Sundance 2007: Another Sundance come and gone

The Sundance Film Festival slipped away in the middle of Sunday night after a head-spinning week of “wham, bam, thank you ma’am,” taking all its filmmakers, movie stars and entourage with it-but leaving behind plenty of those annoying movie postcards that publicists throw at you like ninja stars.

“Hey, Mr. Publicist, I’d like to interview so-and-so movie star. I’m from a college newspaper, by the way.”

And that’s when the publicist throws down a glass ball and disappears in a poof of ninja smoke.

Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly of this year’s Sundance Film Festival:

The good

David Gordon Green’s “Snow Angels” was as close to a perfect film as I saw at the festival; a tragic yet hopeful drama about a dying marriage (Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale) and a blossoming teen romance (Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby), set amid a bleak, snowy town where holding someone close to your heart is the only way to survive the bitter cold.

Green captures the quotidian details of everyday life with a naturalistic, poetic eye, and his script gives his characters lines of dialogue that somehow sound real but at the same time are bigger than real-metaphorical without sounding stilted. Rockwell and Beckinsale give career-best performances as a wounded couple whose relationship probably started out as optimistic and carefree as Angarano’s and Thirlby’s-a heartbreaking irony that makes us hope these kids bundle up and don’t make the same mistakes the adults did.

Also close to perfect was Andrew Wagner’s “Starting Out in the Evening,” which I wrote about at length last week. I’ll just reiterate that this drama about a rapidly aging novelist (Frank Langella) and the young, attractive grad student (Lauren Ambrose) who nuzzles up to him is a beautifully crafted, unrushed character study that says more about life and how our perspectives change over the years-sometimes drastically-than any other film I’ve seen in a long time.

George Ratliff’s “Joshua” has a lot in common with other creepy-kid movies like “The Omen,” but instead of going head-over-heels into the supernatural or the demonic, it merely suggests that there’s something not quite right about this boy and his obsession with ancient Egyptian mummification. His quiet, unsettling presence brings out the worst of his family; his baby sister cries for days on end; his mom (Vera Farmiga) plunges into hysteria and depression; his dad (Sam Rockwell) gets suspicious and abusive. Ratliff never comes right out and says what’s going on here, which is alternately frustrating and compelling. Is Joshua simply jealous of his little sister or are there evil spirits at work here? What is sure is the filmmaker’s ability to create a mood of dread in the disintegration of a once-happy family.

The bad

Andrew Currie’s “Fido” presents an alternate 1950s in which zombies coexist with sitcom families right out of “Leave it to Beaver”-a fun idea that runs out of gas about five minutes in.

Zombies have been fitted with collars that subdue their cravings for human flesh, making them ideal household servants. A June Cleaver-type mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) and her son, Timmy, fall in love with their “pet” zombie, Fido (Billy Connolly, who grunts and groans well enough), which opens the door for some obvious Douglas Sirk and Lassie jokes, but not much else. It’s like a zombie ate the brains out of the movie.

Also unbearable were Katshuhiro Otomo’s “Bugmaster,” a grueling hogwash of Asian mysticism that makes Otomo’s “Akira” look straightforward by comparison, and Peter Brosens’ and Jessica Woodworth’s “Khadak,” a movie about Mongolian nomad sheepherders that was about as placid and boring as a Windows screensaver.

The ugly

For Jarrett Schaefer’s “Chapter 27,” Jared Leto put on 70 pounds to play Mark David Chapman, the man who shot and killed John Lennon in 1980. It’s a full-bodied performance in every sense of the phrase; Leto wheezes and sinks into his doughy double-chin like a sunglasses-clad Stay-Puff Marshmallow-Man speaking whacked-out inner monologues in a breathy, one-note squeak that grates on the nerves. It’s sad that Leto’s commitment was wasted on a character that is so damned annoying.

Instead of approaching Chapman from a psychoanalytical perspective, Schaefer simply watches him during the week leading up to Lennon’s murder. I understand that Schaefer is trying to make the point that we can’t ever really understand why a person does something as insane as murdering another person in cold blood, but why pick someone as dull as Chapman to make this point? It’s an approach that turns “Chapter 27” into a long slog through redundant schizophrenia and not much else.

“Snow Angels”

Aaron Allen