Thursday, 26 April 2012

Sundance London: Day 1

Robert Redford brought his Sundance Film Festival to London this month, showcasing American independent films as well as a few British music documentaries that are being shown alongside performances from the artists in the films (including Placebo, Tricky and Rufus and Martha Wainwright). It's being held at the O2 Dome in North Greenwich, and Redford made a personal appearance today (above). Here are some highlights from Thursday...

Under African Skies
dir Joe Berlinger; with Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte 12/US ****
This beautifully assembled documentary traces the creation of Paul Simon's seminal album Graceland, through the lively recording sessions and the startling political controversy they sparked since South Africa was the subject of a cultural boycott at the time. Through interviews with everyone involved on a variety of levels, the film captures both the magic of the recordings, but also the much bigger political issues that were involved, most notably the way Simon's colour-blind, apolitical approach made such a huge impact on bringing down Apartheid. Intriguingly, and a bit worryingly, this is something the ANC still won't admit. Although Nelson Mandela gets it.

Nobody Walks 
dir Ry Russo-Young; with John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby 12/US ****
This lively ensemble comedy is set in the Hollywood Hills, where a couple (Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt) welcomes a family friend (Thirlby) who's working on a film project. But her presence upsets what's clearly an already fragile balance, as each character ends up at one end of an inappropriate crush. And the way they deal with it gives the film some intriguing moral depth, as director-cowriter Russo-Young refuses to moralise. It's clear that we're supposed to know that certain things are wrong, but the way the characters behave makes it increasingly involving, blurring the lines between each person until we realise exactly which relationships are robust enough to survive the farce. Very clever even if it's perhaps a bit too silly sometimes.

Liberal Arts
dir Josh Radnor; with Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen 12/US ***
Radnor writes, directs and stars in this film as a 35-year-old academic who travels to his alma mater and meets a 19-year-old co-ed (Olsen) who upsets his idea of propriety. The story is set up as a coming-of-age comedy as Radnor's character discovers some truths about growing up and acting like an adult with other people. Although there's a bit of smugness that creeps in as well, since he seems to end up believing that he has all the answers now. This is a bit odd since there are two fabulous older characters played by marvellous scene-stealers Richard Jenkins and Allison Janney. And there's also an intriguing goofball turn by Zac Efron that considerably livens up the whole film. It's a thoroughly enjoyable comedy, with scenes that are smart, sweet and thoughtful. But it's not quite as insightful as it thinks it is.

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