Kate – Day 2 at Sundance

#3 – Mother of George: This is a poignant story. Unhurriedly following an emigrant Nigerian family in Brooklyn, New York, a clash of cultures and of generations is framed in richly colored fabrics that form a character unto themselves. The bride is desperate to produce a son, and her mother-in-law is eager to produce a remedy. The family ends up with an unbearable secret, and the husband an untenable dilemma. People go to great lengths for love.
#4 – Twenty Feet from Stardom: What voices! What beauty, what power, what joy, what fun. Backup singers make the music and the sound.
#5 – Don Jon’s Addiction: This is an issues movie. My first thought was to simply report not to go see this one, enough said. The characters are not particularly sympathetic and have minimal development, and some disgusting imagery is included. On the other hand, it is an issue which is quietly and conveniently ignored, and Sundance is saying you know, we ought to take a look at it. Don Jon’s uses pornography. Half the world, like Don Jon, may well respond “Yea, so? What’s the issue?” The other half, like his girlfriend, may well respond “Are you kidding me?” The problem is that with the internet we have eliminated the controls to access which existed a generation ago. Use has skyrocketed, and an argument can be made that it interferes with gender relations. If you want to talk further, let’s go out for a (insert drink of your preference here).
#6 – Touchy Feely: This was yet another dysfunctional family. Each member has a skill. Each looses the skill. Each regains the skill, and is transformed in the process. Except that the director was not particularly successful in conveying the audience along a dramatic arc. Boring.

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!


Day 6 – #17, #18, #19, #20

Score today: Kate – 20, Nan – 16.

Me at the Zoo (US Documentary):  On thing I really love about Sundance is the opportunity, through film, to meet people whom I would otherwise judge and disdain if I chanced across them in real life.  The issue is not that Chris Crocker exudes a flamboyant gay personality, but rather that he lives his life on the internet.  An activity, as my children well know, that I do not condone.  I have to admit, though, that Chris used the medium, particularly when he had no other outlet, as an effective means to grow through tumultuous teen years and establish a sense of self.  The real hero of the film is Chris’s grandmother, who is raising him.  Her patience with Chris, her acceptance of his off-the-charts behavior, her trust that he will turn out OK together constitute a model for anyone living with and raising a teen.
For Ellen (US Dramatic):  Flat movie in all respects.  Nothing else to say about this one.  Not worth your time.

Save the Date (Us Dramatic):  Cute, fun chick flick/sister movie/romantic comedy.  Light and easy to watch.  I still think that people would be better off if they kept their pants zipped in the company of strangers.  But then there wouldn’t be as many interesting stories to tell.

Chasing Ice (US Documentary):  Follows geo-photographer James Balog (look him up on TED) and the Extreme Ice Survey  documenting global warming through time-lapse photography of glaciers throughout the world.  Well put together.  Another Sundance get-the-word-out on environmental-and-social-justice films.

Day 5 – Films #13, #14, #15, #16

SCORE at half-time:

Kate – 16 (distracted by household and other obligations, not fully on vacation)
Nan – 14 (pretty dang good considering she is a full-time student

At this point in the week, I’m moving pretty slowly and am not having an easy time pulling my thoughts together, but will do my best.  Photos coming.  Haiku on suspension.

The Other Dream Team (US Documentary):  This movie is everything that China Heavyweight should have been, but wasn’t.  Through the life/experience of 4 members of the 1988 USSR and 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball teams, we watch the political trials and fortunes of Lithuania from post-WWI to the present.  You can’t help but to cheer when they finally beat Russia for the bronze.  But what is with those Grateful Dead t-shirts, and that funny smell in the room?  Another must see.

Can (World Dramatic): The title is confusing.  The “C” in Turkish is pronounced like a soft “J”.  “Can” is probably the equivalent of “John” in English.  It is the name of the child who is the film’s subject.

Can is my favorite film thus far at this festival.  This Turkish story focuses on an infertile couple who decide to “adopt” a child.  The decision has a profound effects on the mother, father and child.  Told in realtime and with flashbacks, the story is emotionally profound, coherent, and authentic.  The child speaks only a few words at the end of the movie, but is luminous throughout.  Go see this film.

Bestiaire (New Frontier):  You have to hand it to the director.  It isn’t easy to create a film, while avoiding any semblance of a storyline.  It also isn’t easy to watch.  If you want to be filmicly challenged, just about anything in the New Frontier is a good choice.  It is good to see on once a year to remind yourself of the extensive boundary of the art of film.

New Frontier Shorts (New Frontier):  This was a collection of four “short” (the most interminable being 39 minutes) experiential films.  I’ll focus on one of them: The Monkey King, the 39 minute one.  There were something like 11,000 submissions to Sundance, of which something like 200 total are chosen for screening.  Pretty long odds, right?  So we’re watching this film and thinking, “You had to choose this one?  So just how bad were the rest of them?”  The annoyance and derisive laughter of the audience grows throughout the screening.  Several viewers walk out.  About 2/3s of the way through the screen goes black, as if it is over, and everyone cheers because it is over.  But no, 20 seconds later the film starts up again with the same Jackson Pollock-style image rotating erratically on the screen.  The audience boos in horror.  When the credits finally start to roll, someone starts to clap.  Another patron yells out: “Don’t do that, they might be faking us out again.”  Like I said, New Frontier once a year is great.  Twice in in an evening, well, uh . . .

That ended Tuesday at Sundance.