Showing posts with label Sundance Film Festival. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sundance Film Festival. Show all posts

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Hero

Last night I went to see The Hero, a film I saw at Sundance and really enjoyed.  To be sure, it is a cliched character study about a man with regrets who must come to term with his own mortality but it has an incredible central performance by Sam Elliott which makes it worth watching, even twice.  Lee Hayden (Elliott) is a former Western film star well past his prime who who spends his days drinking, smoking marijuana, and recording ads for a barbecue sauce when he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  At the same time he meets a much younger woman (Laura Prepon) and begins a relationship with her and, after a drug-fueled speech at an awards ceremony goes viral, gets a big movie offer.  In the midst of all of this, he tries to reconcile with his estranged daughter (Krysten Ritter) and decide what to do about his diagnosis.  He has recurring dreams about being on the set of his most popular movie, in his current state, where he metaphorically fights his cancer.  Even though Elliott is essentially playing a version of himself, he is absolutely shines in this role (I have heard mention of a possible Academy Award nomination).  He is in almost every shot and I found him to be captivating.  He is able to convey more emotion with just a lift of a bushy eyebrow than most actors working today do with pages of dialogue.  While all of the supporting characters are pretty thinly drawn I found a scene with Nick Offerman, who plays a former cast member who is now Lee's drug dealer, to be hilarious and I enjoyed seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott's real-life wife, as Lee's ex-wife.   This film is a little gem that I recommend, especially if you are a fan of Sam Elliott.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Their Finest

Yesterday I spent the afternoon watching the charming and delightful film, Their Finest.  I saw this at the Sundance Film Festival this year and I enjoyed it so much I wanted to see it again in wide release.   In 1940 the Ministry of Information, Film Division, is trying to boost morale at home and convince America to enter the war during the London Blitz.  They hear of an inspiring story about two young girls who took their father's boat to rescue soldiers stranded at Dunkirk and decide to make a film about their heroism.  An advertising copywriter named Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) is hired to write the "slop," or women's perspective, in the screenplay.  At first the other screenwriters Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) and Raymond Parfitt (Paul Ritter) are resentful of her involvement but they come to rely on her more and more and, of course, Catrin and Tom eventually develop feelings for each other.  There are some really somber scenes as almost every character deals with the effects of the nightly bombing during the Blitz (I don't know how people lived through the terror and uncertainty of the Blitz) but there are also some hilarious scenes when they begin filming on location, especially with the pompous actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy).  I have always been a big fan of Nighy but here he is at his most overwrought best.  He pretty much steals every scene he is in.  Both Arterton and Claflin give solid performances and I was very engaged with their romance, even upon a second viewing.  I recommend this film as a pleasant afternoon diversion.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Before I Fall

I saw Before I Fall at Sundance this year and it received a bit of a lukewarm reception at my screening and, recently, a few of my friends have panned it.  I decided to see this film again last night because I have very strong opinions about it and, for some reason, I feel the need to defend it.  Based on the best-selling novel by Lauren Oliver, Sam Kingston (Zoey Deutch) is a popular high school student who is forced to live the same day over and over again until she realizes what is most important in her life beyond her superficial happiness.  She has a trio of best friends, Lindsay (Halston Sage), Ally (Cynthy Wu), and Elody (Medalion Rahimi), who all behave badly, particularly to a classmate whom they bully mercilessly.  All Sam cares about is receiving the most roses during the school's annual "Cupid Day" (I always say that you haven't really lived unless you have spent Valentine's Day in a high school) and losing her virginity to the most popular boy in school.  Each time she relives the day she attempts to change her behavior in the hopes of changing her fate and I really enjoyed her journey as a character.  Every iteration of the day seams fresh and unique based on the choices she makes.  Obviously, I view this film through a much different filter than most people I know because I have worked with this age group for many years as a high school teacher.  The situations ring true and the dialogue is incredibly authentic (however much we might wish for the light and effervescent teen comedies we are used to).  Just yesterday I had to deal with a horrible case of bullying within the group of student leaders I work with.  Lindsay, the ringleader of the group of friends, is especially brutal in her treatment of Juliet (Elena Kampouris) but the film does a good job, in my opinion, of showing her motivation.  The two girls were once friends but Lindsay lashes out at her to cover up her own insecurities.  It has been my experience that the student who exhibits the worst behavior in class is often the one who most needs my attention and understanding.  I really liked the fact that Sam is able to find redemption after all of her bad behavior (I don't think the film glorifies this behavior at all) because I like to think that no teenager is beyond hope, no matter how unlikable they may appear to be.  She is a very different girl at the end of the movie from the one we meet at the beginning.  Just my two cents.

Note:  I really think that this film will appeal more to the demographic for which it was intended.  This second screening was filled with teenage girls and they seemed to really enjoy it.

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!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sundance Student Screening 2017

The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing (a wrap-up of my Sundance experience is coming soon) and one of my favorite aspects of the festival is the opportunity to bring my students to a screening free of charge.  Yesterday I took a group to see the film Deidra and Laney Rob a Train and, despite a severe winter storm which made driving downtown a lot of fun, it was an amazing experience for both me and my students!  This field trip has become something of a tradition at Hunter High (I had kids asking me about it before Christmas break) and this year the response was overwhelming.  I asked for 50 tickets, like I usually do, but I had so many students sign up that I asked the director for more!  Even so, I still turned kids away.  I can't tell you how happy it made me to see my students so excited about independent film!  Even if I teach them nothing else, I want my students to know that there are stories that need to be told and voices that need to be heard (maybe now more than ever)!  The best part of this whole adventure is that my students absolutely loved the film!  I could hear them laughing during the screening and they talked about it all the way back to school on the bus!  Most of the students in my afternoon class were still talking about it which made some of the students who couldn't go really jealous.  I guess I'll have to request even more tickets next year because many of my sophomores asked if me if they can go again even if they are not in my class any more!  Yesterday was a good day!

Note:  Deidra and Laney Rob a Train was filmed in Utah!  I recognized the Heber Valley Railroad and my friend Adia, who came with me to help chaperone, went to Judge Memorial High School which was also featured!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Manchester by the Sea

I live equidistant from a large and state-of-the-art multiplex, where I go to see the latest blockbusters, and a quaint and charming art house theater downtown, where I go to see independent films and documentaries.  I spend an equal amount of time at both:  Thursday night I was at the multiplex and last night found me at the Broadway for a screening of Manchester by the Sea.  This film was easily my favorite at the Sundance Film Festival last year and I was quite eager to see it again now that it is in wide release.  Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor working in Boston with a habit of getting written up at work and getting into fights at the local bar.  He is clearly tortured but there are flashbacks to happier times with his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and young nephew on their boat in Manchester.  When his brother dies, Lee learns that, unbeknownst to him, he has been made guardian to his nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges), now sixteen years old.  Patrick does not want to leave his life (and multiple girlfriends) in Manchester to move to Boston but Lee doesn't want to move back to Manchester because he is haunted by the memory of a tragic accident for which he, his ex-wife Randi (Michelle Williams), and most of the town hold him responsible.  Lee attempts to make it work but finally realizes that he cannot live with his demons and makes other arrangements for Patrick, although the film ends beautifully with Lee and Patrick on the boat trying to forge a relationship.  This movie is brilliant!  It is getting quite a bit of Oscar buzz (it has been nominated for multiple Golden Globe awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Affleck, and Best Supporting Actress for Williams) and, should the Academy request my opinion, it definitely has my vote for Best Picture!  The flashbacks of the accident with Albinoni's Adagio for Strings, one of the most mournful pieces in the classical repertoire, underneath it is absolutely gut-wrenching as is the scene where Randi tells Lee that she still loves him.  Affleck gives the performance of his career and, upon a second viewing, I was even more impressed with his portrayal of a man so consumed by past grief that he cannot face the future.  I highly recommend this film, although some might find the excessive profanity to be offensive.

Note:  At Sundance it received one of the biggest distribution deals in festival history, second only to The Birth of a Nation.  Good stuff!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Lobster

No other film that I saw at Sundance this year generated more conversations than The Lobster.  Most people that I talked to didn't quite know what to make of it and that is probably how I would sum up my feelings about it as well.  I knew that I definitely wanted to see it again and I had the opportunity Thursday night.  Hmmm.  In a dystopian future everyone must have a mate and anyone who is single must report to a hotel to find one within 45 days or be turned into an animal of their choice. A recently divorced man, David (Colin Farrell), reports to the hotel and attempts to find a mate, preferably someone who shares his defining characteristic which is shortsightedness.  There are many rules and rituals involved in finding a mate (I especially enjoyed the fact that everyone is required to dress exactly alike). Periodically the guests at the hotel are sent into the woods to capture loners who are hiding.  They can receive an extra day to find a mate for every loner that they catch.  Eventually David decides to escape into the woods and join the loners where, ironically, there are even more rules to follow.  They are punished if they attempt to form attachments with other loners.  Of course, David finds his soulmate (Rachel Weisz), who shares his defining characteristic, but they are soon discovered and punished.  There are many funny moments in this film, such as the propaganda plays put on by the hotel staff advocating the benefits of being a couple and the electronic music played by the loners to encourage people to dance alone.  However, underneath all of the humor lies a scathing indictment of social norms.  It is weird and sometimes disturbing but it is entertaining and I recommend it with that in mind.

Note:  Even after seeing it a second time I'm still not sure about the ending...

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Maggie's Plan

Another favorite from the Sundance Film Festival that I wanted to see again is Maggie's Plan.  It is a typical offbeat Greta Gerwig comedy (I was talking about this film with someone I met in line at another screening at Sundance and he called it very "Gerwig-y") and it is hilarious.  Maggie (Gerwig) is in her mid-thirties and wants to have a baby on her own because she is tired of waiting for the right relationship to happen so she comes up with an elaborate plan.  She picks a friend from college (a hilarious Travis Fimmel) as a sperm donor and even plans the exact date to inseminate herself.  Then she meets John (Ethan Hawke), an angst-ridden anthropology professor who is trying to write a novel and is trapped in a combative marriage to Georgette (Julianne Moore), another eccentric anthropologist, and he disrupts her plan.  Three years later, after marrying John and having a baby, she realizes that she doesn't love him any more and comes up with yet another elaborate plan to reunite him with Georgette.  Of course, things go awry, with a funny twist at the end, and Maggie learns that you can't plan love.  Gerwig has brilliant comedic timing but she also plays Maggie with a sensitivity that makes us truly care about and empathize with her.  Hawke is getting typecast as a clueless and absentee father lately (see here and here) but he is just so great at it and his portrayal of John is highly amusing, especially when he tries to find a place to spend the night.  Moore is absolutely hilarious as Georgette with her Danish accent, tight bun, and ethnic clothing.  I laughed out loud just about every time she was on the screen.  Add Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader as Maggie's best friends and you have a comedy filled with zany characters that is perfect for a night out with friends.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Weiner

I tend to favor narrative films over documentaries but this year at the Sundance Film Festival I saw quite a few documentaries.  Without question, the best one was Weiner.  It was so compelling that I decided to see it again Thursday night and I found it to be just as entertaining, and disturbing, as I did upon the first viewing.  In 2013 disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner made a bid for the Democratic nomination in the New York mayoral race.  He allowed filmmakers Josh Kriegman, a former staffer, and Elyse Steinberg unprecedented access to his campaign which, in the beginning, was incredibly successful.  He was leading in the polls and drawing huge crowds to his events when another sexting scandal, similar to the one which forced his resignation from Congress, erupted.  The cameras kept rolling as the campaign imploded and it became clear to everyone, except Weiner himself, that the nomination was lost.  It is fascinating to watch the spin where every move is carefully choregraphed, especially when Weiner practices different inflections for the line, "...and for that I am profoundly sorry" and, when asked for a comment by his communications officer, he struggles to remember what he said in another interview.  There are also some disturbing elements (where you simply can't look away), particularly with regard to Weiner's wife Huma Abedin, one of Hillary Clinton's top aides.  When the scandal first breaks there is a scene where Huma is visibly shaken and then Weiner asks the cameras to leave the room.  In the next scene she is standing at his side and speaking out in support of his campaign at a press conference.  It made me wonder what went on behind those closed doors.  In another scene, he is bullying her into accompanying him on election day and in the next scene he and his staff members are coming up with reasons why she is not with him.  One of the most interesting scenes is when Weiner watches a replay of his shouting match with political pundit Lawrence O'Donnell over and over while laughing hysterically and Huma leaves the room in tears.  It is a fascinating anatomy of a political scandal involving a a charismatic but deeply flawed individual and, I hate to admit it, but I certainly enjoyed watching it play out on the big screen.

Note:  Weiner won the 2016 Documentary Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.  Good stuff.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Love & Friendship

I am a huge fan of Jane Austen and when I first heard of the movie Love & Friendship, based on Austen's novella Lady Susan, it went near the top of my must see list at the Sundance Film Festival this year!  I thought it was absolutely hilarious so I was thrilled to be able to see it again in wide release.  The recently widowed, and penniless, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is forced to stay with her brother-in-law and his family after a scandalous affair with the husband of her friend and hostess.  She immediately sets her sights on her sister-in-law's brother, the handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), to the dismay of his family.  She also contrives a match for her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) with the dimwitted Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).  Despite all of her scheming and manipulations, Lady Susan's plans go awry much to the delight of everyone in the audience!  I loved James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave as Sir and Lady DeCourcy and there is a delightful scene where they attempt to read a letter from their daughter (the original novella is epistolary).  I also really enjoyed Chloe Sevigny as Alicia Johnson, Lady Susan's closest confidante, and Stephen Fry as Mr. Johnson, Alicia's disapproving husband ("He's too old to regulate but too young to die.")  However, it is Tom Bennett who steals the show as Sir James.  I laughed out loud at just about every scene he is in, particularly when he dances, when he discusses the Twelve Commandments, and when he eats peas at the dinner table.  So funny! I loved just about every aspect of this film, the stately country homes, the opulent costumes, and the charming score by Mark Suozzo, but perhaps my favorite device was introducing the dramtis personae with fish-eye close-ups with and amusing character descriptions (Lady Susan's companion is described as someone who packs and unpacks things and Sir James is described as a bit of a rattle).  If you like a good comedy of manners, then do yourself a favor and see this delightful film as soon as possible.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Sundance Film Festival 2016

This year at the Sundance Film Festival I had the opportunity to see sixteen films in nine days in five venues and I would say that I had an even greater experience than last year!  I loved every minute!  A week ago last Saturday I saw Maggie's Plan at the Grand Theatre and it was really funny!  A woman (Greta Gerwig) decides that she wants to have a baby and devises a plan to do it.  However, she soon falls in love with a married man (Ethan Hawke) and realizes that you can't plan love.  This is a typical offbeat Greta Gerwig comedy and I really enjoyed it, especially the hilarious supporting cast: Julianne Moore, Maya Rudolph, and Bill Hader.  Later that night I drove to Ogden (which is not as far away as it used to be now that I live in Bountiful) to see The Lobster.  This was the strangest film I saw at Sundance but I admit that it is pretty intriguing.  In a dystopian future everyone who is not married by a certain age must report to a hotel for 45 days to find a match or be turned into an animal of his or her choice.  David (Colin Farrell), recently divorced, enters the hotel and goes through the motions of finding a mate (in some hilarious scenes) but soon escapes to join the "singles" who are frequently hunted down by the hotel guests.  Ironically, the "singles" have even stricter rules, especially against coupling, and, of course, David finds his soulmate (Rachel Weiss).  It is a fascinating indictment against social norms, but it's pretty weird. Sunday morning I was back at the Grand for a documentary about Gloria Vanderbilt and her son Anderson Cooper called Nothing Left Unsaid.  I really enjoy documentaries about interesting people and this one was very well done (as were all of the documentaries I saw at Sundance this year).  Vanderbilt's story of notoriety and heartbreak is told through her art and I thought it was an effective device.  Anderson Cooper was there to conduct the Q & A after the screening, to my delight, and he was charming and quite funny.  Later that evening I saw Love & Friendship, which was one of my most coveted tickets because it is based on a Jane Austen novella called Lady Susan.  For those of you who don't know this, I love Jane Austen!  Recently widowed and penniless, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) schemes to marry off her daughter to a foolish, but wealthy, man and to marry the eligible brother of her sister-in-law.  It is an engaging comedy of manners with a fabulous cast, especially Tom Bennett who steals the show as the dim-witted Sir James.  I also loved the the introductions of the dramatis personae with fish-eye close-ups and amusing character descriptions.  So much fun!  Monday night I drove up to the Sundance Mountain Resort to see the documentary Weiner.  Filmmaker Josh Kriegman had unprecedented access to Anthony Weiner as the embattled politician attempted a comeback run as New York mayor.  Just when it looks like he has a chance of winning the nomination, another sexting scandal, similar to the one which forced him to resign from Congress, erupts which causes his campaign to derail while the cameras continue to roll.  It is a fascinating look at politics today, where every move is choreographed.  I especially loved when Weiner practices different inflections of "...and for that I am profoundly sorry."  Good stuff!  Tuesday morning I took a group of my students to see The Fits at the Rose Wagner Theatre.   Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an eleven year old tomboy who trains to be a boxer with her brother at a local community center.  One day she watches a drill team practicing and eventually decides to join.  It is a powerful story about identity and fitting in and my students loved it (so did I).  That night I drove back to Ogden to see Manchester by the Sea which was another highly coveted ticket.  Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) is a janitor/handyman in Boston who is clearly tormented.  When he receives the news that his brother has died, he returns to his hometown for the funeral and learns that he has been appointed as guardian to his nephew (Lucas Hedges) which leaves him reeling.  He does not want to stay because he is constantly reminded of a tragedy that occurred, which is revealed through perfectly timed flashbacks, and his nephew doesn't want to leave his life.  What I loved about this movie, aside from the brilliant performances, is that, while there is a sort of resolution, there isn't a happy ending where Lee's grief is magically abated.  This film is definitely my favorite of the festival.  Wednesday night I was back in Ogden for Little Men, which I thought was a lovely little gem.  When Jake's (Theo Taplitz) grandfather dies, his family moves back to Brooklyn to live in his grandfather's apartment.  A single mother from Chile runs the shop downstairs, paying significantly less rent than market value.  Her son Tony (Michael Barbieri) befriends the shy Jake and their friendship deepens as their parents battle over rent.  The boys give very affecting performances, especially Barbieri, and I really enjoyed it.  Thursday night I had a double feature at the Rose Wagner beginning with Certain Women.  It is a tale of three desperately sad and lonely women living in Montana who search for a connection.  Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer whose client will not accept that he doesn't have a Worker's Compensation case.  She spends all of her time trying to help him, eventually even visiting him in prison.  Gina (Michelle Williams), emotionally estranged from her husband and daughter, is obsessed with building a vacation house in the wilderness and badgers a family friend to give her the sandstone on his property.  A nameless ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) with nothing to do follows a group of people into a school for an adult education class on school law taught by a lawyer (Kristen Stewart) who lives hundreds of miles away.  She becomes fascinated by the lawyer and attends the class every night with the hope of talking to her afterwards at the local diner.  It is simultaneously beautiful and depressing and I can't get the scene where Gina's family is inside a tent eating dinner while she sits outside staring at the pile of sandstone out of my mind.  Some of my friends met me for Lovesong next.  A frazzled young mother (Riley Keough) who feels neglected by her husband goes on a road trip with Mindy (Jena Malone), her best friend from college.  Their feelings deepen for each other and they begin an affair.  Three years later they must deal with their feelings before Mindy gets married.  It is very intense, particularly a scene where the women look at each other while on a Ferris wheel.  Friday night I had another double feature, this time back at the Grand Theatre.  The documentary Gleason follows Steve Gleason, a former NFL football player, from his diagnosis with ALS to the present.  It began as a video journal to his unborn son and turned into a triumphant story about living life to the fullest!  It is very powerful and his wife, Michel Varisco, was there for a powerful Q & A.  Next up (it is quite amusing to walk out of a movie and get right back in line for another one) was The Intervention which is hilarious!  A group of friends plan a weekend getaway to stage a marriage intervention for Ruby and Peter (Cobie Smulders and Vincent Piazza) unbeknownst to them.  In the process, each of them must deal with their own problems.  Melanie Lynskey is absolutely brilliant in this film and I laughed and laughed (which was good after crying through Gleason).  Saturday was a full day at the festival with three screenings at three different venues!  First was Newtown, a documentary about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, at the Rose Wagner.  It follows the lives of three families who lost children that day and how the tragedy impacted the entire community.  I cried so hard that I had to find Kleenex in my bag and the woman sitting next to me asked for some, too.  One of the mothers was there for the Q & A which was also very moving.  Next was Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny at the Broadway.  This documentary follows Richard Linklater, one of my favorite directors, as a Hollywood outsider who makes movies on his own terms with discussions about all of his movies from Slacker to Boyhood (which I think is a masterpiece).  I really enjoyed it.  Finally, I saw Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall with my sister Marilyn at the Grand.  Marilyn loves Michael Jackson and I'm so glad that we were able to see it (another very coveted ticket).  Spike Lee focuses on Michael Jackson's transition from a member of the Jackson 5 to a solo artist with archival footage and interviews with those who were there.  I know that most people view Thriller as Jackson's masterpiece but I have always really loved Off the Wall because it is brilliant (I had a copy on vinyl when I was in Jr. High) and it is before he became so weird.  Marilyn loved it and so did I.  Yesterday was my final screening at Sundance!  I saw Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures at the Rose Wagner.  This documentary explores the scandalous life of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and his controversial photographs.  I found it to be fascinating but it is not for everyone (in fact, it was the only film that required ID to enter).  Once again, I loved talking to people about film (and, occasionally, snowshoeing) while standing in line.  I had a conversation with a guy from Florida about all the films we had seen at the festival (most notably, The Lobster) which turned into an epic discussion about Wes Anderson.  Talking to people who are just as passionate about the things that I am makes me come alive!  It was a wonderful nine days and I'm already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Sundance Student Screening 2016

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to take some of my students to see the film The Fits as part of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival.  Every year the Sundance Institute, through the support of generous donors such as the Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation and the Zoo, Arts, and Parks (ZAP) Program, provides free tickets for high school students to experience the power of independent film and I've been taking my students since 2010.  I think this is such a great opportunity!  Even though arranging a field trip can be a bit daunting, being able to share my passion for independent film with my students makes it so worthwhile!  My students absolutely loved the film (so did I) and, because it had a very ambiguous ending, they have been talking about it ever since the screening!  In fact, the entire theatre (filled with high school students) erupted when the screen went black at the end of the film!  One of my favorite aspects of the Sundance Film Festival is having a Q & A with the filmmakers (and sometimes cast members) after the screening.  Royalty Hightower, who gave an absolutely incredible performance, was there for the Q & A much to the delight of the audience.  Many of my students were able to get pictures with her!  It was an incredible experience and I am very grateful to the Sundance Institute for the opportunity they give to my students!  (A full wrap-up of my Sundance experience is coming soon).

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Note:  I was interviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune a few years ago about my experiences taking my students to the Sundance Film Festival.  Go here to read it.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Brooklyn

The film Brooklyn premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and it got so much buzz that I really wanted to see it.  The only way I could get a ticket was to see it in Ogden, about an hour away from my house, on a school night.  It was worth it!  I liked it so much that I wanted to see it again now that it is in wide release.  Marilyn and I went Saturday night and she liked it just as much as I did.  Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is a young girl living in a small town in Ireland in the 1950s with no prospects for the future.  A priest arranges for her to emigrate to America and finds her a boarding house and a job in a department store in Brooklyn.  At first she is almost debilitated by homesickness but she eventually meets Tony (Emory Cohen), starts a course in bookkeeping, and begins to make a life for herself.  When a tragedy occurs, she goes back to Ireland for a visit.  She is viewed as a glamorous American in her small town, a young man (Domhnall Gleason) begins to pursue her, and her bookkeeping qualification lands her a job.  She must decide whether her home is in Ireland or Brooklyn.  It is a sweet and sentimental story and Saoirse Ronan gives an affecting performance.  She is simply luminous on screen.  Emory Cohen is incredibly endearing as Tony and I loved Julie Walters as Mrs. Kehoe, the no-nonsense owner of the boardinghouse, especially when she warns her boarders against being  "giddy girls."  Marilyn and I laughed and laughed at that because we have been accused of being giddy once or twice!  The cinematography is beautiful and I loved the use of light.  The scenes in Ireland before Eilis goes to America are all very dark and dreary but when she returns the scenes are dazzling.  I also loved all of the period costumes and vintage cars.  I definitely recommend this lovely film.

Note:  After Brooklyn premiered at Sundance, there was a bidding war for the distribution rights.  Fox Searchlight eventually won in one of the biggest deals to come out of Sundance.  Good stuff!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

On Sunday night my weekend film trifecta was complete when I saw The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  In my opinion, seeing three movies in three nights is a perfect way to spend your time!  I saw Diary of a Teenage Girl at Sundance this year but I wanted to see it again because it is incredibly powerful with an astonishing performance by Bel Powley.  Minnie Goetze (Powley) is a typical teenager, who enjoys drawing comics and lives in San Francisco during the late 1970s.  Her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) is a party girl and leaves her to her own devices most of the time and her father is not in her life.  One evening, as she is roughhousing with her mother's boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), she inadvertently gets him aroused and feels a tremendous sense of power by her ability to excite him.  She then pursues him and loses her virginity to him.  They have an on-again off-again affair because Monroe knows what they are doing is wrong but can't seem to help himself.  Minnie really enjoys her new-found sexuality and begins a relationship with a boy at school and even pretends to be a prostitute to make Monroe jealous.  When she receives a response to a fan letter from Aline Kominsky encouraging her to continue drawing comics, she realizes that she has more to offer than just her body and says goodbye to Monroe.  I love so many things about this movie!  Minnie narrates the story into a tape recorder as an audio diary so we hear everything from her perspective, including all of her teenage delusions about love, her insecurities, and her inconsistencies.  I love that no one rescues Minnie from her behavior.  She sees for herself that she is not emotionally ready for a sexual relationship and that Monroe is weak and not worthy of her.  Powley, who is in every scene, is absolutely brilliant as Minnie and her portrayal is real and honest.  I loved the 1970s rock and roll soundtrack and the art direction is fabulous (her house has a sort of Wes Anderson vibe to it).  Some people may object to the subject matter (there is a lot of sex and nudity in this movie) but Minnie's journey is ultimately so empowering, especially for girls, that I would highly recommend it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

My favorite film from Sundance this year was definitely Me and Earl and the Dying Girl so I was really excited to see it again last night!  It is a quirky and touching story about the power that friendship has to change your life and I loved it just as much as I did the first time.  Greg (Thomas Mann) is an awkward high school senior who is completely alienated from everyone in his life, including his wacky parents (I loved his father, a tenured Sociology professor who has so much time on his hands that he spends his days watching classics in foreign cinema and making exotic recipes such as cuttlefish).  Greg is isolated, ambivalent about his future, and suffers from a severe case of low self-esteem.  His goal is to survive high school without making a mortal enemy.  His only significant relationships are with Mr. McCarthy, his eccentric history teacher ("Respect the research"), and Earl (RJ Cyler), a childhood friend with whom he makes movies that parody classic films (my favorite is still 2:48 P.M. Cowboy, an homage to Midnight Cowboy).  He is so afraid of being close to anyone that he refers to Earl as his "co-worker" rather than his friend.  When Rachel (Olivia Cooke), the daughter of his mother's friend, is diagnosed with leukemia, his mother forces Greg (in an absolutely hilarious scene) to befriend her.  Even though neither of them want this friendship, they eventually become inseparable and Rachel ends up teaching Greg some invaluable life lessons.  To be sure, this movie is a tear-jerker but there are so many funny elements that I was laughing out loud, even the second time around.  All three of the lead actors give wonderful performances and I found Mann to be incredibly endearing.  The parodies are a hoot (A Sockwork Orange, Senior Citizen Kane) and classic film aficionados will love trying to figure out all of the references.  The depiction of high school culture is absolutely spot-on (I should know because I spend my days there) and I especially loved the theatre nerds.  Many of my students had the opportunity to see this film when it was screened at Sundance and they could not stop talking about it.  I feel like it has the potential to become a touchstone for this generation the way The Breakfast Club is for mine.  Do not miss it!

Note:  It was awarded both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance.  Good stuff, I tell you!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sundance Film Festival 2015

For ten days in January, independent filmmakers, and the occasional Hollywood celebrity, descend upon Park City to screen their movies at the Sundance Film Festival and, hopefully, find studios willing to distribute them for wide-release.  It is an absolutely magical time for film lovers (some travel from all over the world to be here) because many of the films are world premieres.  I always try to see at least one film every year but this year I decided to go for it and see as many films as my schedule (I didn't take any time off but I am thinking about it for next year) would allow.  I had the opportunity to see ten films in seven days at six venues and I loved every minute of my Sundance experience!  Monday night I saw Unexpected at the Broadway Theatre.  A high school Biology teacher (Cobie Smulders) discovers, unexpectedly, that she is pregnant and is conflicted about potentially losing her identity.  When her best student also discovers that she is pregnant, she channels all of her emotions into getting her student into college at any cost with disastrous results. I really related to this movie because I've worked with students to help them get into college and sometimes it was what I wanted rather than what they wanted.  I cried during a particularly heated scene. Tuesday night I saw Entertainment at the Broadway.  This is one of the strangest films I've ever seen.  A third rate comedian (Gregg Turkington) travels through the Mojave Desert to perform at a series of dubious gigs (one is in a prison), stay in one run-down motel after another, and take some bizarre field trips (an airplane graveyard) to pass the time.  It was a powerful character study of a man being driven to desperation which made me uncomfortable (but that was rather the point).  Wednesday night I drove all the way to Ogden (about an hour north of where I live) because I really wanted to see Brooklyn.  This is a very sweet film about an Irish girl (Saoirse Ronan) who emigrates to New York in the 1950s.  I really loved Ronan's performance and this is one of my favorites of the festival.  Thursday night I saw People, Places, Things at the Rose Wagner Theatre.  Will Henry (Jemaine Clement) is a graphic novelist who is getting over a breakup, learning how to relate to his twin daughters, and trying to date again.  This movie was absolutely hilarious with lots of quick and witty dialogue ("I'm a sassy little hobbit").  I also really liked the use of actual comic strips to tell the story.  Friday night I saw a double feature.  First was Z for Zachariah at the Grand Theatre (a really great venue).  I was so excited when I was able to score a ticket to this film at the last minute because I read the book in Jr. High and it has always stayed with me.  After a nuclear war, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie), who lives in an isolated valley protected by mountains, believes that she is the only survivor.  After a year on her own, she is visited by two other survivors who may not be all that they seem.  The movie deviated from the book quite a bit with the addition of a third character but I enjoyed it.  Next I saw Hellions at the Broadway as part of Sundance's Midnight Madness series.  A pregnant teenager (Chloe Rose) must survive Halloween when a group of demon children attack her to steal her unborn child.  This was actually a really awful movie but I had a lot of fun watching it at midnight with a fun crowd.  Saturday afternoon I saw The Diary of a Teenage Girl at the Grand.  A fifteen year old girl (Bel Powley) has a sexual awakening in 1970s San Francisco.  Powley gives an astonishing performance and is considered by many critics to be the break-out star of the festival. I really loved all of the 1970s music used throughout the film, especially Heart's "Dreamboat Annie."  (I really love that song).  Saturday I saw another Midnight Madness film, The Hallow, at the Broadway.  Adam (Joseph Mawle), along with his wife and infant son, moves from London to a remote area in Ireland to evaluate the forest for future development but he is soon warned by his superstitious neighbors that the forest is haunted by spirits.  Soon, these spirits attack and try to take his son.  It was a predictable plot but the tension leading up to the attack was almost unbearable and the creatures were quite scary.  I spent Sunday morning at the beautiful Sundance Resort for a screening of 71.  A British soldier (Jack O'Connell from Unbroken) is left behind after a riot on the streets of Belfast during "the Troubles."  As he tries to make his way back to the barracks, he his both helped and pursued by various factions and doesn't know who to trust.  It was a very powerful and suspenseful movie.  Finally, my friends Rob and Esther gave me a ticket to see the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner at the Eccles Theatre in Park City Sunday afternoon and it turned out to be Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  I was excited because I really wanted to see this film but was unable to get a ticket!  Greg (Thomas Mann), an awkward teenager, and his only friend, Earl, spend most of their time making movies based on classic films (Their version of Midnight Cowboy just about killed me).  Greg's mother asks him to befriend a girl who has recently been diagnosed with leukemia and their friendship is both touching and heartbreaking.  I absolutely loved this film and I laughed and cried through the whole thing.  It is definitely my favorite film of the festival.  The films this year were really great but my favorite part of the festival was getting to have so many wonderful conversations with people from all over the country.  Sometimes I think that people find me to be a bit much when I start talking about music, books, theatre, and movies so it was great to talk to people who are just as passionate as I am.  I am already looking forward to next year!

Note:  For the past five years I have taken my students to see free screenings at Sundance.  Go here for an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.
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