Kristen Stewart in Peter Sattler's Camp X-Ray. Photo by Beth Dubber.
Hey everyone! Ali here, with an update on Day 2 of our adventure at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
We began the day with a plan to see 3-4 films, and ended up seeing a grand total of…1 film. The festival has been trying out a new mobile wait list plan this year, and we literally had our thumbs ready to push the buttons the second those wait lists opened for each film. But apparently hundreds of other people had the same idea, which is great for the festival, but didn’t end up making for a full day of movie-going.
Still, we did score majorly with the one film we did get to see, and got to sit on the front row during the panel afterwards with the cast and crew, including Kristen Stewart. (Whose name, we learned, is apparently the secret key to getting any tweets retweeted a zillion times.) We also had the chance to try out a few new restaurants in Park City, spend more time exploring the town, stop by a few parties. We even got to meet the star of “Whiplash”, Miles Teller, and chat briefly about all things drumming, jazz, and the fact that he likes the name of this blog. :)
It wasn’t the Day 2 that we had planned, but I’d say it turned into a good one. Read on for Sarah’s film review and my take on what we ate.
Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons in Damien Chazelle's Whiplash
Gimme Some Blogs made it to Park City, Utah!
Ali and I picked up our Sundance Film Festival 2014 press credentials; puzzled out the shuttle system; met the producer of one of the buzziest titles of the year (Effie Brown with Dear White People) and found out she’s invited to be a juror at our own KC Film Fest this spring on said shuttle; strolled Main Street; noted locations for free tea/WiFi/veggie burgers/etc; ate some fantastic Mexican food; tried to get into the wait-list line to see the public premiere of Whiplash but were too late (but we did see Miles Teller make his big entrance to the theatre); and then figured out how the press & industry screenings go down. Oh, yeah, and we saw two films.
So join us for the adventure! I will be posting daily film capsule reviews, and Ali will be sharing about what we ate. If you have any recommendations for our time in Park City, be sure to share those in the comments below too.
Without further ado, here’s the update from Day 1:
Let me say right up front that I liked Her. I really, really did. Please remember this when you get to the crabby part of this review ahead and either get huffy with me or consider skipping seeing it altogether. Promise you’ll remember I like it, OK? OK.
Her is high-concept in the service of actual concepts, and I mean that as a huge compliment. While the robot-girlfriend idea has shown up in pop culture since whenever the idea of robots came about, Her prods, twists and pulls the trope in fresh ways. It uses the set up to explore questions about relationships in the future-modern world: How do we connect? Can love survive change? What defines intimacy? What makes a relationship real?
I walked out of The Wolf of Wall Streetwith a bad case of brain whiplash. Based on an autobiography by penny stockbroker Jordan Belfort, Wolf is expertly directed by Martin Scorsese (you know: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Departed, etc., etc.). As I tried to find a way to describe my post-film feelings, the best I settled on is this: Deeply disconcerted. Here’s why:
The amount of talent behind this film is astounding. I’m a Scorsese fan, and he didn’t disappoint. Every frame is interesting (even if there were a little too many of ‘em at 2 hours and 59 minutes). His use of sound and music is sharp as always. His style is assured and unrelenting; you may disagree with some of his choices, but you never doubt that he made them with thought and considerable force.
Let me be frank: I am very serious about daydreaming. I daydream to figure out how to solve problems, to rehearse how to get through difficult situations, to motivate myself to work hard, to give myself hope. I also daydream to escape reality when it gets too painful or boring. I spend a large chunk of my mental life daydreaming, and another hefty portion analyzing my own imaginings, trying to puzzle out when my daydreams help me and when they hold me back. So when I saw the first trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty—a re-imagining of the famous 1939 James Thurber short story produced, directed and led by Ben Stiller—I had high hopes for a film that explored both the power and pitfalls of daydreaming. I was disappointed.
First, though, let’s talk about the good stuff. The movie has some really beautiful cinematography, especially as Walter’s real life adventures take him to exotic expanses in Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan. It has some very nice comedic moments, my favorite being an awkward conversation between Walter and a drunk-and-getting-drunker helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). The way text was integrated into the film’s environment (both opening credits and, later, the—fictional—Life motto) was playful and creative. The soundtrack was a standout. Its PG rating makes it a safe choice for an all-family holiday movie outing. Sean Penn is in it. And the film had the beginnings of a compelling visual motif—leaping and falling—that could have been even more thrilling if it had been developed further and backed up thematically.
Before you go see the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy (and Peter Jackson’s fifth epic Tolkien film), you should know a few things, the foremost being that I am very tired. Beth and I have a friend tradition of going to the midnight release of Hobbit movies, so I was up until 4 a.m. getting my now-yearly late-night Tolkien fix. So please forgive typos and lapses in judgement in this short Hobbit run down below.
1. The Desolation of Smaug is some of the best fan fiction you’ll ever experience
Meaning, this ain’t the book you read on the bus as a kid or in book club last year. This is more a celebration of the entire Tolkien universe—and what these particular fans (screenplay writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and consummate fanboy Guillermo del Toro) would do if they were in charge of Middle Earth for a while. There are changes galore, but those changes play with the facts of the story, not the spirit. If you can lay down purist expectations and plug into a super-fan perspective, you’ll probably enjoy this exploration of the reality Tolkien created. Also, settle in. This is a film made by fans for fans, and they want to be in the fantasy for as long as possible. You’ve got 161 minutes of Hobbit-tasticness ahead of you.
I was a tween and teenager in the 1990s. I remember Ryan White‘s funeral on TV (1990), I remember the AIDS quilt traveling the country, I remember Magic Johnson‘s announcement (1991), I remember getting a lot of AIDS education in school. I do not remember the cultural and political struggles our country went through as it figured out how to fight the disease. I was too young and too naive.
By the time I reached the age of activism, the focus of the AIDS fight had shifted to getting medications to underdeveloped countries. I joined the grassroots lobbying group the ONE Campaign, and I helped convince the company I work for to partner with (RED), which promotes products that give back to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB & Malaria. But while I participated in the movement to get AIDS medications to underserved areas, I didn’t understand how those drugs owed much of their existence to early AIDS activists in the U.S.—many HIV+ themselves.
The second installment of The Hunger Games franchise is on a lot of people’s Thanksgiving schedule. My sister and I have already planned our Hunger Games night for next weekend, and I’ve talked to quite a few friends who have made it part of their holiday plans as well. I’m glad to report that it’s a solid choice for a post-turkey outing for the 13-and-overs—heck, wild poultry even shows up in the first few minutes of the film. Catching Fire follows Katniss Everdeen as she tries to live a “normal” life post-games back on District 12. Fallout from her faked-or-was-it-faked romance with Peeta, her Panem-wide celebrity, and the machinations of President Snow all hem her in and threaten her (admittedly depressing) status-quo.
12 Years a Slave is a faithful and bold adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography of the same name. British director Steve McQueen gives us an unblinking account of Northup’s abduction into slavery in 1841 and his attempts to “not just survive but live.” McQueen’s style is assured and minimalist—this period of American history needs no dramatization. The truth is harrowing enough.
In one of the better scenes in The Counselor, a wealthy lawyer (Michael Fassbender) buys an engagement stone from a monoglogueing dealer. Many of the characters a Cormac McCarthy protagonist encounters are philosophical, and this diamond seller is true to form. He holds up a beautiful specimen and declares it a “cautionary stone,” and speaks of humans’ hope “to partake in the stone’s endless destiny…At our noblest we announce to the darkness that we will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives. That we will not thereby be made less.” But this story is not about people at their noblest. Oh, no. It’s about people who choose see the diamond’s price but not its lesson…and the inevitable, bloody consequences of those choices.
The Counselor is also (unintentionally) about the consequences of filmmaking choices that, oh, let’s say, decapitate a film’s chances for singularity, for hypnotism, for depth.