Among the films premiering at Sundance before heading to the Berlin in a couple of weeks are four dramatic narratives in the Berlinale Competition lineup. Two are actually competing: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Howl (and here's that roundup) and Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me. And two aren't: Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right and Nicole Holofcener's Please Give.
"The Killer Inside Me is unrelentingly intense, guided by a menacingly bizarre performance from Casey Affleck, and may go down in history as the worst date film ever made." New York's Logan Hill explains how "it's kind of like Antichrist meets Precious meets No Country for Old Men."
"Michael Winterbottom's staggeringly violent adaptation of Jim Thompson's 1952 novel The Killer Inside Me reaches a new extreme in the cinematic depiction of a psychopathic murderer," writes David D'Arcy for Screen. "It is hard to watch - and for some will be impossible - regardless of any psychological logic behind its many killings."
"Stanley Kubrick, for whom Thompson wrote The Killing and Paths of Glory, famously described the novel as 'probably the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered,'" notes Demetrios Matheou before turning to his brief chat with Winterbottom for the Guardian. "Not only does the main character, Lou Ford - all southern decorum on the outside; malice and contempt within - talk us through his tortured machinations, he also describes in grotesquely vivid detail the murders he commits. And Winterbottom, in line with the overall fidelity of his adaptation, is equally explicit."
"It's one of the most unflinching and terrifying first-person novels I've ever read," blogs Patrick Z McGavin. "It balances the nihilism of The Getaway with the treachery and murderous rage of Pop. 1280.
"Winterbottom is too cold a director to duplicate Thompson's sick delight, so the movie becomes a tedious exercise in grisly style," finds the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris.
But here's Noel Murray's take at the AV Club on what he perceives as the problem: "Winterbottom's a good director in general, but he lacks a personal style, which means that The Killer Inside Me often reverts to the look and feel of films influenced by Thompson: Blood Simple, Chinatown, Twin Peaks, and the like. The lack of a strong vision also means that the movie's graphic violence becomes ugly almost to the point of being gratuitous; and Winterbottom fails to enliven the endless scenes of men in hats muttering threats and insinuations."
"When the noose finally begins to close around Ford's neck, the movie is nearly suspense-free, as if it, like its protagonist, is psychotically detached from reality," writes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. "Calmly preparing its final, lethal scene, it never convinces us to care."
"Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People, In This World, A Mighty Heart) doesn't linger long in one place," writes Damon Smith, who talks with the director for Filmmaker. "Just consider the globe-hopping locations he shoots in (Scotland, Pakistan, Iran, Shanghai), the hyperkinetic pace at which he works (there have been 18 features since 1995), and the versatility of his films, which cover every conceivable genre from sultry neo-noir and dolorous period drama to near-future sci-fi and Gold Rush-era Western. But the restlessness extends to his personality as well. In conversation, Winterbottom is so voluble that he can be hard to decipher, the words spilling out miles ahead of his own thought process. He is, to be sure, an artist in perpetual motion."
"Introducing the world premiere of Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids are All Right, Sundance's John Cooper joked that if anything bad were to happen during the screening, 'there would go the independent film industry,'" reports Peter Knegt for indieWIRE. "His reference came from the fact that reps from essentially every distributor were in attendance, anticipating the last minute entry to the fest and one of its hottest acquisition titles. Cholodenko admitted she had raced to get it finished in time, but there was absolutely no evidence of hastiness on screen. The audience laughed, even cheered (at a soon-to-be-classic scene in which Kids co-stars Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo sing a duet of Joni Mitchell) en route to a rapturous round of post-screening applause."
"All those people showed up because of Cholodenko's reputation as one of American cinema's best-kept secrets," writes Salon's Andrew O'Hehir. "Her earlier films, Laurel Canyon and High Art, revealed her as an unusual combination of writerly intelligence and cinematic craft, but for whatever set of weird business reasons she has struggled to bring this scenes-from-a-lesbian-marriage comedy to completion, which took seven years from start to finish. Given the red-hot politics of the gay marriage issue, her timing is arguably perfect, and at any rate the movie is worth the wait. Cholodenko gets memorable performances from Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as the flawed, self-involved but profoundly human partners in a long-running relationship that's hitting one of those slippery, middle-age danger zones."
"Seriously, who knew that the usually somber Cholodenko... could do funny and breezy so well, or that the normally brittle Bening had such a facility for graceful comic timing?" asks David Fear in Time Out New York.
"Ruffalo is superb as a free spirit who has gotten through life on his carnal appeal," writes Tim Grierson for Screen, "But Bening and Moore are the real treats," argues New York's Logan Hill.
"Holofcener's fifteen-year career is an anomalous independent success story," writes Karina Longworth in Voice Film. "Alternating between highbrow series television (she's directed episodes of Sex and the City and Bored to Death, and Gilmore Girls) and her efforts as writer/director (including Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing and Friends with Money), Holofcener has achieved a kind of autonomy that's incredibly rare for a female filmmaker of her generation (or, really, of any generation). Think of her as a less prolific, estrogen-producing Woody Allen: though her films are not remarkably different from one another in tone, style, structure, and theme, she's creating a body of work charting the evolution of a life, and of a lifestyle. Like Allen, her areas of interest tends to be specific to awfully strict class parameters, but unlike Allen, Holofcener always deals directly with the fine nuances of 'comfort,' as construct that unavoidably bundles economic status with psychology."
"I loved the light touch that Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt and the excellent young actress Sarah Steele brought to their roles as Manhattanites trying and mostly failing to live well," writes Ella Taylor for NPR. "Almost alone among American women filmmakers, Holofcener has a startling candor about femininity - her women are bitchy, obsessed with their bodies, often unsuccessful to the point of being real losers, and utterly sympathetic in their efforts to rise above their own pettiness."
"The movie is short, and largely uneventful; people flirt, people bicker, people lie, people worry," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Please Give is full of moments that don't make it into other movies, as when Keener and Platt stumble across their blotchy-skinned teenage daughter buying makeup and watch her with a kind of awe, or when they decide to treat her to a pair of $200 jeans. I can understand why some people might find it faintly distasteful to make a movie about guilty rich folks who give themselves permission to splurge. Me, I appreciate the honesty. With Holofcener, I always do."
"The central dilemma to the movie is the question of what to do with people's possessions when they pass on," writes IFC's Matt Singer: "in that sense, the film is something of an American version of Olivier Assayas's recent film Summer Hours. Both movies spend a lot of time puzzling over the value of everyday objects. Summer Hours asks 'What is it that makes something valuable?' Please Give asks 'Is it fair to declare something valuable?' Holofcener examines the issue effectively, thoughtfully, and humorously for an hour and a half and doesn't ultimately arrive at an answer. I wouldn't have expected her to. She's not interested in moralizing; her brand of comedy is about observation, not judgment."
More from Brian Brooks (indieWIRE), Gregory Ellwood (Hitfix), Tim Grierson (Screen), Logan Hill (New York), Kirk Honeycutt (Hollywood Reporter), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Nathan Rabin (AV Club) and Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times). And Jason Guerrasio talks with Holofcener for Filmmaker.
Coverage of the coverage: Sundance 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @theauteursdaily (RSS).