Friday, 26 April 2013

Sundance London: Day 2

As the Sundance London Film and Music Festival heads into the weekend, the schedule is getting crowded with narrative features, documentaries, shorts, live events, musical performances, workshops and just a lot of time hanging out with the filmmakers at the festival hub in the O2. Yesterday's big press event was a chance to meet the current lineup of the Eagles (Timothy Schmit, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh, pictured) following the morning screening of their new documentary.

Having grown up on their music, I found the film almost too nostalgic ... and then being in a room with them was almost too awesome for words. They chatted energetically about how their interaction as a band has mellowed with age (Henley: "Men grow up slowly." Frey: "If at all."), and they even took a poke at reality music competitions ("How can you call it art if it's a contest?") Of course, Walsh just punchlines to most comments; he entered carrying a fire extinguisher and when asked when he arrived in London replied, "I'm not here yet." Anyway, here are comments on that film, and a few others...

History of the Eagles: Part One
dir Alison Ellwood; with Don Henley, Glenn Frey 13/US ****
There's an astonishing level of detail in this documentary about one of the 1970s most iconic rock bands, including extensive archive footage, rare performances, vintage photos and new interviews to put everything into perspective. The story of the Eagles may not as outrageous as some other bands, but it's utterly gripping. Filmmaker Ellwood (working with producer Alex Gibney) goes back to Henley and Frey's childhoods and traces their love of music, early collaborations and the launch of the Eagles in the early 1970s. Over the next decade, the band's line-up changes subtly, refining the unique mix of rock, country and blues. But a band is like a marriage, and this five-man group struggles to hold thing together. Intriguingly, it's not the drugs, sex or hotel-room trashings that break them up. And while there's a sense that their interaction has been edited (what are we not seeing?), the simple facts are riveting. As are the amazing home movies and live music performances.

Touchy Feely
dir Lynn Shelton; with Rosemarie DeWitt, Josh Pais 13/US ***
Shelton once again tackles sensitive relationship issues in this observant comedy, which finds quiet resonance in the astute performances even if the script never really fills in the blanks. It's an enjoyable dark comedy, although it's also too awkward for its own good. The story centres on a massage therapist (DeWitt) who suddenly begins to recoil at the touch of human skin. Meanwhile, her dentist brother (Pais) discovers that he may have the ability to heal his patients. The tidy symmetry of the cast is a little frustrating, but the messy interaction keeps us engaged. Especially since it's so impeccably played by the superb cast, which includes Ellen Page, Allison Janney and Scoot McNairy.

In Fear
dir Jeremy Lovering; with Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert 13/UK ***
A contained experiment in horror, this film's infuriatingly vague approach removes any chance for actual terror. It's extremely well shot and acted, creepy and atmospheric, with a moody sense of uncertainty and some nasty jolts. But making us jump isn't the same as putting our stomach in knots. There are only three people in the cast, as Tom and Lucy (De Caestecker and Englert) head off in search of a romantic getaway hotel in the middle of nowhere, then get hopelessly lost in a maze of country roads. As darkness sets in, they start to wonder if someone is messing with them by changing the roadsigns. Then they meet a terrified young man (Leech). The roles are pretty demanding, as the film is laced with subtext that's a lot more interesting than the plot itself. The best thing here is watching Tom and Lucy's young relationship be rattled to the breaking point right before our eyes. And writer-director Lovering does a great job creating a nasty atmosphere in the dark, rainy wilderness.

Blood Brother
dir Steve Hoover; with Rocky Braat, Steve Hoover 13/US ****.
What starts out as a profile by filmmaker Steve Hoover of his best pal Rocky turns into a remarkable journey into the human soul. Not only does Steve witness something unexpected about Rocky, but his own life is changed forever by the experience. And the film is beautifully shot and edited to make the story powerfully compelling. At the beginning, Steve finds it difficult to understand why Rocky has decided to move to India and live in a refuge full of children with Aids. So he travels there to see what it's all about. But even as he's shocked by the realities of a situation in which children die regularly, he begins to see how Rocky has given his heart to this rural community, finding purpose and meaning outside a more commercial, money-driven America. And while Rocky sometimes looks a bit saintly, the film also shows his doubts and frustrations. But it's in the dramatic events caught on camera that the film shakes us to the core, inspiring us to find meaning in our lives too.

Running From Crazy
dir Barbara Kopple; with Mariel Hemingway, Bobby Williams 13/US ***.
Mariel Hemingway takes us on a trip into her famous family in this sometimes too-intimate documentary. While it has a lot to say about mental illness and suicide, it's even more interesting as an exploration of one family's difficult journey. But the raw facts are almost overwhelming: Mariel has survived seven suicides in her family, including her iconic author grandfather Ernest and her model-actress sister Margaux. So now she dedicates her life to well-being and health, talking opening about everything in an attempt to help her daughters Langley and Dree escape the family "curse". Filmmaker Koople never flinches from anything, as Mariel talks openly about her troubled life. And a good chunk of the film consists of telling footage from Margaux's 1984 work to document the family. It's intimate and sometimes shocking, and very moving.

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