It’s our first full day at the Sundance Film Festival, and sleep is already at a premium. By premium I mean non-existent. I for instance, am running on about 2 hours so if I sound more like a loon than usual I’m blaming it on a combination of sleep deprivation and the excessive use of energy drinks.
The most frustrating thing for me right now, and all of us on the CB team, is even though we’re running our asses off it doesn’t seem like we’re getting much done. Park City, while an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful place, seems almost intentionally crafted to slow us down. Vindictive bitch bus drivers and psychotic motorists accost us at every turn, and getting from one festival venue to another means choosing between never getting where you want to go aboard public transportation or trudging through snow and ice to get mowed down by psychotic Hollywood agents in the streets.
With so many obstacles in our way, I ended up wasting time, missing screenings, and only seeing two of the four movies I had targeted today. At least one of them was good, and the one that wasn’t came with the new Captain Kirk.
In 2003 Todd McCarthy directed The Station Agent, one of the best and most overlooked films of 2003. Now with The Visitor he’s crafted another little piece of cinematic heaven which… will probably be largely ignored outside the festival circuit. It’s a quiet, introspective little film about a quiet, introspective elderly man who, rather suddenly finds him smack dab in the middle of America’s immigration problem.
Richard Jenkins plays a widowed economics professor named Walter Vale who, learns to express his love of music by playing bongo drums. Wait, don’t go anywhere. It’s not actually that weird. Chance circumstances thrust Walter into the company of Tarek, a Syrian man and his wife Zaneb, from Sanegal. They have immigration troubles. Scratch that, they’re flat out illegal. But Walter, lonely and desperate for company gives them a place to live and befriends Tarek, who plays drums late-nights with a club jazz band. Walter, who has always had a love of music but no way to express it, takes an interest in the drums and Tarek begins to teach him.
The Visitor is transcendent in those strange yet wonderful moments when stoic, elderly Walter in his professorial duds starts grooving out with Tarek. Eventually things go wrong though, and Tarek runs afoul of the United States government. Walter becomes embroiled in the red tape of deportation as he tries to help his friend Tarek and his family. What’s surprising is that The Visitor manages to weave together all these different threads so seamlessly. It’s all at once a movie about music, loneliness, love, friendship, and yeah, immigration issues. Because there are so many layers to it though, it does what so few other films have done, by tackling the immigration problem without becoming preachy. It doesn’t set out to make a statement about how fucked up our immigration department is, it sets out to tell a complex story about interesting characters and in the end, from it’s very narrow perspective, makes that statement anyway.
Is there room in the world for yet another movie about wine? If the movie is Bottle Shock… then nope. Director Randol Miller has assembled an amazing and talented cast, but he uses them on a disjointed script which never seems to find its focus.
The premise, is based on a true story. Set in the late-70s, the film tells of Napa Valley’s rise to prominence in international circles when a British wine aficionado pitted California’s best against the most revered wines from the invincible vineyards of France. Alan Rickman plays the wine connoisseur, Steve Spurrier, as if he’s Peter Sellers playing Alan Rickman playing the character. It’s a weird and wildly entertaining performance, completely out of step with everything else in the movie, but since the rest of the movie isn’t very good he’s also just about the only thing worth seeing in it.
The problem is that the movie isn’t about Spurrier or any other of its many major characters. It never actually figures out who or what it’s about at all. Is it the story of a father (Bill Pullman) and son (Chris Pine) at odds? Is this a movie about a young lazy, long-haired hippy’s (Pine) love of a beautiful young, er, wine intern (Rachael Taylor)? Or is this a film about a rebellious Mexican youth (Freddie Highmore) who risks it all to make his own wine? Or is it about one of the myriad other plots and subplots woven into the film and never fully expressed or explored. Maybe it could have worked if there’d been something tie them all together, but there isn’t.
Bottle Shock Q&A
After the movie nearly the entire cast walked up front for a short question and answer session. Alan Rickman, Chris Pine, Freddie Rodriguez, Eliza Dushku, and others were in attendance. Yeah, Chris Pine. THAT Chris Pine. He’d just flown in straight from the Star Trek set, where he’s been busy playing Captain freaking Kirk. In fact he was so busy, that he wasn’t able to find a shirt that fit him. Or at least I’m guessing that’s why he had on a t-shirt which didn’t stretch all the way down to his belt buckle. That’s right, Chris Pine wears belly shirts and I was two feet from his belly button. I’m proud to be able to tell you, it was entirely lint-free.
As for the Q&A, here’s how you know you’re around a festival crowd. An entire question and answer session went by without anyone asking Pine what the new Enterprise looks like or hitting Rickman with “hey what’s up with Snape?” In fact, the only question not posed to the director was directed at Rickman, who when asked “Did you guys really drink win on the set?” responded in his trademark monotone with: “Grapejuice”. Oh and though Bottle Shock is a true story a lot of the stuff in the movie is made up, for instance a series of overly contrived sequences where father and son work out their wine-arguments by having a good box. That’s good news really, I’d hate to think these people’s actual lives were as blah as Bottle Shock.