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If you’ve kept up with any of our Sundance coverage so far, you’ve probably read a lot of complaining. We’ve been tired, we’ve been hungry, we’ve been freezing cold, and it’s been a battle royale between us and the city of Park City to get this festival together. Today however, was better. It’s Saturday, and this was officially our first good day at the Sundance Film Festival. Scratch that, great day is more like it.

We’ve all been hitting movies and press conferences like crazy. Today I managed to hit three, which is what I’m shooting for every day while we’re here. Three may not sound like much, but trust me, when you’re here it’s just about all you can handle. Even covering three films will mean I’m up till well after midnight. But that’s alright, because at last we’re getting the hang of this Sundance thing.

Below are reviews of two of the films I saw today. One was a real disappointment, the other a crowd pleaser. The third, The Wackness, blew me away and earned itself a separate, more in depth review which you can read right here. As for the other two… here we go:

Savage Grace

Savage Grace starts out as the meandering story of a wealthy, worthless family of society humping layabouts and ends up as a portrait in madness. There’s little redeeming here, though perhaps that’s the point.

Julianne Moore stars as Barbara Baekland, the wife of Brooks Baekland, a man who inherited wealth from his grandfather, the guy who invented plastic. They have a son named Tony, and Savage Grace follows the family over the course of a decade as the increasingly sick and twisted Barbara fucks him up. It’s based on the true story of the murder of Barbara Baekland, which I supposed is sort of a spoiler, but since it’s already happened I’m not going to feel bad about ruining it.

As a careful examination of what it would take to turn your kid into a twisted sex fiend and psychotic murder Savage Grace is a success. If you’re unlucky enough to watch it, you’ll leave with a cookbook-like knowledge of how to turn your kid into Jeffrey Dahmer. As a movie though, it’s a vile mess. Characters wander around dropping their pants for no reason. Everyone talks as if they’re auditioning for a stage version of “The Great Gatsby”. Julianne Moore plays Barbara as if she’s trapped in some sort awful, morally reprehensible perfume commercial. There’s no one to sympathize with here, not a single likable character. It’s a big ball of self-loathing, filled with perversion and both mental and physical child fucking. So yeah, it does a good job of hitting the bullet points of what it took to turn Tony into a sicko but it doesn’t ever provide any real insight into why any of it happens. When it’s not disgusting it’s boring and that makes it nearly impossible to watch.

The Great Buck Howard

It’s unlikely there’s any movie at Sundance this year that’s more star-studded than this one. The Great Buck Howard is loaded with so many celebrity cameos that it nearly tips over under the weight of its own star power. Colin Hanks presence as the film’s leading man Troy Gable is no doubt to blame. In case you haven’t heard, he has a really really famous dad. I imagine he has clout.

Tom Hanks by the way, is indeed in the movie. He has a pair of extended cameos playing, rather appropriately, as Colin’s rather disappointed pop. He’s displeased because his kid has given up law school to become the personal assistant of a has-been magician who goes by the name The Great Buck Howard. John Malkovich is Howard, a glorified lounge act whose claim to fame is that he appeared 61 times on The Tonight Show. Not with Jay Leno, with Johnny Carson. It’s been awhile since he’s been noticed.

The movie follows Troy and Buck on the road as they play a series of not-so-sold out show dates in small towns. Troy finds a strange sort of peace following around Buck, even though he’s a deluded, crazed egomaniac. Troy goes off to find himself and eventually does, but I never felt like the movie found its sense of purpose. Or maybe I was just too distracted by all the famous faces. The movie is crammed with cameos by everyone from Tom Hanks to Steve Zahn to George Takei. It’s too much, and the movie gets lost on the Hollywood walk of fame.

Still, it’s a crowd pleaser. Malkovich is funny as the preening, arm-pumping Howard, Emily Blunt is luminous as the obligatory love interest, and while Colin Hanks will probably never be the acting genius his father is, that Hanks charm still shines through.
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