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By John Wildman | January 22, 2012




MADRID, 1987




I felt a little bad that my first report had a ridiculously long build up before I got to my first reviews, so we’re gonna kick this one off immediately…


Directed by Lise Birk Pedersen, PUTIN’S KISS is a documentary that takes a look at the new Russia, or more precisely the nationalist youth movement called Nashi.  Told chiefly through the eyes, words and testimony of journalist/blogger Oleg Kashin and Masha Drokova, a young woman raised in Putin’s Russia and at one time, a rising star in Nashi, the film is a not-so-shocking indictment on a side of Putin’s government and the realities of what they describe as Russia’s “special democracy”.

We see Masha’s indoctrination into Nashi – a world of summer camp-type activities and esteem building exercises aimed – barely on the surface – at creating an energetic and motivated group of young people to lead the next generation. However, what we soon learn is that Nashi is largely a reimagined Nazi brownshirts organization, bent on (at best) supporting the Putin government’s efforts to improve living conditions in Russia through on-the-ground manpower and (at much worse) violently working to disrupt and prevent any political opposition to the government.

Under the leadership of Putin’s Goebbels-style message master Vasily Yakamenov, Nashi’s hooligan’s tactics range from literally defecating on the car hoods of political opponents to staging violent flash mobs to disrupt any anti-Putin rallies to beating up the politicians under cover of night. And all – shrewdly done in a way that none of it can officially be pinned on Nashi or Yakamenov.

We see Masha’s initial adoration of everything Putin and rise as one of the star spokespeople for Nashi devolve into apologetic support for the organization, to disappointment and disillusionment, to her eventual exit following an attack on Kashin that nearly left him for dead.

PUTIN’S KISS has a subject that’s more than compelling and depending on how much news you pay attention to outside of our borders, eye-opening. Unfortunately, the impact of the film is muted somewhat since Masha is never forced to really confront the truth of what has gone on either factually or emotionally despite the many times she is on-camera being interviewed. And because Pedersen soft-pedals her approach to Masha, we are left making academic assessments, as opposed to being more thoroughly impacted by the subject.

How will it fare in the real world:
I would be really surprised if PUTIN’S KISS had any kind of substantial play on the big screen. Possibly a cup of coffee in art houses in New York. Other than that, television seems to be the likely destination.


So, then it was time to get some business out of the way. And by business, I mean the all-important get my wife Justina some Sundancy swag. This is a duty not to be shirked, as you don’t want the film fest gift to smack of the half-assed and distracted tchotchke grab from the airport gift shop (“A generic shot glass with the name of a city I’ve never been to on it! Great?” or “A googly-eyed figurine made of sea shells! You shouldn’t have! No, I’m being serious here – you shouldn’t have.”) So, even the t-shirt purchase takes due diligence. Fortunately, the Sundance gift shop helpers have been instructed emphatically to warn (guys in particular) everyone that if they get the women’s long sleeved thermal shirts that they should get one size bigger because they run small. I discovered this after comparing notes back at the Dallas House. Three of us each got the same dire warning. The funny thing is getting that info just heightens the gift-giving anxiety for any guy. Because now he runs the risk of potentially “insulting” his girlfriend or wife due to the heinousness of the letter on the neck of that shirt being an “M” versus a “S”, or God forbid an “L”. But what if you choose un- sizely (See what I did there?) and it’s literally too small to fit right? Wasted money. Bad gift. Lame-a*s boyfriend or husband. Doghouse.

I took the salesgirl’s advice: Go big and go home.


Directed by Todd Louiso, HELLO I MUST BE GOING stars Melanie Lynsky as woman so blindsided and demoralized by divorce that she has holed up in her parent’s house and practically refused to go outside again, let alone change the t-shirt she’s wearing for three months. Everyone, including her overbearing mom (Blythe Danner) has their always unsolicited versions of sage advice on how to break out of the rut and move on. But none of it is helpful in the least and nothing seems as though it has a shot in hell of sparking her life again until a dinner party for her father’s prospective client introduces her to the client’s 19-year old stepson.  What is an improbable lust-filled romance that serves to steadily ratchet up the complications in her life as well as re-awaken her long dormant self-esteem.

HELLO I MUST BE GOING is charming almost to a fault. It features a wonderful performance by Lynsky, frequently a reliable and effective supporting character actress in countless films and televisions shows – especially comedies. She personifies awkward charm and inhabits the role in a way that allows us maximum understanding of her frustrations and plight and makes each new hurdle or misstep delightfully excruciating. The drawback of the film is a script that is too proud of its cleverness by half. There are lines (in fact, nearly every other one uttered by Danner’s character) that you could imagine being tossed around a writer’s room for a three-camera sit com. If only there were an emoticon for “eye roll”… But, that quibble is not enough to keep me from recommending the film. It may not be a full comedy meal, but it’s a more than satisfying entrée.

How will it fare in the real world:
I think this one hits the multiplexes. No, it doesn’t have an above title star, but with modest expectations and a modest sales job, it could easily be an effective date movie. And there are lots of jokes about pretentious moneyed people and the flyover states love it when they can mock those well-to-do artsy types, right?


I hadn’t done a Sundance party yet, and James Faust and Sarah Harris had been asking me if I was planning on going to the AFI party. Likely not, was my reply since I wasn’t invited and wouldn’t be on the list and by this point, any one that worked with me at AFI that was a “friendly” now worked with me at Film Society. This will be shocking to my mom and my cats but not everyone thinks I’m good cuddly fun. And, to be honest, the cats are pretty ambivalent about it all. But then I thought, this was a can’t lose proposition: if they gave me the bum rush at the door, then that would be fun to write about.

So, off I went with James and Sarah, and then wouldn’t you know…working the door was Neha Shah who I had worked with at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. I loved doing PR for that film fest (one of the top-to-bottom truly fun film festivals in L.A.) and the lovely and stunning Neha was one of my favorite people there. So – that just threw a little wrench into any AFI ices John Wildman scenarios I could have imagined and after some quick catching up with Neha into the party I went.

Now, here is where it gets fun. Immediately, and in quick succession I ran into two AFI people who are not fans and they did a social move that was new to me. It works like this: At a party (lots of people are around) you greet the person you don’t like, you exchange about two complete sentences of pleasantries or acknowledgement of what each person is currently up to and then, without the slightest transition or official closing statement, you either pivot and exit or move past the person and greet and begin a conversation with someone else you would rather talk to. It was awesome in its ruthless efficiency.

After that, I caught up with Disney’s John Bernstein, who was on the Emerging Artists jury with me at Denver Starz and he made a kind attempt at reassuring me that I wasn’t the lamest film fest guy on the planet as I recounted my meet n’ greet blunder with the GREEN team the day before (see Sundance report #1 for the entertaining at my expense play-by-play). Then, it was a happy reunion with David Ebersole and Todd Hughes, the director and producer of HIT SO HARD, the great doc about Hole drummer Patty Schemel that premiered at New Directors/New Films last year. HIT SO HARD is about to hit theaters and I’m not privately at all hoping it will play at Film Society’s Film Center. Then it was a chat ‘em ups with Amazon/ IMDB’s festival ambassador Christian Gaines and AFI’s Lane Kneedler before I hightailed it out of there for my next screening.


MADRID, 1987
David Trueba’s MADRID, 1987 begins as a revered and slightly notorious older journalist meets with a much younger and beautiful journalism student who had recently interviewed him for a project. He convinces her to accompany him to a friend’s studio with an implied intention to have sex and once there, a series of things occur that result in the two of them being locked naked in the studio’s bathroom.

So – bluntly, what you’ve got here is an erotic Spider and the Fly story, as the old man weaves a verbal web to try and coax the girl into having sex with him. At its best, the film verges on MY DINNER WITH ANDRE territory, if Wallace Shawn was recast as an incredibly beautiful and naked Spanish girl.

Admittedly, that is at its best. Ultimately, this is still a two-hander drama, taking place in a single cramped room. Yes, they are naked. More importantly – she is. But it is really difficult to sustain that over a 104 minute running time. And the performances by Jose Sacristan and Maria Valverde are effective and affecting as they negotiate the inevitable power shifts the two characters enjoy over each other in their enforced sexual parlor game. But it does run out of steam toward the end.

How will it fare in the real world:
There is enough titillation combined with artistic ambition for this to get some specialized art house love (so to speak). If not, I can imagine there’s enough catnip to encourage some VOD and pay-per view traffic.


Following the screening, as I exited the Holiday theaters, a teenager approaches me and asks if I need a ride anywhere as he and a buddy were giving free rides. Sure, I’m game. So, I get in their unmarked (with any Sundance or promotional company logos) SUV and off we go. Now, my mind naturally gravitates toward them taking me to some cult enclave where I’ll be imprisoned and forced to watch Garry Marshall holiday romance movies on a never ending loop or killed. And it’s a toss up as to which fate would be worse.

But as it turned out, they were high school film students taking an enterprising approach just to be able to meet various film people in Park City for the festival. I learned they had recently made a little homage to EVIL DEAD 2 which I would put money on before that remake thing that Diablo Cody is doing. So, aspiring film writer Eric Coley and his driver and apparently frequent film project acting lead, John Paul Chunga, I wish you and your fellow film group members Russell Brockmeyer and Kaspar Kubica (whose name I’m sure you guys made up to get more attention) much luck. Now get working on that OLD BOY homage, and beat Spike Lee to the punch.

Anyway, back to the screenings…

It was time to do the snowy march up Main Street to the Egyptian to see my first midnight movie of the fest. Finally. As it turned out, it would be a group-watch affair with Indie Wire’s Nigel Smith, Film Comment’s Laura Kern and Movie City News’ Kim Voynar bracing ourselves for the horror. There were enough genre-friendly press, programmers and acquisition execs there that we could have just labeled the screening Spooky-Con. But first, we had a short film to warm us up.


Directed by Kelly Sears, the subject of more than a couple film fest programmer crushes, due to her delivering the goods both talent-wise and personality-wise in a very attractive package, ONCE IT STARTED IT COULD NOT END OTHERWISE is another winner. Utilizing old yearbook photos with hammer home the horror music and so stark it leaves paper cuts photography, the film tells an ever escalating story of foreboding and tragedy that has only been revealed through a thorough investigation of the yearbooks’ contents. It is equal parts funny and creepy and looks as though it could’ve been the second creature birthed in ERASERHEAD. If you are at a fest and it is playing in a shorts block, then that will give you all the clue you need that your choice has been made for you as far as which shorts package to sit your a*s down in front of.


Directed by Nicholas McCarthy, THE PACT began as a short film (with the same title) that premiered exactly a year ago at Sundance as well. That is a remarkable turnaround from short to feature and thank goodness because this one was fun and the first film I’ve seen here that I outright loved.

The film stars newcomer Caity Lotz (who resembles a cuter version of 70s supermodel and Keith Richards’ wife, Patti Hansen) as a young woman returning to her childhood home under protest to attend her abusive mother’s funeral as a favor to her older sister. However, before the funeral, her sister and then, a cousin both disappear from the house with no trace and no explanation. Oh, and there’s this invisible force in there playing havoc with things as well.

From there, she enlists the aid of grizzled cop Caspar Van Dien (campaigning to become the next “Jeff Fahey”) and a high school friend from her past with some psychic abilities. Because, let’s face it – you want to cover all the bases when you’re dealing with missing relatives AND poltergeists. What follows is a terrifying trip down the rabbit hole of the past wrongs and evil that has led to this mystery.

THE PACT is a first feature and at times there can be some clumsiness, but it works as a thriller, it effectively delivers the creepy builds, the jolts in the night, and the “holy crap!” moments. Better than that, it gives a solid history and cause and effect to inspire the horror within the haunted house, so there are both literal and figurative scary doors to be opened if our heroine is going to reach the truth. Or live.

How will it fare in the real world:
THE PACT could have potential as I can see it satisfying both the tough (but hungry for new blood) genre convention fans as well as everyone else that gets scared shitless enough by your garden variety jump scare and watch films like this (as Kim Voynar did at this screening) through the fingers covering their face.

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