We know where the busses go and how much time to allow for getting from theater to theater. We also know how to save a little money, not a lot, just a little. To attend the first half I would still recommend getting a ticket package which will get you tickets for films, probably not your first choice(s) for $50-60 per film. Yes, you’ve got to want it. But, after the opening weekend and certainly by the second half you’ll have good luck with the waitlist and perhaps just buying some extra tickets that others might have.
I don’t know when we’ve had such good snow in these past nine years. Good for skiing and it seemed to help with the crowds as there was at least one day when transportation up from Salt Lake City just wasn’t happening. In spite of the snow (and cold) there was a tremendous, tremendous, group of beautiful marchers for the Park City version of The Women’s March on Washington. Many more would have joined, including yours truly, if they didn’t already have a $60 ticket for a movie.
There always seems to be a theme or two for each festival. In this case there were a lot of films about people in desperation of some kind or another. There were three documentaries about Syria but the theme was in the feature films as well. The opening film of the festival, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel, Truth to Power” could fit in that category of desperation, for all of us.
Some more specific themes were “Women being held captive” by other people or circumstances and “Men who don’t quite know how to get by in the world”. Maybe that is just the state of things these days.
Netflix continued to upset the apple cart of movie purchasing by paying top dollar for films even before they played at the festival. Take that, Hollywood executives. These indie movies are getting bigger, often with stars that previously seemed unobtainable (Robert Redford, Michelle Pfeiffer) and the people want them.
A new wrinkle this year, Sundance had an “Independent Pilot Showcase” as well as “Docuseries Showcase” to help fledgling TV ideas find an audience.
Here are reviews, grouped in some order that combines how likely you are to find it with how much I wish you would see it and common themes.
Amazing festival photographs shot in ridiculously low light from a great distance by Ray Keller. Other pics are courtesy of the Sundance Institute.
Our first film was “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” the 10 year-later followup to “An Inconvenient Truth” about the climate crisis. Featured in that first film, and throughout the news back then, was the warning from scientists that we had a 10 year window to address our carbon emissions or it could spiral out of control. Precious little has been done in that time and indeed, as expected, extreme weather events have become more extreme and frequent and the seas have begun to rise. This new film spends some significant time in Miami where the new term ‘sunny day flooding’ is used to describe the ocean’s encroachment onto the streets of some of the most expensive real-estate in the world. You might think that the property owners of such land could drive the political discourse but as we see in the movie that is not the case. The governor of Florida still refuses to let his staff use the term ‘climate change’. That should help.
As a film “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” has a lot going for it, the editing and pacing are just about perfect, a cohesive narrative is presented and there’s not much more dramatic footage than that from our weather these days. But more than that it seems like we need documentaries to get our news. In part because the corporate bias of all of the major TV networks and also because there is so much happening. As the extreme events (weather and otherwise) become more commonplace the impact of each one is lessened. Documentaries like this are an excellent way to get a reminder of what has transpired and get some details that we probably never heard before. One of the things we see is that Al Gore has indeed remained an active statesman, perhaps salvaging the Paris Climate Change Conference 2015 by arranging for some solar technology to be made available to India. The cameras were right there in the negotiation room and later in Vice President Gore’s hotel room as he called the head of Solar City to see what can be done.
Vice President Gore was in attendance for the Q&A after the film and the ‘10-year window’ was brought up: “Isn’t our time expired?” Mr. Gore’s answer was “No it is not too late. It’s true that in the last 10 years there has been some regrettable damage and our eco system has been changed. And from the very beginning of the climate movement, the reality has been that the maximum that is politically feasible still falls short of the minimum that is necessary according to the scientific community and the laws of physics. So how do you deal with that gap? There are two possibilities in general, you can either get into a fetal position and feel despair, which is just another form of denial. Or, you can expand the limits of what is politically feasible. That is what we’ve been doing. During the last 10 years we’ve continued to dump on average 110 billion tons of global warming pollution into the atmosphere and the heat has continued to build up but, the scientists are pretty much unanimous in saying that while we will have to deal with some of the damage that has already been done it is not too late to avoid the catastrophic damage that could threaten human civilization. That’s what’s at stake here. And it’s difficult to put it in those terms as some people shut down at that point. But just as in the last 10 years there has been some damage to the ecological system of the Earth, there has been far greater progress in developing the tools and technologies than anyone expected. The (price) for solar energy is far below what was expected, at about half that of coal.” He quoted the late economist Rudiger Dornbusch, “Things take much longer to happen than you think they should but then they happen much faster than you think they will.”
Regardless of whether it’s too late to save the climate as we know it, this is not the first film presenting the idea that the switch to renewable resources is inevitable. It’s not the climate that will drive it, its economics. Solar and wind provide the same thing as fossil fuels for less dollars. That can’t be stopped, it’s already happened.
This film was bought by Paramount before the festival. In theaters this summer.
This was the only other doc we saw this year. All in all it lacks the impact of Mr. Gore’s though it is certainly related. This will be part of a National Geographic four part series so you’ll be able to see it on a screen near you.
The main point, though it doesn’t seem to be made quite as clear as it could be, is that California’s central valley farmers are for the most part, continuing to get water, sometimes at the expense of residential customers (i.e., people). Political shenanigans around water rights, mostly by giant agricultural concerns, are the subject of much of the movie. Footage and references to “Chinatown” are used throughout. Given that California feeds much of the nation this is definitely a movie worth watching.
The audience at our screening being largely from California had to laugh near the end of the film when a resident of the California desert, finally supplied with water, is shown letting it run in the sink while he is washing his hands. Turn it off when you lather folks. A bit of troubling additional info that was revealed in the Q&A, this family has received water but there is something in it, he and his family developed rashes when they started using it.
Here’s hoping the copious snow falling on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains will help to alleviate the ongoing California drought at least for a while.
Last year’s Sundance had a little movie called “The 4th” which I wrote was the result of “some guys with a video camera who took a couple of weeks to make a movie without much thought” though the results were not all bad. It was a little showcase of how the kids are living (in LA) today. One year later, the maker of “The 4th” has a small role in another LA film, also showing how the kids are living today but with much greater results. The writer/director/star in this case is Michelle Morgan and her movie is part Woody Allen tribute and part testament to the amazing talent that is walking the streets in the movie capital of the world.
Couples, mismatched or idyllic are the focus as Annette (Morgan) finds her current partner Elliot (Jorma Taccone channeling Woody Allen) lacking by comparison to what she sees around her and so she seeks some greener pastures. Parties with unseemly games and other misbegotten dates are in store for her. Meanwhile we also follow her unattached cousin on her own continued misadventures and Elliot who finds new love even if it’s only one-sided. LA is also a character with saturated colors and much poking-fun at television and movies and how they are created there.
There is a lot of raw talent on display in every part of this movie but the true strength is the script. Each of the characters is lovingly drawn and voiced. This is a case where it would actually make sense to discuss which of the characters you most resemble.
In the Q&A it was revealed that many if not most of the scenes were done in a single take because that is when the energy brought by the actors is at its peak. I did notice a couple of shots where it looked like the filmmaker decided to dub the line as it was spoken by the actor. Possibly there was an error in that single take or the script was altered slightly at some point but I would say the single take method worked beautifully. This movie is incredibly fresh and funny. It is a true comedy with a laugh in every scene.
If you haven’t seen La La Land yet, watch this one soon after to regain your sense of balance.
Anne Hathaway and Jason Sedeikus star in an incredibly ingenious movie about alcoholism. I wish that were enough to get people to see this one. If it is, stop reading. If it takes only one more sentence – like one that says there are traditional Japanese-monster-movie monsters in the film, let this be that sentence.
Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic woman who, refusing to change, reaches her husband’s limits and so has to move back to her abandoned childhood home in small town Maine. She quickly falls back in with a childhood friend Oscar, who offers her a job at the bar that he inherited from his father. Not a great set up for recovery but this is how these things go. As if things weren’t hard enough, waking up one morning she finds the news telling her about the appearance of a monster in Seoul, South Korea. After a time, she sees that the monster’s movements are exactly the same as her own, during a certain time of the day in a certain location in the town. Are we intrigued yet? Recovery and women’s empowerment are the real themes in this one.
Jason Sudeikis is brilliant as Oscar, a character with much more depth and darkness than we’ve seen him play. In the Q&A director Nacho Vigalondo said that the part went to Jason because he asked for it. He also said the entire movie was much easier to make than any of his previous, much smaller, films. The difference was Anne Hathaway who loved the script early on and said the same; she wanted to be in this movie. Tim Blake Nelson is excellent as a bar-companion.
It’s in theaters April 7.
It used to be the case that becoming a nun was a thing. That is, a thing that a young woman might choose to do, as opposed to going to college or starting a family. That changed in the early 1960’s with the advent of the Vatican II. “Novitiate” is the product of Director Margaret Betts having read numerous memoirs by former nuns. Almost universally their Novitiate experience took up the bulk of the memoir.
The novitiate is a “period of training and preparation that a novice (or prospective) monastic, apostolic, or member of a religious institute undergoes prior to taking vows in order to discern whether he or she is called to (the religion)”. So, it is training and preparation but ‘undergoes’ and ‘discern’ are perhaps the key words there. For the case of a nun it is the reverend mother who will do that discerning and as depicted in the film it is all of the human, rather than divine, qualities of that person calling the shots that necessarily come to the fore.
Margaret Qualley, real-life daughter of Andie McDowell, has the starring role as a young woman (Cathleen) who, in spite of no religious upbringing, feels called to become a nun. She is a young person filled with a passion so great it can only mean the existence of God. Her mother, played exquisitely by Julianne Nicholson, does her best to dissuade her but must let her be her own person. The film then follows as Sister Cathleen makes her way through the process, eventually becoming a Novitiate or Novice at about the same time as Vatican II rocks the foundation of the church, especially from the point of view of the nuns who are essentially demoted to the status of any other church goer. Given this shock, it is the human qualities that again come to the surface and a new reckoning of the source of passion begins to emerge.
One of my favorite things about this movie is how it immerses the viewer in a world and time. The world is mostly inside the monastery that houses these nuns and novices and so becomes very compelling. I counted only three male speaking roles in a cast of about 80 total.
This is an odd one for sure. A man, Isaac (Brett Gelman) with almost or exactly zero social adeptness or sympathetic qualities, slowly ruins his life by alienating everyone around him. Yes, it’s a comedy. The reason it’s supposed to be funny is that we all have our shortcomings and have all acted in a less-than-stellar-manner at times. Or perhaps we feel like we don’t know how to cope, with anything. Isaac is showing us what it looks like – when turned up to eleven. So we’re supposed to be laughing at ourselves.
The question is: Does it work as a movie? Whenever a movie plays for a festival audience it gets a bit of a boost from a packed theater full of enthusiasm from people who have invested significant money and time to be there. In the case of a Sundance audience there is also a significant contingent of the cast and crew present as well. These people have invested a portion of their lives in the film. They of course, get the joke as it was intended. If that’s not enough, they see each scene as a triumph because they helped to create it and there it is, larger than life on the big screen at Sundance.
So, here we are, watching some pretty sad and pathetic stuff but there is a built-in laugh track from the cast and crew. Some people walked out but eventually a significant portion of the audience started to laugh along with them. I don’t think this will happen during a screening in the real world. There were some people in the audience who expressed a love for the film and characters during the Q&A and it’s true, the characters are very strong and clearly drawn and there are some universally funny moments here and there.
The cast is pretty amazing, Judy Greer plays Isaac’s wife (who happens to be blind – making her all the more sympathetic), Michael Cera, Rhea Perlman, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Jeff Garlin. It goes on. I think Michael Cera’s presence might help this film find its audience, albeit a small one, as the tone is similar to “Arrested Development” which to me, even if I understand what the joke is, comes across as a bit inhuman and mean, same as “Lemon”.
“Wilson” is an interesting counterpoint to “Lemon” as Woody Harrelson plays a curmudgeon who also struggles with people. At the time we meet him he is living alone and gets his kicks by provoking people he encounters on the street. The difference is the built-in loveable-ness that Woody can bring and a story that brings that out – giving us every reason to like the character who eventually goes somewhere positive. Ok, that’s a multitude of differences. Interestingly, Brett Gelman, star of “Lemon” has a small role in this one.
The director of “Wilson” is Craig Johnson (Skeleton Twins) and the writer, including of the original comic book is Daniel Clowes, author of “Ghost World”. For fans of those films, like me, that is all you’ll need to hear to get you to see this one. It doesn’t hurt that Judy Greer is back as the sympathetic love interest and with some better results (than in “Lemon”).
Through some pretty heavy narration we come to learn what really drives Wilson as he rambles on, directionless, except for his mission to get in people’s faces, until he learns that he has a daughter that his ex-wife (Laura Dern) had put up for adoption after leaving him. Not much goes right for this man as he isn’t equipped to navigate the modern world and doesn’t care for social graces but his inner good-nature helps him in the end.
During the Q&A director Craig Johnson said that casting was a joy because everyone they talked to wanted to join the project in order to have a chance to work with Woody Harrelson. He absolutely carries the film on his shoulders. Johnson said that he begged for the job of directing and that Harrelson was the only person he could see in the role. Fans of “Ghost World” noted the similarity between Wilson’s daughter (Isabella Amara) and Inid (Thora Birch’s character in “Ghost World”). Daniel Clowes said that he didn’t write that intentionally but when he saw the film for the first time he got it. Amara’s costumes also took inspiration from Inid.
Shot in Minneapolis in the summer it was a lovely escape from the relentless snow in Park City this year. In the spirit of true filmmaking, “Wilson” has a remarkable graphic novel tone with shots that linger for a moment after the action to give the look of a panel in a comic book or graphic novel.
A five hanky documentary covering a family living in North Philadelphia over an eight year period. This one is a long way away from the topic-driven, talking-head type of doc that I try to stay away from. Director Jonathan Olshefski was teaching a photography class in the neighborhood when a student recommended the in-home recording studio run by Christopher Rainey (aka Quest) as a good subject. Days, weeks and years went by as the project grew into a documentary short and then this 90 minute film.
The Rainey family consists of Christopher, his wife Chrisitine’a (Ma Quest), daughter PJ and son Will. The film includes the period including the second Obama election which we get to see from the view of this family as well as last fall during the time of candidate Trump. In spite of some terrible things that happen in their neighborhood, things that affect them personally, they just can’t relate when they hear him going on about how terrible their life is. Their life is that of a loving family in a comfortable home, we should all be so lucky.
During the Q&A Christopher Rainey was asked about the neighborhood and how it is doing now. His recording studio, with its “Freestyle Fridays” is still going and still doing its part for the residents there. “The same people that (perpetrated some of the bad things you will see in the film) still come to my studio, we don’t know who they are, no one has come forward.” Amazing to see how this man is always aiming towards healing. He hinted that there is much more to the story, it couldn’t all fit in the movie. I’m purposely leaving out some of the details so as not to spoil it for you, unusual for a doc but this is more like the story of this family than a documentary.
He went on to explain the attitude of the residents there when services were cut: “If we don’t have the government, we’re gonna become the government. If we can’t have a rec center, we’re gonna become the rec center”. The producers talked about how they want to promote a view such as that and to change the view that people have of life in inner-city neighborhoods.
If you are in Philadelphia you are welcome to visit Everquest Studio on Freestyle Friday and record your own tracks. You don’t have to be a super star, watch the credits for the performance names of some of the guys in the recording studio: Meatball and Pot Roast. Probably best to come up with your own name before one is assigned to you.
The film and Christopher Rainey received standing ovations at our screening.
What if you were at a dinner party with Walter Palmer, the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, before his trip, and he bragged about his plan? What would you do? Imagining this scenario was the inspiration for screenwriter Mike White ("The Good Girl", "Nacho Libre", "School of Rock"). Of course there are huge environmental problems for all of us and all animals so the film goes to those places as well.
Selma Hayek is Beatriz, the holistic medicine practitioner that wealthy Cathy (Connie Britton) relies on. When Beatriz’ tired car won’t start she is invited to stay for the work-related dinner party Cathy is hosting for her husband. It will just be three extremely well-off couples and Beatriz. The clash of cultures between those living in a house overlooking the Pacific in Orange County, CA and Beatriz, who cares for dogs and goats in a tiny apartment, is so strong it’s like a character in this film. You want to see what it does next. The utter frustration and sense of hopelessness that those who think we need some focus on conservation is beautifully expressed. John Lithgow plays the opposite side, hotel-building magnate Doug Strutt who can’t get enough and doesn’t see what the problem is. The parallels to our current president are obvious but the script’s genesis was from the tooth-pulling cretin mentioned above.
This is the work of an expert screenwriter, there were some in the audience that came because they are fans of Mike White. Each of the actors also took their turn in heaping praise on him. The premise is strong and there was a distinct chance that the movie would end up beating its audience over the head with the message. But each of the characters, in spite of their social position, is so well-drawn and believable, the movie flows and brings you along. The director is Miguel Arteta who has mostly directed for television including “Freaks and Geeks”, back in the day.
Director Andrew Dosunmu (“Mother of George”) echoed another great filmmaker that I know (hint: you’re looking at his photos) when he said that his inspiration for making a film about homelessness was the homelessness he sees around him, in this case near his home in Brooklyn, NY. During the Q&A he mentioned the case of a person in this situation that he runs into every day. In talking to him he learned that this man has a Master’s degree from Berkeley. As is so often the case, caring for a sick family member brought un-payable medical bills and the loss of his job.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Kyra, a woman in a similar situation, slowly losing her financial base as she loses her job and when her mother dies, the social security checks that she was receiving. The movie accurately portrays how tough it can be for a woman over 50 to find a new job of any kind. A snafu ties up some paperwork that would allow at least some of her mother’s benefits to come to her and so Kyra turns to everyone she knows for help but not much is coming. Doug (Kiefer Sutherland) is a neighbor who does help and the connection between the two of them grows but Kyra is reluctant to share the depth of her desperation. It is really a treat to see Kiefer Sutherland in a more human role than 24’s Jack Bauer.
This is really a film where cinematography and sound are used in a way especially tailored to the story. Although it was by design, at least one in the audience complained about the dim lighting. The world is closing in on Kyra. In true artist fashion Mr. Dosunmu said that he was influenced by photographer Cindy Sherman and paintings from the Byzantine period. Ok, we didn’t hear this from the LA filmmakers. What he especially loves about Byzantine paintings is how you have to study them, you aren’t spoon-fed. This makes me want to see this film again. The sound and music were also beautiful and unique, adding to the feelings invoked by this fine film.
It seems like a fascination with the afterlife is driving a lot of what is on screens these days. Perhaps I’m overgeneralizing because I’m watching ‘The OA’ on Netflix. Netflix bought “The Discovery” back in June of 2016 so its fate was predetermined even before it showed at Sundance. The IMDB page says it’s in theaters March 31 but if you watch the trailer it says ‘Only on Netflix’ on that same date. So even if it is predetermined, we might not know what that fate is.
That trailer presents this movie primarily as a love story and that is what you might come away with after watching it but more likely you’ll be thinking about what it says about humanity, kindness and the possibility of an afterlife as that is what occupies most of the screen time.
Robert Redford plays scientist Thomas Harbor who has definitive proof of an afterlife. He can’t say what that afterlife is exactly and that is the topic of his ongoing research. Jason Segal is masterful as his son; trying to bring some critical thinking to this endeavor because, it turns out, the primary result of this discovery of an afterlife is that people feel empowered to take their own life. Why not press the reset button? Whether or not Thomas Harbor should feel some responsibility for that is central from the very start of the film.
The continued research is being conducted on a remote island. Will (Jason Segal) and Isla (Rooney Mara) meet on the ferry as they are headed there, for very different reasons. The film does a great job of holding the tone of a constant tension brought about by the big stakes of an afterlife and the life events that might drive someone to suicide. The connection between Will and Isla, highlighted in the trailer, happens under this pall and so doesn’t play so much as a love story but it is powerful and it does come to the fore.
During the Q&A director Charlie McDowell recommended seeing the film at least twice as there are things that you can only get when you know where it’s going.
Rooney Mara seems like the busiest actress in Hollywood, at least from a Sundance perspective. She was in two films there this year (this one and “A Ghost Story”). During the Q&A director and co-writer Charlie McDowell said it was easy to get Robert Redford, they just asked him. Jesse Plemons (“Black Mass”) plays Thomas Harbor’s other son Toby and his performance holds the movie together during the first two acts.
Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader’s first collaboration was “The One I Love”.
A true ghost story, complete with a guy in a sheet, eye holes and all. Moreover though, it is a love story, again involving Rooney Mara and the afterlife.
The plot is a seems pretty simple: Rooney Mara’s character “M” continues to occupy the house that she had lived in with her partner (Casey Affleck’s “C”), as does his ghost. We see the two of them together, alive, for a time and for a very brief part of the film it seems like it might be a normal haunted-house kind of movie. But it’s the extreme depth of feelings, grief and longing, that come with the loss of a loved one that are the reason for the film and it portrays those beautifully. The notion of “haunting” and a scary ghost ala a horror movie are sort of there but that all quickly fades as the reason for the haunting takes over.
There are technical aspects that help with that: The film is shot in 4:3, (sure to drive home theater enthusiasts crazy) and there is an awesome musical score that keeps you gripped to the screen during shots that linger way beyond what is supposed to be acceptable. There is a very lengthy stuff-the-feelings-down pie-eating scene that gained notoriety around the festival to the extent that the director almost apologized for it before our screening started. It does go on a long time but fits in the film perfectly.
There is a depth here though some of it is chosen and some is happy accident. First there is a symbolism around doors and whether we choose to go through them or not. This comes up right away as C’s ghost first finds himself in the hospital but it continues throughout. There is also a reference to Nietzsche that comes about when some books fall from a shelf. During the Q&A however director David Lowery admitted it was a happy accident, it just happened to be the best take. He wondered if it was too obvious but decided to keep it.
Casey Affleck was used as the man under the sheet but they ended up shooting it again with a different person under there because it turns out that you can tell when Casey Affleck is under a sheet, his unique movements and walk make it obvious, and this didn’t suit the idea of a ghost very well.
The soundtrack by Daniel Hart received an ovation of its own when it was mentioned after the film. It will be available on various formats and I’ll be looking for it.
Director, Writer: David Lowery worked with Affleck and Mara before on “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”.
Adam Horovitz (aka Adrock from The Beastie Boys) is “Nick”. An “archivist” – someone who goes through the estate, the belongings, of someone who has passed. He has a new assistant coming for the summer, beautiful young “Naomi”, played by Emily Browning. We learn that Nick had previously had an affair with an assistant, cheating on his wife Alyssa (played by Chloë Sevigny). This is enough to set up the basic tension of the movie, that even though it is obvious what the characters are thinking or want to say, none of them ever says that. As such it is kind of a study in filmmaking. There is no plot and that is by design. You might not believe you are watching a Beastie Boy playing Nick but you’ll think you have seen this guy in lots of movies (you haven’t) because he’s great in the role. He has this rather amazing if mundane prop that has stuck in my head – Adam was the one who insisted that his character have ‘magnetic glasses’ – glasses that join at the bridge via magnets. The moment he takes them off for the first time is stunning.
Director Alex Ross Perry was equally amazing during the Q&A. Each answer he gave was about three minutes long! He really has thought through just about everything and can talk about it. He imposes challenges on himself in the manner of Dogme 95 (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogme_95).
These challenges vary from film to film. For “Golden Exits”, first the script: “I wanted to get through each scene without any direct confrontation, it’s abundantly obvious what each person is wanting to say but is unable or unwilling to do so.” For shooting: No hand-held camera. There were further restrictions on the sound and sets. Additionally he didn’t allow any ad-libs on the set, rather the actor’s job was to draw attention to what was written. These are all imposed as a way to force a certain creativity, to make the movie different from ones he has made before.
The movie was shot on Super 16 film, what are the benefits and downsides? “The benefits are everything. You have a movie that looks really good, you don’t have to do anything aside from shooting it to make it look that good. You have something that looks like a movie instead of like a video game. The only downside is you do have to wait a couple of days to see what you’ve shot.” This is his fifth movie on film and he is more than enthusiastic about it. He had been talking to executives from Kodak at the festival and reported that Kodak is bringing back film stock (Ektachrome) and they have big plans for the next five years. Ross Perry classified their plans as ‘unbelievable’ and ‘crazy’. Can’t wait to see what that is.
Another question: How do you plot, connect your scenes together, when the movie is about things not happening? Ross-Perry answered: “What’s the movie about? It’s about two families in Brooklyn. There is a character that comes to town, etc. but really what it’s about? You walk past people in your neighborhood and your lives are shared, that’s it.” He did some thinking about how little, small scenes from people’s lives can be stringed together but mostly since he was writing for himself.. “with no producers or executives to please (which was really fun), scenes don’t have to have a payoff, rather, what do these characters need to do?”
“Golden Exits” feels like a 70’s movie and Ross Perry said it was a big deal for him to even include computers in the sets. This was the first time he had done that. He’s had a lifetime of wanting to make movies and is still revisiting bygone eras of film that he loves. “It’s a sort of idealized version of the world, i.e., no smartphones.”
“Golden Exits” is plot-free by design but unlike some of the other films at the festival that could be described in the same way, this one has no malice towards its characters, its audience or humanity in general. It takes as a given that the audience comes to the screening with some smarts, willing to watch a movie without being spoon-fed a story to keep them interested. I think everyone’s favorite films are plot-driven, including mine, but this is a palate and brain-cleanser. Relating it to your own life is an exercise for the viewer. The super 16 does look beautiful and I plan to buy the DVD for that and because the color used for the title cards is the most amazing blue-green ever. I could just watch that.
Here’s a movie with plenty of plot and is very well done but you still might question why it was made. It’s based on a novel by the same name which draws upon the nature of the East German-West German relationship and how East Germans were held captive but whether you get that analogy or not, there’s not much here that we haven’t seen enough of already. Clare (Teresa Palmer) is an Australian tourist who meets Andi (Max Reimelt) while touring in Germany. They hit it off and she ends up at his place. Then she is locked in.
It does become a very well-crafted thriller and I think that most people in the audience appreciated it just for that. Our viewing was slightly marred by the projector (DCP server) crashing with about two minutes left. So we were watching a frozen image of the bad guy stalking the captive woman for a while. A couple of attempts at a restart failed as did an attempt to play a promotional DVD with a “DO NOT COPY” banner across the top. The cast and crew came down front for an early Q&A during which they acted out the ending for us which was as fun as it sounds. At the end of that the projector was back up and running so we watched the end of the film on screen as well.
The audience was much more appreciative of the film than me, I think they are fans of the genre and the production here is top-notch, it holds you on the edge of your seat. Netflix picked the movie up the week before Sundance started so it will be available to see.
Here’s another with a young woman held captive but this time with a bit more to think about when it’s done. In this case it’s based on a novella: "Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk” by Nikolai Leskov.
Set in the 19th century, the woman is Katherine (Florence Pugh) who is sold into a marriage with a middle-aged land-owner in Scotland. Something that is taken as a given, not shown, is how such an arrangement was binding and how few options a young woman on her own would have in that time and place. With no place else to go, Katherine has to deal with her abusive husband as well as his abusive father and the burgeoning desires of an 18-year-old woman. Desires which are not addressed or satisfied by her owner/husband. Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) is a ranch hand who can step in.
What happens over time, Katherine’s method of “escape” is the reason for the film, you might be okay with what she does at first, but again? Director William Oldroyd talked about respecting the audience and how he’s happy to leave you “of two minds at the end”.
There are some filmmaking choices that are questionable. A tradition in Russian literature is having a cat that talks, challenging the protagonist about their actions. Oldroyd said that when they tried that it was “absolutely terrible” so the talking is gone but the cat remains. I’d say that this still works. Another device is starting each day showing Katherine waking up, shown from the same angle and in the same way. It’s a bit of a “Groundhog Day” which probably wasn’t needed. Other choices work famously however and the sense of dread and captivity that a woman in Katherine’s position would feel is expertly conveyed.
This one will be in theaters starting June 2.
And, here’s yet another one about a young woman held captive, well sort of, that is also based on a novel. The chains are a little less thick in the case of Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) who as the child of extreme wealth is facing a sort of expulsion from that club when her stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks) moves to send her away to a school that is not A-list. At the same time Lily is tutoring Amanda (Olivia Cooke; “Me Earl and the Dying Girl”) who has a psychiatric condition, a complete lack of empathy. Her influence on Lily drives most of the plot as they scheme for a way for Lily to avoid her stepfather’s oppression.
The late, great Anton Yelchin (Chekov in “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Beyond” and Kyle Reese in “Terminator Salvation” as well as so many other striking roles) plays “Tim”. This is the last film we’ll see him in after his tragic death and the loss is all the more. He was one of those actors that just seems like a different person in each of his roles. In this case he is a low-level drug dealer, also working as a waiter and other odd jobs, who is roped into Lily and Amanda’s scheming against his will.
I have no comments from the Q&A because at the end of this film it was time to go catch a plane. It was notable though that on the second Thursday of the festival, just a few days from the end, the directors and actors seemed to still be showing up. I can remember a few years ago, by the second half of Sundance, Q&A’s were very rare.
You might find this one under the title “Sameblod”. Made in Sweden with funding from the International Sámi Film Institute it tells the story of Elle Marja, 14, who like her ancestors is a reindeer-breeding Sámi girl. The Sámi people are also known as Lapps or Lapplanders. Like indigenous people everywhere it seems, they were regarded as less than human by the people that would end up dominating their land. In this case the Swedes. First time director and writer Amanda Kernell has managed to personalize this story that played out between races. Elle Marja feels compelled for something more than the life she has and so she learns to pass as a Swede, finding a way to get by in their society. Given her age it also becomes a “coming of age” story.
Star Lene Cecilia Sparrok as “Elle Marja” is one of the main reasons for the film’s success. Her ability to convey not only emotion but intelligence and determination, all through her eyes, is what makes it all work. I hope we get to see her in other roles.
This film was such a pleasant surprise, the scenery and education would have been enough to get it into many festivals, the fact that it works so well on all levels was icing on the cake. It was set to play in Sweden the week after Sundance with a wider release there in March. We’ll have to watch for it in the US.
Another movie having to do with a big story – the loss of languages happening all over the world, in this case in Mexico – expertly personalized and made into a beautiful and compelling film.
Fátima Molina plays Lluvia a linguist visiting this lush, remote place (shot in Vera Cruz, Mexico) with the hopes of learning “Zikril” which has only two remaining speakers, both nearing the end of their life: Isauro (José Manuel Poncelis) and Evaristo (Eligio Meléndez). Problem is, these two have a history that goes way back and they are not on speaking terms.
During the Q&A director Ernesto Contreras mentioned the name of the actual language from the area whose name I could not decipher and sadly, it is in fact in danger of disappearing. Zikril is a fictional creation meant to symbolize the many languages facing extinction.
The setting, cinematography and sound are reason enough to see this one, the jungle, the ocean, animal sounds embedded in the music. It is really striking, scene after scene. The back story between Evaristo and Isauro has a couple of twists that help to make this a movie that works on many levels.
Marjorie Prime was and still is a play by Jordan Harrison. The film stars Lois Smith as Marjorie who played the same role in stage productions before and after shooting this movie.
Plays are about ideas and the idea here is about artificial intelligence and real emotional interaction. What if (and this is sure to happen someday if we don’t blow up the planet) we could create lifelike androids or in this case, holograms, as exact replicas of our own dearly departed? They would have to be trained over time to know all of the history and to speak and act exactly as we remember. If all this could be done, would you like it?
That’s a question for the future, the question for now is: “Would you like this movie?” There will be some who do but if you are at all prone to falling asleep when not much is happening, have a nice nap. Movies, for whatever reason, are driven by conflict and “Marjorie Prime” doesn’t have much of that. It’s more like a play, designed to make you think about the idea, on a screen.
This idea really is something to think about as we are not just headed that way, in some ways we are already there. I witnessed our own festival photographer Ray Keller training Apple’s Siri on some pronunciation while we were at Sundance and Siri’s polite responses and willingness to learn left me feeling oddly satisfied, even as an observer. I’m afraid this movie will only satisfy a very small group however.
Until Next Year…….Rick Schmidt