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Today from Sundance, Eric Kohn gives snapshot reviews of "The Yes Men Fix The World' and "In The Loop," while Peter Knegt reports from a screening of "Arlen Faber."
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: "The Yes Men Fix The World"
Fans of corporate satirists "The Yes Men" from their self-titled 2003 debut documentary will get a kick out of their sincerely amusing follow-up, "The Yes Men Fix the World." Boosted by the promises of an Obama-led world, performance artists Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos continue their prankish routine of pretending to be representatives of global businesses and speaking the ugly truth of free market motives to anyone gullible enough to pay attention.
This time around, targets include Dow's neglect of poor living conditions in Bhopal, Exxon Mobile's poor management of its employees' health conditions, and Haliburton. As always, the Yes Men get away with their gimmicks by letting others (ie, duped members of the media and real companies) invite them to speak. In the movie, the behind-the-scenes details round out their ambition. Although at times the movie feels somewhat formless, with a series of nonfiction sketches replacing the need for plot, the Yes Men retain an unmistakable charm by marrying their trickiness with strong convictions about improving the conditions of the globe. By operating under the guise of certain characters -- rather than blatantly moralizing -- they avoid the abrasiveness of Michael Moore and his ilk. The movie culminates with the duo's effective (and very recent) distribution of a fake New York Times issue predicting a utopian future six months away ("Iraq War Ends," declared one prominent headline). Unlike other globally situated documentaries, "The Yes Men Fix the World" has the guts to display some optimism about the future.
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: "In The Loop"
The aesthetics of "The Office" meet those of "The West Wing" in the scathing political comedy "In the Loop," a speedy close-up on the dysfunctional working relationships of Capital Hill. Taking advantage of a hugely talented cast of American and British performers, director Armando Iannucci focuses on a rambunctious group of fast-talking American and British government employees helplessly grappling with whether or not they want to launch a war. Standouts from the ensemble cast include James Gandolfini as a conflicted general and Simon Foster as a bumbling British Secretary of State whose miscalculated comments to the press continually complicate matters.
Iannucci's shakycam, quasi-improvised style, widely popularized by the onslaught of digital cameras, creates a sense of naturalism while giving the actors freedom to play with their roles. The story occasionally grows too dense for even devout political honchos, but the finest scenes of "In the Loop" thrive on a certain amount of confusion. Ultimately, Iannucci seems less interested in satirizing the government than in showcasing the absurdities that truly exist. [Eric Kohn]
Hindman Talks "Arlen Faber"
"This movie is filled with things that I love personally," "Arlen Faber" writer-director John Hindman said after a screening of the film in Park City. "I love standards. I love movie monsters. I love piano music. I love when I go to the chiropractor and they make my back better. I love not drinking anymore. I love romance. It's like, nobody was paying me so I could do whatever I wanted to do with it."
Hindman's "loves" provide a good idea of the variety of themes portrayed in "Faber," which is screening in U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Starring Jeff Daniels as the title character, "Faber" tells the story of the reclusive author of "Me and God," a massively popular book that essentially redefined spirituality. His life becomes entangled with a chiropractor (Lauren Graham) and a recovering alcoholic (Lou Taylor Pucci), leading to a series of events that redefines each of their own lives.
"I hear people talk off all the time, and certainly it would be a complaint I would share... not enough time, not enough money," Hindman said of his experience on the film, his directorial debut. "But they are all such high quality problems. They are problems I've been dreaming about, honest to god, since I was ten years old and walked out of 'Rocky.' I knew what I wanted to do with my life. And it's taken decades to get there. So as frustrating as some of it could be, I don't have any bad stories... The hardest thing was getting people to let me direct it. You know, I'm like to Kevin [Messick, the film's producer], if you could just get me in a room with them. They just want to know I'm not stupid or crazy. There's a lot of people out there that are really talented and haven't gotten the opportunity I have to be here."
Hindman was obviously quite grateful for his cast agreeing to do the film, which was a big help in getting it made. "When you're literally no one," he said, "you just hope that someone who might be right will read it want to do it. If it weren't for Jeff Daniels - the great Jeff Daniels - reading it and wanting to do it, I would just be a guy that wrote a decent screenplay."
"Arlen Faber" has its final Park City screening Saturday at the Library Center Theatre.