one thing everyone will agree on is that this film is definitely not mainstream or commercial fare – and not because it’s over the top, too edgy and in your face, or too hard to stomach, but for exactly the opposite reasons. While plodding along at a snail’s pace, the film’s plot lies somewhere between almost having a storyline, and being a “slice of life” (euphemism for “too lazy to craft any story whatsoever”) piece. It’s lack of plot, character development or arcs, and obviously intentional lack of a music score made the pace excruciatingly slow, which was further intensified by the editing (also by Lance Hammer) which seemed to linger endlessly on scenes that should have been much, much shorter – the end result was that a relatively short-to-average length feature film of 96 minutes film seemed more like about 3 hours. The film was beautifully shot on location in the Mississippi Delta using only available light, and won the Dramatic Excellence in Cinematography Award. Touching performances that rang true emotionally were given by a cast of non-professional actors who are locals in the Delta townships where the picture was filmed – Michael J. Smith Sr., JimMyron Ross, Tarra Riggs, and Johnny McPhail. The actors created much of their own dialogue by improvising on a loose story outline (uhm, no surprise here), during a two-month rehearsal period. The film did do a wonderful job of creating the sense of disconnectedness and hopelessness that the characters were living, depicting a single mother struggling to support herself and her embattled son, after a violent suicide hurls their world together with an emotionally devastated store owner that gives them hope financially, while at the same time stirring the coals of a longstanding quarrel between the two. To paraphrase his own statement, Hammer’s intent was to create a film that conveyed tone, which is inherently formless, and as a result purposely kept the narrative “minimal and unobtrusive.” A little obtruding is always a good thing to me if you’re talking about storyline or character development – you can get by if you have one or the other (although ideally both), but this film had neither. Ballast is a film that is indeed “weighed down” by its very concept. While this was a deliberate experiment on the part of the filmmaker, I’m hoping his obvious talents for capturing a tone, getting great performances, and great visuals will be put to better use on his next film.

 

CHOKE

First time director Clark Gregg also wrote the script for this darkly humorous adaptation of a book by Chuck Palahniuk (whose other books include Fight Club) – and while Choke did not have near the depth and scope of Fight Club, it was nonetheless an enjoyable jaunt, for the lighter fare it was intended to be. Sam Rockwell‘s performance alone makes this film worth the watch, brilliantly animating not only the comical but the dramatic aspects of Victor Mancini, a sex addicted colonial theme park worker who uses the scam of pretending to choke on food at expensive restaurants, so that he can ingratiate himself to the wealthy people who think they have saved his life, all for the purpose of being able to afford to keep his increasingly deranged mother in a top but expensive mental hospital – not the average plotline, to be sure (okay, breathe…yes, I fit all that in one sentence). Rockwell’s performance is only enhanced by an on-the-money performance from Brad William Henke as the goofy best friend Denny, a chronic masturbator, and Anjelica Huston in her usual brilliance as Victor’s clinically insane mother. As a tribute to the main cast as well as the many talented supporting characters, the film was awarded a Special Jury Prize for Dramatic Work by an Ensemble Cast. Some key moments from the book were left out of the film, such as the stoning at the end – which Gregg indicated may end up on the DVD. The film elicited a great response from the audience, as they were rolling in the aisles on a number of occasions. If you’re looking for the hard-hitting edge of Fight Club, this ain’t it – but if you’re in the mood for a well done comedy that’s got a bit of a deeper level as well, then this film will definitely be worth the price of admission and is, contrary to it’s name, a breath of fresh air.

 

DOWNLOADING NANCY

Director Johan Renck comes from the world of commercials and music videos, and has an impeccable resume there, having worked with everyone from Madonna to Beyoncé, and has received numerous awards for his commercial work – my thoughts are that he might do better to stay where he’s doing well. While Downloading Nancy did indeed have quite a buzz going on at the festival, to me it was just another film that wants to be artistic simply because it is dark, ugly, and vile. It relies on showing human beings at their worst, and offers nothing of the best, and not even a glimmer of hope. Even in pieces that are innately dark, there needs to be some type of catharsis, payoff, or other reason that gives us an interest or emotional connection to the characters – Downloading Nancy has none of this, and is ultimately completely one-dimensional in it’s lack of ability to see anything other than a dark, depressing downward spiral. It is the story of the lonely and emotionally disturbed Nancy (Maria Bello), who turns to the internet and the depraved, degenerate promises of Louis (Jason Patric) as an escape from her dispassionate and emotionless life with her cold, golf-fanatic of a husband Albert (Rufus Sewell). The exceptionally talented Bello and Patric brought as much depth and humanity to their roles as the limited, one-dimensional script would allow, and Sewell was adequate in his portrayal of the husband, although his character in the script was inconsistent and flawed to the point of being annoying. Even the cinematography is low-rent and garish (not sure if this was on purpose as a “stylistic choice” or not). While I’m sure there are people like the characters Nancy and Louis out there in the real world, Downloading Nancy is completely monotone in its delivery, and gives nothing even resembling a humanistic examination of their issues, nor their emotional range.

 

FROZEN RIVER

Artfully written and directed by Courtney Hunt, and winner of the Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, Frozen River is a film that is on one level a crime drama, and on another level a deep social commentary not only on poverty, women’s issues, race issues, and the rationalization of crime as a survival mechanism – all without letting any of those political issues coming too much to the forefront or getting in the way of good storytelling. This is Hunt’s feature directorial debut; Frozen River actually bowed at Sundance as a short film several years ago. It is the story of the strong but worldworn Ray, whose bleak financial situation throws her together into an unlikely partnership with local Mohawk troublemaker and habitual criminal Lila, who lures her into her world of smuggling illegal immigrants over the border for quick, “easy” money, across the frozen St. Lawrence River which runs between upstate New York and the Canadian border. My only complaint on the script is the formulaic and contrived way in which each run across the border becomes more and more dangerous with more and more going wrong, as an overly obvious way to up the tension – it would have been better to come up with something a little more organic and intertwined with the story – but I’m nitpicking here on what is otherwise a well done film. Melissa Leo breathes humanity and depth into her portrayal of Ray, and makes us understand the plight of her downtrodden existence, just trying to make a life for herself and her son (solid performance from Charlie McDermott). Misty Upham likewise gives a multilayered and heartfelt performance and makes us care for a character we should otherwise dislike. And as good news and hope to aspiring actors, Upham was cast from a picture on a Native American website and a telephone call, according to Hunt. While my tastes generally lean more towards the Audience Award films, and I’m usually in hearty disagreement with the Sundance Jury award, I’m hoping this is the start of a new trend; while I don’t know that I would agree it was the best picture in the festival, Frozen River definitely earns it’s place as a very well done, meaningful and thought provoking film, and I’m looking very forward to see what Courtney Hunt gives us in the future – Sony Classics picked up the film, so I guess you could say there’s nothing about this film that is on thin ice…

 

GOOD DICK

Written, directed, and starring Marianna Palka, Good Dick is a film whose title makes no puns, and there’s no one named Dick in the film either – it means exactly what you think it does. It’s the story of a loser, homeless video store clerk (Jason Ritter) who becomes infatuated with the attractive but weird customer (Marianna Palka) who comes in to rent hardcore porn on a regular basis. His infatuation leads to some pretty serious stalking that can only be made to look cute in the movies, and in real life would have probably got him arrested. Of course, the line between “stalking” and being “persistent and pro-active” is defined more by whether the person being stalked actually likes you or not, rather than the actions of the stalker. In any case, Palka’s deadpan personality and unabashed rejections of Ritter only make him up the stakes, and he eventually wheedles his way into her apartment, and into her bedroom, where their non-sexual sexual relationship becomes unique to say the least. The two don’t really get along well at all, but somehow they still seem find some solace and humanity from each other in their otherwise emotionally troubled and dysfunctional lives. Palka as an actress does an admirable job in creating her deadpan and unenthusiastic character, although the shortcomings of the script don’t allow her too much depth. Ritter is almost loveable in his portrayal, but again it’s the script that keeps you from getting very emotionally involved with his character. Other notable performances include Martin Starr as the friend in dire need of girl advice, and Eric Edelstein as the store manager with a heart. Quick appearances from Tom Arnold and Charles Durning lend their usual brilliance to the film. While there are some truly memorable exchanges between the characters, and some good belly laughs, this romantic comedy that’s not really romantic and only sometimes funny fails to really dig deep into exploring the fears insecurities that the characters (and all of us) face. I’ll give Good Dick a score of two-thirds erect.

 

SLEEP DEALER

First time director Alex Rivera brought some very imaginative concepts to life in a film that makes some interesting and thought provoking statements about labor, immigration, and class issues, as well as raising some interesting issues concerning progress and technology. In the not too distant future, our labor and immigration problems will be solved by having Mexicans perform menial labor by using remote control robots from across the border, and people will be able to have “nodes” implanted in their arms and neck to connect to the internet, ala The Matrix. You’ll also be able to upload memories directly to the net and sell them, YouTube style. While Rivera gets kudos for imaginative ideas, and for even attempting a sci-fi film on a shoestring budget, the problems with this film are more due to the script than the poor visual effects. The first problem is the science behind the science fiction – it’s just not consistent and doesn’t mesh – some of technology is not too far off (if not already here to a certain degree), but some of it we’re a loooooong way from being anywhere close to, such as the technology required to convert the complex patterns of brain activity of memories in our “mind’s eye” into actual pictures on a screen for the YouTube memory thing. It’s one thing to have suspension of disbelief, but there needs to be a uniformity and cohesiveness to the world and the rules of the world we’re believing in. While the plot is an interesting one, its execution is jumbled, hard to follow, and subplots that should be minor are forced to the forefront, so not enough time is spent where it should be. This also leads to underdeveloped characters, whom we end up not caring that much about. With all the problems in the script, how this film won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award is a complete mystery to me, a mystery possibly worthy of a science fiction movie in itself… The fact that it also won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize (which is for films that portray science and technology as a theme) is certainly less of a stretch. There are adequate performances throughout the film from Luis Fernando Peña, Leonor Varela, and Jacob Vargas. Rivera does add some nice touches and insights, such as the sleazy back-alley guys who offer “node jobs” – less expensive than getting the real thing from a real doctor, but also a bit riskier. While Sleep Dealer has the basic ingredients to what could have been an interesting, fun, thought-provoking sci-fi film, its execution unfortunately will keep it from seeing its potential.

 

THE WACKNESS

While the title alone could have been responsible for this film winning the Dramatic Audience Award, this well-done film from director Jonathan Levine was indeed an enjoyable romp through 1994 New York City. Or maybe it was the wonderfully inspired performance by Ben Kingsley? Or the script that was light and enlightening, yet had depth and soul? Who’s to say, but one thing is for sure, The Wackness will delight and inspire you, especially if you have any connection with New York during the 90s. Luke (solid performance from Josh Peck) is a teenage drug dealer who trades pot for sessions with his shrink, Dr. Squires (Ben Kingsley), the man who’s got the advice for everyone else’s life, but never seems to follow it himself. Squires is looking to recapture his youth and deal with a failing marriage, and Luke is looking to fit in, deal with his parents’ problems, and get laid, all before leaving for college – and also happens to have the hots for Squires’ stepdaughter (charmingly played by Olivia Thirlby, from Juno). This quirky odd couple and their unique relationship are the focus of the film, sometimes nailing it on the head, and sometimes meandering for bit. The standout of the film is Kingsley and his ability to truly get inside his character, making us love him despite his many faults, as well as some truly funny, delightful, and otherwise inspiring moments, including Ben Kingsley making out with Mary-Kate Olsen (okay, maybe that wasn’t one of the inspiring moments, but it was entertaining nonetheless), and what I’m told is a perfect capturing of the tone and environment of 1990s New York. The downside included a few too many predictable cliché drug jokes, and that Luke’s character is written in such a way that we never get to actually like him, despite the solid performance from Peck. The film was 110 minutes, and could have easily been edited down by a good 15 to 20 minutes, which would have helped the pacing, which dragged at a number of points. All in all, the Wackness is a “good, but not great” film with some wonderful qualities, and tons of nostalgia for those who grew up in 1990s New York.

 

 

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION:

 

FIELDS OF FUEL

This is a MUST-SEE documentary on the subject of biodiesel fuel as an altenative to oil, and not surprisingly was awarded the Audience Award for Best Documentary. The film was directed by environmental activist Josh Tickell, who became an expert on alternative energy after members of his family suffered from diseases linked to pollution and contamination related to oil refineries. Without turning this review into an assessment and debate of the pros and cons regarding biodiesel fuels and other alternative energy sources, I’ll just say that if even half of the arguments put forth in this film are even half right, there’s no reason whatsoever that biodiesel isn’t worth delving into to a significant degree as at least a partial (if not temporary) solution to our energy needs, as Tickell makes numerous sound arguments as to biodiesel being the fastest, most reliable, and most sustainable fuel source to reduce our dependence on foreign (or any) oil. While biodiesel is indeed significantly cleaner than burning oil, I believe that ultimately we’ll need to rely more heavily on even cleaner and more abundant sources of energy such as solar/electric, once it becomes efficient enough to become cost effective. Tickell tells a thought provoking story of how the early and popular diesel engines from Henry Ford and Rudolph Diesel had engines capable of running on vegetable oil, only to be shut out and shut down by oil magnates such as Rockefeller. While the early portion of the film has a bit of that “hippies/60’s” vibe (which may appeal to the older crowd, but may lose the interest of anyone below the age of 35 before they can get into it) and follows the travels of Tickell’s biodiesel powered “Veggie Van” across the country, it works it way into becoming more current, and not only tells a great story, but gives many informative facts about biodiesel that the average person most likely wouldn’t know – such as the fact that any diesel engine will run on biodiesel without any conversion kits, and will also be less expensive, and better for the environment. With an oil family in the Whitehouse (and no coincidence that gasoline is at an all time high to ridiculous proportions) and elections coming up quickly, the film couldn’t be any more timely. Just as An Inconvenient Truth made an impact not only at the boxoffice, but in the real world – here’s to the real possibility that Fields of Fuel may do the same.

 

The Short preceding FIELDS OF FUEL:

W.

Receiving an Honorable Mention in Short Filmmaking from Sundance, this film was, entertaining, delightful, and a perfect fit before Fields of Fuel. Rather than the “slice of life” or “film without a point” type of shorts that seem to be all-too-common these days, this is a short film that makes a point, and wonderfully so. It doesn’t spend ten minutes setting up for a single clichéd and overused joke, like so many other shorts – it makes it’s wonderful, whimsical point in just two minutes. Kudos to “The Vikings,” who directed this well-done piece. It would be really great if Sundance would put ALL the shorts available for streaming on their website, instead of just a few, so others would get a chance to see this film.

 

 

WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION:

 

CAPTAIN ABU RAED

Winner of the Word Cinema Audience Award, this film directed by Amin Matalqa is inspiring and uplifting, and at the same time dramatic and real. The first feature film for Matalqa, and the first independent film to come out of Jordan (although international financing and other creative contributions still make it more first world than third world), it is the story of how our own dreams and imagination can inspire and help others, and how dreams and imagination aren’t always enough – we must sometimes take real risks with real consequences when push comes to shove. Abu Raed, a lowly janitor at the airport who only knows the world from reading books and brief encounters with travelers, is mistaken for a worldly airline pilot by a group of children in his poor neighborhood. Rather than disappoint them, he wows and inspires them with wonderful tales of his travels and adventures around the world. As he gets to know the children and become involved in their lives, it becomes evident that to truly help them may require real action, and real sacrifice. A wonderful, heartfelt performance by London based actor Nadim Sawalha in the title role, and excellent performances from the kids as well, including Hussein Al-Sous and Udey Al-Qiddissi. Wonderful cinematography from DP Reinhart Peschke beautifully depicts the city of Amman in an intimate setting. Given the locale of the story, it would have been an easy out to bring a political undercurrent to the narrative, but I think it was a wise decision to keep the story personal and intimate without clouding its sincere heartfelt message with politics or religion. My only complaint was that the pacing was a bit off, though, with the tone turning towards the harsh realities of the children’s lives all too soon, when it could have stayed on the wonderful and whimsical tales of adventure from Abu and the inspirational benefits to the children for a bit longer. While I didn’t get to see as many of the World competition films this year as I would have liked, this was a wonderful film, and I’m sure most deserving of its award status.

 

JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY

Written and directed by Ole Bornedal, this film opens with three short scenes in immediate succession – a women crying over what becomes evident is a man bleeding to death in the street on a dark, rainy night; a playful encounter between a man and his wife; and two lovers in a dramatic standoff involving a gun – it’s already apparent that this is definitely NOT just another love story. A kind of “While You Were Sleeping” turned completely on end and made into a noir thriller, it is the story of Jonas (Anders w. Berthelsen), a somewhat happily married crime photographer with two kids who begins to make secret visits to a beautiful car accident victim Julia (Rebecka Hemse) – at first from good intentions, and increasingly because he begins to fall in love with her. And by the way, she is now semi-blind and has amnesia, and both she and her family have come to believe that Jonas is Julia’s boyfriend Sebastian, and Jonas can’t help but to play along. As the Sundance guide put it – “Memories return, and so do boyfriends.” And as in all noir, fatalism reigns supreme, and there is a price to be paid for living a life that is not yours (I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you who pays that price). Employing a non-linear storyline utilizing flashbacks and other devices, Bornedal takes the story in completely unanticipated directions, twisting and turning where you least expect it, and avoiding predictability at all costs (sometimes to the point of being almost too outlandish, but an entertaining rollercoaster ride nonetheless). If you want to see just another love story, then don’t see this movie, but if you want to see Just Another Love Story (which it is definitely not), then definitely see this movie.

 

 

OTHER FILMS – OUT OF COMPETITION:

 

HALF-LIFE

First time director Jennifer Phang blends short bits of stylized animation with a mostly live action tale set in an environmentally damaged world in global decay. The film is rife with symbolism, and Phang seems to have her own sense of logic – a number of scenes may leave you saying “Huh?” to yourself, but on the same token, it’s the film’s unique point of view that add to its richness. The standout performances in the film were from Julia Nickson who plays Saura, the mother of Pam (Sanoe Lake) – the complex relationship between the two ranges from strained to warm, and the two are indeed convincing in revealing the multiple layers between them. Leonardo Nam plays Scott, a gay Korean teen who falls for his black teacher (Lee Marks) at school, with a convincing performance by both, with a more than adequate performance in somewhat limited roles as Scott’s parents played by veteran actor James Eckhouse and Susan Ruttan. Ben Redgrave gives a bit of a forced performance as Wendell, the younger man shacking up with Saura after she has been left by her husband. The device of having the TV newscasts in the background being pretty much the main source through which through which we continually learn the information that the world is in havoc due to global warming, and other evidence of social decay such as murder/suicides, etc. is maybe a bit over simplistic, and some of the scenes strain a bit in an effort to be esoteric and meaningful. The stylized and wonderfully artful animation sequences (designed by Matthew Pugnetti) are vibrant and rich, and take us into the imagination of 8 year old Timothy Wu (adeptly played in a somewhat limited role, by newcomer Alexander Agate). The film ends with a magical-mystical somewhat 2001: A Space Odyssey-ish ending that that will leave some put off, although I did hear from a number of people that they were moved and uplifted by it. While the film indeed had its issues, and was a bit uneven, it at the same time had many inspired, wonderful qualities that make me look very forward to seeing what else will come from the new and talented director Jennifer Phang.

 

The Short preceding HALF-LIFE:

UNTITLED #1 (From the series Earth People 2507)

Screening before Half-Life, all I can say about this short is that I didn’t get it. I completely, totally, absolutely did not get it. It appeared to me to be to be a series of random pictures of some kind of dog/buffalo thing, very unimaginatively animated, without style or anything interesting, with no purpose, and a poor music score to boot. I’m sure there’s a cosmic awareness somewhere that sees the deep underlying meaning here, but I completely, totally did not get the point of it. Apparently, even the filmmaker Nao Bustamante didn’t get the point of it either, or she might have come up with a meaningful title.

 

SHORTS:

 

ANIMATION SPOTLIGHT

This collection of animated shorts ran the gamut in terms of both animation styles, and storytelling ability:

 

Yours Truly – An excellent and highly stylized piece blending animation and live action to create intrigue and a noir feel in a story about the ultimate kiss-off letter, including cut-out images of Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck in typical noir scenarios of nefarious schemes and action-packed car chases. Kudos to filmmaker Osbert Parker for a visually exciting, fun film.

 

Dog – The total running time of one minute was all that was needed to make the one funny joke in this simple but ably animated piece by Hermann Karlsson – why do other shorts feel they need to spend an entire ten minutes setting up for one joke? Kudos, Karlsson, for a fun film that makes its point, and gets there in the proper amount of time.

 

Madame Tutli-Putli – Nominated for an Acadmey Award for Best Animated Short Film, this film was exquisitely animated, visually stunning, and had a beautifully haunting soundtrack and great sound design as well. The only problem with this short film was that after almost 18 minutes, there wasn’t a storyline to be found. The Sundance catalog describes Madame Tutli-Putli’s ride on the night train as “a desperate metaphysical adventure adrift between real and imagined worlds.” If it had either a real or imagined storyline, this visually and aurally impeccable film would have won the Oscar, rather than just having been nominated – not that being nominated is a bad thing… 🙂 Beautifully directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski.

 

Chonto – In this film by Carson Mell, the voiceover was sardonic, the animation was laconic, and the music was diatonic. I’m not sure where I’m going with this review, other than that the ongoing voiceover which ran the entire duration of 15 minute film was anything but entertaining, the animation was anything but visually interesting or groundbreaking, and the music fit right in with everything else.

 

Lapsus – In this 4 minute film from Juan Pablo Zaramella, It’s not the simplistic animation that takes the center stage here, but the entertaining surrealism kinda-sorta ala Bill Plimpton that brings you along on the journey with a nun and the darker side of her animated world.

 

For the Love of God – This 11 minute film from director Joe Tucker featured great animation, but was one of those “10-minutes-setting-up-for-one-joke-which-wasn’t-that-funny-anyway” sort of films.

 

The Pearce Sisters – This 9 minute film from Luis Cook had an interesting “grotesque” style of animation, with a storyline that was rather lost on me – “a bleak-hearted tale of two old spinsters living on a remote strip of coast, scraping out a miserable existence from the sea” – in kind of a Chinese tea party gone whacko sort of way.

 

The History of America – in this 31 minute finale to the animated shorts collection, filmmaker MK12 wanted to make something that was totally American, without being propagandist, so they made something that featured cowboys and astronauts fighting it out in downtown Las Vegas in a western space opera sort of way. Not much else to say about the plot, but the animation was unique, stylized, and fun to watch. I do think they could have done the same thing in about 10 minutes, however, and a lot fewer people would have left their seats.

 

MORE SHORTS:

 

Sick Sex (Shorts Program 3) – Directed by Justin Nowell, this is a somewhat funny romp about a guy who wants to have sex with his girlfriend, who happens to be sick with a fever of 102.

 

Oiran Lyrics (Preceding the feature Megane) – Directed by Ryosuke Ogawa, this wasn’t a short film, but a music video – a jazzy pop song with historical lyrics about a beautiful oiran (high class courtesan/prostitute – a precursor to the Geisha) at a Japanese brothel in 1895, with a storyline ala Memoirs of a Geisha. Since this was a music video, and not a short, I have no idea what it was doing in the short competition to begin with, or why it received an Honorable Mention in Short Filmmaking award.

 

Smile (Shorts Program 1) – Written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Julia Kwan, this 17 minute short takes a look at the dynamics of a Chinese immigrant family on the day they are going to get a family portrait taken to send to their less fortunate relatives in China. The story could have been a little more focused, but it was nicely bookended with symbolic references. Nice performances all the way around.

 

August 15th (Shorts Program 5) – Receiving an Honorable Mention in Short Filmmaking, Xuan Jiang shows she can not only tell a story with a meaningful and poignant ending, but keep the tension and pace going throughout the duration in this 22 minute short that examines how far we’ll go to protect ourselves, even at the expense of someone else – or more accurately, how little we’ll do for someone else if it means putting ourselves in jeopardy. And the thought provoking surprise ending considers guilt by inaction, and where the line of justice should be drawn. An incredible film with multiple messages on many levels. My favorite out of all the shorts I saw.

 

Scoring (Documentary Shorts Program) – from director Ken Wardrop, this 3 minute short explains the true power of a kiss, with an unexpected twist. It also features many kisses beautifully photographed that rival some of Hollywood’s best.

 

In another ding-a-ling move by Sundance, neither short film which won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking appears anywhere on their website, or among the 38 other Sundance short films available on iTunes or Netflix, so I’m not able to review either My Olympic Summer, or Sikumi (On the Ice).

 

OTHER REVIEWS:

 

Sundance Logo Phrase:

“Film Takes Place”

The tag line on all the Sundance graphics and logos this year was the phrase “Film Takes Place” – It sounds kinda catchy, but no one I spoke with had any idea what exactly they were trying to get across by this message. That film is only about location, and not something that occurs over time? That film is second banana, as in “win, place, or show”?

 

Sundance Animated Presentation Logo

There were two of these – one in which the entire world becomes a spec on a leaf in the hand of a small boy, who then drops the leaf, and another where we zoom in from space and read the fine print on a newspaper – while the animation was high quality, they were rather uninteresting and not nearly as entertaining as the presentations from previous years.

 

Sundance Continuous Background Graphics for screens and videos:

The continuous graphics that Sundance had behind the Film Takes Place logo phrase was this animated road that we kept moving down, that changed seasons, terrain, etc. Not sure too much what that has to do with film, other than maybe a reference to a Warren Miller off-road film. And even though we kept going down this road, we never got any closer to our goal (the background graphic of the mountain) – hmm, on second thought, maybe there is a parallel to the film industry there… 🙂

 

Overall, I think it might be time for Sundance to get some new help in the marketing department…

 

 

THE PARTIES & EVENTS:

 

As with every year, this year had more than it’s share of parties at the festival – although every year seems to become more and more front-heavy with all the big stuff happening in the first four or five days – the downside being that you get to actually attend less events because they all occur at the same time, instead of being nicely spread out through the festival. That said, here’s the roundup for this year’s events that I attended:

 

CHEFDANCE

Downstairs @ Harry O’s

Quickly becoming one the hottest events at Sundance, ChefDance brings top chefs in to prepare amazing meals for an invite-only high level guest list. On the first evening of many ChefDance dinners at the festival, Armand Assante was seen quite enjoying the cuisine prepared by top So Cal chef James Boyce, as was music artist Chamillionaire, whose beautiful date for the evening may have been more delicious than the cuisine! 🙂 The evening started with a lentil and winter black truffle soup, followed by smoked Taku River Coho salmon with an Osetra caviar-quail egg carpaccio, and then a braised Summerfield Farm veal shank. While the soup was absolutely delicious, I’m not much of a fish guy, and even less of a caviar guy, so the 2nd course I can only say that the people around me seemed to enjoy. The Veal Shank was quite tasty – but since there seemed to be at least a 45 minute wait between courses, it was getting late and we couldn’t stay for the dessert course (warm figs and sour cherries in phyllo dough and braised mascarpone – sounds great, bummed I had to miss it!), but we unfortunately (or fortunately!) had yet another event to go to…

 

SUNDANCE OPENING NIGHT PARTY

@ Legacy Lodge

As Harry O’s is usually waaaay too crowded, and waaaay too noisy, and waaaay to dark to do any mingling whatsoever, we opted to miss out on Grammy nominated music artist Akon who was performing upstairs from ChefDance, and head on over to the official Sundance Opening Night Party at Legacy Lodge. A lot of the high level execs weren’t in town yet, but a good mix of filmmakers and other industry folks were present. As was the case last year, the chicken skewers and won tons were quite tasty, but I think I made the dessert my main course with a tray full of brownies, cookies, and a fruit/yogurt dish that was amazingly delicious – since we didn’t get to quite fill up at ChefDance, the great and plentiful food here was definitely welcome, and definitely filled my belly. Hewlett-Packard was kind enough to sponsor a photo wall where everyone could take pictures. I kept running into good friends and people I knew, so I never seemed to make it out of the back corner of the party…

 

GEN ART 7 FRESH FACES IN FILM PARTY

@ The GenArt Lounge

In previous years, GenArt had a long standing reputation for throwing the biggest and coolest parties at the festival – and while the last couple years they’ve decided to scale things down considerably, they still throw a great party with a great crowd. In attendance were the evening’s host, director Jason Reitman (Juno), and the 7 Fresh Faces in Film Melonie Diaz (wonderful in Be Kind Rewind), Shoshanna Stern (Adventures of Power), Jason Ritter (Good Dick, and The Deal), Paz de la Huerta (Choke, and wonderful performance in The Guitar!), Rachael Taylor (Bottle Shock), Olivia Thirlby (The Wackness, Juno, and last year’s Sundance film Snow Angels), and Kate Mara (Transsiberian). A complete power outage on most of main street shut this party down for about 45 minutes or so, but once the lights came back on we got our whole group in without too much trouble… Also in attendance was the lovely Booke Christopher, the Hosty with the Mosty!

 

VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS ASIAN FILMMAKER PARTY

@ China Panda Restaurant

Agggkkkk!!! The evil curse of the gifting lounges! We got so tied up in getting everyone in to the lounges, that we missed what is always one my favorite events at the festival. Next year, I am swearing off the gift lounges for sure… Although I didn’t make it, I’m sure the food was just as delicious, and the crowd was just as great as always.

 

MYSPACE PARTY

@ House of Hype

The folks here were very friendly and accommodating – I was able to get my entire entourage in, and we had a great time! The evening here started out on the slow side, but then picked up and became quite fun indeed. Steve Aoki and Nick Cannon DJ’d the event an kept the dance floor thumping.

 

SLEEPWALKING PREMIERE PARTY

@ The St. Ives Lounge

A very cool event at a stylish new venue on Main Street – in attendance was Charlize Theron and her boyfriend Stuart Townsend, Dennis Hopper, Nick Stahl, as well as the beautiful and charming May Wang and talented veteran actor Arthur Roberts.

 

SAG FILMMAKER BRUNCH

@ Cafe Terigo

I had a great time here – the food was tasty and filling, and I got to meet some great up and coming filmmakers, including Adetoro Makinde, who is producing a film on the story of the true heroism demonstrated by a veteran known only as “John.” Makinde also happened to be casting director for the Sundance film A Good Day to Be Black and Sexy.

 

WRITER’S GUILD PARTY

I never heard back from them, so I didn’t attend this year…

 

NOBEL SON PARTY

@ The Green Lounge, Downstairs at Cicero’s

While not in the Sundance competition, Nobel Son was from the same filmmaker who did the wonderful film Bottle Shock (Randall Miller). There were a lot of rumors flying around that U2 was going to perform at this venue directly following this party, so I overheard a number of people discussing hiding in the bathrooms, etc. as a way to sneak into the next party. To my knowledge the U2 concert never occurred, at least not at Cicero’s that night, so I hope those folks didn’t have to wait in the bathrooms for too long… 🙂 Rumors about later parties aside, in attendance at this party were Alan Rickman, Bill Pullman, and Eliza Dushku from the film. Paul Oakenfold was DJing…

 

FOTOKEM/FUJI/IRON MOUNTAIN/HOLLYWOOD REPORTER PARTY

@ Snow Park Lodge

This is a party I’ve always been sure to attend every year during my long history at the festival, as it has always been one of the best parties at Sundance, with personal masseuses and great food, and other great amenities, including great music and a big dance floor. While it seems to be slipping a bit, it is still ultimately one of the more enjoyable events at the festival (once we finally made it past the not-overly-friendly people at the door).

 

DAILY VARIETY TOP 10 DIRECTORS TO WATCH PARTY

@ Stein Erickson Lodge

The Variety party is always one of the best at the festival – it’s still about the filmmakers, instead of all the hype, loud music, etc.; they provide a great atmosphere where you can actually talk with people, instead of yelling over way-too-loud DJs. While noticeably absent this year was their “gourmet macaroni and cheese,” it was luckily replaced by the most incredibly good chili I have ever eaten – it was a “wild game chili” with wild boar, elk, and something-else-or-other, and quite possibly the best single dish of food to be found at the festival…and I had some pretty darn good food up there! In attendance was the always lovely Nia Peeples, and a host of other celebrities including Jodie Foster, Andie MacDowell, Ben Affleck, Colin Firth, Saffron Burrows, Stanley Tucci, and Geoffrey Gilmore. Always a good, high level crowd, great networking, and an all around nice time. Kudos, Variety! Variety seems to be clamping down on the guest list, and my contact isn’t there anymore, so I simply got in anyway as someone else’s guest. Sometimes it’s good to know a lot of people… 🙂

 

Here’s the directors who were honored and in attendance at the party:

Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone

Daniel Barnz, Phoebe in Wonderland

Tony Gilroy, Michael Clayton

Seth Gordon, King of Kong

Nadine Labaki, Caramel

Anna Melikyan, Mermaid

Cristian Mungiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

Jose Padilha, Tropa de Elite

Johan Renck, Downloading Nancy

Alex Rivera, Sleep Dealer

 

 

KODAK PARTY

@ Riverhorse Café

Glad we got there early, as the line for this always-popular party was down the street in no time. As always, great food from the Riverhorse kept my belly full, a good crowd, and ample bars…and the usual lackluster band – when will Kodak bring the music up to the otherwise high standard of the rest of the party?! the little berry pies on the dessert tray were fantastic! The gift bag consisted of a pretty cool Computer Bag – which was subsequently stolen at The Deal premiere party later in the evening…

 

THE DEAL PREMIERE PARTY

@ Hollywood Life House

Attended by the film’s stars William H. Macy and Meg Ryan, as well as Jason Ritter and other celebs, The Deal party was a great time. The drinks were flowing, and the crowd had a great cross section of stars, filmmakers, financiers, and some just plain interesting people! The only downside was that someone had absconded with my computer bag from the Kodak party – no biggie, I suppose – I don’t even own a laptop! 🙂

 

THE ABSURDISTAN PREMIERE PARTY

@ the Gen Art Lounge

Ex-ACME Talent and Literary Agency CEO and Founder, as well as Sundance luminary Lisa Lindo was here (we missed you, Lisa!), and so a good time was had by anyone within range… 🙂 While I had been looking forward to seeing The Absurdistan, after meeting the completely obnoxious director Veit Helmer, I proceeded to tear up my ticket and review another film instead. Other than the host, I had a great time at the party! 🙂 If Gen Art is at all involved, you know it will be good! Again, Kudos to Gen Art!

 

NEW YORK FILM COMMISSION PARTY

@ Mike McCormick’s Ridiculously Huge But Oh So Fun Condo

Always an incredible party to found at the Mike McCormick mansion-of-a-condo with an indoor racquetball/basketball court, indoor pool and Jacuzzi with waterfall, etc. While the food is always slow to come out at the McCormick parties, it’s always good once (and if) you finally get some. But the real focus of this party was the great people in attendance – the NY filmmakers and talent, and filmmakers from the festival. It’s always a fun, friendly, and interesting crowd. Actually, just taking people on tours of the place was a fun time in itself (“What! You haven’t seen the racquetball court or grotto yet?!!”) A big thanks to Jerry Stoeffhaas and Pat Kaufman with the NY Film Commission for always putting together a great bash, one of the highlights of the festival!

 

GREEN DOOR PARTIES

Also @ Mike McCormick’s Ridiculously Huge But Oh So Fun Condo

A little more of a night-clubby vibe than the NY party at the same location. And just like an LA nightclub, since I wasn’t on the list, I brought a few beautiful girls and got right in… 🙂 Good thing, because the sub-zero temperatures outside would not have been a fun wait… Also in attendance were good friends Regina Rice (Alpha Dog) and LA businessman and sometimes producer Adam Berns. Paris Hilton was seen falling on her keester, hopefully she made it okay.

 

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY PARTY

Also @ Mike McCormick’s Ridiculously Huge But Oh So Fun Condo

Yes, there were great parties up at Mike’s pretty much every night…in attendance at this event was my good friend Alto Reed (sax player for Bob Seger, and creator of the iconic sax lick from “Turn the Page”), as well as Chelsea Handler (Chelsea Lately), internet models and Myspace sensations Kaila Yu and Toni Leigh, and producer and all around good guy Alan Cooksey.

 

MAC AFRICA / TIFANIE JOUDEH CONDO PARTY

My good friend, sometimes partner, and famed LA club promoter Mac Africa teamed up with my other good friend and attorney Tifanie Joudeh to throw a great shindig – a good turnout, good food, and a friendly crowd made for a truly enjoyable evening.

 

THE YEAR OF GETTING TO KNOW US PREMIERE PARTY

@ a great condo past the Canyons…

After watching one of the better films at the festival, it was great that it afterwards became one of the better parties at the festival. While enjoying myself with friends Fatim Roslan and Michael Merrins, I got to meet the producers for the film, as well as a plethora of filmmakers, financiers, and all around quality guests – also in attendance was Patricia Kara (Suitcase #9 on Deal or No Deal). Great gift bag with Borba Skin Balance Water.

 

MOTOROLA PARTY

@ The Shop

The party here was a good time as always, with great music, an ample dance floor, drinks, and Wii consoles set up everywhere. Burton rep Janice Callado was the reigning champion on Wii boxing, and also seen in attendance were Armand Assante, Maria Bello, Paris Hilton. Semi-champion on the Wii boxing game was writer and fine artist Chris Dellorco. Note to self: having half a dozen lanyards around your neck that get tangled in the Wii controls is a definite handicap in Wii boxing!

 

JONATHAN GRAY CONDO AFTER-PARTIES

@ His Deer Valley Condo

The after hours parties were always cool and fun at Jonathan Gray‘s, where there was usually almost enough booze, and many interesting people and conversations to be found, including filmmakers and producers, and talent such as Meagan Goode (Stomp the Yard), who also was promoting her new film Miles from Home. You could get cozy around the fireplace, dance in the living room, or hang in the kitchen and talk and drink to your heart’s content.

 

SUNDANCE CLOSING NIGHT PARTY

@ Racquet Club

The closing night party is always the last hurrah, the last chance to see everyone (who hasn’t already left yet), and say goodbyes, discuss all the films you’ve seen or missed, and get some photos. For some unknown reason they’ve decided to make it ridiculously dark for the last couple years – so dark that you can’t see or find anyone, and even when you do, the music was so loud that you weren’t really able to talk with anyone, especially given that most people’s voices were already gone from an entire week of yelling at other parties. This used to be a great, classy event, but it definitely took a downturn this year. It wasn’t that long ago that Sundance used to throw a great bash every single night of the festival. Every year Sundance gets more and more crowded with more and more people, and I can only assume Sundance makes more and more money (approximately $60 million in economic activity statewide due to the festival!) – it would be great if this was even a tiny bit reflected in the budgets of the events they put on…

 

 

THE LOUNGES:

 

HOLLWOOD LIFE HOUSE

This was a great gift lounge, not only with a great ambience and a ton of celebs coming through, but they had some great gifts there as well, including some way cool bags from Vera Bradley (they had a design reminiscent of the “Italian Pottery” style, and were seen all over the festival – and they were also amazing in providing gift bags for the big Billboard Oscar Party at the Beverly Hilton that I was involved with – truly a cool company.There was a quite attractive woman representing AMC Theaters who gave me a pass for free movies for a year (yes!), and since I frequent the all-new and state of the art AMC Theaters in Century City, I’m quite looking forward to this!  I’m hoping Andrew Marc New York comes through the great looking leather jacket they promised to send (very nice indeed!). Asics Onitsuka Tiger had some cool T-shirts and leather bags they were giving away, and some eye-catching shoes that were only on display (I’m assuming they probably had some for the celebs, though…) Ole Henriksen had some great skincare products, as Charlize Theron was happy to let people know, and were giving away their “3 Little Wonders” Gift Box – This very special triad of products features the award winning Truth Serum-Collagen Booster, Sheer Transformation-Renewing Creme and Invigorating Night Gel-Firming Treatment. The results of these three products when used in conjunction faithfully are truly amazing. Each formulation is oil-free, lite texture, firming, lifting, pore tightening, and promote uniform pigmentation, and embrace your skin with protection, comfort and hydration, without overlooking the importance of providing anti-aging and retexturizing benefits. Sephora provided a multitude of great products as well (Nars, MakeUp Forever, etc.). Although one company whose name I won’t mention wouldn’t give me the sunglasses I reeeaaallllllly wanted, they also never came through with the designer watch they promised to send either! While I’m the first to admit that the greed of the people attending the gifting suites runs amok (myself included), it was also interesting to note the dishonest and manipulative tactics of this company in particular to lie and promise products they had no intention of delivering, just to get as much coverage as they could from press folks like me. Solstice definitely made up for it, though, with a generous gift certificate toward a pair of their sunglasses! And Sexy Hair was on hand with plenty of hairspray – now I just need to let my hair grow long enough to use it… 🙂 Tom Arnold, Dennis Hopper, Lukas Haas, and many other celebrities were observed in attendance.

 

KENNETH COLE REACTION LOUNGE

Jessica Alba and Paris Hilton were personally observed by me enjoying the shower of Kenneth Cole gifts, and other celebs reported to be in attendance include Mary-Kate Olsen, Bill Pullman, and Maroon 5. I myself have been a Kenneth Cole Black user, and was quite tantalized by some of the other fragrances they had display including Kenneth Cole Reaction, R.S.V.P., as well as Kenneth Cole Black Eau de Parfum for Her… While I wasn’t able to finagle any of the iPhones, iPods, or Playstations they were giving away, there was some great other stuff to be found there – Triple5Soul had a great selection of jackets, shirts, shoes, and other apparel that was cool, hip, and stylish – and they were waaaay cool to give me a bunch!! – I could be their new biggest fan!! Plantronics had some high quality hi-tech items on display, and I’m told their Bluetooth headset will give me far better reception with my Motorola Razor than the ridiculously poor reception I’m currently getting with a Motorola headset – you’d think if the same manufacturer makes the headset and the phone they would at least be compatible, but I’m looking forward to Plantronics showing them up. Also on display were great hats from Buji Baja, great gifts for your pet from Anamigo.

 

MYSPACE CAFÉ

The food here was definitely delicious, and I’m still craving the hot chocolate with marshmallow cream… the food and overall ambience made this not only a great place to relax and unwind, but also a great place for interviews, as is evidenced by the number of celebrities and other VIPs in attendance at the Myspace Café during the festival including Mena Suvari, Tom Arnold, Woody Harrelson, Method Man, hot newcomer on the Sundance scene May Wang, and many others. And they even gave us a cool gift bag with a wonderfully thick and warm hoodie sweatshirt (much needed in the sub-zero temperatures!), a Myspace T-shirt, and a computer headphone/microphone, very handy to be used with Myspace IM and Skype.

 

LRG/MYSPACE GIFTING LOUNGE

LRG, one of the first companies to bridge the gap between the skateboarding and urban communities, put together a great gifting lounge, and had some great designer clothing from their Luxirie by LRG line as well as computer bags on hand, and more. Skullcandy provided me with a pair of their high end, cool looking designer headphones, as well as some of their more portable and “indestructible” headphones. Monster Cables was there and happily gave me an iPod headphone splitter cable – perfect for listening with two! They also had on display a number of their other products such as cable organizers, etc.

 

VILLAGE AT THE YARD

The T-Mobile Café changed locations to the Village at the Yard, and provided truly delicious food, and a great atmosphere for interviewing filmmakers and celebrities. The Yard also had an ample supply of great gift lounges, including Timberland, who provided me with a nice and warm down jacket – I almost got a great pair of boots as well, but then they held back at the last moment – dang! Pure Romance had plenty of romantic lotions, oils, and other pleasantries on hand to make sure my love life is exciting and full… 🙂 and Drugstore.com kept me supplied with enough Airborne to keep me from getting sick during the long haul of late night parties and cold weather at the festival! Plus, I got a great hat from FourSquare, just to make sure I was toasty warm.

 

REVALÉ LOUNGE

Located at the Phoenix Gallery, there were some great Revalé skin care products here, in their recognizable green tote bags that were seen all over the festival. Also there was Le Mystere skin cream.

 

LEXUS PROJECT GREENHOUSE LOUNGE

There were a number of great eco-friendly and organic items on hand here including cutting boards from Tru Bamboo, shirts from Cotton Market, wonderfully scented candles from Joya, Patyka Organic Perfumes, and tasty snacks from GoHunza.com.

 

FRED SEGAL EXCLUSIVE STYLE GIFT LOUNGE

Although the people at Village at the Lift didn’t get me my promised pass for this lounge until they were already out of many of the items I wanted, the great folks at Fred Segal were friendly and accommodating, as were the companies on display inside. I still did pretty good, getting a pair of great designer jeans and silk bandana from 4 Stroke Jeans and another pair of great designer pants from J & Company. A couple great shirts from Yudu Life were appreciated, as were the cool shirts from Hurley. Last but definitely not least was Activision’s presence with a stack of Guitar Hero III games (which I was unfortunately not able to talk them out of…so no review of the game here!) Also on hand was other great stuff from many of the Fred Segal Beauty brands (L’Oreal, Kérastase, Nars Cosmetics, Precious Moments, etc.) and delicious fragrances from Summersent. Celebrities abounded here, including Dennis Quaid, Mischa Barton, Paris Hilton, Tom Arnold (I saw him everywhere!), Jessica Alba, Bijou Phillips, Tara Reid, Kim Kardashian, and Tom Anderson from Myspace.

 

WOW! LOUNGE / LUXURY MIXER

While my schedule didn’t allow me to make it to this lounge (dang!), I heard they had some great gifts on hand from Caniglia, fatboyusa.com, Luxury Image Group, anti-aging cream Rejenuvie, VIP Smiles, Paperorchid.com Luxury stationary, top rated laptop bags from Skooba Design, Fudge Is My Life, Trim Spa, PURE Chocolate, Fiji Water, Monster Energy Drink, SunlessBeauty.com, Vera Bradley handbags, and Sonja Paz art watches. I was able to make their Luxury Mixer, however, and had a truly wonderful time at this intimate affair – this was definitely a case of quality over quantity. In attendance at the Gift Lounge were Timothy Daly of “Private Practice” and “Wings”, David Blue of “Ugly Betty”, Kaycee Stroh and Ryne Sanborn of “High School Musical,” Matt Servitto from “The Sopranos” and Calvin Klein Model Jalzen Homller.

 

WOW! also had a great pre-Oscars gifting lounge which I got to just before they closed – they had cool stuff on hand from smileworks.com, vibrant and colorful art from the Sonya Paz Art Gallery, beautiful fashions and designs from decoration artist Rose Yoko, and delicious Margaritas from The Margarita King. I’d also like to bring special attention to the not only beautiful, but tasty luxury fresh fruit bouquets and centerpieces from Fruits to Remember, who has generously offered a 15% Discount to anyone who uses the discount code INFOLIST on the phone, or upon checkout on their website!

 

So, that’s it for my coverage of the Sundance Film Festival 2008 – the films, the people, the parties, and the gift lounges. IF YOU HAVE AN EVENT, FILM, OR LOUNGE YOU WANT COVERED NEXT NEAR, BE SURE TO LET ME KNOW ABOUT IT IN ADVANCE – my schedule gets jam packed up there, as you can probably tell from this Roundup!

 

-Jeff

 

Jeffrey R. Gund

INFOLIST.com

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