Weekend at Sundance: A dim Future, but Troubadours proves King
The Sundance Film Festival’s first star-studded weekend included a blizzard, temperatures in the single digits, and a crowded movie scene. “If it is snow time, it is show time!," one moviegoer exclaimed.
Independent filmmaker favorite Miranda July opened her long awaited The Future in Park City’s largest cinema venue, the 1,200 seat Eccles Theatre on Friday night. The entrance was packed with paparazzi eager to snap July and her co-star Hamish Linklater (Matthew in the CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine.) It was the evening’s hot ticket in large part because of July’s 2005 Sundance Special Jury Prize for Me and You and Everyone.
I had briefly scanned the movie’s description, “30-something couple living in Los Angeles….testing their faith in each other and themselves.” It seemed like a welcome change from the movie about the abused chimpanzee I had seen the night before, Project Nim. (As an avowed animal lover, I can't bear to watch movies where they suffer.) No sooner had the lights gone down than I realized that the film was narrated by a stray cat that had six months to live. Yes, you read correctly. The cat’s first words were a pitiful, “I have never lived inside.”
This time, I had positioned myself by an exit. After seeing that the characters of the movie were self absorbed, immature and worst of all, boring, I quietly slipped out into the night. Most of the early reviews for the movie were good ---“whimsical, dark, brilliant” — yet audience reaction seemed decidedly mixed, with a comment on the Sundance website that it was so artsy as to have limited appeal. Amen!
On Saturday, I hit the moviegoer's jackpot with Troubadours, Morgan Neville’s documentary that sprang from Carole King and James Taylor’s reunion concert at the 300-seat Troubadour club in West Hollywood to mark its 50th anniversary in 2007.
Between 1968 and 1973, the Troubadour served as epicenter for a new genre of emerging artists that also included Jackson Browne, Steve Martin, Kris Kristofferson and David Crosby among many others. Frankly, just watching these artists’ first performances -- unsteady, unpolished but clearly talented--- would have made a good documentary. But Neville explores this more intimate, reflective and emotional music through a series of funny and poignant interviews with Steve Martin, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Eagles, Cheech & Chong and Don Henley.
The centerpiece of the film is the long term, affectionate (but not romantic) relationship between the quiet Taylor and extroverted, earth mother King and includes parts of Taylor and King’s Troubadour Reunion Tour—the second highest grossing tour of 2010. The film was shot in a way that made viewers feel like they were sitting in a living room with a bunch of music legends where each outdid the other in telling stories of a past rich with memories, camaraderie and shared dreams.
After receiving an enthusiastic response to the emotional and poignant ending, Neville began the typical question-and-answer session by announcing “I have a special guest to introduce--Carole King." The audience jumped to its feet cheering like they were at a concert, which is unusual for Sundance.
The first question came from a woman in the front row who passed a sheet of paper to King. It said, “Hi Carole, do you think some of your success came from the fact that you had a good alto singing partner in high school?”
Clearly King was delighted to see her former classmate.
As an unabashed fan of the singer, I asked if she plans to pen her memoirs. She laughed, saying to the audience, “I promise you this woman (referring to me) is not a plant,” explaining she is indeed writing her memoirs and expects to have the book done in a year. I can’t wait for my college friends and those who think Tapestry is one of the best albums ever to see this trip-down-memory-lane documentary.
The wonderful thing about Sundance is going to a movie with no expectations and finding a hidden jewel, although Sunday’s movie choice, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, will not stay hidden for long since it was purchased by Sony Classics, for an April release. Plus it is hilarious, clever and provocative at the same time. You will never look at the Coke glasses resting on the American Idol judges’ table the same way again.
Morgan Spurlock (best known for 2004’s Super Size Me) explores product placement in films by making a movie financed entirely by product placement, marketing and advertising. Spurlock, who got the idea two years ago when watching an episode of Heroes in which Hayden Panettiere's character was given a car by her father and kept repeating the name of the model, Nissan Rogue, contacted 500 companies to ask them to pay money to be in the picture.
Ultimately he ended up with 15 brands, with Ban Deodorant being the first and Pom Juice, Hyatt Hotels, and Jet Blue signing on. People laughed throughout the movie at the absurdity and brazenness of his pitches to major brands. Even a scene with consumer advocate Ralph Nader displays copies of Nader’s books.
At the end of the movie, Spurlock appeared wearing a suit adorned with all of his 15 of brand logos. He commented on the pervasiveness of advertising.
“Nothing is sacred anymore---we are always being marketed to,” he said.
On the streets of Sundance: Actress Cheryl Hines (best known as Larry David's wife in Curb Your Enthusiasm) when a fan walked up to her and gushed, "Boy, you are so much prettier than on TV." She laughed and responded, "You are too."