Sundance 2008: Day Three

An Incendiary chat with Sharon Maguire, why Good Dick is great and a break down of The Broken.

by Amber Wilkinson and Tony Sullivan

Somehow the days seem to merge into one at Sundance, with the feeding frenzy of films and interviews reaching its peak over the first weekend. I was busy catching up with Bridget Jones's Diary director Sharon Maguire - whose latest film Incendiary is at Sundance this year, while Tony was settling back to enjoy a massive movie day.

Tony writes: I started of with Love Comes Lately, a kind of sanatogen fuelled version of Alfie based on three short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Max Kohn (Otto Tausig) is the kosher lothario, a NY writer whose prose and life reflect his obssession with the fairer sex. Despite stirling work from Rhea Perlman, Elizabeth Pena and Barbara Hershey this is a rather dull affair badly in need of a Woody Allen makeover.

Next up was Good Dick. There, I said it. The movie with the sniggering title turns out to be the best film I've seen at the festival so far. The story concerns a video clerk's infatuation with a customer who rents porno and is clearly damaged goods. Thus commences a bizarre relationship bordering on the masochistic, but that still passes for romantic comedy. Charles Durning pops up for a little moment that is pure movie magic, and comic relief is provided by the staff of the video store who may have been bussed in from a Kevin Smith film.

Watching What Just Happened? I couldn't quite work out why it is at the festival, since it is a big Hollywood feature dripping with stars. The plot concerns a movie producer attempting to get his latest Sean Penn starrer to Cannes while keeping the writer and producer happy. Robert De Niro plays the producer and seems to be having a ball. Michael Wincott, as the writer, earns the Oscar for best performance by an actor portraying Gary Oldman. Bruce Willis, meanwhile is happy to send himself up. Only John Turturro as a weasely agent manages to irritate in this pleasing Hollywood farce.

Finally - and rather appropriately - I caught The Last Word. This is more offbeat romantic comedy, this time concerning the fragile relationship between Evan (Wes Bentley) and Charlotte (Winona Ryder). The two meet as a consequence of Evan's bizarre calling - he writes 'famous last words' for suicidal types. Ray Romano steals the flick as a despondent composer who is seeking Evan's talents.

Amber writes... Back in the Marriott Summit Watch Hotel, I was beginning to get the feel for the place - by the time I've interviewed Sean Ellis here tomorrow morning I'll be thinking like one of the guests. Sharon Maguire was on top form when I spoke to her about her latest film - a complete departure from the fluffy romcom territory of Ms Jones. "It's a romantic comedy about terrorism," Sharon jokes, when I ask her about it.

She adds: "It is quite a departure, but that's what I wanted to do. I said to any agents, 'Can I stop being sent romantic comedies and can I be sent the opposite of it please.' So they really did send me the opposite of it."

The film concerns a London mum, played by Michelle Williams, who loses her husband and young son in a terrorist bombing, and how she comes to terms with the consequences.

Sharon said: "It tapped into a lot of my sensitivities about the kind of insane world we find ourselves living in."

Talking about her casting decisions, she revealed that when she first saw Michelle Williams she thought she was British. "Everyone I think is going to say, 'Oh you've chosen another American actor to play an English role, but I had come to Michelle thinking she was English. Because I'd seen Me Without You and thought, oh my God, who is this brilliant British actress. Then I saw in Brokeback Mountain and thought, 'She's done very well for herself, look, there she is playing with Heath Ledger. And so I'd sort of kept her in mind and I did know somewhere along the line - somebody said, she's not English, she's American - haven't you seen Dawson's Creek? - and I hadn't. We don't have that channel."

We'll be bringing you the full interview at a later date, but suffice to say that this is clearly something that Maguire feels strongly about. Given how pleasant and forthcoming she was, I only hope that the film lives up to expectations.

After all the interviewing it was time to catch some films. Sometimes you have to go with the flow at Sundance and, after bumping into someone from the Swedish Film Board in the bar, I found myself with a hard ticket for Swedish feature King Of Ping Pong. The story of a couple of brothers, the elder of whom is coming to terms with the onset of adolescence, like many Nordic films it has a lot of heart.

It features the Indie round of family trials and tribulations and has a gentle comic air. It gets rather overplayed towards the end, as events spiral out of control a little unbelievably, but its still a gentle arthouse film that's worth a watch if it comes to a cinema near you.

Then I headed off to see Brit horror flick The Broken. I'm speaking to Sean Ellis tomorrow, so was hoping and praying that the film would be good. It's always so much easier to quiz someone about their work when you enjoy it, plus even critics are human, and it's pretty rubbish to have to write a scathing review of a film when you like the filmmaker. Oh dear, then, because here we go. I'd heard good things about Ellis's debut feature Cashback - which is out in the UK finally this April - so I was curious to take a look at The Broken.

It concerns Gina - a radiologist whose life is torn apart after she sees her doppelganger drive past her. Owing much to films such as The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, the film certainly has its moments. Ellis knows how to build tension and his use of mirrors and creepy camerwork is quite clever. The problem, however, is that the plot is featherlight. With no hints at a back story for the 'bad guys' and little character development for the 'good' there is nothing other than atmosphere to sustain things. Also, the pacing is a problem. The film takes too long to get going to really appeal to late night horror crowds, although a judicious use of only one very bloody act of gore is to be applauded. Ultimately, you simply don't care enough about the characters and the idea of doppelgangers and body snatching has been so worked and reworked down the years that the ending is unlikely to come as a surprise to anyone who has watched even an average amount of this type of horror/thriller.

Which, of course, puts me in something of a fix for my interview tomorrow. It will be good to hear about Ellis's motivations, however, and certainly there is praise to be laid at the foot of some of the camerawork.

Really wanted to see documentary A Complete History Of My Sexual Failures, by British director Chris Waitt but it will have to wait, if you'll pardon the pun, since the need to sleep gained the upperhand.

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