Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sundance Film Festival 2017

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival is wrapping up tonight and, even though I saw fewer films than I did last year, I certainly enjoyed myself this week.  Last Saturday I saw Their Finest which stars Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin as screenwriters who make a propaganda film about Dunkirk to boost morale at home and to persuade America to enter World War II.  Catrin Cole (Aterton) is hired to write the "slop," or women's perspective, and, at first, Tom Buckley (Claflin) is resentful but eventually the two discover romantic feelings for each other.  It is a predictable period piece but I really enjoyed it, especially the over-the-top performance of Bill Nighy as the aging but pompous actor Ambrose Hilliard and a hilarious cameo by Jeremy Irons.  Sunday night I saw Before I Fall.  Since I am a high school English teacher, I read a lot of young adult fiction and I loved Lauren Oliver's best-selling novel about a young girl who must relive the day of her death over and over until she learns an important lesson about living.  It is incredibly clever and authentic and this film is a great adaptation.  I especially enjoyed how director Ry Russo-Young was able to keep the repetition of the same day fresh and interesting and I enjoyed Zoey Deutch's portrayal of Samantha Kingston's journey.  I'm sure this film will appeal more to a younger crowd that the one at my screening.  On Wednesday I took my students to see Deidra and Laney Rob a Train.  Deidra (Ashleigh Murray), the valedictorian of her high school class, must assume the responsibility for her siblings after her mother is put in prison.  She figures out a way to rob the trains that run behind her house in order to pay the bills, enlisting the help of her sister Laney (Rachel Crow) while eluding her dead-beat Dad (David Sullivan), an over-zealous guidance counselor (Sasheer Zamata), and a bumbling railroad investigator (Tim Blake Nelson).  It is both funny and heart-warming and my students and I loved it!  Thursday night I saw Marjorie Prime, an atmospheric film about the fallibility of memory.  Set in the future, Marjorie (Lois Smith) is an 85-year-old woman struggling with memory loss who has been given a "prime," or hologram, of her dead husband Walter for companionship.  The hologram (Jon Hamm) can only learn about himself through the memories provided by Marjorie, their uptight daughter Tess (Geena Davis), and Tess's husband Jon (Tim Robbins) and each of their memories are colored by their emotions.  Eventually, after everyone has died, the holograms of Walter, Marjorie, and Tess have conversations with completely false memories. Despite the fact that the timeline was sometimes confusing, I found the film to be very powerful and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  Friday night I saw The Hero.  Sam Elliott is Lee Hayden, an aging actor known for the Western roles he played 40 years ago and the voice-over work he now does for a barbecue sauce, who confronts mortality after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He must deal with a resurgence in his popularity after a drug-fueled speech given at an award ceremony goes viral, an estranged ex-wife and daughter (Katharine Ross and Krysten Ritter, respectively), and a romance with a much younger woman (Laura Prepon).  The film has a common theme but it is entertaining, especially Nick Offerman's portrayal of Lee's drug dealer.  Last night I had a double-feature, beginning with A Ghost Story.  This film was a highly coveted ticket; in fact, there were more people wait-listed for this film than any other I have ever seen.  It has gotten quite a bit of buzz at the festival and I thought it was bizarre but brilliant.  Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play C and M, a young couple in love until C is killed in a car accident.  After M identifies his body, C rises from the gurney, still shrouded in a large sheet, and follows M back to the house they shared which he haunts for decades in a series of vignettes until he can leave his life behind.  Affleck literally wears a sheet, complete with eye holes, for most of the film and, after a few snickers from the audience, he somehow becomes one of the most profoundly sympathetic characters I have ever seen.  With minimal dialogue and many of the scenes consisting of long, sustained shots with very little action, it is somehow entirely compelling.  I can't think of anyone I know who would like this film but I loved it.  It is a masterpiece.  The last film I saw, Rebel in the Rye, is easily my favorite of the festival because of the subject.  It is a standard biopic about J.D. Salinger (Nicholas Hoult) and how he came to write the classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye.  What made this film so enjoyable for me is that The Catcher in the Rye is one of my very favorite novels and there are many subtle references to it in the narrative, such as having a bartender named Ernie (writer/director Danny Strong called these references "easter eggs for the superfan" in the Q & A).  I liked all of the films I saw, for different reasons, and, as always, I loved the conversations I had with other film lovers while waiting in line.  The Sundance Film Festival is definitely a great way to start the new year!

Note:  There are quite a few films that I really wanted to see but couldn't, such as The Berlin Syndrome, Golden Exits, and The Discovery, but I am sure that my favorite art house theater will eventually screen them!

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