Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Overall, the sense I’m getting from Sundance veterans is that it was a mild-mannered year. There were several good films, but there were very few films that have everyone hooting and hollering. There were no insane megabuck deals this year. And with the festival pretty much over, running at half-energy at this point, all that’s really left is to get in as many last-minute films as possible. Thankfully, Grib’s still up there, and still sending in review. I’m watching THE JANE AUSTEN BOOK CLUB right now (yes, I know), laughing at how they try to make Emily Blunt “plain” in the film. Emily Blunt is many things... plain is not one of them. Seeing her and Amy Adams together is one of the main reasons I’m looking forward to SUNSHINE CLEANING, the first film Grib’s reviewing today:
Hey all, Grib here with a review of "Sunshine Cleaning," a hot ticket at this year's Sundance Festival. Last night I was lucky enough to catch a sold-out screening of this nicely-done dark comedy about two sisters (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt) who start a crime-scene cleanup company. The elder sister, Rose, was once a popular high school cheerleader, but she has fallen on hard times since. She has had a son out of wedlock, and is now making a living cleaning houses while having an affair with a married cop, Mac (Steve Zahn) who won't leave his wife for her. At Mac's suggestion, Rose and her slacker, pot-smoking sister Norah start Sunshine Cleaning, and soon they are learning the ropes of hazardous material cleanup and blood-borne pathogen guidelines with the help of industrial cleaning store owner Winston, to whom Rose takes a liking. Alan Arkin continues his late-career resurgence with yet another solid performance as the girls' father, Joe, who was widowed years ago when their mother committed suicide, an event that still haunts Rose and, especially, Norah. Joe is the itinerant salesman sort; currently he is hawking gourmet popcorn to local merchants. The Sunshine Cleaning ladies quickly learn that they have bitten off more than they anticipated, as their grim new vocation begins to require more and more of their time and energy. There are some nice scenes between Adams and Blunt as they come to grips with their own relationship, which was forever changed by their mother's tragic death, an event they are reminded of each time they are called to clean up after someone has committed suicide. Adams and Blunt solidify their reputations as two of the current cinema's hottest young actresses here. Adams' vulnerable performance recalls her breakout work in 2005's Sundance film "Junebug," while Blunt admirably captures Norah's arrested adolescence. Mary Lynn Rajskub turns in a nice supporting performance as Lynn, a lonely young woman whose mother's death creates Rose and Norah's first business opportunity. Christine Jeffs, working from first-time scribe Megan Holley's fine screenplay, has crafted a wonderful little film, with plenty of laughs, tears and charm. Things got a little too weepy for my taste in the late going, but this did not detract much from the film's overall appeal. It is a deeply satisfying film, with characters we are sad to see go at film's end.
I sort of wonder what is left to say about Hunter Thompson at this point. He said most of it himself, and there have certainly been strong attempts at summing up his persona in the past, like Wayne Ewing’s excellent BREAKFAST WITH HUNTER. Still, there’s little chance a diehard fan like me isn’t going to see this next one:
This morning at Holiday Village Cinema IV here in Park City, I took in Alex Gibney's documentary "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.” The film seemed to drag on a bit too long, but it was chock full of great archival footage of Thompson at all stages of his remarkable, tumultuous career. Gibney focuses most closely on a few seminal moments in Thompson's life, including his ill-fated but entertaining run for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado in 1970 (his campaign logo included a peyote button) and his pivotal role in plucking George McGovern from obscurity to within a disastrous vice-presidential choice of a legitimate shot at the Presidency in 1972 (which was chronicled in Thompson's great book "Fear & Loathing from the Campaign Trail-1972"). An impressive array of interviewees provide helpful background information and amusing anecdotes, including both of Thompson's wives, McGovern, Pat Buchanan, Jimmy Carter (whom Thompson also aided in his 1976 Presidential bid with a highly favorable article in "Rolling Stone" about a speech Carter made to the Georgia Bar Association in 1974), "Rolling Stone" founder Jann Wenner, and longtime Thompson companion and pictorial chronicler Ralph Steadman. There is some nice footage from Thompson's days covering the Hell's Angels for his landmark 1965 book; he spent a year virtually embedded with the gang to produce this account. Johnny Depp narrates and also appears in several clips from Terry Gilliam's 1998 film adaptation of Thompson's greatest work, "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas." We watch as Thompson regresses from covering stories to becoming the story himself, until he finally puts his alcohol-bloated and drug-addled body out of its misery with a suicide bullet in 2005. This is an effective portrait of a larger-than-life American who loved his country and embraced its principles (especially the Second Amendment's right to bear arms). He was not cheated out of any experience, and he was always first to tell as much to anyone who would listen. The only shame, as Jann Wenner points out at film's end, is that he's not still around to write about the mess the world is in today.
Finally, here’s a review of BAGHEAD. Our own Merrick ran an interview with Jeff Garner, one of the stars of the film, the other day. I’m curious about this because I really don’t care much for the “mumblecore” aesthetic, but I sort of liked THE PUFFY CHAIR, the last film from the Duplass brothers. This sounds like a bit of a departure from the usual fare they’ve produced so far, and I’m curious...
Hey, AICNers, Grib here with a review of the Duplass brothers' "Baghead," which is just what the doctor ordered last night. Last night I saw "Baghead," the fourth Sundance feature from brother duo Jay and Mark Duplass, who were last here with the amusing "The Puffy Chair." "Baghead" was a perfect fourth film of the day, a film that aspired to be nothing more than a lighthearted comedy and succeeds quite well at that. As the film opens, four friends (Matt, Chad, Michelle and Katherine) go out drinking on a Friday night after attending the Los Angeles Underground Film Festival (the Q&A is a nice sendup of Q&A's at film festivals everywhere) and seeing a film made for under $1000 by a fellow named Jett Garner(playing himself). Impressed by Jett's thriftiness, the four decide to head to Chad(Steve Zissis)'s uncle's vacation house at Big Bear Lake to brainstorm and come up with a feature film before the weekend is over. The house turns out to be down a dark, twisting gravel road deep in the woods, where cell phones don't work. The brainstorming doesn't go so well, as Michelle (Greta Gerwig) gets really drunk and retires early, with Chad (who has a puppy-dog crush on her) soon to follow. Michelle has a nightmare in which she goes outside the house to throw up, but is chased back inside by a knife-wielding man with a paper shopping bag over his head. Upon hearing of this dream the next morning, Matt (Ross Partridge) decides that this should be their film, a horror flick about a mad killer wearing a bag over his head loose in the woods, terrorizing two young couples in a vacation house. Things are going well until Michelle discovers actual vomit outside, leading her to believe that the dream was real. Shortly thereafter, she thinks she sees a bag-wearing man at the window of the cabin, and the housemates begin to accuse each other of playing a prank. After a sleepless night, Matt, Michelle and Chad discover that Katherine (Elise Muller) is missing. And the car battery has been removed. And the land line has been cut. The rest of the movie plays out as a nicely-done (but extremely low-budget) horror/comedy that had the audience laughing all the way, but still had some chills and thrills to boot. The handheld camerawork may put off some, so be forewarned that the weak of stomach should stay away. As a bonus, there is some nice John Fahey-esque acoustic blues guitar on the soundtrack. Who knows if "Baghead" will ever reach theaters, but it will be a worthwhile DVD pickup. If you're looking for a good laugh, this film is for you.