SUNDANCE Film Festival 2009


Cold Souls (United States)
When 'Sideways' came out I was not as enthusiastic about Paul Giamatti's performance as everyone else. Yes, he did fine I thought but he was basically playing himself wasn't he? I've never met him of course so I had no basis to know one way or another. In 'Cold Souls' Paul Giamatti does play himself and it's even better than 'Sideways'. There's a scene at the end where Giamatti, filmed from about 50 yards away simply pours emotion through the screen. How does he do that?

This movie will be in theaters and there will be plentiful comparisons to 'Being John Malkovich', in 'Cold Souls' a machine has been invented that will remove your soul so that it can be stored safely and returned to you later, when it won't be such an inconvenience. Paul Giamatti is finding his inner self to be a hindrance while performing in a play that is all about the inner life, Uncle Vanya. Not surprisingly, removing his soul does not have the desired effect. Warmth and tenderness are what we all need on the inside and this movie oozes with both. 'Being John Malkovich' is a great film but I don't feel the need for repeated viewings, I do plan to own the DVD of 'Cold Souls' when it's available.

Sundance 2009

One Day in a Life (Italy)
Telling a story that happens over the course of one day this sweet little film was actually shot in just a week . How can that happen? Natural lighting, on the beach.  Salvadore is visiting the beach on his own and he connects with a small group also out to spend some time in the sun. Salvadore is intriguing for both men and women but the connection he ultimately makes is based simply on humanity. If the weather where you are is forcing you to stay inside a sun drenched movie such as this will turn your home theater system into light-therapy.

Humpday (United States)
Created in the style of a Mike Leigh movie but one step further. Mike Leigh collaborates with the actors in the creation of the script but in the end writes the script. For Humpday director Lynn Shelton told the actors in a general way what would happen in each scene but they came up with the dialog during shooting. The result is striking realism in the performances. In a Q&A after one screening a member of the audience had trouble understanding – "is this a documentary?" It's a scripted movie but the actors created and owned the script and no one bothered to write it down. The striking realism is put to good use as two male college friends mutually dare their way into agreeing to perform together for an amateur porn contest. That is, have sex with each other even though they are not gay. This is indie film at its best and the Sundance jury recognized that by awarding a 'Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence.'  I don't know if this movie will make it to theaters, I hope it does.

The Reckoning (United States)
As a film this is a straightforward talking-head documentary. Nonetheless it got a standing ovation at the screening that I attended because the idea is so powerful. Bring the bad guys to justice. On a grand scale, through The International Criminal Court.

The history of this court is interesting as it is a novel idea – this level of cooperation and shared ideals between nations. We are all so familiar with the idea of 'The Hague' or 'The World Court' we tend to think that the ICC has been around forever but the trials we remember from even recent history were under a temporary court such as The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Currently the court is pursuing generals in The Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda and this is the focus of much of the movie. It's shot on video and as I said, is mostly talking so it doesn't add much to the documentary genre but it's good to know that this is going on.

Sundance 2009

Peter and Vandy (United States)
Based on the play of the same name, Peter and Vandy is a relationship movie. A relationship movie is cousin to the romantic comedy and shares some of the same elements and predictability. Like a particular version of a jazz standard, the interest lies in the variation, what did this particular story emphasize? In this case the emphasis is on the breakup. But, a little more on the personalities involved than that other movie on the subject (The Breakup). As in that other movie there is a scene where the cruelty reaches a crescendo and I have to say that in the case of Peter and Vandy it didn't work. Many in the audience were scratching their heads – "What was that about? How could he be such a..". I think the answer lies in the 'based on a play' part of the film. When something is on stage there is not as much suspension of disbelief so an over the top scene can come across a little lighter, feeling more like the playwright or director is winking at the audience a little, acknowledging that we all know we're watching a play here and the (whatever) being depicted here is something we're all familiar with so let's amp it up a little and have a laugh. Doesn't work that way in a movie.  Nonetheless, there is a deeper theme to the movie that outweighs such shortcomings. By jumping back and forth in time Peter and Vandy encourages us to think about the entirety, good and bad of this relationship and or own relationships.

Sundance 2009

Moon (United States)
A science fiction story conceived and directed by David Bowie's son, Duncan Jones. Financed by Sting through the film company run by his wife, Trudi Styler. Thus, this film represented our only celebrity sighting of Sundance 2009 (outside of those who got on stage to talk about their movies). Bowie and Sting were in the audience, we saw the backs of their head's pretty well. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, sole attendant of a mining operation on the moon, nearing the end of his three year contract. His only company is the station computer, voiced by Kevin Spacey.

Bell starts to unravel mentally, hallucinating and crashing his rover vehicle when he thinks he sees someone out on the surface. Clearly the director loves the science fiction genre and makes interesting choices to honor that such as using miniature models rather than digital effects. There are, however only so many science fiction plots and this one will become recognizable as the movie goes on. Still, like romantic comedies there are variations on the theme and for fans of the genre this is enough.

Sundance 2009