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
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?
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.
Before you go see the second installment of The Hobbit trilogy (and Peter Jackson’s fifth epic Tolkien film), you should know a few things, the foremost being that I am very tired. Beth and I have a friend tradition of going to the midnight release of Hobbit movies, so I was up until 4 a.m. getting my now-yearly late-night Tolkien fix. So please forgive typos and lapses in judgement in this short Hobbit run down below.
1. The Desolation of Smaug is some of the best fan fiction you’ll ever experience
Meaning, this ain’t the book you read on the bus as a kid or in book club last year. This is more a celebration of the entire Tolkien universe—and what these particular fans (screenplay writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and consummate fanboy Guillermo del Toro) would do if they were in charge of Middle Earth for a while. There are changes galore, but those changes play with the facts of the story, not the spirit. If you can lay down purist expectations and plug into a super-fan perspective, you’ll probably enjoy this exploration of the reality Tolkien created. Also, settle in. This is a film made by fans for fans, and they want to be in the fantasy for as long as possible. You’ve got 161 minutes of Hobbit-tasticness ahead of you.
The second installment of The Hunger Games franchise is on a lot of people’s Thanksgiving schedule. My sister and I have already planned our Hunger Games night for next weekend, and I’ve talked to quite a few friends who have made it part of their holiday plans as well. I’m glad to report that it’s a solid choice for a post-turkey outing for the 13-and-overs—heck, wild poultry even shows up in the first few minutes of the film. Catching Fire follows Katniss Everdeen as she tries to live a “normal” life post-games back on District 12. Fallout from her faked-or-was-it-faked romance with Peeta, her Panem-wide celebrity, and the machinations of President Snow all hem her in and threaten her (admittedly depressing) status-quo.
Friends, I’ve just returned from seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in high-frame-rate 3D and I can tell you two things: 1. The film remains true to the book’s spirit, if not its letter. 2. The high-frame-rate format did indeed enhance my Hobbit viewing enjoyment.
Let’s deal with the second point first. I’m making a firm recommendation to see the high-frame-rate 3D. There were just too many gasp-worthy visuals that you’d miss otherwise. Did it look different? Yes. Did it take me a while to get used to it? Yes, but only as long as the now-Jackson-standard (and well-done) introduction-for-context lasted. Did I feel sick at all? Nope…and I had a fair amount of popcorn before the show started, too. Is there room for improvement in the use of the format? Yes, as with all new technology. (I thought the storm-giant sequence in particular lost energy because it was supposed to feel disorienting, not detailed.) Did my mouth drop open and were people around me audibly cursing with joy because of the awesomeness meeting their eyeballs? Yes. Repeatedly.
Let’s do this, guys. Pack up your second breakfast and get your furry feet to a theatre tomorrow! Here’s a rundown on your Hobbit viewing choices (HFR 3D, IMAX 3D, RealD 3D and classic 2D). Find tickets to a local theatre here.
Only two days until The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens. Do you have your tickets? Have you done your Peter Jackson research? Checked out Hobbiton? Entered the Hobbit giveaways on Reads, Style and Life? Still need more Hobbit activities to kill the remaining hours? Then why not stream these Hobbit-connected stories that will let you see Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin in a whole new light?