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PARK CITY - Four days into this year's Sundance fest and I should probably catch up with some thoughts on this and that. I've already written at length about the two films that are the big stand-outs to me thus far, Jeff Nichols' "Mud" and Richard Linklater's "Before Midnight," but I've filled in my schedule with a few things in between.
My fest started Thursday with Sebastián Silva's "Crystal Fairy & the Magic Cactus and 2012" (Drew's review here), which has yielded some split reactions. My take was that it's a pretty great character study before fizzling out somewhere in the third act. I guess I understand why some are chafing at Michael Cera's character and performance, but I thought it was a brilliant embodiment. I've definitely known my share of guys like this and he nails it. But the movie gets a little lost in its own eventual sincerity. I'd love to see Silva's "Magic Magic," also playing here and filmed around the same time with Cera as the lead again.
Francesca Gregorini's "Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes" I appreciated for having something to say. That's rarer and rarer these days. But it was a bit unruly with a premise that walks a fine line (some audience laughter may not have been intended). I was impressed, though, with newcomer Kaya Scodelario. The film on the whole represents a filmmaker with a voice.
Speaking of which, "Ain't Them Bodies Saints," from David Lowery, is absolutely reflective of an artist with a voice. It's beautifully shot by Bradford Young (also with "Mother of George" at the fest), while Craig McKay and (UNCSA alumna) Jane Rizzo's editing and David Hart's evocative score drive an otherwise languid slow-burn narrative. But I find myself somewhat fatigued by filmmakers clearly inspired by the early work of Terrence Malick who fail to progress the aesthetic. Jeff Nichols is someone, I think, who has taken a step forward. But I like this filmmaker and look forward to his future work. Ben Foster's performance stood out most to me as an exercise in gorgeous internalization and restraint. Guy will have a full review up tomorrow.
With "Before Midnight," David Gordon Green's "Prince Avalanche" (which I'll see tomorrow) and Randy Moore's "Escape from Tomorrow," there's a mini-trend of films shot in secret at the fest this year. And the latter (Drew's review here) is an intriguing example, as indeed, it's unlikely to escape the confines of Park City once Disney's lawyers get a hold of it. Filmed on location at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts, the film is seriously fucked up. I would argue that it has a kernel of an idea regarding oppressive commercialism but never really executes it and in fact openly loses itself within its own parameters. That said, there are some great, creepy moments when the film isn't going around in circles, and I'd have liked to see more of that. I also respect not only the fact that the film was made, but that it's so complete with solid coverage throughout. It had to have been difficult.
Finally, Fox Searchlight is here with two films and a mind to buy more. I missed Chan-wook Park's "Stoker" but caught Zal Batmanglij's "The East." On the latter, I never saw "Sound of My Voice," but I can certainly tell from this offering that "Batman" has serious directorial chops. It's a piece full of tension and intrigue. But something inherent in the script kept me from taking it seriously enough to enjoy the ride. There isn't enough properly at stake for the film to earn its facile pro-coporaterrorism ideas, in my opinion, and motivations feel questionable throughout. Nevertheless, I look forward to this guy's career. He knows how to get a reaction out of an audience.
So that's where I'm at for now. I'm looking forward to films like "Big Sur," "Running from Crazy" and "Upstream Color" in the next couple of days. And I'd like to catch up with audience favorites like "The Spectacular Now" and "S-VHS" if I can. Whether I do or not, the 'Dance marches on.
More as it happens.
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