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Quint at Sundance, Day 1!! Opening night film, CHICAGO 10 and a Slamdance short are reviewed!!!!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here reporting in from my first day of the Sundance Film Festival. It's been a bizarre day. I awoke early this morning, after only 5 hours of sleep, to get to the press registration just as they opened, fearing that there would be a mad dash for the premiere screening tickets for press and eternal long lines. Color me surprised when there was no rush on the press room and I was in and out in no time. I was already signed up for an AICN mailbox for filmmakers to drop in screeners, press materials, valentines and anthrax packages (#665 for any of you terrorists out there). The shuttle system was easy, the streets were clear and laid back. I thought, "This isn't so bad." After all the horror stories I had heard I was expecting a circus, complete with clowns (old ladies pretending to be young ladies), freaks (see previous) and animals of all sorts. I found my way back to the condo and took myself a little nap, one of the only times I'll have to sleep during the fest so I thought I might as well take advantage of it. I woke like Dorothy in Oz. Maybe I just dreamed of this small, quiet Mountain Town or maybe what I woke to was the dream. But there were hot girls wearing Blockbuster parkas, videographers shooting wannabe TV hostesses in front of the Egyptian theater, restaurants that I had eaten in hours before that were completely transformed and filled. It was a bit crazy, but I had to explore, since I had a few hours to kill before the fest kicked off with CHICAGO 10. In that time I found a poster for ZOO, one of the most talked about films of the festival. It's about what the polite society people would call The Horse-Fucking Phenomena. I'm kicking myself because there's no way to fit it into my schedule. Hopefully I'll catch it at a future film fest, like SXSW... if it's any good. But it could be complete shit and I'd still see it because the poster fucking rocks.

So wrong, but so right. So, enough adventure. Let's talk a little about what I saw today. My film intake consisted of one short film and one feature. I was sent a Slamdance short before I left Austin and packed it, hoping to catch it in between the insanity of the fest. The short is called THE CARESS OF THE CREATURE. At nearly 20 minutes it's not my ideal length for a short. I've found most shorts that run over 15 minutes usually drag. This one did not. It was shot in black and white and decides to twist up the CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON story. In this one, an obviously closeted machismo demolitionist is leading a team, blowing up the rocky bottom of a lake in order to make way for a subdivision. His squad are all beefy homophobes with their names written on their hardhats. All except one, an effeminate young man named Pablo who always stares off dreaming of "queer sea creatures." Of course one shows up and tickles the closeted machismo lead and the fun really starts. The production quality on this short is top notch. The tongue is always stuck firmly in cheek and the writer/director Stewart McAlpine uses the old school Universal Horror staples to great advantage, but instead of the townspeople being afraid of the creature, they're more afraid that it's gay. It's a premise that could be very preachy, but McAlpine stresses the fun and comedy. I gut-laughed throughout the 19 minute short. If this one pops up online or you happen to see it programed at a film festival near you, seek it out. Now on to CHICAGO 10. I must confess that I know very little about the demonstrations that turned ugly at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. I know the most base overhead, of course. Police put the beat down on some non-violent Vietnam protesters, but I knew very little about the trial. This flick, directed by Brett Morgan (THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE), wanted to tell this story and decided on an unusual way of doing so. They have some amazing documentary footage of the protest and the meetings of the Yippies organizing the protest, but this is all inter-cut with the big trial. Unfortunately, there is no footage of the trial, so what Morgan decided to do was animate the trial and cast voice actors to read the transcripts. The animation style is kind of SCANNER DARKLY-ish rotoscope. I understand the desire to tell this story. The trial and the preceding violent attacks by the Chicago PD are incredibly fascinating, showing America at its absolute lowest. It's an amazing time in history. Agree with the hippy movement or not, they changed things for the better. They went overboard, but in the late '60s they seemed to save America's soul. They might have done it to just shit it away later, but that's another movie. The trial was a mockery, ignoring constitutional rights of the defendants and it's something to watch. I found myself getting pissed, wondering how they could get away with what they were doing, down to physically gagging and binding one defendant to his chair. I liked the movie a lot, but I didn't like the animation stuff as much as I thought I would. Maybe if it had been a little more refined, but it was very distracting watching these characters' mouthes not syncing up to the dialog. Morgan also made some really bizarre music choices. Rage Against the Machine? I understand it fits with the message, but it just stood out like a sore thumb to me. So did War Pigs and I fuckin' love Black Sabbath. I think there's a brilliant courtroom drama to be made out of this story. The judge is the perfect villain, a 75 year old man (voiced by a totally unrecognizable Roy Scheider in the film) with some amazing biases. Abbie Hoffman is such a great character. I can see why the government was afraid of him. He was funny, passionate and incredibly likable. He was a leader. Then you have the real soul of the film, the most dramatic element to me, with Bobby Seale (voiced by Jeffrey Wright). He wasn't in Chicago for more than 2 hours and not there when the riots happened, but as he was a prominent Black Panther and was documented meeting with Hoffman the Yippies he was lumped in with the rest. He is routinely refused his right to defend himself and is humiliated to extreme levels. I know there have been attempts to make this with films like STEAL THIS MOVIE and even some TV films, but to the best of my knowledge there hasn't been one film where the focus is on the trial. It's understandable why Morgan made this the way he did. No reenactment could be more impactful than the actual documentary footage, no actor as Abbie Hoffman could be more charming than the actual footage of him fighting a corrupt system. To tell the story that lead up to the brutal overreaction of the Chicago PD this footage is crucial. But how I'd love to see a live action, smartly written take on the actual trial. Jeffrey Wright is already perfect as Seale and Hank Azaria works well as Hoffman. All the voice acting in the movie is fantastic, but I couldn't help but wish it was live action, to see the fire I could hear in their voices reflected in their eyes. Maybe some day. Alright, that's it for me. My slacking is over. One movie and one short today... heh. Tomorrow I have 6 films on the schedule (provided I can actually get a ticket to the midnight screening of THE TEN). Also provided I don't slip and fall on the most evil stairs since THE EXORCIST... or have a heart attack lugging my fat ass up them to get back to the condo every day. See them and weep for me:

I'll do my best to keep up with these reviews. Stay tuned. One down about 36 more to go in the next 7 days. -Quint

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