Sundance has ended once again in another successful two week excursion of indie flicks. The big award winner, both in terms of audience and grand jury approval, was the revolutionary slave movie, Birth of a Nation. However, some of the best movies are not even in contention for best dramatic film, as they’re placed into different categories. I was lucky enough to see some of the best. Though, with Sundance, a mixed bag is always guaranteed. The reviews come in the order I saw the movies, not in order of preference.
Manchester by the Sea
Casey Affleck stars in this drama as a man, who doesn’t quite have his life together, that has to accept the responsibility of guardianship of his 16 year old nephew, after his brother dies.
This film is no Curly Sue. It’s a heartbreaker through and through. Casey Affleck puts in a stunning performance as Lee Chandler, a broken, yet unaffected man. For a time, it’s almost impossible to relate to him until you see what brought him to this point in his life. Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler help to make this movie something special.
Throughout Manchester by the Sea, we see flashbacks spliced in with Lee’s current life. These flashbacks throw off the rhythm at first, but they soon enrich the characters and keep you hooked to a story that will surely make you cry. I have a cold chest cavity where my heart once was, but I was very close to shedding a tear. Manchester by the Sea is incredibly heavy, but it doesn’t take away from it being an unforgettable movie. A-
The outward conflict of Little Men is about a dispute regarding the rental cost of a small dress shop between Leonor (Paulina Garcia) and Brian (Greg Kinnear). However, the small story inside consists of their respective sons finding friendship.
Little Men is a small, simple movie. It feels very Sundance-y. Beyond any pretense however, I was glad to see a friendship develop between these two boys in the quieter streets of New York. Michael Barbieri steals the movie as young Tony. He injects the necessary life into this story, which feels of little consequence. Honestly, the pace felt refreshing. In the end, it made me reflect on friendships I held dear as a kid and are now a distant memory. I don’t think I’d watch this again, but I’m glad I did once. B-
It’s the mid-1980s and a young Irish boy is sent to a Catholic boys school in a rough part of town. In order to stand out and impress a girl, he decides to form a band that borrows elements from every ’80s band, while writing and performing original songs to earn a few dates along the way.
While Manchester by the Sea will be the movie that had the biggest dramatic impact on me from the festival, Sing Street is the movie that I will watch continually. I don’t know why I was so surprised by how much I loved this movie. It’s written and directed by John Carney, who had previously done (personal favorites) Once and Begin Again. Carney knows how to write great original music that make his films stand out.
Sing Street nearly has it all. It’s a family drama, a coming-of-age tale, a love story and a musical all wrapped up into one. Outside of the dozens of subplots, the one that matters in the end is that of two brothers. I may have ridiculed Jack Reynor before for his work in Transformers 4, but his role as the pop-cultured older brother made me an instant fan. As soon as you watch this, you will want the soundtrack. I now have two great contenders for my 2016 end of year list. A-
Under the Shadow
As a mother and daughter struggle to cope with the terrors of the post-revolution, war-torn Tehran of the ’80s, a mysterious evil begins to haunt their home.
Sundance has launched several classic horror flicks. Seriously, the list is surprising. My favorites from the fest have been The Blair Witch Project, Dead Alive, 28 Days Later, Saw, The Descent and The Babadook. It looks like we have another hit with Under the Shadow.
Under the Shadow has a great mix of familiarity (jump scares) and the unknown. The setting is like nothing else you have seen in this type of movie. It takes place in Iran, which is always under threat of Iraqi missile attacks. Shideh and her daughter Dorsa hide away in an apartment building that the supernatural Djinn have chosen to claim. As more tenants leave the building and Tehran altogether, these two are the last ones left, and the Djinn have no shortage of ways to torment them.
Because of the motherhood angle, this feels very reminiscent of Babadook, but I feel that the scares work far better. Even though you have to read subtitles, you won’t have a lack of anxiety in Under the Shadow. B+
I didn’t previously care to see a documentary about disgraced politician Anthony Weiner, but I’m glad I saw it. It takes place two years after Weiner’s original sexting scandal and his resignation from congress. He had decided to run for office again in 2013, despite constant mockery. Through it all, Weiner rose in the polls. Yet, as the doc makes clear, he still has a lot of skeletons in the closet and his hasty actions in public only further his ruination.
Early on, this documentary tends to paint Anthony Weiner with a bit of hero worship. Yet, as it continues, I started to wonder why he’d ever let someone film his day-to-day life. The movie does him no favors. You almost want to root for a man who doesn’t hold back his temper about a broken system, but he does everything he can to shrivel his reputation along the way. This is an interesting documentary that is often hilarious, thanks mostly to clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. It’s nothing to rush out and see, but will be well worth your time when it eventually comes to Netflix. B
Swiss Army Man
Swiss Army Man is the movie that everyone is talking about for all the right and wrong reasons.
Paul Dano is a castaway that has given up on solitary life until a corpse washes up on shore. This corpse has something of a flatulence problem and Dano uses this to his advantage. As the opening credits roll, Dano rides the corpse of Daniel Radcliffe as a jet ski powered by farts.
This happens in the first five minutes and it only gets stranger from there. As the title suggests, the corpse is a makeshift swiss army device that can be used from everything to chopping wood, creating water and as a compass (don’t ask).
Flabbergasted is the only word I can use to describe my viewing experience. I was constantly between a state of eye-rolling and gut laughter. I knew what I was watching was ridiculous, but couldn’t help but enjoy the effort of putting it on screen. There is magic to Swiss Army Man and it is heavily influenced by the work of visual filmmakers like Michele Gondry and Charlie Kaufman. Even though this is a strange joy to watch, it runs out of gas (unoriginal joke) at the end. It could easily cut 15 minutes from the third act and be a stronger movie. I couldn’t, in good conscience, recommend this to anyone, but if you see this with a good group of people, you’ll find the art, mixed in with the sophomoric humor. B