Sundance Log 2020 Day 7: Some Kind of Heaven, Spaceship Earth

Hey everyone! Another day at the Sundance Festival has come and gone and unfortunately it’s another day of disappointing results. I don’t know if the difference is not having the locals pass so having less flexibility in choice but this year’s festival seems so much worse than last year. There has really only been one movie that I’ve loved (Save Yourselves) as much as I loved Maiden, Blinded by the Light, The Farewell, Apollo 11 or The Mustang last year. This is particularly disappointing because I convinced 2 friends to join in the festival, and they haven’t had great experiences. Darn it all!

Anyway I saw 2 movies today, both documentaries. I was planning on seeing a narrative film called Shirley but I chickened out and decided to pass and give the tickets to someone when I heard how violent and sexually graphic the film was. I just wasn’t up for it today. 1 of the documentaries I liked well enough and the other was (again) a disappointment. So here goes:

some_kind_of_heaven_copy

Some Kind of Heaven

In this film director Lance Oppenheim profiles a massive retirement community in Central Florida and tries to answer the question: Can you have too much to do once you’re retired?

Oppenheim makes the odd choice of focusing on 4 outsiders within the giant community and while that is interesting it does give a cynical feeling to the overall film. It might have been nice to have one voice who is uplifted and encouraged by all the group experiences.

Nevertheless, I did find myself thinking about the themes presented in the film all night long. Each of the residents gives up their autonomy to be part of this collective experience. They are told several times in the movie that there is ‘no excuse to be bored  in The Villages’. This town has a never ending supply of activities, clubs, recreational sports and more.

They are all the type of activities that many of us wish we could do all day. How many times have each of us thought ‘if I could just _______ all day I would be happy’ but the truth is all of this supposedly ‘fun’ stuff doesn’t provide lasting joy. Joy comes from fulfilling relationships and life that contributes to others. This is true if you are 10 or 110! In a weird way the Villages becomes a type of ‘keep you busy’ prison and like I said that’s a cynical message but not one without a dose of truth to it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Spaceship Earth — Still 1

Spaceship Earth

I love a good crazy documentary. I’m a fan of directors like Errol Morris who makes kooky films like Gates of Heaven: a documentary all about a pet cemetery and the man who obsesses over it. This was my hope for the documentary Spaceship Earth about a group of people who entered a biosphere for 2 years as an experiment and media event in the 90s. The story is intriguing and weird but unfortunately was told with all the energy of a dry boring lecture in college. Darn!

The problem with some documentaries is the creators becomes too concerned with details when they should be focused on telling a good story. Of course, we don’t want the storytelling to overtake facts and become propaganda but we also need to be engaged as viewers. If your movie feels like a textbook of the events it is not going to work even if those events are interesting.

Spaceship Earth even has a last act surprise appearance by former Trump stooge Steve Bannon and that’s not even engrossing. I frankly struggled to stay awake and played the head banging game most of the movie. I was so frustrated because it had so much potential.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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Sundance Log 2020 Day 6: Palm Springs, Horse Girl

Another day at Sundance has come and gone and I saw 2 more films, one I liked a lot and one I hated! That’s Sundance for you. It’s late so here are my quick thoughts!

Palm Springs — Still 1

Palm Springs

Over the years of attending the festival I’ve learned to tread lightly when it comes to films with big festival hype. For whatever reason I often end up not sharing in the love a film is getting such as last year with Brittany Runs a Marathon, which wasn’t for me. So hearing today that Palm Springs got the biggest purchase price in Sundance history I proceeded with caution into the screening. I didn’t know much about it but I love star Cristin Milioti and heard it was a romcom so that is enough for me!

Now I have seen the film I can say with great relief that I really enjoyed it. It’s one that actually lives up to the hype! Palm Springs is about Milioti’s character who becomes friends with Andy Samberg only to end up getting stuck in a time loop with him for many days (ala Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow).

This is definitely an R rated version of this type of story but at its core it’s actually quite sweet and funny. Samberg and Milioti have terrific chemistry together and the script is very clever. There is also strong supporting work from JK Simmons, Meredith Hanger, Tyler Hoechlin and more. A definite winner.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

horse girl

Horse Girl

Now for the film I did not like so much the drama Horse Girl starring Alison Brie, Molly Shannon and more. This is exactly the kind of movie I dread at Sundance. It’s super pretentious, muddled, frustrating, boring, misguided junk. I almost walked out I was so tired and irritated by it.

The sad part is this mess wastes a good performance from star Alison Brie who gives her all for the role. She plays Sarah a shy, awkward single woman who works at a fabric store. Her family has a history of mental health problems (at one time it seems like schizophrenia but then it is never really addressed). Sarah starts to wonder if she is a clone of her Grandmother and things get scifi and weird but not in a satisfying way.

I really hate it in movies when mental illness is depicted as ‘that thing that makes you special and quirky’ and that’s totally done here. I’m not sure what great lesson we are supposed to take from Sarah but the audience kept laughing at her antics and I had no idea why. I just kept cringing as she (and us) are forced to endure this pseudo scifi nonsense. It felt like it would never end.

If you like this movie please explain to me why. I am at a loss to even explain it. Let’s just say it was not for me.

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Sundance Log 2020 Day 5: Charm City Kings, On the Record

So today ended up being a bit of a downer at the Sundance Film Festival. I guess that is to make up for seeing 2 comedies yesterday but I feel pretty drained tonight! It’s not every day I see a double header of a documentary on sexual assault in the hip hop industry followed by a devastating film about a young man in inner-city Baltimore. Phew!

Well, let me dry my eyes and tell you what I thought of both films:

on the record

On the Record

When I selected my tickets I actually didn’t know the title of this film. I was concerned about timing and missing films so I tried to keep to 1 building a night on the weekdays. This Untitled Project was showing at the Rose Garden Theater so I took a chance on it, and I’m glad I did. On the Record is a sobering look at the impact of metoo movement on black women and it is one of the better examples of this kind of documentary I’ve seen.

The film focuses on a woman named Drew Dixon who worked as a producer for music mogul Russell Simmons. We then learn about how Simmons preyed upon her and raped her as a young woman. As disturbing as that is, the film tells more women’s stories who were attacked by Simmons but then it goes further. We learn about the historical, cultural and musical underpinnings of this type of behavior by men and why black women are reticent to speak out and embrace the new movement.

I see things like On the Record and I count my blessings I have always been sheltered when it comes to men. I’ve never been violated or threatened by any man and it’s sad how rare that is these days. I hope that as women share their stories they can heal, and we can help stop these attacks from happening in the future.

My only critique of On the Record is we find out that Drew left her husband after the reveal and we see her without her children. I would have liked to learn more about that situation but I guess you can only tackle so much in one movie. Well done!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy (feels weird to say that on such a sobering topic but it was well done!)

Charm City Kings — Still 1

Charm City Kings

The second film of the night was Charm City Kings by director Angel Manuel Soto. I must admit I going into this film I thought it was a comedy, and it can be 7.5 funny, but it is actually a grueling coming of age film that can be quite devastating.

The film stars Jai Di’Allo Winston as teenager who loves working on motorcycles and would love to join the dirt bike gangs his older deceased brother once rode in. He has 2 friends (that are very funny) and a lot of mentors and guardians who are pulling hard for this young man to not have the same fate as his brother but fate seems to be constantly pulling him in that direction.

Charm City Kings does a really good job building tension. In especially the 3rd act I felt so wound up and anxious to see what was going to happen. It was very stressful but in a good, gripping way.  The performances are also great across the board.

I am still pondering the ending. It is a bold choice and a side of me wishes they had gone with something different (no spoilers). I also don’t know if I 100% buy the ending for the characters but whatever. It’s still a strong film that had me engrossed the entire time. It is a hard R rating with lots of language and violence so it won’t be for everyone, but I’m glad I saw it.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! 2 more films watched at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. On to 2 more tomorrow!

Sundance Log 2020 Day 4: Kajillionaire, Save Yourselves

Because I only had a pass for The Grand on the weekends my weekdays at Sundance are made up of my 10 pack of tickets that I purchased. This means I am seeing 2 movies on most of the days including today. I was at the Rose Wagner Theater tonight and saw 2 comedies with vastly different reactions to each: one I did not enjoy and the other I loved! So here goes

kajilionaire

Kajillionaire

Tonight’s first film Kajillioniare has a lot going for it. It has a likable and talented cast including Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez. It also has a few jokes that land and a dry sense of humor that can work ala Napoleon Dynamite.

Unfortunately Kajillionaire is like every irritating Sundance film that tries to be ND or Little Miss Sunshine and fails miserably. This movie was a chore to get through. My biggest problem is there just aren’t enough funny jokes or set pieces and the couple they have are repeated to the point of irritation. For example, they have a joke about how the Bubbles Factory leaks into the office space they are living in, which at first is amusing but they go to it a half a dozen times and it stopped being funny.

The movie really struggles to control tone and all the characters vacillate between charmingly naive to mean-spirited and cold. To use Napoleon Dynamite as an example again: We like the film because we like Napoleon and when he sticks up for his friend at the end it’s a moment of victory we can get behind. This is just an insufferable, obnoxious, indie slog. I was bored and anxious for it to finish and it seemed like it never would (the ending is very cringey as well). It was not for me

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Save Yourselves! — Still 1

Save Yourselves

Next we have a totally different experience with the supernatural comedy Save Yourselves. I have been waiting for a movie at the festival I unabashedly love and have found it here. Save Yourselves is absolutely hilarious. It’s not only a very funny look at modern millennial life but a sweet romance of a couple who become stronger through facing off with aliens.

This film stars Sunita Mani and John Reynolds (both who were new to me) as a couple who are addicted to their cell phones and other devices and have a fulfilling yet bland modern existence where Alexa is a 3rd member of their relationship. LOL. Both actors have a wonderful chemistry together, and I really bought them as a committed loving couple, and if you know me you know I love a good romance.

One weekend they decide to abandon their cell phones and go to a friend’s house in the mountains for an off the grid break. Unfortunately unbeknownst to them there is also an alien invasion that weekend that overtakes the country. Eventually they are faced with the aliens and realize they are completely unprepared for a survivalist life.

I laughed at nearly every joke here. As someone who spends way too much time on my phone and is not very rugged or outdoorsy it almost all rang true.  For example, I loved their discussion about whether to use the gun at the house or Su’s struggles to drive stick shift (mostly backwards). So funny.

If there are flaws the ending feels a little out of place and strange but the movie had won me over by that point. I’d love to see more of these 2 actors and the 2 director/writers Eleanor Wilson and Alex H. Fischer. Look out for Save Yourselves.

It is possible my delight in Save Yourselves was helped by the fact I disliked Kajillionaire so much just before it. but I can’t wait to see it again. It’s a winner and definitely my favorite of the festival so far.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sundance Log 2020 Day 3: Rebuilding Paradise, Four Good Days, US Kids, Be Water

Hey friends! Well, I had a very busy day today at the Sundance Film Festival so I will get right to it! I saw 4 films and ended up with my first change from my preview post. I was going to see Promising Young Woman but I really didn’t want to because I don’t love horror movies especially with violence. Luckily someone at The Grand was offering tickets for the Bruce Lee documentary Be Water at the Rose Wagner Theater so I rushed over and got into that film instead!

I still have yet to see a movie that has blown me away like Blinded by the Light or Maiden did last year. Hopefully I will find it but there were some interesting films today so here are my reviews:

rebuilding paradise

Rebuilding Paradise

First up is a new documentary from director Ron Howard profiling the citizens of Paradise, California and the year after their town is decimated by fire. The whole movie is compelling and moving but I was especially impressed by the first 20 minutes that get you right in the fire. The footage was intense!

You watch these people driving with fire surrounding the car and it’s hard to believe they made it out alive. They also got Hans Zimmer to score the film which adds a lot of gravitas especially to those first 20 minutes. It’s my favorite film I’ve seen so far at Sundance.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

four good days

Four Good Days

This film tells the story of a mother (Glenn Close) of a heroin addict (Mila Kunis) who tries to help her daughter go through detox so she can take an anti-opioid shot that will help her kick the habit. There is a lot of good in Four Good Days, especially in the performances, which is why it is so frustrating that in the end the film didn’t work for me.

I think both Close and Kunis play their respective roles well. They both have the right amount of warmth and distrust that anyone in that situation would have. Kunis’ character is trying to get clean but just how strong is her resolve? She is clearly a pathological liar who does not care how she impacts her Mother but then she has moments when she does care, which makes her character interesting. That aspect works well. (Although I did think Close is a little old for this part but oh well).

Where the movie fell apart for me is in the 3rd act. Close’s character makes a choice that seemed completely out of character and unbelievable. I didn’t buy it for a second especially because it put her daughter at great risk. And then she seems to blame her very poor choices on the staff of the treatment hospital- like she didn’t just do something incredibly stupid.

The whole ending felt cheap and unearned and hurt the good moments, which had come before it. It’s a real shame because it had a lot of potential.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Us Kids — Still 1

US Kids

I’ll state out front before reviewing the documentary US Kids that I am a conservative, and I volunteered for one of the candidates, Mia Love, that is made an object of great victory by the makers of this film. You could say I’m biased, but I like many documentaries about people I disagree with. This just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

US Kids follows several of the kids from the Parkland School shooting as they go on their March for Life bus tour before the 2018 midterm elections. We see a lot of their campaigning and hear them talk about the trauma they experienced. This is all compelling and true. My problem with the film is that’s where it ends.

I watched this documentary and learned almost nothing about these kids. I don’t know anything about their family life (none of the parents, teachers or adults are ever interviewed in the film). I don’t know if they are gay or straight. I don’t know what religion they are or if they like to go to the movies. I know nothing about them.

Of course this film is going to preach well to the crowd at Sundance but if it is going to be effective in a broader message it needs to do more than just repeat talking points. I already know what those are! What policies do they want enacted? Why do they think those will work when other policies have not? We heard a lot of speeches but not much else.

I honestly learned much more about all the kids in the q&a after than I did from the documentary. I got some clear ideas of what policies they support and what their personalities actually are. This shouldn’t be the case in a good documentary.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

be water

Be Water

This was my surprise film of the day! I love biographies about people- famous or not, and I’m a huge sucker for the 30 for 30 series on ESPN. This is a series of documentaries about sports-related topics that are fascinating and that’s basically what you get in Be Water. In fact, it is even released by ESPN Films so it may as well be called 30 for 30: The Bruce Lee Story.

Watching Be Water definitely feels like a television experience more than a movie, but I like martial arts films and have always found the story of Bruce Lee with his early passing to be very tragic. The documentary includes interviews from his daughter, wife, friends and students, which was fascinating. It is especially relevant right now with the rather unflattering portrayal of Lee in the recent Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

I don’t know why Quentin Tarantino decided to portray Lee in the way he did, but I’m glad the Lee’s got to state their own case and correct the record publicly about their father and husband. It was cool!

Be Water is not going to change your life but if you like interesting biographies you’ll enjoy it.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sundance Log 2020 Day 2- Bad Hair, Ironbark, Worth

Hey everyone! Day 2 of Sundance has come and gone and I must say I am exhausted but let me tell you about the 3 films I saw today.

But first I have to give a shout out to Matt and Lousia from over at Screenzealots. We’ve been friends for quite a while on social media so it was such a delight to go to lunch with them. I love meeting up with my online community but especially fellow film critics, and in Louisa’s case a fellow female film critic who understands what challenges I sometimes face. It was great!

day 2

But let’s get back to the movies

bad hair

Bad Hair

The first of the day is the horror satire Bad Hair. This is film is directed by Justin Simien and feels a lot like both Sorry to Bother You and Get Out (I prefer it over the former). It also reminded me of Sam Raimi’s film Drag Me to Hell in the way it used gross out horror to emphasize the camp factor.

Bad Hair is a little bit tough to describe but it stars Elle Lorraine as Anna, a young insecure woman who struggles with her self confidence particularly when it comes to her hair. This is heightened by the fact she still has patches in her hair from a terrible burn she endured as a child.

After a brilliantly cast Vanessa Williams is hired at the TV studio she works for Anna decides she needs to change her image and goes and gets a weave. The problem is this weave has a mind of its own and begins attacking people around her.

Obviously the importance of relaxed vs sleek hair is something I can’t relate to but I certainly can relate to the desire to fit in at work and the pressure all women have to change our appearance to meet an ideal.

Bad Hair is not going to be for everyone but I thought it was funny, wacky, campy and scary enough to be fun. I certainly thought it was much more successful than Sorry to Bother You but that’s just me. And like I said Vanessa Williams is so good! I’d say it is definitely worth a watch just for the conversations you’ll have about it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

ironbark

Ironbark

Next up is the espionage thriller Ironbark starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It tells the true story of Greville Wynne, an Englishman who is recruited to spy on the Soviets in the year leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There’s a lot to admire about Ironbark. To start with the entire cast is great including Rachel Brosnahan and Jessie Buckley. I also thought the script for most of the film did a good job mixing in moments of humor with more tense sequences. Towards the end it loses control of tone and becomes a more grueling experience but it’s still a film that entertains on lots of levels.

Overall this was a very engaging story that’s well told. My only problem with Ironbark is at times it became a little dry and it started to lose my interest. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it’s definitely worth checking out when it comes to a theater near you.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

worth

Worth

My final film of the day, Worth, is an interesting example of having all the right ingredients but none of the magic. The film stars Michael Keaton as a real life lawyer Kenneth Fienberg who was put in charge of the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund. While this work is no doubt important I left the theater asking myself 2 questions: First, is this a story worth telling? I’m not sure. And second, if it is, than is cinema the correct format to tell it in? I don’t think so.

What I mean by this is there are a lot of things that people do which while important are not stories we need movies of. For example, Congress passing a budget is very important, vital to many people’s lives. Is the writing of said budget a story worth telling? Maybe but more often than not I would say no. And then you have to ask is the story cinematic? And I just don’t think the script in Worth justifies a cinematic journey. The main thrust of the story is helping companies to not get sued and providing people money so they don’t sue. It’s not enough umph.

So what ends up happening in Worth is you have a lot of people coming in and sharing their stories and in every case those stories are more interesting than the story we are watching of managing this fund. Keaton and team are excellent but it all left me kind of cold. I kept thinking this is a story that would make a great 60 Minutes segment but not a 2 hour feature film. The script just didn’t do it for me.

It will be easy to want to compare this to Oscar winner Spotlight but the thing that made Spotlight great is it was a commentary on the horrors that can come from group think. Even the journalists themselves realize they turned a blind eye to behaviors for the good of the group, which makes each reveal all the more devastating. There’s no large themes in Worth. Instead it’s just a lot of sad stories and jumping through legal hoops. It didn’t work for me in the end despite some impressive aspects.

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Sundance Log 2020 Day 1- Crip Camp, Miss Americana

Hey everyone! The first day of Sundance has come and gone and overall it was a decent start to the festival. I am trying this year to not get caught up in festival hype and am going to try to be as objective as possible. Today I saw 2 documentaries both from Netflix (I am kind of irritated by how co-opted the festival has become by Netflix but that’s a topic for another day). I really liked one of these documentaries and the other I was pretty meh on but it was serviceable. So here goes:

Crip Camp — Still 1

Crip Camp

This film had a lot of buzz going into it before Sundance. It is a documentary about the civil rights movement for those with disabilities but it is also produced by the Obamas who had a big hit with last year’s American Factory. I think for the most part Crip Camp lived up to the hype. It was a lot different than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a lot more about the camp but it is mostly a step by step retelling of the disability rights movement from 1977 on.

This was probably my own fault for not having done enough research into the film so I don’t fault it much. I might have liked to get more information about the people who started the camp and why but they did a good job introducing us to important figures of the movement who had all been to the camp as teenagers. I also learned about the 504 protests that occurred years before the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was very interesting. Judy Heumann is especially impressive as the movement’s leader and I’d love for a movie to be made about her life some day (only if they actually cast an appropriate actor and not an able-bodied actor!).

Crip Camp does have some vulgar language and nudity but it does teach a lot of important lessons so it will be up to parents if they want their kids to watch it. I’m certainly glad I saw it

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

taylor-swift-miss-americana-movie-poster

Miss Americana

Next up is Miss Americana about country turned pop singer Taylor Swift. I like Taylor well enough but these kind of celebrity documentaries are a bit of a tough sell for me. I’m just not someone enamored or impressed by celebrity. She’s just a human who has a job singing. That’s it.

If you want a music documentary with lots of singing and behind the scenes looks at Taylor than this is perfectly serviceable. It does it’s job and fans will be happy with it.

As far as anything more it didn’t do much for me. They try to make a big deal of her decision to endorse the democratic candidate in the midterm elections in Tennessee. I have no doubt it was an empowering moment for her personally. However, the documentary tries to compare this action to that of the Dixie Chicks coming out against George Bush in 2003.

This seems like a big stretch to me when the Dixie Chicks were still solidly country music singers and Taylor hasn’t been one for years and it was at the height of the Iraq war. Now a celebrity coming out to support a democrat against Trump is hardly world altering decisions. If anything doing such an action helps a celebrity’s career not the reverse these days.

If it was me I would be far more interested to learn more about her song writing process because that is where she shines as an artist. We see a lot of her recording new songs and working on rhymes but I wanted more. I was also disappointed we didn’t hear anything about the early managers who have made it impossible for her to sing her early songs because of a terrible contract they tricked her into signing. Why did we hear nothing about that?

Anyway, I am being hard on Miss Americana because I think it could have been much better. As it is, it’s fine. If you want a celebrity documentary with lots of Taylor singing and chatting with her cat than you’ll love it. It’s as simple as that.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (barely)

2020 Sundance Preview

Hey everyone! Today is not only my birthday but it is the official start of the Sundance Film Festival. This will be my 4th year attending the festival and my goal is to see more than the 25 films I saw last year! I didn’t get the locals pass 🙁 that I’ve had the last 2 festivals so I won’t have quite the flexibility of the past but I am still going to see some incredible films!

My plan is to post daily recaps of everything I see for the next 10 days just like I did last year, so make sure to check out the site every day for the latest updates!  I may not make all the films on this preview but I thought I would give you a peak at what’s to come.

Crip Camp — Still 1

 

Day 1 1/24- The Grand

Crip Camp

First up on Friday is the documentary Crip Camp. This tells the story of a camp near Woodstock called Camp Jened for disabled teens. It is billed as ‘a rousing film about a group of campers turned activists who shaped the future of the disability rights movement.’ I love inspirational documentaries so this sounds just up my alley. It’s also sponsored by the Obamas production company Higher Ground and their first film American Factory was great.

Miss Americana

This is a documentary about Taylor Swift and I’m not much of a celebrity person but hopefully it will be interesting. It’s by the same people who did 20 Feet From Stardom which was pretty good.

Worth - Still 1

Day 2 1/25- The Grand

Day 2 is one of my whole days at The Grand Theater because I have a Grand Pass (they only show movies there on the weekend). So I am seeing everything I can at The Grand, which should be interesting!

Bad Hair

This one looks really interesting. It is about a girl who has a scar from a perm burn. Her dream is to get on to a music video TV show called Culture. She gets a weave to help her get on the show but the hair ‘has a mind of its own’. So I don’t know what to expect with this one!

Ironbark

This is a period piece starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jessie Buckley and appears to be some kind of espionage thriller involving the Soviet’s and Cuban Missile Crisis. I haven’t quite forgiven Cumberbatch for the atrocious ending to Sherlock but I LOVE Jessie Buckley so that’s enough there for me to be interested.

Worth

In this film Michael Keaton stars as an attorney who is put in charge of the Victim Compensation Fund after September 11th. Stanley Tucci and Amy Ryan appear so it should be a good one.

Four Good Days - Still 1

Day 3 1/26- The Grand

Rebuilding Paradise

This a documentary by Ron Howard about the men and women trying to rebuild their town of Paradise, Nevada. Any film that has the words ‘a testament to the human spirit’ is right up my ally. Should be good

Four Good Days

I am very intrigued about this film. It stars Glenn Close as a woman who gets a visit from her daughter played by Mila Kunis. The daughter has been a long-time drug addict and at first Glenn’s character refuses to let her in the house because of her destructive past. This one will either be really good or really boring but I’m hoping for good.

US Kids

This is a documentary about the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their protesting after the school shooting there. Should be an emotional one.

Promising Young Woman

This one I admit I’m a little nervous about because I am not a huge horror person but I am trying to be more open about the genre this year. Plus it looks pretty R rated but again I’m trying to be more open this year. It stars Carey Mulligan as a woman who is raped in college and sets out on a revenge spree with the supposed ‘good guys’ who really aren’t so good after all. We’ll see…

Save Yourselves! — Still 1

Day 4 1/27- (Rose Wagner Theater)

Kajillionaire

This stars Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez as 2 young women who get caught up in Wood’s family of scam artists and thieves. It’s billed as an ‘absurd comedy bursting with uncanny sweetness’. Hopefully I find it so amusing!

Save Yourselves!

Monday is just my day for comedies because I will be seeing Kajillionaire and this film which is about a couple who are addicted to their phones who finally take a break from them. Unfortunately when they do is when aliens attack the earth. Sounds funny!

Charm City Kings — Still 1

Day 5 1/28- (Rose Wagner Theater)

On the Record

I must admit I’m not expecting much from this as I think it was barely finished. It was on the schedule as the ‘Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering Film’ until yesterday but I signed up for it because with tickets it’s easiest to be in the same building for both shows. Anyway, this is a documentary about a music executive named Drew Dixon and her struggle with #metoo movement.

Charm City Kings

I’ve heard great things about this film. It is about a young kid from Baltimore that wants to join a group of dirt-bike riders called the Midnight Clique. It looks funny and sweet so I’m excited for it.

Palm Springs — Still 1

Day 6 1/29- (Rose Wagner Theater)

Palm Springs

My biggest draw for this movie is star Cristin Milioti who I loved on How I Met Your Mother and was furious when they killed her off in the finale! I also loved her in AtoZ which was cancelled way too soon! Anyway she is in this and it is billed as a ‘lighthearted romp’ about a woman putting up with her family at her sister’s destination wedding. Andy Samberg stars as well as JK Simmons, Meredith Hagner and Camila Mendes.

Horse Girl

This is another one I signed up for because of the location more than anything else. It is a supernatural thriller I think about a girl who loves crime shows and horses and starts having strange dreams. I’m not sure but it sounds interesting.

Spaceship Earth — Still 1

Day 7 1/30- (Broadway and SLC Library)

Some Kind of Heaven

This is a documentary about a ‘utopian retirement community’ in Florida and a couple of misfits who struggle to fit in with this ‘Disneyland for Retirees’. It sounds sweet and funny so I’m in.

Shirley

I must admit I’m a little nervous about this film because I’m not sure how horror it will be. It’s billed as a ‘drama, full of contemporary intrigue and dynamic style’ but it could be scary. Hard to tell. It’s about a couple who take a job in a small town where they end up living with horror author Shirley Jackson and her husband. Things evidently get a little crazy so we will see! Stars Elizabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlberg, Odessa Young and Logan Lerman

Spaceship Earth

One of my most anticipated of the festival is Spaceship Earth. It sounds like a bonkers documenatry about a group of people in 1991 who entered a biosphere to try and live for 2 years. It sounds like things went downhill pretty fast and I’m beyond curious about it!

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Day 8 1/31- Broadway, and The Grand

The Truffle Hunters

I’m really looking forward to this documentary. It’s about a bunch of grumpy old men who have the skill for hunting special truffles in Italy and I’ve heard it is very funny. I like my grumpy old men movies so this should be delightful.

Nine Days

The summary is claiming this film is the ‘spiritual child of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’ which is quite the claim. I figure it will either be terrible or really cool. It’s about a man that is interviewing souls to see if they are worthy to be born on earth. We’ll see about this one…

The Glorias

This film has a lot going for it. Julianne Moore playing feminist activist Gloria Steinem seems like a perfect fit. It is also directed by Julie Taymor who usually does interesting things. It also features Janelle Monae, Alicia Vikander, and Bette Midler. I hope it doesn’t fall into the trap of message over story but we will see!

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Day 9 2/1- The Grand

Dick Johnson is Dead

This movie looks really strange. According to the summary it is ‘part observational documentary and fictional fantasy’. The director is making a movie about her father dying but also using as a way to deal with death or something like that. According to the summary it is ‘creative, joyous, funny and heartbreaking’ so that’s quite a promise! We will see how it turns out.

Sylvie’s Love

I’m looking forward to this film which stars Tessa Thompson as a young lady in the 1950s who falls in love with a jazz saxophonist while her fiance is serving in the army overseas. The cast is eclectic with Wendi McLendon-Covey, Eva Longoria and Lance Reddick appear. Hopefully it is my kind of romance!

Tesla

Nikola Tesla just appeared in an episode of Doctor Who so it will be fun to learn more about him in this film. Ethan Hawke plays the famous inventor and Kyle MacLachlan plays Edison so that should be fun. A lot of Sundance biopics are pretty basic but hopefully this is well done.

The Go-Go’s

A long day of movies ends with a documentary about the early punk group The Go-Go’s. It obviously features Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin and should be a lot of fun.

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Day 10 2/2- The Grand

Wendy

One of my most anticipated of the festival is Wendy. This is directed by Benh Zeitlin who directed Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I really enjoyed. This is his first movie since then and it is a new reimagining of Peter Pan. I didn’t think I needed another Peter Pan but the trailer looks very whimsical and charming, so I’m excited.

Downhill

This looks like a pretty unique and funny comedy. Will Farrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus play a married couple who get into a quarrel during a trip to a ski resort. Evidently there is an avalanche and Farrell’s character fails to protect his family in his fear. I’m a little worried this will be trying too hard to be edgy and Sundancy but I hope I enjoy it. Sometimes these types of indie comedies come off mean-spirited to me rather than funny but we will have to see.

And that’s it! Let’s hope I don’t get stuck in traffic or have problems with lines or work. I certainly hope I can make all of the films! What looks the most interesting to you? Let me know in the comments section. On to Sundance I go!

 

 

[REVIEW] ‘Quezon’s Game’

Sometimes it seems like every story about WWII has been told. It’s a particularly cinematic war because the heroes and villains are easy to separate (or at least on the surface it is). Nevertheless, I am always amazed to find new movies about the conflict, with new and fresh takes. Such is the case with the film Quezon’s Game, which is getting a US release starting this Friday. The film has problems but overall it’s a moving piece of history I was unfamiliar with.

When watching Quezon’s Game it is important to remember it was made on a tiny budget. As a result, it has the feel of a TV movie and not even a high budget Hallmark TV movie. (Quezon’s budget is $500,000 US where a typical Hallmark movie is around $2 million). It will be up to individual viewers whether the admittedly cheap looking production values keep them from enjoying the story but as I am quite accustomed to TV movies it didn’t bother me.

quezons game

The story is what I found compelling. Quezon’s Game tells the true tale of Philippine President Manuel L Quezon (Raymond Bagatsing). In 1938 he was presented with an opportunity to help 1200 Jewish refugees trying to escape the impending horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. This was a difficult decision for Quezon because the Phillipines had not gained independence from The United States at that point  the US had already refused to take in refugees.

President Quezon is definitely presented here as a hero and the Philippines as a country is shown in bold nationalistic strokes but I was fine with that. I enjoy heroic, inspirational stories and figure every nationality and culture deserves to have their historical heroics portrayed from time to time on the big screen. The main lead performances of Bagatsing as Manuel and Rachel Alejandro as his wife work quite well. You can see him wanting to be a better man but worrying about the consequences. Of course, this makes his eventual triumph all the more meaningful because he had doubts.

Unfortunately, most of the supporting performances stand out and not in a good way. Many of the line readings come off as clunky and inauthentic. Again, it feels more like a TV movie instead of a feature film and that’s a problem. The film is also too long and could benefit from at least 20 minutes being hacked out.

quezons game3

Enjoyment of Quezon’s Game will depend a lot on your tolerance for its level of production design and acting. I am someone who cares most about story so I found myself more than willing to forgive the problems. You can probably wait and rent it but if you want to learn more about a fascinating piece of WW2 history give this a watch.

6 out of 10

smile worthy