Sundance 2018 Wrap-Up

Hey guys! It is early Sunday morning and I have officially finished my 2018 Sundance experience. It’s interesting because I enjoyed the over-all experience much more than last year but I did not have a film that excited me the way STEP did this year. That movie made me want to be a better person and I can’t say that about any of the 18 films I viewed this year. However, it was still a great year, full of highs and lows.

It also didn’t play out exactly like I predicted with me switching up a couple of days films but hopefully I will get to see those films in my preview eventually that I missed.

I will do them in my ranking order worst to best

18. Lu Over the Wall-

I was really excited for this film because it was the first anime to be featured at Sundance but I really didn’t care for it.  The animation felt like an sporadic assault on the screen and the story made absolutely no sense. What little did make sense felt like a copy of Ponyo. It was a big disappointment and honestly made me kind of nauseated after watching it.

D-

17. White Fang

While this new version of the Jack London novel had some nice moments I was very turned off by the violent content. The dog fight scenes in particular were long, brutal and exploitative. The animation was inconsistent and overall it had a gloomy tone I couldn’t see past

D-

16. Ophelia

This turned out to be the most deliciously bad of the festival. A supposed feminist take of Hamlet has Queen Gertrude having a secret evil Witch sister who lives in the forest and has been damaged by the King. Hamlet is an eyeliner wearing emo kid and Ophelia saves the day and triumphs over all the end. I died laughing

D=

15. Nancy

While all the performances in Nancy are good I felt the pacing and characters were off. I didn’t care about any of them and they didn’t seem to grow and certainly weren’t likable. It was flat and dull.

C-

14. Monster

A classic example of a director that couldn’t get out of the way of his movie. Good performances by the entire cast are hurt by distracting choices like making the lead character a filmmaker and showing tons of his films with him pontificating about them or having long flashbacks with speeches. It just didn’t work.

C-

13. Crime and Punishment

This is a documentary about the quota system that persists in the NYPD despite it being illegal. There was lots of good information here but it wasn’t packaged in an appealing way. It was long and slow and I struggled to stay awake. I would rather just read an article on this issue personally.

C

12. Kusama: Infinity-

It was amazing to learn more about Kusama and see how she created her art. I also enjoyed hearing from the filmmakers and their 17 year odyssey to create this film. It is a perfectly serviceable bio-pick style documentary but it didn’t blow me away or move me.

B-

11. Genesis 2.0

This documentary was very strange. Half the movie is about ivory hunters looking for wholly mammoth tusks in Siberia and the other half is about China’s goal to clone the wholly mammoth. Honestly I found the cloning part to be super terrifying. These clinics they showed where the Chinese are already cloning dogs by the dozens gave me the chills! Haven’t these people learned anything from Jurassic Park?

B-

10. On Her Shoulders-

This is a good documentary about Nadia Murad who is an activist and human trafficking survivor from the Yazidi, a small minority group in Iraq. The frustrating part was how completely useless the UN is to do anything to actually help Nadia or most anything else. The movie kept building up these speeches she would give as huge moments but they are all for naught so it is frustrating.

B

9. Science Fair-

This film profiles students from all over the world that are entering the ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair). One teacher in particular was amazing and got 9 of her students admitted into the fair. The only problem was it felt a little too long. They should have cut 2 of the students to make it tighter but still good film.

B

8. The Price of Everything

This is an interesting expose into the world of art and art collecting and how obscene it can all get. My only complaint is I wish the director had pushed the collectors harder about their collections and how they don’t benefit wide masses like a museum and cost exorbitant amounts that could be used to help people. I wish he had dug a little deeper into these issues.

B

7. Chef Flynn

This was a cool documentary about child prodigy chef Flynn McGarry but it was really about his family and their free range education techniques. Flynn’s Mother is very supportive of him starting a pop-up restaurant in their house when he is 10 and she supports him as his career grows. I love the free range movement and thought this was a tremendous example of it.

B+

6. Search

A movie that is nothing but screens as John Cho looks for his missing teenage daughter. It’s a definite gimmick but I thought it was a ton of fun. It had humor, tension and surprised me on more than one occasion. It might have been partly due to seeing 17 heady movies it was fun to see something sillier but I really enjoyed it.

B+

5. Minding the Gap

Young filmmaker Bing Liu started filming his friends when they were very young and doing interviews with them and the documentary follows 3 of them into adulthood. It also has a lot of great skateboarding and talks about how domestic violence interrupts all 3 lives. It was a fly on the wall type of documentary rather than a message movie and I really enjoyed it.

B+

4. Butterflies

This black comedy is about 3 Turkish siblings that unite to take care of the funeral of their estranged father. It was very funny with exploding chickens and clergy that have crisis’ of faith in the middle of a funeral service, but it also has a lot of heart. I liked all 3 of the siblings and they felt believable as family

A-

3. Won’t You Be My Neighbor-

I grew up on Mr Roger’s Neighborhood so this documentary was such a treat to me. So many people lately are exposed as hypocrites or having scandalous sides but not Fred Rogers. He really does seem like a special man and this documentary explores the value he had in telling children they are loved and of value. It made me cry. It’s similar to the Big Bird documentary I Am Big Bird from a couple of years ago

A-

2. Eighth Grade

Evidently writer/director Bo Burnham is a celebrity of sorts. I had never heard of him but he did a great job with this movie. I am usually mixed on coming of age movies. Often they leave me feeling depressed. Even recent films like Edge of 17 and Lady Bird I didn’t love because the characters were so harsh and mean to each other. I can relate to the gloomy teenager but not to the harshness that is shown in those 2 films. Eighth Grade is finally a coming of age film I connected with (along with Sing Street). It’s sweet, funny, endearing and everything else. I loved it.

A

1 Leave No Trace

I have seen a number of ‘off the grid’ movies over the last few years and I’ve hated all of them. They always glorify the parents for their unconventional choices instead of asking more questions. Here director Debra Granik does an amazing job making Ben Foster’s father figure a complex character. On one hand he is damaged but on another he is very selfish. Thomasin McKenzie is so great as the daughter and there’s a point towards the end where I wanted to cheer. I don’t know when I’ve been more proud of a character.

A+

So there you have it! Let me know what you think about these films and which one’s sound interesting to you.

I did live recaps on my youtube channel if you want to learn more about these films

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Blind Spot 25: The New World

Everyone who has read this blog knows I am not a big fan of the Walt Disney version of the Pocahontas story. It has its positives but a bossy lead character, terrible villain and sappy romance sink it for me.

As a contrast, I have wanted to watch the 2005 Terrence Malick version of the story called The New World, so it was a natural fit for my Blind Spot series!

I have long been a bit of a Terrence Malick apologist. For the last few years he has created films free from structure that are essentially art pieces. I enjoy most of them but I understand why many do not. However, here in The New World he actually has a narrative and he executes it beautifully. I wish he would go back to narratives just to shake things up for a little while!

As you can see in the clips above the true star of this film is the incredible cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki. He does all of Malick’s movies, and this is one of his most beautiful. I love the way he uses water, nature and light to convey the mood of a scene. This film doesn’t have a ton of dialogue and so the cinematography is essential to helping us understand what the characters are going through whether it be trauma or love.

Obviously the story of Pocahontas can be a sensitive one to retell but Malick evidently did his research and the tribal leaders were happy with the results.He even has the characters speak an extinct form of the Powhatan language that had to be reconstructed for the film.

They do portray a love story between John Smith and Pocahontas which is not historically accurate but it is done in a more realistic way to the time period. It feels more authentic and real than the Disney version.

Colin Farrell does a good job as John Smith and has good chemistry with Q’orianka Kilcher as Pocahontas. She works both in the tribal scenes and when she gets taken to England to live. I love that she isn’t a preachy character like in the Disney film but happy, joyful, strong, soft and sweet. She’s a person you can completely understand why men fall in love with her.

Christian Bale plays John Rolfe, Pocahontas’ husband in England in an understated role.

The music by James Horner is one of his best. I love the way he uses birds and other sounds of nature as part of the actual score.

The only downside to The New World is it is long. (There are 3 versions 135, 150, 172 minutes. I watched 135). Malick is a director that can definitely be self-indulgent at times and he probably could have cut down on a few of the pretty twirling in nature scenes to make things a little tighter.

Oh well! A few slow moments are well worth it for the beautiful experience Malick gives us in The New World. It’s definitely worth seeing and it makes me happy the Pocahontas story was done so well at least once.

Overall Grade- A-

My Sundance 2018 Preview

The Sundance Film Festival is fast approaching! To be more precise it begins tomorrow! Last year I attended the festival for the first time purchasing a ticket package and seeing 10 films. One that I saw, STEP, proved to be my 2nd favorite movie of 2017, so I am excited to see what 2018 holds in store for me. This year I bought the SLC Pass which allows me to see any film screening in Salt Lake City as opposed to Park City. It limits things a little bit but there are still plenty of movies to see. Right now I have 19 films on the schedule and the only thing that could mess things up is if my cold gets worse so fingers crossed it will improve!

I thought I would give you a little preview of the 19 films I am aiming to see and then I can do a recap at the end of next week. I will try and post daily recaps on my youtube channel but it depends on if I have much of a voice (right now I can’t talk much because of my cold).

Won’t You Be My Neighbor-

This is a documentary about Fred Rogers who was the host and creator of Mr Rogers Neighborhood.  I like these kind of biopic documentaries and always enjoyed MRN as a kid so this should be very interesting.

Loveling-

This is a Brazilian film about a couple that must emancipate their teenage son so he can go and play professional hand ball in Germany. The trailer looked sweet and enjoyable so I figured it was worth a shot

Lu Over the Wall-

This is probably my most anticipated film of the festival. It has some Ponyo vibes about a little girl that meets a mermaid named Lu. I know GKIDS has already picked it up so I have high hopes that it will be great

Science Fair-

This is a documentary about 9 students competing in the ISEF or International Science and Engineering Fair. As STEP shows, I love inspirational documentaries so this should be right up my ally

Eighth Grade-

I don’t know a ton about this movie but that it is about a 13 year old girl at the end of middle school and particularly her life on social media. I know it is an A24 film and they usually do intriguing stuff like A Ghost Story so I will give it a shot.

White Fang-

This is another animated film at the festival and it has some good early buzz. It is based on the classic Jack London novel and features Rashida Jones and Nick Offerman as voice actors.

Inventing Tomorrow-

This is another documentary about the kids preparing for the ISEF like Science Fair. The blurb says “Watch these passionate innovators find the courage to face the planet’s environmental threats while navigating adolescence. It will be interesting to compare the two documentaries.

The Price of Everything-

This is a documentary about how the price of artwork is determined. The blurb makes it sound pretty exciting- like “holding a funhouse mirror up to our values and our times where everything can be bought and sold”. We will see if it lives up to such a build-up!

Nancy-

This is a psychological thriller about a woman who becomes increasingly convinced she was abducted as a child. This is a little bit out of my comfort zone but it sounded intriguing. Evidently it focuses on fake news and people who lie to get what they want. Here is an interview with the director.

Ophelia-

This is a ‘re-imagining of Hamlet, told from Ophelia’s perspective.’ I love Hamlet and am really excited to see Daisy Ridley in this role. The rest of the cast is solid with Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Tom Felton and more.

Chef Flynn-

This is a documentary about a young culinary prodigy named Flynn McGarry. He begins running a supper club in his home and then turns into a celebrity as the ‘Teen Chef’. Some embrace him and then others resent his quick success. I’m a big foodie so this looked interesting.

Butterflies-

This is a Turkish film about 3 strangers who find out they all have the same father when they must go and bury him. Through this experience they learn about him, themselves and each other.

Minding the Gap-

This is a documentary about 3 young men who leave their families and enter the big city. It looks like a sweet heart-warming documentary, so I figured it was worth a shot.

A Polar Year-

This is another documentary about a man named Anders who moves up to a small town in Greenland to teach for a year. They struggle with preconceptions of each other but it looked like a cute movie.

The Oslo Diaries-

It seems 2018 is my year for documentaries at Sundance. This one is about the “secret negotiations leading up to the 1993 Oslo peace agreement. I figured it would be quite interesting!

Search-

This stars John Cho and Debra Messing and is about a man who breaks into his daughter’s laptop after she goes missing only to find she’s been leading an entirely different life online. Early buzz is pretty good on this one so I decided to watch it.

Kusama: Infinity

This is a documentary about a famous artist named Yayoi Kusama and how she became who she is. Evidently it includes interviews with Kusama who lives in a mental hospital and continues to create art. It sounds interesting to me so why not?

Animation Shorts Spotlight-

I actually thought the animated shorts were kind of lame last year at Sundance but they can’t always be that way? As an animation girl I knew I needed to watch these shorts and hopefully they will be more original and better than last year.

Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind-

I am not sure if I am going to see this documentary because of church commitments but it has gotten great early buzz and I do love Robin Williams.

So there you have it! That is my current schedule for Sundance 2018. What do you think? What looks interesting to you? Let me know in the comments section and I will keep you up to date as the festival continues. Thanks!

 

Best and Worst Movies of 2017

Happy New Year!  I was going to wait until I saw The Post to do my best of the year movie list but I had time tonight and decided I will post my current list here on the blog and then do my list on my youtube channel later in the month. I have already done my worst of the year list over on my channel so I will include that below.

I saw an amazing 141 releases in 2017. The Moviepass has a lot to do with this as I could see a movie every single day for a very small cost per month. I highly recommend checking it out. (I get nothing for this. Just a shout out because it has been so great in my life).

As great as all these movies were the thing I am most grateful for is the people they have brought into my life. Whether it is all you lovely readers, or people I have collaborated with on my podcast, or dear friends I have made going to see films it has been amazing. I sincerely feel like I have a network of friends both in Utah and across the world and it is all because of a shared love of film. That is pretty special and I am so grateful.

Cheers to 2018 and thank you for being a part of my life and reading my nonsense.

So here goes my best of 2017:

1. Coco- I loved everything about this film. The animation was stunning. The story swept me up and I emotionally connected with Miguel and Hector. The ending destroyed me but in the best kind of way. I loved the songs and being introduced to a new culture. It was stunning.  By the way, I promise I will post an in-depth analysis of Coco like I have done with all Pixar films. I have not had the time to see it a second time and do it in the way it deserves. Here is my youtube review2. STEP– I saw STEP in January at Sundance on my birthday and it blew me away then and it continues to do so now. It’s the very best of what movies can do.  Not just a documentary but a profile of hope for the future. It’s about these girls of Baltimore and the leaders who won’t give up on them. It’s not about dance. It’s about the goodness of real people, and I just love it.

3. Wonder Woman- Every time I see this movie it makes me weep. Not just cry. Full on weeping. I will be the first to admit it has flaws but none that matter. To me it is the story of a God who becomes acquainted with the frailty of mankind and how quickly we are to be cruel to each other. That realization is devastating and yet Diana does not lose hope. I love Steve Trevor and Diana. I love the side characters. I love the music. No Man’s Land is amazing. It’s my favorite superhero movie with the exception of maybe The Incredibles and it is very dear to me.

4. Personal Shopper- I admit Personal Shopper is an odd pick for me because it does have strong nudity but in a clinical more than a sensual nature. However, it blew me away with its character development and storytelling. It is part thriller, part mystery, part spiritual journey, and a million other things. Director Olivier Assayas has created a masterwork with perfect sound design, editing and a story that keeps you guessing. Kristen Stewart is heart breaking in the role of Maureen and you felt her grieving for her twin brother as the world spins around her in a way she can’t grasp on to. It’s by far the best acting I’ve seen all year and a movie I could watch 100 times and still see something new from.

5. A Silent Voice– I admit A Silent Voice is a tough sell for non-anime fans. It’s long and very steeped in Japanese mannerisms and conversation. But this is my list, and I loved it. Director Naoko Yamada has made a stunning film about a bully and his victim that connect years later and find an unexpected bond. The music is by far the best of the year. The animation is beautiful and the humanity she finds in both characters is so moving. There is one sequence in particular where Shouya rescues Nishimiya that takes my breath away.

My friend Christine and I did a podcast on this film that you should check out.

6. The Big Sick– The script for The Big Sick is without a doubt the best of the year. You can feel the closeness to the story that Kumail and Emily had in writing it. It’s heartfelt without being cloying. It’s funny without being annoying, and it’s a romantic comedy that isn’t crass or mean-spirited. Imagine that! Holly Hunter and Ray Romano are two of the best supporting performances of the year in roles that could easily be shrill and unlikable. I loved what the film had to say about religion and those who decide to stray. It honestly helped me understand people I love better and that is when movies have power.

7. The Girl Without Hands- Isn’t it amazing we still live in a world where one man can produce an animated film basically by himself? Sebastian Laudenbach did just that with The Girl Without Hands, and he created something stunning. It’s a piece of poetry at the cinemas with the words, images and music flowing along until you can’t help but be swept up.  His take on this Brothers Grimm fairytale is dark, romantic, and yet still hopeful. It was a stunning experience at the movies.

8. Ingrid Goes West- I love movies that have layers- that I see and its meaning and value keep growing as I think about them. Ingrid Goes West is such a film. On one level it is a satisfying film about social media addiction but that’s just the surface. When you dig deeper it’s about the loneliness of modern life and how poorly we are at providing resources for those facing a mental health crisis. All the acting is superb and the script feels authentic to its characters.

9. Get Out- Another movie with layers that I kept thinking about for days after I saw it. I initially gave it a B+ but would be higher now as it has really stuck with me. It can be enjoyed on a surface level as a horror comedy but it is also a commentary on those who think we are a post-racist society. As a conservative I thoroughly enjoyed smug liberals being finally put to the fire and called out on their nonsense. I also thought the alternate reality that African-Americans are forced to live in was beautifully displayed. The auction scene alone I could think about for weeks!

10. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion- For a long time I had Baahubali 2 as 12th on my list, but as I was finalizing the order it didn’t sit right. What other movie introduced me to a whole new world of cinema? (The debate was between this and Brigsby Bear which I connected strongly with). None opened my mind more than the madness of Baahubali 2! Sure it is exorbitantly long and silly but that’s part of the charm. It’s is over the top and bombastic in ways that US corporate planned blockbusters never are these days, and I loved every minute of it. I love the music, insane violence, and torrid romance. It’s a spectacle like none other.

Honorable Mentions:

11. Brigsby Bear- such heart and a lovely story it pains me to not be in the top 10. All about the magic of the creative process to save us

12. Dunkirk- probably the best experience I’ve had at the theater in 2017. A chance to get immersed in a moment of history. More of a reenactment than a narrative, and I was ok with that.

13. The Man Who Invented Christmas- destined to have a spot in my annual holiday viewing. It checked off so many of my boxes I had to mention it. A joy to watch!

14. The Breadwinner- beautiful animated film that combined a relevant story with stunning fantasy sequences. Heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. Over at Rotoscopers.com I led a group of writers to do a 5 part series on this film from all different angles I’m very proud of. My friend Conrado and I did a podcast on it that was a lot of fun.

15. Thor Ragnarok- This is probably the most rewatchable of any on this list. It was a blast and so funny!

16. The Greatest Showman- an old fashioned family musical that I love the more I think about it. I do not care in the slightest that it isn’t historically accurate. It’s a joyful experience that I have seen twice and am itching to see again.

My worst of the year you can find here:

  1. The Glass Castle
  2. Spark a Space Tail
  3. The Emoji Movie
  4. Pottersville
  5. The Dark Tower
  6. Pitch Perfect 3
  7. Transformers: The Last Knight
  8. The Book of Henry
  9. The Circle
  10. Beatriz at Dinner
  11. Gifted
  12. Lady Macbeth
  13. King Arthur and the Legend of the Sword

(Not all are badly made but all irritated me or were terrible to me in one way or another)