Sundance 2013 Recap: Days 3-4

Fred Topel reviews Blue Caprice, Fill the Void, Running from Crazy and Wrong Cops.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

I think I may be painting myself into a corner with these recaps. It seems if I really love a movie, I feel empowered to write a full review of it. And certainly many of these films inspire just as much thought, but I don’t mean to dump all the mid-level films here. Schedule-wise, these are the films of the first weekend of Sundance that made the most sense as quick recaps in between bigger stories.

Blue Caprice

This is one of those “important” Sundance movies. It’s a dramatization of fictional characters who could have ended up becoming the D.C. snipers of 2002. John (Isaiah Washington) has his kids in Antigua, then five months later they’re back with their mother in Maryland with a restraining order against John. John mentors a non-biological child Lee (Tequan Richmond) while he stalks his kids and unravels further and further from reality. At first he’s just self-pitying and blaming others, but he becomes full on paranoid and delusional. At the point that he obtains weapons from an old army buddy (Tim Blake Nelson), he has delusions of a greater purpose.

Basically, the point of Blue Caprice is that desperation leads to murder. I get it. It shows that John and Lee were miserable people. That’s not surprising, nor is it compelling. Not that Lee has a positive role model, but he’s a petty shoplifter and smokes pot, so how about that? He also plays Doom around the time The Matrix came out and Columbine was about to happen, so why is that specifically in the movie? Are the filmmakers saying something about the video game blame, and if so why don’t they take an explicit stand? Anyway, I want to remind everyone again he was also doing drugs, which is likely a far worse impediment to judgment than a video game. The portrayal of the killings is stark and director Alexandre Moors eventually creates the tension of John and Lee picking their random targets, but it takes the whole movie to get there. Then a lawyer asks Lee for the meaning of it all, so on top of everything else, Blue Caprice is pretentious.

Photo Credit: Paul Laurens

Fill the Void

I wanted to get my culture on at Sundance so I checked out this Israeli film. It starts out with a Purim celebration, and it’s pretty loud. Those Israelis are a rowdy bunch. And one of them tells a lady, “You are my Torah.” That is so smooth! Then Esther (Renana Raz) dies on Purim leaving her husband Yochay (Yiftach Klein) with a newborn baby. I know it’s serious, but I loved writing that sentence. This is a particular culture of arranged marriages so Esther’s parents suggest her sister Shira (Hadas Yaron) marry Yochay.

I should love this movie. It’s about dealing with grief and the customs of a different culture that would complicate that process. We get to watch some captivating actors who are new faces to us, though to Israelis is this as common as the underdog dance movie or the Nicholas Sparks romance? Is this just what they do over there? The movie is touching as the characters find real love through these customs we may not understand or appreciate, though I only really got that in spurts of scenes, perhaps missing some of the connective tissue that might be more implicit if I were familiar with the culture. It’s not as cool as Rabies or as powerful as Walk on Water, but as I explore more Israeli cinema, Fill the Void could end up closer the top.

Photo Credit: Norma Productions

Running From Crazy

Mariel Hemingway opens up to director Barbara Kopple about her family’s history of mental illness and suicide. Hemingway gives Kopple complete access and reveals very specific secrets. Unfortunately, Kopple must not have been asking the right questions, because she never quite gets to the point of what causes suicidal impulses and how the afflicted cope successfully. Sure, hearing all of Hemingway’s personal stories puts a face on the issue, but it’s an interview, not a film. Kopple follows Hemingway on her healthy living speaking engagements and adventure sports, but when she finally gets to a suicide rally at the end, the film focuses on the tragic victims, parading families of suicides out on stage. Mariel starts to talk to her own daughter about the family illness she’s been afraid to bring up, so that’s progress for them, but it’s only the beginning of a conversation. Earlier in the film Hemingway describes the feeling that leads one to consider taking one’s own life, but the film quickly moves on to other stories. It’s not even clear how Mariel overcame it. Was it her yoga? Diet? Did she even explore medication?

Props to Mariel and the Hemingway family for revealing so much of their private struggles and intimate footage, but it was assembled in a disjointed way bouncing back and forth between Ernest, Margaux, Mariel and the third sibling Muffet. The structure doesn’t inform anything, except maybe easing into the worst abuse stories. Chronological order would have at least been more informative as far as how tragic circumstances built up. Perhaps worst of all is that the film doesn’t just make you sympathize with Mariel and the Hemingways, but borders on pity, not because of the subjects themselves but because the focus is on the problem and their coping is only a minor afterthought. That’s not the empowering message they intended. At least I know enough about how film works that I still admire Mariel’s work. I just think this is not a good film about it.

Photo Credit: David Cassidy

Wrong Cops

Now Wrong Cops is perfect for a recap because it’s not even a whole movie. They only showed half of the movie at Sundance because they haven’t finished the second half of the movie yet, which is perfect from the director of Rubber and Wrong. Wrong Cops has a brilliant premise: in the future, the crime rate has dropped too much, so the police are bored and angry. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of the imagination that brought us a clock striking 7:60 AM or the spectators of Rubber. The humor is more about awkwardness than absurdity, which is such an overplayed genre as it is, let alone a weak version it. Hiding weed in dead rats is about as wacky as it gets, but mainly the jokes are cops shooting random people, yelling at innocent civilians and taking their pants off for no reason. Even a scene where characters watch Rubber is way more on the nose than the entirety of the movie Rubber itself. There are hints of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” style offensive confrontations, like Steve Little yelling at a woman in a wheelchair, also not funny.

And it really crosses the line by the third chapter. Sexual harassment is not funny, even if the woman wins in the end. The film is shot in 15-minute segments, which would make it more of an Adult Swim series, except that Adult Swim series have mastered the 15 minute format. They pack their shows with all the jokes and absurdity that Wrong Cops lacks. I realize every beloved filmmaker has to have a disappointment at some point, so I’m glad Quentin Dupieux is taking one for the team this fest. I’ll still be first in line for Rubber 2: Rubberer (@TM Fred Topel). 

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Read all of Fred Topel's daily recaps from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival:

Day 2

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Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.