Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sundance Night Two: Too Many Movies in a Row

Have you ever stood in line at the grocery store, or at a restaurant, or at Blockbuster with just a shit-load of things you want, thinking (at the time) that you're so hungry/bored/excited that all this stuff will be perfect for you - and you need it. Only to find out when you get home that renting High School Musical One and Two was a really bad idea. That you can only take so much sugary goodness in one setting (and to offset this, you go look at the naked cell phone pics of Vanessa Hudgens - but feel like a pedophile 'cause she's only like 12.... okay, so yeah, neither have I....).

Welcome to my Saturday (though without naked Vanessa - but if it were that Zac Efron - let me tell you, they story might be different)! In attempting to get tickets to all the movies I wanted to see, I majorly loaded up for my first Saturday night. Keeping in mind, I didn't get home from Diary until 3 in the morning the night before.

So, yes, in a mad dash to savor Sundance-y goodness, I bought tickets for three movies that all started just about back to back. I've given them a day to gell (cause that's what my mind was after sitting in cramped, artsy theaters for over seven hours), so hopefully my thoughts are lucid and free of the clown midget that seemed to permeate them last night come hour seven.

Starting at 6:30, at the Rose Wagner theatre in Salt Lake City, was Sunshine Cleaning. So, starting off - what other movie do you think of when you read that title? Yep, that's it. Sundance's own, record-setting sale of 2006 - Little Miss Sunshine. So, let's do a little fun exercise comparing the two.

Title: Sunshine Cleaning / Little Miss Sunshine
Plot: A dysfunctional family tries to find where they belong / a dysfunctional family finds where they belong
Actors: Alan Arkin plays the eccentirc grandpa with a heart of gold / Alan Arkin plays the eccentric grandpa with a heart of gold
Opening Montage: Shots of the cast one at a time, orchestral music playing, in character establishing, funny scenes /Shots of the cast one at a time, orchestral music playing, in character establishing, funny scenes
Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico / Albuquerque, New Mexico

Okay, so we can stop - let's just say, it borrows more than a few plays from Little Miss Sunshine. Now, I love LMS - it is one of my all-time favorite movies (see earlier post), so any film that would try to achieve the same effect using similar things is up against a difficult task.

But, I have to admit - I really liked it. Not to say that it's perfect, but it's good. The performances by Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, and Alan Arkin are fantastic - as two sisters and their father who are struggling to make ends meat and peace with each other/their own selves. Adams and Blunt form a cleaning company to cleanup after crime scenes. This, of course, leads to genuinely funny and heartbreaking scenes. The movie never treats the subject of death lightly - yet it finds all the humor it can in it. 

Not every plot threads work - some leave you scratching your heads - but it works overall. It manages to mine the spectrum of emotions that very few movies do. It's definitely recommended - though don't go expecting a completely amazing, emotional movie that LMS was.

Rating: B+

Next: Time Crimes
Okay, so I had enough time to grab a bite at the Olive Garden, but had to run (okay, I had to quickly waddle - that damn Olive Garden food fills you up) to my car in order to speed over Broadway cinemas to catch my next movie.

Time Crimes is a Spanish film about a man who, while living out in the country, spies a woman undressing in the woods up in the hills near his house. He (of course) heads into the woods to investigate (as any pervert would.... okay, so any guy). In the woods, he finds the undressed girl unconscious. As he leans in closer to see if she's alright (yeah, right) a figure in a black trench coat with pink bandages over his head jumps out and stabs him in the arm. The man runs and the figure chases him up the hill. The man finds a laboratory atop the hill. Climbing into a tank to hide - he awakens 6 hours earlier. And the movie goes on (time conventions and hilarity ensues).

So, here's what works: Time travel movies are cool when executed well - and this one is executed petty well. There are all sorts of little things that happen in the first twenty minutes that are unexplained - and they get explained as the main character travels back in time. And then, of course, there are more weird things that happen. It's really interesting. And the twist toward the end is pretty cool.

And, okay, here's what doesn't work: If you know time movies - just about everything will be kinda predictable. With that - it hits stretches where it gets kinda boring. The movie also backs itself into a corner (which is cool as it happens) by the end. You feel "How is this going to end?" And I bet the filmmakers felt the same dilemma - so they just ended it. The ending was weak. It took a halfway decent (depending on how well you can predict movies) movie and killed it - leaving you unsatisfied. The movie also bounces between genres. At first it's creepy and slightly erotic (and why not - it's a Spanish film, aren't they all?), then scary, then sci-fi, then it bounces all over. You name it, it hits upon it - so you're never sure what to feel.

All in all, worth a shot, but wait for the DVD and only if you're a fan of time travel movies. If you want to see a truly great time travel Sundance movie - go rent Primer (won Sundance Jury Award (or something like that) in 2004). In fact, one of the people I saw Time Crimes with describe it as "Primer, if Primer were a comic book." Aaaaaaand, that's not a compliment.

Grade: C+

Number three: The Broken
Okay, so after two movies - my butt was tired and my mind was getting slow. And it was getting late. And I was wishing that I had tickets for this movie at another time - but at least it was only a few blocks away. Ditching the Time Crimes Q&A, I ran over to the Tower theatre to follow cadre of freaks that stalks SLC Sundance for the next movie.

So, okay, got to talk to some other Sundancers who'd hit all the movies that I had that night. It was nice to get some oppressed thoughts out of my already crammed mind.

So, at Midnight (taking into mind that I got into SLC at like 6 o'clock) I started the final movie of the night. The Broken is a British film (look! I celebrate diversity, I watched two foreign movies in one night!) about a woman who after seeing herself drive by, follows her to an apartment where she finds a picture of herself and her dad. She blanks out and clicks back in a car, driving away. Her car veers into another car and she goes into a coma. 

Waking up a bit later, she notices that her boyfriend is no longer acting like himself. Slowly, as she tries to piece together her missing memory, everyone around her starts to change - and she begins to suspect something sinister at work.

So, yeah, let's dissect.

Good: Man, this movie nails atmosphere extremely well. The writer/director introduced the film and said he made it in the spirit of Edgan Allen Poe. The movie is scary and very creepy. It keeps you guessing and really twists everything around in a very "Ahhh.... of course, it all makes sense now" kind of way. Plus, Lena Heady, so hot and cool. I'm glad I'm seeing more of her in movies and on TV (she's Sarah Connor on the new Terminator show). I really like the movie.

Bad: until it ended. Then I realized that the movie had no point. There wasn't really a theme or a message (even bleak movies like The Ring or Memento have a theme and leave you thinking about something when it ends). When The Broken ended, all I was left thinking was "Wait.... what was the point of that?" It didn't really have one. It was like the writer/director had a cool creepy idea, built a movie around it but didn't bother to dig any deeper to themes and deeper meanings.

Well, so, were it not for that (and, let's be honest, only cynical pranks like me will have a problem with this - most people will really like it), the movie would be really good. But, sadly, I need more meat in my movies, so I give it a B-.

So, all in all, not a bad night. I didn't dislike any of them as I watching them - I've got to say, I love going to all these movies not really knowing anything about them. It is so cool to see interesting, fresh movies one after another.

Ooh, ooh! And, the best part of Time Crimes was an Australian short that was shown before the film. It was a very scary, well-done short about two people who trespass on a private tennis court. Look for Match: Satan anywhere that you can - and turn up the volume loud (it was so loud in the theater - which made it really intense). It's good.

So, I will sign off for now and come back after my next few Sundance endeavors.



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