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Sundance ’11: A “Winning” Run of Movies

Sundance '11: A "Winning" Run of Movies

Saturday in Park City brought a half day of blizzard-like snowfall and cold, windy conditions, but since then it’s been quite nice here–sunny and clear with temps in the teens in the morning and evening and hitting the low 30s during the day. No complaints here. Awesome Fresh Market (formerly the Albertsons for you oldtimers) score of the weekend: pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, comparable to the best “Muffies” (muffin tops) you’ve ever had. Got shut out of yet another film on Saturday, the Paramount $4 million dollar pick-up, LIKE CRAZY, despite getting in line 30 minutes prior after running out during the credits of my previous film. Clearly the rules have changed this year, making it nearly impossible to do 5 or 6 films in a day when you’ve got to get on line so early. At least it seems to have eased up a bit after the weekend, and I’ve been able to make all my screenings the last couple of days.

More Quick Takes:

WIN WIN (4 stars) – Loved this! Sharp, funny and touching in places, story follows Paul Giamatti as a struggling, small-town New Jersey lawyer/high school wrestling coach who becomes morally compromised when he takes on legal guardianship of one of his elderly clients and the guy’s troubled teenage runaway grandson shows up. The latest from Tom McCarthy (THE STATION AGENT and THE VISITOR), also stars Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, and Jeffrey Tambor, and is a definite crowdpleaser–look for this one in April.

HAPPY, HAPPY (2 1/2 stars) – When the perfect couple and their adopted Ethiopian boy move in next door to the somewhat unhappily married Kaja, relationshps get screwy and secrets are revealed. Intermittently amusing and interesting, there’s a bit of unsettling business throughout as Kaja’s sadistic son and the other child play “master and slave” for his amusement and neither set of parents seem to notice. A debut Norwegian feature billed as “a comedy about infidelity, moose meat, blowjobs and cottage cheese,” this is a decent festival film that is unlikely to get picked up for distribution in the States.

TYRANNOSAUR (3 1/2 stars) – Brit actor Paddy Considine’s excellent first feature is an impeccably acted and exceedingly grim drama that packs a wallop. Peter Mullan plays a violent, self-destructive, raging alcoholic who finds a glimmer of redemption in a Christian charity shop owner played by Olivia Colman. Eddie Marsan is her monster of a husband. Never have two lost souls needed each other more, and this is a film experience that’s hard to shake.

THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD (3 stars) – Look who’s back! Morgan Spurlock’s latest is a frequently hilarious and provocative investigation into product placement, advertising, selling-out and the art vs. commerce debate. But of course the film is financed entirely by product placement and advertising, and it is not only an examination of these issues, but the filmmaker’s attempts to secure the funds to make the picture create the content for the movie. Breezy and subversive, the SUPERSIZE ME director loses comedic steam a bit down the stretch, but finishes brilliantly and is a highly entertaining doc to look forward to in April.

SHUT UP LITTLE MAN! AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE (3 stars) – Another hilarious doc! In the late 80s, two punks moved from Wisconsin to a dive of an apartment in San Francisco. Courtesy of the paper-thin walls, they were soon introduced to the drunken ravings of their next-door neighbors, the homophobic Raymond and the flamboyantly gay Peter. For the next year and a half, the boys hung a microphone out the window and made cassette recordings of the alcohol-fueled insanity coming through the walls and open windows. The incredible story of what became a multi-media phenomenon is thoroughly explored in this very entertaining and often surprising doc from Australia.

TERRI (3 1/2 stars) – Heavy set, almost obese, alienated high-schooler Terri lives with his sickly uncle who’s right in the head only some of the time. A definite loner and outcast and a weird kid, he is befriended by the tries-too-hard vice principal (John C. Reilly), along with the class juvenile delinquent and the class slut. With characters that feel authentic and that we can all identify with, the latest work from the director of MOMMA’S MAN, Azazel Jacobs, is an unusual comedy about growing up misunderstood and finding oneself.

BEATS, RHYMES & LIFE: THE TRAVELS OF A TRIBE CALLED QUEST (3 stars) – I had no idea. In the 80s while I was listening to De La Soul, apparently A Tribe Called Quest was considered the equivalent of The Beatles or the Stones to a whole generation of hip-hop and alternative rap lovers. Actor Michael Rapaport’s directorial debut is a very solid music doc about the remarkable and influential run of this acclaimed group prior to and after their bitter break-up in the late 90s. Featuring tons of video and concert clips and interviews with the band and other luminaries of rap and hip-hop, it doesn’t skimp on any of the behind-the-scenes drama.

THE BENGALI DETECTIVE (3 stars) – Set in the former Calcutta, India (now Kolkata), this very entertaining doc looks in on the life of Rajesh Ji, a private detective and loving husband who dreams of being in showbiz but has to spend the majority of his time investigating counterfeit cosmetic products, adulterers, and a triple murder. Shot with a surprising intimacy, this is an endearing character with many entertaining and emotional things going on in his life, making for a rich and fascinating subject. Fox Searchlight apparently just bought the remake rights, so I guess a narrative version will be in the works.


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