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Jan. 19-29, 2006

Jeremy lived in Park City, sacrificing sleep and meals to watch five movies a day so that you could experience vicariously the
joys of Sundance.

Want photos? You can see more of Janean's here.

 
   

  An Opening to Maybe Vaguely Remember
    Thursday, Jan. 19

The Sundance film festival opened tonight to a collection of flash bulbs pointed at Jennifer Anniston. The "Friends" star is among the ensemble cast of Nicole Holofcener's "Friends with Money," the festival's opening film. Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener and Joan Cusack also star in Holofcener's follow-up to "Lovely and Amazing."

The film is basically a series of scenes revolving around three couples with varying levels of wealth and their misfit friend (Aniston), who quit her job teaching at a school of wealthy students and now works as a maid and smokes pot.

Holofcener recalls her earlier work with some of the same attention to character and interest in class differences, superficiality in Los Angeles and the need for human connection, but didn't created the same emotional draw. "Friends with Money" isn't a bad film, but it didn't meet expectations.

High expectations are consistently a problem at Sundance, as everyone is looking for something great. In my entries, I will try to concentrate on bringing attention to the positive films and not waste paragraphs on wastes of time.

  Trying to Stay 'Wide Awake'
    Friday, Jan. 20

It's odd to see multiple films about the dangers of sleep deprivation in a festival in which films start at 8 a.m. and end around 2 a.m. And many festival goers simply party in between.

U.S. documentary competition entry "Wide Awake" is a personal essay by Alan Berliner, who has edited all his films and done most of his other prominent work in the late night and early morning hours when he should be sleeping. Only getting a few hours of sleep a day, Berliner is always tired, and documents his quest to get to the bottom of his habit before his marriage problems.

Berliner delivers a healthy combination of scientific and personal details with virtuosic editing, archival footage and stream-of-consciousness voice-over narration that emulates his thought process at night. He recognizes the danger of his lifestyle and obsesses over his newborn baby's sleeping pattern, but is too attached to his work habits that he doesn't know if he can stop. After seeing his film, I'm not sure if he should.

The night's big premiere was "Little Miss Sunshine," a satirical road trip movie about modern life and beauty pageants. Steve Carell plays a suicidal college professor who goes to live with his sister, played by Toni Collette after a failed attempt. In the house is his sister's husband (Greg Kinnear), a would-be self-help guru who would be helping people avoid failure if only he were successful, his heroin-addicted, foul-mouthed father, the couple's Nietzsche-loving son(Paul Dano), who has taken a vow of silence, and their beauty-pageant-obsessed daughter(Abigail Breslin), who doesn't have the stereotypical looks of an entrant.

The film is scatter shot, disorganized, and only intermittently funny, but its more inspired moments certainly charmed the enthusiastic crowd at the Eccles. It will surely make a lot of money on its distribution deal, but the big unknown is if it will do well in commercial release.

  Leonard's My Man
    Saturday, Jan. 21

"Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man" explores the work of the brilliant and too often overlooked songwriter who has captured longing, love, sex and hate since the 1960s. With interviews—some filled with too much hyperbole (especially Bono and The Edge)—director Lian Lunson explores life and work of the Canadian-born musician and poet.

While some of the cinematic choices are questionable and the concert sometimes looked like it was only shot with one camera,the documentary is at its core about the music and the music is fantastic. Rufus Wainwright's rendition of "Everybody Knows" and Martha Wainwright's interpretation of of "The Traitor" are among the highlights of the concert.

  Best Doc So Far
    Sunday, Jan. 22

I have seen a film that perfectly captures the way disease can destroy a family. It's going to be hard for any other documentary in competition to surpass the delicately observed and heartbreaking "So Much So Fast," directed by Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan.

The film chronicles Stephen Heywood, his brothers and family members after, at 29, he is diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease). It's amazing the many different ways that the young man's muscle paralysis disease affects marriage, brotherhood and family ties.

Desperate to save Stephen as fast as possible, his brother Jamie becomes what's described as a guerrilla scientist because the standard scientific processes will not likely find a cure in the three years that Stephen probably has. Jamie founds an organization that tests as many already approved drugs in as many combinations as possible.

The camera watches over a year as the smart, funny and quick-witted Stephen's capabilities and speech deteriorate first to the point that he can't get out his jokes fast enough, then to the point that he's almost impossible to understand and finally he has to use a computer to generate his speech.

Ascher and Jordan carefully observe the mental toll it takes on both Stephen and his family, especially Jamie, who can't handle the idea that he might not be able to save his brother.

  An Honest Celebration
    Monday, Jan. 23

Going into the screening of "Quinceañera" at the Racquet Club, I saw about 15 people in the wait list line and there were still open seats when the movie started. Once festival word of mouth gets around, it won't be so easy to get a ticket.

The film, written and directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glazer, follows two cousins. One is a 14-going-on-15-year-old Latino girl who is anticipating her big traditional birthday celebration, in which she becomes a woman. Her older cousin is a troublemaker who is discovering his homosexuality.

Aided by fabulous performances, Westmoreland and Glazer create a loving relationship between the two cousins, who move in with their great uncle after their respective families kick them out. Their relationship is sweet, but they aren't afraid to make fun of each other's problems. With its humor and poignancy, the film is honest about adolescence, the life of immigrant families in Los Angeles and the dynamics of family. It's the best dramatic competition film I've seen so far, and an obvious candidate for the Audience Award.

  Gore Reveals 'An Inconvenient Truth'
    Tuesday, Jan. 24

Al Gore estimates that he has given his multimedia presentation on global warming more than 1,000 times. And yet he feels that he has failed because he has yet to enact the change needed to save the earth as we know it. So in 2005, he went on a tour of colleges and director Davis Guggenheim documented the in the engrossing "An Inconvenient Truth."

At the core of the film is Gore's lively, impassioned and funny presentation, which is full of graphics and video that make it engaging regardless of cinematic qualities. But Guggenheim brings graceful editing and excellent camera placement to make the material all the more mesmerizing. He also inter-cuts touching interviews with Gore about pivotal moments in his life that defined the man of integrity who speaks out today.

At the Q&A after the film, Gore spoke thoughtfully about the people's place in government, and while admitting that it sounded it corny, said that the most important influence on the government is "We the People." Hopefully this film will inspire more people to hold their representatives accountable.

jeremy [at] saltshakermagazine.com

 

 
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