Sundance 2008: Day Two

Keaton's Merry Gentleman, a Brit of Frost & chat with Romero.

by Amber Wilkinson and Tony Sullivan

Michael Keaton stars and directs in The Merry Gentlemen

Michael Keaton stars and directs in The Merry Gentlemen

You may have noticed that we haven't mentioned the weather at Sundance this year - after last year we thought you would probably had enough of our mad ramblings on the subject but, for the record, it is actually quite mild, all things considered, hovering around the -3C mark, which compared to last year, is almost grounds for shorts and a T-shirt.

Got up early this morning and headed in to Park City for a screening of The Merry Gentleman. The film marks Michael (Batman) Keaton's directorial debut - and it is a very solid drama, with romantic inclinations. The ever-watchable Kelly Macdonald stars as Kate, who, at the beginning of the movie, walks out on her husband after he uses her as a punchbag.

Setting up a new life for herself in a fresh town, she quickly makes friends in the office but, one night as she leaves in the run up to Christmas, she sees a man on the roof opposite, about to jump. What she doesn't know, is that the man in question - who she inadvertantly saves - is a suicidal hitman, who has just completed his latest job.

Too far away from the potential jumper to see what he looks like, she calls the police and gets on with her life. But even though she didn't see Frank Logan, he saw her and ensures their paths cross again. She has no idea who he is - or what he does for a living - and an unlikely friendship begins to form. With the cop she dealt with also harbouring romantic aspirations, it isn't long before things begin to fall apart.

The performances from Keaton and Macdonald are a tour de force and Keaton shows a keen eye for laidback direction, letting the action unfold at a leisurely, but charming, pace. The dialogue is sparse but the leads make the silence speak volumes. An offbeat romantic drama that will probably appeal to women in their mid-30s and above the most.

After the screening Michael Keaton gave a Q&A. Although we had to dash off for interviews, we knew we’d be catching up with him later.

Dawn of the Dead head explosion
As good a reason to emigrate as any, I guess.
Tony writes… I headed up to Main St. for a rendezvous with zombie meister, George A. Romero and two members of the cast of Diary Of The Dead, Shawn Roberts and Michelle Morgan. It is difficult for me to interview the fellow objectively...I think the main reason I moved to the States in 1987 was to get my paws on an uncut edition of Dawn Of The Dead.

George is a lovely chap and waxes lyrical on how he likes to get his viewpoint out via his movies. He seems much happier that Diary Of The Dead is a much smaller, lower budget ensemble piece than his previous effort. I demand we do not have to wait another 20 years for the next sequel as we did between Day Of The Dead and Land Of The Dead [Read the full interview here].

My last film of the day is Transsiberian the latest from another director I have a fondness for, Brad Anderson. Brad's filmography includes the low key romantic comedy Next Stop, Wonderland; the underrated and seriously spooky Session 9 and The Machinist. Transibberian follows the fortunes of two naive Americans, Roy (Woody Harrelson) and Jessie (Emily Mortimer) as they travel from Beijing to Moscow aboard the Transibberian express.

Soon they meet up with a far more worldly wise couple, Carlos (Eduardo Noriega) and Abby (Kate Mara). Roy has trains on his mind and Carlos has Jessie on his mind. Sexual tensions build and assorted persons have skeletons in their luggage. The set-up, scenery and build up are all excellent, but all is for nought after a silly third act.

Amber back again: While Tony was lapping up chat and work by established directors, I was catching up with some new kids on the block.

Firstly, I had a chat with up and coming British actress Lucy Gordon – who is starring in Slamdance film Frost. For those not in the know, Slamdance is a kind of Sundance ‘fringe’ festival, which, as I was soon to discover has a tendency to attract an edgier and younger crowd. Gordon plays the love interest and nemesis of Jason (Roswell) Behr and the role is a big step up from the bit parts she has been taking lately in films such as Spider-Man 3 and Four Feathers.

As we have a natter in the lobby of the Marriot Summit Watch hotel, she reveals she finds the whole interview process “hideously embarrassing”. You wouldn’t think it, though, once she gets going. Gordon, originally from Oxford, but who now lives in New York full-time, says: “For once I’m not doing an American accent.” Having lived for nine years in the States, she says her career is progressing “slowly but surely”.

She adds: “I’m working regularly. I’ve had little bits in big things. It’s nice to feel like I’m building a career.”

On the strength of the film – which I saw later in the evening – she is certainly a British talent to watch. Look out for our full interview with her coming soon.

My second interview of the day was also with a newcomer, of sorts. Although Michael Keaton is a household name thanks to his work on films including Beetlejuice and Batman, he was in town to talk about his debut at the helm. Scheduled for one one of the many ‘lounges’ which crop up on Park City’s Main Street during the festival, the round table interview took place in an annexe tent style affair attached to a Hennessey cognac sponsored venue. Somehow I managed to walk the entire length of Main Street before finding the right building – because each venue is sponsored, they have a tendency to shift about year-on-year meaning a lounge that once lived at the bottom of the street can be spirited to the top the following Sundance and leading to confusion all round. Of course, most people in town during the festival are tourists, so asking for directions is fairly tricky.

I did try to ask a bouncer outside a venue, only to be unceremoniously ushered behind a barrier – quickly finding myself caught up in a crowd and standing not three feet from 50 Cent as he headed into the Star Bar for a gig. Also adding some interest to the street were a number of anti-fur protestors but while “block their chimneys, glue their locks, for the mink and for the fox” may have a certain ring to it, I’m not sure the various model types sporting the fluffy critters in coat form were particularly concerned. One person who was, however, was a small child of around six who suddenly turned to her mother in the manner of an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers pod person and declared: “Oh. My. God. You’re wearing FUR!” Luckily for mom – who could have been faced with a serious sulk, she was, in fact, only wearing faux fur. A relief for all concerned.

In the Michael Keaton interview, there was talk of protestors, too. Looking dapper and relaxed, and sporting a pair of shades, he chatted about the film with a group of us journalists. We’ll be bringing you a full transcript of the interview soon, but when asked about the situation regarding the writers’ strike in Hollywood, he said: “I’m a Writers’ Guild supporter. Totally. But what they’re not getting is, Rupert Murdoch doesn’t even know they’re doing it. That’s the reality of it. That’s not fair or unfair, it’s kind of what it is. But you’ve got to always have creative people, getting to be creative. That I always will dig.”

After all the interviewing, it was nice to be able to catch a film screening – and despite having behind to Sundance for four years, this was my first time at a Slamdance showing. I was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd – particularly the girl beside me who sat down in a flurry of jangling bracelets and faux fur, declaring she was a “featured extra” in the film. Her role didn’t stop her from bashing her Blackberry almost throughout the entire movie, but it didn’t mar my enjoyment. Although not a perfect film, Frost has a great deal of merit. Behr plays a writer turned playboy, whose life is spiralling out of control. It is Lucy’s character that threatens either to derail or save him. The script is smart and sassy and the performances universally good. Gordon and Behr are excellent in the central roles and special mention must go to Krysten Ritter, who plays Behr’s drug-addled pal Ozzy. She has six films due out this year – and is well worth watching out for.

Screening with Frost, was a smart short Far Out. A tribute to films by the likes of Russ Meyer, Phil Mucci’s film about a party guest with bite has a stylish charm.

Following the screening, there was just time to check out The Merry Gentleman party. Keaton had been mingling with the crowds all evening, although the most unusual aspect of note was that it is the first party I’ve ever been to where they ran out of soft drinks rather than booze. No wonder the gentlemen were so merry.

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