Sadly for my movie-loving heart (but just in time for my quickly weakening immune system), I’m heading home from the Sundance Film Festival 2014. But I had a smashing last day: Sunshine, gifted tickets, readily available soy milk and vegan sandwiches, meeting someone who works for one of my favorite production companies in line, and seeing a former co-worker’s work get a standing ovation. Oh, yes, and there were some very fine films, too. Read below for my last installment of Sundance mini-reviews. I’ll be following up this daily coverage with some after-Sundance posts, including interviews, to-see lists, and more. Thanks so much for being a part of my first Sundance trip and giving me a reason to write every night!
A Most Wanted Man
Rachel McAdams and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man.
Director: Anton Corbijn Screenwriters: Andrew Bovell, based on novel by John le Carré Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Daniel Brühl, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Nina Hoss, Grigoriy Dobrygin
It’s my second-to-last day at the Sundance Film Festival, and it was a good one. For starters, I got into every film I tried to (a first for this trip). For second, I enjoyed all three. And for third, I skipped movies tonight and hung out with my housemates and their friends. I definitely felt like I snuck onto the cool kid’s table as I heard about the documentaries they’re finishing up, the film programs they are running, the festivals they are programming, and the films they are shooting. I had such a great time listening to this fascinating crew’s stories. But onto the movies, right?
Anne Hathaway and Johnny Flynn and Kate Barker-Froyland’s Song One. Photo by John Guleserian.
Director & Screenwriter: Kate Barker-Froyland Starring: Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen, Ben Rosenfield
Jeremy Pelt and Richie Goods in John Harkrider's All the Beautiful Things. Photo by Brian O'Carroll.
I’ve officially made it through a week in Park City! And I haven’t even caught a cold. (Though I probably sealed my fate with that statement.) Despite failing to get into a couple movies that I really wanted to see today, I still managed to make it to three worth-talking-about films. Reviews below.
All the Beautiful Things
Jeremy Pelt and Richie Goods in John Harkrider’s All the Beautiful Things. Photo by Brian O’Carroll.
Director: John Harkrider Featuring: John Harkrider and Barron Claiborne
Carmen Moore in Sydney Freeland's Drunktown's Finest. Photo by Peter Holland.
The lesson of the day: Talk to film festival volunteers. They’ve seen films, they’ve spent the whole day talking to people about what films they’ve seen, they know everything. My go-to movie info guy in the press & industry tent highly recommended Imperial Dreams, so I jumped on the waitlist for a public screening and booked it to the theater. I was glad I did. Reviews below.
Carmen Moore in Sydney Freeland’s Drunktown’s Finest. Photo by Peter Holland.
Director & Screenwriter: Sydney Freeland Starring: Jeremiah Bitsui, Carmen Moore, Morningstar Angeline, Kiowa Gordon, Shauna Baker, Elizabeth Frances
Day four began with the holy grail for our 2014 Sundance experience: Actual tickets. You see, our first-timer press passes get us into all Press & Industry screenings…after the veteran outlets go in. Sometimes there aren’t enough spaces left in the screenings we want to see, so we have to stay flexible…and shamelessly ask for stuff. Sarah’s ticket to Young Ones came through the Sundance press office (they allot press tickets to combined press and public screenings at bigger theaters). Her ticket to Land Ho came from the film’s publicist. One of the co-directors happens to be excited about food blogs; that interview is coming tomorrow. And Ali and Sarah’s tickets to I Origins came through a friend-of-a-friend who works at Sundance and knew about a private screening. (Thanks, Jared!) We’re already dreaming about next year, when we’ll hopefully graduate to Big Girl press passes. But for now, we’re having fun rising to the challenge of getting into as many films as possible, given our limitations. It’s a game, and we totally won today. Like the Broncos. Which I am only mentioning because my twin sis is a fan.
Let me say right up front that I liked Her. I really, really did. Please remember this when you get to the crabby part of this review ahead and either get huffy with me or consider skipping seeing it altogether. Promise you’ll remember I like it, OK? OK.
Her is high-concept in the service of actual concepts, and I mean that as a huge compliment. While the robot-girlfriend idea has shown up in pop culture since whenever the idea of robots came about, Her prods, twists and pulls the trope in fresh ways. It uses the set up to explore questions about relationships in the future-modern world: How do we connect? Can love survive change? What defines intimacy? What makes a relationship real?
I walked out of The Wolf of Wall Streetwith a bad case of brain whiplash. Based on an autobiography by penny stockbroker Jordan Belfort, Wolf is expertly directed by Martin Scorsese (you know: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Departed, etc., etc.). As I tried to find a way to describe my post-film feelings, the best I settled on is this: Deeply disconcerted. Here’s why:
The amount of talent behind this film is astounding. I’m a Scorsese fan, and he didn’t disappoint. Every frame is interesting (even if there were a little too many of ‘em at 2 hours and 59 minutes). His use of sound and music is sharp as always. His style is assured and unrelenting; you may disagree with some of his choices, but you never doubt that he made them with thought and considerable force.
Let me be frank: I am very serious about daydreaming. I daydream to figure out how to solve problems, to rehearse how to get through difficult situations, to motivate myself to work hard, to give myself hope. I also daydream to escape reality when it gets too painful or boring. I spend a large chunk of my mental life daydreaming, and another hefty portion analyzing my own imaginings, trying to puzzle out when my daydreams help me and when they hold me back. So when I saw the first trailer for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty—a re-imagining of the famous 1939 James Thurber short story produced, directed and led by Ben Stiller—I had high hopes for a film that explored both the power and pitfalls of daydreaming. I was disappointed.
First, though, let’s talk about the good stuff. The movie has some really beautiful cinematography, especially as Walter’s real life adventures take him to exotic expanses in Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan. It has some very nice comedic moments, my favorite being an awkward conversation between Walter and a drunk-and-getting-drunker helicopter pilot (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). The way text was integrated into the film’s environment (both opening credits and, later, the—fictional—Life motto) was playful and creative. The soundtrack was a standout. Its PG rating makes it a safe choice for an all-family holiday movie outing. Sean Penn is in it. And the film had the beginnings of a compelling visual motif—leaping and falling—that could have been even more thrilling if it had been developed further and backed up thematically.
Funny, frank and ultimately beautiful, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon argues for a sexual ethic of connection. Gordon-Levitt wrote and directed the smart send-up of sexual consumerism and also stars as the title character: a tanned, muscled and gelled New Jersey player with a porn problem. Don Jon lays (very) bare the shortcomings of one-sided sex, whether it’s Jon’s cyber-habits or his girlfriend Barbara’s lust-tooled manipulation.