Sundance Log 2021 Day 2 (President, Cryptozoo, Bring Your Own Brigade, Playing with Sharks, Coda, One for the Road)

Hi friends! Another day of virtual Sundance Film Festival attendance has come and gone. And as much as I miss the comradery of physical attendance the virtual experience has its appeal and they have done a great job organizing everything. Not only do they have a wide selection of movies but they still have the director introductions and post movie QandA’s available for you to enjoy.

Today I managed to see 6 movies and they included the usual hits and misses of Sundance but that’s part of the fun of going to the festival. Here are my quick thoughts on what I’ve seen:

President

President is a documentary by director Camilla Nielsson chronicling the 2018 presidential election in Zimbabwe. She has incredible access to both candidates and the aging long-ruling dictator Robert Mugabe (a press conference he gives on a literal throne is particularly memorable). Unfortunately the movie felt dry and almost too detailed for its own good. When watching movies like this I always ask myself if I’d rather be reading an article on the topic and the answer here is definitely yes. There’s an art to making documentaries cinematic and this one didn’t do it for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Cryptozoo

Some people will find Dash Shaw’s sophomore film to be a brilliant trippy exercise. In fact, I was a big fan of his first film My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea. It was weird with raw animation but it was also quite funny so it worked. Unfortunately, this effort did not work for me. It might have been successful as a short but as a feature there isn’t enough meat on the bone narratively to be successful. It felt like utter randomness and the nearly constantly nudity feels gratuitous. While I appreciate the experimentation the director must meet the audience half way and give some satisfactory story to gnaw at in order for it all to pay off. Despite some cool animation this is a definite skip.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Bring Your Own Brigade

I always appreciate a documentary where the director is open to being surprised. Lucy Walker does this in her film Bring Your Own Brigade and it makes for a fascinating watch. The film chronicles the various wildfires in 2018 California. From the Camp Fire in Northern to the Woolsey Fire in Southern, Walker immerses you in the events of the horrible fires and then dives into how these fires happened and what is or isn’t being done to prevent them from happening again. Each step of the way she is surprised by what she finds and what the people who have become her friends say. It’s probably about 30 minutes too long and perhaps has too much detail but I still thought it was a terrific documentary.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Playing with Sharks

Playing with Sharks is a light and fun bio-pic documentary about shark expert Valerie Taylor. I’m a big fan of sharks, Jaws and Shark Week so I’m amazed I hadn’t ever heard of Taylor but she’s an engaging presence on screen (very helpful in a profile piece). She opens up to her mistakes as a spear fisher early in her career and is honest about the damage Jaws may have caused to the shark population. The beautiful ocean cinematography made me long for the ocean. Someday! In the end, this is a pleasant watch about a seemingly lovely person.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Coda

Coda is the kind of movie I live for at the festival. What some might brush off as a crowd-pleaser I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s no wonder it has inspired the first big bidding war of the festival. It’s such a sweet lovely movie. (It reminded me of Blinded By the Light, which I also saw at Sundance and also adored). It is about a teenager named Ruby (Emilia Jones) who’s family is all deaf but she has dreams of becoming a singer and going to Berkley. Marlee Matlin is terrific as Ruby’s mother and Eugenio Derbez steals the show as her eccentric choir director. We even get to see Ferdia  Walsh-Peelo from Sing Street fame as her love interest. This is a lovely film that will make you want to reach out to your family and tell them you love them. A real winner.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

One for the Road

This Fall I started my first deep dive into the world of kdramas with my friend Suey from the KPOP Konverters. It was a really fun experience but there is a pacing to the brand of melodrama that took some getting used to. I felt the same way watching One for the Road. It’s from Thailand instead of Korea but if you are a kdrama fan I bet you’d enjoy it. One for the Road is directed by Baz Poonpiriya and it is produced by Wong Kar-wai who made the classic In the Mood for Love.

The film is about 2 friends who go on a journey to say goodbye to their past loves before one dies of leukemia. For the first hour this sentimental bromance was working for me. It was sweet along the lines of something like 50/50. Unfortunately the last hour really pulls it down with a story change that drags. They decide to dive into the non-sick man’s past love life and it is not very interesting. I kept wanting them to get back to the 2 friends which I had been enjoying. One for the Road looks nice and has it’s moments but I can’t recommend it.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

There you have it! What a day of movie watching. I should have an equally busy day tomorrow. Did any of you attend Sundance? What have you seen? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments section.

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