The high and low points of Sundance

By Trevor Hale, John Fitzgerald

Independent films have been welcomingly invading Park City for a solid 25 years now, and 2009 is no different. The atmosphere at the Sundance Film Festival is a bit more subdued and the crowds a little bit thinner than past years, but it’s still the only place that the film industry pays attention to during the 10-day event.

Movies of all kinds8212;big budgets, miniscule budgets, short films, weird films, long films and a few that don’t even make sense8212;have been showing almost ’round the clock for the past week. Here’s our guide to a few to keep an eye out for and few to avoid.

“Big River Man”

Many call him Fish Man8212;and he tends to remind me of professional golfer John Daly. No matter what you call him or who he reminds you of, three-time world record holder Martin Strel is an extremely interesting man, and John Maringouin’s (“Jackass”) “Big River Man” is wildly entertaining, as well as deeply moving. It packs a heavy message, from a heavy character.

After swimming 1,866 miles in the River Danube, 2,360 miles in the Mississippi, and the entire length of the Yangtze River in China (2,487 miles), Strel decided he couldn’t stop8212;he needed another swim. 2007 was the year that the world’s greatest ultramarathon swimmer began the dangerous and purposeful trip of a lifetime8212;he would swim 66 days, more than 10 hours a day, and cover a total of 3,274 miles8212;he would swim the Amazon.

Filled with a perfect blend of humor and almost poetic determination, “Big River Man” represents so much more than an ordinary guy swimming the Amazon. Strel literally sacrifices himself to politely teach us about the direction in which fragile Mother Earth is heading. His own life represents and parallels a dying and polluted earth. “Big River Man” is a wonderfully creative approach to an often-discussed topic. Strel’s efforts are appreciated and well received. &- JF

Showings: Jan. 22, 5:30 p.m. Prospector Square Theatre, Park City

“Taking Chance”

“Taking Chance” is a fabulous film based on the journal of Lt. Col. Michael Strobl. Strobl (Kevin Bacon) is a highly decorated officer in the Marine Corps who decides to return the remains of a fallen soldier to his family in a small town in Wyoming.

I really think that the reason “Taking Chance” shines so brightly and pierces so

deeply is that it crosses boundaries, relates to almost all and tackles the poignant themes that everyone has felt at one time or another during his or her life. It’s very moving.

Unfortunately, war produces death, but like many things in life, it is just part of where we’ve been, and where we’ll probably always be as a society. With war, there will be pain, remorse, guilt, deep sadness, ultimate respect, ultimate sacrifice and the stinging reality of what we think happens, juxtaposed with what actually happens. “Taking Chance” is very good. – JF

Showings: Jan. 24, 11:30 a.m. Prospector Square Theatre, Park City

“The Informers”

Brett Easton Ellis has always been a writer who creates polarizing opinions. “American Psycho” and “Rules of Attraction” were both exercises in excess and are both films (and books) in which there isn’t really a middle ground. You’re either going to love it or hate it.

“The Informers,” which Ellis co-wrote and adapted from his book, is no exception to either of those attributions. The movie version, still set in the drug culture and pop music-centric world of Los Angeles in 1984, is, in short, pointless. There’s not a single redeeming character in the entire film, and while each of the stories are linked together (very, very loosely) none of them add up to anything. There’s no one to root for and no window into why this world is so fascinating or why it warrants an entire film. -TH

Showings: Jan. 23, 8:30 a.m. Library Center Theatre, Park City & Jan. 24, midnight, Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City.

“Humpday”

Upon first glance of the plot description8212;two life-long friends enter an amateur porn contest8212;you’d think that this is a direct swipe of Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make A Porno.” On the surface, you’d be right, but after actually seeing the film, you’ll be wondering how “Humpday” managed to be funnier and better in just about every way. That the two friends are both men and one of them is married only adds to the layers of humor that this film works on.

The humor and emotion displayed by both Andrew and Ben8212;as well as Ben’s wife Anna8212;are all awkward, genuine and flat-out hilarious. The film is able to perfectly mine the ground of two friends dead set on not backing down from this challenge and it creates some of the best moments in any movie so far at the festival.

If someone forced me to choose my favorite of the festival at this point, “Humpday” would be the clear winner. &-TH

Showings: Jan. 23, 2:15 p.m. Raquet Club, Park City

“Bronson”

Tom Hardy as Charlie Bronson, one of Britain’s most famous criminals, gives an amazing performance in Bronson. The movie oozes style from every frame and Hardy controls every single scene with commanding power. Think Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton in “American History X”) on speed and you’ve got a vague idea of what he brings to the table.

The film isn’t quite a biopic, but it does tell the story of Michael Peterson, a dangerously violent prisoner who has spent 34 years in prison8212;30 of them in solitary confinement. He finds a creative outlet for his rage through art, but unfortunately for too many people, it’s the art of violence.

Showings: Jan. 22, 9:30 p.m. Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Salt Lake City and Jan. 24, noon, Egyptian Theatre, Park City