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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Chris Lee

Sundance 2011: Burton takes celebrities for a ride on the slopes [Updated]

January 24, 2011 |  1:27 pm


Over the last half-dozen years, the Sundance Film Festival has become as synonymous with swag as it has  with the crème de la crème of the indie movie world. But since the global economic downturn, the number and quality of “gifting” stations cropping up around Park City, Utah, in conjunction with the fest have notably declined.

Time was when Sundance was one-stop shopping -- to the extent that accepting free goods and services  can be considered “shopping” -- for a range of goods including flat-screen TVs, Las Vegas luxury condominiums, spa treatments and Mexican vacations. And questionable celebrities -- yes, “Hercules” star Kevin Sorbo, we are talking to you -- could be seen walking down Main Street laden with shopping bags, arriving with the kind of seasonal reliability associated with migrating Canada geese. Still, according to one publicist who has a number of high-profile clients (and asked not to be named for fear of alienating those clients), being seen hauling swag is increasingly viewed as a liability by those in the PR biz.

“People don’t want to see them carrying big bags of free tchotchkes,” the publicist said. “The stuff is usually cheap crap anyways. They look like idiots.”

This year, though, the snowboard and apparel company Burton set up its Burton House -- more of an extremely high-tech inflatable igloo, really -- at the base of the runs at the Park City Mountain Resort as an exclusive destination off Main Street for the fest’s movie stars and assorted VIPs. The end game was to dress them for the day head to toe in Burton gear, provide them with a custom-outfitted snowboard and take them up on the mountain with either a Burton-sanctioned local instructor or a member of the company’s pro team -- to establish a meaningful connection with snowboarding. Burton riders Danny Davis and Gabi Viteri were there, as was the sport’s breakout superstar and multiple-Olympic-medal winner, “Flying Tomato” Shaun White, who ripped up the resort’s half-pipe all weekend.

“This is Burton’s natural habitat,” explained the company’s social media manager, Amanda Wormann. “And here’s an influx of people who wouldn’t normally bump into our products. This is a great way to put them together.”

Free snowboard and gear for the day, a lift ticket and a chance to go boarding with the pros? Apparently there are some perks to this celebrity game. And among those who took Burton up on its offer were “Gossip Girl” star Penn Badgley (who appears in the Sundance premiere selection "Margin Call"), the cast of the MTV documentary series “The Buried Life” and Alex Shaffer, who appears in the high school wrestling dramedy “Win Win.”

“Those ‘Buried Life’ guys were doing 360s,” said an admiring Viteri, who rode with them.

Others, including members of the rock group OneRepublic and Nicholas Braun from the Kevin Smith religious horror movie (screening at Sundance) “Red State,” stopped by but didn’t hit the slopes.

It’s a testament to the fact that there are so many movies to see, panel discussions to attend and open-bar events, lounges, suites and lodges associated with Sundance that more celebs didn’t rush over to the Burton House over the weekend. But on Sunday, in an effort to gain penetrating insight into certain perks of the Celebrity Industrial Complex, your correspondent permitted himself to be outfitted by Burton and be taken for a snowboarding refresher course.

Martin Drayton, a 2007 Guiness World Record holder and a U.K. transplant with 25 years of snowboarding-instruction experience, took your correspondent to the top of the hill, where he quickly diagnosed my tendency to try to steer my board using my trailing foot rather than embark turns using my downhill knee.

“Snowboarding should be a lazy man’s sport,” Drayton advised. “Don’t think too much, and let gravity do the work for you.”

Your correspondent wasn’t precisely “shredding” by midafternoon, but he was executing turns more fluidly and carving at an all-time level. The lesson lasted about two hours, and let me tell you dear reader, a guy could get used to this.

Asked if he had seen any Sundance films, Burton rider Davis shook his head. “No movies. But a lot of babes,” he said, breaking into a grin.

-- Chris Lee in Park City, Utah

[Update: An earlier version of this blog post erroneously stated that Penn Badgley does not appear in any Sundance films. He is in the financial drama "Margin Call" which is screening in the festival.]

Photo: "Gossip Girl" star Penn Badgley and pro snowboarder Danny Davis in Park City, Utah. Credit: Burton Snowboards

Sundance 2011: 'Red State' premiere sparks protests and media circus

January 23, 2011 |  7:28 pm

Call it the perfect storm of publicity mongers.

For weeks leading up to this year’s Sundance, writer-director Kevin Smith’s religious horror movie “Red State” has been touted as one of the festival’s hottest tickets -- with Smith himself auctioning off two tickets Sunday for $1,000 (which the filmmaker donated to benefit the Sundance Institute Labs).

But the movie has also been a matter of scrutiny for a group whose interests lie somewhere quite outside the indie movie realm.

Last week, the independent, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church -- which is widely considered a hate group for its slur-filled diatribes condemning homosexuality -- issued a press release claiming the movie “mocks the servants of God” and labeling Smith a “hater of Biblical proportions.”

Church members announced plans to travel to Park City Sunday to protest in front of the Eccles Theater for the “Red State” premiere. To which the outspoken Smith swiftly responded with an entreaty to his fanboy legions -- albeit one laden with inexplicable references to “Ghostbusters” -- to organize their own counter-protest.

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Sundance 2011: 'Beats, Rhymes & Life' premiere turns emotional [Updated]

January 23, 2011 |  4:35 pm

Saturday’s premiere for "Beats, Rhymes & Life"–- Michael Rapaport’s Sundance documentary about the seminal New York hip-hop quartet a Tribe Called Quest –- was thronged with music industry insiders and rap stars, not your usual constituency for a Park City, Utah event. Conspicuously, audience members were seen downing beer inside the Temple Theater (yes, it's part of a synagogue) on a wider scale than at any other screening this correspondent has witnessed in six festivals’ worth of coverage.

"Hip-hop in a temple –- nowhere else but Sundance," commented senior programmer David Courier in introducing the film.

But the event took a strikingly emotional turn during the question-and-answer session afterward that left attendees visibly moved and resulted in a standing ovation.

The joyful and often hilarious 95-minute film traces the career arc of a Tribe Called Quest –- that is, bandmates Q-Tip, Phife Dawg, Jarobi and Ali Shaheed Muhammad -- from its humble Queens, N.Y.  origins to the pinnacle of rap stardom. To the jazzy boom-bip of vintage ATCQ tracks (that have not been even slightly diminished by age), the movie also tackles more somber subject matter, vividly illustrating the internal power struggles, egocentrism and battles of will that ultimately resulted in Tribe’s demise in 1998 –- the depths of which even the group’s longtime listeners may have never known.

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Sundance 2011: Sexytime in Park City

January 22, 2011 |  4:16 pm

The first Friday of the Sundance Film Festival is typically party time, the most Bacchanalian night in Park City. And to judge by the glamazons packed into Main Street’s exclusive Bing Bar -- young women teetering atop stiletto heels, wearing thigh-high boots, micro miniskirts and hosiery with visible garter belts -- it was also, as Borat would say, sexytime: a massing of would-be Paris Hiltons and Kim Kardashians, hoochie mamas with barely there outfits in strict defiance of the 9-degree cold.

The place was jammed for a midnight performance by Grammy-nominated soul chanteuse Janelle Monae. But if you ignored the North Face parkas piled in various corners and the occasional muffler, Bing Bar more resembled some Manhattan club or Sunset Strip boite -– maybe a disco party at Brett Ratner’s house –- than any kind of celebration honoring independent cinema.

Meanwhile, farther up Main Street, a sardine-packed crowd smushed into a subterranean space to chug free Crystal Skull vodka at Sotheby’s Chefdance party for Oscar host/graduate student/actor James Franco’s art installation “Three’s Company: The Drama” -– a jokey riff on the beloved '70s sitcom on exhibit at Sundance’s New Frontiers venue. They hobnobbed with the likes of actress Eliza Dushku, former Laker Rick Fox and Franco frère Davey Franco, secure in the knowledge they were attending the Most Happening Event in Town.

James Franco, meanwhile, confused and amused by appearing in various wigs, one a long blonde number (in homage to “Three’s Company” star Suzanne Somers) and another shorter auburn-colored one (a guest was overheard wondering whether the actor was trying to channel Don Knotts’ inimitable Mr. Furley) before getting onstage, a la hip hop fauteur Joaquin Phoenix, to rap-sing a song called “Chewing Gum” with performance artist Kalup Linzy. It included such choice lyrics as “You’re just a [expletive], you hot mess!”

Back at Bing Bar, at an event billed as an afterparty for the festival selection “The Ledge,” Monae took the small stage about 12:15 a.m. accompanied by an extremely tight five-piece backing band.

The eccentric singer was resplendent sporting her signature pompadour hairstyle, wearing a tuxedo shirt, bow tie and hip-hugging silk trousers. Her most upbeat songs manage to channel Cole Porter, Xavier Cugat and Jimi Hendrix in equal measure. But over the course of her short set, Monae brought no small amount of visual spectacle, donning a dainty bank robber mask at one point and joined on stage by dancers wearing ghost masks and black hoodies. Famous people including Susan Sarandon and Liv Tyler were seen conspicuously rocking out.

“It’s really strange that this is at Sundance,” commented Brinda Krishnan, a doctor-musician who has attended the festival for the last three years. “But nonetheless cool.”

-- Chris Lee

Photo: Janelle Monae at Bing Bar at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Credit: Bing Bar.

Sundance 2011: 'Knuckle' leaves a lasting impression

January 21, 2011 |  5:47 pm

The Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition entry “Knuckle,” which premiered on Friday afternoon, has a hard-hitting and relentless quality very much in step with its subject matter: the culture of bare-knuckle outdoor brawling practiced by Irish gypsies known as Travelers.

Exhaustively filmed by Irish documentarian Ian Palmer, who gained amazing access to his subjects over a dozen years, the movie follows a preternaturally charismatic –- but also seriously butt-kicking -– family man named James Quinn McDonagh. He’s given to utterances of the sort you hear in corny Hollywood movies about boxing: “I don’t want to fight but they keep bringing the fight to me!”

Which would all sound incredibly hackneyed were it not for the fact that hard-as-nails challengers never stop assailing his local renown as “King of the Gypsies” and his situation is as real as a broken nose.

As the toughest member of his clan, McDonagh is time and again challenged to defend the family name against other Traveler families in an effort to squelch decades-long blood feuds that make the Hatfields and McCoys seem like wimpy kids. Itinerants and nomadic trailer park dwellers all, the Travelers' pathos is compounded by the fact that the guys who want to beat the crap out of one another all are blood relatives. And their rivalries -- their deep hatred of one another, clearly established by taunt videos and DVDs the families send back and forth -- cuts across generations and divides households, as seemingly intractable as anything going on in the Middle East today.

(If the ethnic stereotype sounds at all familiar, it's because Brad Pitt portrayed one such Traveler pugilist -- albeit a character with an utterly incomprehensible accent -- in Guy Ritchie's 2000 action comedy "Snatch.")

Palmer found his way into the project by accident: He had been asked to film a Traveler wedding, McDonagh was the groom’s brother and by happenstance the director was suddenly exposed to the world of “fair fights,” as such boxing-glove-free punch-ups are known. They’re officiated fights that continue until one man is either unconscious, gives up or until it is judged a draw by impartial observers (“fair fights” stand in contrast to “dirty ol’ fights” that can involve kicks, biting and grappling).

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Sundance 2011: 'Fight for Your Right Revisited' brings the Beastie revolution

January 20, 2011 | 11:45 pm


The Sundance Film Festival’s "Short Program I" had no shortage of visceral kidney punches and visual shockers for the jam-packed audience at the Library Theater in Park City, Utah, on Thursday night.

Director Ariel Kleiman’s “Deeper Than Yesterday” provoked deep unease depicting the rage that lurks beneath man’s civility –- or at least the simmering hostility manifest in pasty-faced mariners deep beneath the ocean’s surface in a Russian submarine. “The Terrys” (directed by Tim Heidecker and Eric Warheim) presents an extreme slice of White Trash excess (“ice” gets smoked, Zubaz pants are worn, a surprise pregnancy results in a not-quite normal baby). And “The External World” (directed by David O’Reilly) shows us a video game universe where Japanimation characters find themselves in disquieting –- but nonetheless hilarious -- predicaments that play up an almost shockingly complete list of comedic taboos: pedophilia, genocide, spontaneous combustion and gratuitous pooping.

But the short movie that a large contingent of the opening night showing had come specifically to see was “Fight for Your Right Revisited,” directed by an individual named Adam Yauch. That would be the guy better known as MCA from the seminal hip-hop trio the Beastie Boys.

Yauch’s aliases are myriad. He sometimes goes by an alter ego named Nathaniel Hornblower to direct short films and movies such as “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot” and “Awesome I … Shot That.” And at the Indie movie distribution company Oscilloscope Laboratories, he goes by the title chief executive.

Yauch directed the 20-minute movie as a kind of bizarro companion piece to the Beasties’ smash 1986 frat boy anthem “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).”  The film follows actors impersonating the group in period-perfect costumes in the denouement to the wild party (where pies are thrown, Spanish Fly is dumped in punch and a TV is famously sledge-hammered) depicted in the video.

But not just any actors. Seth Rogen portrays the Beasties’ Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Elijah Wood embodies Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and a trash-talking Danny McBride channels '80s-era Yauch via four-day growth of beard and sleazy leather jacket.

The trio rob a bodega, spray beer all over passersby on a New York-esque (read: Hollywood movie studio backlot) street and generally raise havoc wherever they go, terrorizing a Who’s Who of movie bigshots in the process: Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Will Arnett among them -- but also Kirsten Dunst, Rashida Jones and Orlando Bloom (wearing a vintage Def Jam jacket in homage to the group's former record label). But the Beastie party mayhem doesn’t stop there. The “Beasties” are picked up by “metal chicks” portrayed by Chloe Sevigny and Maya Rudolph with whom they ingest whippets and drop liquid acid.

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Sundance 2011: 'It's going to be nuts!'

January 20, 2011 |  7:37 pm


As the sun receded behind the Wasatch Mountains Thursday evening in a fiery blaze of pink and temperatures plummeted to the single digits in Park City, the Sundance Film Festival began, in earnest, with the 6:00 p.m. screening of the U.S. documentary entry “Sing Your Song.” The movie “surveys the life and times of singer/actor/activist Harry Belafonte,” according to fest literature.

And with the simple action of having light run behind film through a projector before the darkened Eccles Theater, so ebbed the last vestiges of normality this tiny former mining town is likely to see for the next 10 days.

With the annual onset of the festival, Park City is transformed by the influx of Indie filmdom’s best and brightest as well as no shortage of ambush marketers; phalanxes of agents, mobs of publicists, impatient acquisitions agents; “the talent” as well as various hangers-on and well-wishers to the Celebrity Industrial Complex. Call it Hollywood on Ice.

Even though the full force of Sundance isn’t typically felt here until the festival’s first full day — Friday — and carrying on heavy and hard until Monday when most movie biz machers return home, all along the central artery of Main Street were displays of the town's engagement with movie money and signs of what was to come in following days.

Mainst Cadillac Escalades with blacked-out windows trawled the street disgorging well-heeled passengers in front of “No Parking” signs. And wide-eyed dudes in ski suits carrying cameras with wide-angle lenses kept vigilant; they would have thrilled to capture a shot of even a D-list celeb. But those Sundance archetypes don’t arrive until the clarion call of the festival's s swag suites has gone out (typically, around noon on Days 2, 3 and 4 of the festival).

One dude was dressed up as Capt. Jack Sparrow — Johnny Depp’s character from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise — running up to tourists to cadge hand-outs. And if you were in the right place at the right time, you would’ve seen “Access Hollywood’s” princess-like host Maria Menounos, resplendent in a fur bolero jacket, entering the VIP watering hole, the Bing Bar, in anticipation of recording a remote spot for the show.

Many of the curio shops and ski boutiques have been shuttered, as is the case every year, to become temporary businesses — Kari Feinstein’s Style Lounge, the Miami Express Yourself Lounge, the Variety Studio, etc. — a Neverland of pop-up branding in stark contrast with the scenic Utah environs.
Still, a sense that the real action was yet to come prevailed.

“The real mobs of people aren’t here yet,” said Tenalee Spencer, 23, who had traveled up from Salt Lake City for the festival’s first weekend in the hopes of sighting some stars. “But believe me, this weekend it’s going to be nuts.”

— Chris Lee

Photo (top): Producer Michael Cohl, Harry Belafonte, director Susanne Rostock and producer Julius Nasso pose for a picture before the premiere of the documentary "Sing Your Song" during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Thursday evening. Credit: EPA/George Frey

Photo: A trolley drives along Main Street in Park City on Thursday. Credit: Associated Press/Danny Moloshok

Nicolas Cage: Hair-raising performances from 'Peggy Sue Got Married' to 'Season of the Witch'

January 5, 2011 |  4:56 pm


Over the course of a freewheeling filmography that spans nearly 70 titles, Nicolas Cage has shown himself capable of astonishing range. He's delivered Oscar-caliber acting but also oddball affectations and scene-stealing surrealism.

Pretty much the same can be said of Cage's hair.

NicThanks to his love of cutting-edge grooming, extensive use of extreme wigs, bizarro manscaping and distracting dye jobs, the 46-year-old actor -- who it should be noted is himself, ahem, follicularly challenged -- has time and again conjured characterization through coiffure.

Cage's latest movie, the fantasy-thriller "Season of the Witch," arrives in theaters Friday. Click the gallery at right for a rundown of Cage’s greatest hair hits and worst comb-overs.

-- Chris Lee

Photo, top: Nicolas Cage in "Season of the Witch." Credit: Egon Endrenyi / Relativity Media

'Somewhere' writer-director Sofia Coppola: I wanted a really short, sparse script

December 21, 2010 |  4:30 pm


If there’s been an uncomplimentary rap in many of the early reviews of Oscar-winning writer-director Sofia Coppola’s "Somewhere," it’s that few American films in recent memory feature less dialogue and less action (at least in the typical sense) than this episodic drama about fatherhood and celebrity, which reaches theaters Wednesday.

Nearly 15 minutes elapse before a character utters a single word on screen. A Ferrari goes around and around a racetrack for a full three minutes in the opening sequence. And in a totally wordless scene that must mark a first in cinema, leading man Stephen Dorff –- as a dissolute B-list star living at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont -- is shown smoking a cigarette from start to finish in one long, drawn-out static shot.

Coppola’s stated intention with such filmmaking sounds reasonable enough: “To see how simple you could make a movie. To not be aware of the camera and have it not feel like a movie. To make a portrait of this guy at this moment in his life,” she said. (In a Calendar section story, the writer-director also explained "Somewhere's" personal and family resonances.)

According to Dorff, who was still puffing away on a Camel Light during an interview at Beverly Hills’ Four Seasons Hotel earlier this month, the process of making such a stripped-down film began with an equally bare bones script –- a screenplay he describes as “a 47-page pamphlet.”

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Justin Timberlake: I'm obviously not the best actor in the world

December 9, 2010 |  2:35 pm

He’s been a boy band phenom, has established his comedy bona fides as a “Saturday Night Live” skit-meister and was even considered, once upon a time in the mid-'00s, as heir apparent to Michael Jackson.

But as we write in a story in Sunday’s Calendar section, as Justin Timberlake makes the transition from music to acting, a new perception of Mr. SexyBack is emerging: leading man.

JT is coming off an acclaimed performance in “The Social Network" and has major parts in two upcoming movies:  the R-rated romantic comedy “Friends with Benefits,” opposite Mila Kunis, and the sci-fi thriller “Now,” directed by Andrew Niccol.

Reached last month on a day off from shooting the Fox film “Now,” Timberlake explained that roles as a singer selling out arenas and an actor starring in movies aren’t as dissimilar as you might think.

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