Eric D. Snider

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Archive for January 28th, 2006

Sundance Diary: Day 9

Saturday, January 28th, 2006

Day 9 (Friday, Jan. 27):

The weather was cold and ugly today, with several periods of precipitation that was somewhere between snow and rain — snain, as it’s known in meteorological circles. It was hideous and freezing, like Angelica Huston.

Yet the festival still showed no signs of slowing down. Press screenings are often desolate by this time, but three of the four I attended today were packed full. It may be because, unlike previous years, there are no press screenings at all on Saturday, so the journalists have to make hay while the sun is shining, as the old Koranic saying goes.

It may also be because so far the festival has been lackluster, and everyone’s still holding out hope of seeing something spectacular. My feelings mirror what a lot of others have said: I’ve seen a couple that were great, a lot that were OK, and several that were mediocre. Usually there’s something that just blows you away, but this year, not so much.

Several press screenings that I was interested were lined up in a row today, so I didn’t take in any public screenings. First up: “The Science of Sleep,” the latest from Michel Gondry, whose “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was one of the best films of 2004. It’s a good companion piece to “Eternal Sunshine,” focusing on a Mexican-born France-dwelling young man (Gael Garcia Bernal) whose dream life is constantly intruding on his waking life. We are given intimate access to the strange workings of his mind, and I can’t think of a better director to stage such trips than Gondry. It’s a playful, wistfully funny movie, and one of my favorites of the festival (though it still didn’t blow me away).

Sitting next to me was a fellow member of the press whose name I didn’t get who was a chatty, friendly seatmate before the film began. We talked about what we’d seen, what we liked, what we didn’t like, and so forth. He seemed the very picture of amiable professionalism. Then, 20 minutes into the film, he got his phone out and checked his voice mail, which I could hear, too. Twenty minutes after that, he left.

I have to say, I’m rather appalled at the way some of my colleagues conduct themselves in these screenings. I mentioned the BlackBerry situation earlier in the week. These devices (and other text-messaging gadgets) have become so prominent in the last 12 months that while they were never mentioned last year, this year they are included in the pre-screening “turn off your cell phones” announcement. At both press and public shows, people are admonished to turn off anything that makes noise, and to please keep those texting devices put away, because the light from them is distracting. Those in attendance nod their heads and issue grunts of agreement at that last part, yet people continue to use their BlackBerrys during movies, too.

I wonder if it’s ever the same people. I wonder if there’s someone who thinks, “Oh, my, yes, those things are annoying. I’m glad they made an announcement before the movie started,” and then lights up his own BlackBerry midway through the picture. I bet it happens that way. I know for a fact that there are some people who think certain rules apply to other people but not to them. I’d love to have a sense of self-importance that was that inflated. It must feel great.

After “The Science of Sleep,” I needed lunch but I didn’t have time to stray very far. My options were limited. I refuse to eat at The Corner Cafe in the Yarrow, and I was really, really tired of Burger King. The only other place within easy walking distance was China Panda Buffet, which I once ate at, didn’t enjoy, and didn’t like the looks of when I peeked in yesterday. But I knew they had wi-fi, and I had Internet things to do. So I took a chance.

When the hostess seated me, I asked if there was a table near an electric outlet that I could plug my laptop charger into. She very gracious said of course there was, and pointed me to an appropriate table. I was impressed by her willingness to help me out. Things were looking up.

Then I sampled the buffet. It was 3:20, a good 40 minutes before it officially ended, yet already the buffet had lost its will to live. Several items were gone altogether; others had just a little bit left, sticky and heat-lamp-damaged. There was no indication that anything was going to be replenished. Obviously the kitchen staff had decided that since they were ahead in the score, they might as well just run out the clock. But hey, at least they had wi-fi. For this I paid $8.

I trouped back to the Holiday Village Theatre then, where I found another packed press screening. My friend David Walker, film critic for Portland’s Willamette Week (to which I am an occasional contributor), was there. It was the first time I’d seen him since he arrived on Tuesday, so I was glad to have confirmation that he was actually here and not just pretending to be.

The movie was “Thank You for Smoking,” another one I’d been looking forward to, having just read the Christopher Buckley novel on which it is based and finding it quite enjoyable. The movie, adapted and directed by Ivan Reitman’s son Jason Reitman, is a dark satire about a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, a man whose best friends are his counterparts for the alcohol and firearms industries — the Merchants of Death, they self-deprecatingly call themselves. The film is a razor-sharp satire of modern American politics and spin-doctoring, and another great entry in the festival.

There was a brief break, and then I was back in the same theater again for “Moonshine.” The film guide description raised several red flags: The film was made by a 20-year-old kid for $9,200 and featuring all local actors from his hometown in Connecticut. (Did you catch all the warning signs? Twenty years old; ultra-low budget; local actors; Connecticut.) My buddy Scott Renshaw of Salt Lake City Weekly said that since it was his last Park City screening of the festival, he wouldn’t be shy about leaving the film early if necessary.

Turns out it was necessary. I think he lasted 30 minutes. “Moonshine” is a very bad film, but it’s a very particular kind of bad. It’s dull, too serious and peculiar. It’s set in what must be the most depressing town on Earth, where everyone speaks without inflection or enthusiasm. A kid gets a job at a convenience store run by a drunken, nicotine-addicted floozy who wears leopard-print tops. The kid has a crush on the other employee, a girl his own age, but she’s getting married soon. After almost an hour of talking and wasting time and not doing anything, there are vampires. The end. Rarely have I longed so much for two robot companions to watch a bad movie with me.

It was after 9 p.m., and I had to eat dinner. Sigh. I had to go to Burger King. It was fine. I probably won’t eat at Burger King again for another 355 days.

The last movie of the day was “The Illusionist,” starring Edward Norton as a Viennese magician circa 1900. He’s in love with a duchess, but she’s engaged to a prince, and you know how that always goes (i.e., not well). Paul Giamatti is excellent as the police inspector assigned by the prince to uncover the illusionist’s secrets, but Norton is disappointingly bad as the magician. His accent is somewhere between British and Austrian — Braustrian, as it’s known in dialectical circles.

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