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Sundance ’11: No “MARGIN” for Error

Sundance '11: No "MARGIN" for Error

There’s snow flurries tonight on our second day in Park City for Sundance, which is a good thing since that means the temperature is usually a little more moderate which is OK by me. Last night was so cold your face hurt, but tonight you could get by without gloves and a hat if you needed to. Keep it up!

After one screening last night (James Marsh’s provocative PROJECT NIM), I must say that today was one of the stranger film-going days in all my years attending the festival. The official count was one Sundance film, one Slamdance film, and two Florida Film Festival submissions watched back at the condo. An unusual combination of circumstances led to this weird and somewhat frustrating day. After getting into virtually every single industry screening last year, I got shut out on only my third film of the festival (MARGIN CALL) despite getting in line 40 minutes early. The highly regarded financial thriller starring Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons and others proved to be such a popular draw that easily more than 100 of us were turned away. Apparently they’ve since added another screening on Thursday, which does us no good since we’re out of here on Wednesday. But with that cast and the positive word-of-mouth, it’s likely to land a distributor sooner rather than later.

For some reason only one press screening was scheduled for mid-afternoon, the Ken Kesey doc MAGIC TRIP, and since Jordana had that covered, heading back to the condo to watch more FFF entries was the only viewing option. The next venture outdoors was to head up to the top of Main Street for opening night of Slamdance, incredibly the first time I’ve ever seen a film at Park City’s “other” major film festival this week. While attending the world premiere of Alexander Rockwell’s quirky PETE SMALLS IS DEAD was a cool experience, watching a film in the main screening room was an abomination. In a bizarre opening to say the least, Slamdance had a 12-year-old boy with a piano accompanist perform a 3-song set of power ballads and dance pop! Huh? Then the sightlines are so bad in their makeshift theater that 1/3 to 1/2 of the lower portion of the screen was obscured by heads of people seated in front of you, and we were in the front row of one of the risers in the back. To make matters worse, the final section of the film takes place in Mexico, and forget being able to read the subtitles. I admire and appreciate the Slamdance philosophy and programming, but that screening room is so bad it makes the old Yarrow look like the Varsity in Toronto. I won’t be going back anytime soon. And of course between mini-Bieber, the short film, the feature, and Q & A’s, we got out of there too late to make our 10:30 Sundance screening. Like I said–frustrating.

QUICK TAKES (based on the O. Sentinel’s 4-star rating system):

PROJECT NIM (3 1/2 stars) – The new doc from James Marsh (MAN ON WIRE) is a fascinating, totally engaging, and disturbing film about a chimpanzee used in a Columbia University experiment in the early 70s to determine the capacity of the animal to learn to communicate if brought up in a human family. His is a truly extraordinary and sad journey packed with heroes and villians and manipulative scientists and irresponsible caretakers. This is one meditation on animal rights that is not what you would call kid-friendly.

THE MUSIC NEVER STOPPED (2 1/2 stars) – Based on a true story and Oliver Sacks’ case study, “The Last Hippie,” this sometimes touching drama tells the story of Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci), a teenage runaway who turns up almost 20 years later with a brain tumor that has destroyed his memory, blending past and present. His parents (JK Simmons and a fine Cara Seymour) care for him and try to reconnect with the help of a therapist (Julia Ormand), who discovers that Gabriel becomes “normal” only when listening to his favorite bands from the late 60s. The father/son relationship is the focus here, and despite lots of great music from the likes of The Beatles, Grateful Dead, Dylan, and Buffalo Springfield, the period details and switching back and forth from the 50s and 60s to the 80s are never convincing.

PETE SMALLS IS DEAD (3 stars) – The latest from Alexander Rockwell (IN THE SOUP) opened Slamdance and features a fun and game cast including Peter Dinklage, Mark Boone Junior, Steve Buscemi, Seymour Cassel, Rosie Perez, and Tim Roth. Dinklage is a screenwriter running a laundromat in NYC, in debt to a loan shark who kidnaps his beloved dog until he can pay up. So he heads out to Hollywood to secure the help of an old friend and attend the funeral of their mutual friend and noted director Pete Smalls, but nothing is quite what it seems in this humorous, sometimes silly noir that I’m sure would’ve played even better in a normal theater.


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