Sunday, 27 April 2014

Sundance London 3: Tales of deconstruction

The Sundance London Festival is winding down tonight, and it's been a rather crazy weekend at the O2 with films and filmmakers crawling all over the place. The public screenings are always a lot more fun than the press shows, as we get filmmaker intros and Q&As, plus of course lively audiences to watch the movies with. I'll have one last entry tomorrow; in the meantime, here are more highlights...

They Came Together
dir David Wain; with Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler 14/US ***.
A goofy spoof of romantic-comedies, this film sets itself a pretty tricky target, since rom-coms are pretty corny themselves. But cowriters David Wain and Michael Showalter and their up-for-it cast charge on regardless, wringing a lot of laughs from the material. Frustratingly, the hilarious rom-com they create isn't actually very involving. The story plays out in flashback as Joel and Molly (Russ and Poehler, above) recount their movie-like tale to friends (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper) over dinner. And there isn't a single movie cliche left out, from various montage sequences to a series of best pals to various improbable breakups and reunions. With lesser actors, this could have turned out like a painful cross between Mel Brooks and Zucker-Abrams-Zucker, but Rudd and Poehler add the necessary zing to hold our interest and keep us laughing at the dense onslaught of visual and verbal gags. Not to mention a non-stop flow of hilarious starry cameos. But if the film itself was actually a charmer, that would have been something special.

dir Lenny Abrahamson; with Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender 14/Ire ****
Loosely based on the life of Chris Sievey (aka Frank Sidebottom), this offbeat comedy continually challenges us both with big ideas and narrative U-turns. It's a remarkably assured comedy with a warm centre underneath a prickly, sometimes maddeningly absurd surface... FULL REVIEW >

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter 
dir David Zellner; with Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube 14/US ***.
An offbeat riff on the Coen brothers' Fargo, this "true story" is packed with witty touches and knowing references, as well as a remarkably complex, surreal performance from Kikuchi. It's also a little bit frustrating in its refusal to let the audience in on the joke, if it is a joke. It opens in Japan with the surly but intriguingly cheeky Kumiko (Kikuchi) following a treasure map to a videotape buried in a seaside cave and a clue pointing to a specific moment in the film, indicating the spot a case of cash is buried in snowy Minnesota. Even though Fargo is clearly a fictional movie, Kumiko becomes obsessed with travelling to the wintry American Midwest to find that cash. The bare bones of the plot are so bonkers that the film has the ring of truth to it, although there's something squirm-inducing about being asked to sympathise with someone who is so delusional - and probably mentally ill. And director-cowriter-costar Zellner somehow manages to create a lightly comical tone while undermining every scene with horror movie touches. Clever, unsettling, unforgettable.

Sundance Shorts
I watched nine shorts at this year's festival, and the best was easily Yearbook, Bernardo Britto's animated tale about a man trying to distill human influence into the historical records before the planet is destroyed. It's a real stunner. Other highlights included Burger, the Iris-produced late-night comedy shot in Cardiff that's a blast of pure energy; The Last Days of Peter Bergmann, an Irish documentary about a man who managed to erase himself from the world; and Life's a Bitch, a staggeringly ambitious and utterly wonderful French short about the romantic entanglements one hapless guy gets into and out of over a year.

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