In Bruges, Colin Farrell

Well, hidey-ho, PopWatchers, and greetings from Park City, where the 2008 Sundance Film Festival is upon us. You’re in my pocket once again for 10 days of movies, snow, and malnourishment as we journey into indie film’s heart of darkness. Yes, I will be mumbling like Brando by the 27th. No, I will not be paid as well for my performance.

Much like during last year’s festival, I’ll be using PopWatch to post observations, anecdotes, and all the celebrity guest-blogs I can score. There’ll be Buzz Checks™ to gauge how various films are playing among the festivalgoers. There will also be videos courtesy of our resident insomnomaniac Jason Averett and his crack camera team. And thanks to the addition of our Hollywood Insider blog, you’ll be kept up to date on acquisitions and other newsworthy events as they happen. You can keep up with everything that’s going on at our 2008 Sundance hub, accessible via the home page.

Even better for me this year: I’ll (hopefully) be joined in blogtopia by my EW colleagues here in Park City, so you’ll get a wider perspective and a greater variety of voices as we bring you Q&As, on-the-scene premiere and party reporting, and a comprehensive look at the hunger-sating properties of assorted snack bars and trail mixes. (Dammit, colleagues, you had better f*ing blog or so help me. For here it is, Day One at 1:20am, and I’m once again stringing together random thoughts from a Marriott hotel room that is an exact replica of last year’s, only flipped left to right, which is really freaking me out.)

But I can’t lose it quite yet. So! After the jump, it’s Sundance 2008’s Opening Night Premiere: In Bruges (starring Colin Farrell, pictured), written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Get yer Irish on, kids!

Unlike last year — my first film festival of any kind — I managed to roll into Park City this afternoon with a minimum of drama. Hey, I’m a veteran! I know my way around! I’ve planned all my interviews and scheduled all my screenings, and I’ve got time to spare! Tra la, tra la! Ultra-confident, I blazed through the door of the Marriott, checked in, marched straight to my weird mirror-image room… and immediately realized I couldn’t find my cell phone. Because it was in the van. Headed back to the Salt Lake City airport.

This is the definition of grace, PopWatchers: When a bearded van driver named Raj stops that van, finds your phone, turns around, and delivers it by hand to your hotel’s front desk. I feel blessed and, more than that, am now a quieter, humbled Whittlz, secure in the knowledge that I don’t know anything at all, and in a heartbeat, it can all be taken away.

But the time for personal reflection was short (as usual), because all the airport hijinks/van travel/panicking-while-rifling-through-belongings had set me back a couple hours, and I needed to get my already-chilly behind — we’re talking lows of 3, PopWatchers, THREE — over to Eccles for the red carpet of tonight’s premiere, In Bruges, an über-black comedy starring Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as mismatched hitmen exiled to the titular Flemish city after a job gone bad.

The carpet was packed, but at least it was indoors, and I could wear a black hooded sweatshirt instead of a gown because this is just that kind of joint. Seeing as how EW is one of the fest’s four presenting sponsors, my trusty camera dude Steve and I were totally given a place of honor, right between AT&T and Czech TV, the latter employing a reporter who was very tall, and whose girth limited my personal space to something just shy of what I assume you’d receive upon being buried alive. This feeling was only compounded when McDonagh, Farrell, and Gleeson hit the carpet, and a wall of cameramen thrust their lenses into the space where my head used to be. Memories of what on earth I asked the gentlemen while squatting in front of them are hazy — there was one particularly ungainly attempt to get Colin Farrell to address our camera and explain why the ladies would want to see this macho film, and he muttered something about never knowing what women want, and the journalist in me scribbled “COLIN FARRELL SMELLS GOOD” in my notebook — but they were all lovely, and had the nicest accents, and were very happy to be honored with the opening night slot.

Out in the parking lot after the carpet madness has passed, I waited for my colleague and this year’s official Sundance Virgin, Vanessa “Ciudad” Juarez, to join me for the screening. Piles of snow and hay-covered ice littered the lot; festivalgoers in black fleece were doing their best to jog from arriving shuttles to the wait list line without biting it. As I stood there marveling at how a year could have passed with very little visible change to this environment, Vanessa called to say she was hopelessly lost trying to walk from the Marriott to Eccles. I headed inside to leave her ticket with the Focus Features folk (In Bruges isn’t in competition, and already has a distributor) (see, I now know to find this stuff out… aren’t I getting impressively more professional with every passing day?) and find a seat.

The seat I found was accidentally one down from Mary-Kate Olsen. It was not until flashbulbs seemed to be going off around me to a disorienting degree that I looked over and noticed her there, tiny in a black coat and looking exhausted. The paps made her stand up so they could get a better picture; when she sat down, I asked, “So, at what point do you just want to throw your shoe at them?” and she confessed she’s too tired at the moment to care. (Lest you think M-K’s caught a case of the Hiltons, she does in fact have a legitimate reason to be in Park City: she’s a cast member of The Wackness, premiering tomorrow in competition. I will try to get her to guest-blog, but make no promises.)

Vanessa finally made it in just before Robert Redford emerged behind the Eccles’ weird cello-shaped podium to welcome everyone and kick off the 2008 festivities. He made some brief statements about change, both “artists as agents of” and “this country is desperately in need of a” (the latter netting much applause), then went on to discuss the exciting amount of crossover from other disciplines and the involvement of theater, visual, and musical artists at the festival this year. (That’s you, Bono!) Then he introduced festival director Geoff Gilmore, who vowed that the festival would always be a home for discovery as long as he’s in his position. Then he introduced In Bruges director Martin McDonagh and his “wonderful anarchist sensibility.” McDonagh, for his part, admitted to being “scared s—less” before introducing Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, and finally, introducing the movie.

[Sometimes, men introduce other men, who introduce other men, who introduce other men, and then you get to do the thing you’re there for in the first place. This is just how the world works. I file this away in the part of my brain that’s still trying to understand PowerPoint presentations and why we can’t just read the slides for ourselves.]

Did I mention In Bruges is a blaaaaaaaack comedy? For anyone familiar with McDonagh’s work as a playwright (The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman), this will come as no surprise, nor will the copious violence/blood scattered throughout. You may, however, be as surprised as Vanessa and I to discover that Colin Farrell is one seriously gifted comedian when given the right material. And while my goal this year is to take a step back and let Owen Gleiberman deliver our official positions on these movies (a.k.a. “The The Nines Memorial Anti-Hysteria Initiative”), my EW Buzz-Check™-O-Meter says that tonight’s crowd really seemed to get a kick out of the relationship between Farrell and Gleeson as they bickered and pontificated their way through the medieval Belgian city; that everyone loves a bitter, mouthy dwarf; and that I can no longer look at Ralph Fiennes without seeing Voldemort, which is a problem.

And then, after a seriously killer ending, the lights came up… and Day One of Sundance 2008 was, for my purposes, officially done. Vanessa and I opted for dinner with co-workers at Nacho Mama’s (oh, say it out loud!) over the In Bruges party, then the pack of us ran into Juno director Jason Reitman in the Marriott lobby and forced our own Adam “The Beav” Vary to ask him if, like everyone else at this damn festival, he too is in fact looking for the next Juno (answer: he’s already got it), made a quick stop at the Albertson’s for provisions (nothing better than expensing beef jerky), and had a little organizational team-building session at the hotel bar…

… which takes us right back here, PopWatchers, where you’re about to crawl out of my pocket for some much needed sleep.

Tomorrow: Young@Heart, The Yellow Handkerchief, dinner with Alan Rickman, comedy courtesy of Sweet (with Seth Herzog, David Wain, and Jason Sudeikis), and The Broken at midnight because God forbid I don’t see Lena Headey at least once this week…

..and of COURSE: What do YOU want me to see at this year’s fest, PopWatchers? Who loves ya, baby?