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

downhill

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!

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

nine days

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

horse girl

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 1- Crip Camp, Miss Americana

Hey everyone! The first day of Sundance has come and gone and overall it was a decent start to the festival. I am trying this year to not get caught up in festival hype and am going to try to be as objective as possible. Today I saw 2 documentaries both from Netflix (I am kind of irritated by how co-opted the festival has become by Netflix but that’s a topic for another day). I really liked one of these documentaries and the other I was pretty meh on but it was serviceable. So here goes:

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Crip Camp

This film had a lot of buzz going into it before Sundance. It is a documentary about the civil rights movement for those with disabilities but it is also produced by the Obamas who had a big hit with last year’s American Factory. I think for the most part Crip Camp lived up to the hype. It was a lot different than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a lot more about the camp but it is mostly a step by step retelling of the disability rights movement from 1977 on.

This was probably my own fault for not having done enough research into the film so I don’t fault it much. I might have liked to get more information about the people who started the camp and why but they did a good job introducing us to important figures of the movement who had all been to the camp as teenagers. I also learned about the 504 protests that occurred years before the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was very interesting. Judy Heumann is especially impressive as the movement’s leader and I’d love for a movie to be made about her life some day (only if they actually cast an appropriate actor and not an able-bodied actor!).

Crip Camp does have some vulgar language and nudity but it does teach a lot of important lessons so it will be up to parents if they want their kids to watch it. I’m certainly glad I saw it

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Miss Americana

Next up is Miss Americana about country turned pop singer Taylor Swift. I like Taylor well enough but these kind of celebrity documentaries are a bit of a tough sell for me. I’m just not someone enamored or impressed by celebrity. She’s just a human who has a job singing. That’s it.

If you want a music documentary with lots of singing and behind the scenes looks at Taylor than this is perfectly serviceable. It does it’s job and fans will be happy with it.

As far as anything more it didn’t do much for me. They try to make a big deal of her decision to endorse the democratic candidate in the midterm elections in Tennessee. I have no doubt it was an empowering moment for her personally. However, the documentary tries to compare this action to that of the Dixie Chicks coming out against George Bush in 2003.

This seems like a big stretch to me when the Dixie Chicks were still solidly country music singers and Taylor hasn’t been one for years and it was at the height of the Iraq war. Now a celebrity coming out to support a democrat against Trump is hardly world altering decisions. If anything doing such an action helps a celebrity’s career not the reverse these days.

If it was me I would be far more interested to learn more about her song writing process because that is where she shines as an artist. We see a lot of her recording new songs and working on rhymes but I wanted more. I was also disappointed we didn’t hear anything about the early managers who have made it impossible for her to sing her early songs because of a terrible contract they tricked her into signing. Why did we hear nothing about that?

Anyway, I am being hard on Miss Americana because I think it could have been much better. As it is, it’s fine. If you want a celebrity documentary with lots of Taylor singing and chatting with her cat than you’ll love it. It’s as simple as that.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy (barely)

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 9 (LOVE ANTOSHA, TROOP ZERO, PADDLETON)

sundance bye

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):

sundance ranking

But let’s talk about the 3 movies I saw today.

LOVE, ANTOSHA

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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.

6/10

Smile Worthy

TROOP ZERO

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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.

6/10

Smile Worthy

PADDLETON

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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.

8/10

Smile Worthy

So what do you think of the movies I have reviewed for Sundance? I would love to hear your thoughts!

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 8 (LEGO MOVIE 2, BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON, BLINDED BY THE LIGHT, THE MUSTANG)

lego movie 2-2

Today is what you might describe as a marathon event for movie fans like myself. It started not at the Sundance Film Festival but at an early screening for the upcoming film Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. Naturally being animation and a sequel to one of my favorite recent films I had to take time to see it and it ended up being a lot of fun.

lego movie

My friend Tyson met up with me and he’s a real sweetheart. We went to lunch afterwards and had a nice time talking about movies and our lives.

Once we were finished I headed over to the Grand Theater for 3 screenings at the festival. I contemplated going to the midnight screening but by the end of the evening I was too tired. I have realized through this week’s experiences that 4 movies in one day is my limit (I’d say that’s pretty good!). So, even though Lego Movie 2 isn’t technically part of Sundance I am going to include my review here because it feels like part of the experience.

Overall it was a pretty good day of movie watching and now that the festival is almost done I know I will look back with fond memories at all the great (and some terrible) films I got to see (I’m at 22 films seen at Sundance!).

LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART

lego movie 2-3

Like I said, the original Lego Movie is one of my favorite recent animated films. I loved how it combined humor, heart, creative world building and stunning animation all into one film. Then it was followed by The Lego Batman Movie, which I enjoyed, although I think it started to lose steam in the last act. Finally they had Lego Ninjago, which was very boring, and I didn’t enjoy.

Fortunately the team at Warner Animation dusted off the miss of Ninjago and are back with another strong entry in the franchise with Lego Movie 2. While more kid-oriented than the original, it has a lovely message with animation that pops and a funny (if not as funny as the first) script.

The story follows Emmet (Chris Pratt) as he tries to save Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) from an alien captor (Tiffany Haddish). Batman, Spaceman and Unikitty accompany him as they try to fight off the destruction by the ”Systar System” (those darn sisters!). Along the way, we get some good pop culture jokes and a nice message about being kind and not leaving anyone out when you play. Any kid will be able to relate to the struggles the children have in getting along and dealing with annoying siblings. I certainly could have.

I also really enjoyed the songs. They have a fun riff on “Everything is Awesome” and then a funny song called “Catchy Song” which only has one line of lyrics “this song is goona get stuck in your head.” Tiffany Haddish’s character also has a fun villain song.

If I had any criticisms for the film, the central message is more for children so some adults may find it drags a bit. It also isn’t as funny as the original or as visually inventive but it’s still solid in those categories. I’m debating about whether I like it or The Lego Batman Movie better but regardless they are both definitely fresh.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON

brittany runs

So now we get to the true Sundance films. I started the day with a favorite from the festival Brittany Runs a Marathon. This little romcom about an overweight girl that takes up the cause to run a marathon seemed perfect for me. As a plus size athlete who has completed 12 open water marathon swims I thought I would really connect with it.

Unfortunately I left the theater feeling disappointed (unpopular opinion time). The problem is being overweight or losing weight doesn’t mean you are a jerk which is what Brittany was in this film. Even at the start of the movie she was pretty unpleasant and then she gets thin and treats everyone around her like garbage. And she does have a redemptive arc by the end but my problem is her behavior didn’t feel authentic or genuine. It is particularly bad in a scene where she is very cruel and rude to an overweight friend of her sister who is joining them for a party. I just don’t believe someone would say the things she says to her. They try to claim she is drunk but it came across as very mean and she was like that to everyone. I have no idea why anyone would want to be her friend.

Because she was such a jerk to so many people and so judgemental it made her hard to root for and I didn’t feel much victory when she completed her goal because it was a selfish goal. All the performances are good and I can see why other people like it but I was disappointed. Not for me!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

BLINDED BY THE LIGHT

blinded by the light

Ever since the release of John Carney’s Sing Street in 2016 I have been chasing its spiritual successor. Many times I have heard people claim ‘_____ is the next Sing Street” and they always disappoint. Well, finally Gurinder Chadha’s delightful film Blinded By the Light comes close to taking that spot in my heart. I absolutely loved it (and I don’t even like Bruce Springsteen that much).

Blinded By the Light tells the story of Javed (Viveik Kalra) who is a young Pakistani man in the 80s who discovers Bruce Springsteen in all his glory. He dreams of becoming a writer and Bruce’s words and melodies speak to him. Encouraged by his teacher (Hayley Atwell) he starts writing more and gaining confidence to assert his independence from his traditional father. He also gets the guts to ask out the beautiful edgy girl he has a crush on.

I suppose some might call such a film trite but I thought it was pure joy. I smiled from beginning to end. The music is so well incorporated into the story (even a musical song and dance number on the streets of town works!). Javed is such a lovable character that you immediately root for and all the teens have great chemistry (I loved him and his neighbor and his best friend who first introduces him to Bruce).

It’s funny. It’s sweet. It’s romantic. It’s just fantastic.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

THE MUSTANG

Mustang

The last film of the night is one I was skeptical about. I had heard good things about The Mustang and it was the final film at The Grand Theater but I was worried it looked dry and boring. Fortunately it wasn’t dull but quite a powerful character piece with a tremendous performance from Matthias Schoenaerts.

It’s a simple movie about a program at a Nevada prison that has inmates working with wild mustang horses to try and get them ready for an auction to sell. Matthias’ character Roman Coleman is a bitter angry man who starts out the film getting into a fistfight with a spirited horse. He tells the psychiatrist (Connie Britton) that he’s not good with people and prefers isolation but he and this wild horse form a powerful bond. I also enjoyed Bruce Dern in a small role as the man who runs the equestrian program at the prison.

As the movie plays out we learn about what got Roman in prison and see his strained relationship with his daughter. There’s a lot of powerful moments of rage, forgiveness, fleeting feelings of accomplishment and despair. I felt like I really got to know Roman in full technicolor and his transformation as he works with the horse was earned and very moving. Writer and director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre did a wonderful job and I’m definitely curious to see more from her.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! Let me know what you think of these reviews and if the films look intriguing to you. Thanks! One more day to go!