Friday, February 1, 2008

Sundance Wrapup

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to go to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. It was an enlightening experience. I love traveling out of state because I get to see how other people live and what the climate is like outside of California. (All this while everyone still speaks English.) What I learned was it's cold in Utah...and they have real snow. But whatever, I'm sure you're more interested in the films I saw and my thoughts about them. I'll even summarize the plot for each film without hyperbolic film student speak.

Animation Shorts

Animation Shorts

Plot: A bunch of animation shorts. Many of these can be seen via the Internet, iTunes or (oddly enough?) the Xbox Live Marketplace.

Thoughts: Madame Tutli Putli is up for an Oscar for best animated short. It's both a technical and artistic marvel and I highly recommend seeing it. Some of the shorts were darkly humorous and disturbing (Peare Sisters and For the Love Of God). My favorite is probably Chonto because the story was of such caliber that I didn't notice how sparsely animated the short was. It reminded me of a good anime. I also enjoyed History of America for its janktastic appeal even if it was a bit too long.

Conclusion: You should at least watch the shorts I mentioned. They aren't very long; what have you got to lose?


Anvil: The True Story of Anvil

Plot: Anvil is a Canadian heavy metal band that was big for a brief moment in the 80s but never quite made it. That didn't mean they stopped and broke up the band though. This documentary follows the band in modern times and sees what became of rock stars that neither made it big nor quit. Needless to say, hilarity and heartbreak ensue.

Thoughts: This is totally a breakout documentary like King of Kong. It's like This is Spinal Tap, but NOT a mockumentary. That's how hilarious it is. Seeing 50+ year olds rock out is encouraging, and you really feel for the band members as things never really quite go right for these guys. Pathos + comedy: the new winning formula in today's cinema.

Conclusion: Go see this film, you won't regret it. It proves how real life is infinitely more entertaining than fiction.

Bottle Shock

Bottle Shock

Plot: It's 1976 and Napa Valley is trying to prove to the wine world (France) that it's legitimate. An international blind wine tasting competition between France and America serves as the battleground. We follow the story of Chateau Montelena as it struggles to not only succeed in the wine business, but to take its place in history. Based on a true story.

Thoughts: This films is like "You Got Sideways'd!". It's pretty much a live action food anime. ("This..THIS CHARDONNAY...has a SECRET!") It was one of the more mainstream films at the festival as it had real production values and real stars including Bill Pullman, Alan Rickman, Dennis Farina, and Eliza Dushku.

Conclusion: You should watch this if you like food anime or want a more mainstream version of Sideways. On the plus side, this film does not feature Sandra Oh.

Momma's Man

Momma's Man

Plot: A man has a nervous breakdown while visiting his parent's loft in NYC. Deciding not to return to his wife and kid in California, he instead stays in the place he grew up. Will he find the courage to get his life back on track?

Thoughts: This is really a film about the double edge sword of familial ties. Unfortunately, this film has all the negative characteristics I expected from a film playing at Sundance. It was way too long, the plot went no where, and all the characters had no real purpose. This should have been a short. I will say I enjoyed the directing and camera work.

Conclusion: Don't see this film. Not even for free.


Otto: Or, Up With Dead People

Plot: Otto is a recently resurrected zombie wandering the streets of Berlin. He gets cast in an independent, avant-guard, gay zombie prono film. It's clear from the beginning that there's more to this situation than it seems. Is Otto truly a zombie? Or is there another explanation for his zombie behavior?

Thoughts: This is a true modern day grind house (exploitation) film. The production values are pretty low budget, and the film was made in Germany so the accents get in the way. There are a also a lot of seemingly random characters / montages that apparently only make sense if you've seen the previous films of writer/director Bruce LaBruce). This film is definitely graphic and would be rated NC-17 (or X?) if it came out you should know what to expect. Overall, I thought the idea was good but the execution was lacking. There are a lot of good lines that are obscured by German accents and the film definitely has an interesting political take. I probably could have done without the gratuitous gay sex but it is an exploitation film.

Conclusion: I sincerely doubt this film is coming out here, and I would only recommend this if you want to see an explicit gay zombie film and everything that entails.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo

Plot: A hard-boiled modern noir film, but with a twist. Issac, a parpelegic radio host, is investigating an incident in which a healthy man walked into a hospital and demanded his leg be amputated. During the course of his investigation, he meets the mysterious Fiona. Together they uncover the world of "wannabees", perfectly healthy people who want to be paralyzed.

Thoughts: This was a good film. It follows all the standard noir tropes and I enjoyed the twist at the end. I also enjoyed the idea of Ira Glass as a hard boiled detective. I particularly enjoyed the character of Fiona. I'd say more about the film but I don't want to ruin anything.

Conclusion: I'm not sure if this got picked up, but if you have the chance to see this I would recommend it if you like thrillers.



Plot: In the near future, mutants are born without the ability to sense and perceive time. These mutants live their whole lives nearly simultaneously, seeing possible and probable futures and past all as one. We follow the life of one such mutant as she meets and falls in love with another mutant. The only problem? They both know she is destined to kill him...or is she?

Thoughts: This film is a mess. The idea is certainly interesting but there are no less than two side plots with scenes that have very little to do with the main plot. None of the characters are sympathetic and worth caring about. I can care for unsympathetic characters (American Psycho comes to mind) but not in this film. It reminded me a lot of the comic book mini series Wanted: everyone is a villain, and the ending is a letdown.

Conclusion: Don't watch's a trap!

Slingshot Hip Hop

Slingshot Hip Hop

Plot: This documentary follows the lives of Palestinian rappers in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. It's a look into a non-violent way of resistance/protest.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this film even if it made me feel extremely ignorant about what is going on in the Middle East. These artists have a great sound and unlike most other hip hop artists, their lyrics carry actual meaning and are relevant to their situation. It's interesting to see how the rappers are all inspired by American hip hop while still producing a unique product with their own specific voice. These artists live with the very real fear that they could die or be homeless at any moment.

Conclusion: I would recommend watching this if you get the chance. It's a very interesting film and not as depressing as you may think. It shows you a part of the world you probably know very little about.

Sunshine Cleaning

Sunshine Cleaning

Plot: Down on their luck sisters start a cleaning business. The twist? Their business cleans up after crime scenes, accidents, and suicides...after the body has been removed, of course.

Thoughts: This is the Amy Adams film that everyone was talking about. It's a very female-oriented film. The main characters are both female and it's written and directed by a woman (Megan Holley) as well. The plot is more about relationships and familial ties than it is about starting a business from scratch. Despite this, I enjoyed it, probably due to the fact that the film is a dark comedy. Mary Lynn Rajskub (Cloe from 24) also shows up in the film proving to me that she's totally typecast in a certain role.

Conclusion: This is going to be a successful film. You'll probably have no problems finding a theater to watch it and I'd recommend it. I see it as a good date movie because I actually enjoyed the plot despite the fact that I'm a guy and this film appeals mainly to women.

The Wave

The Wave

Plot: In modern day Germany high school teacher Rainer Wegner is appalled that his students do no take fascism seriously. He decides to start a social experiment called "The Wave", a cleverly disguised fascist movement and recruits his class. The organization soon grows into something much bigger than anyone expected. With the experiment spiraling out of control, can Rainer end the experiment before anyone gets hurt? Will he even want to? Based on a true story.

Thoughts: This is based on the book The Wave which was made into a tv movie in the 80s. I remember hearing about this experiment because the high school where it occurred was in the neighboring town (Palo Alto). The real life event took place in the 60s and this film updates everything to modern day Germany. I thought this would be a heavy handed film but I was pleasantly surprised. The characters are somewhat archetypal but there's a broad cross section at work and I agree with the director that we can all identify each of the characters as someone we knew in high school. I particularly liked the ending; it's definitely more modern and makes sense for today's society.

Conclusion: Worth watching if you like the idea, it was a lot better than I expected. It's significantly better than the ABC family special film from the 80s.

No comments: