SUNDANCE ‘09: Wednesday, January 21st

Devoted readers, I write to you with shaking hands, having been an eyewitness to today’s traumatic morning brawl between critic John Anderson and sales rep Jeff Dowd (for those of you who need a refresher, Dowd was the inspiration for The Dude in The Big Lebowski). Yes, it was as harrowing as the bloggers have reported it. I know I’m here to write reviews of movies and ignore the rest of the Sundance hullabaloo, but in the case of this extraordinary circumstance, I must widen my horizons and tell you what I know. It isn’t pretty, readers, but the world of independent cinema isn’t as pretty as the Spirit Awards would make it seem. Sometimes it can get downright bruisey.

I had just sat down at the Yarrow restaurant for a perfectly innocent breakfast when I felt the temperature rising directly behind me. I turned and looked, only to see The Dude get punched on the side of the head by a furiously angry man who I did not recognize. (This man, I would quickly learn, was none other than AJ Schnack’s favorite film writer, John Anderson himself.) At that point, I thought the fight had officially commenced, but Dowd simply stood his ground and kept spouting something about “it’s a democracy.” Unable to control himself, Anderson fired again. (Later, someone asked me if these blows were severe, at which point I explained that they had been thrown by a film critic at 11am. Or, to answer their question another way: bwahahahahahaha! Breakfast punches rarely land with severe force, and, in this particular case, coming from a man who unleashed his fury as if the only thing he had ever previously punched in his life was a typewriter, actual harm was never really a concern.) After more bickering, some people shouted that they were calling the police, at which point The Dude got dragged outside and Anderson split and I turned to the woman next to me who had her laptop open and said, “Ma’am, do you happen to blog? Because if not, now would be a good time to start doing it.” THE END.

Now, let’s get to the real meat and potatoes of today’s post—movies, remember?

The Messenger — Screenwriter Oren Moverman’s directorial debut is an effective drama about a young soldier (Ben Foster) who is assigned the unfortunate task of delivering front-door death notices to victims’ families alongside an older soldier (Woody Harrelson). As usual, Samantha Morton is great, but it’s Moverman’s deft tonal balancing act that keeps it tender without ever becoming too sappy. This is one of the strongest American directorial debuts I’ve seen at this year’s festival. Expect either myself or Mike Ryan to write a full review of it in the near future.

Stay the Same Never Change — Laurel Nakadate’s experimental and consistently fascinating feature is set in the actual of homes of non-actor Kansas Citians who bring her strange vision to life. Throw Gummo, Slacker, and last year’s Anywhere, USA in a blender; then, give it a decidedly female viewpoint (and focus). The result is this thing. Stay the Same Never Change is certainly not for everyone, but after seeing so many narrative features that are working in the method that I have begun to define as broad stroke naturalism, I found it to be quite a refreshing ride.

World’s Greatest Dad — It appears that I’m in the minority on this one, but I think Bobcat Goldthwait is one of the more adventurous directors working in the comedy genre these days. In the same way that Sleeping Dogs Lie (aka, Stay) swept me away, this one did too. The difference between my take on Goldthwait versus his detractors is that they think this filmmaking looks and feels like generic Hollywood rehash. But that’s my point exactly! Goldthwait is injecting taboo, uncomfortable subject matter into films that play like family crowd-pleasers, resulting in work that is deceptively subversive. Or at least that’s how I interpret it.

Tomorrow morning brings Wounded Knee. Don’t let me down, Stanley Nelson!

— Michael Tully

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