EDITOR’S NOTE: Throughout the festival indieWIRE is posting continuous updates. Check back here throughout the day to get the latest.
Today from Sundance, Bill Benenson's "Dirt!" causes a post-screening scuffle, IFC makes a deal for a midnight title and Eric Kohn reviews "The Clone Returns Home" and "Zion and His Brothers."
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: "The Missing Person
Only the second 9/11 noir after "Able Danger," Noah Buschel's "The Missing Person" pays homage to classic detective stories without really adding to the formula. Although it's nowhere near the same quality, "The Missing Person" begs comparison to Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye," which upgraded Raymond Chandler's disaffected private eye to a contemporary setting. Buschel, a New Yorker, was reading Chandler when the Twin Towers fell. The resulting movie reflects the precise combination of those two components. While thematically muddled and lethargically paced, "The Missing Person" holds plenty of appeal for anyone interested in experiments with tone.
Michael Shannon, intense as always, scowls and grunts his way through a familiar (yet satisfying) performance as a disgruntled New York private investigator hired to tail an anonymous man through the California desert. Drifting along a frustratingly vague plot, Shannon's character can't always sustain the lack of engaging forward motion. Still, the details of his subject -- a World Trade Center survivor who decided to fake his death and leave his wife -- provide a focal point for patient audiences.
Buschel's script could have benefited from a cleaner storyline, but Shannon brings a seriousness to the role where other actors may have exaggerated it. Amy Ryan, as the detective's enigmatic client, puts on an icy demanor that pales in comparison. However, she and Shannon's restrained performances help maintain the movie's consistently ominous tone, which certainly fits the subject matter. [Eric Kohn]
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: "Zion and His Brothers"
Israeli cinema continues to diversify, mainly by borrowing from the cinematic styles of other countries. With "Zion and His Brother," director Eran Merav does a solid job of channeling neorealist traditions into a conventional sibling rivalry story. In the dirty outer regions of Haifa, Zion (Reuven Badalov) comes to blows with his older brother Meir (Ofer Hayun) over a variety of issues. The two live with their troubled mother (Ronit Elkabetz) in a cramped living space, which she dreams of abandoning for a larger pad in a new area. Her kids, meanwhile, only know the bored lifestyle of their day-to-day routine, and Merav wisely focuses on this aspect.
The filmmaker introduces a plot twist reminiscent of "Paranoid Park" when Zion gets into a tussle with one his neighbors near the train tracks, resulting in an apparent accident that leaves the other boy dead. As Zion grows increasingly paranoid -- and his relationship with his brother becomes further estranged -- Merav builds to a powerful and excitingly choreographed climax. The rest of the movie suffers from lacking similar intensity, but Merav, making his directorial debut, displays a knack for capturing subtle family drama. It should be interesting to see where that ability takes him next. [Eric Kohn]
Punches thrown post-"Dirt"
A scuffle apparently broke out after a Holiday Village screening of Bill Benenson "Dirt! The Movie" this morning at the Sundance Film Festival, giving industry insiders and bloggers something to buzz about on a relatively quiet Wednesday morning. The simmering tension over documentary aesthetics versus issue advocacy apparently stoked the battle.
indieWIRE began getting text messages a little while ago about a fight that turned physical today between film rep Jeff "The Dude" Dowd and Variety film critic John Anderson. The incident apparently went down at the restaurant at the Yarrow Hotel after Dowd approached Anderson to talk about the film. The Critic told The Dude that he didn't like the film, who apparently then tried to make a case for his ecologically-oriented movie. Prodding the writer to talk about the doc, insiders said that Anderson felt besieged by Dowd and, after warning him to back off, The Critic let loose and slugged The Dude twice in the face.
Park City cops were called and Jeff Dowd detailed the incident, but one insider said that The Dude has not decided whether he will press charges.
The incident will certainly stir more talk as additional details emerge... [Eugene Hernandez]
IFC Makes "Snow" and "Objective" Deal
U.S. rights to Tommy Wirkola's "Dead Snow" have been acquired by IFC Films. Described as "a genre-bending Norweigan horror comedy," the film debuted in the midnight section this week at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Arianna Bocco from IFC Films negotiated the deal with Adeline Fontan Tessaur and Eva Diederix at Elle Driver, which has also sold the film to Germany (Splendid), Benelux (also Splendid), the U.K. (Entertainment One) and Canada (Seville).
Additionally, the company has taken U.S. rights to Daniel Myrick's "The Objective," which debuted at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. IFC plans a February 4 release in IFC Theaters and its video on demand platform. There will also be a theatrical midnight engagements at the IFC Center in NY on February 6th and 7th. [Eugene Hernandez]
SNAPSHOT REVIEW: "The Clone Returns Home"
As contemplative science fiction goes, Kanji Nakajima's "The Clone Returns Home" plays like a subpar "Solaris." The Japanese writer-director undoubtedly demonstrates an eye for immersive visuals, but the overall package amounts to little more than a bore. This haunting story focuses on a young astronaut whose death in space leads researchers to attempt an experimental cloning procedure to resurrect him. However, not unlike "Multiplicity," the cloned astronaut isn't quite the same person as his original self. When a childhood memory leads him to wander aimlessly in the wilderness, scientists decide to perfect the experiment by creating a second clone. This one works out a little better, but appears to lack his soul. "The clone is a spirit connecting life and death," ruminates one scientist, pointing out that the revived astronaut can't distinguish between the ordinary and the fantastic — whatever that means.
While never tapping into the otherworldly engagement of classic science fiction literature, Nakajima certainly tries hard to do just that. Along with the ponderous pace, dreary photography and deadpan performances, "The Clone Returns Home" contains breathtaking outer space sequences and poetic views of hyper-realistic landscapes from an ambiguous future. But it's not enough for Nakajima to establish that world; he needs to make it interesting. On that front, "The Clone" simply doesn't compute. [Eric Kohn]