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

Love, Antosha - Still 1

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

troop zero

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

paddleton

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!

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 7 (VELVET BUZZSAW, PHOTOGRAPH, WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES)

netflix watching

So day 7 of the Sundance Film Festival proved to be a unique one! It started out with quite possibly my favorite venue of all: my house! I was planning on seeing director Dan Gilroy’s new film Velvet Buzzsaw at the festival on Sunday but then I heard it was already playing on netflix so I figured why bother? Especially since I had done a midnight movie the previous night I needed to take a lighter day today. Watching the first movie at home proved to be the perfect solution!

day 7 sundance

The next 2 movies were at the library and I must say those seats at the library are mighty uncomfortable after 2 long movies. My knees are still aching! Luckily tomorrow I have my screening of Lego Movie 2: the Second Part in the morning and then 3 movies at The Grand Theater which is pretty comfortable (and free parking!). In fact, all my remaining screenings are at either The Grand or the Rose Garden theater. Not the most comfortable but better than the Library.

Anyway here are my thoughts on today’s movies

VELVET BUZZSAW

Velvet Buzzsaw - Still 1

It’s an interesting experience watching Velvet Buzzsaw in the midst of the Sundance Film Festival. There is perhaps no better place to view films that truly espouse to be abstract art rather than narratives than at Sundance (see We are Little Zombies below or The Last Black Man in San Francisco for examples). Some of these artpiece films work for me and then others are frustrating experiences. Either way what’s even more frustrating is when you have the pedantic hipster types who try to tell you how to you should be responding and what classifies as ‘true art’.  Velvet Buzzsaw tries to take aim at these irritating art snobs with a mixture of dark humor and horror and it meets with mixed success.

What can’t be argued is the tremendous cast they have assembled for this film. Jake Gyllenhaal, Toni Collette, Rene Russo and Zawe Ashton all do good work as stuffy art buyers/critics. They all seem to be having fun playing such stuffy characters and it helps elevate the material. I laughed quite a few times at the pompous behavior of these characters. It kind of made me wish the Christopher Guest crew had taken on the world of art criticism (movies like Best in Show or For Your Consideration have similarly self-obsessed characters).

Then you have the horror elements. A rich man dies leaving behind some beautiful artwork the team is dying to own. What they don’t know is this art is cursed and it kills the owners (think Final Destination). These kills were pretty creative, and I enjoyed seeing how each of our snobs was taken down.

However, there are problems with Velvet Buzzsaw. While I did laugh some, a lot of the humor falls flat, and you have the feeling it isn’t as creepy or as funny as it thinks it is. After a while, it starts to feel repetitive and that the actors are reaching for moments that the script isn’t delivering. It all feels a little undercooked if I’m honest- like it needed a few more times in the editing/writing room before it was greenlit.

Still, I’d say the good outweighed the bad and if you can handle some strong R rated content it’s worth a watch.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

PHOTOGRAPH

Photograph - Still 1

The next film I saw is an Indian export called Photograph that I have very mixed feelings on. Directed by Ritesh Batra, it has many elements I love. First, it is a classic romance where a poor man who takes photographs for tourists asks a young successful businesswoman to pretend to be his girlfriend for his nosy Grandma. There is nothing I love more than a fake fiance plotline in a romantic comedy.

As they pretend to be a couple their chemistry grows and there were many sweet moments between the 2. However, this relationship is SLOOOOOW going, which I was fine with, but then the director fails to give us the payoff this kind of story needs at the end to be satisfying. He spends a majority of the film getting a special gift for her and then the camera pans away before we get to see her get the gift, which was very disappointing.

If you are going to have something as conventional as a fake fiance plotline, the least you can do is give us a conventional happy ending. I am sure some people like the ambiguity of the ending, and I can see why, but for me I wanted a little bit more closure. It felt like the pilot of a tv show instead of a movie.

Photograph is beautifully shot and acted but I don’t know if I can quite go fresh with it. The pacing and the ending were just too frustrating. She needed to get the cola gosh darn it!

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

we-are-little-zombies-sundance

Now there are art films and then there are ART FILMS! Japanese director Makoto Nagahisa’s We are Little Zombies is about as big an example of the latter as you are going to get. As such, some people will find it exhilarating, and others like myself, will find it exhausting and even nauseating. That’s just the way bold art works sometimes!

We are Little Zombies is about a group of 4 orphans that decide to form a band because they all hate their parents and are angry at the world. As they play we get 3 new songs that are fun and there are some witty moments particularly from each of the 4 kids.

However, we also get long sequences with blaring music, strobe lights, flashing nonsensical imagery and complete randomness. At one point they are in a womb waiting to be birthed. At another point they steal a car and are zooming around the countryside eating strawberries. Then they become famous musicians and are on covers of magazines. It’s non-stop and exhausting.

Like I said, I’m sure some will enjoy this film.  I felt like I was going to vomit after the first hour, and I would have left if I wasn’t crammed in the middle of the row. It’s especially problematic at the very long runtime of 2 hours. It simply was not for me.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 6 (THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO, MOONLIGHT SONATA, EXTREMELY WICKED SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE)

Day 6 has come and gone at the Sundance Film Festival and today was a lot of fun seeing 3 movies with very long names! LOL. I think I liked the experience of attending the festival today more than the actual movies but it’s an interesting grouping. The final movie Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile was my first true midnight movie of the festival (not just this year but ever). My pass wasn’t valid so I had to wait hoping to get in over at the Tower Theater. Luckily I was in line with some nice people and it ended up being pretty fun.

So without further ado my thoughts on the 3 films:

THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO

thelastblackmaninsanfrancisco

Judging by the overall positive response of last year’s Sorry to Bother You, which I did not like, there is obviously an audience for this type of chaotic urban art-piece. Unfortunately, I am not a member of that audience. I did enjoy last year’s Blindspotting so it can work for me when there is enough of a story to carry me through all the chaos but often I leave feeling assaulted by art (which is probably part of the point but I leave more confused than inspired). This trend is like if Terrence Malick and Spike Lee had babies, and I just don’t get it.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco has impactful moments but most of the time it was all over the place in both story and message. The lead protagonist Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) have sweet scenes as they fight to keep possession of a family home in San Francisco but in the meantime there are street preachers, rotting fish, toxic oceans, a blind Danny Glover watching old movies and much more. We meet the protagonists Mother at one point but I’m not sure what the point of that was. It was really strange.

The other big problem with The Last Black Man in San Francisco is it is far too long for this kind of abstract art piece. At 2 hours I grew bored with all the shouting and what was supposed to be revelatory felt exhausting. I am sure many will be inspired by director Joe Talbot’s arthouse film. It just wasn’t for me.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS

moonlightsonatas

Next up is a documentary with tons of heart called Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in 3 Movements. In the film director Irene Taylor Brodsky profiles her family and their experience with deafness, both her parents and her son (she is fully hearing). All 3 subjects received cochlear implant surgery to varying degrees of success.

Irene’s parents don’t do well with the surgery and prefer their deaf world where her son feels conflicted. In fact, he enjoys the quiet peace of turning off his implant but then is glad when he can be in the hearing world again. This was a very interesting perspective I have never considered.

The film is all built around Jonas learning Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for a recital. This is a dream of his as Beethoven was also deaf. They also use animation to show Beethoven and portray the inner feelings of both Irene’s parents and Jonas. All of this worked pretty well and was very sweet. My only qualm with the film is that at times it was a little dry and slow but overall I’m glad I saw it. It’s going to be released on HBO films so look out for it there and give it a watch if it interests you.

(I did think it was a little strange they didn’t have subtitles when many deaf people were in the audience and the sign language interpreter was difficult to see in The Tower Theater).

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE

extremelywicked

The final film of the night was the much talked about Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile starring Zac Efron. There’s a lot to like in this film including the solid performances by Efron, Lily Collins and even Jim Parsons in a small role. It looks nice and clips along fairly well. I understand what they were trying to do humanizing Bundy to make his crimes seem all the more vile and disgusting. You are supposed to see the suave, slick guy that Ted Bundy was in and out of the courtroom.

Unfortunately they almost do too good a job with that. The movie needed to be messier. There are almost no signs of an evil man at all. We needed to get some clue that he committed the murders aside from him being in the locations. It almost seemed like the movie was painting him as the underdog who was wrongfully convicted. I guess that could be an interesting approach but shouldn’t there be some moments where we see the darker man come out? Some scenes of fleeting anger or fear from the Lily Collins character? It was strange and left me a little uncomfortable to be honest.

The movie Monster about Aileen Wuornos does a much better job of portraying a serial killer as just that but also showing some of her backstory and her perspective. I realize they are different in that Wuornos was not a charismatic showman like Bundy but at least the movie wasn’t afraid to depict her as a monster as the title suggests. This film, on the other hand, shows little evil or wickedness or vile behavior.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! My thoughts on another day at the Sundance Film Festival! Let me know what you think

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 5 (WORDS FROM A BEAR, THE REPORT, SWEETHEART)

sundance 2019 rachel

Another day has come and gone at the Sundance Film Festival! Today I saw 3 films, 2 of which were at the Rose Wagner Theater. They have a cool backdrop there that you must have your picture in front of to be a real Sundance groopie!

After some misses I am happy to report today is 3 wins at the festival and 3 films that couldn’t be more different. Just goes to show there is a little of everything at Sundance.

WORDS FROM A BEAR

words from a bear

First up is the documentary Words from a Bear, which profiles the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/poet N. Scott Momaday. This film is directed by Jeffrey Palmer who was there at the screening and has a small theatrical release planned, followed by a release on the PBS program American Masters this fall. If you have ever seen American Masters than you will have a good idea about this film. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it is an effective and competent look at an important American literary figure.

Momaday makes a great subject for a documentary because of his big booming voice. He could have a second career as a voice actor if he wanted. It really was very captivating! He won the Pulitzer from writing his novel House Made of Dawn, which I have not read but sounds like a good book. He certainly has a beautiful way of describing nature and the Native American experience.

They do work some neat animation into the documentary and have a wide variety of guest contributors with everyone from scholars to Robert Redford and Jeff Bridges. You could probably wait until it airs on PBS but if you get a chance to see it I don’t think you’ll regret it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

THE REPORT

the report

One of the things I loved about the Oscar winning film Spotlight is how fair and thorough it was. It resisted the urge to be a political bully-pulpit so many similar films step into being. I can say the same thing about Scott Z. Burns’ film The Report. As it follows the investigation into enhanced interrogations, led by Dan Jones, it gives no one a free pass. After seeing the propaganda piece disguised as humor that is Vice, this was so refreshing. That said, I have a feeling some of my liberal friends who have President Obama on a sacred pedestal may find his administrations choices hard to stomach but nobody is ignored. That’s what makes it great.

Dan Jones (Adam Driver) is the only hero of the film with perhaps Senator Dianne Feinstein (Annette Bening) as his trusty knight who goes through the whole ordeal with him and finally gets things done. Everyone else is willing to turn a blind eye to the findings of the report for a variety of reasons. Dan Jones even gets faced with chances to compromise his values. It reminded me a little of Mr Smith Goes to Washington without the Capra vibrato. We can have hope that amidst all the mess people exist in America like Dan Jones.

The Report is very stressful to watch as they meticulously gather information, facing barriers at each step but I was riveted. Driver is tremendous as is the incredible supporting cast including Bening, Jon Hamm, Michael C Hall, Corey Stoll and more. There are some tough scenes of the interrogations being performed but it’s all part of building tension and desperation on Dan’s character to try and get something done. Like I said, I was riveted throughout!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

SWEETHEART

sweetheart

I always try to get out of my comfort zone at the Sundance Film Festival (if there is ever a time to do that it is Sundance! It’s the whole point of the festival!). One example is going to see the Blumhouse offering Sweetheart. If you don’t know, Blumhouse is a studio that makes small horror movies. Technically I will have seen 2 of their movies in January with having seen the Shyamalan film Glass in the regular theaters. Sweetheart seemed like it would be an enjoyable creature-scares movie and to my delight it was just that!

Directed by JD Dillard (who was at the screening and a lot of fun answering questions), Sweetheart tells the story of a young lady named Jennifer (Kiersey Clemons) who is washed ashore on a deserted island in Fiji. At first it seems like her greatest challenge is going to be living on the island but she quickly realizes there is a strange creature haunting all who dwell there.

In mostly a one-woman show, Clemons does a great job being vulnerable and also tough as she faces off against the monster. The tension builds well and had a good mixture of jump scares and lingering frights. The creature is seen just enough and there are a couple of great reveals especially one involving a flare gun. Sweetheart also doesn’t wear out its welcome at just 82 minutes. I was never bored and was smiling throughout.

The only downside to the film is 2 other actors we meet are not as strong as Clemons and the creature looks cheesy. He actually reminded me of an evil version of the creature in The Shape of Water, which was funny. But if you just go with it, there is fun to be had. It will be interesting to see what people think of it as it is definitely outside the normal genres I cover.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it! 3 more films at the Sundance Film Festival! Tomorrow I have 2 on the docket and then a jam packed weekend to follow. Happy Sundancing!

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 4 (HALSTON)

So today ended up being an interesting day covering Sundance. Last night I was tired and frustrated that I went to the grocery store  to get something to eat (most everything else was closed and I didn’t want fast food). Little did I realize with my fatigue I left my wallet at the grocery store and I didn’t need it until the evening tonight. I didn’t realize it wasn’t there until after my first screening and I was purchasing a sandwich (luckily I had some cash in my purse!).

wallet

Panicking a little I decided to forgo the second screening and look for my wallet and it was a good thing I did. I looked all through my car and then my house and in a last ditch effort I called the grocery store and was thrilled when they said they had it! I’m so grateful to whomever found it and turned it in. Thank you kind and honest stranger!

HALSTON

Halston - Still 1

So that leaves me with only one movie to review today: the documentary Halston. Directed by Frédéric Tcheng it tells the story of the great American fashion designer Roy Halston who achieved peak fame in the 1970s. As one might expect, he led a very interesting life and created beautiful clothes for the modern woman. The film has a ton of new and archival interviews and I found it all quite fascinating.

Unfortunately they decide to frame the film with a bizarre narration that makes it seem like they are setting up a murder mystery not a celebrity documentary. They have an actress who is going through files and researching into the strange goings on of Halston and honestly nothing seemed all that strange? It was really odd and distracting from the narrative they did have because I was constantly waiting for Halston to get shot or something sinister. Also there are some reenactments which feel really cheesy.

It’s a shame because none of it was needed. Halston’s life is interesting enough without a fake melodramatic narrator. I wish they had paid attention to last year’s Kusama Infinity which did a much better job telling the story of an eccentric artist in a documentary format. Unfortunately these additions also make the movie too long. They should have gotten rid of all of the narration nonsense and just be confident in Halston and his life to carry the movie.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

 

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 3 (THE WITCH HUNTERS, LATE NIGHT, SUNLIT NIGHT)

Originally my plan for today at the Sundance Film Festival was to see 4 films but by the time I got through film 3 I was tired and ready to go home. Even so, 9 movies in 3 days is nothing to sneeze at! So far I’d say the festival has been a success with the usual combination of studs and duds. Hopefully I will get lucky and this week’s evening shows will be all winners because today swung violently both ways!

witch hunter

The Witch Hunters

First up this morning was the last of the 3 Sundance Kids films for this year entitled The Witch Hunters. Directed by Rasko Milijkovic this sweet film would be a perfect way to introduce a young child to a foreign language film. At the screening they gave all non-readers in the audience headphones with an English interpreter telling them the dialogue and it seemed to go over great. What a terrific experience for kids to be exposed too!

Fortunately the film is also delightful. Most of the story relies on the charm and terrific acting of its two young protagonists Jovan (Mihajlo Milavic) and Milica (Silma Mahmuti). Jovan has cerebral palsy and struggles with the weaknesses of his body and his inability to be like everyone else (a scene where he tries to climb a staircase had me in tears!). Meanwhile Milica is struggling with the destruction of her parent’s marriage and her father’s new girlfriend who they deem to be a witch (she makes her own kombucha and does yoga LOL).

It is so nice to see a story where a girl and boy are just friends and there is no attempt at young love. The parents (even the new girlfriend) are also pleasant and trying their best to do a good job (this isn’t a Home Alone style of disastrous parenting). It’s a sweet story about how friendship and imagination can help us get through the tough times of life- especially as young children.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Late Night

It will be interesting to see how the public accepts Late Night. I worry it has the chance of being seriously overhyped. I came out loving it but then heard it had just set a record of $13 million purchase price by Amazon. Much like The Big Sick, I wonder if by the time normal audiences see it they will be frustrated it isn’t the greatest thing to ever exist? We will have to see I suppose.

Regardless, I can tell you what I thought about it. Written and starring Mindy Kaling, it tells the story of an Indian-American writer who gets her dream job working for the queen of late night television Katherine Newberry (Emma Thompson). As she works in this masculine environment we see both her sensibilities challenged and the Emma Thompson character trying to deal with her declining career.

Late Night, felt like a throwback to a type of movie we don’t get any more. Not since Nora Ephron died have I seen a movie that did such a good job in balancing comedy, story, witty banter and sneaky social commentary. Nora’s movies were always (even the bad ones) deceptively light and fluffy. Sure something like You’ve Got Mail may seem like a basic romcom but hidden inside are loads of little quips about New York, men and women, politics, movies, marriage and more. This is the dynamic Mindy Kaling was able to tap into when writing Late Night. It is funny. It is insightful and there might even be some romance (for both characters in a way).

The supporting cast is also great with John Lithgow and Amy Ryan as special standouts. Late Night is a real winner you should keep your eyes open for!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

sunlit night

The Sunlit Night

There’s always one movie at Sundance that its acceptance at the festival should give young aspiring filmmakers encouragement to enter their own films next year. Not because of its brilliance mind you, but because it is a complete disaster. Last year it was Ophelia but at least that was unintentionally funny. Instead, this year we get the hot mess that is The Sunlit Night.

Starring Jenny Slate (who’ve I’ve never been a fan of) The Sunlit Night is about an aspiring artist that takes an internship in Norway to work for a curmudgeonly old man who is painting a barn to look like the sun. It is also about Alex Sharp’s character who’s father dies and he ends up in Norway to grant his father’s last wish to be buried at the top of the world.

All of this could be fine but there were so many problems I almost don’t know where to begin. First of all, it is so tonally all over the place. Certain moments are very silly. For example, Zach Galifianakis playing a man from Cincinnati who lives in the Viking reenactment, or any scene with Gillian Anderson as Alex’s Russian Mother. These were so cringe-worthy. All of this was played for laughs but landed like a thud. And then the movie would try to go super sincere and then would be pretty dark. Then other moments it was like a fluffy romcom.

There was also no chemistry between Alex and Jenny. He seemed like a child where she was a fully-experienced woman. Plus, they are together for so little time that the relationship isn’t even given a chance.

The writing was also a mess. I’m told it is based on a book but it dragged (SO BORING!!!) and yet it somehow also had more story than it knew what to do with. For instance, there is a side plotline with Jenny’s sister’s wedding and her parents separating, which just makes her parents look like insufferable jerks. Nothing interesting is done with them so I was left wondering why I was forced to endure these terrible human beings for 2 hours?

It’s also technically a disaster. The editing is weird and there are multiple points where the ADR doesn’t match up with the mouths of the people talking. I was left truly baffled that anyone with a job thought this was fit to air. What on earth?

Norway looks nice. I’ll give it that but everything else gets a giant UGHHHHH!

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

SUNDANCE LOG: DAY 2 (ABE, ELEPHANT QUEEN, FAREWELL)

day 2

Day 2 of the Sundance Film Festival has come and gone and despite having only gotten 4 hours of sleep last night I powered through and saw 4 films in 3 different venues today! Maiden is still my favorite of the festival but there were some interesting films today I’m glad I saw.

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Abe

The first movie of the day is a film called Abe that was screened at the SLC Library and it is part of the Sundance Kids lineup. It stars Noah Schnapp as a young man of both Muslim and Jewish ethnicity who is trying to balance his backgrounds and the people in his life carefully all through his love of cooking and food.

This one was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved everything with Abe and Noah Schnapp does a great job. He’s a very easy character to root for. I also liked all of the cooking and food scenes (particularly when he goes to work for a local Latin American fusion chef it’s very strong. What I didn’t like was all the other adults. They all claimed to love Abe but then would act in such shrill, inconsiderate ways. At one point he makes an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner for his grandparents and instead of eating it like grownups they start a big fight ending with one of them saying Abe should never have been born. I just don’t think a loving Grandparent would behave in such a way in front of their grandchild. It didn’t feel authentic so it was frustrating.

But in the end Abe is a strong enough character to carry his movie. One warning it should not be in the kids section as there is the f word 6 times. It would definitely be rated R by the MPAA.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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The Elephant Queen

Next up in the Sundance Kids section is a nature documentary called The Elephant Queen. Director’s Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone spent 4 years following a group of elephants to make this incredible film. The shots they get from the very small dung beetle to the giant savannas full of elephants are very impressive.

Like Disney Nature films we get names and a narrative to all the characters but it all worked for me and was very charming. I particularly liked the ‘late to everything’ geese hatchling named Steven. Chiwetel Ejiofor narrates and aside from being a touch too long for small kids it’s an adorable film the whole family will love.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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Animation Spotlight

I must admit I go to the Animation Spotlight each year more out of obligation as an animation blogger than anything else. The selected shorts are almost always disappointing. It feels like all the creators are either trying too hard to be Don Hertzfeldt or to be too grown-up and edgy. Last year was a pretty good year with The Driver is Red and The Burden being standouts but there was nothing that strong this year.

The best of the group were Untravel and Obon. My least favorite of the group was Acid Rain which went on forever and was unpleasant in every way.

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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The Farewell

Last of the night is the family drama The Farewell which stars Awkwafina as a young woman who goes to China to be with her dying Grandma. The only problem is her Grandma doesn’t know she is dying. The whole family is visiting under a farce that her cousin is getting married (did he actually get married though? It was a little unclear).

Anyone who is part of a big family will be able to relate to this story. Both in the lies we tell each other to get through family gatherings but also how every family has that person who is a treasure to everyone in the family- usually a grandparent. If the ending doesn’t make you tear up than I don’t know what to say!

There are some pacing problems but all the acting is good and overall I really enjoyed The Farewell. Watch it with your Grandma.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Sundance Log: Day 1 (Maiden and After the Wedding)

The 2019 Sundance Film Festival is here, and I am very excited to see a wide variety of films. Each day I am going to try and log my thoughts, experiences and mini-reviews of the films I see on this blog. If I miss a day I will make it up with a double post.

For day 1 I saw 2 films, both at The Grand Theater at Salt Lake Community College. sundance day 1-2Despite having my SLC Locals pass I arrived about an hour early and it was a good thing because there was a long line just for us but luckily the Grand Theaters is large and so everyone got a seat that was interested in seeing the film. They also have nice snacks at the Grand which is plus.

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Maiden

My first movie is called Maiden and it is a wonderful and inspiring documentary that first screened at the Toronto Film Festival. It tells the story of Tracy Edwards and her quest to be lead the first ever all-female crew to compete in the Whitbread Round the World Race. I love inspiring sports documentaries (see 2017’s STEP!) and this is no exception. Director Alex Holmes does a great job mixing current interviews with archival footage to draw you into each step of the journey. He even got the journalists who had said chauvinistic things about the girls to return and talk about those views, which was very funny.

Maiden is actually a more nuanced look at feminism than it might appear on surface. The women do face huge resistance and odds but they don’t see themselves as feminists and are not satisfied to just be in the race. I particularly liked a sequence where they arrive at one of the stops in their swimsuits so that people will not talk about their poor finish time. This mixture of femininity along with the brute strength required for the racing made the women sailors feel like real people not just feminist archetypes.

Keep an eye out for Maiden. It’s a real winner!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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After the Wedding

Next up is a remake of a 2006 Danish film After the Wedding. I was really excited for this movie especially with a cast including Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams. I haven’t seen the original, but unfortunately this remake was not for me. I found every character to be insufferable, irritating and selfish and all their problems to be first world and difficult to have any empathy for.

The performances are all fine but Michelle Williams character is an unlikable ‘do-gooder jerk) and Julianne Moore is an unlikable rich person jerk (things happen that are supposed to be sad but the way she manipulates people make it hard to care about her). Billy Crudup as Moore’s husband is handsome but bland. (I guess in the original Mads Mikkelsen has the Michelle Willams role). I didn’t even like their daughter who I thought was selfish and miserable.

I can’t give much else away without spoilers but none of the convoluted plot elements or big reveals did anything to draw out emotion for me (except perhaps immensely disliking the entire experience). Yuck!

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy