Saturday proved to be a very busy day for me at this year’s virtual Sundance Film Festival. I saw 7 films, which might be a record for me. It’s certainly a lot of movies for one human to watch in a day! I still haven’t found anything I’m over the moon about but there were some good ones. Here are my thoughts:
Free Chol Soo Lee-
First up a documentary called Free Chol Soo Lee about a significant moment in the Korean-American community that I had never heard about. In the 1970s a man named Chol Soo Lee was incarcerated and put on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. The film chronicles the grassroots effort that came about to help get Lee a new trial and an eventual acquittal. Like I said, I knew nothing about this story so it was interesting to learn about especially how the media covered the story- there was even a movie made called True Believer that is evidently terrible (I’m curious to watch it now).
Free Chol Soo Lee does what you need a documentary like this to do. It is fascinating and insightful and definitely worth a watch.
7 out of 10
College campuses have long been the settings for horror films probably because they contain lots of pretty young ladies who are primed to be a final girl. This is no different in the new film Master. Director Mariama Diallo tells a story about 3 women at a Brown-esque college: 2 faculty members (Regina Hall and Amber Gray) and a student (Zoe Renee). It turns out one of the halls is haunted by ghosts and disgusting bugs. The more Hall looks into these supernatural events the more crazy things become.
Master isn’t a classic horror movie or anything but I had a good time with it. It is benefited by strong performances especially from Hall. It struggles to balance tone a bit and is more cheesy than scary but I’ve certainly seen worse in that department (the recent Black Christmas is an example on how to do this badly).
6 out of 10
Next up we have a documentary called The Exiles which follows documentarian Christine Choy as she tries to start up a project she was working on after the Tienanmen Square protest. Choy is quite the character with strong opinions on many topics. I kind of wish the documentary was just about her. Flipping back and forth between Tienanmen and her makes both subjects feel underserved and frustrating. It’s not terrible or anything but I feel there is a better movie in there than The Exiles provided.
4 out of 10
Going into the festival Summering was one of my most anticipated. The cast of young girls looked appealing and director James Ponsoldt has done good things in the past with films like The Spectacular Now. Unfortunately this film was very disappointing.
The problem with Summering comes down to authenticity. One summer day the children in the story stumble upon a dead body and they spend the next few days diving into the mystery of who the man is and how he died. Maybe this story could have worked but the kids don’t respond like kids (or adults for that matter) would. They never have a discussion about calling the police or telling a parent. It’s like that throughout the film. Everything felt so phony I couldn’t get into the story or buy any of the performances. Even the adults didn’t talk like actual humans or make choices that made sense.
3 out of 10
Every year at Sundance there is a movie that is nuts and I don’t know how to feel about it. This year’s entry is Resurrection. It is a bonkers movie that doesn’t really work but I admire its crazy chutzpah. It stars Rebecca Hall as a woman who lost a baby years before in a bizarre way and her attempt to exact revenge on her ex played by Tim Roth.
Just to give you an idea of how weird Resurrection gets the plot involves cannibalism and a man having a baby out of his stomach. It’s wild and Rebecca Hall is good in it, but I didn’t get what it was trying to say with all the madness. For a film to work you need a story that makes sense not just wild images.
4.5 out of 10
There are a lot of horror/thrillers this year at the festival (and maybe that’s why I haven’t found anything I’ve loved yet). Fresh is going to be the one to get most of the buzz but it was too scary for me. Dual is more my jam. It’s a sci-fi thriller starring Karen Gillan (who I don’t think is the best actress but I liked the movie any way). She plays 2 roles as Sarah Prime and Sarah Clone. In the dystopian world they live in you can be cloned when you are given a terminal diagnosis. Unfortunately Sarah gets cloned and then is healed from her disease and doesn’t die. This leaves clone against clone.
Unlike Resurrection, Dual takes a nutty concept but crafts an engaging story around it. I’ve seen a lot of sci-fi lately that takes itself very seriously with lots of scenes of deep staring into space and I’m tired of it. Dual isn’t a comedy by any means but it also has a good time with its concept and a script that kept me guessing. It’s a movie that will invite conversation as we debate which Sarah did what? I’m not sure everything makes sense, but I didn’t really care because I was enjoying the ride. (Aaron Paul costars and has nice chemistry with Gillan).
7 out of 10
It’s always interesting when a documentary and narrative film about the same subject open around the the same time. This is what happened with Being the Ricardos (which I did not like) and Lucy and Desi (which I did like). They both tell the story of Hollywood legends Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz but the documentary in my opinion has a much clearer focus on their relationship and I felt like I learned so much more about them from watching it.
It’s interesting because Being the Ricardos set itself up as a faux documentary and then does nothing compelling with that concept. It doesn’t do much with any of its plotpoints, leaving a jumbled mess instead of a good story.
Here in the documentary we learn about how Lucy and Desi met, their struggles with infertility, the reason why they created their iconic show to begin with and more. I had no idea how big Desilu Studios actually got and how involved Desi was in the creation of many iconic television shows and films. This was all fascinating.
Director Amy Poehler also showcases Lucy’s comedic chops and how they developed from being a B-movie glamor girl and model to the funniest lady on television. I also appreciated Carol Burnett sharing how Lucy had helped her as a mentor and friend.
Lucy and Desi doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it does a good job helping us get to know such a famous couple and how their love changed the world!
8 out of 10
So there you have it! Those are the movies I saw on day 3 of Sundance. Have you seen any of these? If so what did you think? Take care!