Sundance 2010 Day 1: Robot Love, Ginsberg, & Lots of Snow!
by Alex Billington
January 22, 2010
There's nothing like being at the Sundance Film Festival when it's snowing. It's beautiful and it's very cold but it's part of what makes my Sundance experience complete. It might have to do with my upbringing in Colorado (where it snowed often), but that's a story for another day. This is my fourth year attending Sundance and I'm unquestionably excited about so many great films showing here (more on those below). And, as you know, Brandon Tenney is joining me this year to help round out our coverage on FirstShowing. The fest officially kicked off today, but only one feature film actually premiered - James Franco's Howl.
Since I know everyone wants to hear about movies and not my love for the snow, let's get down to business. The opening night film of Sundance this year was Howl from directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. It's kind of a mockumentary about poet Allen Ginsberg (played by James Franco) made up of a few different elements: black & white footage of Ginsberg reciting Howl, point-of-view interview footage with Ginsberg, a recreation of Ginsberg's obscenity trial, and animated sequences visualizing the poem, which, if you've read it, is a very obscene poem, and so was the animation at times. Unfortunately it's not that great of a movie.
In the intro, Robert Redford explained that Howl was originally supposed to be a documentary when it was first brought to the Sundance Institute, and that's exactly what it should've been. While I had no problem with Franco or any of the other cast members portraying real life people (Jon Hamm as Jake Ehrlich, David Strathairn as Ralph McIntosh, Jeff Daniels as Professor David Kirk), I think Howl would've worked much better as a documentary. It just felt too much like a doc and never really went above and beyond just that.
Right after seeing Howl, I caught the first screening of Shorts Program I, which is where Spike Jonze's new short film I'm Here was premiering. And wow was it great. We just ran the trailer for I'm Here yesterday, and now "I'm here" to tell you that it really is a wonderful short film. In fact, I might have even liked it more than Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are, but I still need to see that for a second time. Anyway, I'm Here is a "robot love" story about two human-like robots living in Los Angeles who fall in love. It's a wild and crazy concept to begin with, but Jonze pulled it off exquisitely, and it's a must see as soon as you get the chance.
If you haven't seen what these two robots look like, watch the trailer. What Spike Jonze can do visually is astounding. He's a true visual genius and it shows with I'm Here. Although human actors Andrew Garfield and Sienna Guillory play these bots, they completely act and look like real robots (in a Spike Jonze way). The emotions they conveyed with their CGI (I think?) eyes and mouths were incredible. I felt more emotion watching these two robots fall in love than I have watching any of Robert Zemeckis' motion capture movies. And the film plays with the idea of a relationship where one person is destructive but the other one loves them so much that they keep giving "pieces" of themselves to them. It's just wonderful, go see I'm Here!
So with that said and with those first two films out of the way, it's time to head to sleep and get some rest before an early start tomorrow. My plans for Friday involve seeing four films:
Sam Taylor Wood's Nowhere Boy, Josh Radnor's HappyThankYouMorePlease, Spencer Susser's Hesher, Taika Waititi's Boy, and Vincenzo Natali's Splice. Every time I come back to Park City I feel like I'm visiting my second home. I love this town and I love this festival more than any other film festival in the entire world. I wake up every single morning happy that I get to experience another day here at Sundance. With that, I'm out. Until tomorrow!
Sundance 2010 Review List:
Thursday (January 21st):
1. Howl (dir. Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) - Just Okay
2. Shorts Program I: I'm Here (dir. Spike Jonze) - Loved It