The 2014 Sundance Film Festival has proven to be one of the best so far. With standout films like "Whiplash," Sundance, in RHR's opinion, remains at the top of the festival list. Below you will find my recommendations with a brief synopsis:
WHIPLASH: Written by Damien Chaztelle, Starring JK Simmons, Miles Tiller, and Paul Reiser.
When an over-bearing and intimidating jazz band instructor stops at nothing to motivate his student, Andrew, the line between motivation and abuse is difficult to see. How much can a student take and what will it ultimately do?
This is the most emotionally engaging film I have ever seen. The dialogue and music augmented one another as this visceral film unfolded. You not only watch this film, you feel it. Don't miss it.
ALIVE INSIDE: A STORY OF MUSIC & MEMORY
With our soon to be top heavy population of elderly, we see more and more cases of dementia and full to capacity nursing homes. Many of these older people do nothing but retreat further and further inside themselves, having little to no stimulation. With a simple iPod programmed with familiar and loved music, these patients come back to life. They begin interacting with people and reconnecting.
This is a touching film that provides answers without using drugs. It is truly amazing to see the changes, instantly, in these otherwise withdrawn individuals. Isn't music a simple way to help improve the quality of life? Don't we owe our elders this?
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR Written and directed by Maya Forbes; Starring Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana
Taking place during the 70's this young couple is struggling to make ends meet with their two young children. The problem lies with Cam (Ruffalo) who suffers from Bipolar Disorder. His inability to contribute in anyway to the family wreaks havoc on them. As Maggie (Zoe) attempts to make life better, Cam must step up to the plate and become an involved and responsible parent.
"Infinitely Polar Bear" paints a very clear picture of what this mental disorder can do to a family. Ruffalo captures the ups and downs while the children act just as any child would. This is one of the best roles I've seen with Saldana. The story is heart-felt as well as entertaining and you find yourself having both sympathy and empathy for each of the characters.
THE SKELETON TWINS Written by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman; Starring Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, and Luke Wilson
Maggie and Milo had been close as they grew up. Their father called this set of twins the Gruesome Twosome. But something happened and the two had not seen each other for 10 years. Milo's life had become unbearable to him and as he was taken to the hospital for attempting to commit suicide, Maggie was contemplating doing the same. The two are thrown together again and they attempt to reconcile the past and figure out how to deal with the present and the future.
How do you make this premise into a comedy? They did and it worked. It was a delicate balance between humor and drama as these complex characters were articulately fleshed out. This was absolutely hilarious in parts and touching in other parts, but never to a point of sappy. These main characters, known primarily for comedy, show us they are so much more than that.
LAND HO: Written and directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz; starring Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson
This is a coming of age movie---the two retired gentlemen! As two ex-brother in laws travel abroad to Iceland, they learn a bit about each other as well as themselves.
Living life and not wanting to ever acknowledge his age, Mitch lives life to its fullest; full of humor and love. Colin, a bit more reserved, starts to think outside the box and finds life after two wives. It's a very humorous journey with a few bumps in the road of life. You'll enjoy this trip!
Katie Couric takes on childhood obesity in this documentary. It will enlighten you about this American epidemic and provide the information to be a more informed consumer. Full of statistics and heart-wrenching stories, FED UP will satisfy your need to know what is really happening to our food. Every parent should see this. Every school should show this. Everyone needs to see this
COLD IN JULY: Written and directed by Jim Mickle; starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepherd, Don Johnson, and Nick Damici
Richard Dane (Hall) kills an intruder, but is haunted by the event as well as the recently released from prison father of the burglar. There's more to this event than meets the eye and Dane gets pulled deeper and deeper into this tangled web.
This was an intense thriller from the very beginning. The story was quite riveting as you tried to figure out how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The complexity of the story continually kept you guessing as to who was the "good guy" and who was the "bad guy." The stress of the story was well balanced with the occasional humor and levity provided by the talented Don Johnson. Hall's character, at least initially, was very unDexter-like. His discomfort with blood and death was quite the antithesis of what he is known for. I'll warn you...this becomes a graphically violent film.
THE GUEST: Written by Simon Barrett; Directed by Adam Wingard; Starring Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe, and Brendan Meyer
As the family is struggling with coping with the death of their son Caleb who was killed in Afghanistan, David knocks on their door. Having served with Caleb in the military, David is fulfilling his fallen brother's wishes; to visit his family and give his love. David is welcomed into the family, but there is more to David than meets the steely blue eyes.
I will admit that I accidentally went to this screening. I mixed up my venues and attended this, but I'm glad I did! This was definitely fitting of a midnight screening for Sundance. Plenty of tension, violence, and humor---a perfect fit. It was quite gruesome in parts which means there was a lot of violence. There was also some pretty funny parts where I truly laughed out loud. Here's another thing I'll admit. Dan Stevens was so fun to watch on the screen and he was the main character: his intense blue eyes were smoldering; his asymmetrical smile was magnetic; and his body was, well, you'll have to see for yourself. I was glued to the screen for the entire movie and it was WAY past my bedtime!
COOTIES: Writers Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan, Directed by: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnian; Starring: Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson and Alison Pill
When a processed chicken nugget school lunch infects one elementary school girl, an epidemic quickly ensues resulting in cannibalistic children. The teachers must somehow band together to ward off these little monsters.
What an odd-ball group of teachers who have many different issues to deal with let alone surviving this onslaught of raging rug-rats. The opening scene will be enough to make you promise to never eat chicken nuggets again. "Cooties" is one of the most disgustingly grotesque and hilarious movies I've seen in a long time. The director said that with all the scenes, he didn't back off---he went into the gruesome scenes 100%. It worked. Many elementary school teachers were in the audience who confessed that this movie was quite cathartic! The kids in the film were wonderful; special effects were quite effective; and the story was laugh out loud funny. What a great combination all the way around!
THE LUNCHBOX: Part of the SPOTLIGHT SERIES is "The Lunchbox" written and directed by Ritesh Batra and starring Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kour.
In Mumbai, wives make hot lunches in stackable cylindrical containers which are then delivered to their husbands. But what happens when a lunch gets delivered to the wrong husband? As the mistake is made evident, Ila begins corresponding with this stranger.
The entire concept of the movie is ingenious. The story is sweet and believable with writing to make you empathetic to each of the characters. Combining humor, love, and situations married couples frequently deal with, this foreign film crosses every border. Love and the need to be loved is something everyone can relate to no matter where you live in the world.
THE TRIP TO ITALY: If you haven't seen THE TRIP with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, go rent it before you see the one and only sequel I think is actually better than the original. ("Godfather" fans, I don't want to hear it from you!) As Steve and Rob continue their writing for a travel and food book, the antics continue as well. Their conversations are somehow believable as they take a bizarre topic like Who's Legs Would You Eat to Survive If You Had To which then morphs into a film analysis complete with impersonations. There's a bit more to it than their conversations as we learn a little about the two men. This just adds the depth to the film that you need. You will leave the film hungry and wanting to call your travel agent to book a trip to Italy for yourself! With Sundance, you are frequently lucky enough to hear the Q&A's after the film. "Italy" was no exception as the director and stars were on hand to continue to entertain the audience. It was a stand-up improv show for us! What a bonus!
I didn't make it to all 35 films, but I hit close to 50% plus several Slamdance movies that I'll post in a separate article. If you're still in Park City, this should give you an idea of what to see and what to avoid.
Here's a list of films I did see. If you don't see a synopsis of a film that's listed, that's my polite way of not recommending it.
Alive Inside: The Story of Music & Memory
Infinitely Polar Bear
The Skeleton Twins
A Most Wanted Man
Jamie Marks Is Dead
Listen Up Philip
The Trip to Italy
And finally, there are still several films that I just couldn't squeeze into my short stay that still look quite promising. These include:
The One I Love
They Came Together
Wish I Was Here
White Bird in a Blizzard
and, of course Life Itself. I think it's only proper that I screen that one in Ebert's hometown of Chicago, though.
So there you have it. Reel Honest Reviews' Sundance recommendations.Check us out on facebook for more photos and links! www.facebook.com/reelhonestreviews