Utah's Sundance Film Festival, the iconic indie happening that gave greats from Quentin Tarantino and Steven Soderbergh to James Wan and Jim Jarmusch their big break, takes place January 18 to 28. For the third year in a row, HOT Prime (Channel 15, part of the cable provider's basic movie package) gets subscribers in the mood by broadcasting more than 85 Sundance films throughout the month, 15 of them for the first time. And at month's end, from January 22 through 31, the channel will broadcast a nightly (9:30 p.m.) survey of this year's festival highlights.
Sundance month kicks off Monday (January 1) at 10 p.m. with the Oscar-nominated documentaryMurderball. This gritty, no-nonsense look at wheelchair rugby, an extreme sport created in the Seventies to afford an outlet for the still-raging testosterone drives of quadriplegic men deprived of most of the use of their limbs, did not do as well as expected in wide release and was never shown here.
The film, which grew out of a magazine article by Dana Adam Shapiro (who directed the movie with Henry-Alex Rubin), is as unflinching as the tough players it profiles. That must have made marketing the film a rough task, since parents looking for an uplifting film, even those willing to hazard a realistic one, might have hesitated about bringing youngsters to one that discusses the sexual options of quadriplegics. Even a few minutes of a sex re-education film for the newly handicapped are included.
On the other hand, those looking for blood on the courts will be disappointed, despite the movie's title. "Murderball" was the original name of this full-contact sport, in which players are strapped into specially designed Ben-Hur-like wheelchairs that allow ample opportunities for toppling over (the referees helpfully set fallen players aright). But it's officially been retitled "quad rugby" - the better to secure corporate sponsorship; and despite its ferocity, sportsmanship applies, even in the fierce rivalry between the American and Canada teams.
Murderball follows the American team from the 2002 World Wheelchair Rugby Championship in Sweden to the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. Like many documentaries that follow their subjects over time, it got incredibly lucky, capturing dramatic story arcs that would make the best of scriptwriters envious.
YES subscribers need not be jealous, however, as the satellite provider has also purchased Murderball and will be airing it on YES Docu on January 24.
SOME OF US play out our gladiator instincts in other arenas, such as marriage. The 2004 adaptation of the 1979 Wallace Shawn play Marie & Bruce is described by HOT (translated from the IMDB Web site) as "a dark but comical glimpse at one day in the breakdown of a marriage." But it's more of a dark but comical glimpse at one day in the survival of a marriage, one that provides - as many do - a safe haven for bad behavior.
Julianne Moore (who never looked more radiant) and Matthew Broderick play a neurotic New York couple weathering a spell of unemployment during a hot summer. Moore's character, Marie, goes over the top in her verbal abuse of spouse, Bruce. But her accusations are so absurd - the noise his typewriter makes, his bad taste in his friend (Bob Balaban), his very waking up in the morning - that either she truly can no longer bear his very existence or she is just letting off steam.
Bruce seems to go for the latter interpretation, and alternates between appeasing her and shrugging her off. He can be plenty annoying as well when they meet up later in the day at a party. A sweet marital epiphany is in store for Marie - but there's no need for a reconciliation scene. Being married means being able at day's end to sink snugly into bed beside the sleeping spouse whose typewriter you threw out the window that morning.
Following its Sundance premiere, this film was not even released to DVD. The Hollywood Reporter predicted that its absurdity and mock seriousness would alienate most audiences. But the movie's theatrical texture provides the background contrast that makes sudden rays of reality pierce the viewer all the more sharply. Marie & Bruce airs next Friday night, January 5, at 10 p.m.