Sundance Film Festival 2010: Day Two (Part One)

We talk to Lucas Black and Aaron Schneider, hear what ASCAP has to offer and review Winter's Bone, Daddy Longlegs and Splice.

by Nick Da Costa and Amber Wilkinson

Nick Da Costa writes... Today was my first taste of Main Street. Probably the easiest place to be mistaken for a celebrity by the pockets of camera-clutching devotees waiting outside every bar and restaurant hoping for a snap of their film-favourite. After some decidedly mediocre Mexican food we popped into the Music Café, which hosts live sets sponsored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Each has some connection with a festival movie, whether past or present, and if it wasn’t for the fine selection of movies sprinkled between in between our visit, I’d have to say this was my highlight of the festival.

We had our audio reality reconstructed by some exquisite musical performances: the soft, melodic rock of Colin Devlin, the throaty rock of the astonishingly well-preserved Sass Jordan and last, but most certainly not least, deep, dirty fun from Adrian Younge & The Black Dynamite Sound Orchestra. If it wasn’t for the scheduling of my second movie of the day I could have happily stayed to the end.

But what about the first film I hear no one ask. Well, sticking to a theme, each of my selection for Day Two of Sundance spoke of realities different from our own.

Colin Devlin serves up some melodic rock
Colin Devlin serves up some melodic rock

First up we have Daddy Longlegs, a movie shot almost like a docudrama, telling the story of NY man-child Lenny (Ronald Bronstein) and the annual two-week visit of his kids, Sage and Frey. This is a precious time in his life and even though he’s working all hours as a film projectionist - a metaphor for both the recollection of memory and the stitched together feel of the movie - he works hard to create the memories, however magical, outlandish or simply downright stupid they might be, that will cement a bond that can never be broken.

What Lenny refuses to accept is that fatherhood must, necessarily, put distance between the man and his children. Responsibility is about setting rules, after all. Instead Lenny is father in the same way that a King wears a crown. It’s a status. A boast. A graffito on a shop blind. Unfortunately, as Lenny finds out, this is a fantasy.

Directors Benny and Josh Safdie show the destructive effects of fairytale which, in the hands of Lenny, turns dangerously sedated kids into sleeping princes, while protecting the positive, sometimes joyous memories formed against the equally destructive encroaching reality.

The father’s bond is ingrained in every moment of the film, and anyone who threatens this is childishly tossed aside. The girlfriend, the boyfriend of a woman he picks up in a bar, one of the children’s classmates who challenges Lenny for mischief-making. He even treats a telephone conversation with the children’s mother as a means of boasting, destroying her in an argument in front of them then turning to them as if it were something to be congratulated.

Daddy Longlegs
Daddy Longlegs

Funnily enough you can’t help but like the guy. Bronstein gives a brilliantly naturalistic performance as the trisexual, irresponsible, charismatic, loveable shit, balancing both our disgust and admiration as he tries to do something inspirational. Equally, the direction is superb, moving between a roving camera that keeps it’s distance, not wanting to disturb or break the connection, and one that pulls in close, making us accomplices as we remember what it was like to wish we could be so wilful, dumping cereal out on the floor to get the toy now. Not waiting like any normal father would expect. And that’s what the movie does. Defies expectation and has you gripped throughout.

It might surprise you to know that Daddy Longlegs wasn’t my favourite movie of the day. The ones following were, but for different reasons.

Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone
Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone

Next up, the film of the festival? Winter’s Bone certainly thinks so. Though it's not screaming it from the rafters. This is a far more subtle, poetic thing. A cinematic expression of the season as a living being. A creature that has had its skin and sinew picked clean by the parasites that live in the unforgiving and isolated Ozark Mountain region of its body. An unrelenting, yet utterly mesmerising cinematic vision (read the full review here)

Both excited and drained on discovering this little gem of a movie, it was also the worst possible time for the altitude sickness to take its toll. Feeling more than a little wiped out, I walked into Splice.

And thank God I did. What an utterly demented, yet gripping, tale of boy meets girl, meets science, meets DNA, meets secret experiment, meets Hammer horror, meets Mary Shelley, meets Oedipus, meets bestiality, meets The Fly 2. The End.

And that’s just a taste of the psycho-horror details. The film is packed with them. Most of them squeezed into the character of Elsa (Sarah Polley) the scientist - Adrian Brody playing her colleague and lover Clive (surely the product of the movie script random name generator) - who seems to have most invested in a splicing experiment. After the sinister - aren’t they all? - corporation backing the project insists they stick to the commercial potential over the benefit to mankind, Elsa takes it underground, dragging Clive, and his moral protestations with her.

Sarah Polley in Splice
Sarah Polley in Splice

It would be remiss of me to go into too much detail about the plot from here on in as you really need to go in as virgin as possible. Suffice it to say, the public announcement of the commercial application goes horribly wrong - outdoing the head pop in Scanners for bloodbath and we find out that Elsa is a very, very damaged young lady.

Polley gives a suitably camp, ever so slightly unhinged performance as the woman who shies away from motherhood, yet seems hopelessly devoted to an experiment that imprints her onto a creature. Beneath the slightly hokey, Dr Frankenstein action there’s some genuinely interesting examples of body horror consisting of self-persecution, narcissism and self-mutilation that could make an interesting addendum to any Cronenberg debate.

Poor Adrian Brody looks rather bewildered throughout the running time. Not a surprise considering some of the bizarre imagery he’s a part of.

In fact, I think I can say, without a shred of hyperbole, that this movie has some of the strangest moments you’ll see on film this year. If not in the next several years. Or maybe you’ve already seen a man dancing the waltz with a beautiful woman that is reverse jointed, has a mirror-effect face, a monkey’s tail and a scorpion’s stinger? Kiss your Na’vi sex fantasies goodbye, sickos, this is the real groundbreaking, bar-raising, paradigm shifting masterpiece.

Lucas Black in Get Low
Lucas Black in Get Low

Amber Wilkinson writes... I had the sort of day that tends to come around at least once every Sundance, chiefly marked out by frustration. Due to interview Robert Duvall, Bill Murray, Sissy Spacek, Lucas Black and Aaron Scheider about Get Low, which I was somewhat disappointed to here may not get release until next year, the scene is set for some fun.

That is until ten minutes before I was due to head up to Main Street when an email arrives to say that Bill had hurt his knee and would not, after all, be attending. I know it does sound an odd reason to call off, but I can't say I blame him, I had my first close-up and personal conversation with the ground myself last night and the streets - particularly the steep incline of Main Street, are slick with slush. Apparently he has been hobbling about on crutches, which is a pretty neat trick at any time let alone in this weather. I gather it has also been allowing him to make some pretty good 'crutch' jokes around town.

I shove my boots and reach for the mouse to close down the computer when a second message comes in. Robert Duvall has altitude sickness and will also not be in attendance. I'll be honest, it's a huge disappointment but I can certainly relate. The wooziness kicked in with a vengeance today and I've spent most of it feeling as though I've just spun round in circles for a few minutes. It really is rather unpleasant. To cut a long story short, in the end the list of interviewees dwindled to just Aaron Schneider and Lucas Black - but they were both entertaining, informative and in good spirits.

We'll bring you the interviews in due course, but Black was full of nothing but praise for the film which was shot in Georgia, just three and a half hours from where he grew up in Alabama. I think one of my favourite facts to emerge from the interview with Black was that Robert Duvall "talks about barbecue a lot."

This, Black says, smiling "helped me a lot, because I love barbecue and we take pride in our north Alabama barbecue, so we have a lot to talk about on the barbecue side of things."

In fact, Black worked first with Duvall as a 12-year-old in Swing Blade. He adds: "We connected over barbecue... he loves talking about meat."

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