“If we believed what we were about was much more important than how well we played.”

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on January 24, 2009

Back at Sundance – Day #5

Today turned out to be music day. Not by design, really, but by this point you almost change your movie watching plans hour by hour depending on what films have tickets you can still get your hands on, how much time you’ve got to make it to the theater, and how vociferously the woman sitting behind you on the tram just trashed what you were planning to see.

So, first up – Jeff Lipsky’s ONCE MORE WITH FEELING. I wasn’t originally planning on seeing this. But then I ran into Jeff and his producer Paul Jarrett at a party. Here’s the deal: a few years back, I was part of the PR team that repped Jeff’s great (and despite our efforts, I still feel under sung) relationship drama, FLANNEL PAJAMAS. So, I was hoping I’d see him while we were here at Sundance, but I also had missed the press screening of ONCE MORE WITH FEELING so I figured that wasn’t in the cards. Well, the weird thing about directors and producers is that a lot of the time they have tickets to their own movies.

The film stars Chazz Palminteri as a successful psychiatrist who rediscovers a lifelong dream of a singing career thanks to the siren song of karaoke. Meanwhile his eldest daughter, played by Drea de Matteo is a mother of two being driven to distraction thanks to neurotic thoughts about getting older and not feeling attractive. Oh, and naturally they’re part of a huge Italian family full of quirky characters and precocious personalities. Because they’re Italian and those are the rules. Don’t even pretend like you didn’t know that. And then, Palminteri’s character confuses his singing dream for something else with his karaoke muse (played by Linda Fiorentino). Again, I think it’s more than natural to cross the line with your karaoke muse. I mean, you’re trying to follow the lyrics on that little blue screen, there’s pressure to say, bring sexy back and it happens. And there are misunderstandings and hurt feelings and we all learn a little something about…karaoke.

To Lipsky’s credit, his characters are grown ups and likeable and while a lot of the elements in the film are by the numbers, those are issues I had with the script he was given. I think it will eventually be one of those films that will play forever on cable. You know, the kind that you flip by constantly – always at the same point in the movie.

The other beautiful thing about the screening is that it provided that perfect cliché Sundance moment during the Q&A where some old person complains about every other film at the festival ending in misery or bloodshed and then praises the filmmakers for making the only film they’ve seen that left them with a smile on their face.

Of course, it’s funny to me because I giggled out loud during GRACE and WHITE LIGHTNIN’. A lot.

Anyway, back to the music. And next up was Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, IT MIGHT GET LOUD. This film is like shooting rock n’ roll fans in a barrel. Basically, three generations of guitar heroes (Jimmy Page, the Edge and Jack White) are brought together to talk music, play music and maybe learn a little something about karaoke. I’m kidding – no karaoke. There is a lot of great stuff to be had: Cool moments like the Edge doing yoga while checking his blackberry, Jack White describing how he took the bed out of his bedroom growing up so he could fit in more music equipment, and Jimmy Page describing how far ahead Led Zepplin was as he recounts their legendary fourth album (which included “Black Dog,” “When the Levee Breaks,” and “Stairway to Heaven”) garnering a one paragraph review because no one knew what to do with it when it first came out.

The film excels in illustrating the mutual love affair all three have had with music and the electric guitar in particular as each contemplates and discusses how fate and their various musical influences led them to their respective successes. My favorite quote coming from the Edge when he says, “If we believed what we were about was much more important than how well we played.” However, I can only give a mild endorsement because the entire thing was so manufactured that at times I found myself wondering how necessary the film itself was.

I finished the day with a screening of JOHNNY MAD DOG. Jean-Stephane Sauvaire’s fictional look at a platoon of child soldiers fighting a civil war in a fictional African nation is intense, visceral and unrelenting. AFI DALLAS Head of Programming James Faust loved the movie and wanted a second opinion, so it won my personal last minute Sundance movie lottery. I haven’t talked to him yet, but he’s not going to be happy. Three words will describe perfectly what I feel is wrong with this film: CITY OF GOD. Fernando Meirelles’ film is one of my favorites and this one shares many of its themes, yet is very pale in comparison. Add to that mix the recent award winner from AFI FEST, Kief Davidson’s documentary KASSIM THE DREAM, and it’s also screwed because that film delivers the real thing and thanks to that film’s protagonist, we like and care about the real person who lived through those atrocities and made it out. Even with his hands bloodied, we gain some respect for what it must have took to survive and then make it out. JOHNNY MAD DOG just doesn’t have the stuff that either of those films had respectively.

Worse yet – no karaoke.

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