Old MCN Blogs
David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

The Reeler's Sundance Sunday: Brunch, Films and Phair

The bad news about blogging Sundance is that you cannot blog Sundance. I mean, you probably can, but covering the festival in even the slightest depth requires a time and mobility that defies you to lug a computer around, let alone scratch together a series of entries of any real substance.
But the good news is that if your life is crazy enough that you cannot find those spare moments to blog, you are, in all likelihood, acquiring some fairly decent stories to tell eventually. To wit: This morning, I flailed at the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle with its editor, Will Shortz (right), hanging out about 10 feet away. As you read here Saturday, Shortz is the principal subject of Patrick Creadon’s brilliant crossword doc Wordplay and something of an institution among puzzle solvers nationwide. But at the film’s Sunday brunch event at 350 Main, he was more honorary ringleader than evil word genius. I would have asked Shortz for an extra clue or four (EX: 104 down, four letters, clue: “Gunks”), but my virtually empty grid made it seem kind of pointless.
So instead we talked about the movie. “Yeah, it’s just great,” Shortz told me. “I’ve seen it four times now, and every time, my heart still races at the end, and I’m sweating, and I know what’s going to happen. I was there!” As far as being one of Sundance ’06’s unlikeliest stars, Shortz deferred to the puzzle itself and said he was just happy to be able to support it. When I asked if he thought he would continue promoting Wordplay on the road after the film receives distribution (and it will receive distribution), Shortz shrugged. “It was hard for me to get the time to be out here for this,” he said. “I’ve got a full-time job and the (American Crossword Puzzle) Tournament coming up in March. But I’m going to do what I can.”
At least Shortz was making the most of his time at Sundance, providing not only the inspiration for Wordplay but also more than a dozen of his puzzle books in a contest during brunch. Naturally, I lost, but the editor of the Park Record snapped a picture of me with the crossword guru that she promised to e-mail, so we’ll see if that brief photographic instant yields some kind of vocab karma for me in the future. God knows I need it.

Half Nelson, Full House: Director Ryan Fleck (with mic) joins partner Anna Boden and partial cast and crew following their film’s Racquet Club premiere (Photos: STV)

Speaking of the future, Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson is The King Shit among the dramatic competition films I have seen thus far. Yep–all three of them. Anyway, I was blessed to catch yesterday’s premiere out at the Racquet Club, where Fleck and co-writer/producer Anna Boden joined a huge chunk of their cast (including 16-year-old Shareeka Epps, the star of Half Nelson’s Jury Prize-winning short predecessor, Gowanus, Brooklyn) and crew for a post-screening Q&A. As we recently discovered, Fleck and Boden are exemplars of modesty, and their urge to let the film speak for itself did not shift too dramatically from last week to this week. And while I will have more about the actual film film tomorrow, today we have Fleck sourcing out the root of his and Boden’s story.

“Four years ago,” Fleck said, “Anna and I were just really frustrated with what was happening in the country, and we decided that we wanted to do something about it. So we were going to take up arms and start a revolution, but that seemed pretty dangerous. So we decided to write a script about a guy who is also frustrated and who decided to teach as a way to change the world. But that sounded really boring; nobody wanted to see that movie because we’ve seen that before? So we made him a drug addict. And we’d written the feature first, so we made the short, which is more about Shareeka’s character and her process of seeing her teacher in this situation. That’s basically the difference in the short. That and an hour and 20 minutes’ difference.”
I stuck around at the Racquet Club for another hour after Half Nelson, waiting for the premiere of So Yong Kim’s feature debut In Between Days. Kim, a New Paltz resident who co-wrote the film with her partner Bradley Rust Gray, brings a thoroughly minimalist eye to her story of a Korean teenage girl (Jiseon Kim) who endures an encroaching isolation from her family, her crush (Taegu Andy Kang) and Western society as a whole.

In portraying her character Aimie’s devastating loneliness against the film’s frigid, anonymous urban landscape, newcomer Jiseon Kim (left) dominates Days from its first frame to its last. A non-professional whom the director discovered working at a cafeteria in New Jersey, Kim bolts from lost to found to virtually disappeared as the story unfolds. Her unrequited love is not so much a rebuke as much as it is a denial; losing her best male friend (indeed, her only friend) to sort of an Americanized analogue crystallizes her alienation pretty much forever.
In the end, when Kim’s mildly aghast face reflects the choice she must make between her past and some abstract future, the viewer suddenly realizes how invested he or she is in young Aimie’s decision. And even as she explained to the Sundance audience that she was initially put off by how “stupid” and “embarrassing” her character was, she clearly got the part. She understood it and inhabited it. In Between Days might wind up one of the festival’s tougher sells, but anyone with eyes or a heart will latch onto Jiseon Kim. Her performance is guaranteed to be one of this year’s most transcendent.

Then there was the party. No, no, no–not the All-Star Composers Jam Session Folk-Hack-Jerk-Off-A-Thon (right), but the Barclay Butera/Hollywood Life/Insert Sponsor Here party at a grossly overrun Gateway Center. This is the one honoring Sundance’s “must-see dramas” like Flannel Pajamas, Steel City, The Proposition and others, except that producers from a few of those films were walking around muttering complaints like “Fucking bullshit” or “God, total clusterfuck” under their breath to me as they struggled to get their guests (and, in at least two cases, themselves) past the nylon stanchion.

Liz Phair (right): Now available for film festivals, weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate retreats…

In the end, The Reeler penetrated the handstamp armada, where folks like Nick Cave, Tim Hutton, Murderball co-director Dana Adam Shapiro and–for a mintue or so–Nick Nolte braved the crowd gathered to hear headliner Liz Phair crank out some ditties with her shaggy underage boyfriend harmonic acoustic accompanist. I knew none of the songs, but the drunkest people in the room pretended to, so we inherited Phair’s rock show sing-along vibe mostly intact. After Phair’s set, however, the cool people wound up in an even more congested VIP are across the corridor, leaving my colleague Ray Pride and I stranded in the quickly restored Queer Lounge. The lipstick lesbians stopped kissing soon enough, however, and the next bus out of Main Street was our bus home.
And to think it all started innocently with a crossword puzzle and brunch. This place will corrupt anyone. Anyone!

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon