Rushing It

I haven’t got time to think things through or make what I’m tapping out here sound as good as it ought to, and it pains me to just put stuff up without refinements, but…
The most satisfying Sundance films I’ve seen over the last four days, in this order, are: Craig Brewer’s Hustle & Flow, Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek (which I wrote about last Friday), and Craig Lucas’ The Dying Gaul (angrier and more bitter than it needs to be, but is nonetheless a fully felt, precisely crafted piece about denial and betrayal, a superb psychological suspense drama and a nicely tuned Hollywood backstabber).

Sculpture of Dying Gaul, created in 230 B.C., residing today in Rome’s Capitoline Museum, and a thematic motif in Craig Lucas’s film of the same name.

The other A-listers are Sebastian Cordero’s Cronicas, John Maybury’s The Jacket, Suzanne Bier’s Brothers, and Peter Raymont’s Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire.
Matthew Vaughan’s Layer Cake is an absorbing, carefully measured, constantly crackling British crime film that deliberately eschews the Guy Ritchie-esque razzle dazzle that we’ve all come to expect from movies about the criminal underworld, and offers yet another riveting, multi-layered performance from Daniel Craig.
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Mike Binder’s The Upside of Anger is perhaps a little too on-the-nose at the finish, but it’s honest and human and builds into something tangible, and it contains one of the most likably relaxed and touching Kevin Costner performances ever.
The next big achiever, I’m guessing, with be Arie Posin’s The Chumscrubber, which is screening tomorrow night (i.e., Tuesday) at the Eccles. As I’m leaving Thursday morning I’m already starting to grapple with the likelihood of not being able to see this and that film, given the workload and all.
Yesterday afternoon I caught Mike Mills’ Thumbsucker, and after it was over I can’t say I was doing cartwheels in the Racquet Club parking lot. A moderately resonant drama about teenage uncertainty and suburban angst, it’s one of those films that works on a scene-by-scene basis, but seems to wander and glide along without having a particular goal in mind. There’s no story tension or a discernible arc, but the human-scale observations about this and that (pic is based on Walter Kirn’s novel of the same name) ring true, for the most part…for what it’s worth.
I’m going to just post what I have now and maybe revisit the Intel room at the Yarrow Hotel this afternoon and add or refine or whatever. This is so friggin’ half-assed, I can’t stand it.

Far and Away

For me, so far, Hustle & Flow is still the shit.
Out of twelve or thirteen films I’ve seen here so far, none have delivered a package of this caliber — absolutely note-perfect acting (headlined by Terrence Howard’s already-legendary performance as D-Jay, a flawed, at times brutally insensitive man in a classic do-or-die struggle to make it as a rap artist), formulaic panache, a quality that feels to me like ripe atmospheric truth, exotic charm and sublime emotional satisfaction.
Some are saying Flow is too formulaic, or that it faces an uphill challenge with red-state audiences who may not want to get up close and personal with a film about a drawlin’ Memphis pimp. You know what I’m saying. A certain vaguely racist aversion.
Well, it is formulaic…but in the most intriguing way possible. To say you’ve “seen this kind of film before” means nothing. The question must always be, “How well was it made, and how much did you care?”

A deliberately arty-farty out-of-focus shot taken on set of Hustle & Flow.

At times, Hustle & Flow talks and walks like a ’70s blaxploitation film (that yellow typeface used for the opening main-title sequence is pure Sam Arkoff), but Brewer and Howard and an ace-level supporting cast (Anthony Anderson, Taryn Manning, DJ Qualls, Taraji Hewnson, Ludicris) make it play true and steady and right as rain.
Every frame of this movie says, “You know what we’re doing…this guy wants to climb out of his own hole and maybe we’re gonna show him do that…but we’re gonna do it in a way that feels right to us.” And once D-Jay hooks up with Anderson and Qualls and starts to put together a sound and record a few tracks, Hustle & Flow lifts off the ground and pretty much stays there, suspended.
I find it staggering that seasoned film industry journos would suggest, as they have to me over the last 24 hours or so, that not enough paying customers will want to see this thing. Forget the funky backdrops and gritty-ass particulars — is there anyone out there who can’t relate to a character who feels stuck in a tired groove and wants to do more with his/her life? Is there anything more commonly understood these days?
Whatever you might expect to feel about D-Jay, he is, by the force of Howard’s acting and Brewer’s behind-the-camera input, utterly real and believable, and even with his anger and brutality you can’t help but root for him. And, for that matter, the film.


Mike Mills (r.), director-screenwriter of Thumbsucker, fielding questions after Sunday afternoon’s screening at Park City Racquet Club, with costars Lou Pucci (l.) and Tilda Swinton (middle) — 1.23.05, 6:55 pm.

Thumbsucker costar Keanu Reeves (r.) on Racquet Club stage after Sunday’s screening, next to charming actress who plays a very small role — 1.23.05, 6:50 pm.

Can’t Beat It

I feel whipped, anxious and extremely behind schedule this morning.
Okay, I always feel this way…but it’s more pronounced during Sundance. The question each day is, “How many bowling pins will fall to the floor today? How many films I’d like to see or parties I’d like to attend or quickie interviews I’d like to do will I be forced to blow off due to having to feed this bear of a column?”
I started writing this early Monday morning (just before eight), and at one point I thought I had about two hours before having to run off to see the first film of the day — Steve James’ Reel Paradise, a 110-minute doc about indie film maven John Pierson’s experience running a small movie theatre on the island of Fiji.
But I didn’t make the Pierson screening, and now, at 11:25 ayem, I’m trying to finish in time to make the noon screening of Pretty Persuasion at the Eccles. And I’m wondering if I can even make that.

Flow Chart

Sunday’s big news, to recap, was the charged response to Hustle & Flow after a Saturday night screening at the Park City Racquet Club, along with the subsequent announcement, some eight or nine hours after the screening began at 8:30 pm, that the film has been acquired for $9 million by Paramount.
The MTV execs went home around 4 ayem, but the deal closed at roughly 5:30 am this morning, partly as a result of a certain Paramount executive remarking to UTA’s Jeremy Zimmer, “We can’t do this anymore…I have to go to bed.”
No immediate word as to whether Hustle & Flow will be distributed by “big” Paramount or “little” Paramount (i.e., Paramount Classics), but the answer sounds like a no-brainer. Indie-type Sundance movies need the kind of TLC that is generally not dispensed (no offense) by big-studio marketing departments.
The $9 million is part of a $16 million, 3-picture deal that will cover two other films to be produced and directed by Flow producer John Singleton for $3.5 million each.

Part of the Hustle & Flow posse after Saturday night’s screening at the Park City Racquet Club: (l. to r.) Terrence Howard, producer Stephanie Allain, costar Taryn Manning, director-writer Craig Brewer — 1.22.05, 10:45 pm.

The unofficial word is that Hustle & Flow will probably open over the 4th of July weekend, which would be an appropriate date since celebration of this holiday figures into the plot.
Paramount publicist Nancy Kirkpatrick called to say that Paramount’s newly-installed chief Brad Grey, plus Par marketing head Rob Friedman and production president Donald De Line, saw Hustle & Flow in Los Angeles on Saturday night while Viacom co-president and COO Tom Freston was catching it at the same time at the Park City Racquet Club.
I found it interesting that Howard, who was the last Hustle cast member to be called to the stage after Saturday’s screening, seemed more comfortable on the edge of the spotlight than occupying it front-and-center.
There’s no question that his performance as D-Jay, a Memphis pimp in a midlife crisis with musical aspirations, has put him on the map in the exact same way that Morgan Freeman’s performance as a pimp in Street Smart (along with Pauline Kael’s rave in The New Yorker) turned him into “Morgan Freeman.”
Anyway, the JPEGs now and the copy on Monday morning sometime….along with some new photos I’ll probably snap during my Sunday adventures after I finish posting (which always takes longer than expected).

Visual Push

Brothers director and story co-author Suzanne Bier with star Connie Nielsen after Saturday afternoon’s screening at the Egyptian theatre on Main Street — 1.22.05, 2:10 pm.

Hollywood Reporter deputy film editor and columnist Anne Thompson (l.) and film business editor Nicole Sperling (r.) in foyer entrance to a truly deafening party for Layer Cake, held on Park City’s Main Street — Friday, 1.21.05, 10:35 pm.

The Dying Gaul screenwriter and director Craig Lucas (r., on the mike) and (l. to r.) cast members Peter Sarsgaard, Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson after late Saturday afternoon screening of the drama, which is Lucas’s filmmaking debut — 1.22.05, 7:15 pm.

Exotic dancer at party for party for Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey’s Inside Deep Throat, held inside garage space adjacent to Park City Library — Friday, 1.21.05, 11:35 pm.

Relatively small container of pre-popped popcorn selling for $4 dollars at Park City’s Egyptian theatre — taken just before Brothers screening on Saturday, 1.22.05, at 11:55 am.

Hustle & Flow producers Stephanie Allain (middle) and John Singleton (r.) stand with writer-director Craig Brewer after after Saturday night’s screening at the Park City Racquet Club — 1.22.05, 10:50 pm.

The Chumscrubber and Dear Wendy star Jamie Bell (l.) with unidentified (but obviously spirited) woman during latter stages of Inside Deep Throat party — Friday, 1.22.05, 12:25 am.

Layer Cake director Matthew Vaughan seated during interview inside atrium space on first floor of Park City Marriott — Saturday, 1.22.05, 11:05 am..

Congenial and photogenic Dear Wendy director Thomas Vinterberg with an apparently significant other outside Eccles theatre just before screening of his film — Saturday, 1.22.05, 2:45 pm.

Hustle & Flow star Terrence Howard (also in Lackawanna Blues) during post-screening interview before audience at Park City Racquet Club — Saturday, 1.22.05, 11:05 am.

Flora outside Hollywood Elsewhere condo — Thursday, 1.20.05, 11:05 am.

Brothers director Suzanne Bier after Saturday’s showing at the Egyptian theatre, before she introduced Connie Nielsen — 1.22.05, 2:05 pm.

Inside Deep Throat dancers at post-screening party — 1.22.05, 12:05 am.


“Just to let you know that Nathan Phillips isn’t the whacko in Wolf
— John Jarrat is. Phillips plays the twentysomething guy. Jarrat’s been on Australian TV for years. Phillips has also been on the tube for a while, but he’s only about 24 or 25.
“And you’re right about the outback police force, by the way. But then any force would have trouble patrolling an area where people own farms that are bigger than some European countries.” — John Truslove, Melbourne, Australia.
Wells to Truslove: Thanks for offering the correction. I’ll fix the error right away.

Stupid Spoiled Whore

“If you have not seen it, hunt down the South Park episode called ‘Stupid Spoiled Whore,’ about Paris Hilton and the utterly ruthless and unforgiving attitudes about her, especially as they seem to be manifesting in force these days. It’s definitely worth 23 minutes of your life.” – Gabriel Neeb.

Frame capture from Paris Hilton sex video.

“I’m 100 percent behind you in protesting the appearance of tabloid trash queen Paris Hilton at Sundance. If someone told her that in order to appear at the parties she would have to watch as many films as she could showing at the festival, I’m sure she would pack up and leave ASAP. And major kudos on the use of the Hilton sex tape screen shot as your stock photo.” — Angry Dick 2.
“I think there√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s more in you yet to write about porn society, as typified by Paris Hilton. I find it interesting that on this you and I agree. Any chance you√¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll write more about that issue?” — Roy “Griff” Griffis