Friday, 2 June 2017

Sundance London: Drink to that

The fifth Sundance Film Festival: London is now fully underway with a series of screenings and quite a few chances to meet the filmmakers at Picturehouse Central in Piccadilly. Last night's opening event was superb, with the team from Beatriz at Dinner in attendance - writer Mike White, director Miguel Arteta and actor Salma Hayek, all on great form. I'm catching movies all weekend, including the surprise film tonight (I have an inkling). Here are a few more highlights...

Beatriz at Dinner
dir Miguel Arteta; with Salma Hayek, John Lithgow 17/US ****.
A third teaming of the terrific director-writer duo Miguel Arteta and Mike White (see also Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl), this astute pitch-black comedy cuts a razor-sharp line through affluent American society. It's a fiendishly smart film with moments in which we're not sure whether this is funny or terrifying, simply because it resonates so strongly. And it's anchored by Salma Hayek's best ever performance.

Walking Out
dir-scr Alex Smith, Andrew J Smith; with Matt Bomer, Josh Wiggins 17/US ***.
A sensitive drama about the awkward bonding between a father and son takes a very dark turn in this beautifully photographed film. As things get genuinely gruelling, filmmakers Alex and Andrew Smith somehow manage to avoid both melodrama and sentimentality. The themes get a bit lost in the dictates of the plot, which makes the pace feel draggy, but there's still a thoughtful, moving edge.

dir-scr Marianna Palka; with Jason Ritter, Jaime King 17/US ***
A jarring production style and unsympathetic characters make it difficult to enjoy this offbeat pitch-black comedy, but there are important themes that surge up throughout the story that make it worth a look. And it's always great to see a film that keeps you off-balance. In addition, writer-director Marianna Palka draws boldly realistic performances from her cast. And herself.

dir Bryan Fogel; with Bryan Fogel, Grigory Rodchenkov17/US ****
This documentary starts out to explore drug use among professional cyclists then becomes engulfed in another series of events that have far bigger repercussions. Filmmaker Bryan Fogel may be too involved in what happens to tell the story with journalistic vigour, unable to resist framing everything as some sort of epic spy thriller, but what's revealed is genuinely earth-shaking. And it's a movie that's impossible to ignore.

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