Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sundance 2013 Journal: Day 5

by Aaron Peck

Up until now there hadn't been many stand-out movies for me. It's a good thing that Day 5's plans included two of the festival's most anticipated titles 'Stoker' and 'Upstream Color.'

'Stoker' gained steam fast before the festival opened, mostly because it was Korean director Park Chan-wook's first English language film. His film 'Oldboy' had its North American premiere at Sundance in 2005. The man is a master at creating visually stunning movies and people were extremely interested to see what he'd come up with. The trailers depicted a creepy, unsettling film, which was exactly what was delivered.

Before viewing 'Stoker' I stood outside in the cattle tent. Usually, it's easy to make conversation with people. You end up meeting some pretty fascinating film fans. Either they work in film or simply love it so much that they're willing to hop on a plane and come to frigid Utah for a week of movies and line waiting. I wasn't so lucky this time around though. A man and woman behind me in line were droning on about how terrible his ex-wife is. In front of me a girl from New Jersey was telling an older couple about her newly extracted wisdom teeth and candy addiction.

A few days earlier, in this same tent, a stampede took place. Hundreds of people were lined up to see the premiere of 'Kill Your Darlings' when there was a loud hiss and then several pops that sounded like gunfire. People fled the tent like someone had opened fire. Turned out it was a fire extinguisher malfunction. Exciting and frightening things can happen while you're waiting in line, just not very often.

'Stoker' as expected, turned out to be a visual feast. I was a little taken back by how similar it was to Hitchcock's 'Shadow of a Doubt.' Eerily similar in fact. A young girl is taken with her new mysterious uncle that has come to live with the family. His name is Uncle Charlie. He has those same sweetly devious looks and flies off the handle at a moment's notice. Oh, and whenever he's about to do something really evil, he whistles.

Apparently in the Q&A after the movie's premiere, which a few nights ago, he stated that he had no intention of having any Hitchcock references in the movie. The script was penned by Wentworth Miller ('Prison Break') and was finished before Chan-wook was attached to direct. Even then, he must have known that there were some Hithcockian references, because many of them are pretty blatant. (Pictured above left to right: Producer Michael Costigan, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Mia Wasikowska, Park Chan-wook, and his translator.)

That said, 'Stoker' is a chillingly evil tale about killers. A bloodier, creepier version of 'Shadow of a Doubt.' In the Q&A after the movie, a press member (who, incidentally, comments at every single Q&A he attends) asked him the ridiculous question, "So, how does it feel to have out Hitchcocked Hitchcock." Chan-wook's interpreter relayed the remarks to the director. Calmly he put the microphone to his mouth, said a few words, and then put it back down. His interpreter grabbed the mic and said, "He says that he doesn't think he measures up to The Master. Not even an inch."

Shane Carruth's 'Upstream Color' came next, in the same theater. Where to start? 'Upstream Color' is a magnificently bold and utterly confusing movie about worms, pigs, thieves, lovers, confusion, mind-control, and the life cycle. It's told 'Tree of Life' style. A movie constructed of a labyrinthine puzzle of images coupled with limited dialogue. There isn't one piece of standard exposition in the whole movie. You're left on your own to figure out what's happening, why worms can control people's brains, and why the same people are connected to swine surrogates. It's absolutely bizarre and at the same time breathtaking. I left the movie feeling simultaneously confused and euphoric.

Carruth's Q&A was just as cryptic as his film. He had a hard time giving straight answers about the meaning of the film. He kept referring to the film as a "construct" of the life cycle. Although, he didn't seem so sure of what he was saying.

Lastly, the audio in this movie is some of the most enveloping I've ever heard. When it eventually comes out on Blu-ray (it damn well better get a high-def release) it should contain some of the best demo-quality audio on the format. If it doesn't, I'll demand a refund.

The last movie of the day was 'Manhunt,' which is being billed as the real-life story of 'Zero Dark Thirty.' Suggestion: stay with 'ZDT.' A good documentary should be able to take a subject that is unknown or inherently uninteresting and make it interesting for the audience. 'Manhunt' takes a subject that's already loaded with interest – espionage, spying, and the hunt for bin Laden – and ends up making a boring, repetitive doc. How you can take this material and make it appear mundane is a mystery to me, but they've done it.

With the night closing in and the cold starting to once again seep through my layers of clothing I decided to call it a night.

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