Fred Topel strikes back with his last 2012 Sundance Festival Recap! Don't forget to catch up on Day 1, Days 2-4, Days 5-6 and Day 7, and look for even more Sundance interviews and reviews to come in the days ahead!
The First Time – 9 out of 10
This is the closest I came to a Like Crazy discovery this year. Of course it’s much lighter, but the connection is it’s about young people in relationships, but it shares an optimism that relationships can be honest and mature and good. Those Kasdan boys sure write real good. Jonathan Kasdan’s script, which he directed, is sharp and clever, obviously more so than real life teen dialogue would be, but I like that. We should empower teens to strive for better communication, if not in depth social analysis. I really want Dave (Dylan O’Brien) and Aubrey (Britt Robertson) to get together. They’re sweet and thoughtful kids. The best part is they admit they don’t know, but they keep trying to do good things. Maybe I just like every actress named Brit(t). When they finally get close, their gentle kissing and caressing is lovely, and the actors are in their ‘20s so it’s okay. I would totally go see The Second Time so get to work, Jonathan.
LUV – 3 out of 10
LUV is Training Day with Common and a kid. If that sounds like a good idea maybe you’ll like it. It starts out promisingly with Vincent (Common) pulling Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) out of school to show him a day of real life. At first he’s teaching him pretty good lessons like dressing for success and walking with confidence. Eventually though Vincent gets pulled back into his criminal past, the whole movie becomes B-grade clichés, even more blatant because they play the child endangerment card. It is the best role Common has had as an actor but it devolves quickly. Seeing the locations around Baltimore and the authentic Maryland crabs was cool, and might even appeal to people who only know the city from The Wire, but this is not a film worthy of that setting.
Hit RECord Joe at the Movies – 6 out of 10
Joseph Gordon Levitt did one of his Hit RECord shows at the biggest theater in Sundance. He’s a very lively, engaging performer, even on day 8 when I was wiped out. He showed some shorts from the website, including premiering one about Jamie Chung and a blue dildo. Check that one out. The Strawberry Boot Lace one was good too. In between he invited tweeters on stage to discuss comments they tweeted to #HitRecordEccles. He had a great way of dealing with fangirls trying to get close to him, firm but humorous enough that you gotta love him. I don’t think he lost any fans for kicking them off stage. Some DIY film demos went on a bit too long (the Tom Sawyer reading) but it seemed like it would be a great show if you weren’t wiped out from a week of festing.
Searching for Sugar Man – 8 out of 10
This is one big buzz movie that definitely lived up to its promise. After hearing great things since opening night, I finally saw it on my last day. This documentary on the South African musician Rodriguez is a fascinating, emotional portrait of South Africa in the ‘70s. We see the specific methods of censorship the government used against artists like Rodriguez. The film itself is good detective work, using the album credits and song lyrics to locate Rodriguez, and even following the money trail. You also discover some beautiful ‘70s music, a little downbeat, but it was the ‘70s. The interviews are energetic, emotional and even contentious which definitely keeps things lively. There’s an acoustic track towards the end that is certainly a highlight of the Rodriguez oeuvre.
28 Hotel Rooms – 6.5 out of 10
This is sort of a modern day indie Brief Encounter. Two people (Chris Messina and Marin Ireland) have an affair and we pretty much only see them in their hotel rooms, sometimes in the bar but pretty focused on their love nests. The concept is a gimmick for independent small scale filming but it totally works. The script deals with mature, complex feelings and goes to all the places a real affair would have to imagine, yet the Hollywood version would probably skirt. The dialogue gets personal, practical and random, sometimes whiny but it stays interesting. The sex is hot and well photographed. I lost count of the hotel rooms so I can’t confirm that they used all 28 but I’ll take their word for it.
Predisposed – 6 out of 10
If this weren’t a Sundance movie it would make no impression at all, but as an indie film it struggles to be just about above average. The A-list cast has good material to work with but it’s never a standout comedy or drama. Eli (Jesse Eisenberg) has to take his mom (Melissa Leo) to rehab and make it to an audition for an elite music school. But the rehab won’t accept her without insurance unless she tests positive for drugs. So she actually has to get high to be accepted to rehab. It’s a funny premise and the situation escalates nicely but there aren’t any actual jokes in it. In fact, lines like “Where did you learn to drive, kindergarten?” fail at even the construction and delivery. Eli trips on Oxycontin like every white guy drug trip we’ve seen in movies. I’m not selling this at all, but the film is mostly breezy mild entertainment. Eli babbles nervously to solve his family’s problems and Tracy Morgan is appropriately menacing and goofy as a drug dealer. There is a real backdrop of drugs and the film doesn’t defend the dysfunctional family. Eisenberg seems to play the piano pretty well too.
Young & Wild – 8 out of 10
Normally, the story of a South American teen dealing with her sexuality and religious upbringing doesn’t sound like something I’d like, but I trust Sundance and they delivered with this selection. Young & Wild’s frank discussion of teen sex is vital, and it covers everything from anal to BJs. It’s clear the religious culture doesn’t care who Daniela (Alicia Rodriguez) is. They just want to make her the same as them. Individuality is a threat but she has to tow the line or get sent on a missionary expedition. The technique is artistic with some surreal images like a paper campfire and intercutting Sailor Moon. It’s not breaking the fourth wall, but it’s some kind of meta. Director Marialy Rivas makes blogging cinematic, as Daniela shares her sexual adventures and we see the faces of every commenter. I don’t know how they’re going to get this distributed as an R. The teen penis is obviously a prosthetic, so don’t worry, but there are interstitial clips of full penetration. They’re distorted and colored but it’s still pornographic. The actual love scenes in the story are beautiful, directed with a woman’s touch for female love, but God I hope those actors are over 18. This is a totally raw indie voice, probably the most raw movie I saw at all of Sundance.