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Movieman's Sundance Diary (Day 3)
by Erik Childress

(Jan. 19, 2003) Sunday was a new day. Not just the cliched kind that comes from a standard planet rotation, but something felt different. There was a relaxed nature to it. There was only one movie definitely on my schedule, I had a party invite to meet Sabrina Lloyd and the Golden Globes were on television tonight, which we all had tentative plans to mock LIVE on the website. I was pumped. But I wasn’t the only one.

Where excitement clouded my veins, a nervous anticipation was clogging Scott’s. Oz resides in Canada, myself from Chicago, but Scott is from Philadelphia; home of Rocky Balboa and bad M. Night Shyamalan flicks. Scott would normally take the Philly Cheese off his steak sandwich (and his steak sandwich) and throw it onto my groin for that last statement, but today he couldn’t care less. There was only one thing on Scott’s mind today. The Philadelphia Eagles.

And who could blame him? I’ve never met a more passionate, supportive hometeam fan than Scott and today was as important as the Super Bowl. If they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they’re in it. If not…well, let’s not even entertain the possibility.

I so wanted to watch the entire game with Scott, but Sundance duty called and my screening of Pieces of April was scheduled for 2:00. The game starts at 1. Why-oh-why did the chaps at the press office decide to schedule Pieces of April and another film I really wanted to see, The Cooler (with William H. Macy, Maria Bello, Alec Baldwin & Ron Livingston) at the same time? Both had incredible buzz. Why not afford as many people in the press to cover BOTH films? I had a responsibility to see Pieces since it starred both Katie Holmes & Oliver Platt whom I would interviewing in just over 24 hours.

It’s still early on Sunday. Oz is pounding out reviews. I’m trying to write. Scott is pacing. I had another “LIVE from Sundance” radio appearance on WGN with Nick Digilio that very evening. They had been calling me (instead of the usual other way around) at the condo since my phone wasn’t working. Oh, hadn’t I mentioned? The cell phone – the first I had EVER had – was for shit! That’s right. I set myself up with a cell phone with a crap-ass company that rhymes with “mint” and for all the money I would now be dishing out on a monthly basis, I could not MAKE nor RECEIVE calls in Park City, Utah. That’s right. No calls without being forwarded to roaming charges that would force me to use my credit card, call collect or use a calling card that needs to be purchased directly from THEM. (48 minutes on hold Thursday evening waiting for customer service. The first jackass over there told me that it was because I was too far away from the nearest tower – 2 miles – despite the phone never once having to “search for service.”)

Long story short. The phone still didn’t work. I decided to vent my frustration into my computer, writing some notes on a particularly bothersome phenomena that I’ve been seeing way too much of. WALKOUTS!!!

What’s the deal? My own eyes saw NINE out of The Singing Detective on Friday. The back of my head apparently saw even more railjumpers. I’ve heard the logic and can appreciate anyone (critic or general audience) knowing that a film couldn’t possibly engage them any less. How long does that take though? The 60-minute point? 75? 90? Perhaps. I’ve never walked out of a film in my life (not counting stomach or bladder emergencies.) Even when I wasn’t seeing movies professionally, call it a morbid curiosity or some cruel way to punish myself, but I always want to stay until the bitter end. At a film festival such as Sundance, I can also understand the logic of a loaded schedule. The press screenings have, at least, a two-and-a-half-hour window in-between. But public screenings do not as they take place at twice the amount of venues as the press viewings. If one film starts late and a journalist is pushing a 20-minute window to hop a shuttle to get someplace else for an interview or another title, then I can understand vamoosing for, say, the final ten minutes of a film. It’s a shame (and a little crappy) to miss the ending of a filmmaker’s sweat-and-blood (especially if you’re digging it), but if it sucks and you know it sucks then another ten minutes ain’t going to change a word in your report.

But what’s the deal with people (professionals, mind you) getting up and leaving 30 minutes into a film? And I’m being generous with that number. I saw critics get up and leave after 15. These are the same “respected” writers who will then report how much they disliked the film without clueing you into how unprofessional their reporting actually is. I’ve seen critics in Chicago (unnamed here) get up 3 or 4 times during a movie. How can you give an honest assessment of anyone’s work and stand by your opinion when you haven’t seen every frame in a single sitting? Imagine getting yourself shut out of a screening because its sold out; something you really, really wanted to see. Now, imagine the guy who took your spot leaving after only 20 minutes. I’m quite appalled at this and plan on taking names if I can spot them.

One person who most certainly wasn’t walking out this Sunday afternoon was Scott. The pre-game was over. It was 1:00. The kickoff was in the air and look at that Eagle go. What a return! It was the first 10 seconds of the game and you could have sworn that Scott just won the lottery; jumping around like someone who just hit the game-winning homerun. With only 52 seconds elapsed in the game, the Philadelphia Eagles scored a touchdown! 7-0! Eagles fans everyone were going nuts and I was so happy for Scott. I wanted to share in this revelry with him, but I had a shuttle and a movie to catch, so off I went.

Pieces of April (***1/2) was written and directed by Peter Hedges (another of Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch.) It’s his first feature after penning adaptations of the great What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and About a Boy and this film has that same wonderful comic tone to its story and characters. Katie Holmes plays estranged daughter, April, who has taken upon herself to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for her family. She has a black boyfriend (Derek Luke) whom they’ve never met. Her mother (Patricia Clarkson), whom she’s never gotten along with, is more bitter and critical than ever during her bout with breast cancer and her father (Oliver Platt) is just trying his best to keep the family (which includes sister, brother & grandma) from killing each other. Naturally, complications ensue when April’s oven breaks forcing her to roam the building, meeting neighbors of all races and creeds, in search for a place to heat her turkey as the family makes the long car ride into the city. At only a meager 80 minutes, Hedges molds another tale where we come to expect the worst from its characters as they just try to do the best they can. It usually takes a little more to move me, but by the end, Hedges successfully encapsulates its simplicity into a truly heartfelt ending that’s going to connect with a lot of people. This film makes a great companion to Jodie Foster’s overlooked Home for the Holidays and can easily be a hit. (Rumor has it that Miramax was on the verge of grabbing it.)

The quick fix of that film allowed me the chance to see the rest of the Eagles game with Scott. Although when I got back to the condo, I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to do. He was outside smoking a cigarette. The pale look on his face and the horizontal nod of his head suggested doom. 20-10 he told me was the score and they were about to begin the 4th quarter.

I put on my best game face and told Scott we were going to bring this game in. 15 minutes to go. I was clapping at every play; good or bad, in the hope of bringing some…hope…to the game. I was stunned, but Scott was outraged at the officiating taking place. OFFENSIVE PASS INTERFERENCE! Nobody calls that unless there’s an extra $100 in the pocket. These refs had obviously been bought off. But there was still hope. Under six minutes to go, the Eagles were driving. Down the field the charge was ruthless (but why the hell were they even TRYING to run?) A little over three minutes left. They needed a TD and a FG! 1st and Goal! McNabb throws the pass and…(out of respect of my Philadelphia brotherhood the remaining play-by-play of this game has been deleted.)

My boy needed a good cheering-up. I didn’t know if there was enough voltage in this universe to electroshock him back into coherence (Seinfeld? Anyone? Never mind.) but I had to try. My invitation to the Dopamine party afforded me a guest (or a “plus one” as it would soon be known as) and Scott could use the fresh air. I felt any pat on his back might spur a Buddy Revell/Clark Griswold “DON’T TOUCH!” reaction, so I saved my “there’s always next year” peace.

The party was being held at the Miner’s Hospital, a building dating back to the 19th century just up the street from the Library Centre. It was a two-story building and this was a small, intimate affair consisting of people associated with the film, various publicists and random shmoes like Scott and myself. Then again, if we were just shmoes, what were we doing at a party like this, let alone having one of OUR names on the guest list?

We checked in and I looked around for Mickey Cottrell, the publicist gracious enough to invite me. Looking around the room, feeling weird about not having the chance to see the film just yet, I saw Sabrina Lloyd. She looked as warm and adorable as on any episode of Sports Night or Ed that I had seen. How would this meeting take place? Who was I to have been awarded this chance? I wanted to introduce myself to Mickey and perhaps the questions would take care of themselves.

Mickey asked me about the interview I wanted to set up. Nothing specific, just a general “so you’ll be doing one with Sabrina tomorrow” kinda thing. And I was to ask her what time would be good with her. Apparently, the meeting was going to happen on my terms and not the formal introduction I was expecting. OK then. Oh, look at that. Free drinks and we didn’t have to drive anywhere.

SKYY Vodka must sponsor just about everything down in Utah. I think their slogan is “If you live in Utah, you must need a SKYY.” Scott and I grabbed a screwdriver and were approached by a lovely young woman named Donna who was an assistant on the film. We expressed our regret at having not seen the film and she talked to us for a good 20 minutes; not just telling us how wonderful she thought it was and how well the first screening went, but general getting-to-know-you chit-chat and info about the filmmakers. (Dopamine was finished just three days before Sundance.) Donna noticed our drinks and recommended we try the “purple martinis” as it’s a special recipe featured in the movie.

We headed upstairs with our drinks diminished. We made our way through the much larger crowd to find the open bar upstairs. As I awaited to order two purple martinis, I peered over to my left and saw a very recognizable face standing in the corner talking to some people. I leaned over to Scott and pointed him out – “Hey, Ron Livingston.”

We grabbed our drinks and made our way over to his corner of the room. After his conversation ended, we approached him and Scott gave him a “Get there!” to which he smiled and gave one right back to us. For those of you somehow not ringing a bell to either the name or the movie quote, play Super Password with me for a second:

Swingers
Office Space
Band of Brothers
Goofy
Golf Course


If the bells still aren’t ringing, then just buy the three titles on that list and you are forgiven. Ron is the kind of celebrity you want to meet. The kind you could hang out with. The kind you could engage in conversation all night without being made to feel like some inferior nuisance to his space. We talked with him for about 15-20 minutes. We raved like fanboys in places. (How can you not when he’s done those aforementioned titles?) But fanboys rattle off resumes without any real appreciation in the muttering of the titles; they just want to show you they know. Scott and I know our stuff. If one of us lapsed, the other was there to pick up the ball. Ron seemed genuinely impressed that I knew the little indie film Two Ninas that he had starred in and was beside himself when I told him that both Swingers and Office Space STILL play regular midnight shows in Chicago theaters after all these years. He clued us into the scrapped Swingers 2 project that Jon Favreau wrote and how he was happy, yet still to be asked to participate on Fox’s forthcoming Office Space Special Edition DVD. Ron is one of those actors that we immediately light up when his name is listed in the credits (check out his hilarious half-a-day work in the current Adaptation) and it was a pleasure to share some time with him. In case you were wondering what he was doing at that party. His brother, John, is the star of Dopamine.

Scott and I were on a bit of a highpoint now, but I still hadn’t met Sabrina. I can get a bit paranoid. The kind of paranoid that cliches are made from. If you don’t act now, you may miss your opportunity. How long would she be there? Would she be too busy later? So as Scott went to get fetch a couple more of those oh-so-yummy purple drinks, I spotted Sabrina walking through the crowd upstairs and I acted.

As she was in conversational distance, I called out her name and all of a sudden there she was, looking directly at me, flashing that million-dollar smile she had on Sports Night and Ed. I introduced myself and her smile got even wider. She shook my hand as if she may have heard my name mentioned by Mickey the publicist for an interview possibility. I told her that I was working with Mickey to set up an interview with her on Monday. She was eager to help in any way, suggesting better times, where to go, etc… How many celebrities will take the trouble to set things up themselves without hiding behind entourages and handlers? We parted and she stated she looked forward to our interview. TOO cool.

Scott came back with martinis, about half-full, as he tried to maneuver through the crowd and maintaining his current level of chemical happiness (which, it turns out is one of the themes of the film, but I’ll get to that later.) It was still early, barely after 6:00, so we continued to mingle. We met an actor from the former NBC show Jesse (with Christina Applegate) who was there supporting his buddy, Bruno Campos (who played Diego Vasquez on the show) and has a prominent role in Dopamine. He bummed a smoke off of Scott and we chatted outside in the cold for a good while. Joining the conversation were a pair of filmmakers who made the 11-minute short film, Little Failures that was playing in front of Dopamine. Good guys all around.

Probably the major event on a professional level for Scott and I though was running into a pair of studio gals; one from MGM and the other who worked with Wes Craven. Cool enough as it was. It was an interesting test to see how we would react when titles that they were involved with were thrown into the night. Could we bite the bullet and honestly tell them how much Hart’s War sucked or what is Wes thinking putting his name on garbage like Dracula 2000? Well, for the most part, yes. I had no problem dismissing Hart’s War as an awful WWII film (one where American soldiers hate blacks more than the Nazis) and Scott posed the “Wes Craven Presents” debate. Say what you will, honest or not, someone still won’t believe you when you admit that Wes Craven Presents: They was a good film. That was me. She didn’t believe me.

But here’s the rub. When they asked us who we write for and the name Hollywood Bitchslap was uttered, the look in the eyes of Craven’s assistant could be confused with those looking at Brad Pitt, or basically someone who mattered in the snow-covered Utah hills. She knew the site. She loved the site. She said its one she would check at home and in Craven’s offices everyday. Ah-ha! But who is bending the truth now? Time for a true test of a loyal bitchslap fan. I asked her to name a couple of her favorite writers from the site. She thought for a moment and then remembered someone who writes under the moniker of “The Angry Jew”. I promptly pointed at Scott and I thought she going to Elaine Benes him off the porch with a loud “GET OUT!” Scott then re-introduced me as “Erik the Movieman” and she acted like she in the midst of royalty. Remember now that she was probably matching us on the drink-o-meter so I probably could have said I was Cow Boy and asked if she wanted to milk me and the reaction would have equaled.

So here we are. Sundance. Erik the Movieman and The Angry Jew. Drinking martinis, chatting it up with Ron Livingston and Sabrina Lloyd and anonymous industry people know who WE are. It’s our own personal beer commercial and life just couldn’t get any better than this.

With a drink each in hand and the count 9-7 in the Jew’s favor, I still didn’t want to leave. Not until I got to say goodbye to a few people, especially Sabrina. I saw some people (fans, I believe) at the party going up to her one-by-one and talking to her. I courteously waited my turn as Scott went for a smoke. As he came back inside, Sabrina had retired back upstairs. We also walked up and saw Sabrina still conversing with another individual (who got up TWICE to talk on his cell phone – what the hell is THAT? Rude bastard.) If I’m sitting in a corner talking to Sabrina Lloyd, just the two of us, not only would my cell phone by off but I would have thrown it out the window and tried to send it travelling on a ski lift. Scott and I recounted our adventures of the evening into the tape recorder that he brought along (a tape which I believe has since been locked away next to the Lost Ark of the Covenant.) When Sabrina finally had a sec alone, Scott in true Trent/Swingers fashion to my Mikey called her aside on my behalf and began telling her how big a fan “his boy” is of her work. Sabrina smiled that wonderful gracious smile and remembered who I was from our meeting, albeit may have wondered about the red haze inherent in my eyeballs. She talked with us for a few minutes, we said our goodbyes and we each looked forward to our interview chat the next day. Like George Costanza, I knew I was on a high note and it was time to leave. Showmanship, baby. The only way to go.

So much for the Golden Globes that night. Seriously, at that point, who gave a crap? We got back to the condo just as Scorsese was winning his “sorry we didn’t give it to you for Raging Bull or GoodFellas” Best Director award. Carina stopped by and couldn’t resist hearing our stories or giving Scott the longest backrub in history. I called Guinness, but they couldn’t understand what I was saying and hung up. When I called back, I got a beer factory. Scott ordered two kegs.

I didn’t care about anything else that night. The Golden Globes? Phooey! Screenings? Nothing to see. No condition to see them in. Football? What football? Oh yeah, another radio appearance. Just two hours away. Two hours to sober time. After a vertiginous conversation with my buddy Dan back home about the evening and a couple bottled waters later I was ready to do my live Sundance report with Nick at WGN. Anyone who heard this appearance – could you tell?


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=683
originally posted: 01/31/03 16:34:21
last updated: 12/31/03 08:19:09
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