Sundance 2008: Day Six

Funny Games no laughing matter, Brian Cox is The Escapist and more Good Dick.

by Amber Wilkinson and Tony Sullivan

Day six, and I'm becoming increasingly disturbed by the number of dead deer on the road between Park City and Coalville, where we are staying. We see several of them across the slopes as we drive in each day but seeing them up close and dead is distinctly worrying. Maybe there's a suicidal deer pact on the go... just hope they don't pick our car to end it all.

From violence on the roads to violence in the cinema, with Tony starting the day with Michael Haneke's Funny Games. He writes... This is a remake of his own German language film from 1997. In it, two preppy twenty somethings (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) invade the holiday home of a staid family (Tim Roth and Naomi Watts) and their son (Devon Gearhart) and inflict mayhem, torture and murder upon them. Original (well if you've not seen the original), feral and just plain nasty; one would have to file it under 'interesting' cross-referenced under 'different' and 'ohmigod'.

By way of something completely different next up was Ari Gold's Adventures Of Power. This concerns the efforts of New Mexico mine worker, Power (Ari Gold), and his desire to make something of himself and his talent – air drumming (yes, the ability to mime drum playing). With a strike in progress led by Power's dad (Michael McKean) all depends on Power to save the day at an air drumming competition. Here's a film that is attempting to be this year's Napoleon Dynamite and while goofy and endearing, it drags out its central conceit far too long. Steve Williams is a scream as an armless air-drumming coach though.

Lastly, The Deal, yet another film dealing with Hollywood. In this one Charlie Berns (William H Macy), a producer who has reached rock bottom, hatches a scheme to get a movie going. Starting with a script concerning British PM Benjamin Disraeli, a movie is put together entitled Benjamin Disraeli, Freedom Fighter, starring a rapper (LL Cool J). Along the way Charlie meets and falls for development exec. Deirdre Hearn (Meg Ryan) who sees through his machinations. Certainly funny, but probably too broad for the film folk who would most appreciate it. Also, it covers very similar ground to fellow Sundance film What Just Happened?

Meanwhile, Amber was busy getting her second Brian Cox fix of the week. She writes... This time around he is playing a Northern Irish convict in The Escapist. When he receives a letter saying his junkie daughter is gravely ill, Cox sets in motion an escape plan, but must contend with the prison kingpin as well as masterminding the breakout. Cox has described this film as a "love project" and he is its executive producer. He again proves he is a powerful actor, aided and abetted by a strong cast including Steven Mackintosh and Joseph Fiennes. Although some of the plotting requires a little poetic license, it is tough and absorbing, with the cinematography looking terrific.

Catching a quick beer in the bar afterwards, we bump into the cast and crew of British film Donkey Punch. This is particularly ironic, since I have been trying - and failing - to schedule an interview with director Olly Blackburn for the best part of the month. Frankly, I was beginning to think that either he was a mythical creature or that he had suddenly acquired the kudos of Orson Welles. Both he and actor Julian Morris (previously seen in the rather good Cry Wolf) are very pleasant and I'm hoping to cut out the 'middleman' publicist and set up a quick chat with them directly. The Sundance publicity machine can be an incredibly frustrating beast and sometimes the best thing to do is to try to approach filmmakers directly. They are nearly always keen to chat about their projects and generally have no idea that you've been trying to chase them for weeks.

Talking of filmmakers I'm hoping to catch up with, you can add Marianna Palka to the list. Born in Scotland, she moved to New York in her late teens and is at Sundance with her debut feature Good Dick, which co-stars her partner Jason Ritter. After Tony raved about it the other day, I was keen to see it and headed to a public screening this evening. I was not disappointed.

Even the audiences can be interesting at Sundance - with such a high percentage of filmmakers kicking around town. At Good Dick I found myself sitting next to Australian actress Janet Chiarabaglio, who starred in the short film Songbird at last year's Sundance. Turns out she has a good line in accents, including American and south London, and she certainly seemed to enjoy the movie. Sitting on the other side of me was a producer, who is in town to try to "create some buzz" about Andy Garcia flick La Linea - we'll be looking out for it.

Good Dick has a lot of heart, with its tale of an unlikely romance between a girl with emotional problems and a video store clerk both touching and funny. Ritter and Palka spark off one another well and this should have an appeal to arthouse romantics, at the very least.

After the film Palka and her entourage, including the producers, DP and Jason Ritter, took part in a lively Q&A. When asked why neither the boy or girl have names, she said: "I wanted the characters to be as anonymous as possible. I wanted them to be people who just passed in the street. It is a respect to them not to give them names - it keeps them private."

She reveals that the inspiration for the film came from the video store used in the shoot. "I frequent that video shop," she said, "I was in there one day and I thought it was an interesting idea. I wanted to explore how to live a healthy life having had an abusive childhood."

When asked about the unconditional love offered by his character, Jason Ritter said: "you are meeting him in the second part of his life and he really messed up the first part. At one time he was a lost person and his friends and family pulled him out of that. He recognises in her that she is a lost person, too."

When asked if she was inspired by her own life to write the film, Palka said: "I would say yes and no. You write always about your own life and then the characters go off and become something totally removed from who you are. My interpretation of love is that you grow a lot by loving someone."

You can't beat that for a sentiment. Palka seems a very thoughtful filmmaker and I'm looking forward to speaking to her later in the week.

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