Much like Christopher Guest comedies (Best in Show A Mighty Wind) The Grand’s loose style set up by writer/director Zak Penn allows the actors to have free rein onscreen. Jack Faro (Woody Harrelson) is our hero a ladies’ man with an eye patch and long drug history. Faro owns the aging downtown Las Vegas casino The Rabbit’s Foot and is struggling to keep it afloat hunted by a nefarious hotel developer Steve Lavisch (Michael McKean). He enters the Grand Championship of Poker as a way to raise money and become one of a cast of lively poker players. His competitors include a brother-and-sister team (David Cross and Cheryl Hines) from a dysfunctional family a Star Wars nerd/numbers expert (Chris Parnell) and an eccentric gangster known as The German (Werner Herzog). Each person is a pile of quirks and self-effacing irony. The final six-way poker showdown is an entertaining battle of comedy wits. Hammy performances prevail but all almost all are universally funny in different ways. Harrelson is at his coolest--a coltish youngster-turned-failure. Hines’ Lainie Schwartzman is a sharp-edged recreation of the poker pro Annie Duke bearing on her shoulders the weight of her father’s (Gabe Kaplan) uneven pressure. Both she and David Cross who plays her brother Larry have improv experience and are quick on their feet. The Grand’s most hilarious performance however is from iconic director Herzog (Rescue Dawn) who plays The German. His deadpan delivery and droopy eyes are spot-on to this caricature of a globe-trotting gamesman who boasts of winning water in a desert from a yak bone. Saturday Night Live’s Parnell plays the neurotic vitamin-drinking nerd Harold Melvin well. Ray Romano and Jason Alexander round out supporting roles to mixed results: Romano stands out a little more as a stay-at-home Mr. Mom to Lainie Schwartman’s high-earner status while Alexander plays it a little over the top as Dr. Yalov Achmed. The performances may be the film's weakest links but they are entertaining nonetheless. Zak Penn is mostly known as a screenwriter striking gold at age 23 with Last Action Hero. He set about making a niche as a major-studio flick specialist writing movies like Inspector Gadget Behind Enemy Lines and X-Men: The Last Stand. The Grand is Penn’s second directorial effort after the faux-documentary Incident at Loch Ness with his star Herzog. Both movies reflect a polar opposite in approach to Penn’s regimented paint-by-numbers day job writing big-budget movies. Penn brings a polished touch to independent film. The shiny graphics and poker-playing segments would make even the Farrelly Brothers envious. The Grand is shot like one of the many popular poker TV shows complete with graphics and play-by-play to help make the quick-moving poker action easier to understand. They are a little uneven in their execution sometimes--but then again this movie is supposed to be outrageous.
The second annual Tribeca Film Festival has announced its slate of special events, screenings and guests to mark the 25th anniversary of the Black Filmmaker Foundation, Variety reports.
Guests expected to attend the event include Harry Belafonte, Mos Def, and Chris Rock.
The festival will screen 10 of the most influential black films of the last 25 years, including She's Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Boyz N the Hood, Boomerang, House Party and Eve's Bayou. The president and one of the founders of BFF, Warrington Hudlin, compiled the films.
Eve's Bayou director Kasi Lemmons is scheduled to speak on a May 7 panel about the role and representation of black women in film, moderated by actresses Ruby Dee, Alfre Woodard and Anna Deavere Smith (The West Wing).
Filmmaker Robert Townsend, who produced, directed, wrote and starred in the 1987 comedy about the labors of an aspiring minority actor, Hollywood Shuffle, will host a cocktail party with guests and speakers to include Belafonte, Rock, Melvin Van Peebles, Michael Eric Dyson, Reginald Hudlin, Mos Def and Ben Vereen.
"The Tribeca Film Festival founders' love of New York City and concern for the welfare of all New Yorkers gave birth to this festival and this is reflected in their ongoing commitment to inclusion and diversity," Warrington Hudlin told Variety.
The Tribeca Film Festival was founded by Jane Rosenthal and Robert De Niro to celebrate New York City as a major filmmaking center and to contribute to the long-term recovery of lower Manhattan. Last year's inaugural festival was attended by more than 150,000 people, generated more than $10.4 million in revenues for local Tribeca merchants, and featured several up-and-coming filmmakers.
The festival runs May 3-11.
Larry (not his real name) wanted $30 for a $10 ticket to "American Psycho." If you waited 15 minutes, you waited too long, because then Larry wanted $40 -- and got it, too. (Or so he thought.)
According to one overheard comment Friday night at the "Psycho"'s sold-out Sundance premiere at the Eccles Theatre, the 15-year-old and his underage posse were possibly the first scalpers in the history of Robert Redford's mountain paradise.
Such is life in this now (really) big little city.
The snow arrived about the same time the stars did this weekend -- as did the buzz, the crowds, Tammy Faye and the kids trying to price gouge morally offended indie film types. A rundown of the action:
KA-CHING! "Groove," a no-name indie about the rave-party scene, is living the Sundance dream -- snapped up today by Sony Pictures Classics. No word on the dollar amount. The flick, called a "low-budget 'Nashville' by the Sundance wags, premiered Friday under the festival's American Spectrum wing. A "Groove" party tonight was the place to be -- particularly after worked leaked out about the Sony buy. "Oh, my God," said film publicist Matthew Strauss, "it went through the roof." "Groove" is written-directed by veteran film editor Greg Harrison making his feature-length debut behind the camera.
BAD VIBES: This morning's press screening for "Psycho" was interrupted when a viewer lapsed into an apparent seizure with 10 minutes left in the picture. At first, fellow audience members thought the man was snoring. "Everybody felt bad people had started to laugh [at the seizure victim]," says Hollywood.com's Jim Bartoo. Paramedics were called, the man revived and escorted from the theater. The screening resumed.
HERE'S WHAT THE GUY MISSED: Ultra-violent "American Psycho" is sorta funny -- at least that was the buzz from audience types leaving Friday's mishap-free Eccles showing. "People were laughing until the last 15 minutes and then no one said anything," said 21-year-old San Francisco resident Maris Brenn-White, on her way out of the theater. Chimed in companion Andrew Harper, also 21: "Yeah, very strange, very strange ending. Not really sure what to make of it."
HERE'S WHAT TO MAKE OF IT: According to "Psycho" star Christian Bale, the thing is supposed to be mixed up. "It is a funny film but then it is also disturbing," the actor told Hollywood.com today, "and then toward the end it really sort of ceases being funny." Oh. (To read the Hollywood.com review, go to The Buzz.)
SO, WAS THE MOVIE WORTH $40? "I was supposed to pay $40, but the little kid didn't know how to do the math so I paid $30," proud ticket-holder Greg Robertson said Friday night.
UNLESS YOU NEED TO BOLT FROM THE THEATER: Ben Affleck turned out to tonight's premiere of "Committed" (an upcoming Miramax release as well as a Sundance dramatic competition entry) sans Matt Damon, but with a single crutch. The actor says he sprained his ankle playing basketball. "It kind of sucks," he told us. "Sundance is a real walking experience. ... [But] I guess sitting down to watch movies doesn't take too much mobility."
NO THUMB UP: So, we cornered one Roger Ebert exiting the "American Psycho" premiere. We locked eyes -- ours were saying, "Ooh, Roger Ebert what'd you think?"; his were saying, "Don't even ask." What can we say? We asked. He didn't tell. "You have to wait," the Great One said. "I don't review when I walk out of movies."
ROGER EBERT WON'T, BUT MATTHEW BRODERICK WILL: "'You Can Count on Me,' I saw," the "Ferris Bueller" icon said when prompted for an impromptu movie review by Hollywood.com this morning on Main Street. "It was great. ... Great performances, wonderful script, excellent."
ALL RIGHT, SO WE WERE HAD: Upon further review, "You Can Count on Me," which premiered Friday night at Sundance, is a family drama starring Laura Linney ("The Truman Show"), Jon Tenney (TV's "Get Real") and, um, Matthew Broderick.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SUNDANCE PARTY AND A SLAMDANCE PARTY: A Friday night Sundance bash sponsored by Entertainment Weekly featured a spectacular view of the mountains, really tasty mini-eclairs, delightful chicken things in peanut sauce, an open bar (up until about 11 p.m.) and a low-key vibe. Slamdance's Saturday night opening bash featured an OK view of the mountains, bowls of pretzels, a cash bar (unless you ordered vodka, which was free) and a happening buzz.
SPEAKING OF HAPPENING...: "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," a Sundance doc about ex-televangelist Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner, is entertaining movie deals after its Friday premiere at the Yarrow Theatre brought its audience to its feet. "It's been a good day," co-director Randy Barbato told us. For Tammy Faye, it was a really good premiere. "After it ended, I walked up in front of the people, and I began to cry," a full mascaraed Tammy Faye said at the mega-loud Slamdance blowout. "... It was the most wonderful, warm moment I've ever experienced. And I'm so grateful."
SPEAKING OF ANOTHER HAPPENING: "A Galaxy Far, Far Away," an 80-minute Slamdance doc about "Star Wars" geeks on the eve of the premiere of "The Phantom Menace" played to a packed video lounge at the Treasure Mountain Inn tonight -- despite a wacky thermostat that made the screening room Africa hot and a wacky playback machine that cut out the video 10 times. Still, director Tariq Jalil was far from despondent later that night. He tells us the crowd of 100 to 200, with few exceptions, stayed with the flick throughout the entire ordeal. Always a good sign. So are the phone calls we hear the "Galaxy" team's been getting.
FIGHTIN' THE MAN: No fliers on fliers in Park City this January. Slamdance filmmaker Farhad Yawari was "very nearly arrested" on Friday over a handbill flap, festival co-founder Dan Mirvish tells Hollywood.com. It seems Yawari, who directed the short "Dolphins," was found in violation of the local's new anti-handbill-passing-out ordinance -- punishable by a $2,000 fine. "He wasn't happy about paying that, so that's why they were going to arrest him," Mirvish says. Slamdance officials say the new law is news to them -- they have yet to see it in writing. Says Mirvish: "Does it say [no fliers] on Main Street? Is it the whole town? Is it just Slamdance?" To be sure, other Slamdance filmmakers are taking it personally. Jali's "Galaxy" crew has seen roaming Park City bearing posterboard signs declaring: "We're not allowed to hand you a flier, so here's a sign."
MOST UBIQUITOUS FREEBIE IN PARK CITY: The snowflake button for "Snow Days," the buzz-a-rific American Spectrum comedy set to debut Sunday.
HOT TREND: Pregnancy. Actor/director Stanley Tucci had to skip the premiere of "Joe Gould's Secret" on Friday to go have a baby with his wife. Other with-child types here include filmmakers Stacy Cochran ("Drop Back Ten") and Mary Harron ("American Psycho").
THINGS WE SAW OTHER THAN "AMERICAN PSYCHO":
1. "Waking the Dead" (Sundance World Premiere) -- Director Keith Gordon's tale of a young couple whose future is cut down by a terrorist's bomb is hurt by slow pacing and an overindulgence in the sentimental. Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly star as complete opposites who fall in love during the tumultuous early 1970s. As bad luck would have it, Connelly's involvement in Latin American issues presumably leads to her death by car bomb. Years later, an older and politically suave Crudup is poised to make a run for Congress -- only to start having delusions of seeing Sarah in his everyday life. While it could prove commercially viable, "Waking the Dead" treads very little new ground. (Jim Bartoo)
2. "Just, Melvin" (Sundance Documentary Competition) -- With painstaking detail, director Ronald Whitney does an amazing job telling the story of his abusive grandfather, Melvin Just. A sexual predator of the worst kind, Melvin abused Whitney's mother, her sisters, their daughters and a whole host of other young children from his second marriage. "Just, Melvin" is receiving a tremendous amount of praise in Park City and deservedly so. (J.B.)
3. "Well-Founded Fear" (Sundance Documentary Competition) -- Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini's touching, disturbing behind-the-scenes look at the U.S. political asylum system is an extremely engaging piece that attempts to put a human face on the much-maligned Immigration and Naturalization Service. Through the stories and eyes of multiple applicants and INS officers, Robertson and Camerini give viewers a never-before-seen look at the actual interview process, as well as very candid conversations between officers and their supervisors. Often unsettlingly sad, "Well-Founded Fear" is summed up by one particularly kind officer who, after having to deny an applicant admission, is asked about his day: "Do I feel good? No. I feel like [crap]." (J.B.)
4. "The Small-Timers." (No Dance) -- This is an earnest doc about an independent film ("The Big Muddy") that didn't exactly go "Blair Witch" after its Park City premiere last year. As far as naval-gazing projects go, its heart is in the right place, even if its indie-worn message ("Make your movie -- no matter what!) is in the same old place. (Joal Ryan)
PREVIEW OF SUNDANCES TO COME? So, when everybody's trying to sell movies in Park City, the only way to distinguish yourself is to make a movie in Park City. The Brooklyn-based film crew for the in-the-works indie flick "The Battle for Breuklyn" was spotted doing just that the other day. Producer Liz Maddalone says the film's about a guy (natch) trying to make a movie called (natch) "The Battle for Breuklyn." (History note: That's the way the Dutch used to spell the name of the borough.). Anyway, the flick's a family affair -- one of Maddalone's brothers is the writer/director, another one's the camera guy. Almost eight years in the making, the project seems at the climax phase. Maddalone says the Park City shoot features the film's hero trying to drum up interest in his project. So does he get a deal? Says Maddalone: "You're gonna just have to watch to find out."
MOST HEARTWARMING MOMENT: An awestruck kid watching Hollywood.com-er Gerry Katzman interview two food-service workers at the Eccles Theatre: "Dude, Hollywood.com!"
SPOTTED: Supercouple Heather Graham and Edward Burns doing the press line at the "Committed" premiere; character actor Joe Bologna trying to do the press line at the "Committed" premiere; Kevin Smith ("Clerks") and Michael Nouri ("Flashdance") walking into the lobby at the "American Psycho" premiere; Peter Weller ("RoboCop") putting in appearance near Sundance headquarters at Shadow Ridge.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Ethan Hawke-led "Hamlet," the Neve Campbell-equipped "Panic" and the aforementioned "Snow Days" all get their first Sundance screenings Sunday. With additional reporting by Jim Bartoo and Gerry Katzman.
Whitney Houston, thank goodness, is not a pothead.
Hawaiian District Judge Joseph Florendo Jr. dismissed petty misdemeanor marijuana possession charge against Houston, leaving her with a clean record. Michael Burke, a certified substance abuse counselor, determined that Houston does not require treatment for substance abuse.
Houston's bag was seized at the Keahole-Kona Airport on Jan. 11, 2000, and marijuana was found. Her attorneys and the Deputy Prosecutor Melvin Fujino stipulated in court in November that less than half an ounce of marijuana was found in two plastic baggies, including three partially smoked marijuana cigarettes.
The 37-year-old singer, who was not arrested, allegedly abandoned the bag and boarded a United Airlines flight for San Francisco with her husband, Bobby Brown, before the police arrived.