Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sundance London: Day 4

And so it winds to an end, the second Sundance Film & Music Festival dragged me out to the O2 every day for the past week to see some very good films indeed (and a few only ok ones). My 5 best of the festival are In a World, Blood Brother, God Loves Uganda, The Kings of Summer and History of the Eagles Part One. Here are a few final notes...

Upstream Color
dir Shane Carruth; with Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth 13/US ***
Carruth is back with an even more challenging film than Primer, eschewing traditional narrative to create a sensual thriller based on visual and audio textures. But there's not much in the way of coherent plot or characterisation. It's a bit infuriating, as it indulgently refuses to coalesce into something focussed, but as a cinematic experience, it's pretty fascinating. It centres on a woman (Seimetz) who is robbed with the use of a trance-inducing worm. When she wakes up afterwards, she has a strange connection to a cyclical system involving pigs, a sound recordist and the other people who have been robbed this way, including a man (Carruth) she falls in love with. We never really have a clue what's happening, but the film is gorgeously shot and edited, with a stunning sound mix. And in the end, it's more like an eerily emotional David Lynch thriller than Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, which it strongly resembles.

dir Stu Zicherman; with Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins 13/US ***
There's a strong autobiographical feeling to this comedy, in the sense that the filmmaker is using it to work out his own issues as an Adult Child of Divorce. Yes, it feels like an act of therapy rather than an actual organic comedy. Fortunately, it has a strong cast of comedy experts who make it both funny and engaging. Scott stars as a guy terrified by the thought of his brother (Clark Duke) getting married, because it means their feuding parents (Jenkins and Catherine O'Hara) will be in a room together. So he turns to his childhood therapist (the magnificent Jane Lynch) for help, and discovers that he was the subject of a book as a child. And now she wants to write about him again as an ACOD. The dialog is snappy and often hilarious, performed to perfection by an up-for-it cast who know how to deliver a punchline. So it's a bit annoying that the plot itself feels so contrived, cycling through the expected situations on the way to the expected conclusion. The cast includes Amy Poehler, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ken Howard and Jessica Alba. Yes, really.

The Inevitible Defeat of Mister & Pete
dir George Tillman Jr; with Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon 13/US *** 
A strong story helps make up for this film's somewhat pushy tone, as it features young actors who are simply too sophisticated for their characters. But it's still thoroughly engaging, winning us over with its open-hearted approach and the tenacity of people living in such a difficult situation. Mister (Brooks) is a 14-year-old whose junkie-hooker mother (Jennifer Hudson) goes missing at the beginning of the summer. Saddled with Pete (Dizon), the 9-year-old she was babysitting, Mister decides they can survive alone for the summer and make it to his August audition for a role in a TV series, which will of course solve all his problems. As they panhandle for survival, they seek help from a wealthy friend (Jordin Sparks), a pimp (Anthony Mackie) and a homeless veteran (Jeffrey Wright), all while trying to avoid a ruthless cop (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Yes, the cast is impressive, but the script is extremely constructed, and the young actors are a bit too good to be true. But the story is important, and the film wins us over with its genuine emotional depth.

The Summit
dir Nick Ryan; with Pemba Gyalje, Cecilie Skog 12/Ire ***
This strikingly well-made documentary about a harrowing real-life incident lets itself down by taking a too-ambitious approach to the narrative. Filmmaker Ryan chops the story up in an attempt to build suspense, but ends up making it very difficult to engage with the chain of events. In August 2008, 11 climbers died on K2 in one of the deadliest days in mountain-climbing history. But what happened was a mystery, and the facts weren't revealed until three family members travelled to Pakistan to talk to Sherpa Gyalje to fill in the gaps. Frankly, the story is thrilling enough without being told in such a circular fashion, and intercutting it with Walter Bonatti's account of the first K2 ascent in 1954 leaves both stories feeling incomplete. Which is frustrating since the film looks absolutely amazing, seamlessly mixing archive footage and photos with dramatic recreations shot in the Swiss Alps. The cinematography (by Robbie Ryan and Stephen O'Reilly) is spectacular, and the interviews with survivors are deeply moving.

Sundance Shorts
There were nine short films in this programme, including the prize winner - and easily the best in the collection: William Oldroyd's Best is a brief little film that packs a whole world into its single scene. A clever idea impeccably executed by a strong cast and crew.  Other stand-out clips included the hilarious cat-breeding comedy The Date from Finland, the blackly amusing horror comedy The Apocalypse, and the intriguing stop-motion doc Irish Folk Furniture. There were also two films that attempted to show stereotypical men as human beings: The Whistle quietly follows a beleaguered Polish football referee, while the slightly preachier Black Metal centres on a death-rock singer blamed for a tragedy.

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