Patti Smith: Dream of Life director Steven Sebring and legendary poet-rocker Patti Smith following this evening’s screening of the film (rich, layered, beautiful) at the Holiday Cinemas. Smith and her band will be performing a concert tomorrow evening at 6 pm.
Tipsters have been telling me to see Jonathan Levine‘s The Wackness, which I managed to catch this morning at 9:30. It’s a quirky coming-of-age dramedy about a Jewish teenaged pot dealer (Josh Peck) falling for the lah-dee-dah step-daughter (Olivia Thirlby) of his marginally unhinged therapist (Ben Kingsley) whom he simultaneously develops a close friendship with. It was wildly cheered after this morning’s Eccles screening, but I was yes and no about it.
The story, which director-writer Levine apparently based on his own adolescent wanderings, is well told but the basic points seem familiar as hell in numerous ways, and the visually murky, sepia-like photography starts to feel almost claustrophobic after a while. Petra Korner‘s widescreen images aren’t Gordon Willis-y as much as flat-out funereal. I was sitting there going “good God, does everything have to look this fucking dreary? With all this grayish-green shadow slime covering everyone and everything?”
I don’t like Peck that much either. He’s a good spirited actor with a mashed-in face and jutting jaw that makes him resemble a genetically deficient Eric Bogosian, but there’s something low-lifey about the guy. For his part in the film he’s wearing one of those greasy, part-in-the-middle homie haircuts that kids had about 10 or 15 years ago, and he talks with a vaguely retarded-sounding “street” patois. It feels like a tremendous effort for Peck to speak a correctly-composed sentence and pronounce the words correctly…yo! He looks and talks like an alien. (Calorically challenged until a couple of years ago, Peck played the obnoxious porker who was killed in ’04’s Mean Creek.)
And I get riled at movies with characters who constantly medicate with cigarettes, joints, booze, lines of coke. Can any major character in this film get through five minutes straight without adding a stimulant to their system? Irritating as hell. I wanted to throw something at the screen after a while.
But Kingsley’s pot-smoking therapist is gloriously skewed in this thing. He’s almost enough of a reason alone to see it. But that damn cinematography, man…it was really bringing me down. Then you add in Peck’s weird and all those fucking cigarettes and doobies that everyone keeps sucking into their lungs and before you know it you’re thinking about hitting a health club just to flush the experience out of your system.
First-time filmmaker Lance Hammer‘s Ballast, which I’ll try to catch at the Monday noon Eccles screening, has gotten more “you need to see this” buzz than any other Sundance film thus far. Consider this excerpt from Robert Koehler‘s 1.19.08 Variety review.
“A rock-ribbed sense of committed, personal cinema and a core belief in people being able to pull themselves out of misery supports Ballast, an extraordinary debut by editor-writer-director Lance Hammer. Though his name would be better suited to sign high-octane action movies, Hammer quickly establishes himself with the only film he’s ever made as a humanist artist working confidently and quietly with the cinema’s most basic and expressive tools.
“Following a Mississippi Delta family shattered by suicide and violence, pic runs a course from wrenching death to possible uplift that seems real every second, but will prove a challenge to potential distribs even while winning over fests worldwide.
“A rare case of a Sundance competition film also in the running at Berlin, such a one-two punch suggests a notable work, but also perhaps creates inflated expectations, even though unknowns are involved on both sides of the camera. Hammer’s achievement is to create a thoroughly engrossing experience that attends to everyday life’s small (and in a few cases, significant) moments, and is certain to command high respect as a film that operates by its principles and engages audiences’ best human responses.”
The Wackness costars Olivia Thirlby (l.), Ben Kingsley, Josh Peck (far right) following this morning’s screening of Jonathan Levine’s period (i.e., 1994) dramedy about a Manhattan teenage pot dealer (Peck) falling for the step-daughter of his marginally unhinged therapist (Kingsley) — Sunday, 1.20.08, 11:10 am
Scrounging around for tickets at last night’s What Just Happened? screening at the Eccles felt vaguely humiliating. No, it was vaguely humiliating. The film, a mildly perverse inside-Hollywood drama directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, Michael Wincott, Robin Wright Penn and Catherine Keener, didn’t feel like a big audience score from where I was sitting. It’s an in and out thing — sometimes amusing, sometimes okay, nothing really “knockout.”
I’ll get into it later today. I have to leave for a 9:30 Eccles screening of The Wackness. More feeling like a beggar in Calcutta….can;t wait! “Tickets? Tickets for a columnist?” I would have gone to the Sleep Dealer screening this morning but the humiliation experience at the Racquet Club tends to be even more mortifying than what one tends to go through at the Eccles. Between last night’s Eccles scrounge-around and getting the boot at the Library yesterday afternoon, yesterday was bad. I hate this festival sometimes. Not often, but now and then.