Sunday was a miserable day, football-wise, if you were rooting for the Jets and the Vikings, as I was.
And, filmwise at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, it ended on a weak note, because the last film of the day I saw was the dramatic-competition entry, Lovers of Hate. It almost broke my record for not having walked out on any festival films this year (I had to leave Nowhere Boy to see another film). On the other hand, if I hadn't watched Obselidia and Bass Ackwards on DVD, I would have walked out of them -- and, as it was, I bailed on both of those films before the end.
I didn't walk out of Lovers of Hate but people around me did and the urge for flight was strong. Thankfully, this turgid comedy eventually developed a modicum of suspense. The story of a jobless, bitter man, thrown out by his wife and suffering endless jealousy of his super-successful younger brother, the film spins its wheels for almost an hour, until writer-director Bryan Poyser creates a watchable situation.
He essentially creates a scenario in which the younger brother takes the older brother's wife as his lover at a mountain retreat (in Park City -- talk about self-reflexive), unaware that the older brother has dropped in on him as a surprise. So you have three people in a sprawling house, but two are unaware of the presence of the third, who alternately hides from and messes with them.
That makes it sound much better than it is, a frequent trait of films in Sundance's dramatic competition. So let's focus on positive vibrations, as the title character in Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jack Goes Boating likes to say.
Hoffman's directing debut -- in which he costars with Amy Ryan, John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega -- is an assured and deeply felt film about inarticulate people seeking a connection, based on a play (and showing its stage roots at times). Funny and touching, it stars Hoffman and Ryan as a pair of lonely people who are fixed up by their married friends, Ortiz and Rubin-Vega. But even as Jack and Connie take tentative steps toward learning about each other, they are watching the married couple, Clyde and Lucy, as that marriage implodes.
Hoffman's Jack is a cliche -- the thoughtful, isolated man who learns to plunge into life (an idea reinforced by his learning to swim, under the tutelage of his pal, Clyde). Yet Hoffman, wearing a head of dreadful dreadlocks, gives this lumbering character a soul and a heart, which Ryan's Connie -- a bit of a chatterbox who only occasionally finds the right thing to say -- responds to in her quiet way. Ryan is a touchingly vulnerable actress, so when she and the equally reticent Hoffman click together, it creates an understated but heartfelt sense of surprise.
Leon Gast's Smash His Camera is an entertaining if slightly overblown documentary about legendary New York paparazzo Ron Galella. A joyous self-promoter, the almost-80-year-old Galella happily works it for Gast's camera, whether he's giving a tour of his massive photo archive or his lavishly nouveau-riche house in New Jersey. The film touches on the Galella career highlights: his long-time court battle with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the night Marlon Brando broke his jaw. In between, Galella offers tips on how he does his job, as well as a look inside his backyard cemetery for what apparently are scores of dead pet rabbits.
Smash His Camera is a fascinating complement to Adrian Grenier's Teen-age Paparazzo, which focuses on a 14-year-old Hollywood pap who Grenier befriended. Both films include footage from La Dolce Vita, in which a street photographer named Paparazzo (Italian for mosquito) is part of a pack of shutterbugs who chase Anita Ekberg.