Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Sundance 2002

Bill’s Sundance 2002 Mini-Reviews:

The Dancer Upstairs ★ ★ ★
John Malcovich’s film directorial debut. An interesting action flick loosely based upon Peru’s Shining Path movement (although it is never explicitly mentioned). The version we saw was too long (124 minutes) and had a few bugs. But with some further editing, this could be a pretty good film. Spoken in English, but as a second language. Javier Bardem gives a credible performance as the lead.

Gerry ★
This is a good example of a director with an excellent reputation exercising the right to make any film he wants. Gus Van Sant directed this abysmally self-indulgent film starring Matt Damon and Casey Affleck. This is a story of two idiot guys getting lost hiking in the desert. Van Sant said afterwards that the dialogue would be written the morning of the shoot. It seemed more like ad lib to me. Entertainment value is zero.

The Good Girl ★ ★ ★
Jennifer Aniston’s venture into a deeper, darker role. Also starring Jake Gyllenhaal as her love interest who happens to be emotionally disturbed. (Gyllenhaal also played a psychologically warped young man in last year’s Donnie Darko, which showed at Sundance.) This film has its moments and is genuinely funny at times. (Zooey Deschenal probably saves the film with her minor role.) Good Girl is an uncomfortable film with a story line that refuses its natural drift into a morality tale, yet somehow leaves you with an “all’s well that ends well” final resolution. Quite clever, and good performances across the board from Aniston (who demonstrates she has considerable more range than her previous light-comedy roles reflect), and also John C. Reilly and Tim Blake Nelson.

Run Ronnie Run ★
I guess you have to have seen the HBO series Mr. Show to know what this is about. I hadn’t. While genuinely funny at times, most of the humor was extraordinarily raunchy, profane, juvenile and gross, which is exactly what it was intended to be. I wish I had missed this one.

Skins ★ ★ ★
Maybe I went into this with expectations set too high. I loved Chris Eyre’s Smoke Signals, which debuted at Sundance in 1998. So I was hoping for another like it. Skins is a deeper movie in many ways. And although Eyre claims it’s not a political film, it certainly appears to be making a statement regarding the wretched social cycles in the modern American Indian culture. Graham Greene stars with an excellent performance. A moving film, really about how even the most shunned in our society (destitute American Indian alcoholics) are part of God’s fabric of humanity, fully capable of love, humor and pathos.

Coastlines ★ ★
A Victor Nunez film (Ulee’s Gold, Ruby in Paradise) set in Florida, where all Nunez films take place. Starring Timothy Oliphant as an ex-con coming back to his hometown. The bad guys are clichés, the good guys are boring, the plot is predictable and the love interests unbelievable. Too bad, since Nunez has an excellent reputation.

Human Nature ★ ★ ★ ★
A uniquely entertaining and engaging film written by Charley Kaufman and full of quirks and wry commentary on everything from social conventions to scholarship to our preoccupation with appearances. Tim Robbins gives an excellent performance, and Patricia Arquette exposes herself in an oh-so-interesting way. This is a movie worth seeing if you enjoy light-hearted departures in film-making.

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys ★ ★ ★
Produced by and including Jodi Foster, this movie was supposed to be released at Sundance last year, but was pulled at the last minute (presumably because it wasn’t ready). Deftly integrating Todd McFarlane animation, the film is exposition of young males rebelling against authority. Director Peter Care manages to pull this off without making the Catholic authority figures out to be buffoons. Foster plays her usual nervous, high-strung twitchy role.

Bark ★ ★ ★ ★
Starring Lisa Kudrow, this is a bizarre film that manages to be extremely likable and very funny. Think of a slightly edgier version of Nora Ephron’s Mixed Nuts. Heather Morgan (also the screenwriter) plays a woman who becomes mentally ill and takes to barking. Everyone else tries to help out, including her husband. Kudrow is very good, but so is the rest of the cast. The directorial debut of Kasia Adamik.

Narc ★ ★ ★ ★
Starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patric, this film brims with edgy, violent brutality and almost non-stop intensity and action. Patric is extremely strong in his role and Liotta plays one of the most frightening characters in recent memory. If you liked Reservoir Dogs, you’ll probably like Narc.

The Slaughter Rule ★ ★ ★ ★
This was actually my favorite movie of the festival. Somewhat dark and sometimes disturbing, the movie attacks your sensibilities and forces a moral confrontation. It is about an adolescent growing into manhood. Yet clearly it is everyman. And the question is: What kind of man are you going to be? (I spoke to Andrew Smith, one of the brother partner team of directors and he said that at one time they considered the tagline: What Makes a Man?) Ryan Gosling gives a terrific and believable performance as the young man. But David Morse steals the show with one of the most interesting, powerful and provocative roles I have ever seen.

The Trespasser ★
A Brazilian film which I thought was so vile, so morally bankrupt and so utterly depressing that I walked out before the half-way point. Maybe it got better, but I couldn’t bear to find out.

Honey for Oshun ★ ★ ★ ★
Shot in Cuba, long, a bit slow at times, yet beautifully done with lovely scenery, compelling performances and an intriguing insight into the culture of the island. Spanish with English subtitles, it tells the tale of a man returning to the island for the first time since his childhood, in search of his mother.

The Inner Tour ★ ★
If you’re interested in a documentary giving a Palestinian perspective to the West Bank problem, then this shouldn’t be missed. However, as a film, it suffers from little entertainment value and slow-moving production.

Movies I didn’t see but heard were pretty good:
• One-Hour Photo, with Robin Williams. Troubling subject matter but well done.
• The Man from Elysian Fields, with Mick Jagger and Andy Garcia. Angelica saw this and despite the fact that it’s about a gigolo, she said it’s really quite good. Others said the same. Jagger apparently really shines.
• Paradox Lake. Rebecca and Zachary saw this film about a camp for autistic children and both liked it quite a lot.
• Real Women Have Curves. A jury award-winner about a somewhat overweight young Hispanic girl.
• Amandla! A documentary about songs of freedom in South Africa which Rebecca and the girls saw twice. Just terrific. Don’t miss it! Wonderful music.
• Daughter from Danang. A documentary about a Viet Nam war orphan. Won a jury award and people I talked to that saw it said it was well done.
• The Execution of Wanda Jean. Good word of mouth documentary about a woman on death row.

Sundance 2002 Summary
There was nothing in this year’s Sundance that grabbed me the way last year’s movies did. There was no Momento. No Hedwig and the Angry Inch. No Haiku Tunnel (which I’ve never seen released but which I thought was hilarious). I thought most of the films were not quite as good as last year’s second tier, like In the Bedroom (despite its Oscar potential) and My First Mister, The Dish and The Green Dragon.

And while I’m at it, a few other Independent or foreign films which I’ve seen over the past six months that are worth noting:
• The Long Way Home. An absolutely exquisitely shot Chinese film with a wonderfully touching tale. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
• The Endurance. A documentary about Ernest Shakleton’s failed expedition to the South Pole. Extremely well done. Harrowing. ★ ★ ★ ★
• The Himalaya. One of the most beautiful pieces of cinematography I have ever seen. Plus, a wonderful culture tale with a nice adventure element. ★ ★ ★ ★