Sundance Film Festival 2008

Sundance Film Festival 2008

 

Tempered perhaps by the writers strike, tempered perhaps by the threatening economic recession, things were cooler on the acquisition front at Sundance.  Many studios were hanging back and being more judicious with their dollars.

Some of the most intriguing films were about a poor desperate housewife inadvertently sliding into the human smuggling trade, a way inside look at Hollywood films and an Irish rock band.

 

Frozen River

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Courtney Hunt left Utah with the top dramatic prize, Grand Jury.  Her directorial debut is a tightly wrought story of two mothers finding themselves embroiled in human trafficking across the frozen St. Lawrence River.  Initially distrusting of each other, the Mohawk woman and our heroine form a wary waltz of mutual respect.  The script, written by the director, unfolds in intricate ways, doubling back to explain early plot points.  The leads are assured; Melissa Leo and Misty Upham will undoubtedly be seen again.  Charlie McDermott plays a 15 year old wise beyond his years.  McDermott will have heartthrob roles at his doorstep soon. The bleak winters of upstate New York are crisply photographed, the sparse score is evocative.

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Courtney Hunt receiving accolades from Quentin Tarantino

 

What Just Happened?

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Director Barry Levinson’s acclaimed Baltimore trilogy was launched in 1982 with his debut Diner, and he has dabbled in small and large budget efforts ever since.  His recent feature will not bring him another Academy Award (Rain Man), but for lovers of Entourage and The Player his latest film provides another glimpse at life behind the scenes in Hollywood.  Robert DeNiro plays a producer who juggles the vagaries of studio executives (Catherine Keener), self-absorbed actors (Bruce Willis and Sean Penn playing themselves), wacky talent agents (John Turturro), scheming writers (Stanlet Tucci) and ex-wives.  The cast is uniformly superb.  DeNiro, who does exasperation better than anyone, is seen scurrying all over Los Angeles in an attempt to keep all his plates spinning. Even for the industry-laden crowd at Sundance, many folks think the story is way too inside for the film to get traction outside LA and NYC.  That said, the never-ending fascination of Hollywood’s dream machine may drive box office for this film.  It did not, however, drive any immediate acquisition deals for itself.

 

U2 3D

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Screened for the first time in its 85 minute glory, this concert film sets the bar for melding technology, film and music.  A shorter cut of the film was screened at Cannes to understandable acclaim, but the final version seamlessly adds an additional half-hour of music, improved editing and a sense of completion.  The concert footage was shot in South America, where the band had not toured for a while.  Bono was savvy in that the Latin crowd would be extra receptive.  The songs in the film blend unobtrusively from show to show.  The larger songs explode in an outdoor stadium setting and the indoor venues provide an enhanced affinity between the audience and the band.  The surround sound is immersive, powerful and stirring.  Directors Catherine Owens and Mark Pellingham use the 3D technology not as the gimmick it was in decades past, but as a means by which to share the band’s perspective onstage.  The tight proximity between the group and the cinema audience is unprecedented.  The result is like being at a club date but with a crowd of 40,000.  “Where the Streets Have No Name” was transcendent. My only complaint about the set list was “The Fly;” almost any other track from the band’s canon would have been an improvement. The film industry is embracing 3D technology to drive theatre ticket sales, as it is one of those treats you don’t usually get at home.  U2 3D will be a fine DVD, but it is a spectacular theatrical experience.


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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