The 2013 Sundance Film Festival is humming away up in the mountains of Park City, Utah. Here's a quick look at the movie's I've seen, in the order I saw them. More to come as the festival goes on.
Cera has two different films at Sundance this year, both set in Chile
and both dealing with relationships between men and women. In Crystal Fairy,
Cera is an American stranger-in-a-strange land and also completely
unlikeable, petulantly fixated on a trip to the Chilean coast to drink
the hallucinogenic juice of the San Pedro cactus. Along the way he
crosses paths with the free-spirited Crystal Fairy, invites her along on
the trip and then spends the rest of the film insulting her and
annoying his friends.
Cera's three Chilean companions, the Silva
Brothers, are the high point of the film, playing each of their roles
with an earnest and heartwarming sincerity. But between Cera's obnoxious
ramblings, Crystal Fairy's neo-hippie antics (including a good 10
minutes of intentionally unerotic and uncomfortable nudity) and the
film's lackadaisical plot, the sporadic moments of great art and comedy
get lost along with whatever "point" the filmmaker was trying to make.
There's a lot of movies about drug addiction out there, and somehow Newlyweeds
manages to rise above and fall beneath them all at the same time. The
movie follows New York couple Nina and Lyle, the former a spiritualistic
museum guide and the latter a repo man who likes to come home and lose
himself in smoke after a long day's work.
Newlyweeds has some
great moments, particularly those centered around Lyle's work – such as a
pot-fueled dream sequence where he and his coworker are an 80s-noir
crime-fighting duo and a later scene where they trick themselves into
the home of a woman to retrieve her freezer. The ending is also an
intriguing, artistic construction, but unfortunately the movie gets a
little lost on the way as Lyle's drug use gets out of control and we
spend altogether too much time watching him come back from a rut. We
also never seem to learn much about Nina which makes her, like the
audience, simply along for the ride.
2009, late-term abortionist Dr. George Tiller was assassinated while
attending church services in Kansas. His death left four of his friends
and former colleagues as the only practicing late-term abortionists in
In After Tiller,
directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson invite us into the lives and
practices of these four doctors, as they struggle to provide a service
they deem morally and ethically necessary as groups literally and
figuratively gather outside to stop them. You could criticize the movie
for being one-sided, but the quiet tone of the film is less about debate
as it is about demonstration. Most people never see the inside of an
abortion clinic, but the picket lines, banners and megaphones outside
paint a picture of dark alleyways and rusty scalpels. By making this
documentary, the audience is shown a staff of emotionally invested,
caring people, who struggle with the ethical implications of what they
do and worry about what a woman may resort to if denied the service that
only they can provide.
There are no simple answers to the abortion
debate, but by stripping away the yelling, screaming and high emotion
that typically surrounds a discussion of the issue, Shane and Wilson are
able to provide probing and insightful answers from some of the most
hated people in America.
Don Jon's Addiction
In his feature directorial debut,
Sundance darling Joseph Gordon Levitt (who also wrote and stars in the
film) adopts an array of sleeveless muscle tees, a Joizy accent and a
slicked back crew cut as the womanizing and porn-addicted Jon.
movie is full of things that would make my mother blush, but it's also
filled with a surprising amount of heart and love for its array of
loveable-while-unlikeable characters. JGL tells us the story of a man
learning how to make connections in the real world but also paints one
of the most clever juxtapositions I've ever seen of the way both men AND
women objectify each other. JGL's Jon unrealistic expectations of women
and romance, bred by his years of heavy pornography consumptions, is
placed in contrast and reflection to his paramour's (played with all the
gum-chewing, hair twirling patter of a Jersey Shore cast reject)
obsessions with derivative romantic comedies (I won't spoil it, but this
is demonstrated by a pair of winningly coy, self-referential cameos).
for a first-time director, JGL masterfully cuts the film together,
using computer sound cues and tones with expert precision and perfectly
sinking his cuts with the beat and rhythm of the music and story. His
characters slow-burn transformation is both seemless and natural and I
have no doubt this film will be making its way to theaters very soon.
*Update: Don Jon's Addiction was acquired by Relativity Media Media on Monday, reported by indiewire
Kill Your Darlings
Kill Your Darlings,
the beat generation biopic by director John Krokidas, is fun, profound,
hypnotic and beautiful, yet suffers from a central conceit. The
filmmaker assumes that the characters of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg
and William Burroughs are so well-known, so colossal, that there's no
need to explain why the college shenanigans of a group of rambunctious
writers is important. He assumes that the wandering, abstract plot
structure is interesting simply because the characters being portrayed
are of general interest, and I'm not sure that is, universally, the
case. I've read Kerouac, I'm still not convinced what all the fuss is
BUT, before I begin to sound like some sanctimonious twit,
whatever hangups I may have (shared or individual) with the structure,
they are quickly overcome by the collection of phenomenal performances
in this film. Daniel Radcliffe, the boy who lived, slips coolly into the
skin of a fish-out-of-water disciple of older, more worldly men. Jack
Huston is magnetic as Kerouac and Dane DeHaan (who broke out last year
in the little seen but sensational Chronicle) simply sizzles as Lucien
Carr, the brilliant but damaged mind who unites this ragtag of misfits
and embroils them in scandal.
the opening press conference of the 2013 Festival, director John Cooper
said commented that one recurring theme in this year's selections was
the idea of complex sexual relationships. Two Mothers,
an Australian drama about lifelong friends who begin secret affairs
with each other's adult sons, certainly fits into that category.
the titular mothers, Naomi Watts and Robin Wright are charming and
fragile as their pseudo-mid life crises throws them into the arms of the
much-younger and much-inappropriate men they watched grow form infancy
as surrogate family. Once the central, and arguably contrived, plot
point is introduced, the remaining inevitable conflicts presents
themselves organically with stripped-down tension and a discomfort level
that causes the audience to squirm and giggle as though they were
watching a bad Saw sequel. Only instead of torture porn, we have the
high drama of love and romance, with its challenges and hangups as well
as its heartbreaks and vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, the entire narrative
plays out with as much unsaid as said, as each character paws lightly at
the concept of "There's nothing technically wrong with this...right?"
But obviously there is, and it's that relentless dissonance that gives this quiet indie its shiver, and its sting.