Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Trending On Empire
The Future Of Film
The 100 Greatest Video Games
The Making Of The West Wing
Subscribe To Empire Today
Save money and get 12 issues for only £25
Go Think Big
Helping young people achieve their career dreams
Empire Blogs
Words From The Wise

Back to all blogs Comment Now

Sundance 2013: The Round Up Part One

Posted on Wednesday January 23, 2013, 10:30 by Damon Wise in Words From The Wise
Sundance 2013: The Round Up Part One

According to founder Robert Redford, the ethos of the Sundance Film Festival can be described in one word: change. “Some people fight and resist it because they are afraid of it,” he noted at the opening-day press conference on Thursday, “others accept it and roll along with it.” Though we're not talking seismic changes, Sundance is certainly a festival that moves with the times, and after the breakout success last year of Beasts Of The Southern Wild – which is following 2009's Precious to the Oscars – this year is definitely attracting interest from an industry looking for fresh new ideas.

They're not being disappointed. Yesterday saw the world premiere of Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, the director's first film since his prize-winning cerebral sci-fi drama Primer in 2004 – and quite possibly the most anticipated movie at Sundance this year. Although the festival attracts hundreds of bona fide movie stars every year – though markedly less stellar, this year's attendees include the likes of Nicole Kidman, Shia LaBeouf, Joseh Gordon-Levitt. Ashton Kutcher and Naomi Watts – Upstream Color is really what the festival is all about: a cool, mystical and at times impenetrable study of human fate. Making Holy Motors look like Nativity 2 by comparison, it is an insanely ambitious piece of work that begins with a woman being tazered and forced to ingest a worm that makes her fall under the spell of a mysterious attacker. This man then hypnotises his victim into handing over all her money, but not before memorising a novel by Henry Thoreau.

The film was well received, but then most films here are, and although the festival got off to a slow start with a couple of decent docs (Who Is Dayani Cristal? and 20 Feet From Stardom) and two OK world dramatic features (Crystal Fairy and May In The Summer), the quality of the films since has been pretty high, For me, the festival really kicked off with Austenland, a divisive chick-lit comedy that stars Keri Russell as a single woman named Jane whose infatuation with the novels of Jane Austen inspire her to sign up for a holiday in a British country theme park modelled on the life and work of the Regency-era authoress. There, Jane teams up with the rich, busty Miss Charming (Jennifer Coolidge), only to realise that her life savings only entitle her to the “copper” edition of the Jane Austen experience while her new but comparatively vulgar friend gets “platinum”.

That the film is divisive is because many were turned off by its exuberant, Comic Strip-style comedy, which tends to focus a lot on Coolidge's bosom and the great lady wailing such bon mots as “GORD SAYVE THA CWEEN!” in a horrible British accent. But there are some smart, literary laughs to be had, and even though Jerusha Hess' film is very, very, silly, it's rare to see a film that so knowingly explores the reality of many women's secret fantasies and desires. It's even more rare, however, to see women's fantasies and desires explored as boldly as they are in Anne Fontaine's Two Mothers, which stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as two middle-aged best friends who embark on affairs with each other's sons. The absurdity of the set-up put many viewers off, but although there is definitely some unintentional humour in some of the dialogue (“We've crossed a line!” observes a straight-faced Watts), there's also a lot of sexual tension and atmosphere to relish here, and the film, boosted by two great leads, definitely makes a provocative impression.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me so far has been Daniel Radcliffe's performance as Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in Kill Your Darlings, the true story of a scandalous wartime murder in uptown Manhattan. John Krokidas's film tells the story through the eyes of the young Ginsberg, who meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) in his first days at university and is seduced into a world of jazz, drugs and literary hedonism. Unworldly and inexperienced, Ginsberg is initially confused by his attraction to Carr, but the shadowy presence of David Kammerer (Michael C Hall), a somewhat creepy older man who follows Carr everywhere, alerts Ginsberg to his own blossoming homosexuality. The fact that Carr kills Kammerer is no spoiler, since this is how the movie starts, but what is surprising is how well Radcliffe plays out Ginberg's crucial early life journey, transitioning from a wide-eyed ingenue to a radicalised bohemian whose poetry would change the course of literary history.

Jumping forward a few days, fellow Harry Potter alumnus Rupert Grint plays a small but perfectly formed part in Fredrik Bond's excellent and at times uproarious The Necessary Death Of Charlie Countryman, in which the young Chicagoan of the title, played by Shia LaBeouf, takes a trip to Bucharest to recover from the death of his mother. It takes a while to heat up, but when it does, Bond's film is a great, sleazy crime caper, with Countryman falling for Romanian gangster's moll Gabrielle (Evan Rachel Wood), ex-wife of vicious gangster Nigel (Mads Mikkelsen). Unfolding backwards, the film starts with our bloodied, weeping hero hanging from a rope and about to be shot, and Matt Drake's script has a lot of fun explaining how Countryman got there. Bond's use of music is excellent and his vision of eastern Europe both hellish and magical; that Grint plays a wannabe porn star named Boris Pecker is just one of the many delights of a gripping, violent film that owes an unabashed debt to the Tarantino-penned love-in-low-places story True Romance.

Speaking of porn, who would have thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directing debut Don Jon's Addiction would be so near the knuckle (pun intended)? Gordon-Levitt stars as Jon, an Italian-American jersey boy who pumps his muscles, pimps his ride, and keeps his crib squeaky-clean for the endless procession of women he takes back to his pristine apartment. When Jon meets the ten-out-of-ten club girl Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), he falls in love. But Jon has a secret: though he every inch a ladies man, he is also an internet porn addict, scouring the internet for hardcore and softcore images, since he prefers the fantasy version of sex to its awkward, grunting reality.

If you still haven't quite got your head round Gordon-Levitt's recent ascension to leading-man status, this film will blow your mind, not only showing the still-boyish actor pumped up to eye-popping proportions, but displaying a sexual frankness one rarely sees even in independent cinema these days. And then there's the sight of Johansson as we've never seen her before, flaunting her curves, chomping on gum and yakking away in a Noo Joisey accent – a killer combo that leads us to the film's subtle about-turn. That Jon mends his ways is perhaps to be expected, nevertheless, Gordon-Levitt does it with style and energy and a very human conclusion (hint: it involves Julianne Moore), that combined to create the opening weekend highpoint of a very promising festival.

Coming soon: Breathe In, Valentine Road, The Look Of Love, In Fear, The East, Stoker, Before Midnight, 99 percent – The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film and more.

Login or register to comment.

Currently No Comments

Log in below, or register to post comments
Remember Me:


Empire States (440)

Under The Radar (323)

Infinite Lives (92)

Small Screen (57)

Words From The Wise (35)

Cannes 2011 (28)

Off The Wire (24)

Comic-Con 2010 (21)

Casting Couch (2)

Oscars 2011 (1)


The Rio Festival: The Prizes
By Simon Braund

The Rio Festival: Closing Film
By Simon Braund

The Rio Film Festival: Trinto, Castanha, Campo de Jogo and Sangre Azul
By Simon Braund

The Rio Film Festival: The First Report
By Simon Braund

Zurich International Film Festival: Escobar: Paradise Lost
By Simon Braund

Zurich International Film Festival: The First Two Days
By Simon Braund

Night Visions 2013: The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears, We Are What We Are, Big Bad Wolves
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Jodorowsky's Dune, Nightsatan & The Loops Of Doom
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
By Owen Williams

Night Visions 2013: Fresh Meat, The Colony, Sawney
By Owen Williams


Night Visions 2013: Adjust Your Tracking (or Does Anyone Actually Miss VHS?)
"Or don't..."  Owen Williams
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Juan Francisco Pardo Q&A
"Sadece on altı dakika içinde iyi bir görsel hikaye anlatmak önemli beceri ve bel"  skndrdmr
Read comment

Aruba 2013: Opening Gala
"That really amazing."  ommrudraksha
Read comment

2013 IIFF - The Winners
"Hi Simon, Trying to get in touch with you. Hope this works. I enjoyed your piece on Enter t"  matthewpolly
Read comment

Christoph Waltz will win an Oscar
"although its old now :(, of course he was gonna win it :), one of the many idols of why i wanna be a"  SONYA ALALIBO
Read comment

Brisbane International Film Festival: First Report
"I think it is pretty clear the story revolves around The Blacksmith, in The Man With The Iron Fists,"  owenyunfat
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Hi Damon With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem a"  ChesterCopperpot
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"No worries! I just try to describe things as I see them, and I often forget that, as Empire has grow"  Damon_Wise
Read comment

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines
"Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your early reviews from the festivals, and of course, I'm not alway"  pythonlove
Read comment


Sundance Part Six: In The Loop

The Times BFI London Film Festival Preview

Basterds Blog

Damo's Top Ten Of 2009

Sundance 2010: Four Lions blows everyone away!

Sundance 2010: The Killer Inside Me causes outrage!

Chris Hewitt Of The Year Award!!!!

TIFF 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Cloud Atlas, The Place Beyond The Pines

The Wrestler

Uncle Boonmee: An Explanation

Damon Wise (297)
Helen O'Hara (181)
James Dyer (86)
Amar Vijay (71)
Ali Plumb (56)
James White (29)
Phil de Semlyen (20)
Owen Williams (15)
Simon Braund (6)
Ally Wybrew (2)
Ben Kirby (1)
Dan Jolin (1)
Ian Nathan (1)
David Parkinson (1)

You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list

Empire Meets Jason Bateman And Tina Fey
The stars of This Is Where I Leave You hang out

The Scariest Film Of The Year? Jennifer Kent On The Babadook
The director talks us through her terrifying new film

10 Horror Spin-Offs We Want To See
After Annabelle, what other supporting characters deserve their own film?

Documentaries: What Happened Next
We track down and interview the stars of great non-fiction films

Your Introductory Guide To That DC Movie Slate
Suicide Squad? Cyborg? Aquaman? We explain who’s who in the DC Universe

Captain America 3, Iron Man And Civil War: Where Next For The Marvel Cinematic Universe?
What to make of today's Marvel news

Interactive Gallery: Explore Iconic Movie Spacesuits
Explore the fabric of space-time

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 12 Issues Of Empire For Only £25!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save money on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 12 issues of Empire for just £25!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)