Sundance 2007 | 01.27, 1:50 p.m.

While We Are the Strange doesn't really look like anything you've ever seen before, it doesn't really work, and Strange doesn't use his innovations as the means to any sort of end. It feels like what it would be like if Henry Selick and Jonas Akerlund collaborated on an Insane Clown Posse music video, if that gives you an idea.

 

Last night when I arrived at the Holiday Village for the press screening of We Are the Strange, there was a posted announcement of two additional two press screenings for this morning, Grace is Gone at 9 a.m. and Rocket Science at 11:30 a.m. Up until then, there had never been any mention at all of even a remote possibility of any press screenings today, so for them to have announced it at 5 p.m. the day before seemed a little strange. Regardless, I was very happy, as both films were ones that I had wanted to see but couldn't fit in (especially Rocket Science; I was very sorry to have missed that one). The problem was that I had applied for a ticket to Offscreen at 11:30 a.m. through the press office. I decided it would be best if I went and saw Grace Is Gone in the morning, then head down to the press office to see if my tickets came through (I also applied for one for Sk8 Life at 6:15 p.m. and Finishing the Game at midnight), then see Offscreen if I got the ticket and Rocket Science if I didn't, and then whatever of the other two movies they decided to give me tickets for. I was kind of bummed out about Rocket Science playing opposite Offscreen; I wanted to see Rocket Science more, but Offscreen stands a much higher chance of getting lost in the international cinema shuffle. Rocket Science is American (it is the first narrative film by Jeffrey Blitz, the guy who made the great documentary Spellbound a few years back) and had been getting good reviews—it might have even been bought while it was here; I don't remember. Offscreen, on the other hand, is Danish, and was directed by Christoffer Boe, who made the Camera d'Or-winning Reconstruction in 2003, and then had a film in Sundance 2005 that I missed and have never been able to catch back up with (and now can't even remember the title of; Reconstruction, on the other hand, never got much of a theatrical run in America, but is not too hard to come by on DVD).

There are four screens at the Holiday Village, and each one has a capacity of a little over 150. For the big press screenings, the room fills, of course, and people are often turned away. For marginal press screenings, there's usually about 70 people or so. Last night for We Are the Strange, only 30 people showed up, which I think is the fewest I've ever seen at a press screening at Sundance, with the exception of the Animation Spotlight the other day. And by the time it was over, all but myself and four other people had walked out on it. It's a stupid, pretentious animated film by some guy who calls himself "M dot Strange," and while it doesn't really look like anything you've ever seen before (which is definitely a good thing—it appears to be a cross between traditional animation, stop-motion animation, and computer animation, although I noticed in the credits that he used the Super Nintendo game Mario Paint to produce at least some of it), it doesn't really work and Strange doesn't use his innovations as the means to any sort of end. It feels like what it would be like if Henry Selick and Jonas Akerlund collaborated on an Insane Clown Posse music video, if that gives you an idea.

After We Are the Strange let out, I had 12 minutes to get to the Yarrow (which is plenty of time for the walk, but not enough time to get a very good seat) to see the John August film The Nines. When I arrived at around 7:25 p.m., I noticed that the flyers regarding the press screenings of Grace Is Gone and Rocket Science had all been hand-changed, so that Rocket Science played at 9 a.m. and Grace is Gone played at 11:30 a.m., which is good, as I'd much rather miss Grace Is Gone than Rocket Science if I wound up getting my ticket to Offscreen.

The Nines has been likened by almost everyone to Go, for which August wrote the script, and mostly because like Go, The Nines is broken into three parts with characters from each part interweaving in unusual ways (remember that when Go came out it was labeled as a Pulp Fiction knockoff). While it is watchable, it certainly would have benefited if Doug Liman, the director of Go, had directed it instead of August himself. Plus, I don't like the cast, which was led by Ryan Reynolds (as I always say, he's the poor man's Jason Lee) and Hope Davis. Also, with the number nine playing such an instrumental part in the film, one has to wonder if August was listening to "Revolution 9" on repeat while writing the script (indeed, there are even a couple of parts where droning, disembodied voices repeat the number over and over and over).

When I arrived at the Holiday Village this morning at about 8:30 a.m. to see Rocket Science, I learned that they had flip-flopped the press screenings again, so, as was originally announced, Grace Is Gone was playing at 9 and Rocket Science at 11:30. A lot of people were pissed off. It didn't really matter to me, because I needed to see both of them, but I would certainly have preferred if Rocket Science had come first, on account of the Offscreen dilemma.

Grace Is Gone stars John Cusack as the father of 12-year-old and 8-year-old girls, who finds out film that his wife (and the mother of the girls) died in Iraq, where she was deployed. The rest of the film deals with Cusack trying to find a way to tell his daughters that their mother died. The film sold for $4 or 5 million early on in the festival, and the general consensus was that the film wasn't really that great, but the performances were amazing. It didn't sound like my kind of movie and I didn't particularly want to see it, but it being one of the more talked about films in the festival, I felt like I had to out of some kind of sense of duty. As it turns out, it was not nearly as bad as I was expecting. It isn't great, mind you, but I was pretty much expecting it to be 90 minutes of nothing but cloying little kids and audience manipulation, but it is smarter than that.

After Grace Is Gone let out, I walked down to festival headquarters to go to the press office and check on the status of the tickets I requested yesterday. Turns out that they gave me all three of them, which I wasn't expecting at all. So I had to hurry up and turn around and go back to the Holiday Village, where Offscreen was showing. Offscreen, while only a little over 90 minutes long, is a very slow-moving film, and it also had the too-common problem of foreign language films of having very small white subtitles, and a great deal of the film was white, so it was next to impossible to read them about half the time. Still, the film is as high quality and innovative as one would expect from Boe. It concerns an actor making a film about his life, so almost all of the film is footage that the actor shot from a handheld camera (and the camera is often pointed at himself, so awkward angles abound). Early on in the film the actor's wife leaves him, and the rest of the film has the actor very slowly going crazy, while growing more and more obsessive about finishing his film. The closest movie I can think to compare it to is Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone, which I wouldn't be surprised to find out was a specific influence on Boe when he was making this film.

So, later tonight I'm going to see the last two films that I will see at Sundance 2007, Sk8 Life and Finishing the Game, which will bring my final total to 43 films. This is on par with 2005, when I did 44 films in 11 days; at the end of the tenth day (which today is for me), I had seen 43 films, and then saw one on the last day, and flew back to St. Louis the day after the last day of the festival. I actually have to leave tomorrow instead of the day after, which screws me out of catching the one final film on the last day, which would tie my record (or I could even break it, if I saw more than one, but this gets tricky, because all they play on the final day are the films that won awards, and the awards are announced late tonight, so you don't have much time to plan; add to that the fact that there is a pretty high probability that I have seen a lot of the films that will go on to win awards). Oh well. The library doesn't open until 1:00 p.m. tomorrow and I have to catch a shuttle to the airport at 1:45, so if I can I'll run down here and do one last, short entry about what I thought about Sk8 Life and Finishing the Game, and then in a week or so I'll write a (hopefully) much more structured and coherent wrap-up of the highlights of the festival. | Pete Timmermann

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