Strictly Sundancing

The latest from this year's festival

Strictly Sundancing

by Willow Green |
Published on

It’s a been strangely quiet in Park City this year, and perhaps the opening night film was a taste of things to come. Directed by The Kid Stays In the Picture helmer Brett Morgen, Chicago 10 is a part-animated documentary about the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention that plays part History Channel, part Scooby Doo, with a low-key cast including Liev Schreiber, Roy Scheider and Hank Azaria. This lack of Hollywood wattage set the pace for a thoughtful but not too paparazzi-friendly festival, where A-list stars were so few on the ground that Sienna Miller reaped the most column inches for her appearance to support Interview, an experimental two-hander directed by Steve Buscemi.

After last year’s flurry of sales – most notably Little Miss Sunshine, which flogged for $10 million – 2007 is looking a little down on the business side too. Though deals are still being made, nothing is fetching above the $4 million mark, with most interest being drawn to James C Strouse’s Grace Is Gone, in which a blue-collar father of two girls comes to terms with his soldier wife’s death in Iraq. Negotiations ended at 5am for this one, with the Weinstein Company coughing up for worldwide rights. It’s easy to see why they wanted it, given the current anti-war climate in the US, but for European audiences it might seem a little simplistic, although Cusack’s honest, unflattering performance proves he hasn’t lost his mojo after a string of box-office flops.

The Weinsteins also coughed up for Teeth, a violent but intelligent horror movie about a girl who finds she has a full set of molars in the pants area. A mix of Ginger Snaps and Carrie, it saw the company striking an unprecedented deal with Lionsgate instead of their usual output company MGM.

Closer inspection reveals that Lionsgate are not a member of the MPAA ratings board, which means Harvey Scissorhands is NOT living up to his reputation and wants to send this gory, cock-amputating shocker into the world uncut. Another horror-thriller generating interest is Joshua, starring Sam Rockwell as a yuppie father whose nine-year-old boy just might be a psychopath. A (broken) rib-tickling black comedy, with an outstanding performance by Rockwell and proving yet again what a great find Vera Farmiga is, Joshua caught the eye of Fox Searchlight, who stumped up $9 million for a double deal with Waitress, the directorial debut of the late Adrienne Shelly.

Empire recommends:

Rocket Science (Jeffrey Blitz)

A lovely mix of every high-school indie you’ve ever seen, from Election and Rushmore to Thumbsucker and The Squid And The Whale, this story of an introverted school kid with a stutter is deceptively well scripted, taking some unusual turns and delivering a feelgood ending without resorting to feelgood formula.

Year Of The Dog (Mike White)

You can’t get much better than Molly Shannon in this tale of a frumpy office worker whose life spirals out of control when her dog pencil dies. A terrific ensemble cast, including Laura Dern, John C Reilly, Peter Sarsgaard and the hilarious Regina King work wonders with White’s sometimes uproarious comedy of embarrassment.

The Pool (Chris Smith)

Anyone familiar with Chris Smith’s documentary work (American Movie, The YesMen) would never expect this, a beautifully realized art movie about a poor Indian boy who covets the pond that belongs to local wealthy family. Slight but very involving, it’s an amazingly authentic experience.

Broken English (Zoe Cassavetes)

Parker Posey returns to take her crown as Sundance Queen in this Sex In The City-style story of a lonely, neurotic 30-something who finds herself falling for a barmy Frenchman. Nailing Cassavetes’ witty script, which features some cringingly universal truths, Posey reveals her inner comedienne while projecting a touching vulnerability.

Joshua (George Ratliff)

New parents should stay away from this psychological horror thriller, starring Sam Rockwell as a high-flying businessman whose young son shows disturbing signs of sociopathology when his baby sister is born. Rockwell’s turn-on-a-dime performance is one of his best, drawing out a rich vein of humour in a very dark subject.

Teeth (Mitchell Lichtenstein)

Teeth is that rarity: a film with no subtext whatsoever! It’s all there on screen as a repressed high-school teenager yields to her sexual awakening, only to discover that a set of vagina dentata won’t let her enjoy it. It sounds pulpy but lead Jess Weixler plays the part with an impressive commitment, even when castrating her dorky boyfriends.

Fido (Andrew Currie)

Far From Heaven meets Day Of The Dead in this handsome zom-com, starring newcomer K’Sun Ray as Timmy, a white-picket 50s kid in a parallel world where a meteorite has riddled the suburbs with the flesh-eating undead.

Kitsch but never gaudy, it’s a simple and very funny idea with a lot of blood and surprisingly big heart.

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