Monday, January 28, 2013

No Movie for Us on Saturday

Just to wrap things up, we were unable to get tickets for "Toy's House" on Saturday. Many people show up in Park City without any tickets in hand and then try to wait list into the movies they want to see. This is what we attempted to do Saturday morning. We showed-up at the theater more than two hours before the scheduled movie time. There was already a short line, but it looked promising. Exactly two hours before the movie starts, they hand out wait list numbers. Jois and I were numbers 29 and 30. A sign in the lobby said that the average number of wait list tickets sold at each movie at this particular theater was 33. Again, it looked promising.

With our numbers in hand, we were then free to leave the queue, so we headed to a little restaurant down the road for breakfast. We returned to the theater an hour later, lined back up by number and crossed our fingers. I think fewer than 20 people in the wait list line got in to the movie, so we were sent away movie-less. Darn!

In retrospect, many things worked against us. First, it's a fairly small theater (it's actually a hotel conference room converted to a theater.) Second, there was a lot of talk about "Toy's House" after it premiered earlier in the week. The story of three young men who decide to run away from civilization and "live off the land," it seemed to be the surprise hit of the Festival -- at least with audiences. Third, it is one of the few comedies showing in what proved to be a pretty heavy line-up of films -- a very desirable trait that late in the Festival. And finally, it was Saturday. It definitely felt like there were more movie goers on the weekends then during the week.

Hopefully "Toy's House" will make it to Portland and we can see it then. We have a few movies that we were unable to see this year that fall into that category, so we'll see. We are already working on housing for Sundance 2014, so it looks like the Sundance Outsider Blog will be resurrected once again. In the meantime, I'm going to make the most of Portland's rainy season and try to catch up on the Academy Award nominees that I haven't seen.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I'm so Upset

We just got out of our last movie of the day and I'm going to start by talking about that film and loop back around to our first movie. Actually, it was my first movie. Jois and Kim went to a 9:00 AM movie and I headed up to the box office around 7:00 AM to see if I could exchange or sell some tickets. We had two tickets for a 9:00 PM movie at The Sundance Resort (which is an hour outside Park City) and, after exploring all options -- shuttle, taxi, hitchhiking -- we abandoned hope of getting there at a reasonable price. I successfully exchanged those tickets for two tickets to "Fire in the Blood."

Fire in the Blood

This is one of those documentaries that every American should see. You will start out sad and end up pissed. Dylan Gray does an excellent job of explaining why the same antiretroviral drugs that have changed the outcome for thousands of Aids patients in the U.S. are not being utilized in third world countries. I'll give you a hint, the big Pharmaceutical companies are not very nice (unless you happen to be running for office.) The result, poor people in places like Africa and India are dying by the millions. That's not OK. Please visit the film's website, to hear more of the story and find out how to get involved. By the way Oregonians, I talked to one of the advocates featured in the film and he said Ron Wyden has been helpful, but it wouldn't hurt if he heard from his constituents.


Earlier in the day, we saw a dramatic film set in New Zealand in the '80s. Based somewhat on the filmmakers' lives, it told the story of Willie, an 18-ish kid who is fiercely loyal to his little brother, torn between the two cultures of his mixed-race family and gets involved with a traveling band of petty thieves. The little brother steals the show, but the intensity and honesty displayed by first-time actor Kevin Paulo, who plays Willie, is pretty remarkable. This is why I love Sundance: During the Q and A we learn that the filmmakers "discovered" him while he was eating butter chicken at a food court at the mall and the brother scenes were mostly improvised. I'm not sure it has commercial appeal, but we suggested they submit it to the Portland International Film Festival. We'll see ...

We capped the day with some lousy Chinese food (our favorite burrito joint was closed), packing and a little perusing of the real estate ads. Anyone want to go in on a condo in Park City with us?
We are out of tickets now, but that's not going to stop us from trying for one more movie tomorrow.

P.S. The title of tonight's post refers to both the documentary and the bad Chinese food.

Best Movie We Have Seen So Far

Once we got flights and shuttles figured out for our three friends who were trying to fly home yesterday (the Salt Lake Airport cancelled all morning flights due to ice), we saw two very different movies. The first was a Georgian -- as in Eastern Europe, not Southern U.S. -- documentary and the second was in the U.S. Dramatic Competition and was based on a true story.

The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear

In the past 10 years, I have seen a lot of movies at Sundance that I didn't like, but I don't think I have ever described any of them as boring. Maybe I'm just tired, but the first hour of this documentary put me to sleep. The young Georgian filmmaker attempts to shed light on life in contemporary Georgia by interviewing its youth. The film is made up of these interviews combined with footage of the interviewees going through daily life. A couple of the subjects, who appeared in the second half of the film, had interesting stories and the film picked-up a little bit. But, it wasn't enough for me. I really felt as if the Director had two short films here, rather than a feature. Both Jois and I felt them film could have also benefitted from a little more contextual information about Georgia -- its recent history, economy, etc. It also further bolstered our new theory that directors from countries where there is not a thriving film industry are more likely to be selected than those in countries that are already well represented.


See this movie! I have been so impressed with films by very young filmmakers this year and "Fruitvale" falls right in line. Based on the true story of Oscar Grant who was killed on New Year's Day 2009 on a platform at the Fruitvale Bart station in Oakland, CA. The train was packed with New Year's Eve partiers and many of those on board filmed the incident with their cell phones. Ryan Coogler (the 26-year-old writer/director) takes those eye witness accounts, police depositions, interviews with family and friends to craft a very honest story of what happened and a loving tribute to the man who lost his life.

I'm seeing two movies today and hope to wait list for one more tomorrow before we head down the mountain and back to Portland. It's been a different kind of Sundance -- fewer big stars and a little more low-key feel -- but the indie film biz is alive and well and I'm excited about all the talented first-time filmmakers we have seen this year.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Girl's Rock!

Today we saw two films written and directed by young, female directors. Although two very different films, I was struck by how each was an embodiment and almost a tribute to the woman who made it. Both drew from personal experience to write the screenplay and worked tirelessly to get them made. Referring to their films as their "babies," these women should be proud to let these "babies" out into the world.

The first film, "Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes," wove two stories of loss. 18 year old Emanuel, who's mother died giving birth to her, befriends the new mother who has moved in next door. An unlikely bond develops, things aren't as they seem and drama unfolds. This is a gorgeous film, sprinkled with dream-like sequences that enhance the drama and help the audience to understand Emanuel's emotional turmoil. While this film starts out about loss, it's really about unlikely alliances and how hard it can be sometimes to get unstuck.

We went from that movie to "In a World..." -- our first comedy! Directing herself as the lead, Lake Bell, leads through a hysterical story of living in the shadow of a famous father and breaking into a career traditionally dominated by men. Bell, stars as Carol, a voice coach who lands a couple of key voice-over roles, upsetting the balance of power at home. Her dad, top dog in the movie trailer voice-over business, has a hard time envisioning any woman, let alone his daughter, being taken seriously in the industry. Relationships form, relationships unravel, feelings are hurt and feelings are mended. I particularly loved Bell's crazy energy; the cameos by stars like Eva Longheria, Geena Davis and Cameron Diaz; and the cohesiveness of the primary cast -- completely believable as a messed-up family.

I don't know if these two films will make it to Portland, but if they do, they are worth a watch. Photo 1 below is Francesca Gregorini, Writer and Director of "Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes." Photo 2 is Lake Bell (Writer, Director and Star), Michaela Watkins, and another cast member from "In a World..."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's the Year of the Extreme Close Up

We saw two very different films today, but liked them both. The first, "The Spectacular Now" will be in theaters eventually. The second, called "Mother of George" was beautifully made, but may not make it to commercial theaters.

"The Spectacular Now" was about a high school senior who was a totally "living in the moment, life of the party" kind of guy who has no plans past high school. An unlikely girlfriend enters the picture and things start to change. What we loved about the film was how brilliantly the actors portrayed high school kids, it also had humor, heart and a well-told story. Not everyone we talked to agreed with us and I will concede there were some story holes (for example: if you drive drunk and your girlfriend ends up in the hospital as a result, there really should be a consequence), but when you have seen slow, plodding, mostly silent movies for two days; action, dialogue and a progressing plot is a welcome change.

"Mother of George" told the story of a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn, NY. When, after two years, they fail to conceive, the cultural differences come to a head. This was one of the most creatively filmed and beautifully executed films we have seen so far. Contrasting rich traditional African dress against the busy, grey landscape of modern-day Brooklyn added a layer of richness and texture to an already rich story. While I didn't love the out-of-focus close-ups that eventually came into focus, I appreciated the unique style and the way the cinematography, styling and lighting added an unspoken emotional element to the film.

We realized today that this is the year of the close-up. There seems to be an epidemic of pointing the camera at the actor doing the listening during intense dialogue, to the point where you are not always sure who's doing the talking. We have seen close-ups of feet, close-ups of hands and close-ups of the back of the neck. And I wasn't going to mention the various barnyard animals, but I just did. I'm hoping at some point during the Festival someone can explain to me how filmmakers from all over the world, telling extremely different stories have all adopted this one technique.

Here are some photos from today's movies. The first is Miles Teller (actor) and James Pondsoldt (Director) from "The Spectacular Now" and the second is Andrew Dosunmu, Director of "Mother of George."

Monday, January 21, 2013

More Pigs, Lots More, Can You Believe it ?

Ok, I'll admit, yesterday's pig theme was a bit of a stretch. I really liked the oil pig portrait at the restaurant we went to and the first film we saw partially took place on a farm, so I made it a theme. Boy was I surprised today, when our first film of the day had pigs, many of them, in a supporting role.

The film was called "Upstream Color" and told the story of two people who had been abducted and drugged with some kind of organism. After their lives are completely destroyed and while they are in the rebuilding phase, they meet each other and latch on. It takes a while for them to figure out they have both been through the same thing (that thing which includes blue mold, some kind of worm and an eventual surgery that removes the worm, but somehow links them to a pig.) Kind of sci-fi, kind of horror, mostly confusing. While still painfully slow for our taste, the upside of this film was it had a plot and was very well made. It was the first film we saw that didn't feel like the filmmaker's grad school thesis.

We dashed from there, missing the Q & A where we might have been able to ask the director to fill in some of the plot holes, to our first documentary. Finally, a film I can recommend without reservation. In "When I Walk," documentary filmmaker, Jason DaSilva turns the cameras on himself. At the age of 26, he learns he has a very aggressive form of MS and for the next seven years films his steady decline. With a great sense of humor, strong sense of purpose and a completely unsympathetic, yet totally supportive mother, Jason soldiers on.

I don't want to give it away, but the film is much more about living than it is about disease. It has moments of gut-wrenching frustration followed by moments of joy and hope. Did I mention the strong, no-nonsense mom? She provides the plain truth and the levity in the film, but it's really Jason -- his commitment to film making, his reluctance to yield to the disease and his honest look at his life -- that makes this film so magical.

Jason and his wife Alice were on hand after the screening to answer questions about the film and, together they have become big advocates for people with disabilities. Completely frustrated by the difficulty Jason deals with in navigating New York in a scooter, they are working to improve accessibility for all. Check out their website/app: where you can add accessible businesses to a map of your area. This way your disabled neighbors will know where they can and cannot go. How great is that?

We have two more films tomorrow and a night time trip to Main Street. Hope to be hanging with the cool crowd. Yesterday, we did bump into Chris Matthews, of MSNBC fame. Here's my friend, Julia, chatting him up.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Check Out The Copper Onion

It's not a good movie day when the highlight of the day was dinner. Who knew you could get awesome mussels in land-locked Salt Lake? If you are seeing movies at the Broadway Centre Cinemas, be sure to make reservations at The Copper Onion.

OK, enough about dinner, on to the movies. We saw two movies in the World Dramatic Competition -- one from Austria and one from Indonesia. Both were terrible.

The first, called "Soldate Jeanette" (Soldier Jane), attempted to address the issue of wealth disparity. This could have been interesting, but the story was told in such a slow, tedious and incomplete way, that we actually passed a flask of Makers Mark (good idea, Julia) to get through it. Later the filmmaker told us he started out by casting the film and never had a screenplay. Isn't that a little like hiring employees without job descriptions. If you love long, slow shots of cows being released from the barn and don't care if the characters ever speak to each other, this is the film for you.

Next up, "What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love." Set in a high school for hearing and vision impaired students, this film could have benefited from a plot and judicious editing. While better than the first movie, there was very little dialogue, a completely confusing story line and many frivolous scenes. Not only did the flask make another appearance (side note to filmmakers: if you are going to film someone brushing her hair 100 times, please start the scene at 90), but Julia left in the middle to watch the Ravens/Patriots game.

Tomorrow, we have three movies and all we ask for is a plot and some dialogue.