Four hot films quickly dissected by our two M&C reporters live at Sundance:
Let’s first give credit to director Anne Fontaine for making at female sex fantasy film where the age of the characters doesn’t matter. Hollywood, of course, has been making the male version of this for more than a century now in which older male stars are paired with actresses young enough to be their daughters in romantic dramas.
In Fontaine’s film we have the fantasy of two cougars (played by Naomi Watts, who also executive produces, and Robin Wright) who have been best friends since childhood, and still live in an idyllic spot somewhere on the coast of Australia.
All grown up now, they have beautifully designed homes next door to each, the perfect jobs (owning a yacht company and art gallery) and now the perfect boy toys to play around with. If this is sounding like a Lifetime movie, well, then here’s the twist: the boys toys are each other’s sons.
Interestingly this same theme of an older woman becoming sexually enamored with a younger man is explored in another film debuting at Sundance, “A Teacher” by Hannah Fidell. But while Fidell’s film is gritting realistic, Fontaine’s is all sun-drenched tropical bliss where the main characters effortlessly roll with the punches that their unique “relationship” presents. The, um, happy ending is totally unbelievable. But then, again this is sheer fantasy. – Greg Ptacek
The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman
Like Richard Linklater’s romantic film trilogy whose third installment, “Before Midnight,” debuts at this year’s Sundance, director Frederik Bond’s film pairs two strangers who have a chance encounter in a romantic European city. But while Linklater’s films are dialogue-driven and floating in a gauzy reality, Bond’s film is grounded in the brutal underworld of Bucharest where you’re as likely to be punched in the nose as you are kissed on the lips.
Shia LaBeouf gives a strong performance as Charlie, a hapless young Chicagoan who spontaneously takes a trip to the Romanian capital because he thinks that’s what he recently deceased mother (a wonderful Melissa Leo) has told him to do (actually, she meant Budapest, the Hungarian capital).
Even before he arrives on the ground in Bucharest, he is thrust into the life of Gabrielle, a young enigmatic woman (whose father dies on the plane in the seat next to him). When he helps deliver her father’s body to her, he is instantly smitten by her charisma. And who wouldn’t be? She’s a gangster gun mol who also happens to be a classically trained cello player with a fully developed career at the national opera house orchestra, not to mention she also is gorgeous.
The only problem is that her current beau is a trained killer. Undaunted, Charlie resolves to win her heart, even if it means having his faced turned into hamburger along the way. Screenwriter Matt Drake’s story really could have been set anywhere, say, Detroit. But by setting it in this still mysterious European capital, director Bond has made the city as much of the story as the characters and delivers a uniquely Slavic sensibility to the film. During his audience Q&A following the film’s screening, he said that the movie is a “love letter to Bucharest.” Maybe, but in this case love hurts – a lot. – Carolyn Hays
Making his English language debut with this film, famed Korean director Park Chan-Wok delivers a superbly crafted movie very much in the style of Alfred Hitchcok, whom he admittedly pays homage to. The story revolves around a teenage girl named India (Mia Wasikowska) who with her mother (Nicole Kidman) is mourning the loss of her father.
Kidman’s character is the obligatory Hitchcockian icy blonde who just happens to be a red head. You can tell she doesn’t care much for her daughter and even less from her conveniently dispatched, wealthy husband. Suffice to say that nobody plays “mean” like Kidman.
One glance from her crystal blue eyes surrounded by those high cheekbones could kill you. India, on the other, hands is like a Bronte character, dark and brooding who prefers running alone wild in the forests that surround the family mansion to hangin’ out with her school chums.
Into their lives arrives India’s hereto before unknown uncle, her father’s younger brother (Mattew Goode). The stage is now set for a delicious suspense thriller between the three characters reminiscent of Hitchcock’s “Shadow of Doubt” in which Joseph Cotton played the seemingly “interesting” uncle who, as it turns out, has an even more interesting past. This is an ensemble piece with fine performances by both the starring and supporting cast. But the stand-out role is Goode’s, whose Uncle Charlie character is as charming as the devil. The director is fond of close-ups on Goode’s large penetrating blue eyes and his Mona Lisa smile that whisper caveat emptor. Joseph Cotton would be proud. – Carolyn Hays
Escape From Tomorrow
Surely, the most original film to emerge from this year’s Sundance, director-writer Randy Moore’s feature film debut is at first glance a postmodern peane to the Happiest Place On Earth. But things quickly darken over Tomorrowland and the rest of the Magic Kingdom when the father of our average American family of four finds out he has lost his job on the eve of their visit.
Determined to give his brood the vacation they deserve, Dad perseveres with their plans, only to become mentally unglued somewhere between Tom Sawyer Island and the Monorail. Along the way, he becomes increasingly obsessed with two teenage French teenage girls that he imagines are flirting with him.
A child kidnapper posing as a Disney character, a rogue group of scientists operating beneath the amusement park and a potentially deadly virus that threatens to infect the unwittingly tourists all conspire to turn the dream vacation into a surreal, but perversely funny nightmare.
You know dark comedy is alive and well in cinema land when the saccharinely innocent puppets in the It’s A Small World pavilion turn demonic and Dad heaves into the watery canal. The Disney powers-that-be apparently can’t wait to get Randy Moore’s ass into the courtroom for filming his entire film without either their permission or knowledge. I say to the studio that Walt founded, lighten up. After all, with a ride devoted to a virginal teenage who co-habitates with seven adult male dwarves, your glass house is looking pretty fragile. – Greg Ptacek