Archive for the ‘Park City’ Category

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*Update: As of January 18, Mosaic is available for desktop users.

There has long been talk of applying the choose-your-own-adventure format of children’s storybooks to cinema. Various attempts have been made, largely by blurring the dividing lines between video games and movies, but none that have made significant splashes in the pop culture pond.

And that is what makes “Mosaic” — the new smartphone app-slash-television miniseries by Steven Soderbergh — all the more interesting; not for what it accomplishes but for what it suggests for the future of the medium. Having made my way through most of its episodic chapters and arrived at one of its two conclusions, I would say the story “Mosaic” tells is simply OK — perhaps 3 out of 5 stars if I’m generous — but its structure is fascinating to a degree that elevates the otherwise thin plotting.

The comparison to choose your own adventure books is incomplete, but fair. As a viewer, you’re not able to dictate shifts in plot the way a reader can; instead, you select the perspective of a character to follow through the next sequence of events. I’ve seen other critics describe it as “choose your own *protagonist*,” which is more accurate, as you travel through a static story and ultimately arrive at the same conclusion, albeit with certain pieces of information arriving out of sequence or simply alluded to as off-screen occurrences depending on the route you choose.

 

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But the presentation is also jarring, particularly in the early stages. By way of synopsis, “Mosaic” is a murder mystery, concerned with the whodunit after a celebrated children’s book author, played by Sharon Stone, vanishes following a New Year’s Eve party at her rural estate in “Summit, Utah” (a barely-veiled Park City, which in real life is the county seat of Summit County, Utah).

“Mosaic” doles out its exposition late, and then awkwardly. You start on your path by meeting Stone’s Olivia Lake, and are then presented with a choice between two characters at the end of each chapter — various flashbacks and additional scenes that add clarity are offered as optional detours within chapters — and if you primarily follow Garrett Hedlund’s Joel, as I did, you won’t even know who died, when, or how until quite late in the series.

And because the audience still needs critical information independent of their protagonist selection, Soderbergh is obligated to write in lengthy, momentum-killing monologues that state on-the-nose what has happened just in case you missed it the first time through.

There’s a lot of talent on screen here. In addition to Stone and Hedlund the cast includes Paul Reubens and Beau Bridges in non-POV roles. But no one really does much of anything, as the central gimmick of “Mosaic” means making 15 episodes (roughly 30 minutes each) out of story that can be told in 7.

Soderbergh plans to release a more traditional tv-format through HBO early next year, and I think the actual content of “Mosaic” will be better served that way. But I still wouldn’t recommend watching the show. I would, however, recommend downloading the free “Mosaic by Steven Soderbergh” app for exploration of the selective perspective model.

Why bother? It’s a reasonable question to ask since I don’t think the content is particularly good television. But while the recipe may not have worked out right, there’s no denying that Soderbergh has cooked up something special with “Mosaic.” And with more and more of our television viewing habits shifting away from live broadcasts and toward a binge-able, steaming model, it’s not to much of a stretch to imagine a future where you choose to dwell on the shenanigans of a supporting character a little longer before rejoining the main plot. Or what about a future season of Stranger Things in which you have the option of watching the show in its entirety from Eleven’s perspective, or Mike’s, or a demogorgon?

When the next episode in a series is just a mouse-click away, why limit audiences to a linear progression? In any movie or tv show there are scenes and footage that end up on the cutting room floor. Why not let viewers choose their own 13-step path to the finish line. We’ve already scene this is some DVD and Blu-Ray releases, where a click of the remote inserts a previously-deleted scene. “Mosaic,” in essence, is the natural evolution of the extended cut, in which there is no definitive “version” of a story.

Maybe I’m overreacting, and the many failings of “Mosaic” will put an end to this type of experimentation. I doubt it. I think Soderbergh, and others like him, are just getting started. So download the app, and check it out.

Grade: C+

Mosaic by Steven Soderbergh is currently available as a free download on iOS and Android devices.

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Green Room

Director Jeremy Saulnier prefers no-frills violence, free of manicured choreography and unrealistic precision. In his films, like “Blue Ruin” and now “Green Room,” the characters are clumsy, prone to mistakes and victims to unpredictable chaos: like actual human beings.

In “Green Room,” an indie hardcore punk band is wrapping up a tour when they book a gig at a forested venue popular among the shaved-head-and-swastika-tattoo crowd. After their set, they witness an act of violence that triggers a chain of events that sees the band fighting for survival against a small army of aggressors led by a chilling calm and sinister Patrick Stewart.

After setting the chess board, every beat in Saulnier’s tight script feels natural and brutally real. But the film is also full of surprises, as Saulnier intentionally steers the action into seemingly predictable territory only to have a sly reversal tucked up his sleeve.

Grade: B+

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The Lure

“The Lure” is a musical from Poland about two mermaids, Silver and Golden, who wash up on shore and find a surrogate family in a trio of nightclub performers.  Their act is a smash hit, but Golden clings to her past as a violent sea creature while Silver longs for a fully-human life.

Thematically, there’s some interesting threads to pull on here — immigration, transphobia, exploitatio — and director Agnieszka Smoczynska ties it all together in a package with no shortage of delightful atmostphere and style. Problem is, “The Lure” is not one for subtlety. And just when you think you’re getting somewhere it halts for a full-production musical number, which suffer from diminishing returns and lyrical work that suffers in translation.

Unique, for certain, with plenty onscreen to keep you entertained, but more memorably for its bizarre qualities than its actual quality.

Grade: C

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Swiss Army Man

On paper, the story of “Swiss Army Man” is full of promise: like the deranged blend of “Weekend at Bernies” and “MacGyver”. A shipwrecked and desperate man (Paul Dano) is about to commit suicide when he spots a dead body washed up on shore. The body’s utility becomes essential for survival, and he strikes up a friendship with the corpse as he searches for a way home.

But it becomes apparent, very quickly, that directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert and only interested in using their film as a delivery mechanism for 90 minutes of juvenile body humor. This is a film where most of the critical plot developments hinge on flatulence and erections.

The Daniels seem to be actively fighting against letting their movie become inadvertently good, making sure to throw in some gross-out gags every few minutes to interrupt what could have otherwise be a beautifully-shot, musically-inventive, psychologically-ambiguous piece of surrealist pop.

What makes “Swiss Army Man” truly offensive is that there’s the bones of a very different, and very interesting film under the layers of asinine filth. Instead, a considerable amount of indie talent is squandered.

Grade: D

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Under The Shadow

Get ready to start hearing a lot of chatter about “Under The Shadow,” the early breakout from this year’s Midnight category at Sundance, a quirky clearinghouse for genre films where Aussie import “The Babadook” premiered last year. And like “The Babadook” before it, UTS centers on a mother trying to protect herself and her child from an unseen evil that doubles as the physical representation of the mother’s anxieties.

But unique, and particularly brilliant, to “Under the Shadow” is that the film is set in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Almost every night, the lights go out and sirens wail as bombs fall from the sky, and that’s only the start of the bumps in the night. And the demon in question is, presumably, a Djin, a malignant spirit that blends religion and Middle Eastern folklore.

The period setting and cultural notes are just two of the feathers in director Babak Anvari’s cap. His film is a crescendo of unease, deepened by the political subtext and punctuated by effective scares that sent literal chills down this reviewer’s spine. There’s plenty to unpack in this movie, with the protagonist dealing with the death of a parent, abandoned by her doctor husband who is drafted into the combat zone and her own stagnant medical education, from which she is barricaded by the attitudes of her time and place.

Anvari isn’t about to explain what it all means, but his film holds all those threads in a tight grip while also offering a fresh spin on the traditional Haunted House  tale.

Grade: A-

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6:10 a.m. Woke up. I told myself that I could only hit snooze once…I snoozed 3 times.
6:30 a.m. Really woke up, threw some clothes in the drier – won’t be time later.
6:40 a.m. Wolf down some breakfast. Staying at my parents house so who knows what’s in the fridge. Something made of fruit and an english loaf of bread. It’s like a giant english muffin cut in slices, delicious!
7:00 a.m. Mandie is outside waiting in the car.
8:10 a.m. In line at the Eccles theater. Refill my Sundance Nalgene water bottle – gotta stay hydrated. Chat with a festival programmer about the festival.
8:43 a.m. Take my seat. I’m a kid in a candy store. My row stays oddly empty around me for quite some time, I swear I showered.

9:20 a.m. Lights dim for “Win Win,” here we go.
11:06 a.m. Film ends, great show. Q&A with Director Tom McCarthy. No Paul Giamatti? Amy Ryan? Lame.
11:46 a.m. Back in line for “Like Crazy.” Talkin’ shop with a guy named Scott who works for NBC. We get to the subject of the Globes, he thinks the nominations were as big a joke as I do. The guy freaking WORKS in 30 Rock and I’m chattin’ with him about the Globes, crazy.
12:01 p.m. Back in my seat. This time I’m sitting next to a couple form Santa Monica, very nice, they ask me about Utah.
2:00 p.m. Q&A with the cast and crew including Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones and some punk from Twilight, glad that he’s finding time to do SOMETHING of value.

2:45 p.m. Stop by headquarter. Free massage? No thanks I’m good. Soda and Granola bars? Well ok, I could use a snack.
3:00 p.m. Not enough time to go to main street and back so I step into fresh market to buy a sandwich.
3:45 p.m. In line at the Holiday Village for a press screening of “The Future.” No one interesting in this line, in hindsight it was a sign of things to come for the movie.
4:10 p.m. In my seat. Press people are apparently not as good as the public on the whole “don’t save seats thing.” Media, hmph, who needs ’em. This is my 3rd time having to watch the pre-show snowflake design and it’s starting to trip me out.
6:00 p.m. Movie’s over, heading to main street to kill some time. “Future” was so-so, odd looking people living odd lives and a very annoying voice-over Cat narrator. Yes, cat.
7:30 p.m. got to main street too late, all the venues have switched over to private parties and I’m apparently not legit enough to be on “the list.” Walk up and down a bit and people watch, huge crowds are pressed against the window of the Bing bar trying to catch a glimpse of ANYONE remotely famous. Maybe I’m just a jaded journalist but seriously, it’s not that big of a deal.

7:35 p.m. Street performer on a piano. He biked it up with some trailer rig. Impressive. More impressive would be seeing how in the world he bikes a piano DOWN a snowy main street. Props dude, and plays well.
8:00 p.m. Give up on Main Street, head down to New Frontier, some crazy “future of film” kind of thing. It actually turns out to be a little more interesting than I thought. Picture below is of movies projected on the surface of CDs.



8:30 p.m. Leave New Frontier, grab some asian tacos from a van. SO FREAKING DELICIOUS. Eat on the street while I wait for my bus and flirt with the volunteer with Blue Hair.

8:45 p.m. Check in at the Press line for “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” I’m early and “The Ledge” crowd is a handful so they tell me to leave and comeback in a half hour. I walk back to the Fresh Market and get a caramel spice cider – mmmmmm – from the mini-Starbucks inside. Two teenage girls with Arizona Ice Teas make a point to walk past me three times. What is the deal with Arizonas? These hipsters are a bunch of quacks, you’re 18! Drink a freakin’ soda!
8:50 p.m. Step into the Yarrow hotel on my way back to the tent to go through some of my notes and enjoy my cider. Enjoy it I do.
9:10 p.m. Back in the tent and back in line.

9:45 p.m. No one in line to really talk to. Turns out the guy in front of me is from The Onion (love it). He’s being interviewed by another journalist about a book he just wrote so I eavesdrop. Sidebar: the interviewers fly was down during the entirety of this interview.

10:10 p.m. In my seat for TGMEV. Fourth time today, little sleep, the Snoflake graphic is beginning to speak to me.
12:00 a.m. All done. Spurlock is the man. Now I just have to kill an hour until Mandie gets out of “Troll Hunter.” I head back up to main street but the crowds are crazy and all the bars are charging covers now.
12:45 a.m. Hangin’ out in the lobby of the Marriot. Refill my water bottle – gotta stay hydrated – and talk to Katie on the phone about all the men in her life. It’s not so bad, I’m actually half asleep.
2:07 a.m. Picked up by Mandie, head for home. It’s about an hour drive and then I’m gotta be up at 6:00 to do it all again.

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