In contrast to its snowy environs, the Sundance Film Festival has been responsible for a lot of heat over the years, helping launch, solidify and re-brand the careers of any number of filmmakers and actors. This year’s belle of the ball might have been writer-director Courtney Hunt, whose debut feature, Frozen River, is about a struggling mother of two (Melissa Leo) who gets caught up running illegal immigrants across the border through a secluded Mohawk reservation along the edge of Quebec and upstate New York. The film wowed audiences and won the Grand Jury Prize, with jury member Quentin Tarantino famously confessing that it “put his heart in a vice.” In advance of the movie’s release, I spoke with Hunt recently about the sanctity of the festival experience, the hoity-toity nature of film criticism, and what to do when you fall asleep with the camera rolling. For the full read, from New York Magazine‘s Vulture, click here. More from the interview, and on the movie, next week.
More soon on the film itself, but the poster for multi-hyphenate Larry Bishop’s Hell Ride — a chopper opera from the Weinstein Company opening August 8 in top 20 markets, and starring Michael Madsen, Eric Balfour, Dennis Hopper, Vinnie Jones, the aforementioned Bishop and a bunch of naked chicks — is a beautiful, effective, sun-burnt thing that captures the dusty, Western-sun tonality and open-road throwback mentality of the flick as a whole.
It reminds me of one of those old, giant color-by-numbers posters that you get a kid to keep them quiet for an entire afternoon, and that are still on sale in truck-stops across the country… if someone lost all the accompanying markers save the orange, yellow and black ones.
A sequel to the 2005 big screen adaptation of Ann Brashares’ novel about a quartet of young girls who discover a pair of jeans that mysteriously fits each of them perfectly, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is a painted-within-the-lines drama that skates innocently by on its charisma, color and solid casting. Even more so than the original film, which was about the girls’ first, fretful summer apart, this movie plays out, though not unpleasantly, as a quartered anthology about the awkward bridge between adolescence and adulthood.
Interweaving the jeans as a symbolic chit, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 is basically four mini-movies taped together, with a fair bit of connective tissue. On soccer scholarship at Brown, Bridget (Blake Lively, of Accepted and Gossip Girl) goes on a summer archaeological dig to Turkey, then reconnects with her grandmother in Alabama. An NYU film school student who works part time in a video store, Tibby (Amber Tamblyn) suffers a pregnancy scare with her boyfriend. Carmen (America Ferrera) heads to Vermont with a Yale drama department friend, and finds herself cast, in unlikely fashion, as Perdita in a production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Lena (Alexis Bledel), meanwhile, attends art school. Caught up with new friends and problems, and flames both old (Michael Rady, Leonardo Nam) and new (Jesse Williams, Tom Wisdom), the girls find their commitment to keeping in touch, and mailing the jeans off after one-week shifts, tested.
In trying to peddle the discrete stories of each character, the movie loses the major throughline that would tie this all together — that of trusted old friendships fraying, and slipping apart. Screenwriter Elizabeth Chandler, working solo after receiving shared credit on the first film, succeeds early on in capturing some of the “can’t-go-home-again” feeling of college-age kids — of trying to share new experiences with people who have moved on in their own way. A big part of the problem, though, lies in the compression of three novels (there are four books in all, chronicling successive summers) into a single tale. For the full review, from Screen International, click here. (Warner Bros., PG-13, 118 minutes)
Filmed at the London Forum over the final two nights of the group’s 2007 tour in support of their most recent album, Somewhere Else, this two-DVD concert release shines a light on one of the United Kingdom’s better-kept secrets — former prog-rock peddlers Marillion, whose blistering live shows leave an audience full of appreciative, beer-swilling blue-collar-types chanting along for more.
I confess to not knowing a great deal about the band prior to this DVD, but one needn’t consult their AllMusic.com entry to divine the Tolkien-esque roots of their name (Silmarillion), or the fact that their deft touch with lush balladry is originally born not of strict compositional discipline, but rather a jam-inspired love of noodling and experimentation. At once brooding and cathartic, many of their tunes blend symphonic flourishes with straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll — a bit like Pink Floyd or U2, without the high-confessional aspect or grand-scale gestures. This release captures the group in fine form. The track listing from the “main” portion of the concert is as follows: “Splintering Heart,” “The Other Half,” “You’re Gone,” “No Such Thing,” “Faith,” “Thankyou [sic] Whoever You Are,” “Fantastic Place,” “The Wound,” “A Voice From the Past,” “Somewhere Else,” “Man of a Thousand Faces,” “Between You and Me,” “King,” “The Release” and “Neverland.”
Hearteningly, there are plenty of bonus materials in the form of extra performances. First up are four surround-sound mixes of Somewhere Else album tracks — “The Wound,” “A Voice From the Past,” “No Such Thing” and the title tune. Next up is a 38-minute special sit-down performance in Buckinghamshire, where the band was originally formed. Winners of a special competition are picked up at the local train station, and driven to see the band work through an intimate rehearsal at the Racket Club; the tunes featured here include “The Last Century for Man,” “Estonia,” “Faith,” “Neverland” and “See It Like a Baby.” Finally, there’s an entire handful of other tunes performed in concert at the Forum, including “Ocean Cloud,” “Afraid of Sunlight,” “Beautiful,” “Most Toys,” “Estonia,” “Easter” and the poignant “Sugar Mice,” on which the crowd does most of the heavy lifting with respect to the singing.
Housed in a clear, plastic Amray case with inset trays on each side, this region-free, widescreen release has a slipcover featuring a shot of the London Tube, with song credits printed on the inside, along with a smattering of photos. The audio comes in both stereo and 5.1 surround sound, and the production is top-notch, with a variety of fades and overlays creating a nice, artistic tapestry. For more information, click here. B (Concert) B+ (Disc)
Alyson Stoner, already a Disney Channel staple from five years on Mike’s Super Short Show, as well as a recurring bit on The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and guest-starring roles on That’s So Raven and Nickelodeon’s Drake & Josh, headlines her first movie in Alice Upside Down, a sweet and poignant flick aimed squarely at tween females.
Based on the popular best-selling Alice McKinley books by Newbery
medalist Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, and directed by Sandy Tung (Saving Shiloh), the movie tells the story of
11-year-old Alice, who has recently moved to a new town with her
widowed dad Ben (Luke Perry) and teenage brother Lester (Lucas Grabeel), leaving her the only
girl in an all male household. Alice imagines herself cool, confident
and popular, but in reality her life is full of anxiety, awkward
moments and overwhelming challenges. Missing her mom more than
ever during these confusing pre-teen years, Alice feels like she
can’t do anything right. Can Alice survive the embarrassments of being “the new girl” at school, as well as the
miseries inflicted by her stern sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Plotkin (Penny Marshall), and the dramas of her school musical?
Housed in a regular Amray case with a cardboard slipcover, and presented in widescreen enhanced for 16×9 televisions with Dolby surround 5.1 and Dolby surround 2.0 audio mixes, Alice Upside Down includes interviews with Stoner and Grabeel, as well as a brief featurette on the movie’s costumes. To purchase the film via DVD Planet, click here.