Sundance Film Festival 2018: Day 2 capsules | Buzz Blog

Sundance Film Festival 2018: Day 2 capsules

Blindspotting, American Animals, Clara's Ghost, The Price of Everything, The Guilty and more

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Blindspotting [U.S. Dramatic] **1/2
It feels near-impossible to make a movie that's both a satirical look at a gentrifying city and a blistering piece of political drama, so it's impressive that the creative team here comes as close as they do to pulling it off. In Oakland, Calif., best-friends-since-childhood Collin (Daveed Diggs) and Miles (Rafael Casal) work together by day for a moving company, while Collin tries to make it through the last few days of a post-incarceration probation without getting into the trouble that perpetually surrounds him. Diggs and Casal also co-wrote the screenplay, which allows the story to explore a variety of perspectives on growing up in a tough town in a way that feels authentic and organic. And they introduce some hilarious material surrounding the protagonists' frustrations with invading hipsters, particularly a recounting of the event that led to Collin's conviction. There's also a lot of plot going on, with the incendiary starting point of Collin witnessing a white cop killing a fleeing black man, and winding through too many showy moments that allow characters to literalize the themes (and, yes, even the movie's title). Diggs' performance as a man trying to stay alive and free while staying true to his roots provides an anchor, even as the narrative keeps trying to spin off in a hundred different directions. (Scott Renshaw)

Anote’s Ark [World Documentary] **1/2
Two individually well-intentioned documentary shorts combined into one package don’t necessarily make for one cohesive movie, even if the two subjects are fairly clearly connected. Half of director Matthieu Rytz’s film follows Anote Tong, president of the Pacific island republic of Kirabati, as he works to alert the world that sea level rise threatens to overwhelm his nation entirely by the end of this century, and looks for a back-up plan to save the lives of his people. The other half tracks the experience of one Kirabati family relocating to Auckland, New Zealand, becoming part of a larger diaspora adjusting to an entirely new world. Both sections offer moments of insight, whether it’s Tong’s quest to save others from a fate that already seems sealed for his people, or addressing how an entire culture might face extinction. Those two parts just interrupt one another more than they complement one another—and that’s leaving aside the possibility that the most interesting material here involves scientists working on a “floating city” concept that seems like an amazing potential solution, until it’s threatened by changing equatorial weather patterns. Much of the rest of the time, there are compelling individual bits that too rarely build to dramatic impact. (SR)

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American Animals [U.S. Dramatic] **1/2
“It makes me wonder if they knew why they did it” is the last spoken line in the movie, and it’s unfortunately too self-referential even for a film that already had a lot of self-referentiality. Director Bart Layton made his name with the superb post-modern super-conman documentary The Imposter, and here the same techniques tell a true-crime docudrama, entertaining but ultimately empty. The opening title card tells you to expect a cheeky deconstruction of the heist film—“this is not based on a true story,” then words get erased and “this is a true story” remain. The four thieves in the heist, targeting some precious rare books at a Kentucky liberal-arts college, are all played by actors, while the real-life people (all identified onscreen and in the credits as “The Real Life So-and-So”) comment on the scenes. This postmodern style isn't a stunt, because these thieves were not professional criminals, but planned the heist based on viewing The Killing, Reservoir Dogs and a shelf full of crime DVDs. They think, however, it’ll end like The Shawshank Redemption, as long as they give each other names like Mr. [Color]. But once you get what the film’s doing, it offers no surprises and feels ritualistic. And especially after the theft is (badly) carried out, it sputters without purpose. (Victor Morton)

The Price of Everything [U.S. Documentary] ***
Director Nathaniel Kahn takes a journey into the upscale contemporary art marketplace, and finds almost too many fascinating angles to fit into one movie. The framing idea involves the bubble in the collector’s market for contemporary art, which has found people with way too much money on their hands turning to art as (in the words of one interviewee) “part of the portfolio.” That exploration involves interviews with employees at auction houses as well as collectors themselves, who try to explain why some works warrant their multi-million-dollar price tags. There’s also a look at the artists themselves—most of whom never see the biggest benefit from these huge re-sales—as well as a juxtaposition of working artists who take different approaches to feeding the insatiable demand for “product,” plus an interrogation of what is lost when museums can’t keep up with wealthy individuals, so that art ends up on private residence walls and lost to the public. That’s a lot to take in, and there are moments when you might wish Kahn had opted for depth rather than breadth. In a sense, it’s a companion piece to My Kid Could Paint That, in that it’s not so much a smirking take-down of modern art—though there is a bit of a poke at Jeff Koons in particular—as it is a recognition of how capriciously we can assign value to creative works. (SR)

The Guilty [World Dramatic] ***1/2
Fans of (basically) one-set, radio-friendly dramas with one visible character, rejoice! This year's Locke has arrived. Jakob Cedergren plays the Tom Hardy-equivalent role of Asger, a man jumping across multiple phone lines and callers for 85 minutes of life-and-death matters, in this case literally. Asger is manning the emergency dispatch lines, a beat cop demoted to desk duty pending an investigation the details of which gradually dribble out. He has a beat cop's bedside manner in some early calls—telling a junkie it's his fault, for example—until he gets a call that pricks his conscience's (and vocation's) “protector” side: A panicky woman named Iben says she's been kidnapped. Asger quickly figures out it's a domestic situation, and expertly uses his detective skills in real time in a way no dispatcher could (or should) to reveal the entire story of a taut thriller … even as it unravels around him, and around the familiar cultural scripts he uses. Like his compatriot Dogmetists, director Gustav Moller essentially takes a vow of chastity, never leaving the dispatchers office and telling the whole story in Cedergren's face and the two-ended phone calls. The latter are aided by some world-class sound design (Oskar Skriver is the inventive wizard) that creates pictures in our heads better than some cinematographers. (VM)

Clara’s Ghost [NEXT] ***
This odd little family project—in which writer/director Bridey Elliott co-stars with her dad (Get a Life ’s Chris Elliott), her sister (SNL alum Abby Elliott) and mother (Paula Niedert Elliott)—offers a curious mix of genre elements, but mostly sells them thanks to its tart sense of humor. Chris plays Ted Reynolds, a has-been actor who has passed his inflated sense of self on to his actor daughters, Julie (Abby) and Riley (Bridey), who have struggled to continue their careers after being child stars in a sit-com. Meanwhile, matriarch Clara (Paula) begins to have visions of a restless spirit the family’s Connecticut home, where the girls are visiting for a magazine article photo shoot. Bridey effectively captures the uniquely show-biz mix of narcissism and self-loathing in her actor characters, and the one-upmanship that defines the Reynolds family dynamic. It’s also an intriguing decision to have Clara’s insecurities about being the invisible member of the family—not just as a non-celebrity, but as a middle-aged woman—manifest itself in supernatural terms. There’s an occasional awkwardness to the melding of indie comedy and attempts at suspense, and it’s not entirely clear if Bridey Elliott actually wants her movie to be scary at times. Points, though, for how often the uncomfortable comedy scores, and for a great supporting performance by a richly bearded Haley Joel Osment, who pointedly does not see dead people here. (SR)

Pity [World Dramatic] ***
If it's Greek and co-written by Efthimis Filippou, who also co-wrote Dogtooth and The Lobster, you know what you're in for: absurdist plots, deadpan performances, obtrusive direction (especially here in the score and stream-of-consciousness title cards) and a streak of comedy so dark they can't sell chocolate of that strength. Yet amid the surface ridiculousness and caustic misanthropy, there's something recognizably human in what drives the protagonist (Yannis Drakopoulos)—here unnamed and identified only as a lawyer. His wife is in a coma, and people take pity on him—bake cakes, offer specials on the dry cleaning, etc. This pity seems both to be the only form of love in his life (and he's even taught to resist that, as his lawyer speeches indicate) and to be an assurance to himself that he can still feel something. At the midway point, the wife recovers, but the man can't live without love or assurance, so he goes to grimly-amusing lengths to win people's pity, ranging from advising his wife to get a mammogram (you never know!) to … well, more. One must ask if the end doesn't go too far, but I admired Filippou and co-writer/director Babis Makridis their integrity. At the end, I wanted to paraphrase Nigel Tufnel: It can't get any more black, cannit? (VM)

Check out our daily Sundance 2018 dispatches here.


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