By Other Voices voices@moviecitynews.com

‘Dancing With The Wildman

Sundance – Day 1

I drive to Sundance. From L.A. It’s an eleven hour drive that I have become very accustomed to and even when it takes me through crazy rain and snow (and that was just between L.A. and Las Vegas) or the dreaded black ice threatens to send me careening into a snow bank somewhere outside of Provo, it is more than worth it. And not just because that way I can bring my snowboarding gear. Because – for me – the films are worth it. I’m not saying they are all brilliant cinematic masterpieces. Of course not. And you could argue that they all aren’t even good – eye of the beholder and all that.

But as I watched the first two films before I even began the trip, I couldn’t wait to get here and get started. Couldn’t wait to jump right in and start the movie marathons – squeezing every screening I possibly could out of each day. See, my expectations of what studios are delivering to us have been so lowered that more and more, even the previews strike me as unintentional parodies from the old Ben Stiller Show. The trailer for Robin Hood which might as well include a voiceover along the lines of “It’s just like Gladiator – but with bows and arrows!” or “He steals from the rich and gives to the poor! AND KICKS ASS!” Or the newTom Cruise movie, where Tom is desperately trying to convince us that Cruise is still “the guy” – to the point where he literally declares to Cameron Diaz (but seriously, he’s talking directly to us, imploring) “I’m the guy! Remember? Not the Oprah couch jumpin’, psychiatry hatin’, Matt Lauer beratin’ guy! Not that one. I’m the spy dangling from a bungee cord, shootin’ two guys in two different directions at the same time and still charmin’ the ladies guy! I’m THAT guy!”

No you’re not. Not anymore.

So, yeah… Sundance, I need you. We need you.

However, I am also well aware that I and others that feel like I do to one degree or another can become so enraptured with this experience and so wrapped up in these films that we can attribute greatness to them and heap the praise in larger and larger piles of gush (and gush can be hell to clean up) to the point where the hype has far outdistanced the reality of the film’s accomplishments and set up ridiculous expectations for its post Sundance life.

So, I’m going to try something a little different here. With every review, I’m going to include a Sundance Fever rating and a Multiplex rating. The idea being that beyond the simple review of the film, I’m going to offer an assessment of how I think it plays to the Sundance crowd versus what I think its prospects will be to reach the hallowed ground of the Multiplex so it can enjoy some hearty mass consumption.

So let’s get started.

THE SHOCK DOCTRINE
The new documentary from Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross is based on Naomi Klein’s bestselling book of the same name. And the film basically goes back and forth between Naomi herself laying out her case (through speeches and interviews) and using file footage, etc. to illustrate her points of how free market policies (in general) and Milton Friedman (specifically) have done their best to send the entire world to hell in a broken down hand basket.

Basically, The Shock Doctrine, as Klein sees it, is the systematic and dedicated effort to dominate the world through its economies through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and their countries.

I know what you’re thinking. And yes, it will royally piss off everyone at FOX News. Well, everyone there that chooses to watch this to get some insight into his or her world, as opposed to uhmmm…SHREK in 3-D.

Anyway, depending on what color you call your state, you may be shocked, SHOCKED, I TELL YOU! To find out that Nixon helped overthrow Chile because AT&T was going to take a header on their investment thanks to a new socialist regime. And everyone else may yawn as they hear about the shenanigans of Reagan and Thatcher and others leading up to and through Afghanistan and Iraq.

Make no mistake; this is a straight-down-the-line view of the past and present. It makes a definitive, compelling argument, and it connects all the dots for you. And, as is often the case with a film like this, there is no room for dissent onscreen. Which always disappoints me. While Winterbottom and Whitecross don’t tip the scales to the extent a Michael Moore does, they also don’t have any talking heads extolling the virtues of Friedman and the Chicago economics boys that were responsible (in their view) for bad times after bad times. So you will likely see it as the real unvarnished truth as you look over you’re struggling to recover 401K or you’ll pass it off as revisionist ravings as you escort you’re dressed to the nines significant other to the latest exclusive society shindig.

SUNDANCE FEVER: Everyone here have to be all over this thing politically. Some mild critical carping over no “fair and balanced”.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Don’t think so. Smells like PBS fare – where it can be appreciated.

HOMEWRECKER

Courtesy of Sundance’s new NEXT section, that features films made for $500,000 or less (and we are going to assume that in most cases, it is MUCH less), Homewrecker is an absolute delight. And maybe for the first or second time (I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt), I am saying that phrase without a hint of irony. Directed by Todd Barnes and Brad Barnes, Homewrecker introduces us to ‘Mike’, a locksmith on work release that has the misfortune of unknowingly helping a distraught ‘Margo’ break into her boyfriend’s apartment because she suspects he is cheating on her.

After discovering her ruse and wary of her potential “crazy”, he beats a hasty retreat from the scene. But she jumps in his van and the kind and accommodating to a fault Mike can’t shake her. And we are off to the awkward, quirky and sweet romantic races with these two as Margo coerces Mike into one borderline disastrous scenario after another.

Is there anything new with this story of two mismatched people discovering something about themselves and maybe even finding love with someone they don’t want to be with in the first place? Not really. But is it fresh? Yes, for me it was. And all because of the lead twosome. Anselm Richardson and Ana Reederare fantastic as ‘Mike’ and ‘Margo’ and Stephen Rannazzisi also scores as Margo’s boyfriend. None of them are obvious as they deliver performances that draw you in seemingly without effort. And to their credit, the Barnes Brothers are assured enough to not try to set the world on fire with their little romance as they manage all of this without a hint of sit-com cliché or smarmy.

SUNDANCE FEVER: You can’t get much more “Sundancy” than this. A great date movie for the away-from-home hook-ups.

MULTIPLEX PROSPECTS: Doubt it. Which sucks. If you aren’t here, my guess is you’ll have to hunt this one down at another film festival or on VOD or something. But it would be worth that effort, for sure.

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John Wildman is the former Head of Press and Public Relations for the American Film Institute. He is noted for innovating film festival public relations through his work as the Director of PR for film festivals such as AFI FEST, the Dallas International Film Festival, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, and the Feel Good Film Festival (Los Angeles).

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin