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

taylor-swift-miss-americana-movie-poster

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)

2020 Sundance Preview

Hey everyone! Today is not only my birthday but it is the official start of the Sundance Film Festival. This will be my 4th year attending the festival and my goal is to see more than the 25 films I saw last year! I didn’t get the locals pass πŸ™ that I’ve had the last 2 festivals so I won’t have quite the flexibility of the past but I am still going to see some incredible films!

My plan is to post daily recaps of everything I see for the next 10 days just like I did last year, so make sure to check out the site every day for the latest updates!Β  I may not make all the films on this preview but I thought I would give you a peak at what’s to come.

Crip Camp β€” Still 1

 

Day 1 1/24- The Grand

Crip Camp

First up on Friday is the documentary Crip Camp. This tells the story of a camp near Woodstock called Camp Jened for disabled teens. It is billed as ‘a rousing film about a group of campers turned activists who shaped the future of the disability rights movement.’ I love inspirational documentaries so this sounds just up my alley. It’s also sponsored by the Obamas production company Higher Ground and their first film American Factory was great.

Miss Americana

This is a documentary about Taylor Swift and I’m not much of a celebrity person but hopefully it will be interesting. It’s by the same people who did 20 Feet From Stardom which was pretty good.

Worth - Still 1

Day 2 1/25- The Grand

Day 2 is one of my whole days at The Grand Theater because I have a Grand Pass (they only show movies there on the weekend). So I am seeing everything I can at The Grand, which should be interesting!

Bad Hair

This one looks really interesting. It is about a girl who has a scar from a perm burn. Her dream is to get on to a music video TV show called Culture. She gets a weave to help her get on the show but the hair ‘has a mind of its own’. So I don’t know what to expect with this one!

Ironbark

This is a period piece starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jessie Buckley and appears to be some kind of espionage thriller involving the Soviet’s and Cuban Missile Crisis. I haven’t quite forgiven Cumberbatch for the atrocious ending to Sherlock but I LOVE Jessie Buckley so that’s enough there for me to be interested.

Worth

In this film Michael Keaton stars as an attorney who is put in charge of the Victim Compensation Fund after September 11th. Stanley Tucci and Amy Ryan appear so it should be a good one.

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Day 3 1/26- The Grand

Rebuilding Paradise

This a documentary by Ron Howard about the men and women trying to rebuild their town of Paradise, Nevada. Any film that has the words ‘a testament to the human spirit’ is right up my ally. Should be good

Four Good Days

I am very intrigued about this film. It stars Glenn Close as a woman who gets a visit from her daughter played by Mila Kunis. The daughter has been a long-time drug addict and at first Glenn’s character refuses to let her in the house because of her destructive past. This one will either be really good or really boring but I’m hoping for good.

US Kids

This is a documentary about the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their protesting after the school shooting there. Should be an emotional one.

Promising Young Woman

This one I admit I’m a little nervous about because I am not a huge horror person but I am trying to be more open about the genre this year. Plus it looks pretty R rated but again I’m trying to be more open this year. It stars Carey Mulligan as a woman who is raped in college and sets out on a revenge spree with the supposed ‘good guys’ who really aren’t so good after all. We’ll see…

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Day 4 1/27- (Rose Wagner Theater)

Kajillionaire

This stars Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez as 2 young women who get caught up in Wood’s family of scam artists and thieves. It’s billed as an ‘absurd comedy bursting with uncanny sweetness’. Hopefully I find it so amusing!

Save Yourselves!

Monday is just my day for comedies because I will be seeing Kajillionaire and this film which is about a couple who are addicted to their phones who finally take a break from them. Unfortunately when they do is when aliens attack the earth. Sounds funny!

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Day 5 1/28- (Rose Wagner Theater)

On the Record

I must admit I’m not expecting much from this as I think it was barely finished. It was on the schedule as the ‘Kirby Dick/Amy Ziering Film’ until yesterday but I signed up for it because with tickets it’s easiest to be in the same building for both shows. Anyway, this is a documentary about a music executive named Drew Dixon and her struggle with #metoo movement.

Charm City Kings

I’ve heard great things about this film. It is about a young kid from Baltimore that wants to join a group of dirt-bike riders called the Midnight Clique. It looks funny and sweet so I’m excited for it.

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Day 6 1/29- (Rose Wagner Theater)

Palm Springs

My biggest draw for this movie is star Cristin Milioti who I loved on How I Met Your Mother and was furious when they killed her off in the finale! I also loved her in AtoZ which was cancelled way too soon! Anyway she is in this and it is billed as a ‘lighthearted romp’ about a woman putting up with her family at her sister’s destination wedding. Andy Samberg stars as well as JK Simmons, Meredith Hagner and Camila Mendes.

Horse Girl

This is another one I signed up for because of the location more than anything else. It is a supernatural thriller I think about a girl who loves crime shows and horses and starts having strange dreams. I’m not sure but it sounds interesting.

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Day 7 1/30- (Broadway and SLC Library)

Some Kind of Heaven

This is a documentary about a ‘utopian retirement community’ in Florida and a couple of misfits who struggle to fit in with this ‘Disneyland for Retirees’. It sounds sweet and funny so I’m in.

Shirley

I must admit I’m a little nervous about this film because I’m not sure how horror it will be. It’s billed as a ‘drama, full of contemporary intrigue and dynamic style’ but it could be scary. Hard to tell. It’s about a couple who take a job in a small town where they end up living with horror author Shirley Jackson and her husband. Things evidently get a little crazy so we will see! Stars Elizabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlberg, Odessa Young and Logan Lerman

Spaceship Earth

One of my most anticipated of the festival is Spaceship Earth. It sounds like a bonkers documenatry about a group of people in 1991 who entered a biosphere to try and live for 2 years. It sounds like things went downhill pretty fast and I’m beyond curious about it!

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Day 8 1/31- Broadway, and The Grand

The Truffle Hunters

I’m really looking forward to this documentary. It’s about a bunch of grumpy old men who have the skill for hunting special truffles in Italy and I’ve heard it is very funny. I like my grumpy old men movies so this should be delightful.

Nine Days

The summary is claiming this film is the ‘spiritual child of Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry’ which is quite the claim. I figure it will either be terrible or really cool. It’s about a man that is interviewing souls to see if they are worthy to be born on earth. We’ll see about this one…

The Glorias

This film has a lot going for it. Julianne Moore playing feminist activist Gloria Steinem seems like a perfect fit. It is also directed by Julie Taymor who usually does interesting things. It also features Janelle Monae, Alicia Vikander, and Bette Midler. I hope it doesn’t fall into the trap of message over story but we will see!

Tesla - Still 1

Day 9 2/1- The Grand

Dick Johnson is Dead

This movie looks really strange. According to the summary it is ‘part observational documentary and fictional fantasy’. The director is making a movie about her father dying but also using as a way to deal with death or something like that. According to the summary it is ‘creative, joyous, funny and heartbreaking’ so that’s quite a promise! We will see how it turns out.

Sylvie’s Love

I’m looking forward to this film which stars Tessa Thompson as a young lady in the 1950s who falls in love with a jazz saxophonist while her fiance is serving in the army overseas. The cast is eclectic with Wendi McLendon-Covey, Eva Longoria and Lance Reddick appear. Hopefully it is my kind of romance!

Tesla

Nikola Tesla just appeared in an episode of Doctor Who so it will be fun to learn more about him in this film. Ethan Hawke plays the famous inventor and Kyle MacLachlan plays Edison so that should be fun. A lot of Sundance biopics are pretty basic but hopefully this is well done.

The Go-Go’s

A long day of movies ends with a documentary about the early punk group The Go-Go’s. It obviously features Belinda Carlisle and Jane Wiedlin and should be a lot of fun.

Wendy - Still 1

Day 10 2/2- The Grand

Wendy

One of my most anticipated of the festival is Wendy. This is directed by Benh Zeitlin who directed Beasts of the Southern Wild, which I really enjoyed. This is his first movie since then and it is a new reimagining of Peter Pan. I didn’t think I needed another Peter Pan but the trailer looks very whimsical and charming, so I’m excited.

Downhill

This looks like a pretty unique and funny comedy. Will Farrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus play a married couple who get into a quarrel during a trip to a ski resort. Evidently there is an avalanche and Farrell’s character fails to protect his family in his fear. I’m a little worried this will be trying too hard to be edgy and Sundancy but I hope I enjoy it. Sometimes these types of indie comedies come off mean-spirited to me rather than funny but we will have to see.

And that’s it! Let’s hope I don’t get stuck in traffic or have problems with lines or work. I certainly hope I can make all of the films! What looks the most interesting to you? Let me know in the comments section. On to Sundance I go!

 

 

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’.Β  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.Β  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

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MOONLIGHT SONATA: DEAFNESS IN THREE MOVEMENTS

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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

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EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE

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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

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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

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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

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THE REPORT

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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

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SWEETHEART

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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

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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 storeΒ  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 FrΓ©dΓ©ric 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

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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!

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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

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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

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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

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