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Movieman's Sundance Diary (Day 2)
by Erik Childress

Saturday (Jan. 18, 2003) was a long day. A cool day, but a long one just the same. I don’t know what it is about vacations but for some reason I can survive on 5-6 hours sleep and never look back. Plus this is a working vacation, bought and paid, so responsibilities take precedence. But what responsibilities they are. I get to see movies and tell you about them. I love my job.

I need to get into a groove when I write. I’ve always said that every writer wants an excuse to start writing and then jump at the first opportunity to stop. If I have somewhere to go, no matter what the time, I can’t get into a groove. So I check my e-mails, get myself ready and go grab some more screeners at the press office. There are still a number of TBA’s listed on the press-screening schedule. A lot of the titles I want to catch I already have mapped out, but others have nothing buy public screenings. Movies with Jeff Bridges, Claire Danes and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I don’t want to miss these but I have no idea when they’re playing. AAARGHHH!!!!!

Saturday is documentary day mainly. Oz is headed at 11:30 to The United States of Leland and how’s this for a cast – Ryan Gosling, Don Cheadle, Kevin Spacey, Jena Malone, Chris Klein and Michelle Williams. Not too shabby. Me? I’m headed to Nightstalker. Why? Check out THIS cast – Roselyn Sanchez, Danny Trejo, Goopy Gloppy...oh what the shit. It’s called Nightstalker and its one of the midnight shows playing at Sundance. The oft-delayed Buffalo Soldiers just got bumped again. Christ, how bad IS this movie to get bumped from a press screening at Sundance? AND replaced by a movie like Nightstalker? Hell, maybe it’ll be a pretty good horror flick.

A change of venue for me. A theater. An actual THE-A-TER! Stadium seating. The smell of popcorn. No bolted planks of wood. Just good old-fashioned big-screen magic. Except for one thing. It’s playing freakin’ Nightstalker (1/2*)

Holy Good Ass Lord of the Cross Upside Down is this a bad flick. The movie is seemingly based on true events involving the titular serial killer back in 1983 L.A. Imagine Silence of the Lambs made by someone who watched and rewound ALL of the shaking head demon scenes from Jacob’s Ladder. It’s absolutely insane. Any time a character is high, drunk, medicated or suffering from general malaise, it cuts to their heads freaking out like a bubblehead doll in a hurricane. From what I gathered out of this unhorrifying mess is that it’s actually an argument against Affirmative Action. The lead character is a beat cop, played by Roselyn Sanchez whose supporting credits include Rush Hour 2 and the Jamie Foxx “comedy”, Held Up. Think a Latina Sandra Bullock without the charm or talent. In the film, the inexperienced rookie gets promoted to detective solely because the LAPD wants to seem sensitive to the situation despite her lack of skills, tact and their penchant for racism and sexual harassment. Every once in a while, she has a Sherlock Holmes moment that materializes out of the screenwriter’s hope not to make her seem TOO stupid. The “investigation” takes us nowhere. She doesn’t come close to catching this guy who believes a demon is telling him to rape and murder women even after forcing them to admit they love Satan. It’s the most incredible case of a lead character not offering anything to the solution since J-Lo in The Cell. Her life is put in danger when a reporter blatantly reveals her source into the case and the Nightstalker (identified as “Robert Ramirez”, not Richard, in the press notes – along with the ending of the film) comes after her. This is a stunning piece of ineptitude.

Documentaries filled the rest of the afternoon. Capturing the Friedmans is listed amongst Variety’s 10 Directors to Watch issue, but I just didn’t feel like tainting the sunny day with an expose into a family charged with child pornography. I’ve heard great things, but after Nightstalker I’m depressed enough.

Back to the lodge to work on part one of my Sundance Diary; at least type out what I’ve written freehand in my notebooks in-between screenings. Also, maybe I can jot down a few more questions for my impending interviews with Oliver Platt and Katie Holmes on Monday (Day 4). Hold on a second. I’m not Mr. Interview or anything, but at the press office this morning I took a packet filled with the publicity representatives for each and every film on the fest. Names, e-mails, phone numbers, you name it. Why not take the opportunity for a few more interviews. I may regret not jumping at the chance if I can snag a few.

There’s still a bunch of movies to see and that’s my number one priority and SHOULD be everyone’s. But there’s downtime (a little, anyway) and why waste the time while I’m here. I can always get all my writing done when I get back home. (Let’s not forget about the groove factor either.)

So whom would I like to meet and chat with. Who has a film or two here that could use the promotion? Oz said that The United States of Leland was really good and I’m starting to pick up some rumblings about a film called The Station Agent that I’m planning to see. What do the two films have in common? Michelle Williams. Why not, I say? I’ll be the envy of my friends if I went back and said I got to do the two ladies from Dawson’s Creek. (And by “do” I mean interview.) E-mail away.

Who else would be really cool? Oh hell, of course! I was just telling my friend the night before I left about some of the films I’m planning on taking in. I’ve been a big fan (a BIG fan) ever since I started watching her on one of television’s most overlooked series, Sports Night. Just two weeks prior, she began appearing on one of my current Top Three shows on the air, Ed. (And I was so happy that Ed hired her by the end of her first episode.) Her name is Sabrina Lloyd. She was Natalie on Sports Night and is now Ed’s new co-worker, Frankie. She is co-starring in a film called Dopamine at the fest and it originally caught my eye because she was in it. (Did I mention I’m a big fan?) So, here we go. Worth a shot. Don’t even know if she’s here at the fest but it’s worth a gander (which, in case you were wondering, is a goose that had the ol’ switcheroo pulled on it. Anyone? Seinfeld reference? Never mind.)

I’m jealous of Scott and Carina tonight. Over at Slamdance, the premiere film is the documentary Easy Riders, Raging Bulls based on the book of the same name. After A Decade Under the Influence I really wanted to see this film. What a combo! Alas, my Sundance badge might get me laughed at, spat on and kicked in the balls over there and since we’re all here to (mainly) try and see different films, I opted for the 7:45 screening of Party Monster.

Macaulay Culkin. That’s right. Macaulay. Not Kieran or Rory, but Macaulay. A comeback in the making or an embarrassing attempt to transition into a serious adult actor? The verdict will divide many (particularly those just waiting to slam the guy for making them sit through Richie Rich and Getting Even with Dad) but I really liked the film (***1/2).

The first 20 minutes is rather off-putting as you have to get used to both Macaulay AND the amazing Seth Green flame-on like Johnny Storm in a San Franciscan bathhouse. The story is about the original “Club Kids”; flamboyant party animals who would host parties that would eventually turn into a one-stop drugstore. What an amazing cast: Dylan McDermott (The Practice), Wilmer Valderrama (Fez from That 70’s Show), Wilson Cruz (My So-Called Life), Mia Kirschner (Exotica), Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry), Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) and Marilyn Manson. It’s funny, strange and everyone gets their moment in the spotlight much like the dreams of the main characters. Culkin is damn solid but Seth Green may be the one to break into new territory in his career. Over-the-top, absolutely, but also with quiet moments of sadness that’s really going to open a few eyes – even if they are not down with the overriding outrageousness.

After the film, I was told we had a chance to get into HBO’s Project Greenlight party down on Main Street. I really wanted to see Neil LaBute’s latest film, The Shape of Things but if we could get into a big party, it would honestly be pretty cool. When I heard about it earlier, I didn’t even put two-and-two together to realize that Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were going to announce the winners or the finalists this evening. After being ceremoniously dumped in the first round of the contest for the second straight year, I must have also been dumped from the updates sent via e-mail. Maybe they got the message that I just didn’t give a crap anymore about it. But it would still be interesting to see if any of the crappy screenplays I had the displeasure of reading made it into the final rounds. So off we went.

Oz, another writer who was staying with us (Dave Itzkoff from Spin Magazine) and myself headed downtown via shuttle. We needed our other writer (condo host David Keeps from US Weekly) to get us in with passes, but he was not along for the ride, leaving it up to us to schmooze, charm and maybe even buy our way into the party. (Hey, we’re press – they want coverage don’t they?)

Needless to say that downtown was a madhouse. Like any stargazing Hollywood premiere, the screaming women were lined up, circled around and even on top of shoulders to catch a glimpse of Ben and, I’m assuming fiancée Jennifer Lopez. I did not see J-to-the-L-O or her giant J-to-the-E-L-L-O ass and I didn’t care. I saw Ben being interviewed just outside the event, but mainly I saw us just not getting any chance to get in. The press had been waiting outside since 7:30 apparently. Hey, if they want to freeze their asses off just to get snapshots, then call them stupid (and I will) and ask what the hell they’ve made of their lives.

We hopped a shuttle out of State and Main and were headed back to the condo. Wait a MO-MENT! It’s only 10:15. There was still time to catch the LaBute film. The shuttle pulled up to the Yarrow Hotel and we jumped out and ran in to see if we could snag three seats. My main man was still at the door taking names (he had already seen me for 4 prior screenings) and we signed in with no problem. Thank God. Because I was about to see a film that I guarantee will be on my Top 10 list of 2003. The Shape of Things (****).

For those not familiar with Neil LaBute, he’s the playwright turned filmmaker who has all but made it impossible for actor Aaron Eckhart to walk down the street without getting slapped by women. Eckhart played the savage misogynist in LaBute’s debut feature, In the Company of Men, who made a bet with a co-worker to date a deaf woman and then break her heart as a statement. Not to be outdone, Jason Patric one-upped Eckhart in LaBute’s Your Friends and Neighbors, spouting monologues about tricking women who dumped him into believing they had diseases, berating one for mistiming her menstrual cycle on his expensive bedspreads and using the dreaded "C” word the way some people use “Hi”. Oh yeah, they were comedies too.

LaBute’s been playing it safer the last few efforts out with the oddball fantasy, Nurse Betty, and the romantic mystery, Possession. Both films not only had strong female characters but empowering messages FOR women. Where does The Shape of Things take us? Probably LaBute’s most accessible project about love, relationships and friendship. It’s also a film that needs to be experienced and not read about. It’s a love story between total opposites who are determined on their own parts to meet somewhere in the middle, not for themselves but for their partner. It’s a script that tests the boundaries of trust, sacrifice and insecurity. Oh yeah, it’s also a comedy.

And one of the richest you’ll ever see with career performances from both Paul Rudd (Clueless) and Rachel Weisz (The Mummy). This film has already been picked up by Focus Features and they will likely give this a limited release (currently slated for May 9, 2003.) But this is one that has the potential to be an honest-to-God arthouse hit; one that will not only challenge audiences, but entertain, shake-up and make them compelled to applaud at a single line of classic LaBute dialogue late in the film. At the Sundance press screening, I was applauding internally; a difficult task considering there was barely enough room inside of me to do anything with the shifting emotions I was feeling by the time the final scenes played out.

My second full day at Sundance was winding down and I was as excited as ever. The kind of giddy “that’s what I’m talkin’ about” periods one can only experience after seeing a work of art you know you just can’t wait to share with others. I can only pray that other critics don’t share too much about this film, so I’ll urge everyone now. DO NOT read, listen or catch wind of ANYTHING said by anyone who may have seen this film. Except me – but you know you can trust me, I think. (Since this journal entry, Roger Ebert and at least two other major critics have revealed themes that you shouldn’t be aware of.)

Just when I thought the night could not possibly get any better, I logged on to check my e-mail when, lo and behold, the following message was waiting for me:

“Hi Erik, Yes, Sabrina is available. Would you like to meet her tomorrow afternoon at the DOPAMINE party? Info below...”

Not “who are you” or “when do you want to do the interview”, but “would you like to MEET her?” I resisted the temptation to write back the first thing that popped into my head (“hell yeah!”) and gratefully accepted the invitation. I was so excited, I didn’t go to bed for another two hours. There was something just so overwhelmingly, I don’t know, COOL about this opportunity. It was beyond the typical stargazing of meeting a celebrity I have liked (and had a little crush on) for awhile. There was something, as Scott had so perfectly inscribed on his business cards for the fest…”bonafide” about it all. I couldn’t wait to meet Sabrina.

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originally posted: 01/26/03 08:37:44
last updated: 12/31/03 08:53:54
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