Sundance 2008 in words and crappy pictures

Sundance Intro Screen

I recently returned from Park City where attended the Sundance Film Festival for the second year in a row. It’s funny, I would probably describe myself as a below-average film fan. I went last year because a group of my friends were going and had an opening in their condo. I like skiing and snowboarding and I figured that was reason enough for a trip to Park City. If the film festival was worthwhile, that would just be a bonus. I wound up loving the film festival and was anxious to return this year. Still, you should remember that my impressions below are those of a casual film fan.

The Scene: The scene is rich white people and celebrities. It’s always very crowded on main street – “the strip” in park city, but many of the people there are only there for the films, so the mountain is relatively empty. It is one of the best times of the year to ski or snowboard because the lift lines are always very short.

Getting Tickets: There’s a lottery system which you have to use to get a window of time during which you can buy tickets. Movies play all day long at eight different theaters around Park City. There’s a free bus system that takes everyone to all of the theaters. We did well this year and got a lot of tickets. When it was all done I saw 9 movies, and some of them were really good.

Q&A: The coolest thing about Sundance to me is that after the films play, members of the cast and crew get up on stage to talk about the film and answer questions from the audience. This such a unique opportunity, and often I find that the Q&A can greatly sway my opinion of the movie. Most of my pictures below are from the Q&A segment for these films.

Crappy Pictures: I’ve got a point-and-shoot camera, and I struggled with the distance between me and the celebrities, as well as the spotlight-lighting. Still, some of them turned out well enough to prove that I was really there.

The Movies

Blind Date: Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson play the role of a dysfunctional couple trying to deal with the death of their child by placing creative personal ads directed at each other. They then meet up in character and try to talk things through. This movie felt like a play, as most of it took place in one room. It started out interesting, then it started to drag, and by the end I was really really depressed. It was very artfully done, but alas I don’t recommend it unless you want a downer.

Stanley Tucci & Patricia Clarkson

The Q&A for this movie was fascinating though. Unfortunately I can’t go into detail without spoiling the movie. Someone in the audience just made a very insightful observation and Mr. Tucci (the male lead and also the director) looked genuinely surprised that he hadn’t noticed the same thing and said something along the lines of “we may have to go re-shoot the ending.”

U2 3D:

U2 in 3D ticket stub

I wound up getting tickets to this movie at around midnight on the night of the show. The guy who had driven my friends from the airport stumbled upon some comped tickets and felt like sharing – thanks Jeremy. Luckily the movie started around 45 minutes late so we didn’t miss the beginning. This is just tour footage of U2’s 2006 tour in South America, but shot in 3D. The 3D technology has come a long way and was really amazing. It would have been nice if there was some behind-the-scenes footage of the band, but still this movie was awesome and leaves you with the abiding impression that U2 is an amazing band. It’s easy to forget just how many hit songs this band has, but they just keep playing hit after hit. Bono’s voice is also ridiculously strong. 3 members of the band were also there to introduce the movie, which was of course super-cool. Here are some pictures:

Edge @ the podium


The Wackness: This was another morning movie – something I never do in real life, but it works out pretty well. I saw a lot of morning movies and was able to snowboard for 3 half days in the latter half of the day.

Wackness Director and Actress

This movie is set in 1994, and is about a kid who is graduating high school. Since I was around that age at that time, I think I’m a good target audience for the movie. The movie focuses heavily on music (which I like), the main character’s relationship with his Psychologist (I was a Psych major in undergrad), and one other thing that I also like. This was the first really good movie that I saw, and I would recommend to most people around my age. The picture above is of the director and one of the main actresses. The director talks exactly like the main character in the movie, so it’s not surprising to find out the movie is loosely autobiographical.

The soundtrack is also great to this movie, and I look forward to buying it. Mott the Hoople has had a great invovlement in movies lately – The Wackness features “all the young dudes” prominently, as did Juno.

Be Kind Rewind: We couldn’t get tickets to this movie in the lottery, but I was very curious to see it so I woke up at 6:45 and stood in line for the waitlist for the 8:30 AM showing. It was a popular waitlist:

Waitlist for Be Kind Rewind

I was #63 in the waitlist, and I knew the movie was technically sold out. I also knew that the theater only held 448 people. Still, it was snowing heavily and I think that kept a number of people away, and I lucked out and got in!

This movie stars Jack Black and Mos Def, and is by the same dude who did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I was honestly a little let down. It was good, but not great. It was funny, but not hilarious. It started out quirky and original, but failed to sustain the originality through out the movie. To top it all off, no actors or directors showed up for Q&A at the end. Boooo!

Diminished Capacity: This movie starred Matthew Broderick and Alan Alda. The synopsis sounded like it would have an original and interesting plot, but this movie was also a bit of a let down. It started out original, then went to predictable, and at times was contrived. Watching this movie made me appreciate just how hard it is to make a great movie. You have to have all of the ingredients just right, and if any of them are off it winds up leaving you a little flat. The Q&A for this movie was also nothing but stupid questions.

Matthew Broderick Alan Alda Louis CK

Super Tuesday

On Tuesday the 22nd I saw 4 movies. In case you’re wondering, yes – that is too many for one day. Still, 50% of them were great!

Choke: I felt very lucky to get tickets to this well-hyped premier. This is based on the book by the same guy who wrote Fight Club. This movie was original, clever and interesting all the way through (even though it was a bit too long). I know it just got bought so hopefully it will soon be in wide distribution.

The Soundtrack is also likely to be great for this movie, and it used a lot of very current music. Towards the end of the film there was a cool scene set to Radiohead’s Reckoner, and the closing credits were set to Rogue Wave’s Lake Michigan.

Clark Gregg and Chuck Palahniuk

The Q&A for this movie was also great. Chuck Palahniuk said his preference is to let the director do whatever he likes to interpret the book, and that his favorite parts while watching the movie (the first time he saw it was at Sundance ) were the ones that were new to him. He also told one of the actors (for the first time) that his character was based on St. Francis of Assisi. It was a funny moment, because you can tell the guy was thinking “it would have been nice to know that before I shot the movie.” Both Director and the Author seemed really sharp and really personable.

Sugar: This movie is by the same folks who did Half Nelson, which I found really well done. Sugar was great – it’s about a baseball player from the Dominican Republic who gets the opportunity to play in the US. The movie does a thoughtful job of depicting just what that experience is like, and all the little details of culture shock that the player goes through on his journey. Even though the movie’s pace is a little slow, I felt it was deliberately that way and I never lost interest. The main character winds up being amazingly likable. I highly recommend seeing this movie if you get a chance.

Sugar gang

Death In Love: 100 thumbs down. This movie about the children of a holocaust survivor opens with so much unwelcome imagery I just couldn’t forgive the rest of the movie. Unpleasant sex scenes juxtaposed with imagery of Nazi medical experiments, followed by scenes of the male lead masturbating. No thank you!!! I will readily admit that I didn’t get much of what the director was trying to convey to me. Maybe I was dense, or worn out from already seeing two movies, but I did NOT like this movie. One of the first questions during the Q&A was “What were you thinking?” – I was wondering the same thing. I will say that it got a little more interesting towards the end, but ultimately even that part was still over my head. I also got no good pictures during the Q&A.

The Deal – I was hoping for a strong finish to my Sundance experience with this movie featuring Meg Ryan and William H. Macy. No such luck. I’d describe this movie as somewhere between silly and stupid. The bulk of it was composed of inside humor about Hollywood and the movie business, and while I’m not that familiar with that scene, I felt like I could tell it still wasn’t that clever. If this comes on HBO some Sunday when you don’t have much planned, go ahead and watch it. Otherwise skip it.

William H. Macy & Meg Ryan

The Q&A for this one was also awful. It started off with the director and Macy talking about how they tried to tell the Sundance people the crazy story of how they financed the movie. The Sundance folks said “we don’t want to hear it, every movie has a crazy story about how it was financed.” They then proceeded to tell the audience the whole story of how the movie was financed – and it was really boring. Then some idiot in the audience said he’d always had a crush on Meg Ryan and could he have a kiss? Goon!

Random Celebs Sightings: Outside of the theaters I also saw Woody Harrelson and “Roy” from The Office. Only Woody’s picture was clear:

Woody Harrelson

Final Thoughts: Overall it was a great experience this year. Each year I feel like I learn a bit more about how to successfully navigate the festival. To reiterate, the movies I really liked and would recommend were: The Wackness, U2 3D, Choke, and Sugar. Check them out if you get the chance.

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