Sundance Dispatch 4: Marjorie Prime, The Force, 78/52

The Force

One of my least favorite ways to describe a movie is as a “meditation on” love/time/memory/death/etc. (It’s always some heavy abstract thing, never, say, “a meditation on Doritos.”) I guess Michael Almereyda is on the same page, per his introduction to this morning’s screening of Marjorie Prime. “It’s been described as a meditation,” he cracked. “I hope it’s not. It’s a movie.” Specifically, it’s a heavily modified adaptation of Jordan Harrison’s play, customized to fit the ever-adventurous Almereyda’s tastes and frames of reference. The premise is both simple and tricky: in the future, your deceased loved ones can be brought back as holograms for company. Marjorie (Lois Smith), aging and losing her memory, has her late husband Walter (Jon Hamm), eternally…  Read more


Sundance: David Lowery’s A Ghost Story is a Major Achievement and A Curious NEXT Entry

(Photo: Andrew Droz Palermo.)

It’s a rare privilege to see a contemporary American film as ambitious, emotionally honest, and just-plain-breathtaking as David Lowery’s Sundance entry A Ghost Story. Even from his microbudget beginnings, Lowery’s work has displayed a consistent fascination with American folklore and mythmaking. His films, whether big-budget Disney blockbusters like last year’s Pete’s Dragon, 2013’s love story Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, or his masterful 2011 short Pioneer, concern themselves with the notion of storytelling, its allure and its limitations. With A Ghost Story, Lowery continues to explore this fascination, now through the lens of the haunting genre, a tradition that stretches from Virginia Woolf all the way down to Paranormal Activity 4. But Lowery is less interested in telling a traditional ghost…  Read more


Sundance Dispatch 3: Columbus, Golden Exits


Columbus certainly doesn’t look like a standard American independent film: even if you didn’t know debuting director kogonada’s background as a video essayist primarily concerned with High Art (Bresson, Tarkovsky et al.), it’s clear this is made by somebody who’s studied the framing of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang et al. quite closely. No matter how mundane the setting — average small downtown streets, a drab university library — kogonada and DP Elisha Christian stick to the visual philosophy espoused by architecture-obsessed protagonist Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) as she annotates one building’s properties, noting how it’s “asymmetrical but also still balanced.” I don’t think there’s a bad shot in the film, and not in a facilely “beautiful” way. There’s thoughtful technical work…  Read more


Sundance Dispatch 2: Dina, Quest, My Happy Family

My Happy Family

Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’ Dina is incredibly hard to write about without exposing my underlying biases. Shot by DP Adam Uhl in almost entirely rigorously locked-down static 1.66 (!), Dina tracks the uneasily evolving relationship between its title subject and fiance Scott in the months up to and after their wedding. (She’s the main subject, he the supporting player: the end credits cutely add his name to the title.) Both are, by their own admission and diagnosis, somewhere on the spectrum — where precisely is unclear, as it so often is — and in something like love. The major issue, which becomes increasingly squirm-inducing as the film goes on, is that Dina’s a sexually experienced lady for whom regularly expressed physical affection and…  Read more


Sundance Notes: On Political Action in Park City

Women's March on Main, Park City Utah. (photo Loren Eiferman)

Sundance coincides with Presidential inaugurations, and I have indelible memories of twice racing to find a cozy Main Street bar in order to watch the live television broadcast of Barack Obama’s inauguration and speech. All of us in the bar, strangers but inspirited fellow citizens, were glued to every minute. Saturday, sitting in an idling car outside the Park City Marriott, I happened to catch Trump’s speech over the car radio as my partner was inside picking up our press credentials. Something about “carnage.” Ho-hum. Hyperbole and bombast may be the new normal, but this act grows old fast. Films at festivals routinely wave flags on behalf of progressive causes, but festivals themselves rarely do the same. Too many sponsors…  Read more


Sundance Notes: The Nile Hilton Incident

Fares Fares and Hania Amar in Tarik Saleh’s The Nile Hilton Incident

Twice in a row the first film I’ve seen at Sundance is so brilliant, so accomplished that I start Sundance on a mountain high — and it’s not the thin air. I had to miss 2016 Sundance, but two years ago it was Tom Hardy in Steven Knight’s Locke, a tour de force of a one-hander that’s nonetheless a nail-biter — Hardy in close-up the entire film, speeding through the night in his car, his life crumbling in real time with each harrowing Bluetooth call. You learn a lot about concrete pours and the consequences of poor choices. But I digress. This year my Sundance virginity was taken by Tarik Saleh’s The Nile Hilton Incident in the World Cinema Dramatic…  Read more


Sundance Dispatch 1: Trump, Person to Person

Person to Person

For a few weeks now I’ve been preemptively writing bad ledes for Sundance write-ups/reviews in my head. Such as: “In the age of Trump, do independent films matter? Yes — now perhaps more than ever.” “Can independent film lead the resistance? It can, and it must.” “The spectacle of the Sundance Film Festival sits strangely against the much more lavish pageantry of the Trump inauguration, let me frame every single write-up through this lens.” “Can documentaries make an impact in the post-truth era?” And so on and so on, quite satisfactorily, with the illusion of topicality thinly sustained. If you have Facebook friends who make films, especially documentarians, you’ve already probably been reading months of circular/self-serving rhetoric about leading the…  Read more


These Uncomfortably Exciting Times

A VR viewer at the 2016 edition of Sundance New Frontier (Photo by Kelsey Doyle)

I’m an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it. I free myself for today and forever from human immobility. I approach and pull away from objects. […] I creep under them. I move alongside a running horse’s mouth. I fall and rise with the falling and rising bodies. This is I, the machine, maneuvering in the chaotic movements, recording one movement after another in the most complex combinations. Freed from the boundaries of time and space, I co-ordinate any and all points of the universe, wherever I want them to be. My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a…  Read more


VOD Picks



Sundance 2017: Five Questions with Landline Director Gillian Robespierre

Everything changed for Gillian Robespierre after Sundance. In 2014 she arrived at the festival with her debut feature, Obvious Child, a personal, provocative, NYC-set comedy starring Jenny Slate. Before the festival even wrapped, she had found an enviable distributor for the film in A24. Obvious Child would…  Read more

on Jan 19, 2017


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