I’ve just realized that Steve James‘ Life Itself, which I saw an hour’s worth earlier this evening and was completely knocked over by, has a press & industry screening tomorrow night at 7 pm at the Holiday Cinemas. Now I can see the whole thing. Smooth and incisive and as plain-spoken as Ebert’s prose, Life is definitely among my best of the festival this far (along with Whiplash, Laggies and The Skeleton Twins).
Amir Bar-Lev‘s Happy Valley is a shrewdly sculpted, richly perceptive study of denial — of people’s willingness and even eagerness to practice denial if so motivated. The specific subject is the Penn State child-abuse sex scandal of 2011 and 2012, which resulted in convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky doing 30 years in jail and the late beloved Penn State coach Joe Paterno being at lest partly defined between now and forever as a pedophile enabler. The Freeh report (conducted by former FBI director Louis Freeh and his law firm) stated that Paterno, Penn State president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley and school vp Gary Schultz all knew about Sandusky probably being guilty of child molestation as far back as 1998, and that all were complicit in looking the other way. State College residents and especially Penn State football fans were enraged when Paterno was fired for not saying or doing enough. Even after the Freeh report they wouldn’t let go.
(l.) convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky; (r.) the late Joe Paterno.
Like everyone else, I thought the Armond White foot-shooting incident (the City Arts critic allegedly calling 12 years A Slave director Steve McQueen an “embarassing doorman” and a “garbageman” at a 1.6 New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony, and getting expelled by the NYFCC on 1.13 as a result) had been sufficiently reported. The matter was written about thoroughly and eloquently by Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman on 1.13 and by New York critic David Edelstein on 1.14. But two days ago (Friday, 1.17) a N.Y. Times Cara Buckley story brought it up again. Buckley’s piece is not a career obit or a hand-wringing lament about boorish public behavior, but is more or less neutrally respectful of White’s position that he was booted out by a group of Hollywood-kowtowing, left-liberal commissars. Really?
There’s one thing I’ve been told by a certain NYFCC member that I completely accept, to wit: the NYFCC committee did not enjoy giving White his walking papers and were quite anguished about it, but as White had refused to explain or apologize for the incident at their 1.13 meeting, they felt they had to lay down the law. “It was lose, lose,” Edelstein tells Buckley. Giving White the boot left him feeling “devastated and dreadful,” he says, because “we need to treasure the cranks, we need to treasure the crackpots because the [film criticism] profession has gotten so cautious.”
Six- or eight-paragraph Sundance “reviews” are out of the question for me. Between three movies per day and all the running around the most I can manage, it seems, is to tap out tweets and then build these into three- or four-paragraph riffs, but I have to do this on the shuttle bus between screenings or while sitting in the hatefully drafty Yarrow lobby or in my seat at the Library of the Eccles before a film begins, and then bang out what I can in the mornings before the day starts. But even by that loose-shoe standard I’ve been falling behind over the last 48 hours. (Yesterday I had to move out of condo #1 and into condo #2, a time-eating pain in the ass.) So I’m staying in the pad for a few hours today (Sunday, 1.20) to catch up.
Kelly Reilly, Brendan Gleeson in John Martin McDonaugh’s Calvary.
At 2:15 pm an 11-hour adventure begins. Amir Bar Lev‘s Happy Valley, an examination of the Jerry Sandusky sexual-molesting Penn State reach-around scandal, screens at the MARC. Then I’ll be catching the first hour of Steve James‘ Life Itself, the 112-minute Roger Ebert doc. (My suspicion is that it’s going to be an overly Valentine-ish portrayal of the late critic — I’ll at least be able to detect whether that’s true or not within 60 minutes.) Then comes John Michael McDonaugh‘s Calvary (which I’m 100% certain will be a moderately engrossing, well-written thing with a flawless Brendan Gleeson performance) at 6:45 pm. The q & a for this Ireland-set drama will end around 8:30 pm or so, leaving about 75 minutes before Richard Linklater‘s 160-minute Boyhood begins. Between the intros and whatnot the epic-length docudrama-resembling narrative will end around 1 am. Back to the condo and crash by 2 am, maybe. Monday’s writing and screening scheduled will of course be compromised by this.