Overall, we saw some 27 movies and spent more than 40 hours in theater chairs during the Sundance Film Festival. And during the last three days it was all about mainlining quirky indies and catching up on our documentaries. Here’s what we caught during the final leg of our Sundance marathon.
In a very strong horror program at Sundance, Reversal had a lot to live up to. No one is going to call this the next I Spit On Your Grave, but as an entry into the women-getting-theirs genre it was good enough. The level of effort put into keeping the audience confused was a bit maddening, but if you’re down for cheap thrills it will be a solid way to spend a Thursday night with friends and popcorn. The rights to the film were acquired by IFC Midnight, so that dream can become a reality.
Z for Zachariah
Leave it to Hollywood to make Margot Robbie the last woman on Earth left for men to fight over. Robbie is probably in the middle of that fight between some dudes right now with 26 other women standing right next to her. But it’s becoming more and more clear that, in addition to being stunning, she’s also a very good actress. After her breakout performance in The Wolf of Wall Street, Robbie goes from blonde bombshell to brunette Christian girl-next-door with impressive seamlessness. Director Craig Zobel (Compliance) put together a beautiful, efficient movie about what happens after we’re all gone, leading Robbie and her co-stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine through an exploration of human desires even more powerful than the need to survive.
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
This was the most Sundance of movies at Sundance this year, winning both the Audience Award and the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize—much like Whiplash did at least year’s festival. And it’s no surprise. This movie was charming and sweet and emotional and funny and clever, and you can read praise of it from pretty much any outlet that talks about movies even occasionally. Fox Searchlight acquired the rights for around $6 million, meaning that its darling status coming out of Park City will soon scale up to a national level.
For most of this movie is exactly the Kristen Wiig comedy you want and expect it to be. Then something happens. And that’s all we can tell you, besides the fact that we fully endorse this movie and the choices it makes.
This is a movie about a comedian, Neil Hamburger (the fictitious persona invented by actual comedian Gregg Turkington) spiraling into oblivion as he tours the southwestern United States. It’s bleak and sad and sick and offensive. Many patrons leaving the movie said they would have walked out if they hadn’t been pinned in the middle of their rows. But the thing is, it all feels very intentional. Entertainment isn’t a movie to be enjoyed as much as it is to be endured. Matt Patches over at Grantland wrote a post in which he said it “dismantled” comedy and called it “The Anti-SNL Movie.” That feels about right. So don’t seek out Entertainment expecting to feel good. Seek it out if you want to feel everything else.
The Duplass brothers production machine rolls on with this Sundance 2015 opening night selection. It wasn’t Whiplash (last year’s opening film), but it sure was a monument to profanity in the name of humor! Star Melissa Rauch (The Big Bang Theory) co-wrote it with her husband, Winston, and bless the woman for committing 100 percent as this year’s Young Adult-esque anti-hero with 600 percent more obscenity. Bronze hasn’t won universal praise, but it really, really wants to make you laugh. And we did. A lot. Fortunately, Relativity Media was sufficiently impressed, as they nabbed the film for $3 million.
Here’s an interesting concept: What would the real time, practical response be to an alien visitation? Documentarian Michael Madsen (no, not that Michael Madsen) uses his camera as a stand-in for the hypothetical extra-terrestrial and puts it in front of UN officials and government and military experts to create mock interviews of the unknown life form. Madsen heavily stylizes shots of everyday life to emphasize the perspective of the Other, which is captivating at its highest moments and a bit sleepy at its lowest. Overall, though, it was a unique approach to a documentary, and to the questions raised by what we will do if we learn we are not alone.
Best of Enemies
If you like witty repartee among intellectuals, it’s hard to see how you could have more fun than watching this movie. The filmmakers were on hand for a Q&A after a late-in-the-week screening of Best of Enemies, and while watching Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. spar was highly entertaining, co-directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom) insist this is a documentary about how we communicate, and not about the public theater of Vidal and Buckley’s televised “debates” during the electoral conventions of 1968. Though with plenty of footage from those debates, it is staggering to be reminded how the political fights we have now look almost identical the ones we were having almost 50 years ago. Magnolia acquired the picture for an undisclosed sum, so that soon we may all revel in the rivalry of Gore v. Buckley.
If you ever wondered how Warren Jeffs—imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS)—landed on the FBI’s top 10 most wanted list before being apprehended in 2006 during a routine traffic stop, this documentary should answer all your relevant questions. And while we’d hate to spoil anything, here are a few hints: sexual molestation, underage marriage, rape. Director Amy Berg teamed up with author Jon Krakauer (Under the Banner of Heaven) and investigator Sam Brower (who wrote the book Prophet’s Prey), to explain the horrors taking place within FLDS compounds. Both Brower and Krakauer have been working for years to expose FLDS and bring its “Priesthood holders” to justice, and this doc gives the men a much-deserved bullhorn with which to raise further awareness.