Monday: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, In A World…

Up until yesterday evening I was feeling kind of meh on the whole.  However, after a productive day of studying I went to two good U.S. Dramatic films at Rose Wagner that perked me up.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints: Pretty darn good. A love story between two outlaws destined to be kept apart. Beautiful and sad, with sacrifice and selflessness (or is it selfishness?), forgiveness and acceptance. The storyline was just vague enough that I never fully connected with the main characters and didn’t become invested in their relationship. I wanted a little more information to make me understand and care. Perhaps if I saw this again I might feel differently; this is certainly a film I would see again. I loved the evocative aesthetic; everything was faded and crumbling but almost homey and comfortable, from the worn dresses to the town buildings to the fields and hills of Texas. The director wanted his work to be timeless and he certainly achieved that. The music was great. The director and most of his crew were all a bit cocky and unapproachable in the Q&A.

In A World…: I think this is my favorite film thus far! Comedies are rare at Sundance, and this is an excellent one. As Lake Bell emphasized in the Q&A, this is not a movie about the voiceover industry, it only that happens to be set there. The family issues – egotistic/neglectful/even abusive father, marital strife, growing up – were realistic enough to be relatable and heartfelt, but overdone just enough to be comedic. Really a very well balanced film and not overly ambitious. Lots of fun, I laughed the whole way through.

Now back to the books and hopefully I can squeeze in another movie tonight!

~Nan

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Death day: Circles, Kill Your Darlings, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes

What started as a quick note between films has turned into another end-of-day summary. It’s definitely been a good day, though.

To start it off after Sunday brunch, Circles, directed by Srdan Golubovic: Another slow film (I’ve seen a lot of those thus far) but very powerful. Dialogue was minimal, but sufficient. The story was quite lovely (my favorite word) and lyrical, about redemption and forgiveness. There were lots of long shots of Eastern European men staring off into the distance that gave me time to reflect and feel the characters’ emotions and understand the storyline. I felt quite pleased with myself for following the film and mostly getting the director’s intent (per his explanations during the Q&A). The Q&A was fantastic because, despite the language barrier, the crew was very generous about sharing their thoughts and experience; i.e. they actually answered questions instead  of offering the typical, “well, that’s for you to decide/interpret/whatever.” There were some interesting tidbits shared, including that the Trebinje market in which the murder of Srdan Aleksik occurred was used for the movie scene and that one extra in this scene was at the scene of the crime.

Next was Kill Your Darlings, which received a lot of pre-festival buzz mainly due to the all-star cast. Truthfully, I saw this film because nothing else in the time slot sounded any better; I wasn’t all too excited and expected that it would be a disappointment. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this film about the murder of David Kammerer and the first escapades of the Beat Generation. Good acting (props to Elizabeth Olsen for making the most of a 5 minute part), strong characters, interesting story. The balance between a murder mystery/thriller and coming-of-age story (to paraphrase the director, “who or what do you have to kill to become yourself and become your best”) worked for me. Also, fantastic soundtrack.

I took a brief break for some ultimate frisbee and finished the day at Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, another film that I had been avoiding, this time because “a hyperstylized … film that vacillates between surrealism and realism” sounded a bit too New Frontier-y to me. Again, I am so glad that I went. SPOILER ALERT, highlight to read: In as few words as possible, this film is about a daughter who has killed her mother (in childbirth) and a mother who has killed her daughter (accident, blames self) and how they help each other heal. Overall, two thumbs up to this female-dominated film (director/screenwriter, cinematographer, 3 complex and generally sympathetic leads). Given the sniffles throughout the theater during the credits, I’m not the only one who thought so. Jessica Biel impressed as Linda, one of her more complex and mature roles to date, and it was fun to meet the talented Kaya Scodelario. I haven’t heard much rumbling about the breakout starlets of 2013, but she makes an obvious candidate (although she has quite a career in England). Our party of family, friends, and neighbors had a brief but interesting discussion about whether this film featured family disfunction (my mother) or a broken family (everyone else). My first reaction was that this film is the new Beasts of the Southern Wild, but after sleeping on it, this film wasn’t quite as tightly knit. The artsy water/fishes theme felt heavy-handed and awkward. I would have loved to hear this explained by the director, but unfortunately there was no Q&A. I must admit that my ballot/vote/grade/thing was lower for this reason.

Now, finally, to bed!

~Nan

The start of a new year

Another day 1 come and gone – this week is going to fly!  I started the evening at Documentary Shorts 1 which was a nice way to ease myself into the festival.  One of my favorites of the set was Paraiso, which followed skyscraper window washers in Chicago. To me, this was a nearly perfect film. The footage was lovely – there was one shot of ropes being secured, rhythmically knotted around and around a metal post, that really resonated with me. The subject was a nice balance between the corporeal and the philosophical.  We followed a group of men up and down the sides of buildings, peering into the buildings, the men’s lives and worries, and their reflections on death and the afterlife.  In the Q&A the director mentioned that the question he wanted to raise and explore was, “How do we deal with mortality in our jobs and lives?” and I thought that his product fulfilled this aim quite well. I left wanting more, which can sometimes be frustrating, but it worked for me here.

Next, Outlawed in Pakistan, about the gang-rape of Kainat Soomro in rural Pakistan and the subsequent social, emotional, and legal battles. This film piqued my interest because of my work for the Rape Recovery Center here in Salt Lake City and I must admit that despite the filmmakers’ journalistic efforts to show all sides of the story without judgement or prejudice, my own background prevented me from watching with such an unbiased view. I am having a hard time finding the words to explain why I liked this film. It was compelling, complex, emotional. I am in awe of Kainat’s strength and perseverance; even more than that, I am humbled by the support of her family. I am curious (and wish that I had asked during the Q&A) as to what inspired her father to fight for his daughter and believe in her right to life and justice.

Just a brief summary of the other shorts: Endless Day was very artsy; Skinningrove was a haunting portrayal of a town through photographs and memories; The Whistle (Gwizdek) was not as funny as I expected; and When the Zombies Come was much funnier than I expected (it often had the whole house in laughter), although the characters often seemed like they were hamming it up too much for the camera.

I finished this first short day at The Crash Reel, another winner from Sundance regular Lucy Walker. She has a knack for identifying wonderful subjects and weaving a compelling story. Definitely a crowd-pleaser. I’m not sure if this film was what I expected or not, but I certainly enjoyed it. I actually would have liked to have seen a little less of the pre-injury Kevin Pearce and a little more of the recovery process, including learning more about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) (more science, that is, in addition to the emotional interviews with other TBI survivors and victims), but that’s just personal preference. It probably wouldn’t have fit in stylistically and it was already a busy film, with a number of subjects touched upon in addition to TBI (Down Syndrome in particular). Although this film was about Kevin and while he is certainly a character, it was brought to life by the entire Pearce family. Walker did a wonderful job capturing their dynamic and I felt honored to have a glimpse into their lives. I was inspired yet again this evening by a strong and supportive family.

With that, I should wrap up and get ready for day 2. It’s is going to be packed – possibly 5 films, although I may skip out on the last one to head to a birthday party (theme: Cowboys and Indians, so much fun!)

Also, I just want to get up on the podium for a moment with a brief post-script: Rape and sexual assault are crimes of power, not sexuality. Victims of rape and sexual assault are never at fault. If you or a loved one have been a victim of rape of sexual assault and need help – from answers to questions to emotional support and beyond –  please get in contact with the Rape Recovery Center (local, raperecoverycenter.org) or RAINN (national, www.rainn.org).

~Nan

The 2013 Film Guide has arrived!

Have I mentioned how excited I am for Sundance? If you haven’t heard, I’M SUPER PUMPED! Especially because the film guide just arrived! I’ve been checking the mail every day since they released this year’s films in early December. I mean, I read all of the blurbs online immediately, of course, but there’s something so nice about having this sleek booklet finally in my hands to flip through and study. I love the feel and the smell of the paper and having everything in one place and looking at all the photos and analyzing the schedules. I’m totally geeking out.

I thought that I might be able to list some of the films that I’m most excited about. Wishful thinking – I want to see them all! This, however, is probably because the blurbs have been restricted to 1-2 sentences, as opposed to the usual 2 paragraphs, so it’s a lot harder to get a sense of what the films are about. Apparently I’m supposed to “Check the website or mobile app for full description and content information.” Boo on that, SFF. I did call office, though, and have been reassured that the big catalog will have the full descriptions.

So here’s my attempt at a to-be-seen list:

  • U.S. Dramatic: Austenland (I can probably recite the BBC Pride and Prejudice script by heart and the still in the guide is hilarious); In A World… (the voice-over profession seems like an interesting setting)
  • U.S. Documentary: 99%-The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (erm, I guess it’s kind of “in”); After Tiller (the abortion debate is so heated, I always like to get more information); Inequality For All (the connection between inequality and health was one of the major topics of a biology course I took this fall so this caught my eye)
  • World Cinema Dramatic: There Will Come A Day (“she faces the adventure of searching for herself”? I can relate); Wajma (I’ve missed out on a lot of wonderful dramatic Middle Eastern films – Circumstance, notably – and don’t want this to be another)
  • World Cinema Documentary: Google and the World Brain (I like books); The Moo Man (“scene-stealing Ida (queen of the herd),” I’m enchanted already); Salma (it just sounds so powerful); The Square (Al Midan) (will be an interesting follow-up to last year’s 1/2 Revolution)
  • Premieres: Don Jon’s Addiction (Joseph Gordon-Levitt? I’m so there); Sweetwater (I like the Old West and January Jones looks like a badass); The Way, Way Back (I’ll probably be in need of some comic relief)
  • Documentary Premieres: Pandora’s Promise (with an insatiable appetite for energy, we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place); The World According to Dick Cheney (how can I not?)
  • Spotlight: Fill The Void (another woman trapped by family and religion, perhaps an interesting juxtaposition to Salma); Mud (when was the last time we saw Matthew McConaughey? oh, yeah)
  • Next: Computer Chess (“an existential comedy,” eh, sure)
  • Park City at Midnight: Ass Backwards (great title); Hell Baby (I like fixer-uppers and Leslie Bibb); Virtually Heros (sounds like a much better version of Wreck It Ralph)
  • New Frontier: Charlie Victor Romeo (intriguing, possibly scarring); New Frontier Shorts (at least everything is shorter than the 39-minute The Monkey King)

This is all very preliminary and probably will completely change as the festival draws near, but I just had to share my excitement and initial impressions. Less than one month until Sundance 2013 starts! See you there!

It’s the end, moron (well, almost)

I learned today that the Best of Fest films showing in Salt Lake are Chasing Ice, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and The Surrogate, all of which I have seen. Sadly, this means that Sundance is ending one day sooner than I expected. However, I will be back tomorrow with a mega update on all of the film reviews that I fell behind on (oh, say 10 of them)!

I started the day at The Words, directed by Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal and featuring a star-studded cast including Dennis Quaid, Jeremy Irons, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana, and Olivia Wilde.  This was a story within a story within a story – in short, a movie about a book about a plagiarized book – but was knit together well.

I actually quite liked the love story (the most interior of the layers), but while it had potential to stand on its own, I was not fully emotionally engaged in the relationship because I had relatively little time with the characters as a result of the structure of the film.  The heavily emphasized moral of the story was to make decisions but be willing to live with the consequences.

Surprisingly, the directors showed up for Q&A on this very last day!  This was such a treat; I typically expect everyone to be gone by this point.  They spent much of the time saying, “well, what did you think?” to audience members asking for interpretation or explanation, but did mention that they occasionally considered the four male leads to be images of one man in different stages of his life.

Upon further questioning afterwards, they also explained that they considered the emotional trauma of plagiarism to be as bad as the consequences of public exposure.  Although the directors reiterated the statement that the fraudulent author is “fucked,” I still find myself feeling that he should have suffered some other repercussions.

I originally intended to head to Robot and Frank but didn’t make it, and so my day ended at Room 237, a New Frontier documentary about conspiracy theories regarding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  Ugh.  There were many things I didn’t like about this film.

To start, the interviewees were never seen on film – their comments were accompanied by clips from The Shining and other films – and so I found the content difficult to process and the organization easy to lose track of.  Moreover, the theories were utterly ridiculous and I wish the directors had either laughed at them or taken them completely seriously.  There were typical Nazi allegories, sexual innuendos, and more.

I, however, got fed up and left early (I think for the first time ever) after hearing one man delve into the meaning behind the blood rushing from the elevators without the doors opening – while I watched them open.  Also, another man said that the capital letters seen in one shot, “ROOM N” could only be rearranged to spell “moon” and “room” and this was evidence that Apollo 13 did not land on the moon and that Kubrick filmed the faux footage.  WRONG, I say! “ROOM N” can also be rearranged to spell “MORON.”

On that note, I’ll end this post.  As I said before, I’ll be back tomorrow to finish everything up.

~Nan