There's this little indie film festival going on out West right now called Sundancer...? Is it Sundancer? Well, whatever it is, they're showing a lot of movies and thus there's lots of movie news. So let's do a roundup!
The biggest movie to screen so far is John Wells' The Company Men, a Boston-set drama (with comedy!) about rich business guys like Ben Affleck and Chris Cooper who suddenly find themselves out of a job. Yes it's a recessiony dramedy in the vein of Up in the Air, but those who've seen it so far seem to think it's a superior film.
The Company Men does have its soft, homiletic side. Bobby, with the mortgage payment due, goes to work as a carpenter for his honest-prole brother-in-law, played by Kevin Costner with gruff, gone-to-seed nobility. We're a little too aware that Bobby is opening his eyes to What Really Matters In Life. Yet for most of this superbly observed movie, Wells isn't just crafting glorifed TV-episode lessons. He's a real storyteller, and The Company Men, I have no trouble saying after just two days at Sundance, is destined to be one of the talked-about highlights of the festival.
Thematics aside, The Company Men rolls on the strength of Wells getting out of the way of good actors doing good-to-excellent work with a solid script. It frays at the end with that rush of catharsis and self-importance, but if anything, credit Wells with the optimism that too many filmmakers - hell, too many Americans - overlook in our nation's unfolding economic drama. If work must be life, then better that we should accept our duty to take charge of it as opposed to quivering below our desks or recoiling from the families who make most of who we are in the first place. The Company Men makes no excuses, and neither, it says, should we. Heed its warning.
So, yes! We will see that when it comes out. But what of The Runaways, that glumly-cast (Kristen "Bella" Stewart, Dakota "Elle" Fanning) biopic about the Ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb and the LA punk scene? Well, the trades haven't reviewed it (yet?), but we can consult Gleiberman again who, while praising Kristen Stewart's moody performance (ugh), doesn't think the film is anything to write home about (unless it's your job, and it is his):
...The Runaways is just a watchable, rather so-so rock biopic, with the thinly imagined characters and desultory, one-thing-after-another episodic slackness of a TV movie. ... The Runaways were really just little girls who fed themselves into a giant, buzz-saw machine of image and marketing, all ruled over, of course, by Fowley, the gonzo manager-producer from hell. So they're really passive vessels in their own story. But The Runaways turns them passive in a different way: They're made so likable and innocent and quaintly brash that they don't fully have egos, erotic or otherwise. Stewart, in black eyeliner, nails Jett's sinewy attitude, but Joan's sexual proclivities are treated in a teasing, music-video way. I mean, why be so coy in a movie that's supposed to be a rowdy celebration of a new kind of audacious feminine sexual power?
OK! Sounds like a renter (if that) to us. We generally find biopics (especially ones about music) supremely boring, but at least the other ones don't have the Stewart/Fanning one-two punch of affected Serious Girl acting. We're curious about Michael Shannon as their crazed band manager, though.
Two big sales so far have been Buried and Machete, picked up by Lionsgate and Fox respectively. Buried is about Ryan Reynolds being, uh, buried in a coffin in Iraq by ransom-seeking terrorists. He's equipped with a lighter and a cellphone to try and bargain his way out. Sounds claustrophobic! Apparently a big snake sometimes comes into the coffin, which is creepy. Lionsgate bought the film for "slightly less than $4 million", hoping it will become the next Paranormal Activity — intense, gimmicky, easily profitable.
Machete is, of course, based on a fake trailer directed by Robert Rodriguez that played in the middle of the Grindhouse movies. It stars Rodriguez regular Danny Trejo as a big-fucking-knife-toting Mexican out for vengeance against a crooked politician. Hopefully for everyone's sake it will be less of a disappointment than Grindhouse. There's no figure out on what Fox paid for it, but there was something of a bidding war (Paramount and Lionsgate were also interested), so it's probably not a tiny amount.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman's movie directing debut, Jack Goes Boating, sounds like an interesting little tale. Small and intimate, and with a great cast — theater stalwarts John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega (Mimiiiiii!) reprise the roles they originated in JGB off-Broadway (with Hoffman, at his theater company, LAByrinth). Plus, Amy Ryan!
The Joseph Gordon-Levitt/Natalie Portman/Rainn Wilson/Piper Laurie weirdo drama Hesher sounds like it contains yet another overly-measured performance from Levitt, who we still think is very talented (and as cute as a peach cobble), but is beginning to grate on our nerves a bit for some reason. There's just too much... idiosyncrasy or something. (That jittery, too-eager-actorboy stint on SNL did not help matters.)
Finally, Josh Radnor, the spectacularly annoying star of the spectacularly annoying How I Met Your Mother, has written and directed an indie feature that sounds like it should have come out in 1998 called happythankyoumoreplease (all one lowercase word!). Variety succinctly trashes:
Like a sitcom, but without the burning narrative urgency, "Happythankyoumoreplease" is the epitome of "indie," and not in a good way. A multi-character dramedy about delicate, gifted young urbanites, capable of sparkling repartee but unable to go on a date without assuming a figurative fetal position, the pic gives new meaning to self-indulgence and self-infatuation, all to the lonesome-train-whistle-evoking songs of a sensitive but never less-than-ironic alternative singer-songwriter.
So that's what's big news right now. We'll check back in a couple days to see what's changed, what's been bought, and what's going to be the next Little Miss Sunshine. (Hint: Nothing will be the next Little Miss Sunshine, ever again.)