The Hot Blog Archive for January, 2008

Sundance On Ice

Snow, really.
The first real snow hit this morning. This year, things are unusually busy on Monday and Tuesday, so the reaction to the muck will be interesting.
Last night, one of the many celebrations-before-screenings took place for Terry Kinney’s Diminished Capacity. The film is expected to, as so much of Kinney’s work as an actor has, speak to the full range of human emotion, making it one of the titles that offers hope for a mid-fest love affair.
The event was attended by pretty much the entire cast… A tribute to Kinney.
Ok… running to the next movie… more later… happy MLK…
More soon…
(corrected… dumb iphone posting error)
Another aggravatingly 10 minute entry…
Short Takes –
American Teen is a terrific little movie… but not very commercial.
Smart People is one of those Sundance classics… it’s almost a Michael London lifetime achievement award reel as a film, but this time, he made the mistake (along with a half dozen or more other producers) of picking a director who could not deliver. Sensational cast… decent idea for a little movie… doesn’t come together at all. Also, anyone who has a guitary score on a heartfelt movie about people, needs to be shot. Dan In Real Life was the film that should make clear that the Sundance score cliche is dead, dead, dead. Move along.
Gonzo is quite good, though about 15 minutes too long. Some complained about its score being too “greatest hits of the 60s,” but I was okay with that. And the doc offers a lot of footage from other films, which was a disturbing thing at first, but which settled in with me in time, as it is done so honestly and clearly. What I hated, however, were the recreations… cheesey and unnecessary. But all in all, a movie that is more about the era than the man… which is really quite the point.

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Sundance Sunday 1

Park City is warming up a little… more the weather than the films.
The Hot Title du Jour is American Teen, Nanette Burstein’s apparently triumphant return to Sundance. We’re 30 minutes away from it’s grossly overloaded 80-seat press and industry screening. We’re also getting the experience of this fest when there is blood in the water… assholes saving 3 and 4 seats in a “sold out” show where the people they are saving seats for are unlikely to get in. Charming.
Burstein was previously teamed with Brett Morgan, making two real classics, On The Ropes and The Kid Stays In The Picture. Soon after, Brett was Evansed and the team split. Morgan returned to Sundance last year with the highly anticipated and mostly disappointing Chicago 10. If A-Teen is the big doc buy this fest, it will be an interesting story… one surely not wanted discussed by either ex-partner.
Working together isn’t easy. I ran into a half of another superstar Sundance team that hasnt spokenin a while… sad, really.
Meanwhile… The Polanski doc got the right slot for American distribution… television. An HBO doc is what it is. So an HBO buy is a perfect fit. An the Weinsteins buying therest of the world, where Polanski should draw, was smart too.
The hot intellectual film of the fest is Mama’s Man, a semi- autobiographical piece about a 30something coming back home, living off the fat of the home, the doting Jewish mom, the successful disconnected father, etc, as he searches for his own place at life’s table. The New York Smartniks are all over this one. I hope to see it before the fest ends.
And so, this 90% distributor’s screening is about to start. More later…


SD3 – The Overrated

I don’t have a lot of time to do this fully – more to come – but the hottest film of the moment at Sundance is also the most overrated… The Polanski doc. Very few new insights and a dubious amount of insight.
1:26p update – The press room is loaded to the gills for The Wackness… just showing again that The Press loves pot. Some are still sniffing around Sunshine Cleaning after a lot of the people who came up to buy it decided not to. Not a single pan, but “We liked Amy,” is about the most positivity anyone I spoke to could come up with.
5p update – So… my take on the Polanski doc… basically, it takes a 100% pro-Polanski position from the very start, to the point of pretty much discounting the idea that sex with a 13 year old, however precocious, is a problem. There is also a very clear anti-judge stance from the start… which ultimately is the right stance. But f9/11-esque mocking of the judge before his first mention in context is kinda cheap.
Ultimately, besides the goodwill this filmmaker made for herself by ego-stroking critics and festivalers in her last film, the reason some people are so enamored of the film is that, in the end, there is an easy, obvious villain in the judge… and we can all see that Polanski was screwed by the system after he screwed a 13 year old that he never seems to have apologized for for having screwed.
For me, the only reason this story could be an interesting doc would be some informational revelation – there are none – some insight into Polanski – not much beyond the obvious – some connection to his work – lame at best here – or some connection of all the moral strings leading to some insight. Nope.
It’s not badly made (though no less than 20 minutes too indulgent) and if someone never heard the story, it would be entertaining. But when you think about an entire film coming down to, “bad judge with an eye on the media” and you think of how many stories of judicial misconduct have led to much more significant personal downfalls, the film not only disappoints, but it is kind of infuriating. Onanism of the highest order.
The Wackness is classic Sundance. Good performances… funny ideas… nicely shot… and impossible to sell. The film is not great… but it is good. But in the end, what is it? A coming of age story that doesn’t find itself until the third act, still leaving the first two acts a bit of a shambles… a funny, charming shambles.
I would never tell anyone (under 35) to stay away from The Wackness. It’s a good adult starter reel for Josh Peck. Olivia Thirlby is sexy and intriguing… and underage. But she will be the marketing focus for anyone who buys this thing. Ben Kingsley is quite good as a drugged out therapist who buys his drugs with sessions.
It’s one of those movies whose lovefest I hate to piss on. Well done. But not very special. And in this universe of specialty product, just good ain’t good enough… unless you are being marketed by Nancy Utley.


Sundance 3 – Pre-Show

It’s too early to be up after a midnight movie, but The Polanski Doc, which started getting acquisitions interest at last night’s premiere, was a critics’ must-see from the day the program was announced, is required viewing. The room is as full as expected.
Last night at near-midnight, it was George A Romero’s Diary of the Dead, his most societally specific film, amongt his best, and ironically by my first viewing date, the much superior version of Cloverfield. What would you do as the world seems to be coming to an end? In 20 days of shooting.
More after the screening….
(via iPhone)


Sundance Day One – Pt 2 – Alone In Four Walls

I was blown away, with some restraint appropriate to the material, by Alone In Four Walls, Alexandra Westheimer’s shockingly beautiful and shockingly apolitical documentary about a juvenile hall in Russia.
The film really feels like a Kubrick documentary. The images are so stark, and well framed, and powerful that it is almost hard to believe at times that this isn’t staged… though I don’t think it is. The steady hand behind the camera is Westheimer’s husband and co-producer, Inigo. And he proves once again the power of a human face and a simple steady frame.
The film doesn’t really explore the juvie system itself, so much as a handful of boys who are in it. And even then, with a 100% absent narrator and a visual style that never feels like Q&A, you feel a bit like you are in the confessional with these boys.
It has to be 20 minutes before you actually see an adult anywhere in the film. The boys go through various aspects of their day like machines, perfectly tuned to the actions they are doing. They confess crimes to us as we see them going through the paces, no one watching too closely, no guards screaming and cursing. Of course, we will eventually see some supervision. But there is an almost creepy sense that these boys completely get that they have done wrong and that they like the discipline, once they get used to it.
But will they actually make it in the world?
As we ultimately meet some parents, spend time with the camp dentist, and watch one kid get his pillow just right on his perfectly made bed, just what we ARE seeing is not 100% clear. We are, I think, being invited to really let it seep in… to wonder… to hope… to fear.
The film doesn’t have the dramatic flourish of Born Into Brothels or Deliver Us From Evil, but it is complex documentation. And the images… my God… some of those images are the kinds that feature film makers dream of creating. Two boys washing a floor… it could have been The Shining.
It is one of the true oddities of the last few years that Ms. Westheimer did this film and another Alexandra, Alix Lambert, made The Mark of Cain, a fascinating look at prison tattoos in the Russian culture that was used by David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen as a guide to that world for Eastern Promises. For female filmmakers to put themselves in the situation of being so close to dangerous men is not to be discounted. And to get these results… to be applauded loudly. It’s like they can see past the machismo… even if we are being a little manipulated… amazing.
As for the rest, there are still two more films on today’s schedule for me… and a 1:30am Lunch With David interview with a living legend. Yippee Kay Yo!


BYOB – January 18

I know… some of you are already bored with Sundance coverage and want to discuss how badly 27 Dresses will cannibalize Cloverfield and why both these powerfully marketed niche films are opening on the same day, forcing the teens and 20s to decide whether she is going to be dutiful or if he is going to get laid on Saturday night.
Cloverfield will win the weekend, but I think 27 Dresses, which I hadn’t taken into account in my previous guess that the monster mess will crack the January record, will cost it at least $10 million this weekend. And the lizard lump will have legs much like the movie monster’s… short in comparison to the overall body.
And it will be interesting to see how the expansion of There Will Be Blood, smartly held until after Oscar noms closed, will do.
But hey… discuss whatever you like. It doesn’t have to be box office. I am on the run and will try to check in… but until then, the floor is yours…


Back to Sundance – Day 1

I’m very happy about the DGA deal and the WGA that is now 90% sure to follow. I’m not very happy about the coverage in many quarters, which seems to have been pulled directly out of the DGA Ego and AMPTP playbook. Does the New York Times really need to be throwing around negotiation figures intended to make WGA look greedy and irrational? Does Variety need to keep beating the drum for the meeting of “high-powered writers” who want to go back to work?
How about sticking to the deal points? No one has seriously broken down how this settlement matches and doesn’t match the WGA demands. No one has really looked at how it lays out compared to network payments.
Nikki Finke is in hiding and it’s still The Nikki Finke Strike.
The first press screening on Friday morning… the first sell-out. Stranded is the most recent look at the plane crash in the Andes that had soccer players going cannibal to survive. 33 years later, we’re all still talking about it.
Word on In Bruges, which opening the fest last night, was mixed to mixed positive… in other words, a typical Sundance opener. Imagine a year in which they program the best movie in the festival that no one’s seen as opening night. Ahhhhhhh…
The tundra is a little less frozen than the weatherpeople suggested. Still, it’s frickin’ cold.
The price-gouging continues. The Yarrow is up to $20 a day for parking. The City of Park City is $30 a day for their Main Street parking pass. The local lots with credit card timers for up to 3 hours are up to $16 for the three hours. The better restaurants were all sold out of reservations last night. And the one respite from fest hype, The Main Street Noodle Whatever, a pizza and pasta joint, was rented out by some marketing group. All that is left of sanity on Main Street is The Morning Ray, one of the true stalwarts of this annual event… always good, always amusingly obnoxious about the influx of big city idiots, always happy you went.
I watched my first car wreck of a movie from the fest on DVD last night. But my instinct is to just shut up. The thing ain’t going anywhere but your Blockbuster with a “starring TV personality X” on the box. Why pile on?
But in broad strokes, it was an oddly Cloverfield experience. Shaky-cam, self-indulgent, hot people headed for destruction. The cliche of shaky, self-indulgent, hot people trying to manipulate “the kids” even though they have NOTHING to say is a cliche for a reason.
The dance has begun and I am pretty happy… if for no other reason than that indulging in the love of movies for another 9 days is less an indulgence and more a natural pleasure without the real pain of an industry unsure of when it would emerge from the dark hanging over the experience like Death.


The Whole Nikki.

Last Graph.
A day early.
Embarrassed to barf this up… but am so happy it’s all about to be settled that I can’t help but be giddy. I was wrong about many other things.


Now There Are DGA Details…

The deal points are here…

No DVD… but the details on internet delivery are going to make it very hard for WGA to stay on strike after they have made it an internet focused strike. And really, I don’t expect that they will want to. This is the deal they were, kinda, waiting for.
It seems to me that WGA is getting the fuzzy lollypop from AMPTP, which has been privately willing to make this deal since WGA put it on the table a month ago, but waited for DGA in order to, 1) embarrass WGA, 2) squeeze in that 17 day window, which is probably where they make the most money currently, and 3) give more time for force majeurs, and 4) embarrass WGA.
This strike will not be remembered fondly. But the fact is, WGA (via DGA) got more than a lot of people thought they would – even though they haven’t done their deal yet. The only question is how SAG will feel about it. And you know… they will probably bend to it too.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see a WGA deal before Sundance ends.
Key Details
Ad-Supported Streaming:
– 17-day window (24-day window for series in their first season).
– Pays 3% of the residual base, approximately $600 (for network prime time 1-hour dramas), for each 26-week period following 17-day window, within first year after initial broadcast.
-Pays 2% of distributor


Dancing On Ice – Pre-Game Show 2

So it’s big prayers for Little Miss Sunshine Cleaning… maybe Morgan Spurlock… is the Levinson actually good?… The return of Team Half Nelson… U-fucking-2 in 3-fucking-D… and a lot of films that we are all hoping will be more special than we ever imagined.
And that is the magic of a festival of firsts, ain’t it?
There is a lot of talk about everyone who isn’t coming up this year. Lean days at newspapers have meant cutbacks for the smaller papers and not-as-large-as-usual for some of the bigger ones. But studios and agencies are also cutting back.
But in my perverse soul, this is encouraging. And probably for some at Sundance too, where many of the team really do believe in the festival mission statement over Sundance-as-market.
I just had a chat with a college professor who has had a class up here for four years now… they teach, they see movies, they breathe it all in. And oh, what a breath it can be. Great! So utterly lacking in cynicism.
Personally, I am getting more and more comfortable with this festival as it will happen. Maybe it’s the WGA strike putting it in context. Maybe it is a wider set of ways in which I cover the festival. Maybe it’s just thrilling to not be chasing The Golden Ten and realizing that anything could be in that group for a change.
And so we roll…

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The Dow Jones took a 300 point plunge!
Oh… wrong universe.
Back to show business…
Britany Spears is having a labial…
That’s not really news, is it?
The DGA deal got done today, pretty much as expected. What we are ALL waiting for is detail. That is where the angels and/or the devils live.
Right now, none of us know whether this is the beginning of the end of the WGA strike or the beginning of a nastier fight. It’s all about what the DGA agreed to.
Even though there are internal murmurs that an Oscars deal is done with WGA, this DGA could even rip that apart, as Gil Cates is a master of both domains. We’ll see.
I hope for the best. As I’ve written, a quarter point on DVD, 1.2% on paid downloads, and $1000 a year for free streaming could end up making the sun shine again.
Let’s hope.

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BYOB – Sundance

A space for your stuff.


Lunch With… Ellen Page

She’s all the rage in Juno and is a serious contender to dark horse an Oscar win just a few days after her 21st birthday. She may be more serious than you expect, but she has a lot to say about the work.
Meet Ellen Page


Pre-Dance… Via iPhone

It was a beautiful drive to Park City, but if you are still packing, be advised… it is really, really cold here this year and not scheduled to get any better. The last time I remember it being this cold was a few years ago, late in the festival, walking the stairs behind Main Street to get to our rental, with no gloves. Bitter. This year, this is the weather.
I continue to field e-mails from companies seeking to bail out of their rentals this year. It’s as though all the acquisition pregame reports came back on the same day with a big “Don’t bother” marked on them.
The nice thing is, when expectations get lowered, it often means a positive surprise.
And we started with the first Main Street celebrity sighting… Michelle Williams, without make-up, looking sensational. Albertson’s was still prepping for the onslaught. And the marketers already are dotting Main Street, including the Microsoft HD DVD Lounge, the notion of which I find genuinely fascinating.
We’re off!!!


BYOB – Travelling

I’m on the road to Park City all day, so be nice to each other and I’ll see you on the other side.


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“I always thought that once I had lived in Chicago for a while, it would be interesting to do a portrait of the city – but to do it at a significant time. Figuring out when would be the ideal time to do that was the trick. So when this election came around, coupled with the Laquan McDonald trial, it seemed like the ideal time to do the story. Having lived in Chicagoland for thirty-five-plus years and done a number of films here, I’ve always been struck by the vibrancy of the city and its toughness. Its tenderness too. I’ve always been interested in the people at the center of all the stories. This is a different film in that regard, because we’re not following a couple of individuals over the course of the project in the way that a lot of the films I’ve done have, but I still feel like people’s voices and aspirations and hopes are at the center of this series.

It wasn’t easy. We started back in July 2018, it was actually on the Fourth of July – that was our first shoot. It’s like most documentaries in that the further you go along the more involved and obsessed you get, and you just start shooting more and more and more. We threw ourselves into this crazy year in Chicago. We got up every day and tried to figure out if we should be out shooting or not, and what it is we should shoot. We were trying to balance following this massive political story of the mayor’s race and these significant moments like the Laquan McDonald trial with taking the pulse of people in the city that we encounter along the way and getting a sense of their lives and what it means to live here. By election day, Zak Piper, our producer, had something like six cameras out in the field. You could double-check that, it might have been seven. We had this organized team effort to hit all the candidates as they were voting, if they hadn’t already voted. We hit tons of polling places, were at the Board of Elections and then were at the parties for the candidates that we had been able to follow closely. Then of course, we were trying to make sure we were at the parties of the candidates who made it to the runoff. So, yeah, it was kind of a monster.”
~ Steve James On City So Real

“I really want to see The Irishman. I’ve heard it’s big brother Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece. But I really can’t find the time. The promotion schedule is so tight, there’s no opportunity to see a three and a half-hour movie. But I really want to see it. In 2017, right before Okja’s New York premiere, I had the chance to go to Scorsese’s office, which is in the DGA building. There’s a lovely screening room there, too, with film prints that he’s collected. I talked to him for about an hour. There’s no movie he hasn’t seen, even Korean films. We talked about what he’s seen and his past work. It was a glorious day. I’ve loved his work since I was in college. Who doesn’t? Anyone involved with movies must feel the same way.”
~ Bong Joon-ho