Eric D. Snider

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Sundance Diary: Day 4

Day 4 (Sunday, Jan. 22):

The skies were sunny and clear today, but the temperature was only in the upper teens, making it one of the coldest festival days I’ve experienced. It was so cold that photographers’ lips were actually freezing to Gwyneth Paltrow’s butt.

Prior to today, all the films I’d seen had been at press screenings, which are convenient and efficient but also rather sterile. If you want to truly experience Sundance, you need to attend public screenings, where industry types and Hollywood shmoozers and regular movie-lovers gather together. So I spent several hours today at the Eccles Theatre, where the high-profile movies screen and where there’s always something interesting happening.

Before the first film, though, I used the restroom at the Eccles and once again demonstrated my newfound super-strength. (See yesterday’s report.) When I pulled toilet paper from the industrial-size dispenser, the entire dispenser broke off the wall and clattered to the floor. As hack writers say, “As Dave Barry would say, ‘I am not making this up.’”

My first film, at the dreadful hour of 9:15 a.m., was “Steel City,” a sturdy, well-made drama (sturdier and better-made than that toilet paper dispenser) by first-time filmmaker Brian Jun. It deals with a young man whose father is in jail for vehicular manslaughter, whose older brother is a low-life adulterer, and whose job washing dishes at a restaurant is in jeopardy. So, you know, it’s really fun.

To gain access to public screenings at the larger venues (including the Eccles), members of the press need only show up an hour before show time and get a ticket. As luck would have it, they had just started handing out tickets for the next film when “Steel City” ended. So I nabbed one and dashed over to headquarters for a few minutes before returning to the Eccles for the noon film.

The noon film was “Come Early Morning,” the writing and directorial debut from actress Joey Lauren Adams, who you may remember from such films as “Bride of Chucky” and “The Haunted Mansion,” until you realize that that’s Jennifer Tilly you’re thinking of. Then you give up on Joey Lauren Adams and consult the Internet Movie Database to find out she was in a bunch of Kevin Smith movies and Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy,” which you totally saw but have little memory of.

Anyway, while “Steel City,” lacking any big-name actors (and showing at 9:15 a.m.), had played to quite a few empty seats, the Ashley Judd-oriented “Come Early Morning” was packed to the rafters. I sighed. Why would you go to Sundance just to watch an Ashley Judd movie? That’s like going to Monte Carlo and eating at McDonald’s.

Ashley Judd is OK in the film, which is another drama about another screwed-up character trying to make another change in her life. My City Weekly pal Scott Renshaw said something about “Sherrybaby” (another festival film) that applies to “Come Early Morning,” too: When it comes to these 90-minute dramas, you always know that at the 65-minute mark, the main character is going to backslide, relapse or fall off the wagon. And sure enough, Judd’s character, a reformed alcoholic skank, returns to her life of alcoholic skankery at an hour and five minutes into the movie, only to (spoiler!) triumph once and for all by the end.

Joey Lauren Adams was on hand for a Q-and-A after the screening, and she brought several cast and crew members onstage with her, including Judd. When someone asked her how she crafted her performance as the slutty barfly, Judd responded with an answer that included the words “vibrations,” “energy” and “organic.” So maybe she belongs at Sundance after all.

I should mention that before the film started, someone in the audience had a laser pointer that he kept shining at the screen. I thought: A laser pointer? Where does this guy live? 1998?

I should also mention that while the press screenings, attended by 300 people at the most, routinely start as much as 10 minutes late, both of these Eccles screenings — with crowds of 1,300 to wrangle — started only five minutes late. I’m just sayin’.

Immediately after the Q-and-A, I picked up a ticket for the NEXT Eccles film, due to start at 3 p.m. With another hour to kill, I hung out in the Eccles lobby, where two women asked a man I did not recognize if they could get a picture with him. They were excited, and I heard one of them use the word “celebrity.” But despite watching a lot of movies and a lot of TV, I had no idea who this man was. He didn’t look the least bit familiar. Yet these women, who surely cannot be more pop-culturally savvy than myself, knew him. What’s up with that? Am I slipping?

(It is times like that when I wish my cell phone took pictures, so I could run the guy’s face through one of those magic databases like they have on “24″ and identify him. My digital camera would have been too obvious and tacky, I think.)

The 3 p.m. film was “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out,” a documentary about 1970s and ’80s rock band The Police, culled from footage shot during those years by drummer Stewart Copeland. Predictably, this screening was packed, too; the ones about rock bands always are, even when the only band member scheduled to appear in person is the drummer.

After claiming a seat, I left the theater to use the bathroom, and on the way I noticed that three entire rows had been roped off for Copeland, his guests, and people connected to the film. I pointed out to one of the volunteers that it seemed like a larger number of seats than usual — typical, I guessed, of movies about rock stars, even former rock stars, who cling to their glory days by continuing to travel with large entourages. But the volunteer said that in fact this was FEWER seats than are usually reserved for the filmmakers and their guests. And just like that, the situation went from amusing to sad.

The girls who sat next to me, trendily dressed Californians, hooted like banshees when Stewart Copeland came onstage to introduce his movie. They also ululated through the first few minutes of the film, until they realized, as did the rest of us, that it was kinda boring. Turns out Stewart Copeland’s home movies are as dull as everyone else’s. Who knew?

I could not stay for the Q-and-A, as I needed to get to the Yarrow in time to eat some dinner before my 5:30 press screening. I ate at The Corner Cafe, the Yarrow’s little restaurant. I used to eat there frequently during the festival but for some reason had not in recent years. Now I remember why: 10 dollars for a hamburger and inattentive service. Up yours, The Corner Cafe. That’s the last $10 you’ll get from me, to be reimbursed later by City Weekly!

The 5:30 screening was “All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise,” a harrowing documentary about the time in 2004 that a couple thousand people were trapped on a boat with Rosie O’Donnell. Hundreds were devoured.

But I kid the bleating she-moose! The movie is an account of the seven-day cruise Rosie and her partner sponsored that was aimed specifically at gay couples and their children. There are gay cruises all the time, of course, as recounted in the Cuba Gooding horror film “Boat Trip,” but gay cruises designed for families (i.e., without rampant sex and booze) are rare.

This documentary suffered from the same problem as Stewart Copeland’s: Just because you have filmed an event doesn’t mean you have made a movie. Movies, even documentaries, have stories for an audience to follow. Showing random vignettes of people on a cruise ship is not a movie. That is surveillance footage.

My fifth (fifth!) movie of the day was “The Proposition,” written by creepy musician Nick Cave. If you love brutal violence and the buzzing of flies, I urge you to seek out “The Proposition,” which is set in Australia circa 1900 and features ample servings of both. It also has Guy Pearce and his 24-inch waist. I bet I could break that guy in half, even without my super-strength.

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