It (was) Friday, Friday!

Slavery by Another Name – There were a lot of components of this film that bothered me and unfortunately, I don’t think that Slavery by Another Name did justice to the subject of legal and economic slavery following the Civil War.  This could have been a nice follow-up chapter to Ken Burns’s Civil War (indeed, it set itself up as such by using some recognizable music from the latter), but fell so, so short in my opinion.

I found it difficult to keep track of the individual stories chronicled and don’t think that they were the best selections for illustrating the legal and social timeline that was supposedly documented.  It was quite jumbled (but in the film’s defense, my exhaustion may have contributed to this impression.)

One interviewee acknowledged that this period was brutal socially but made perfect economic sense.  This was one of the more interesting moments in the film because this conflict between social justice/opportunity/etc. and economic interests continues today.  Many parallels can be drawn between the “threat” freed blacks posed to whites – both the poor competing for jobs and the powerful rich – after the Civil War and hispanic immigrants today.

But there were some little annoyances, like the mismatched fonts used for quotes versus names of speakers.  And I thought the reenactments were hokey.  And the ending seemed abrupt; while it wasn’t entirely neglected, I think I expected to hear more about how current social norms descend from this time period.  I’m pretty sure this has been my least favorite film this year.  But maybe it will still be effective for a high school history class.  [ETA: apparently this got a standing ovation in Park City. Hm.]

The Surrogate – I was initially planning to pointedly avoid this film because the subject matter seemed so not up my alley.  A physically disabled man hiring a sex surrogate?  Um…

After hearing the buzz surrounding The Surrogate, directed by Ben Lewin, though, I decided to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised.  Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) confronts life with humor and hard work but does have his own demons that the sex surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt), recognizes and helps to fight off.  This film is both a testament to all of the people, women in particular, who love and support Mark and the richness of spirit that he shares with others.  One of my favorite moments was when Mark’s priest and friend, played by William Macy (love!), tells him to “go for it” (doing the deed, that is) during a confession of sorts in the church.

The Surrogate displayed, like many other films I have seen this year, a skilled balance of humor and poignancy, but with the addition of a liberal dose of nudity.  The cast is fabulous.  John Hawkes shows his mastery in yet again – I’ve yet to be disappointed by one of his Sundance performances.  If you’re interested, here‘s an interview with him in the Wall Street Journal.  The Surrogate may not in my top 3, but is definitely recommended.

The Raid – This was badass, no mincing words about it.  I don’t usually watch action films like this, but the story line didn’t seem half bad either, following the annihilation of a SWAT team on a off-the-grid mission to take down a drug lord.  There’s even some police corruption and familial strife squeezed in – on one hand, absolutely essential to giving the audience a breather of sorts, but on the other hand, impressive (and impressively well integrated) for a film so jam-packed.

But really, the action was the reason why the theater was absolutely packed at midnight (I even met a group of guys who flew in from San Diego just to see this movie!) and it did not disappoint.  The director (Gareth Evans), the actors, whoever the designed these epic fight scenes, all contributed to make what has been termed “the best action movie in years.”  The hand-to-hand combat was insane.

This movie will be released in March in the US and I definitely recommend getting to see the original before a remake is done.  And if you want to see more, I’ve embedded the trailer below and here’s a link to the director’s blog.

The Raid Trailer v.2 from Merantau Films on Vimeo.

I’ll be back later with updates from the previous few days!  I’ve been slacking!

~Nan

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School and Rap

Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau) was wonderful and just got an Oscar nod for best foreign language film! I thought that the storyline was well put together, following both the trauma and growth of a Montreal school community after the suicide of a teacher and the Algerian substitute (Mohamed Fellag)’s fight to gain asylum. The latter was neatly integrated and was a good way to flesh out the title character’s history. I was impressed by how thoughtful this film was, delving into how to talk about trauma, the fleeting innocence and developing maturity of children, how to be a teacher, what respect and responsibility mean, and more. It was quite lovely. And I did cry at the end.

Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap (Ice-T, Andy Baybutt) was an homage to the founders and leaders of rap. It was interesting to learn about the process of composing and what rap means to the numerous MCs interviewed. Overall, though, it was just mediocre (and long.) There was nothing, or very little, about the current state and future of rap. After seeing Filly Brown, I am intrigued by how rap has been adopted and adapted in other cultures, both in America and abroad. This could be an interesting sequel of sorts.

~Nan

Day 4 – three movies

Too many movies, too little blog time.  This is a quick and dirty update from yesterday:

Monsieur Lazhar (Spotlight): Wow!  As poignent as it gets, without being maudlin.  Another must see for everyone.

China Heavyweight (World Documentary): A must see if you are into competitive boxing.  Would have liked more on the recent rise and opening of China as understood through the boxing world.

Your Sister’s Sister (Spotlight): Another Sundance theme this year is sleeping with your wife/girlfriend’s sister.  Remember this from Friday’s movie?  Really, couldn’t people keep their pants zipped a little more frequently.

Photos and haiku coming later.  Off to “The Other Dream Team.”

2/3 (or 3/4)

I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin, yesterday afternoon, and fell in love with the music.  Yes, some of it was a quintessential score, with precisely timed swells to engage the emotions of the viewer, but the fantastic Cajun music made me want to dance (but probably not drink) along with the people of The Bathtub, the backwater South Louisiana community idealized in this film.  Oddly, however, this was one film where I thought the parts were better than the whole.

There were numerous gushing reviews from audience members during the Q&A, calling the film “incredible” and “life-changing.”  I certainly would not go that far.  I thought that the storyline, while fantastical and magical, was not tightly tied together.  I’m fine with meandering and exploring, as long as there is purpose.  There was purpose to the courageous Hushpuppy’s travels, but I think that it was stretched too thin across the miles she covers.  Perhaps if I were from Southern Louisiana I might appreciate or identify with this film more.

The cast, most of whom had no previous acting experience, was fantastic.  The characters were vivid and distinctive and it was great fun to meet them both during the Q&A and in the lobby.  You could see how much of their true personalities and verve were captured on screen.  Quvenzhane Wallis (don’t ask me how to pronounce it!), the star of the film, captured everyone’s heart, both on screen and off.  She was found at a local library in Louisiana and loves to read and doesn’t have a favorite book because she likes them all!  That’s the kind of kid I like.

I waited anxiously for to catch a ride down to the Tower and we miraculously found a parking spot less than a block away and made into the theater with five minutes to spare before Filly Brown began.  This was another enjoyable film – 3/3 for the day!  All of the press that Gina Rodriguez has been receiving is well deserved (she has been dubbed “the queen of Sundance” by Rolling Stone Magazine.)  Her talented and accomplished fellow cast members also deserve acknowledgement.  As Rodriguez’s onscreen little sister, Chrissie Fit did a great job capturing the yearning, confusion, and frustration of a 17-year old.  She was also charming at the Q&A.

The directors Youssef Delara and Michael D. Olmos were obviously successful at bringing the audience along on Filly Brown’s journey given the noticeable sniffles and laughter.  This film sparked much more discussion between my mother, my aunt, and I than expected, especially after meeting the directors and producer.  This film wants to capture the Latino perspective while being a human-interest story accessible to all.  Was Filly Brown successful to this aim?  Yes and no.  The visceral reaction of the audience suggests the former.  However, this film embraced its identity as a Latino film, despite showing only a small slice of this diverse population, and thus may isolate many viewers.  Furthermore, Filly Brown promotes revenge and violence, perhaps not the best message to be sending to youth.  Is this dichotomy between cultural identity and accessibility possible?  Interesting questions arose out of this viewing, to say the least.  During the Q&A one audience member expressed her hope that this film will be shown to educators to increase understanding of all the external factors that minority students have to deal with.  Does this not promote stereotypes, too?  I’m not sure that Filly Brown is the right film to broach such topics.

Last and least, I finished the day with Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place, a childlike former rocker’s coming-of-age story.  This was so not for me.  There were enough moments of laughter to keep me in my seat (okay, that wasn’t the only reason,) but this journey of a disconnected middle-aged man did not connect with me.  The pacing was smooth, but painfully slow.  I still love Frances McDormand, though.

I’ll be back for more this afternoon.

~Nan

Where Do We Go Now? Updated

Fun film, but further review still to come. [ETA: is now up!] I did, however, get a picture with the lovely director, Nadine Labaki, and her husband, Khaled Mouzanar, who composed the music. Yay for Q&A!

With Nadine Labeki and Khaled Mouzannar at SLC Where Do We Go Now? screening

I obviously did not read the film guide very thoroughly because when the strains of the first musical number began, I was definitely confused. However, the musical numbers grew on me. Where Do We Go Now? is about rising tensions between Muslim and Christian men in a small Lebanese town and the efforts of the women to prevent an outbreak of violence. This film was fine-tuned, carefully balancing tension and humor, drawing the audience in. The final twist had the entire theater laughing. I am not surprised that this film is on track to break the sales records in Lebanon set by Titanic and Avatar. Not only was the day gorgeous outside, but the change in weather meant that the people behind the film could trek down from Park City! I liked the film even more after hearing the director speak about her aim to raise awareness and tolerance and her firm belief in cinema as a force for social change.

~Nan