Shane Carruth and Amy Seimetz in Carruth's Upstream Color
One of the few things I don’t hate about winter: snow days. I love it when the white stuff forces me into exile because it gives me a chance to catch up on my ever-growing streaming online must-watch list. I said this to my sister this week and she said, “I love that you have a watch list.” “Wait,” I said. “You don’t have a watch list?” “Um, no,” said she. We’re twins, people.
So, in case you are one of those lucky people who aren’t walking around with a mental list of everything you must see before you die, said list weighing heavy on your soul, allow me to suggest the following watch-list adds for your next snow day. They all feature my perfect snow-day trifecta: An element of mystery engrossing enough to ward off cabin fever, a decided bleakness to mirror my seasonally depressed soul, and a dose of finality (crime avenged, mystery revealed, etc.) as an antidote to the feeling that this winter is never, ever, ever going to end.*
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
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.
Véra Clouzot and Simone Signoret in Henri-Georges Clouzot's Diabolique
The temps just drastically dropped here in Kansas City, and all I want to do is curl up under a quilt and get the good kind of movie shivers. I’m a sucker for screen suspense. There’s nothing like getting so caught up in a story that you find yourself clutching the person/dog/pillow next to you and yelling at characters who never take your advice: “Don’t! Go! In! There!”
That said, I’m pretty picky about my sources of celluloid scares. I like my goosebumps delivered artfully. I’d rather be creeped-out than grossed-out. And I want there to be a why behind the whoa. Put simply, I want horror with a heart and suspense with a story. Here are several examples you can stream right now over Netflix or Hulu Plus. And if you’re too scared to watch alone, come over to my place. I’ll have a quilt waiting for you.
Prisoners, the first studio flick from indie helmer Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) is a taut crime thriller that allows for deeper interpretations. The script by Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband)slithers and twists, solidly satisfying who-done-it genre rules. The film follows the case of two missing girls, the frustrated officer trying to find them (Jake Gyllenhaal), and their increasingly desperate fathers (Hugh Jackman and Terrence Howard). The deep-bench cast also includes personal favorites Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Viola Davis and Maria Bello.
If you like your twists uncomplicated with heart or soul, you’ll love this flick. As an exercise in compelling confusion, this mind-heist movie by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) works. The shooting is stylish, and the acting is intriguing. As Simon, James McAvoy’s baby blues convince you that a bump on the head really did leave him with no memory of where he left that stolen painting. Vincent Cassel delights as Franck, the leader of the scrambling gang of thieves. (If you take one thing away from Trance, make it a resolution to watch Cassel’s back catalogue, especially 1995′s Cannes favorite Le Haine.) And Rosario Dawson appropriately mesmerizes as the hypnotherapist, Elizabeth, hired to retrieve the memory of the robbery from Simon’s troubled mind.
The plot ducks and weaves entertainingly. Early on in the film, I guessed the who but not the how, which let me feel smart for guessing correctly while leaving me with enough questions to be interested until the end. Interested, but not satisfied: (SMALL SPOILER) The beginning of the movie had a playful wit that quickly darkens; when the grimness suddenly flips to sunny at the end—upbeat soundtrack and all—the tonal shift felt un-earned.
Maybe you’re a half of a content pair who believes love should be celebrated every day…without so much emphasis on buying stuff. Maybe you’re currently flying solo and loving your independence…and hating how Heart Day enthusiasts assume you’ll be watching Sleepless in Seattle and sobbing tonight. (I mean Sleepless is great; sobbing, not so much.) Maybe you’re a mysterious stranger with serious stunt driving skills who breaks out of a hermit-ish existence to help his beautiful neighbor…knowing there will be price to pay.
Yep, I’m suggesting you watch Drive today, in celebration of the international day of lovey-dovey-ness. Here’s why the 2011 Nicolas Winding Refn-directed, Gosling-starring wheeled thriller is a great Valentine’s Day choice.
I’m really hoping to get a break from unpacking to go see the film Steven Soderbergh has said will be his last. Soderbergh’s work is always, always interesting, whether he’s going indie arthouse (Che; Sex, Lies and Videotape) or blowing up the box-office with smart takes on popular genres (Oceans 11-13, Erin Brockovich,Magic Mike). (Yes, Magic Mike was a smart film, and a surprisingly moralistic one. It’s a fascinating gender flip on the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold trope. I’ll write about that some time.) With Side Effects, Soderbergh picked a great team to go out on. The screenplay is written by previous Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Informant!), and it stars Rooney Mara (The Social Network, The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo), Channing Tatum, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta Jones.
The story is a pharmacological thriller of sorts, focusing on the unforeseen consequences a new prescription drug has on a young woman’s life. The film currently has an 82% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Peter Travers, for Rolling Stone, writes “Side Effects is a hell of a thriller, twisty, terrific and packed with surprises you don’t see coming.”
Here’s the problem with award season: As soon as Argo won two Golden Globes (for Best Picture and Best Director) last night, I lost all interest in writing about it. It’s a simple fan-girl grudge. I was rooting for other nominees in both categories. Nominees that I thought had made more interesting, more culturally necessary work.
But here’s the thing about Argo. It’s a solid, well-made thriller. My awards angst doesn’t change that delivering a tightly paced, suspenseful film is a very, very hard thing to do. And Affleck did it. Just like he’s done it twice before, withGone Baby Goneand The Town. The man makes fine movies. So what if they stray toward the by-the-book end of the spectrum? It’s a good book (genre rules are rules for a reason), and one that many filmmakers ignore to their detriment. Affleck balances congruent storylines in multiple locations, times needed insertions of humor wisely, and ratchets up the tension like a pro. Because he is one. And maybe that’s the best word to describe his films: Professional. My friend Bryn mentioned that she would’ve liked to know a little more about the hostages and a little less about the Affleck-acted Mendez, and I agree with her. But it’s a small complaint about a very watchable film. Take it off an awards-show pedestal, and you’ll enjoy the heck outta it.