Sunday, January 14, 2007

I'm Not Going To Sundance, But...

Of course, I'm not going to Sundance. I wish that I could, but I can't. Maybe in 2009, and maybe with a film of my own. Fingers crossed.

But... let's pretned that I am about to pack my bags and head off to Sundance. Which films do I most want to see? Let's keep this to three films. My top three picks of the Sundance line-up in ascending order - based purely on the films' pedigrees, pre-release promotional materials and any clips or trailers I may have been able to find.

Third position goes to Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan. Elisabeth has already reviewed the film for this blog, and she certainly did a good job of fanning the flames of anticipation, but I've been counting down to this film ever since the opening credits of Hustle and Flow. That's when I was first convinved that Brewer not only knew what he was doing, he cared deeply about it too.

Terence Howard pretty much nailed a tricky part in Flow, but the roles dished out to Samuel L. Jackson and Christina Ricci in Black Snake Moan appear to require an even more precarious tightrope walk. By all accounts, however, at least one of them has pulled it off, and with flair. It's going to be good to see Jackson take on a solid, complex part again after a few years playing in the actors' sandbox.

Overall, this one gives me the impression of a sweatier Holy Smoke, dressed up in trampy, stained clothes and raging like a manic street preacher.

Second position goes to Fay Grim, Hal Hartley's sequel to Henry Fool. Critics who have been lucky enough to see the film already - it premiered in Toronto - have generally disliked the film, accusing Hartley of treading water and having nothing new to say. If that's their criticism, we have nothing to worry about. It's obvious from some of the stills, and certainly clips of the film, that Hartley has taken a new approach in the cinematography, using digital cameras mixing a little bit of German Expressionism into the mise en scene; and, as regards the content, his irreverent spy caper seems nothing if not timely.

I'm sure Parker Posey, Jeff Goldblum and James Urbaniak haven't had anything so fun to really get their teeth stuck into for quite a while. Here's hoping this film's release reinvigorates press coverage of Hartley and pumps up his profile once again.

And, so, finally, first position.

If you've been paying attention to film ick, this won't surprise you. My number one choice of the Sundance line-up (bearing in mind that I've only seen a handful of the films being screened - and that none of those made this list) is undoubtedly Son of Rambow.

There's been a wave of films about young people and their imagination-saturated inner lives of late, from Mirrormask to Tideland to Pan's Labyrinth, even maybe Little Miss Sunshine (in part, at least). It's fair to say that Son of Rambow follows in this line, but certainly not in the same style. And not only because this time it's a young boy, and a young boy's imagination, in the spotlight.

I first read about Son of Rambow some years ago when it was, I believe, set to be the debut film from Hammer and Tongs - director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith - but since then, they've made, released and been criminally underrated in regards to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Generally brilliant though it was, I'll agree that Guide was an inarguably flawed film - but almost everything wrong with it is also wrong with the source book, TV and radio shows so that can't be pressed hard against Jennings and his collaborators. Looking at how Jennings designed, staged and directed many of the scenes, it was abundantly clear that the wit and imagination that overflowed in his music video and commercial work was intact and married to the necessary subtle craftsmanship. We were obviously dealing filmmaker who thought in genuinely cinematic fashion but had no desire to wow with hollow flash - and they're far too rare a breed.
Son of Rambow comes from a story by Jennings himself, and while it isn't clear just how autobiographical the film might be, the temptation is to assume that the answer is 'quite a bit, actually' - with no foundation for that supposition at all, of course. The lead character is Will, a young lad being brought up in a Plymouth Brethren family during the 1980s. He's denied TV and music as part of his upbringing, so when he meets rabble-rousing classroom-terrorist and bizzaro-mondo home movie maker Lee Carter at school, he's in for quite a culture shock. Before long, they're forging a friendship and collaborating on a video - Lee is directing, Will is the stuntman lead, the movie is Son of Rambow.

This seems to mix elements you might find War of the Buttons, Be Kind, Rewind, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and the true story of 'those kids who famously restaged Raiders of the Lost Ark' but under Jennings' direction, it's bound to be something brand new and full of wonder. I asked him about the film being included in the Sundance line-up and here's what he had to say:

I am flattered that Son of Rambow is your choice film for Sundance een though you haven't seen it yet. In fact, I haven't seen it totally finished yet either. I'm sitting in the dubbing theatre mixing the final reel of the film as I write this and despite nearly shattering my ear bones during a big action sequence, it's going extremely well. This time last year no bugger would finance this film so being given a premier slot at Sundance is quite a triumph for us. Nick and I are so proud of the film. I really don't know if we've ever captured so closely what we imagined before. Directors often talk about their films as being their 'baby' and if this is the case, then ours would have all it's fingers and toes, always smile - even at strangers - never need it's nappy changed and would be called Jesus (which would make Nick and I Mary and Joseph. Maybe I should have thought this stupid analogy through first!).

Hopefully, Son of Rambow will secure a nice, big distribution deal at Sundance and be hyped onto screens worldwide in the next few months. I can't wait to see something of it - there's hardly even a still out there so far, let alone a trailer or clips - and as soon as I do, I'll be updating you.

Anybody out there who sees any of these films at Sundance - or any others - please drop me a line and let me know what you thought.

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