January 28, 2013

SUNDANCE 2013: Outro

by Steve Dollar

Magic Magic

Another Sundance Film Festival concluded this weekend, and if this year there was no phenomenon as compelling or, well, phenomenal, as Beasts of the Southern Wild, I'd wager that it was a stronger line-up overall: More consistent, with a good number of indie filmmakers turning their focus to tougher themes executed with greater ambition and risk. I'm still processing, quite honestly, and catching up with screeners to supplement the 20 or so titles I caught in Park City last week. Here's a capsule perspective of several that impressed.

Charlie Victor Romeo

BEST MOVIE I NEVER WANT TO SEE AGAIN: Charlie Victor Romeo. Adapted from the stage production by Collective: Unconscious, the film recreates six plane crashes from the perspective of the pilots, using verbatim transcripts recovered from black box recordings at the crash sites. It was one of the most grueling moviegoing experiences of my life. Though occasionally buoyed by unexpected moments of humor, the piece is so effectively performed that it turns knuckles white. But I exaggerate a bit: I'd love to see a movie this raw and uncompromised again, even though it never really transcends its source as a stage production. Presumably, the film is to be shown in 3D, adding texture to a static concept. Unfortunately there was some sort of technical failure at the world premiere, so only the 2D version was screened that night. Ironic?

Crystal Fairy

WEIRDEST DOUBLE-BARRELED STAR VEHICLES: The Sebastián Silva two-fer of Magic, Magic and Crystal Fairy. Both feature the young Canadian actor Michael Cera, who appears liberated by spending several months in Chile, hanging with the Silva clan, to take on the role of "freakish gringo asshole," in not one but two features. The former is a putative genre effort, an ensemble piece about a bunch of kids (including Juno Temple, Emily Browning, Catalina Sandino Moreno and Agustín Silva, the director's brother) spending a few days at a cabin in some remote island woods where things go from weird to bad to worse. But in subtle and unexpected ways, with nimble tonal shifts that keep the audience guessing what sort of movie they are watching. The latter is an improvised road movie in which Cera and the Brothers Silva (three of them) head to the beach, where they plan to ingest tea made from a hallucinogenic cactus. Their manly idyll is made co-ed by the presence of Crystal Fairy (the wonderful, scene-stealing Gaby Hoffman, bringing back '70s bush in several nude scenes), a free-spirited American hippie chick with secrets whom Cera's coke-snorting Yankee abroad forgot he invited from last night's party. The film's ambling spirit shares the casually profound discoveries common to Jim Jarmusch's shaggier comedies. Both lead the childish archetypes Cera plays to instances of grotesque and sob-wracked self-discovery. Only in one case it's sort of funny and in the other case it's really tragic.

Upstream Color

BEST FILM I CAN'T TALK ABOUT, BECAUSE THEN I'D HAVE TO KILL YOU: Upstream Color. Any review you read about this movie before you see it will be useless. I would even warn that advance knowledge of what happens in Upstream Color would diminish the experience, but on reflection it's clear that not even the most explicit spoiler could prepare anyone for this. Shane Carruth's first film since his garage-concocted 2004 debut Primer (the greatest sci-fi flick ever made for $7,000) is, likewise, a mind-bender. It's also mysterious and lyrical, with moments of sheer abject horror and a transcendent beauty beyond words. I think it's all about the concept of immanence and the nature of the soul, the evanescent tissue of memory and the inexplicably cellular ways in which we are all connected, which we would notice if a sudden shock compelled us to use sensitivity to light the way out of communal confusion. And, it's fucking gorgeous filmmaking. Also: botany, animal husbandry, embezzlement, ambient soundscapes, fugue states, Henry David Thoreau, water sports, bacon and Amy Seimetz.

'The Dardennes Shot'

BEST SHOT I WISH DIRECTORS WOULD GIVE A REST: "The Dardennes Shot." It's become a cliché. That thing where the camera follows a character from behind, which Darren Aronofsky made explicit use of in The Wrestler, perhaps popularizing it even for the non-Dardennes-savvy. Last week it was never a question of if but when the shot would materialize. And hard to think of an indie film that didn't use it. Sure, it's just part of the arsenal, but enough already.

The East

BEST DOUBLE FEATURE: The East and 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film (or, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, or ...) – Back from her double-fisted triumph/debut at Sundance 2011, Brit Marling takes the lead in The East, which she co-wrote with director (and partner) Zal Batmanglij. The kids are playing with a real budget and bona fide movie stars (Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsgård this go-round), effectively simulating an off-the-shelf Angelina Jolie thriller rewired for emotional and philosophical impact rather than chase scenes and stuntwork. Marling's an operative for a private security firm assigned to penetrate a cult of eco-terrorists on behalf of a nervous corporate client. She succeeds, but then begins to fall under the sway of the group's dogmatic-yet-soulful leader (Skarsgård). If that strikes you as a parallel to Marling/Batmanglij's Sound of My Voice, it's also a smartly crafted advance in every regard—from its evocations of dumpster diving freegans to Page's excitably ruthless toxic avenger. One thing struck me as curious, however, is the filmmakers' obsession with regurgitation scenes, which recur here as they did in a central scene from SOMV.

99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film

The system finds a mighty purgative in 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film, and a batch of other new documentaries that attempt to corral the seismic upheavals across the world in the wake of the 2008 stock market crash. Those also include Alex Gibney (and company's) We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, with its fascinating deep-focus account of both the rise and fall of hacker-provocateur-hero-shithead Julian Assange and the scapegoating of U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning for the massive leak of classified Afghan and Iraq war documents that shocked the world in 2010. Much as Gibney's film shows how one man became the symbol of a global information shakedown, the team of filmmakers led by Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites locate within the massive Occupy Wall Street movement an assortment of passionate individuals who give the amorphous revolution a sanguine and idiosyncratic presence.

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Posted by ahillis at January 28, 2013 5:42 PM