Friday, January 25, 2008

Sundance Reliables Satisfy, but I'm Still Bummed

Two of the best films at Sundance have come from already established names. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden cemented themselves as first-rate creators of emotionally affecting character studies with their follow-up to 2006's "Half Nelson," "Sugar." And Austrian Michael Haneke, a giant who has established himself over the past few decades as a purveyor of endlessly fascinating cinematic reflection, unveiled his English-language remake of his 1997 film "Funny Games."

"Sugar" follows the coming-of-age of a baseball player for the Dominican Republic who carries with him the dream of his nation. Every major league team from the United States has a farm camp in the country, where they develop talented players who hope to go to the United States and work their way up from the minor leagues. Sugar is the most promising young pitcher of his group, and is confident that he can conquer America. But this isn't a traditional sports movie with a grand big game and a dramatic finish—it's about a young man who still hasn't found himself, who tries to make his way in a foreign land.

Fleck and Boden understand the immigrant experience and the lives of players whose immense talent sadly might not be enough to carry them to a lucrative career. Some men from Sugar's town have already made it to the states, and wound up right back where they are. Unknown actor Algenis Perez Soto provides a remarkable performance, proving that the two knock-out performances from "Half Nelson" were no fluke.

Haneke's new "Funny Games" is just as challenging and disturbing as the original. Haneke turns his thriller of cruel torture into a satirical commentary on the material and the viewer's desires. While some might argue that it's pointless to remake a film in English, Haneke's shocking style and the brilliant cast, particularly Michael Pitt, definitely make it worth while.

While I'm happy to have seen films as good as "Sugar" and "Funny Games," I can't help but be disappointed in the festival as a whole. I already knew Fleck and Boden could make a great film, and in the case of "Funny Games" I even knew the specific brilliance of Haneke's conceit. Two years ago, I had a real Sundance experience when I stumbled into "Half Nelson" expecting nothing. I'm glad "Sugar didn't disappoint, but am sad that so many of the unknown filmmakers' work did. Sundance is supposed to be a festival of discoveries, but for these titles, but I already had a roadmap.
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Sundance Films to Avoid Like the Plague

If you are presented with the opportunity to see these titles, run the fuck away.

"Love Comes Lately" is about a self-obsessed acclaimed old writer who can't write for shit. His stories are every bit as boring and trite as his life.

Michael Keaton's "The Merry Gentlemen" sends out a wave of depression with its unimaginative and inexplicable direction. The acting might have pulled it through, if only the characters hadn't been so poorly conceived.
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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sundance's Refrain: 'Nothing Great'

"Nothing Great." This is the most common response I hear when I ask my fellow Sundance FIlm Festivaleers what they've seen so far. But that doesn't mean everything is middle of the road. There are plenty of films that I have outright hated, and plenty that were good, but "nothing great."
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Friday, January 18, 2008

Sundance Begins

The Sundance festival is just barely underway, but I've already witnessed a car accident and seen a few good films.

The festival opener, "In Bruges," which I reviewed for Film Threat, is one of the best films I've ever seen at the festival on opening night. That might not say a whole lot, but that doesn't mean the film isn't a great dark comedy.

I wrote a helpful guide to stereotyping your fellow festival-goers and participated in IN's staff's most-anticipated films list, even though I find it's best not to anticipate anything at Sundance, other than that you'll be surprised.
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Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Moved, Don't Have the Internet and Sundance is Coming

I moved on Thursday and have since been living a sad, cold, Internet-less existence. It's a lonely world when you aren't wired to everyone else. I'll try to catch up on what I missed (including the apparent death knell for HD DVD) before Sundance starts.

In the last issue of IN, I turned in a second year-end column that touched on my favorite moments. I also lamented the awkward "Romance and Cigarettes."

This week's issue tackles Sundance, but not all the stories seem to be online. Yet they are, if you look in the archive section. I looked over the track record from Sundances past and compared the Salt Lake City and Park City festivals. My column is a list of my favorite films that came out of Sundance's Dramatic Competition category. I'm sure I left out some great ones, but that's how it goes some times. (Sorry, "Manda Bala." On the bright side, you didn't qualify for this list.)

It has the wrong rating on it, by my review of "The Orphanage" should reflect my admiration for the film. I also reviewed "Youth Without Youth," but that's not coming out this weekend any more so I guess we'll pretend that I never wrote about it at all.
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