Hollywood Elsewhere departs for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival (1.22 thru 2.1) this coming Wednesday, or a day early. I like to get all set up and settled in before it begins. Here, in any event, is a boilerplate rundown of the films everyone else is talking about. I’ve just average, common too — I’m just like him and the same as you. If there’s something I should add to this list of 25, please advise. I never seem to fit in more than 25 films over my usual eight-day period (I return around noon on Friday, 1.30). I’m posting these films roughly in order of personal interest:
Last Days in the Desert (dir: Rodrigo García — cast: Ewan McGregor) — Yeshua, plumbing the depths of his soul in the Judean desert, runs into a mirror-image Stan. Shot by the legendary Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity, Children of Men).
Mississippi Grind (dir. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Mendelsohn) — Shrewd poker guy and a less-focused drifter gamble their way across the States to a legendary high-stakes game in New Orleans. James Toback told me last March this is a loose reimagining of Robert Altman‘s California Split. Toback performed a cameo in which he belts Mendelsohn. Grind also stars Sienna Miller, Analeigh Tipton and Alfre Woodard.
Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (dir: Douglas Tirola) — Based on the 2010 Rick Meyerowitz book, charting the entire arc of the National Lampoon. Presumably featuring stories about and recollections of NatLamp all-stars Doug Kenney, Henry Beard, Michael O’Donoghue, Tony Hendra, Sam Gross, Sean Kelly, Anne Beatts, Chris Miller, Gerry Sussman, P.J. O’Rourke, Bruce McCall, Stan Mack, M.K. Brown, Shary Flenniken, et. al.
D-Train (d: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel, cast: Jack Black, James Marsden) — Said to be a “dark” comedy about an ex-geek (Black) attending 20th anniversary high school reunion and hooking up with one of the popular high school hot shots of yore (Marsden). Wild night is fallin’.
A Walk in the Woods (d: Ken Kwapis, cast: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Emma Thompson) — All opening-gala films need to be regarded with caution. (No prejudice — just speaking from experience.) Based on travel writer Bill Bryson‘s true-life account, it’s about sturn und drang as three friends hump it along the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail.
True Story (d: Rupert Goold, cast: Jonah Hill, James Franco) — Based on real-life tale about a imprisoned killer (Franco) attempting to steal the identity of a discredited New York Times reporter (Hill). There’s something about this film that feels subdued. Can’t put my finger on it.
Mistress America (d: Noah Baumbach, cast: Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirke). Manhattan relationship shake about a college freshman (Kirke) hanging and galavanting about with her soon-to-be stepsister (Gerwig). Formerly known as “Untitled Public School Film” something or other; been in the can forever.
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (d: Brett Morgen) — Authorized doc on late Kurt Cobain from his early days in to his success with Nirvana and the downfall from smack. Featuring Cobain, Courtney Love, Dave Grohl.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (d: Alex Gibney) — Attack doc based on Lawrence Wright‘s similarly-tited Scientology takedown (“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief“), which began as a New Yorker piece (“The Apostate“) about director Paul Haggis‘s disillusionment with Scientology.
The Stanford Prison Experiment (dir. Kyle Patrick Alvarez) — Based on the real-life research of Dr. Philip Zimbardo. It recounts the professor’s study on the psychology of imprisonment, which was tested on 1970s Ivy League undergraduates with disturbing results.
Experimenter (dir. Michael Almereyda, cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder) — The Stanford Prison Experiment‘s older, East Coast brother. Set in Yale University in 1961, it’s about another behavioral experiment in which “a startling 65 per cent of subjects unquestioningly submitted to the commands of an lab-coated figure and delivered potentially fatal electric shocks to other people,” etc. I watched a TV report about this ages ago, and it was almost kind of funny.
The End of the Tour (d: James Ponsoldt) — A five-day interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) in 1996, who was 34 at the time. Wallace killed himself in 2008 at age 46.
Best of Enemies (Dir: Morgan Neville, Robert Gordon) — Doc about highly acrimonious 1968 debates between William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal during the raucous Democratic and Republican conventions.
Results (dir. Andrew Bujalski — cast: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders) — Some kind of relationship thing between two personal trainers, blah blah
Don Verdean (dir. Jared Hess, cast: Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Jemaine Clement) — Boilerplate: “Biblical archaeologist Don Verdean is hired by a local church pastor to find faith-promoting relics in the Holy Land. But after a fruitless expedition he is forced to get creative in this comedy of faith and fraud.”
The Hunting Ground (dir. Kirby Dick) — Doc focusing on sexual crimes and abuses on Ameeican college campuses.
I Am Michael (dir. Justin Kelly — cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts, Zachary Quinto) — Franco’s penchant for playing gay guys has become a kind of joke, but that hasn’t stopped him. He’ll be doing this for the next three of four decades — deal with it. Franco portrays Michael Glatze, a gay activist who renounced his homosexuality in order to become a Christian pastor.
Z for Zachariah (dir. Craig Zobel — cast: Chiwetel Ejiofore, Margot Robbie, Chris Pine) — Based on the novel by Robert O’Brien, a kind of post-apocalyptic romantic triangle piece about a couple of guys at odds over the same blonde. Clearly similar to Ranald MacDougall’s The World, The Flesh and the Devil (’59) with Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer.
Brooklyn (dir. John Crowley, adapted by Nick Hornby, cast: Saoirse Ronan, Domnhall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters) ) — 1950s Brooklyn tale about Irish immigrant Ellis Lacey (Ronan) having to choose between…I don’t know exactly but presumably an old Irish flame and a New York guy.
Lila & Eve (dir. Charles Stone III — cast: Jennifer Lopez, Viola Davis) — A drive-by shooting, vigilante justice, etc.
Strangerland (dir. Kim Farrant) — A couple (Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes) searching for teenagers in the Australian wasteland in the wake of a dust storm.
Nasty Baby (dir/writer: Sebastián Silva, cast: Kristen Wiig, Alia Shawkat, Mark Margolis) — A gay Brooklyn couple (Silva, Tunde Adebimpe) turn to their friend Polly (Kristen Wiig) when they want to have a baby, but their lives are complicated by the aggressive behavior of a man in their neighborhood called The Bishop (Reg E. Cathey).
Being Evel (Dir: Daniel Junge) — The life and times of ’70s daredevil Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel, blah blah.
Digging For Fire (dir: Joe Swanberg, cast: Jake Johnson, Rosemarie DeWitt, Anna Kendrick, Orlando Bloom, Brie Larson, Melanie Lynskey, Sam Rockwell, Sam Elliott, Chris Messina, Jenny Slate). IMDB boilerplate: “The discovery of a bone and a gun send a husband and wife on separate adventures over the course of a weekend.”
The Overnight (dir: Patrick Brice, cast: Taylor Schilling, Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman) — IMDB boilerplate: “Alex, Emily, and their son, RJ, are new to Los Angeles. A chance meeting at the park introduces them to the mysterious Kurt, Charlotte, and Max. A family ‘playdate’ becomes increasingly interesting as the night goes on.”