Utah is about more than salt and Mormons. Since 1978, the Sundance film festival in Salt Lake City has been one of the largest independent film festivals in the United States. It's premiered countless movies for the masses, more often than not with the casts and crews in tow. This year has a ton of great looking flicks coming out of Utah, some already securing distribution deals. I'm going to tell you about five that you'll want to pay attention to, because...well, they look awesome.
5. COLD IN JULY
Directed by Jim Mickle, Starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard & Don Johnson
In 1980s East Texas, two fathers pitted against each other in revenge must band together to uncover a darker truth.
Michael C. Hall (who you'd probably know from Dexter) has apparently risen from the ashes of a shitty last season of DEXTER and that forgettable movie GAMER to take a turn as a mullet & mustache wielding Texan. I last saw Sam Shepard in MUD, and he was damn good in it. This early review from Sundance has me salivating a bit:
"...action fans will have a field day with this. Perhaps the only bad thing I can say about tit is that Michael C. Hall's mullet-mustache combo is a tad distracting, but hey- it's the eighties, right? The setting also means we get a couple of rockin' hair metal tunes, and a brilliant synth-score, very reminiscent of Carpenter or Tangerine Dream. Hopefully action fans will turn out in droves to see this retro-styled thriller. It deserves to be big success, and with Jim-Bob being such a staple of Lansdale's books, hopefully a follow-up will be in order. One hopes so because COLD IN JULY is an all-out blast."
Directed by Damien Chazelle, Starring Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons & Melissa Benoist
A young musician struggles to make it as a top jazz drummer.
If you haven't heard of Miles Teller yet, you will. He's fast becoming one of this generation's 'it' kids, starring in PROJECT X, 21 & OVER, and one of the best coming of age stories of last year, THE SPECTACULAR NOW. J.K. Simmons is probably best known to the public as J. Jonah Jameson from the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies and ridiculous insurance ads, but he can actually act. This blurb from the festival shows you why I'm excited for this one:
"Teller is absolutely ferocious in his attack on the drums, on music, on passion. Same goes for Simmons, who (believe it or not) already had fest-goers crying Oscar for his perverse, craggily, in-your-face performance."
Directed by Kat Candler, Starring Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis & Josh Wiggins
When motocross and heavy metal obsessed, thirteen-year-old, Jacob's increasing delinquent behavior forces CPS to place his little brother, Wes, with his aunt, Jacob and his emotionally absent father, Hollis, must finally take responsibility for their actions and for each other in order to bring Wes home.
After BREAKING BAD, nearly anything with Aaron Paul's name attached guarantees my ass in a seat. Hell, I think NEED FOR SPEED is going to be one of 2014's worst, but I'll buy a ticket to support Jesse. HELLION, however, looks much, much better than that. Paul plays a struggling father to Wiggins's (a newcomer) Jacob. This is Kat Candler's full length debut, although Aaron Paul must have faith in her - he's also producing. This quote from Joblo.com sums up the reason for my excitement.
HELLION really is one of the fest's early gems, and will likely be a hot acquisition title due to the presence of Paul. Hopefully this one gets a solid release as it will likely strike a chord with viewers who will appreciate this unsentimental coming-of-age tale, which steadfastly avoids all the usual Hollywood trappings of the genre and always goes in unexpected directions.
2. I WISH I WAS HERE
Directed by Zach Braff, Starring Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, Ashley Greene & Pierce Gagnon
The story of Aidan Bloom, a struggling actor, father and husband, who at 35 is still trying to find his identity; a purpose for his life.
I'm excited for this one for a few reasons. First, I loved Braff's directorial debut GARDEN STATE. I saw this 4 times in theaters, still my record - it just hit me on several different levels at that time in my life. I hope that this time around, as Zach has matured, as I have matured, that it'll hit me the same way. This movie was the subject of controversy early in the year when Zach launched it as a Kickstarter (one that I participated in). Aside from Braff, I'm also excited to see Pierce Gagnon back on the screen, who blew me away as Cid in LOOPER.
I WISH I WAS HERE screened to a standing ovation at Sundance, and I'm glad that I got to contribute to the film.
1. THE RAID 2
Directed by Gareth Evans, Starring Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian & Julie Estelle
Formidable though they may have been, Rama's opponents in that fateful building were nothing more than small fish swimming in a pond much larger than he ever dreamed possible.
This was already one of my most anticipated movies of the year, but Sundance has shot it to the top of that list. THE RAID was the best action movie of 2012 and one of the best martial arts action movies that I've ever seen. Relentless, bloody, and fun as hell, a decent followup almost seemed impossible. However, Gareth Evans promised us bigger, bloodier, and better...a claim that Sundance folks are saying he backed up. Initial tweets and reviews out of Sundance are raving about THE RAID 2, calling it the "best action sequel since TERMINATOR 2", which has my knickers in a bunch. Here are some other mind-numbing comments about THE RAID 2...and if they don't get your blood pumping, I don't know what will:
"Gareth Evans just pulled off something akin to The Dark Knight of action movies. Unfuckingbelievable. The Raid 2 is insane"
"To deal with THE RAID 2, the MPAA is gonna need something heavier than NC-17. And probably some adult diapers."
"Gareth Evans is the best action filmmaker working right now. Full stop."
Other flicks I'm excited about that didn't make the list include The Guest, Camp X-Ray (Kristen Stewart proving that she can actually act?), Calvary, Locke, Ping Pong Summer, Skeleton Twins & A Most Wanted Man.