I got an early start today at 8:30 a.m. Yes, they actually show films that early up here. Between 8:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m I saw four films, each of them quite different from the others.
Five Minutes of Heaven
Like I was saying, it’s pretty hard to start watching movies at 8:30 in the morning. It’s a good thing that Five Minutes of Heaven was 90 minutes of genius filmmaking. It did get screwed with its timeslot in the press screenings though – early in the morning and on Inauguration Day. Needless to say the theater was nearly empty.
Five Minutes of Heaven tells the story of two men caught up in the conflict in Ireland in the 1960s. As a youth, Alistair (Liam Neeson) killed a man. That man was the brother of Joe (James Nesbitt), who witnessed the shooting as a young boy. Years later Alistair and Joe are grown men. Alistair served twelve years in prison for shooting Joe’s brother. They are about for the first time on an Irish television show that wants to film the meeting between the two.
For the past 33 years Joe has had to live with the guilt thrust upon him by his mother. She blamed Joe for his brother being killed. Even though Joe wasn’t older than 10, she still continued to blame him. The effects of this mental abuse can be seen in Joe as an adult. He’s constantly nervous and fidgety. He plays things over and over in his head. His undeserved guilt still deeply affects him.
The second act of the film — when Joe and Alistair are about to meet — is filmmaking at its best. Suspense builds and builds with an obviously agitated Joe and a shaken Alistair.
The acting here is superb. Nesbitt plays a man on the edge better than anyone I’ve ever seen. You can tell that deep down he really is a good guy, but he wants revenge. He wants revenge for his brother and for what happened to him in the aftermath.
Neeson, likewise, is great as Alistair. Unlike Joe, who wears his emotions on his sleeve, Alistair tries to conceal them, but you can tell he has deep remorse for what he’s done.
This is a revenge movie without all of the fighting and killing. Nesbitt and Neeson rarely have any screen time together, but the tension is still unbearable. What’s going to happen when they meet? That’s the big question, and the conclusion is perfect.
Star-studded casts are lures at Sundance. They draw the people into the theaters, but sometimes the audience ends up leaving empty-handed. In the case of The Informers, the audience definitely takes away very little from the film.
The film is a 98-minute journey into narcissistic nothingness. Set in the '80s in the middle of L.A., The Informers follows around a plethora of characters all of whom, surprise, have problems. Big ones. Kidnapping, sexually transmitted diseases, cheating partners, underage infatuations, and confusion over sexuality just to name a few.
There are so many characters and so many story lines, packed into such a short movie that none of them approach anything considered coherence or resolution. The characters are thinly connected to one another, but there’s nothing that truly brings them all together. There’s even a completely superfluous plot line that involves a young kid and his father in Hawaii.
This movie wants so bad to be a quirky character romp in the vein of Pulp Fiction, but it fails on so many levels. There is not one likable character in this film, they are all irredeemable messes who have no point in existing in the first place other than to be vapid wastes of space.
This film was one of the most frustrating messes I have seen in a long time. The best thing about the movie was hearing the groans from the press corps out in the hall after the screening.
The Winning Season
The Winning Season is a way to tell a conventional story in a fairly unconventional way. A local high school girls basketball team needs a coach. They are terrible team who never win. See what I mean about conventional? A team that needs a new coach because they are terrible? What do you think happens with the new coach? That’s right, they end up winning. But, that’s not the point of the film. The reason why this film is different from the other feel-good sports films that involve a new coach taking over a team is because here it's more about the personal lives of the players and the coach involved, rather than the winning, and the "big game."
The new coach, Bill (Sam Rockwell), is a drunk who is currently busy busing tables at the local restaurant. He’s divorced and barely gets to see his teenage girl once a week. He takes the coaching job mostly because he doesn’t have anything else going on in his life.
The new team only has five healthy players and one with a broken foot. However, over the next few montages, Bill shapes them into some sort of a team that can compete with the other local high schools. But The Winning Season really isn’t about winning or basketball.
I recently saw Big Fan up here at Sundance and explained how Paul was the most sad and pathetic character ever created. Well, Bill is right up there with Paul in the pathetic department, but the difference is Bill has some redeemable value. His character undergoes change, not only with helping the basketball team, but helping to better his life in the process.He becomes a better human being. He treats his family and people around him better, and maybe even more importantly he treats himself better.
The acting by the young girls is another bright spot in the film. Emma Roberts is brilliant as Abby, the leader of the team. She holds her own with her one-on-one scenes with Rockwell. Their banter with each other is humorous and real.
I liked that Winning Season found a new way to tell a very old story. It works. It’s delightful to watch.
Peter and Vandy
I don’t know how it happened, but Sundance picked up the same movie twice, just under a different name. Just like 500 Days of Summer, Peter and Vandy tells the story of a relationship. The movie jumps back and forth in time showing us the good, the bad, and the awful. The characters look back on their relationship with each other and try to decide if they were ever in love.
I couldn’t believe how extremely similar these two movies were, but just in case you thought I was going to give Peter and Vandy a bad review think again.
Peter and Vandy has a much smaller budget than 500 Days of Summer and some lesser known faces, but it is a solid little film.
Peter gets the courage to walk up to Vandy while she’s sitting in a town square eating her lunch. He’s a naturally nervous person who profusely apologizes for himself even though he’s not doing anything wrong. Vandy is a beautiful strong woman who falls for Peter after he gives her a thoughtful gift.
The conversations Peter and Vandy have together reminded me of conversations you could hear anyone have. I wonder if everything was completely scripted or if the actors did a lot of adlibbing. Peter and Vandy gives you the feeling that you are peering in on a real relationship, watching the problems of real couples.
Some people who watch may realize that they do the same things with their significant other. Fighting over little things, and letting those problems fester without resolving them can eat a relationship up from the inside out.
Peter and Vandy isn’t just a well constructed little flick, it is a wake up call for all those who have someone they truly love but take for granted.