Monday, January 21, 2008

Sundance: Flaws of Distraction

[Film Fest] It's early yet. I keep telling myself this: Only three full days down, six more to go. That's plenty of time for a gem to turn up. Don't panic. It's early yet.

For the last several years, I've come to depend on discovering at least one or two films destined for my year-end top 10 list: Napoleon Dynamite in 2004, Kung Fu Hustle and Murderball in 2005, Brick and Half Nelson in 2006, Once and My Kid Could Paint That last year. That’s a lot of pressure to put on the festival, and maybe even a lot to put on myself. What if the one film I can’t quite schedule this year turns out to be “the one?”

While the Documentary Competition has delivered at least a couple of solidly worthy efforts – Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired and Bigger, Stronger, Faster* -- the Dramatic Competition has thus far been characterized by interesting failures and decent films with at least one glaring flaw. In the former category, we have something like Sleep Dealer, a science-fiction allegory with a killer premise: In the near future, the border between Mexico and the United States has been completely shut off, but immigrant labor still performs many tasks remotely by plugging into “nodes” installed in their bodies and becoming the virtual eyes and hands of robot construction workers, nannies, etc. Director/co-screenwriter Alex Rivera has some clever fun with his premise, but the main characters – a rural immigrant to the big city, a writer who sells her memories on a sort of existential eBay, and a Mexican-American guilty about selling out his heritage – aren’t nearly interesting enough. I like my social satire with at least a little more convincing humanity.

On the “glaring flaw” side, we have stuff like The Wackness (too undisciplined), Ballast (too minimalist) and the hilariously named Good Dick. Go ahead, say it once without snickering like an 11-year-old, I dare you. The film itself is about a clerk at an independent video store (Jason Ritter) who becomes obsessed with a customer (Marianna Palka, who also wrote and directed) who always rents porn. The relationship demands a whole hell of a lot of suspension of disbelief, but it’s almost kind of interesting – until the underlying cause of the woman’s intimacy issues is revealed. When Tom Arnold appears in the movie, you can safely assume that it is about to go off the rails. And in this case, not for the usual reason that Tom Arnold sends your movie off the rails. (Scott Renshaw)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! Am I the only human besides you, Mr. Renshaw, who sees Tom Arnold as a lightweight and can't figure how he keeps wedging his way into the arts world? I kind of got it when he was married to Roseanne, but it's been more than a few years, and still he weasels into Sundance. I am baffled...


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