Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sundance 2014 Quick Reviews: Part III

Third in a series of capsule reviews from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. For parts I and II click here and here.



Fed Up

Much has been said about America's obesity epidemic: from the rising rates of obesity and diabetes among children to the growing health-care costs related to swelling waistlines. Even First Lady Michelle Obama, with her Let's Move campaign that encourages children to stay active, has contributed to a national conversation on the need for diet exercise and the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which had the audacity to try to get kids to eat fruits and vegetables during school lunch (the horror!).

But the argument that Fed Up makes is that our national focus on fitness and activity fails to address the elephant in the room: the food industry that increasingly pitches high-sugar processed foods and a national diet that sets individuals up for failure.

Produced and narrated by Katie Couric, Fed Up makes a well-articulated and at times alarming argument. It describes the biological science, the historical events and the private industry motivations that have combined into a sinister cocktail. It lambasts the "diet food" market, which shaves off marginal amounts of calories while maintaining the same – if not higher – sugar levels of their traditional counterparts. And it points a big, accusatory finger at soft drinks, labeling them as the cigarettes of the 21st century and suggesting that a warning label from the surgeon general on a bottle of Coke may be a necessary first step in demonizing the junk food industry.

Informative and empowering, Fed Up is the kind of documentary that sends you home considering what you've seen and checking the nutritional labels on your groceries.

Grade: A-



Song One

In a very "Once"-ian story of love and music, Anne Hathaway plays Fran, a Ph.D candidate who is summoned home to New York after her busker brother is hospitalized in a coma. In an attempt to wake him, Fran goes about rounding up mementos and sounds from his favorite spots in the city – pancakes from a diner, the sound of gulls by the river, etc – and in the process encounters her brother's musical idol, an indie musician named James in town for a limited run of performances.

James soon joins Fran on her quest, resulting in a sort of scavenger hunt of Brooklyn music venues – and a killer soundtrack with performances by Sharon Van Etten and Johnny Flynn, who plays James – with the two growing closer at each step. The cast is rounded out by the wonderful  Mary Steenburgen, who plays Fran's post-bohemian academic mother in an charming performance as a mother trying to maintaining high spirits in the face of grief.

"Song One," which Hathaway also produced, is a charming film that is equal parts music showcase and emotional drama. The chemistry between Hathaway and Flynn isn't exactly electric and its Hathaway that does most of the heavy lifting, but the winsome indie-vibe, backed by beautiful sights and sounds, makes the film a winner.

Grade: B+



Hits

For his directorial debut, Arrested Development's David Cross (Dr. Tobias F√ľnke) has crafted a two-hour sketch comedy that assaults you with heavy-handed observations on hipsterism, millenials, conservatives and the internet culture. It is undeniably funny, but also scattershot, forced and inconsistent.

In the quiet hamlet of Liberty, New York, blue-collar municipal worker Dave has a beef with his local city government. There's potholes everywhere, the roads don't get plowed and a local restaurant took his favorite dish of the menu. These grievances are routinely filed at the City Council meeting, where Dave loyally arrives to take part in public comment, ranting and shouting and frequently having to be escorted from the premises.

His antics eventually gain him some internet notoriety as a collective of Brooklynite activists take up his cause. This causes Dave's daughter some grief, as she is a fame-obsessed teenage girl desperate to go viral online like the Teen Moms she hate/loves.

"Hits" is peppered with a drop-in cast of likeable actors (Jason Rutter, Michael Cera, David Koechner, Matt Walsh and Amy Sedaris) who each deliver some genuine laughs. But the film is so busy trying to maintaining nonsensicality while still saying something about society that it makes for a hodgepodge that doesn't quite stick the landing.

Grade: B-

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