film / tv / streaming / politics / web / celeb/ industry / video / love / lists / think pieces / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / politics / web / celeb

January 28, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | | January 28, 2008 |

Seth: Day Three started off strong, which is a good thing considering it most decidedly did not end strong. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Here, I can say that with Sundance now behind me, Sugar ranks as my number two flick out of the whole trip, only surpassed by The Wackness (which rightfully and unsurprisingly took the Audience award). Written and directed by Half Nelson’s Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, the film tells the story of Miguel “Sugar” Santos, a Dominican Republic pitcher desperate to make it to America and the Big Show. He starts off at a baseball factory in the D.R. for the Kansas City Knights, but his blazing fastball and wicked curve quickly get him to the states where he goes through training camp and makes it into the bottom of the minor leagues. From there, the pressure mounts, compounded by the fact that he speaks very little English and is stuck in the middle of Iowa. Fleck and Boden don’t follow the typical sports movie arc, which is a welcome relief that keeps the second half of the film very fresh. Like the best of sports films, however, it does include some funny moments and the requisite amount of heart, all of which are magnified by a fantastic performance from Algenis Perez Soto as Sugar, who Fleck and Boden actually discovered on a Dominican Republic ballfield. The movie hasn’t been picked up yet, but because HBO Films is behind it, it will at least find a home on HBO and, presumably, on DVD. When you get the chance, you could do a helluva lot worse than getting yourself some Sugar. After all, “in America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women.”

Dustin: I’d place Sugar a little lower on my list of favorites at Sundance, but Fleck and Boden created an excellent follow-up to Half-Nelson here, though I never would’ve pegged them for baseball fans (they look like the shy cousins of the “Flight of the Conchords” guys). I also love that, for once, we get a sports film that is decidedly downbeat — though it ends on a hopeful note, there are moments in Sugar that are soul-crushingly sad, and I get the idea that the plight of the lead character is common among baseball players signed from the Dominican Republican: Churned through the system and unceremoniously spit out at the least sign of a slump. I suppose it’s not all that different for a lot of American minor league players, but the stakes are higher here, and Fleck/Boden deftly capture the pressure Sugar is feeling back home from a family (and a girlfriend) whose lives basically depend upon his success. It may not be the most uplifting sports film I’ve ever seen, but it was the smartest and most compassionate and really solidifies Fleck and Boden’s place in the world of independent cinema.

Ted: Wah-hooo! A fun and wild Day 3 for Pajiba’s intrepid Sundance crew, and I’m not even talking about running Cicero’s Bar out of Jameson’s Friday night (but seriously, people, what kind of pussy town are you running?). Sugar was a moving film, and I found it more hopeful and warm than perhaps Dustin did; while the film certainly avoided Hollywood sports movie clich├ęs, I was struck by its thoughtful and well-executed theme of doing the things you love for the right reasons and not letting your life’s work be corrupted by the expectations or limitations placed on you by others. Nice film; probably in the middle of the pack for me, considering the number of very good films we saw.

The second film of Pajiba’s day on Friday was Choke, an adaptation of a novel by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club, as if you didn’t know), starring Sam Rockwell, who, it turns out, is pretty high up on Dustin’s “If I Had to …” list (right behind Paul Haggis, but ahead of Uwe Boll, strangely). Rockwell plays an aimless sex addict trying to come to terms with the approaching end of his mentally ill mother’s life, as well as her refusal to tell him who his father is. Our lucky streak of good-to-great films continued, with Choke being solidly in the fun-and-enjoyable category. I haven’t read the book, but the film was full of important lessons, notably that Sam Rockwell, who we already knew was a great actor, can carry a film — as long as it’s the right film. A Palahniuk story about a sexaholic colonial-theme-park tour guide who fakes choking incidents at restaurants to make potential rich benefactors feel good about saving him … whew … sounds like the right film. (Yes, snarksters, I have heard of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.) Also, Brad William Henke is a great comic sidekick, and Kelly Macdonald, who has a Gillian Anderson/Dana Scully thing happening, made me so horny my teeth were actually itching.

For those of us whose sad, sad lives involve watching way too many films every year, we tend to be impressed by films that bring freshness and originality to the table; Choke is one of those films where I walked out thinking, “Wow, that was a new story with some really cool ideas I haven’t seen before.” Aside from that, Choke was full of laugh-out-loud moments, the kind of film that causes Sundance juries’ haughty sphincters to turn coal into diamonds — i.e., reason enough to recommend it. One slightly sour note: Choke, which certainly deserved to win something, ended up winning a Special Grand Jury Prize for having the best ensemble cast, which is pretty dubious at a festival where Phoebe in Wonderland was playing. If I’m choosing up sides for an act-off, and the two sides are (a) Sam Rockwell, Anjelica Huston, Kelly Macdonald (call me!), Brad William Henke, and Clark Gregg vs. (b) Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman, Elle Fanning, Peter Gerety, Campbell Scott and … um … um … oh, yeah, Patricia FUCKING Clarkson (!), well, I’m going with the latter. You Sundance people will smoke a turd in hell for denying Patricia Clarkson.

Seth: I liked Choke a lot, don’t get me wrong. I just didn’t love it quite as much as Ted. Yes, it’s funny. And yes, the story from Chuck Palahniuk’s source book is quite interesting and fairly fresh. Sam Rockwell is, of course, magnificent as always, and actor-turned-director Clark Gregg’s first behind-the-camera effort is well shot and paced (not to mention the fact that Gregg earned a permanent warm spot in my heart when he said the reason he wanted Rockwell in the film was because he loved Rockwell’s performance in Galaxy Quest, which has long been a fluffy favorite of mine — in fact, it’s a good thing Gregg eventually got into the film to share such information, considering that Dustin, Ted and I all walked right by him while the Sundance folks tried to figure out how to let him in without the requisite ticket/pass [Volunteer to another volunteer on the Walkie Talkie: “He says he’s the director.”]). Point being, it’s a good and funny movie, but it just lacks that oomph, for me, that the great movies have. And while I agree with Ted that some other flicks, particularly Phoebe, may have been a little more deserving of the Special Grand Jury Prize, I can’t really complain about the performances, which ranged from good (Anjelica Huston as Rockwell’s moms and Henke as the friend) to great (Kelley Macdonald, as a nurse at the elderly home where Huston has resided for some time — although, to be fair, Macdonald has been a Hollywood crush of mine for a long time and can do little wrong in my book). But at the end of the day, it’s very much worth seeing and, lucky for all of you, you’ll get a chance thanks to the flick being picked up for the second biggest price tag at the festival ($5 million).

Dustin: I don’t know what those guys are talking about, but in an acting fight between Sam Rockwell and Patricia (fucking) Clarkson, Sam Rockwell wins every time. Dude is brilliant, and he made the movie. I personally loathe Palahniuk’s writing style, but I’ll give him mad props (word) for his ideas and, by taking Palahniuk’s premise and fashioning it into a twisted romantic comedy, Clark Gregg (like David Fincher with Fight Club) will be responsible for a much larger increase in book sales than Palahniuk deserves. I haven’t actually read Choke, but I do get the feeling that Gregg probably liberally excised scenes in the book — the actual choking subplot is minor, while the sex addiction is played up considerably (the movie, as Gregg said during the introduction is dirty). It wasn’t the best film at the festival, but it was hands-down the funniest and I have very little doubt that Palahniuk fans and non-fans alike will fawn all over it. In fact, one guy sitting next to me said, after the movie, “It was too commercial for Sundance,” which is just another way of saying “lots of people will like it.” My favorite part of the movie, however, was the fact that Jonathan Levine (the director of The Wackness) was sitting in the seat behind us. God, I love Sundance.

Downloading Nancy, however, was, like, the perfect antithesis to a commercial film — if it ever gets sold (it won’t), no more than 10 people will see it, and five will ask for their money back. The film takes the torture porn subgenre a little too literally: it’s about a woman (Maria Bello) who only feels alive (or whatever) when she’s being tortured during sex. Nancy meets her torturer (Jason Patric) on the Internet, and basically requests that he sexually torment her to death. Meanwhile, Nancy’s husband (Rufus Sewell) finds out about it because Patric tells him, because he wants Sewell to lose his temper and beat the shit out of him (he does and everybody wins!). It’s certainly got the shock factor going for it (there’s a scene in which foreplay involves walking drunkenly on top of mousetraps, and another in which Bello pleasures herself while Jason Patric’s character burns her thighs with a cigarette), but the sick, fucked-in-the-head director, Johan Renck (working from the script by first-timers Lee Ross and Pamela Cuming) has only one speed: Grim. It’s the kind of movie where the camera lingers for three or four minutes on a contemplative face and breaks it up with halting, meaningless dialogue. Renck wrongly believes that slow, plodding, and deathly bleak means intelligent. He prefaced the film by saying that its reception has been “polarizing,” which I suspect is just another way of saying it sucked. We left halfway through, but there is no question where Downloading Nancy was heading: A rousing (!) sex scene in which Patric and Bello reveal their love to one another and then one of them dies from the abuse. It may eventually get picked up by a porn distributor, but the degenerates who watch it will likely fall asleep with their dick in their hand.

Seth: Real quickly, I’d like to take issue with Dustin’s statement that Choke “was hands-down the funniest” film at the festival. Funny, yes? But funnier than The Wackness? Hell no — I think the cold got to Dustin’s brain.

Or maybe it was Downloading Nancy that fried his synapses because man alive was that flick some ass. First time I’ve flat-out fallen asleep at a movie in a long time (albeit, only for about 5 or 10 minutes), and the first time I’ve walked out of a movie since college. Going into this flick, we had heard a lot of bad things, primarily about how the torture/pain-based sex between Bello and Speed 2’s (!) Jason Patric was offensive and demeaning and etc. etc. Personally, Maria Bello can do no wrong for me when it comes to movie sex — she could be getting schtupped atop a pile of six million corpses of my Jewish brethren and I’d still watch. [Note: Ted and I, er, are in no way associated with that statement. — DR] And the fact that Dustin and I walked out of the film had nothing to do with the cutting and the mousetraps and the rough sex, although two women left at the same time as us, and they did leave because of how offensive they thought the flick was, wondering aloud how and why Bello would’ve ever wanted to play such a role. But the reason Dawg and I walked out was, as he says, because the movie was just. fucking. boring. It’s yet another of a too-long line of movies about a broken woman and broken relationships, a movie that seems to think that this is enough to be daring and cutting edge. There was no real point or underlying message to any of it and, thus, no purpose. (And I realize some might argue that I can’t say this without seeing the whole flick, but as Dustin says, there was almost no doubt where things were building to and what was going to happen in the finale, so I’m comfortable judging the film on only half a viewing, at least for the purposes of a one-paragraph review.) Slow pacing and dim lighting were helped a little by decent performances from Bello and Patric, but I’ve never been a fan of Sewell and, as always, his performance did little more than cause me to endlessly stare at his bug eyes. Anyway, to put it into perspective, here’s how dull this film was — I’m sure there’s a good scene in the second half with Bello showing some skin, yet I didn’t even hesitate when Dustin asked if I was ready to bounce. And for that, Johan should be utterly ashamed.

Luckily, the taste of Downloading Nancy was easily washed out of my mouth by seven hours of drinking at our new favorite Park City watering hole, Cisero’s. Beer, whiskey, a little food, and a surprisingly large number of attractive natives can heal anybody right up.

Ted: Hah! I can neither confirm nor deny the suckage of Downloading Nancy; I was at Cicero’s getting ploughed.

Just Keep Asking Yourself: 'What Would Jesus Not Do?'

Sundance Dispatches / Dustin Rowles, Seth Freilich, and Ted Boynton

January 28, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

Untraceable | Pajiba Love 01/28/08

The Pajiba Store


Privacy Policy