By Romeo San Vicente
Gus Van Sant ‘Won’t Get Far On Foot’
For every triumph in a filmmaker’s life, there are also troughs. Gus Van Sant gave us the ’90s classic “My Own Private Idaho” and also the little-seen 2016 disaster “The Sea of Trees.” You can’t win ’em all, so an artist picks up and moves forward to new work, which is what the acclaimed filmmaker is doing. He’s readying the queer history miniseries “When We Rise” for ABC, and he’s also got a new film in the works: “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.” It’s a biographical portrait of the late John Callahan (who died in 2010), the writer-producer responsible for the animated series “Quads!” and “Pelswick,” which were both about people with disabilities. Callahan knew this topic well – he was paralyzed at age 21 in a car accident – and his experience formed the basis for his writing and creative work. Joaquin Phoenix has signed on to star in the movie, which will also feature Rooney Mara and Jonah Hill. In production now, it’s a safe bet Van Sant will be readying this one for Cannes 2018 and the hope of some better reviews than he got last time.
‘Walking Out’ with Matt Bomer
The Sundance Film Festival is a place where actors show up with films they hope will give audiences a chance to see them do something more substantial than work in front of green screens, shouting at CG space aliens. They’re movies more weighted toward featuring real human beings in real human situations. Matt Bomer has just such a film there, “Walking Out.” Adapted from a David Quannum short story by the directing team of Alex and Andrew Smith (“The Slaughter Rule”), the film stars Bomer and young Josh Wiggins as an estranged father and son on a hunting trip. As they struggle to bond and find common ground, they run into unexpected trouble that tests their resolve and devotion to each other. The film also stars Bill Pullman and buzzed-about newcomer Lily Gladstone, whose heartbreaking performance as a ranch hand with an unrequited crush on Kristen Stewart in Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women” earned her waves of critical praise and year-end awards speculation. After its Sundance bow, expect “Walking Out” to reach general audiences sometime later in the year.
‘Novitiate’ finds Sony love at Sundance
Sony Pictures Classics has picked up “Novitiate,” from director Margaret Betts, at the Sundance Film Festival, and will ready it for theatrical release later this year. It’s Betts’ first narrative feature – she’s also the director of the documentary “The Carrier,” about a pregnant African woman with HIV – and the film’s positive reviews and strong cast are what will eventually buoy its arthouse box-office prospects. Starring “The Leftovers”‘ Margaret Qualley, “Novitiate” follows a young nun coming up against rigid Catholic traditions of female submission and repressed sexuality in the 1960s (and, yes, in 2017, hence any good period piece’s relevance) as the Church began to modernize with changes brought about by Vatican II. Melissa Leo co-stars as a forbidding Mother Superior, and the supporting cast includes Julianne Nicholson, “True Blood”‘s Denis O’Hare, and “Glee”‘s Dianna Agron. If you’ve been itching for a fresh downer of a nun movie ever since you saw “Ida,” maybe this one will satisfy?
Look out for ‘Beach Rats’
The big movies with well-known stars make the most noise at film festivals, but it’s the up-and-coming filmmakers sneaking in quietly with fresh perspectives who make the world exciting for adventurous moviegoers. That’s the case with Eliza Hittman. She’s already got one feature under her belt, 2014’s critically well-received “It Felt Like Love,” about adolescent girls exploring life and sexuality. And this year, Hittman has flipped over to studying the ways of teenage boys in “Beach Rats,” screening at Sundance. Starring young British actor Harris Dickinson, it’s the story of a working-class Brooklyn teenager spending a summer dealing with not only a potential girlfriend, but also with the older men he finds on gay hookup apps. We won’t spoil how it all turns out, but any American film that deals truthfully with male bisexual impulses deserves attention, and this moody exploration of fluid sexuality deserves a wider audience. You’ll probably have to hunt a little harder for this one – maybe at regional queer festivals as 2017 rolls on – but do seek it out.