Sundance 2007 | 01.23, 7:30 p.m.

I've found that if I put Chapstick on right before I leave the lodge to walk to the theaters in the morning, it freezes on the outside of my lips, so when I arrive it looks like I'm wearing white lipstick. After a few minutes inside, it melts down and is no longer a problem.



Briefly, back to Smiley Face: It has the best pre-credit sequence since Raising Arizona (or at least Blissfully Yours), and I haven't heard if it was funded by whomever is distributing it or if it was produced independently and they are trying to sell it at Sundance, but regardless, I'm sure whoever winds up with it will have a hit on their hands. If not in the theater, at least on video.

My first movie on Sunday morning was Joshua, which stars Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga as a married couple who have a really creepy kid named, you guessed it, Joshua. It was directed by George Ratliff, the guy who made the documentary Hell House a few years ago, which I thought was great, and so I was really hoping that Joshua would be good. It isn't. The kid who plays Joshua (whose name presently escapes me) goes the route of the kid from Birth (whose name also presently escapes me), being all blank and preppy and monotone all the time. Strangely enough, it seems to be a favorite of most people who have seen it. Not that I necessarily expect to agree with popular opinion, but this is one of those that is sort of hard to believe. It's slow and dumb and dopey.

Next up was Fido, a movie that takes place in a world where there are zombies, but technology allows humans to control them and make them slaves, so that they can do menial chores and things. It sounds like a good setup, and it stars Dylan Baker (Happiness), so I figured it would be good, but again, it isn't. For one thing, it seems to be set in the '50s (a favorite decade for much of the recent zombie-based entertainment), but that doesn't really explain the whole technology being advanced enough that humans can control them thing. And besides, I'm getting tired of zombies in the '50s; put them in a different decade. Plus, it just doesn't really work; it isn't campy, or scary, or funny, or anything. Pretty much just boring.

I've found that if I put Chapstick on right before I leave the lodge to walk to the theaters in the morning, it freezes on the outside of my lips, so when I arrive it looks like I'm wearing white lipstick. After a few minutes inside, it melts down and is no longer a problem.

One of the big scheduling headaches for me so far this year was deciding if I should see the documentary Zoo at the Holiday Village at 2 p.m. or Steve Buscemi's Interview at the Yarrow's big screen at 1:30. There are a lot of politics that come into play here: both films were among the ones I most anticipated going into the festival (Zoo is made maker of Police Beat and is about the guy who died from a perforated colon after having sex with a horse a few years back, while Interview is based on Theo Van Gogh's final film and stars Buscemi and Sienna Miller), and while I wanted to see Zoo more and it stood a higher chance of my liking it, it also seems a likelier candidate to be rescreened for the press in one of the TBA slots later in the week (it's one of the most talked-about films at the festival, and those are the ones that screen more than once for the press). I decided to go with Zoo if only for the fact that if I wound up missing one or the other and there was no way around it, I'd rather miss Interview. Whether I made the right choice or not I can't say (it's always best to see the talked-about films as early as possible and as safely as possible, so it's hard to beat a press screening on the third day of the festival for a film like this), but I was pretty thoroughly underwhelmed by Zoo. Not that I wanted it to be sensationalistic or anything, but it's actually sort of dull. The director, Robinson Devor, goes for a dreamy thing with lots of voice-over interviews against almost Malickian imagery of the area in the state of Washington. Devor has been very up front with the press regarding the fact that he doesn't actually show the footage of the man's death in the film (said footage was leaked to the Internet almost as soon as it made the news a few years ago, if memory serves), but there are three very, very fleeting (less than a second apiece, I'm sure) glimpses of maybe faked, maybe not footage of a man having sex with a horse (a bucket full of DVDs and tapes of various men having sex with horses was found at the site of the incident, which leads me to believe that the footage in the film could possibly be real). I think I'll need some time to think about Zoo more and mull it over; it might gain some ground after my initial disappointment. It does raise some interesting questions, though—for example, everyone but the men involved in the horse brothel are (rightfully) absolutely appalled at the fact that this was happening, and called it animal cruelty, etc. (note please that the horses were fucking the men and not vice versa, if this matters to you), but then it shows (in what is probably the film's most truly graphic scene) that the new owners of one of the gigolo horses promptly have it castrated. Which one is crueler? And if you think that's a dumb question, wait until you see the footage of the castration.

After Zoo I went to On the Road With Judas, an entirely fictional film that follows a set of characters, played by actors, and then the "real" people these characters are based on, who, confusingly, are also played by actors (think American Splendor if Harvey Pekar wasn't a real person). There are some interesting tricks here (for example, they use semi-recognizable people as the "actors"—Eddie Kaye Thomas, Kevin Corrigan—but unrecognizable people as the people that they are based on (with the possible exception of Aaron Ruell, the guy who played Kip in Napoleon Dynamite, except that he looks nothing like Kip here). On the Road With Judas suffered from An American Crime syndrome, in that I really disliked the first hour, but came around and liked the last 45 minutes. I wish it were more solid for as audacious as it is. Still, it's probably worth seeing, and could maybe be fixed up by some more judicious editing.

What has so far been the most Hollywood-seeming film I've seen so far at Sundance this year has been Resurrecting the Champ, the last film I saw on Sunday. It is based on a true story (more specifically, it is based on a series of articles that J.R. Moehringer wrote for the Los Angeles Times a few years ago) about a reporter who finds out that a local homeless man is a legendary boxer long thought dead. The film stars Samuel L. Jackson as the homeless boxer and Josh Hartnett as the Moehringer stand-in. Aside from my misgivings about movies that seem like Hollywood movies that play at Sundance (regardless of whether they actually are or not), Resurrecting the Champ is a pretty solid and entertaining film, although I must say that I was a little baffled by its portrayal of Moehringer (his name's changed in the film, but a title card says that it is based on articles he wrote and his character doesn't seem to have been changed from his life too much), who comes off like a complete inept idiot in the film. For those of you who don't know, Moehringer made a name for himself recently by writing the memoir The Tender Bar, which was one of those weird crossover titles that both sold a lot of copies and that critics adored (including myself).

I had originally planned on seeing Finishing the Game at midnight at the Egyptian as my last film of the night, as it was its world premiere (even world premieres of bad movies are fun when shown at midnight in a good film festival) and there is no press screening, but the press office failed to secure me a ticket for it, so I'm going to have to try and get into a screening later in the week. Hopefully it will work out, because the movie could be pretty good—it comes from Justin Lin (Better Luck Tomorrow), and is about the search for someone as good as Bruce Lee to finish The Game of Death after his untimely death early in shooting.

After the bad 8:30 a.m. Vera Farmiga movie the day before (that being Joshua), I wasn't too enthusiastic about seeing Never Forever, another Vera Farmiga movie at 8:30 a.m. the next day in the same theater. Good thing I didn't talk myself out of it, though, because Never Forever has been one of the better films I've seen here so far this year. Although I'm not sure it will hold up so well on repeat viewings (there are some kind of glaring problems with it that I was willing to overlook the first time around, but that I think will probably bother me in the future), it's an interesting story about how Farmiga can't get pregnant by her Korean husband, which husband is suicidal about the whole ordeal, so she winds up paying a similar-looking Korean man to sleep with her so that she can get pregnant, tell her husband that it is his, and get on with her life. I never saw her breakthrough, Down to the Bone, thought she was mediocre (in a role admittedly none too fleshed out) in The Departed, and didn't like her in Joshua, but here, I thought Farmiga was great. Plus, she looks like a blonde Miranda July in Never Forever.

Once Never Forever let out, I turned around and got back in line for the same theater for the press screening of Expired, which stars Samantha Morton and Jason Patric as meter maids who start a tentative relationship. I've always loved Morton, but the only time I've ever liked Patric was in Your Friends & Neighbors (though I loved him in that). I'm happy to report that Expired is very good and very funny—it reminded me a lot of EvenHand, the disastrously underseen film from 2003 about lazy cops. And Patric makes a great, mean, smart-assed, damaged man.

Again, after Expired let out, I turned around and got in line for the same theater (so far, I've seen more than half of the total movies I've seen this year on the big screen at the Yarrow) for Year of the Dog, Mike White's directorial debut. White is known for writing a bunch of very good films (Chuck & Buck, School of Rock, The Good Girl), and sometimes he'll take a small role in films, but he shows with Year of the Dog that he is a thoroughly competent director as well. Year of the Dog stars Molly Shannon as a woman who loses her beloved dog Pencil early in the film, and then gets suckered into becoming an animal-cruelty-protesting vegan by an animal rights activist she has a crush on (Peter Sarsgaard, who is very good at playing characters of ambiguous sexuality). What's most interesting about Year of the Dog is that it is wide open for interpretation, so that depending on your disposition, you may think it makes fun of animal rights activists or really cares about animal rights. There is a key scene toward the end that had half the audience laughing hysterically and the other half getting mad at those who were laughing, but what's interesting is that I'm pretty sure that both of these groups were enjoying (and "getting") the movie.

Second only to Snow Angels, the film I was most looking forward to seeing at this year's festival, was Chasing Ghosts, a documentary about the people who hold the world-record high scores in classic arcade games (like Pac-Man, Frogger, Joust, etc.). I'm a big fan of old video games and so far there are no good movies about them (except for The Wizard, ha ha), so I was excited to see a documentary about all of these old tournament arcade players, some of whose names I recognized. Turns out the movie pretty well sucks, though. For one thing, it shows almost no footage of these guys actually playing the games for any extended period of time, so it's hard to get a handle on how good they actually are, and more importantly, it takes kind of an unnecessary mocking tone with them, which will likely alienate the already niche audience this film would ever have. Disappointingly, there is a similar film playing at Slamdance called King of Kong that has been getting good reviews and was picked up for distribution a few days ago. I've never learned to navigate Slamdance, because I've always been too busy with Sundance. I'm going to have to learn soon, though, because I also missed the Grace Lee (of The Grace Lee Project)-directed zombie movie.

As you may recall, Chasing Ghosts was set to let out at exactly 7 p.m. (if it started on time and was its advertised running time, neither of which were givens), and the next screening that I wanted to go to, of The Nines, was at 7 p.m. at the Yarrow, about a five-minute walk away. I'm super anal about not arriving at movies late or leaving them early, so I didn't really know what to do about this. After Ghosts let out, I headed to the Yarrow, arrived at the screen at 7:07, and all of the seats were full (I was told later that people started lining up two hours before, as opposed to the usual 30 to 60 minutes, on account that it was a highly anticipated movie showing on the smallest press screening screen). So, I'll do my best to catch a public screening later, but that seems kind of unlikely. Hopefully they'll rescreen it.

The final film I saw last night was Girl 27, a documentary about an actress who was raped by an MGM executive at an MGM party back in the late '30s, but whose court case was quashed and covered up and forgotten about thanks to the powerful and protective MGM. The story itself was very interesting and needs to be told, but the filmmaker, David Stenn (who broke the story in a Vanity Fair article a few years ago), could not possibly be more inept. The film is so poorly made, it is absolutely painful to watch. Stenn's narration is particularly stupid and grating. I skipped the well-reviewed Chris Smith's (American Movie, Home Movie) narrative film, The Pool, to see it, too. Hopefully they'll rescreen The Pool.

I had debated sleeping in this morning because there wasn't anything in any of the early slots that I particularly wanted to see (plus, when I see an early screening, I miss out on free breakfast at the lodge, and I probably should eat some goddamn food sometime), but I decided to give Antonio Banderas' feature debut, Summer Rain, a shot. It sucked, but was well shot.

After Summer Rain let out, I went to the library for a few minutes to check out the Oscar nominations. I tend to not notice the big snubs right away, but my initial impression of them was good. I'm very, very happy to see that Ryan Gosling made the cut for Half Nelson, and that the cinematography for Children of Men was nominated, as well. Plus, Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine and Cate Blanchett of Notes on a Scandal were my two favorite supporting actresses of the year, and both were nominated. And Mark Wahlberg was nominated for supporting actor over Jack Nicholson, which makes me incredibly happy. My only complaints right now is that Children of Men didn't get a best director nod and The Fountain didn't get a best score nod (when's the Academy going to recognize that the work that Clint Mansell does for Darren Aronofky is about the best in film scores to come around in the past decade?), but I didn't necessarily think that either of those things would happen, so I'll take what I can get.

Thanks to Andrea Sporcic, previously of Cinema St. Louis and currently of the Missouri Film Office, I ate the first proper meal I've had the whole festival (three pieces of pizza and two sodas). When left to my own devices, I tend not to eat at these things (the previous title holder for closest thing to a meal I've eaten since arriving Thursday morning was a muffin and a bottle of vitamin water). So, at least that made up for my missing breakfast on account of Antonio Banderas' talentless ass.

What has probably been the biggest surprise for me of the festival so far, Son of Rambow, was next; I almost didn't see it, but realized when browsing the festival guide that it was directed by Garth Jennings, the guy who made The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a couple of years ago. I wasn't a huge fan of Guide, but I thought it was pretty good, and Jennings struck me as someone who might crank out a good movie or two in his career. Well, Son of Rambow is one of them. Imagine Rushmore if it had been directed by Michel Gondry, and you're getting pretty close. It's about two young British kids who are trying to recreate a Rambo movie on a home video camera starring themselves and with rudimentary special effects. The special effects, both those that the kids use as well as the ones that Jennings uses, are really highlights, all innovative and filled with wonder. Plus, the movie's consistently funny and smart, and the two lead children are very good. Although I haven't heard confirmation that it has sold, it has been tipped to be one of the big sales at Sundance this year, so I'm anxious to see who will end up with it.

Finally, the last film I saw before coming here was Hounddog, which, alongside Zoo, has been eating up all of the press this year for being controversial. (It's the one where Dakota Fanning gets raped, if you hadn't already heard.) And also, like Zoo, this one is dull. What's worse, though, is that something was going on in Zoo, at least, and I think I will like it more on repeated viewings, because even if it is slow, it was also deep. Hounddog, on the other hand, is just stupid. One hopes that when talented people like Fanning take a risk the size of this one that it is for a good reason, but it turns out Hounddog is a total misfire.

The last film I'm going to see tonight is Chapter 27 (not Girl 27; remember what I was saying about Variety complaining how all the films' titles are too similar this year?), which is the film for which Jared Leto put on a bunch of weight to play Mark David Chapman, the guy who killed John Lennon. I hope it's pretty good. Even if it isn't, the screening will be pretty exciting, because it's in the late slot at the Holiday Village and is highly anticipated, which are three of the best things you can hope for if you want a press screening to be exciting here.

I just got tomorrow's press screening list earlier today (starting tomorrow is when they had almost all TBAs on the original schedule), and I have not yet made up my list of what I'm going to see. There's some good stuff showing, though, like Adrienne Shelly's recently sold Waitress, as well as Hal Hartley's Fay Grim, midnight movie The Signal (which Magnolia just acquired), the Andrea Sporcic-approved Dedication (starring Billy Crudup), and the New Zealand comedy Eagle vs. Shark, so no matter what I wind up seeing, it should be a pretty good day. | Pete Timmermann

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