Sundance Log 2021 Day 6 (The World to Come, Amy Tan, Users)

Hey everyone! I am writing this having finished the 2021 virtual edition of the Sundance Film Festival. I definitely missed my normal festival experience but there were some good parts of being at home. I got to connect with all of my online friends watching movies and the experience wasn’t as grueling as the live format can be.

I want to express my gratitude to the festival organizers for putting together a wonderful event that ran pretty seamlessly. I was honestly expecting there to be more problems than there were. I also had better luck with my movies this year than last year so that was nice.

This morning I had a blast going on Austin Burke’s channel to talk about the festival and more (we went on some very interesting tangents about how we create our reviews and dealing with toxity).

But I have a few more reviews to share with you from the end of the festival. Here we go:

The World to Come

This film tells the story of 2 lonely pioneer women who become friends and then fall in love on the American East Coast frontier. It stars Vanessa Kirby, Katherine Waterston, Christopher Abbott and Casey Affleck. I have mixed feelings on this film. On one hand it is beautiful to look at with music by Daniel Blumberg.

I also thought the 2 leads had nice chemistry and Casey Affleck does a really good job playing a husband trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. However, certain details were distracting. It might sound nitpicky but their hair was so unrealistic, all loose and flowing. It looked like it had been worked on at a salon with a curling iron instead of a prairie hairstyle. The whole film had a cheesy harlequin feel about it instead of a gritty realistic look I think they were going for. The narration added to this corny feel.

I’m on the fence about it but I give it a mild recommendation

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Amy Tan: An Unintended Memoir

I think this is probably the best out of all of the celebrity bio-docs at Sundance and I enjoyed all of them. Writer Amy Tan let’s us get really close into her family, writing and personal life. She is particularly frank about her Mother and their strained relationship. At one point her Mother even tried to kill her in a group suicide delusion. I honestly don’t know how you can forgive someone for something like that but she did. It made me want to revisit The Joy Luck Club both book and movie now that I know more about the author (as well as her other books).

If you have any interest in writing, movies, immigrant experiences or people you’ll like this film. I also really enjoyed the animated sequences throughout.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Users

My last film at Sundance is a documentary called Users and it is not a great note to end the festival on. It’s the kind of pretentious groan-worthy films unfortunately the festival is known for. The movie is supposedly a poetic treatise about man and nature. In reality what it is consists of pretty images of the Earth along with images of children. Honestly it makes something like Ghost Story or Tree of Life feel plot-heavy.

Some may want to say I didn’t get what the movie was saying but I got it. I just didn’t care about it. It’s a message of man vs machine we’ve heard literally since the beginning of film. It’s pretty but that’s about it. To think this beat Misha and the Wolves for best documentary is outrageous.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there it is my final log from the festival. I hope you have enjoyed my review. Did any of you get to see the festival? I would love to hear your reviews for what you saw! What movies in February would you like to see me give reviews for?

Sundance Log 2021 Day 3 (Street Gang, Prime Time, R#J, Rita Moreno, The Sparks Brothers)

Hey everyone! Today I watched 5 movies at the Sundance Film Festival and could have watched a 6th but I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes open to write this vlog so another movie was out of the question. Needless to say I am going to make this short and sweet.

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

This documentary continues the tradition of the childhood nostalgia docs found in films about Big Bird, Elmo and most expertly done with Fred Rogers in Won’t You Be My Neighbor (the gold standard). In that tradition this film does its job. I particularly liked the early parts about the creation of Sesame Street as a show for kids in urban areas with Black and Latino kids. Most of the later stuff I already knew from the Big Bird documentary. If you grew up watching Sesame Street than you will enjoy this one!

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It

In another documentary we get a bio-pic of EGOT winning actress Rita Moreno. This doesn’t break the mold but it is a perfectly entertaining piece on the actress.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Prime Time

Next up is a film from Poland called Prime Time. This is a short film at 93 minutes and it does a good job building all the tension that would come with a hostage situation of a TV news station on New Years Eve. The only thing I was unsure on is the man’s motivations for doing what he did. They could have fleshed that out better. Still worth seeing.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Sparks Brothers

This documentary is done by Edgar Wright and tells the story of the Sparks Brothers Band who started in 1967 and are still working together to this day. For 53 we’ve managed to stay both relevant and under the radar musicians that are not afraid to challenge convention. The Sparks Brothers is definitely way too long at nearly 2.5 hours but the brothers are charming enough to keep me engaged. I also enjoyed the animated sections in between the live action segments. It made me want to look them up on Itunes and get to know their cool sound better.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

R#J

In what is most likely to be the most divisive film of the festival R#J left me torn on how well it was able to execute its vision. Basically through social media it tells the classic story of Romeo and Juliet. I appreciate the experimentation and it fits in most of the original play with a lot of the language. But…it does feel gimmicky and its hard to get into the heart of the couple via social media. Still I found it fascinating and appreciate the risks taken. It’s a bold experimental take on a classic.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So all fresh today!! Nothing but smiles. What about you? Did you catch anything at Sundance?

Sundance Log 2021 Day 2 (President, Cryptozoo, Bring Your Own Brigade, Playing with Sharks, Coda, One for the Road)

Hi friends! Another day of virtual Sundance Film Festival attendance has come and gone. And as much as I miss the comradery of physical attendance the virtual experience has its appeal and they have done a great job organizing everything. Not only do they have a wide selection of movies but they still have the director introductions and post movie QandA’s available for you to enjoy.

Today I managed to see 6 movies and they included the usual hits and misses of Sundance but that’s part of the fun of going to the festival. Here are my quick thoughts on what I’ve seen:

President

President is a documentary by director Camilla Nielsson chronicling the 2018 presidential election in Zimbabwe. She has incredible access to both candidates and the aging long-ruling dictator Robert Mugabe (a press conference he gives on a literal throne is particularly memorable). Unfortunately the movie felt dry and almost too detailed for its own good. When watching movies like this I always ask myself if I’d rather be reading an article on the topic and the answer here is definitely yes. There’s an art to making documentaries cinematic and this one didn’t do it for me.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Cryptozoo

Some people will find Dash Shaw’s sophomore film to be a brilliant trippy exercise. In fact, I was a big fan of his first film My Entire High School is Sinking Into the Sea. It was weird with raw animation but it was also quite funny so it worked. Unfortunately, this effort did not work for me. It might have been successful as a short but as a feature there isn’t enough meat on the bone narratively to be successful. It felt like utter randomness and the nearly constantly nudity feels gratuitous. While I appreciate the experimentation the director must meet the audience half way and give some satisfactory story to gnaw at in order for it all to pay off. Despite some cool animation this is a definite skip.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Bring Your Own Brigade

I always appreciate a documentary where the director is open to being surprised. Lucy Walker does this in her film Bring Your Own Brigade and it makes for a fascinating watch. The film chronicles the various wildfires in 2018 California. From the Camp Fire in Northern to the Woolsey Fire in Southern, Walker immerses you in the events of the horrible fires and then dives into how these fires happened and what is or isn’t being done to prevent them from happening again. Each step of the way she is surprised by what she finds and what the people who have become her friends say. It’s probably about 30 minutes too long and perhaps has too much detail but I still thought it was a terrific documentary.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Playing with Sharks

Playing with Sharks is a light and fun bio-pic documentary about shark expert Valerie Taylor. I’m a big fan of sharks, Jaws and Shark Week so I’m amazed I hadn’t ever heard of Taylor but she’s an engaging presence on screen (very helpful in a profile piece). She opens up to her mistakes as a spear fisher early in her career and is honest about the damage Jaws may have caused to the shark population. The beautiful ocean cinematography made me long for the ocean. Someday! In the end, this is a pleasant watch about a seemingly lovely person.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Coda

Coda is the kind of movie I live for at the festival. What some might brush off as a crowd-pleaser I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s no wonder it has inspired the first big bidding war of the festival. It’s such a sweet lovely movie. (It reminded me of Blinded By the Light, which I also saw at Sundance and also adored). It is about a teenager named Ruby (Emilia Jones) who’s family is all deaf but she has dreams of becoming a singer and going to Berkley. Marlee Matlin is terrific as Ruby’s mother and Eugenio Derbez steals the show as her eccentric choir director. We even get to see Ferdia  Walsh-Peelo from Sing Street fame as her love interest. This is a lovely film that will make you want to reach out to your family and tell them you love them. A real winner.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

One for the Road

This Fall I started my first deep dive into the world of kdramas with my friend Suey from the KPOP Konverters. It was a really fun experience but there is a pacing to the brand of melodrama that took some getting used to. I felt the same way watching One for the Road. It’s from Thailand instead of Korea but if you are a kdrama fan I bet you’d enjoy it. One for the Road is directed by Baz Poonpiriya and it is produced by Wong Kar-wai who made the classic In the Mood for Love.

The film is about 2 friends who go on a journey to say goodbye to their past loves before one dies of leukemia. For the first hour this sentimental bromance was working for me. It was sweet along the lines of something like 50/50. Unfortunately the last hour really pulls it down with a story change that drags. They decide to dive into the non-sick man’s past love life and it is not very interesting. I kept wanting them to get back to the 2 friends which I had been enjoying. One for the Road looks nice and has it’s moments but I can’t recommend it.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

There you have it! What a day of movie watching. I should have an equally busy day tomorrow. Did any of you attend Sundance? What have you seen? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments section.

Sundance Log 2021 Day 1 (Shorts, FLEE)

Hello from the Sundance Film Festival…inside my house! Yes this is my 5th time attending the festival, my first time as approved press. As can be expected they are doing an all virtual festival this year and it honestly has its pluses and minuses. Gone are the long lines (especially if you don’t have the locals pass like last year) It’s also admittedly nice to be able to take breaks, tweet while watching and other such obnoxious behaviors you can’t do in a screening.

However, obviously I miss out on the group-feel of the festival. They are trying their best to mimic that with chatrooms and even gave directors and some critics (not me) VR sets to increase the realism. Still, nothing is quite the same as being there and chatting with folks, finding out what they’ve seen and going to see it. The festival is a great experience and I can’t wait until it is back in full force.

Today I saw 3 programs as part of Day 1 of the festival. This includes 2 shorts programs and my first feature film. Here are my mini reviews:

Animation Spotlight

Despite being a massive animation fan I must own I am not usually a big fan of the Animation Spotlight at Sundance. Often it has felt like a lot of Don Hertzfelt copycats and one of him is enough for me thank you very much! However, I don’t know if it is because I am interviewing all the animators for Rotoscopers but I feel like this is a better batch than normal this year.

The highlight of the 9 shorts is GNT which is very vulgar and foul-mouthed but funny short about group of catty friends trying to win points on social media and The Fourfold by Alisi Telengut which uses paint and paper with stop motion to tell a story about the earth. The rest were all good and worth watching.

8 out of 10

Smile Worhty

Shorts Program 1

Next up we have the first of 2 live action shorts programs. This a very different group of shorts with about the only thing connecting them being their length and being in live action. My favorite is called BJ’s Mobile Gift Shop which  is a charming short about a man who carries a red suitcase around town that is a go-to lifesaving gift shop in a bag. You spill coffee on your shirt? He’s ready to help. You lose power to your phone? He’s got a charger to help. He also challenges his stuffed suit friends to think outside their boxes in some great scenes.

However, I did not like the last short Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma. It was really long and was attempting to portray Black America but felt like scripted randomness, which I really hate in documentaries. Not for me.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Flee

My first feature film of the festival is an animated documentary about a man named Amin who tells his story to his friend director Jonas Poher Rasmussen. This is not the first animated documentary I’ve seen. Waltz with Bashir and the incredible Tower come to mind. However, it’s an uncommon enough format to feel fresh and exciting. It also is ambitious in its scope taking you from Amin’s life in Afghanistan when his father is taken away, to him fleeing to Denmark, to his coming to terms with his sexuality and getting married. That’s a lot for one film to take on!

I was particularly moved by the ending when Amin receives acceptance from someone whom he expects rejection. It is very moving. Some of the animation could be smoother but it does the job we needed it to do. I really enjoyed watching Flee.

7.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. Day 1 is done! Did you get to watch anything at Sundance today? Let me know in the comments section.

[REVIEW] ‘Judy & Punch’ or a Not Very Punchy Revenge Story

Back what seems like a million years ago I attended the Sundance Film Festival. While there I heard about a film getting some buzz entitled Judy & Punch. As a lover of costume dramas its premise of a ‘anachronistic take on the origin of Punch and Judy shows’ sounded intriguing and I was disappointed I didn’t get to see it at the festival. Now I have seen it and must own to being disappointed by the film. I didn’t hate it but its script is very uneven.

judy and punch

The first 30 minutes of Judy & Punch are its strength. Watching Mia Wasikowska’s Judy and Damon Herriman’s Punch travel around 17th century England putting on puppet shows is entertaining. The costumes, spectacle and relationship of the couple feels fresh and new. Waikowska does a great job as usual and makes for a compelling empowered woman and Mother doing an unusual job for her time.

Then something happens which I won’t spoil, and the movie becomes a simmering revenge tale with Herriman playing our greedy villain and it’s a lot less interesting. We rarely hear any more dialogue from Wasikowska’s character for the rest of the film as she wins her revenge from her evil husband. I wanted to yell out ‘I liked the earlier Judy best!’. In the desperation to make a feminist film the creators seemed to have abandoned a compelling woman and in her place put a bland archetype.

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That’s not to say the movie is bland, just the character. It’s a strange film with a cool look and aesthetic about it. I didn’t hate watching it. I just resented the turn the script took when I was enjoying the unusual story it started with.

Probably the most impressive aspect of the production in Judy & Punch is how dirty everything looks. Everyone appears like they haven’t had a bath in weeks and even the hair on the horses looks long! The puppet shows are also a ton of fun and very creative. Nevertheless, the tone is too jumbled and the story’s message too heavy-handed and simplistic for me to recommend. They were close to making something really cool but didn’t pull it off. Too bad!

4.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

frown

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:

wendy

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

the glorias

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

Spaceship Earth — Still 1

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