If there's one thing most romantic comedies can't seem to lock down it's real romance and substantial comedy. However, when it comes to the film festival circuit, plenty of films hit it right on the money. Whether it's (500) Days of Summer or even Garden State, Sundance is the place to find a real love story with heart and comedy. Save the Date easily fits into that category but with an even more grounded, even practical approach to love as a twenty-something. From the pressure of being engaged to the lead-up to a serious relationship, a lot can go wrong when it comes to romance. But thankfully, it can also go right.
One film that premiered in the later half of the Sundance Film Festival that has still left a lasting impact on myself and Ethan is a intimate portrait of a father and son from writer/director/actor Mark Webber. You may know him as Stephen Stills in Scott Pilgrim, but Webber is a talented actor who's been starring in indies for years (I met him at my first Sundance in 2007). His new film, The End of Love, is his directorial debut starring himself and his 2-year-old boy Isaac as they try to cope with living in Los Angeles without his mother. It's very touching and raw, but a captivating look at the relationship between a father and his son.
The found footage "genre" has become trend in Hollywood, with new Paranormal Activity's replacing the Saw films every year, and many more to come. When it comes to horror found footage films, Sundance has a strong history, with Blair Witch Project premiering back in 1999. Jump ahead 13 years to 2012 and here we are with another genre reinvention, this time refreshing the horror anthology idea with a found-footage film titled V/H/S, about VHS footage, produced by Brad Miska of Bloody-Disgusting. It's an awesome collection of six freaky, fantastic horror films rolled into one and we've got our first video blog about it to watch below.
I'm here all the way to the very end. Even though this is my sixth year at the Sundance Film Festival, for those past five years straight, I've attended all 10 days of the fest. Sundance (and most major film festivals) last a full 10 days, which is quite a long time when you think about it, spending 10 days in one location watching movies non-stop every single day. It's exhausting, mentally and physically, that's for sure, but I love it. I'm one of those people who does not bail early, who'll stay to the end just to stay to the end, just to get the full experience and most importantly catch up on any films that I really need to see before it's over.
Another big Sundance sale we definitely need to highlight. Heat Vision is reporting that Magnolia Pictures has closed on a roughly $1 million deal for US rights to V/H/S, the horror anthology film that premiered in the Midnight category at Sundance. I caught the premiere at midnight and loved it, it's awesome, potentially the kind of film that could push the found-footage genre and reinvent horror anthology. The film features five short horror segments made to look like they're on VHS, plus a wrap-around story, and they're all freaky and fantastic. It will hit VOD and also be in theaters, as is the norm with Magnolia's Ultra VOD program.
This is it. This is the discovery of Sundance 2012. The film that everyone is going to be talking about after the fest. And it lives up to the hype. But forget about all of that, go see this without knowing anything about it, just that it's phenomenal, and you'll experience it the way all of us did. Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin and created by the collective Court 13, is an utterly phenomenal piece cinema, an astounding, mesmerizing, heartbreaking, wonderful adventure taking us to another world, a world set in wet southern Louisiana known as the "Bathtub". This is a film that reminds me why I love cinema so much.
Some might've heard this story before, about a 13-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay who went missing in Texas in 1994, then was "discovered" years later in Spain. He was returned to the family, they believed it was him, an older, entirely different teen who spoke with an accent. But then they found out it wasn't him, it was a French man named Frédéric Bourdin who poses as kids, "to be loved". Or so that's what he claims in this doc. The Imposter, made by UK filmmaker Bart Layton, tells the story from both the family and Bourdin's perspective and it's incredible, one of those unbelievable true stories you just must see to believe.
Having stand-up comedians bring their act to television or the big screen always results in a mixed bag of quality. Television has the most failure, but often when a comedian brings their brand of comedy to film as well, it's a difficult transition. However, as a fan of comedian Mike Birbiglia (you can watch one of his stand-up specials on Netflix Instant), I was anxious to see how his directorial debut and first leading role in Sleepwalk with Me turned out. Thankfully, the comedian has made an adorable film about a struggling comedian with uncertain romance and a humorous sleeping disorder, all crafted from his personal stories.
Three more major Sundance acquisitions to report on. Deals at the festival seem to be picking up steam as the fest continues, with three films that premiered over the last weekend landing distributors. First up, one of my personal favorites, Nicholas Jarecki's New York-set legal/financial thriller Arbitrage, was acquired by Roadside Attractions & Lionsgate for $2.5 million. Glad to hear, as it's a film that I will happily follow and support up to its release. Next up, Rodrigo Cortés' controversial Red Lights starring Robert De Niro was acquired by Millennium Entertainment. One other film from the fest is also nearing a deal. Read on!
Last year "How I Met Your Mother" star Josh Radnor made his directorial debut with the fluffy, feel-good film HappyThankYouMorePlease, and while it pleased the audience, it wasn't exactly a home run with the critics. This time around, Radnor brings the same charm with Liberal Arts, but in a more mature package complete with witty writing and a perfect presentation of the struggles one endures in college as they begin to become an adult and also in their later years as they desperately try to hold on to their younger days. However, the film isn't completely a winner as it snobbishly attempts to be wiser than the audience.
It has been a fairly slow start for Sundance deals this year, but today is when everything began to hit. Not only was it confirmed, only a few hours after it premiered to a standing ovation, that Fox Searchlight was buying The Surrogate for $6 million, but a number of other deals have come through today. Searchlight is also on the prowl buying another one of the most highly-buzzed about films, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Sony Pictures Classics just nabbed the comedy Celeste & Jesse Forever. A few other sales hit over the weekend for a few other films, but many of my favorite films haven't been picked up by anyone yet.
"WANTED: Someone to go back in time with me. This not a joke. Must bring your own weapons." It all began with a classified ad, one actually placed in real life years ago, now it's a movie. Not just any movie, but a low budget indie that premiered at Sundance. It's called Safety Not Guaranteed (which is also the last line in the ad). But is there any actual time travel? Is it all just a hoax? Three magazine writers go to find out the truth and that's where things get really crazy. This wacky, fun, indie comedy starring talented actors Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson and Mark Duplass, while a bit slow moving, is amusing and awesome.
When it comes to thrillers involving Wall Street billionaires, they've got to have a unique edge, something deep with the main character, to prevent them from following into the "First World Problems" (and "Rich People Problems") trap. Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage deals with one of those billionaires, a Wall Street hedge fund investor and business owner, who ends up in somewhat of a downward spiral after one crazy incident, and it's the people around him, those he involves and doesn't involve, that are affected. It's a taut, riveting dramatic thriller that had me nervously on the edge of my seat up until the very end. A great film.
Following the premiere of Red Hook Summer, director Spike Lee quite adamantly proclaimed that his first Sundance film is "not a motherf**kin' sequel to Do the Right Thing." Yes, the filmmaker intermittently reprises his role as Mookie, the character from the aforementioned 1989 film. Yes, it has the same colorful palette and visual style in hot Brooklyn. Yes, the story structure is eerily similar and culminates in surprising third act chaos driven this time by religious controversy and wrongs as opposed to racial tension. But despite all those things, Red Hook Summer is somehow not a sequel to Do the Right Thing? No way.