Entertainment » Movies

@ the Sundance Film Festival 3 :: Fest in full swing

by Isaac Russell
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jan 27, 2010

The festival is in full swing. People all over town are comparing notes on the films. In his opening remarks, Robert Redford made it clear that the focus of the film lineup is returning to its roots: independent films with a strong message that leaves the audience thinking. The blockbuster entertainment movies of the last few years have given way to much more serious material, intense and heavy. Many of these films will, of course, find their way into your local theaters; but, be prepared to wrestle with ideas that are not always pleasant... like life.


Jack Goes Boating

Take, for example, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut, "Jack Goes Boating". In his words, "this is about real people whose joy is momentary but whose suffering lingers". Hoffman re-creates a small circle of intimate friends, leading quietly troubled lives... remember "The Savages"?

Even though the film is set in New York City, we see none of the typical high-energy, fast-paced, crowded, and glamorous New York. Instead, we see Jack (played by Hoffman) struggling to find some happiness and maybe improve his life a little, but thwarted again and again by his own inabilities and fears.

Despite its somber tone, the film is delightful, its characters memorable, and the contrast between Jack’s slow conquest of his own quiet misery and the carelessness with which his few friends face their own resignation all come together to make this a truly memorable film. Hoffman and the other three actors (Amy Ryan, John Ortiz, and Daphne Rubin-Vega) performed "Jack Goes Boating" as a live theatre performance before they decided to make a film of the story.


The Company Men

Earlier, I told you about "Vegetarian". Another film that sounds like it might be a "Wall Street"-like story, is called "Company Men" (starring Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, and Tommy Lee Jones).

Anyone who has been a victim of corporate downsizing or who has had to lay off employees will appreciate this film. It is a stark and honest look at the mental challenges of being a boss bearing bad news. Affleck really gets into character here, showing us the dark side of the C-Level Executive, the impact that corporate decisions have on the average, hard-working company employee, and the repercussions that doing unpleasant work have on a person’s personal life, sense of self-worth, and down into the soul.


Barclay Butera

One person who has experienced the executive’s perspective on downsizing recently is Barclay Butera. Barclay’s company is re-engineering itself now to cater to mid-range clients by introducing a line of fabrics and furnishings that maintain the fabulousness and the integrity of his brand.

Barclay felt the power of "Company Men" in a very personal way. His company was an official provider for Sundance, and he designed the opening night gala, called "An Artist at the Table." This sold-out, $1,250 per plate fundraiser was extraordinary in that it took over the Jewish temple just outside town, where Barclay lit the stained glass windows from the outside creating a soft but spectacular setting, for the who’s-who of the indy film industry inside.

Aside from one late-night party in his incredible condo, this year was a departure for Barclay as well. "We decided not to do the ’party every night’ thing this year. We worked with a wonderful coordinator and really focused on making opening night something really special."

Barclay’s distinctive approach to home d├ęcor is recognizable, whether it’s his "Desert" motif, "Beach", "City", or "Town and Country" styles, he brings a rich mix of the plush, the complex, and the simple, balanced to perfection. Such was the experience at "An Artist at the Table". His self-titled book has sold out and re-prints are forthcoming. Sundance is lucky to have such a talented and sensitive contributing artist.


High School

One film that clearly bucks the trend this year, harkening back to the likes of Ferris Bueller, Bill and Ted, or Wayne’s World, is "High School". Anyone who has a passion for zany teen adventure comedies will love this sure-to-become-camp movie.

First in line for Valedictorian at his prestigious public high school, Henry (played by Matt Bush) is on his way to a scholarship at MIT. Unfortunately for him, just one day after his first experience with smoking pot, the school institutes a student-wide drug screening, threatening immediate expulsion for any offenders. Through a hilarious series of events, he conspires with his old classmate turned stoner Travis (played by Sean Marquette) to get the whole school high, thus negating the tests.

Admittedly, some of the comedy is decidedly high-school grade, overall the film stays true to itself and while the message may not be what the average parents would like to communicate to their kids, it’s a fun ride, right to the end of the credits.

Stay tuned for more films and other fun stuff...


Isaac Russell is a freelance writer and photo-journalist who covers film, theatre, fashion, and the decorative arts for various online and in-print publications.


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