On my 6th day of Sundance I saw 3 films (I started a couple others but they didn’t interest me so I stopped). It’s an interesting batch of movies- all of which I enjoyed- 2 involving religion that couldn’t be more different.
Here we go with my thoughts:
Satire is a tough thing to pull off. For every Dr Strangelove there’s a million misses like last year’s America: the Motion Picture or Drop Dead Gorgeous– 2 movies I really didn’t like. Now we have Honk for Jesus and it mostly works as a satire of religion and megachurches.
The film’s greatest strength is its cast with Regina Hall and Sterling K Brown in the leads. They play the couple over the megachurch who are trying to stage a comeback after a scandal. As someone with no knowledge of these type of churches I learned something while still laughing. For instance, I had no idea that praise mime was an actual thing. I guess whatever moves you but that was new to me!
The problem I had with Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul is the consistency of the laughs aren’t there- at times it feels like a full blown drama, which can be jarring when it switches from one style to another. Also I found the writing of Brown’s character to be off. For a lot of the movie we are supposed to hate him as the worst kind of hypocrite but then there are sections where it seemed like we are supposed to be rooting for him and his redemption. It can be tonally confusing.
Still, I recommend it for the performances and enough laughs to make it worth your time.
6.5 out of 10
The festival this year was woefully lacking in its family programming. The kids section only had 2 entries and 1 of them Summering starred children but was not appropriate for them given the language and subject matter. So we were left with only Maika, a Vietnamese sci-fi film that overall I found very charming.
Maika is directed by Ham Tran and is Vietnam’s first family sci-fi film, only their 2nd entry at all in the genre. I hope it inspires other filmmakers as I love seeing genre films from all over the world. It tells the story of a little boy who stumbles across a little girl alien named Maika.
It is easy to compare Maika to films like E.T. or Lilo and Stitch but I still enjoyed it on its own. The children are adorable and the story have a campy quality that is engaging to watch.
The villains are over-the-top and the movie goes on too long but it still is a fun time. Kids will enjoy seeing a story where they are powerful and able to save the day (a friend compared it to Robert Rodriguez film like Spy Kids and I agree).
7 out of 10
My final film for the day, The Mission, is a tricky one for me to review. It’s subject matter, a Latter-day Saint mission, is very close to my heart as I served a mission between 2003 and 2005. Although not as fervent a follower as I once was I am still a member of the faith and so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.
The Mission is directed by Tania Anderson and it follows 4 young missionaries (2 elders, 2 sisters) on their mission to Finland. Anyone looking for a hard-edged dive into the faith will be disappointed because this is extremely positive. Maybe even more so than it needs to be? I would have been interested to hear what the missionaries had to say about gay marriage, and other controversial topics within the church (although they do spend a little bit of time talking about the mental health care of missionaries which I appreciated).
But alas it is more about the day-to-day experiences of the missionaries and it definitely captures how grueling and even lonely the experience is. It’s a very difficult time but that’s part of what makes it so impactful. If you haven’t lived it, it’s hard to describe but this does a pretty good job of showing the grind.
It’s difficult for me to rate The Mission because on one hand it brought back a lot of memories of my own mission but on the other hand I think it will be quite boring for those not of the faith. It also seems to accept viewers know a lot about the church, its teachings and the jargon of missions. For instance, they say an Elder is a district leader without taking the time to explain what that is.
More than anything I was surprised how positive the film was. It almost felt like it was made by the church or at least edited by them. If any of you see it you’ll have to let me know what you think.
6 out of 10
There you go! Another day at the festival is done!