As most of my readers know the Academy Awards happened last weekend and much to everyone’s surprise the road trip movie Green Book took the big prize. A lot of people, including myself, enjoyed the film and thought it was a charming tale of an unlikely friendship. However, there was a loud group that felt the portrayal of Don Shirley wasn’t accurate and the script was too simplistic. Well, if you are in the latter group, there is a new tale of unlikely friendship called To Dust you might enjoy more. (Also Paddleton is another good option now available on Netflix)
To Dust is written and directed by Shawn Snyder and it tells the story of a orthodox Jewish man named Shmuel (Géza Röhrig) who is finding it difficult to find closure over the loss of his wife. In particular, he has a bad dream about her big toe not decomposing like the religious people tell him it should. He is plagued by worry of what happens to her soul after death and if the burial is done incorrectly is she damned for good?
When Shmuel finds his clergy to be less than helpful he turns to a science professor named Albert (Mathew Broderick). You get the feeling Albert leads a pretty boring, sad life, which probably allows him to pay attention to Shmuel’s insane requests.
Pitched as a science experiment the 2 men attempt to discover what happens to the body when it decays. They start with a pig and then go from there! These 2 have a nice chemistry together and for the most part I bought their growing friendship. I also liked the nuanced look at religion, grief and science: None of which can bring back Shmuel’s wife or make his pain any less heart crushing.
What perhaps doesn’t work so well in To Dust is the more broad attempts at comedy. It gets a little silly at spots and for a film that takes on such deep themes it feels tonally off. Also the director spares the viewer no part of the decaying process. It’s very gross to watch time-lapse photography of a human toe decaying or a pig going through each stage of becoming compost. Yuck! I’m sure that disgust is intentional but it was a little much. If you are at all squeamish than I’d stay away. There is also a lot of profanity.
All that said, if you are looking for a film about an unlikely friendship give To Dust a shot. It’s not perfect but what it gets right is quite sweet and lovely.
It’s finally happened. After 9 days of attendance and 25 movies screened the Sundance Film Festival has finished for 2019! What a great ride it has been. I hope you have all enjoyed these daily updates and that perhaps it will inspire you to join me next year for the festival (or go to your own local film festival. They have them all over the country).
I finished the festival with 3 films all at the Rose Wagner Theater and they were all quite different but each emblematic of the type of material we often get at Sundance. A sweet documentary tribute, a quirky family comedy and a bittersweet dramedy about 2 friends facing the toughest of life decisions together. I’d say it was a pretty great way to end the festival and it was neat to talk with all the other passholders in line about the movies they’d seen. Believe it or not almost everyone I spoke to had seen more than my measly 25! Looks like I will have a new goal for next year.
Here is my ranking of the 25 movies (plus animation spotlight which would be towards the bottom):
But let’s talk about the 3 movies I saw today.
First up is the documentary Love, Antosha about the life of lost-too-soon actor Anton Yelchin. He died in a freak accident at the young age of 27 in 2016 but there was much I didn’t know about him. For instance, despite being so young he had 69 film/tv credits to his name, which is pretty impressive. Also, I had no idea he suffered from cystic fibrosis. Many in his life probably expected him to die a young age of this condition of the lungs so how strange to have him taken from a preventable accident. Funny how life works out sometimes.
He is also an only child, which is always the saddest thing. His parents, both Russian immigrants, are obviously devastated. I can’t even imagine what they have gone through. The title of the movie is from the letters Anton would write to his mother signing them Love, Antosha with a little drawing of his Mom. I definitely teared up whenever they read one of his letters.
The documentary doesn’t reinvent the mold but interviews an impressive group of his friends and family including costars like Martin Landeau, Jennifer Lawrence, Ben Foster, Kristen Stewart and more. They do go into his photography career which are quite pornographic (you’ve been warned).
But Love, Antosha is a sweet look at a young life taken too soon but who still managed to cram so much into the time he had. If you need some inspiration give it a watch.
Next we get a classic Sundance quirky indie comedy in the veins of Me Earl and the Dying Girl or Napoleon Dynamite except having a more noteworthy cast than either of those films. Troop Zero is about a hokum little town in Georgia (in the early 70s I think?) where a young girl named Christmas (McKenna Grace) joins a scouting troop because she dreams of winning a prize to make a record NASA astronauts will take into space to play for any aliens they might find.
In order to get on the record they must attend the jamboree and in order to attend they must each earn at least one badge. Viola Davis plays Rayleen, a woman who works for Christmas’ Dad who reluctantly agrees to be the troop Mother and then Allison Janney plays the rival team Mom who is selfish but not too catty. Jim Gaffigan is a lot of fun as Christmas’ Dad.
One of the weird parts about this movie is race is never mentioned. Rayleen being black is never discussed. The black kids in the troop get no flack for it. I guess it’s a film which requires a certain suspension of disbelief.
Also, the look and feel of the film is very reminiscent of Wes Anderson but not quite as well executed. I don’t know who the ‘Bert + Bertie’ directors are but it might have been nice if they had differentiated their film more from something like Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.
But all that stuff can be put aside because the kids are so cute and everyone involved is bringing a warmth to the picture. It makes for a pleasant enjoyable movie. It kind of reminded of the underrated Because of Winn Dixie in many ways.
I wouldn’t say it is a must see but if you get the chance to see it on amazon prime you’ll enjoy it.
Finally my last film at Sundance is the dramedy Paddleton starring Mark Duplas and Ray Romano. This is the first in a 4-picture deal between the Duplas’ Brothers and Netflix and it’s a pretty good start. Someone in line told me that in the q and a the director said much of the dialogue was improvised between Romano and Duplas and if that’s the case they are definitely pros because I couldn’t tell.
Paddleton tells the story of 2 platonic friends who live in the same apartment complex and enjoy watching kung-fu movies, making pizza and playing their made-up game called paddleton. One day Duplas’ character finds out he has terminal cancer and decides to take a prescription, which will end his life before he goes through all the pain. Romano’s character struggles with this choice but in the end decides to go through the journey and support his friend.
It sounds like a real downer, and it is very sad, but it is actually quite funny throughout. Romano and Duplas have terrific chemistry and the highs and lows feel earned and emotionally true. It’s a sweet, endearing little movie.
If you are open to movies that will make you cry than Paddleton is definitely worth a watch and I’m excited to see what the Duplas Brothers come up with next.
So what do you think of the movies I have reviewed for Sundance? I would love to hear your thoughts!