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Sundance, Day 9: Let's make a deal

Posted by Ty Burr  January 29, 2011 02:17 AM

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Terri.jpgIf Sundance 2011 is to be remembered for anything, it will be for the return of business as usual. There have been no major breakout titles like "Precious" or "The Kids Are All Right" in previous years -- no gotta-see-it game-changer. Instead, there have been a lot of movies that a lot of people like and that a lot of distributors have wanted to buy. Granted, the number of films sold at Sundance is not a reliable barometer of the country's economic strength, but the fact remains that dozens of movies have been bought up here over the last ten days -- over 30, by one count. And it's not just one or two companies with open purses; everyone's playing, and paying amounts that are sensible rather than inflated.

Paramount bought young-love drama "Like Crazy" for $4 million, and Fox Searchlight bought cult-escape drama "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and coming-of-age comedy "Homework" for $3 million each. Lionsgate joined forces with Roadside Attractions to pick up financial-sector nailbiter "Margin Call," and Focus went for the black teen lesbian tale "Pariah". Sony Classics bought "The Guard" (Brendan Gleeson's starring turn being one of the hot topics on the festival shuttles) and the tense Michael Shannon drama "Take Shelter" and Morgan Spurlock's product-placement lovefest, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." The Weinstein Company shelled out beaucoup bucks for little movies with big stars: "The Details," starring Tobey Maguire, and "My Idiot Brother," starring Paul Rudd, each went for around $7 million. Even National Geographic jumped into the pool, buying distribution rights for the global-collaboration doc "Life in a Day."

The market, in other words, seems simultaneously chastened and emboldened after several years in the doldrums, and that can only be good for filmmakers, audiences, art houses, and, increasingly, the new windows of cable on-demand and streaming rentals. Given the limited number of independent movie screens in America, do you think, say, Azazel Jacobs cares where you see "Terri" as long as you see it?

And you should. The film's not as focused or as strong as Jacob's last film, 2008's "Momma's Man", but it has some of the fluky poetic charm of his 2005 debut, "The GoodTimes Kid". It's an advance sideways. The title character is a high school misfit -- yes, that hoary Sundance cliche -- but where everything about movies like "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Rushmore" are drenched in irony, the vibe here is warm, observant, inclusively comic. As played by Jacob Wysocki (above, left), Terri is invisible in inverse proportion to his size; he's a hulk no one sees. Painfully shy but sharp and big-souled, he's brought a few steps into the world by an assistant vice principal who's in worse shape than he is, a role for which John C. Reilly would have to be invented if he didn't already exist.

Jacobs doesn't make linear movies, and at times you can feel "Terri" struggling to find its own shape. But Wysocki is a real presence, and the film's steady, watchful pace is a nice change from the aggressive hipness of most high school flicks. I like the director's work enough to keep hoping he'll have a "big" indie hit someday, but I'm beginning to suspect that's beside the point and that Jacobs knows it.

As loose-jointed as "Terri" is, that's how bleakly tense "Tyrannosaur" plays. It's a movie that opens with a man kicking his dog to death -- and he's the hero. Peter Mullan plays Joseph, an aging Yorkshire lout so filled with rage it's beginning to frighten even him; the movie -- the first written and directed by actor Paddy Considine ("In America") -- charts the character's attempts to stagger away from the edge of the abyss, one step forward, two steps back. Mullan has found a bit of multiplex fame recently as the Fascist yobbo Yaxley in the most recent Harry Potter movie, but those who've been following his multi-threat career (he's a writer-director too, notably of 2003's "The Magdalene Sisters") know he's generally fearless. You could say that Joseph is just a variation on a character the actor has played many times before; you could also say it's the most concentrated version yet. Either way, Mullan's the whole show, irresistably watchable and capable of getting us to feel for a detestable man.

In "Tyrannosaur" -- the title turns out to be a "Jurassic Park" in-joke -- Joseph meets and is more or less befriended by Hannah (Olivia Colman), a nice, mousy, devout shopkeeper with an abusive husband at home (the film's least credible character, played solidly by who else but Eddie Marsan). The movie's not a romance so much as a tale of shipwrecked survivors learning to lean on each other. It's as dark as a pint of stout, with moments to make you wince and turn away from the screen, yet Mullan can convey a mixture of menace and vulnerability like few other actors currently working and Colman just breaks your heart.

I needed a comedy after that, and I still needed one after seeing "Flypaper," a painfully strained genre mongrel based on a 12-year-old script by "The Hangover" writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore and directed like one-set community theater by Rob "The Lion King" Minkoff. It's a bank heist movie and a murder mystery and a plot-heavy farce and a romance, and after a while they all start to cancel each other out. An interestingly bizarre cast, though, and they do get some decent top-spin on the dialogue: Patrick Dempsey, Ashley Judd, Tim Blake-Nelson, Jeffrey Tambor, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and more. Here's Blake-Nelson at the post-screening Q&A, answering a question about why he keeps playing gonzo Southern cretins like his role here and in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" His response is funnier than anything in the movie.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at

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