Sundance 2012 Daily Blog: Day 10

Pulp fiction, breakout rappers and fretful gamers

If this were a movie, we’d be high-fiving in slow-mo while a rousing ‘80s rock tune (by Aerosmith, maybe, or AC/DC) screamed in the background.

For yes, we’ve survived Sundance 2012! We’ve seen 42 movies over 10 days, made loads of great new friends, and started asking for the ‘check’ instead of the ‘bill’. We’ve even been snapped with a star or two.

But before we head off to the glitzy closing night awards, we’ve packed in our final handful of films – and as has been the norm throughout the fest, they’re a mixed bunch of bananas.

The first saw some big names landing in icy Utah, as stars Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Dennis Quaid and Ben Barnes rocked up to the Eccles Theatre for the premiere of their closing night film, The Words.

A complex ‘story within a story within a story’ drama, the movie stars Quaid as a popular author who’s presenting excerpts of his new novel, The Words, to a theatre-full of New York bookworms.

We then follow the novel’s story, as struggling writer Rory (Cooper) finds a lost manuscript in Paris and decides to publish it as his own work, bringing him instant fame and fortune. It’s not long, though, before a mysterious old man (Jeremy Irons) shows up, claiming ownership of the tale.

Confidently weaving three separate storylines together (the third follows Barnes as a younger version of Irons in post-war Paris), writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal’s ambitious debut is impeccably shot and features a host of solid performances (Saldana is especially impressive, if underused, as Cooper’s long-suffering wife).

But while the film strives for deeper subtext, the story itself, though never less than watchable, ends up mirroring the sort of pulpy page-turners we assume Quaid’s character is known for.     

Earlier this week, Total Film chatted with the cast over breakfast.

First question: was Cooper ever as hungry for recognition as his onscreen counterpart? “I feel like I hit the jackpot when I got cast in Globe Trekker for the Discovery Channel!” he laughed. “So no I’ve never felt that. To make a living as an actor is the goal. At this point my professional life is just so ridiculous that I’m very grateful.”

We also caught up with fellow Brit Barnes, who told us about the perils of being typecast in period roles.

“If you go on IMDb and look at the trivia section, on mine it says, ‘Often does period films!’” he said. “That’s my tag line at the moment and I’m so wanting to change it, but then I get offered these films with all these great people and I can’t say no. I will do something in jeans and a t-shirt one day, I swear!”

Meanwhile, an on-form Irons – talking via Skype – admitted his reason for taking on the role: Bradley Cooper. “These young guys who are taking over the business… as an old man you have to try and keep up to date. If you can’t be them you have to try and be in the same shot as them!”

After The Words, Compliance kept the drama coming and had a great, unbelievable true story at its core.

Set in a ChickWich fast food restaurant, things kick off when duty manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) gets a call from the police. Apparently somebody is pressing charges against cashier Becky (Dreama Walker) for theft. But is the caller really who he says he is?

Initially gripping, Compliance has a promising start, but struggles to do its incredible story justice. While we’re assured the events are based on true events, less-than-persuasive scripting often means it’s difficult to believe that.

We ended the fest on a high with final film Filly Brown, which injected proceedings with some jive-busting rap music, and features a star-making turn by TV actress Gina Rodriguez.

In a breakout role as the titular wannabe rapper (who desperately needs some green to get her mother out of jail), Rodriguez delivers a fierce, chin-jutting turn that is sure to earn her a place on numerous ‘one to watch’ lists.

Despite some early fudged funnies (one music agent character is particularly annoying), Brown emerges as a gritty drama that takes a few daring turns in its superior second half.

So that's us almost done. We've chucked our snow-battered festwear (jeans, long johns, hoodies) into suitcases and scrubbed up proper for the Sundance 2012 awards ceremony. Check back tomorrow for our final blog, which will include our thoughts on the winners - as well as the films that were inevitably overlooked...


Film of the day: Indie Game: The Movie

If you're an avid gamer, you'll already know about Fallout and Mass Effect. But what of Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid? They're the subject of this enlightening documentary – so-called ‘indie games’ created by fanboy joystick-twiddlers who do their stuff outside of the system.

It’s revealed to be a perilous occupation as we get to know the four developers behind those three games, all of whom are variously reclusive, eccentric and super-creative.

Most interesting is Fez creator Phil Fish, an engaging, over-dramatic figure who’s stuck in a bitter rights battle with his ex-partner as he attempts to finish four years worth of game programming. He admits, with total seriousness, that if he couldn’t finish the game he’d kill himself.

Thanks in part to the four developers’ surprisingly frank input, Indie Game works as both an exposé of the booming underground game industry and the tortured creatives behind their conception. Toiling tirelessly with minimal sleep, these guys live for games – but don’t know what to do with themselves when they eventually see the light of day. Indie Game is as compulsive as the games it's about.