Thursday, 2 June 2016

Sundance returns to London

After taking a break for a year, Sundance returns to London for 2016, this time in a much more accessible venue at the gorgeous Picturehouse Central in Piccadilly. Over the weekend, the 4th Sundance Film Festival: London is bringing 11 premiere features and a number of shorts, plus lots of events for aspiring filmmakers. It all kicked off tonight with Sian Heder's Tallulah (on-set pic above). Here are comments on the nine features I've seen...

dir Sian Heder; with Ellen Page, Allison Janney 16/US ****.
Skilfully written and directed by Sian Heder, this astute drama explores issues of parenthood from a variety of unexpected angles. The story is complex and gripping, and the characters are deeply engaging as they struggle to make the right decisions in tricky situations. Thankfully, Heder never resorts to glib answers, which makes the film both involving and powerfully moving.

dir Andrew Neel; with Ben Schnetzer, Nick Jonas 16/US ***.
Based on real events, this grim exploration of frat-house culture would be difficult to watch if it weren't for the strikingly realistic characters at the centre. Ben Schnetzer and Nick Jonas deliver involving performances as brothers with complex reactions to the unbridled masculinity they find themselves in the middle of. And they both provide a strong emotional kick.

dir Todd Solondz; with Greta Gerwig, Ellen Burstyn 16/US ****
Arthouse veteran Todd Solondz continues to slice through the artificiality of human interaction with a series of vignettes that centre around an adorable dachshund. The connections between the episodes kind of fall apart as the film continues, but the characters and relationships are startling all the way through. As are the film's observations about the nature of intelligence.

The Intervention
dir Clea DuVall; with Melanie Lynskey, Cobie Smulders 16/US ***
An engagingly twisted story and especially strong acting bring this ensemble comedy-drama to life, sparking a continual sense of uncomfortable recognition for the viewer. So even if the themes never seem particularly complex, and the gyrations of the plot never terribly revelatory, the film is thoroughly entertaining as it explores some nagging truths about relationships.

Other People
dir Chris Kelly; with Jesse Plemons, Molly Shannon 16/US ****
Themes of mortality and repression make this drama rather heavy-going, but there's a freshness to the ensemble cast that injects jagged humour into every scene. And filmmaker Chris Kelly keeps the tone awkward, which gives the film an improvised atmosphere to help avoid any obvious sermonising.

dir James Schamus; with Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon 16/US ***.
Based on the Philip Roth novel, this tightly controlled film is an intriguing directing debut for writer-producer James Schamus. It certainly doesn't mirror the more free-spirited earthiness of his usual collaborator Ang Lee; this is a blackly pointed drama with intense characters whose actions carry punchy consequences. Which is the story's central theme.

The Greasy Strangler
dir Jim Hosking; with Michael St Michaels, Sky Elobar 16/US *.
With its relentlessly crude filmmaking, this gonzo horror-comedy feels like Beavis and Butt-Head tried to make a mash-up homage to John Waters and David Lynch. Except that the movie is never remotely funny or scary. And director James Hosking spends too much time wallowing in grotesque nudity and repeated catch-phrases to give the premise any kick.

Author: The JT LeRoy Story
dir Jeff Feuerzeig; with Laura Albert, Savannah Knoop 16/US ****
Inventively assembled to tell a story with humour and insight, this film documents the astonishing conundrum of hotshot author JT LeRoy, who turned out not to be a real person after his novel and stories had been published and adapted for film to great acclaim. Filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig digs deep to tell the full story from the perspective of the woman at the centre of it all.

dir Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg; with Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin 16/US ***.
This is a fascinating documentary about a politician who desperately wants to get past a scandal of his own making. And since we're talking about Anthony Weiner, directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg have a seemingly endless supply of wickedly entertaining jokes to work with. Even as the filmmakers remain in fly-on-the-wall mode, the film snaps with energy and wit... FULL REVIEW >

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