Sundance Log 2020 Day 10: Downhill, Wendy

The 2020 Sundance Film Festival is done! I lived it and finished off the experience watching 26 films in 10 days: a new personal record! I missed 3 films that were on my preview (yes I wimped out and didn’t see either of the horror movies I had planned and 1 movie I swapped out for the Bruce Lee movie Be Water).

Of the 26 there really was only a couple that I loved compared to last year where I had 2 in my top 10 of the year and a dozen or so contenders for those top spots. Also last year I didn’t find the festival to be as R rated, which was a bummer because I invited 2 friends and they didn’t have a great experience. It was just rotten luck. Next year I HAVE to get the locals pass. It makes all the difference in the world.

Anyway, I will do a best and worst video later this week but for now I have 2 more movies I saw on Sunday that I need to review. So here goes:

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Wendy

Director Benh Zeitlin made a huge splash at the festival in 2011 with his movie Beasts of the Southern Wild. If you haven’t seen it that film is a tale of magical realism set in the punch bowl area of New Orleans and it is a breathtaking film. With such success under his belt Zeitlin taking the same style to a new version of Peter Pan seems like a perfect fit but  I walked away with mixed feelings.

The strengths of Wendy lie mostly in the style. Just as in Beasts the beautiful cinematography mixed with wonderful music by Dan Romer (who also did Beasts). There are a lot of sequences with children running and playing that take your breath away!

Zeitlin also takes a lot of  inspiration from Lord of the Flies and Where the Wild Things Are (a movie  I love).  But Wild Things works because of its layered script that confronts the loss of childhood innocence where Wendy doesn’t have such a clear message. It’s a lot of pretty images but at a certain point I as a viewer need more story. The story he does give us is kind of  garish and stark and left me missing the whimsy that a Peter Pan adaptation should have.

The closest the film gets to whimsy is in a whale that spews magic just like a giant Tinker Bell. They also have some interesting things to say about age and growing up but it gets muddled by all the shouting and action.

Like I said, I have mixed feelings about Wendy. Some people will really hate it and other people will admire the style and creativity that it will capture their hearts. I’m somewhere in-between, but I think the good outweighs the bad. So give Wendy a shot when it comes to the theaters and let me know what you think!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Downhill

The last movie of the festival for me was the marriage comedy Downhill, which is based on the French film Force Majeure. I haven’t seen the original film so I can only comment on this version.

On the surface Downhill should be an easy home run. You have 2 actors who have been very funny with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell and an original film that is evidently quite funny). Unfortunately this film didn’t do much for me as either a comedy or an exploration on marriage.

The concept is our leads play a couple who is coming to Switzerland with their 2 boys for a much needed vacation on the slopes. While there, the mountain experiences a controlled avalanche and Louis-Dreyfus’ character Billie shields her sons in fear and Ferrell’s Pete runs away. This deeply hurts Billie and she has trouble continuing on with the vacation.

All of this could have been funny but Downhill is one of those comedies that mistakes characters fighting a lot for jokes. Fighting can be funny but a lot of the time it is just awkward and dull. It also can make your leads unlikable and hard to relate to. I didn’t really care about either Billie or Pete and found them both frustrating and unsympathetic.

There are a bunch of comedic set-pieces in Downhill that are supposed to bring laughs such as when Billie kisses a hot ski instructor but they usually fall flat. Like I said, the whole thing ended up being dull and uninvolving. I would definitely recommend saving your money and looking for a better comedy than this.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! Sundance 2020 is done!! Wahoo!

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Sundance Log 2020 Day 9: Dick Johnson is Dead, Sylvie’s Love, Tesla, The GoGos

Hey everyone! I did it! I made it through the last 4 movie day of the Sundance Film Festival. I really thought about skipping the first movie today but last minute I decided to finish out my goal and went. I ended up barely making the passholder line grouping but I’m so glad I did because I wound up loving that film most of all! Go figure!

I actually left feeling positive about all 4 films today. I’m not sure if Sundance has just worn me down but they were all entertaining and free from the extreme content a few other films have had, which was a nice relief.

Now I only have 2 more tomorrow and I will be done and will have watched more films than I did last year (25 in 2019, 26 in 2020)!

Here’s my thoughts on today’s movies:

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Dick Johnson is Dead

I was a little skeptical going into director Kirsten Johnson’s experimental documentary, fearing it would be too much of a gimmick. The idea is she is profiling her father as if he had passed away when in fact he is alive. They even have a mock funeral which her father views from the balcony above the grievers (including his very emotional best friend). They all know it is a fake funeral and yet their emotions are very true and real.

In fact, that’s the way I would describe this movie: true. Kirsten and her Dad speak openly about the process of getting older, losing memory, and the pain of grief. As someone who lost both my Grandmas last year this really rang true for me and I was crying something fierce!

Fortunately with the tears is a lot of laughs as we see the bond between father and daughter and wish we could meet the wonderful Dick Johnson. Kirsten also stages fake deaths with her Dad as part of the experiment, and it becomes a kind of ‘cinematic therapy’ for both of them. It really worked for me!

Dick Johnson is Dead will be on Netflix soon so keep an eye out for it. It’s a real gem.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

(Also her Q&A was amazing. Probably the best of the festival)

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As host of the Hallmarkies Podcastyou all know I love a good romance, and we don’t get enough of them in the theaters these days. We especially don’t get as many that are as old-fashioned as the new film Sylvie’s Love, written and directed by Eugene Ashe.

In the film Tessa Thompson stars as the title’s Sylvie who falls in love with a young saxophonist named Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) in 1950’s Harlem.  Her father owns a record store and her Mother is set on her daughter marrying a high class boy. This first half of Sylvie’s Love is what works the best as young love blossoms with all the requisite flirting and stolen kisses.

The second half of the film is less effective as the script lays on the soapy melodrama too thickly even for me. We have several separations that don’t seem necessary and then reunions that feel even less plausible. There will be a lot of people rolling their eyes at the cliches and corny moments but the chemistry was good enough between the 2 leads that it worked well enough for me.

I also loved all the period details and wonderful  music. I would compare it to something like The Notebook. Cheesy, full of melodrama but the chemistry between the couple and overall quality of filmmaking carries the day making an enjoyable time at the cinema.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Next up we have the very unusual quasi-biopic Tesla. This is a hard movie to describe but I will do my best. It tells the story of famed inventor Nikola Tesla played by Ethan Hawke but in a format that is both traditional and modern at the same time (quite literally).

The film let’s us know right away it is going to be different by employing a narrator (Eve Hewson playing Ann Morgan) who breaks the 4th wall and tells us why Tesla was such a mixture of brilliance and self-sabotage. We also get flights of fancy where fake realities are put before us such as a funny scene where Tesla and Edison (Kyle MacLachlan) are eating ice cream instead of fighting.

There are also scenes where we see modern gadgets to show the end-product of Tesla’s ideas and even a very wacky scene where a boozy Tesla ends up singing at a modern karaoke bar.

The backgrounds and production design in Tesla is also intentionally fake looking with artificial sets and obvious green screen. It may be Sundance brain talking but I found the choices intriguing and usually quite funny. Occasionally they’d push things too far but for the most part it was different but not in the confrontational way that some arthouse films can be.

If you are looking for something new and creative check out Tesla. I will be very curious to hear what people think!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The GoGo’s

Before watching this documentary I had certainly heard of The GoGo’s, and I enjoyed their hits like ‘Can’t Stop the Beat’ and ‘Vacation’. However, I had no idea they started from such punk rock origins. They always seemed more pop-influenced from what little I knew about them. So it was really interesting to watch this film The GoGo’s and learn about their formation as a punk band and how they became the first all-girl band to reach first place on the charts.

This documentary admittedly is a fairly standard rock band bio-piece but it is nonetheless entertaining. They have all the major characters there and the interviews are honest and amusing. We get to hear a lot of music and hear lots of stories of excess, music and drugs.

The only fault I’d have with The GoGo’s is we don’t get to learn much about the girl’s relationships outside of the band. There’s one point where they mention 2 of the ladies dated but that’s all we hear about their sexuality, love-lives or anything like that, which would have been nice to get a peak into.

Other that than that The GoGo’s is a lot of fun and worth a watch in the next few months if you get Showtime.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sundance Log 2020 Day 8: The Truffle Hunters, Nine Days, The Glorias

Another day of the Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and I must admit I’m losing steam here. It’s been a long week with a lot of late nights and disappointing films (with some good ones mixed in). Today I ended up seeing 3 films and tomorrow I have the option of seeing 4 but I may just do 3 since the 4th is coming to Netflix soon and I could use a long morning to be honest. We’ll see!

Anyway, I feel about emotionally tapped out but I still managed to take in the 3 films today and here are my thoughts:

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The Truffle Hunters

First up is the documentary The Truffle Hunters. This is a charming film about a group of 3 or 4 Italian  men who, along with their dogs, hunt down the prized Alba truffle. The best way I can describe this film is it is like an Italian version of Duck Dynasty, which is a show I have a lot of affection for.

These men wax philosophical about life, truffles, competition and drive the people who are buying the truffles crazy. None of them seem to have family lives and they all relish having directors Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw following them around. I especially laughed when one man writes a letter resigning from truffle hunting to the horrors of the buyers (he reminded me a lot of Uncle Sy from Duck Dynasty). I also loved the man in the picture above and his relationship with his dog.

The Truffle Hunters comes in at 84 minutes so it doesn’t outstay its welcome and is a real gem of the festival.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Nine Days

I have a seen a lot of experimental, artistic films here at Sundance and most of them have failed spectacularly. Nine Days is finally one that actually worked for me! It definitely won’t be for everyone but it’s a weird little movie with a spiritual core to it I connected with.

Nine Days is set in a premortal world (filmed in beautiful Utah!) where one man named Wil (Winston Duke) is responsible for deciding who is ready to come to earth in a body and who is not. He gets 9 days to make his decision and then in a wall of TVs he watches his choice live out their lives on VHS tapes.

At the beginning of the film Will is shaken by the suicide of one of his favorite recruits and yet he soldiers on with the interviews of the new candidates. For a small indie they gathered a pretty impressive cast. In addition to Duke (who is tremendous especially in the epic final monologue), they got Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgard, Tony Hale, Benedict Wong and more.

The cinematography of Nine Days has a definite Terrence Malick vibe to it, which is enhanced by the beautiful Salt Flat vistas behind the house. Also the script is unpredictable and creative.

Where the film falters is sometimes the world building and rules are unclear and confusing. Even his final choice seems  to come out of the blue and not make much sense. It’s also a bit repetitive and slow at times; however, compared to something like Horse Girl this should win all the Oscars. It’s a good one!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The Glorias

If there ever is a case of a film biting off more than it can chew it is the new film from Julie Taymor called The Glorias. The film strives to tell the 80 year story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem and it has tons of ambition and some solid performances. However, it ends up feeling like a well-intentioned mess. It has so many ideas and covers way too much to absorb everything or give it all the gravitas it should have and it ends up being frustrating.

The conceit of the film is that a child, tween, young adult and older version of Gloria are all taking a road trip together through the events of her life. These scenes are shot in black and white and at times we spend a lot of time on the bus and than other times we will go 30 minutes without seeing them. Then there are flights of fancy and even an animated sequence that feel very out of place.

The Glorias would have been smarter to focus on one era like the start of Ms magazine or the achievement of the National Women’s Conference. Instead we get Gloria’s childhood, her experiences with both her parents, her time in India, her time as a struggling journalist, every era of her feminist leadership, her finally getting married, her sadness at Hillary losing and finally the Women’s March where we see the actual Gloria speech (real footage is used throughout). It was just too much and it all starts to run together and feel like a biographical box the filmmakers needed to check off the list.

I can see why other people might like bits and pieces of this film, but I found it pretty frustrating to watch and was relieved when it was over.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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:

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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

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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

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!

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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

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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:

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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!)

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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

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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

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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:

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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

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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

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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

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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