Despite some better reviews, Pretty Bird, a movie based on The Rocketbelt Caper story, failed to find a buyer at Sundance, according to USA Today. 'Nothing went as planned this year at Sundance,' says the paper. 'Star-studded films were left without distribution, including... Paul Giamatti's rocket-pack entrepreneur comedy Pretty Bird.'
In a separate interview, Giamatti told USA Today about the rocketbelt: 'It's a real thing. But they only fly for 30 seconds, and they're incredibly dangerous, but they exist. There is a whole subculture of rocket-belt enthusiasts.'
Over at 109.com, the real story gets a mention: 'One of the films at Sundance that flew under the radar this year was jetpack fantasy Pretty Bird, based on the book The Rocketbelt Caper. The film is billed as a comedy, but the real story is both weird and disturbing - more of a comedy of errors.'
UGO also brings up the real story: 'Writer/director Paul Schneider's take on the story is funny and filled with colorful characters, but his faithfulness to actual events is the film's downfall. In real life, building a rocket belt is dangerous business, fraught with angry words, duplicity, kidnapping and murder... Unfortunately, everything falls apart in the final act as the true story [of the rocketbelt caper] has nothing even resembling a happy ending. Schneider is to be commended for not attempting to rewrite history with a factually inaccurate conclusion... Sadly, Pretty Bird crashes hard as a comedy since the true story is completely devoid of redemption or even closure.'
Wired gives the movie an 'honorable mention' in its Sundance round-up: 'For the first half, it plays like a Silicon Valley cautionary tale, except set in New Jersey... But what could have been a classic tale of American capitalism, technology and paranoia meandered off into melodrama by its end.'
The influential Variety offers criticism: 'The darker side of the American spirit of invention weighs on actor-turned-helmer Paul Schneider's Pretty Bird, an overly calculated cautionary tale... With a gruff and one-note Paul Giamatti as co-star, pic won't fly in the theatrical market, and will prove a dicey sell abroad and in vid... Strong plus here is a soundtrack plucked from Dutch minimalist composer Wim Mertens' catalog.'
Let's end with a positive review. Indiewire calls the movie, 'Smart, sharp and lovely to watch.' 'Pretty Bird is a Horatio Alger story with a welcome cynical streak; it's David Mamet's The Water Engine with welcome playfulness. It's familiar, yet fresh at the same time... Pretty Bird is an impressive first step for Schneider, granted, one with expected flaws.'
Although the true story certainly has comedic touches, I envisioned it more as a Coen brothers-style black comedy in the vein of Fargo. Fingers crossed the company that have actually optioned the book will do a better job. It looks like the only reason to see Pretty Bird will be to find out which bits, if any, they've nicked from the book. See for yourself by reading the The Rocketbelt Caper.
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