Like many people, I prefer experiences to things when it
comes to receiving gifts. Of course, it’s rather challenging to plan experiences
during a pandemic, so it is a testament to my husband’s gift-giving prowess
that for Christmas, he presented me with an all-inclusive pass to the virtual Sundance
Film Festival 2021.
The film festival was this past weekend – so after a weekend
comprised of our selection of ten full-length features and 20 shorts (and
assorted Q&As with filmmakers and actors) – I bring you “What I Watched:
Sundance 2021” with my completely amateur assessments of the most
memorable films as determined by me. Enjoy!
U.S. Dramatic Competition
John and the Hole – Michael C. Hall – the guy who
played serial killer Dexter -- now plays an affluent and uninvolved Dad whose 13-year-old
kid drugs him, his wife, and their daughter and keeps them trapped in an
underground bunker for about a week, while the kid lives life on his own terms,
using the family’s house, money, and car to maintain his schedule and buy food.
(SPOILER ALERT: when he finally helps his family out of the bunker, there is no
explanation for why he did this. I do not care for ambiguous, nebulous movies
like this – particularly after such an intriguing build up. There is no “why” except possibly flashbacks involving what appears to be his Mom when she was his age may have something to do with it? I presume it is supposed to be unsettling and
thought-provoking for the viewer. If so, achieved.)
Rating: Spoon-feed me, please - B-
On the Count of Three
- I unfairly likened this to the male version of Thelma and Louise,
which is not at all accurate, but helps provide some sort of context. The two
leads have amazing chemistry as best friends and you root for them through the
entire film – even (especially?) when they run afoul of the law and Jerrod
Carmichael delivers lines such as, “Hey, man – thanks for hitting my dad with a
tire iron. You’re a good friend.” Even though this is heavy material (a suicide
pact, mental illness, child molestation), it is darkly funny and very sweet.
Tiffany Haddish and Henry Winkler make brief but meaningful appearances.
Rating: Buddy movie with a twist - A
U.S. Documentary Competition
Homeroom – Oakland, CA kids organize and rally to remove police
from their schools, who are not only threatening and triggering for the
primarily black and brown kids in the school district, but whose funding is
also taking away necessary programs and services from this same population. The
tragic murder of George Floyd occurs during the filming of this documentary,
which ultimately helps persuade the school board to vote with the kids after
initially not supporting them.
Rating: Hopeful for the future – A
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It –
87-year-old national treasure Rita Moreno has joie de vivre that makes you love
her from the minute the film begins and leaves you wanting more when it ends. After
describing how Moreno overcame numerous obstacles including racism and sexism to
seemingly embody the American Dream of struggling to achieve great success –
this filmmaker posits, “and what could she have achieved had she NOT had to
deal with that?” It is a deeper look into Rita Moreno’s life, tribulations, and
a more complete picture of entertainer-as-human-being, including her early and
continued activism, her relationship with Marlon Brando (about whom she
delivers a perfectly timed line that made me laugh out loud), and surprising honesty
about what looked like her perfect marriage. And at 87, she’s still working,
wearing heels, dancing, and celebrating life on her terms.
Rating: Hey, you GUUUYYYSSSS! She’s the best and this was well
done - A
Try Harder! – as the parent of a teenager who will be
applying to college in a few short years, this film resonated with (and by
“resonated with”, I of course mean “scared the crap out of”) me. It follows
kids from one of the most selective public high schools in the country as they
navigate their high school years and college application process. These kids have
taken all the AP courses, have weighted GPAs of 4.5 or higher, and have
sacrificed sleep, friendships, social lives, and many ‘normal’ high school
experiences in the hope of being admitted to top-tier schools. (Most of them view
Stanford as the gold standard, as this is a San Francisco-area school.) It
turns out that when you are one of many kids with the same stellar resume,
Stanford is simply not interested. Nor is Yale, or UC Berkeley, or Harvard. It
is an interesting commentary on ticking all the right boxes to succeed, and it not being enough because it has made you the same as everyone else.
Rating: Be yourselves, for the love of God - A-
|Our favorite movie snacks - we fully embraced
being couch potatoes
World Cinema Dramatic Competition
Human Factors – see “John and the Hole” above – are
there repeated home break-ins? Aren’t there? What does this mean to this family
and their lives? Do I even care?
Rating: Headscratcher – B-
How It Ends – a full-length feature comedy with cameos from every person you’ve ever seen on screen - such as Rob Huebel – the guy who is in everything, including my favorite meme:
Rating: Funniest death-by-meteor movie I’ve seen - A
The Sparks Brothers – billed as a documentary about “your
favorite band’s favorite band” and “the greatest band you’ve never heard of.”
And admittedly, I’m in the group uncool enough to have never heard of
them. It made me miss John
Marshall terribly, as he would not only have known their library of songs
and been disgusted I didn’t, but would have also pointed out why I was
incorrect in my assessment that no one has heard of them because their music is
TERRIBLE. If you know this band, and particularly if you like this band, please
explain it to me. The documentary was well done – I just don’t get the appeal.
Rating: In tribute to the avant-garde-ness of the
subject matter, I rate this film: cucumbers
Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street – you’ll
laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll still be able to remember every song and segment from
this wonderful show. Delightful to reflect on a bunch of smart, creative people
doing something that mattered and continues to matter.
Rating: Today’s letter is - A+
Searchers – documentary about online dating in NYC.
I’ll save you the two hours: it’s dehumanizing. Interesting filming – but way
too long and not sure we gained any new insights.
Rating: It’s not you, it's me – B-
Wiggle Room – easily my favorite of all the shorts. The film focuses on a young woman who is seemingly invisible and powerless due to being poor, a minority, a woman, young, and disabled due to an accident. When she treks to an insurance company to follow up on a long-delayed payment for a wheelchair ramp her coverage is supposed to provide – she proves just how strong she is in a way that will have you cheering for her and thinking about this short many days after watching it.
Rating: You go, girl! – A+
A Concerto is A Conversation – I lied. This was
easily my favorite of all the shorts. This film is a conversation between a 91-year-old
black man and his grandson – about growing up in two very different times and
both realizing different kinds of success (the grandson’s due in large part to obstacles
faced, hardships overcome, and choices made by his grandfather). It is devastating (though unsurprising) how much racism and how many obstacles the grandfather was faced with, and
instead of being defeated, was inspired to find different paths to his success.
Harkening back to the Rita Moreno film – imagine what he could have achieved if
he didn’t have to deal with that.
Rating: This is just fantastic all around, and the
interesting choice of using two cameras for close ups was brilliant - A+
You Wouldn’t Understand – I didn’t. I think it was
about time travel and lasers and a pricing gun being used as an actual gun and
interrupting a gentleman’s picnic.
Rating: SBH (Should Be High to watch this)
The Field Trip
– depressingly accurate perspective of what corporate America looks like
through the lens of kids spending half a day living it during a fifth grade field trip to Junior
Achievement Biz Town.
Rating: I think we should amplify this through our channels and think outside the box – A
When We Were Bullies
- husband and I had differing opinions on this documentary that
revisited a bullying incident the filmmaker took part in 50 years prior at his
Brooklyn, NY, elementary school. He tracks down and interviews classmates and
even the teacher for their perspectives on the incident. I wanted more remorse
from those involved and less focus on them and more about the kid who was
bullied (the filmmaker said that was the original intent, but he changed his
mind). Stylistically, this was great. But if you’re going to the trouble of
tracking down the bullies - I need contrition and growth. If not, I don’t need to
hear how this affected the kids doing the bullying – I know they are way less
traumatized than a child being jumped and pummeled by a crowd.
Rating: They should all get wedgies - B