sundance-2013

Sundance continues! Around this point of the festival, news about various distributors buying the films on exhibition began flying about. Fruitvale (my thoughts coming up in a later dispatch) went to The Weinstein Company for 2 million, The Way, Way Back (my thoughts below) to Fox Searchlight for 10 million, and so on and so forth. Most of the stuff I’m seeing now will be available to you the public some time later this year, so pay attention!

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The Yarrow Hotel, another one of the many venues at the fest.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 22nd

The East

What has probably been my best single day for films at the festival kicked off with a high note with this film. It’s the tale of a corporate operative infiltrating an eco-terrorist group, only to become seduced by their ideology. Full of terrific suspense and resonant themes about the effects of unfettered business on people and the environment.

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Directors Sarah Polley and Michael Polish with critic B. Ruby Rich at the “Imitation of Life” panel, about portraying truth on film. Polley directed ‘Stories We Tell,’ while Polish did ‘Big Sur.’

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Director Sergio Oksman speaking at the Imitation of Life panel.

Upstream Color

My favorite film at the festival so far. Writer/director/actor Shane Carruth returns for the first time since his memorably oblique debut, Primer, nine years ago. A man and a woman get caught up in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Except none of that is exactly spelled out, and it’s all quite confusing. But it’s beautiful and emotional, and it “makes sense” in a visceral sense, even if it doesn’t immediately do so on a straightforward level.

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American Promise

This doc came out of nowhere and completely gobsmacked me. Two married filmmakers spent twelve years following their son and his best friend through all of their education, from first grade through high school graduation. The result is a personal epic of family, learning, and life, as we see the difficulties faced by black students in white schools. Overflows with heartbreakingly true-to-life details.

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 23rd

Hell Baby

Maybe it’s the thinner air at this elevation, or my not-too-high expectations going in, but I laughed heartily at many points during this film. It’s an exorcism movie spoof starring Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, and Keegan-Michael Key. It’s choked with go-nowhere filler junk, but so many individual scenes and gags really worked on me.

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A meet-and-greet for critics and filmmakers. I was mostly there for the food, though I got to chat with the directors of ‘American Promise’ and ‘Lovelace.’

The Way, Way Back

It’s okay. I wouldn’t say that it’s worth 10 million dollars, but I’m no studio executive, so what do I know? Liam James is an introverted teen who comes into his own during summer vacation at a tacky beach retreat. Toni Collette is his mom, while Steve Carrell is her douchebag boyfriend, and Sam Rockwell is the slacker manager of a local water park who takes the kid under his wing. It’s a very nice movie, but it’s pretty by-the-numbers as far as faux-indie flicks go.

God Loves Uganda

A documentary about the influence of conservative American missionaries on the politics and culture of Uganda. The country is poised to introduce into law a drastic bill that criminalizes homosexuality. Our culture wars are now being exported. The movie is rightly infuriating enough, but it’s also disappointingly formless, lacking a strong structure. It could have been so much better.

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Inside the Yarrow Theater.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Plays like a lost sequel to a version of Badlands where the guy didn’t die, complete with an extremely Malick-esque sensibility and visual style. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play lovers/outlaws who are split up when he’s arrested for a crime she committed. Years pass, she gives birth to their daughter, and he eventually escapes. Often lovely to look at and generally experience.

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