Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sundance Film Overview

500 Days of Summer

This was one of my favorite films at the festival and definitely the most fun to watch. Deschanel is delightful throughout the film, even when we are given reason not to be quite so fond of her character. Joseph Gordon-Levitt hits perfectly on the highs and lows of relationships, how you can be the happiest you have ever been to the most miserable you have been. My favorite scene was the one right after he has sex with Deschanel’s character for the first time. To illustrate that “I’m on top of the world” feeling he breaks out in dance to upbeat music while everyone around him joins in. The next shot is post-break up and he is completely miserable. The dancing scene was extremely funny, especially since Gordon-Levitt was so animated and downright giddy. He brings the right emotion to every stage of his character and there are a lot of them. 500 Days of Summer’s structure itself is very different from most films. We witness Tom and Summer’s relationship out of chronological order. It skips back and forth between all of the days that they knew each other, picking one particular day to show us. We see when they break up then we see the first day they met. It goes from when they were happy and couldn’t get enough of each other to when Tom was still trying getting up the nerve to talk to Summer. By putting these drastically different moments together it really shows how quickly things can change. There is more than one story amidst the very different times in his life that the story takes place these are woven together incredibly well. It could have been a complicated mess through all of this, but its essentially simple story ends up complimenting everything that is going on around it.


This is probably tied with 500 Days of Summer as my favorite film I saw at Sundance this year. Grace is a horror film that centers on motherhood and the questioning of how far you would go to provide for your child. It follows a mother whose baby dies in the room. Three weeks later the dead baby mysteriously goes from a corpse to living. As the mother realizes that it needs human blood to survive, she has to question how far she will change herself to protect her baby. It is Paul Solet’s first feature, which is pretty astounding. Grace depicts horror with meaning and uses emotional connections that we all have to bring this out, almost sympathizing with it. Grace is best described as dramatic horror. Placing it in to any sub-genre of horror is pretty hard to do, which just speaks to how original it is. Solet covers new ground and does so with such elegancy, passion, and meaning. He shows great understanding of what it is like to be a mother, to do anything for your child, even kill. This is surprising since he is a male with no children. It just shows further the time he has invested in to his characters to really depict them honestly.


Rite is not only my favorite short from Sundance, but it has quickly become my favorite short period. It has that lasting effect that few do. Rite shows a ritual that a young girl has to go through, marking the coming of age in her culture. It is has an extremely intense feel to it making it uncomfortable throughout. What really makes it the most disturbing is the girl’s family and their reaction. We witness something traumatic and horrible happening to this girl. It is clear that she is scared and distant from those around her. She doesn’t feel an emergence in to womanhood. Everyone around her constantly has huge smiles on their faces. There is celebration and screams of joy even as she is going through this. No one stops to acknowledge how she is feeling. There isn’t much dialogue in the film and there is even less by our main character than anyone else. When characters are speaking to her in the film it has this terrifying irony, really helping build the tension. Most of the time when we see these people they look distanced and blurred, clearly not as kind and caring towards this girl as their words would suggest. This really gives us a dreamlike state and exemplifies that who they appear to be and what they saw is just an illusion. What this really hits on though is that there is no real explanation or reasoning for doing what they are. Rite exemplifies how harmful blindly accepting tradition can be. It’s incredible in just about every aspect: sound, visuals, and characterizations. The film is so impressive mostly because it is very simplistic. It takes one event that is symbolic of lifestyles that we cringe at as well as those that are more present in our own. Rite is the most intense, engaging, and powerful short that I can ever remember seeing.

The Greatest

The Greatest is a very realistic take on loss showing how everyone reacts differently. Grace (Sarandon), can’t get her son out of her head. It is killing her that she doesn’t know what her son’s last moments were like. Allen (Brosnan), seems to be having the opposite problems, rather than obsessing over what happened he is having trouble acknowledging it. The bad things about his brother, the things that drove him crazy and made him feel inferior is what stands out to Ryan, while Bennett is still praised even in death. He doesn’t feel the same why these people do and how he thinks he probably should be feeling or at least can‘t admit that he misses his brother yet. Then there’s Rose, the love of Bennett’s life who died before she even had a chance to get to know him, left searching for answers on the boy she loved and the father of her baby. The Greatest hit my emotions hard and is definitely the film at Sundance that was the most heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. The Greatest is an emotionally profound tearjerker that will make you feel and relate for every one of the characters in the film. It is astonishing for such a tragic and sad subject, it still offers some hope and goodness throughout the darkness.

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle

This film definitely gets the creativity award. It centers on a group of nighttime janitors who become involuntary test subjects for a company trying to perfect the cookie that is always warm. They become addicted to it like they would any other drug, get cravings, have stomach problems, and eventually give birth to a blue creature that quickly dies, but only the males experience this. The idea on paper seems so out there and strange that it seems like it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does wonderfully. Even the characters are pretty out there: O.C. (Vieluf), an energetic, but offbeat guy who envisions himself as an artist, the hippy cross dresser owner, and Ethyl and Methyl, two edgy, chaotic lovers. being just men that have the babies it is quite amusing watching the characters go through this. Once it happens they are so joyful and proud in what they created even though they are angered by how it happened. The scene where they are taping one of their friends pushing the blue baby out of him is definitely one of the funniest. The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle is a ton of fun to watch. It’s the little things that really make it so enjoyable. The dialogue is really rich, the characters are fresh, and the story is so crazy that it works.


Humpday is a film that really put the outcome and direction of the movie in the hands of the actors. Director, Lynn Shelton, wrote an outline of the plot of the film and who these characters were, but that is about where the pre-determined writing of the film stopped. The rest of the film was entirely improved. The actors made up their own dialogue as it came to them and even decided what would happen in the end, a pressing question through the entire film. The film centers on two college friends who are reunited and follow up on a drunk promise to make a porn film with two straight guys having sex, seeing it as art, which doesn’t sit the same way with the wife. There is already a certain homosexual connection between how attached these two hetero-sexual males are. The buddy relationship is strengthened by the almost overly loving bond that the two have. There is a certain tension in this that usually is broken through laughter, which is heightened all the more when the two are actually in the hotel room later on in the film. I didn’t know that the actors improvised their own material until after I saw the film. While I was watching it what really caught my attention the most was just how extremely naturalistic the characters and the dialogue between them seemed.

Arlen Farber

Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels) is the author of the best-selling spirituality book, “God and Me“. He is now a bitter cynical man who has no faith. He arranges to give answers to a troubled boy suffering from alcoholism and fear of loss of his father in return for books that have failed him. After quite some time, Arlen finally finds hope in life when he starts seeing an overprotective, single mom and orthopedic spa owner, Elizabeth (Lauren Graham), but she may not like what she sees when the real Arlen Faber is revealed to her. Arlen Faber is really about realizing our heroes don’t have all the answers. No one really knows those fundamental questions about life. If they did, they wouldn’t be such pressing questions. All anyone can do is to find and follow what you believe in. How you come to these answers or the logic isn’t important as long as it feels right for you. Arlen Faber does this by examining this very different characters with such emotion and understanding. They all have their problems and weakness, but this is what makes them so human and relatable to their audience.


This was my least favorite of all the films I saw at Sundance, even though I enjoyed it to an extent. find it funny that for a film called Motherhood, the film at Sundance that dealt with the meaning with much more intelligence was the horror film, Grace. Motherhood is very much a one note film. It is a decent movie that has a very hectic tone that works with the situation to a certain extent, but ultimately holds the film back. It is just about a mother who has a million things to do and no time, including writing a submission on what motherhood means to her to be a blogger and get back in to writing. There is a certain amount of humor in how hectic and overwhelming things are, but is played up for most of the movie and the joke doesn’t stay fresh through all of this time. The film does have its’ funny moments, particularly when Eliza is at the store getting things for her daughters party. It shows retail hell and how aggravating people can be at the worst times. It doesn’t help though that the most interesting character in the film is only onscreen for a matter of minutes. think for those who are mothers will probably be able to enjoy this movie more than those who aren’t, just for that relating quality, being able to compare it to moments in their own lives where things became this hectic. I found it amusing and I did feel for Eliza to an extent, wanting her to be a good mother as well as do something for herself. One of the biggest problems that Eliza’s big triumph seemed so miniscule. She was a published and respected author. Basically writing a journal about little parts of her day didn’t seem to be too rewarding and the conclusion ended up feeling weak.

The Messengers

The Messenger is a war story where we actually don’t see any combat. It centers on a terrifying aspect that still deals with the death of soldiers. It shows us after soldiers have died in combat, what it is like for those who have to break the news to the families of the now deceased. It depicts the hardships in this for both sides as well as the decency that you must treat people with despite what your orders are. The film really hits on the need for emotion and decency to all humankind. When you are in the army you are trained to be an emotionless, killing machine. When you are always surrounded by so much death, loss, and suffering you can only do that for so long. Our main character gets to a point where he can’t stand treating people like they aren’t people anymore. The Messenger deals with some essential themes of military films, but it doesn’t define itself by them. It is character driven and an examination of relationships in a lonely and solemn environment.

Spring Breakdown

Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, and Parker Posey are hilarious as the very loveably dorky best friends who take a trip in to college parties to make sure Senator Hartman’s (Jane Lynch) party daughter (played by Amber Tamblyn) who is secretly just as dorky as they are, doesn’t get her any bad press. Amongst everything they are become party girls themselves. There is a lot of creativity with the level of dorkiness in these characters that makes them completely loveable. Seeing them as such opposites through moments during the film is like a very entertaining experiment with no idea of where things are going to go next. There are two talent shows that are priceless and overall there is a lot of great comedy just through obscure situations.

Also, there are a few I didn't get a chance to see, but only have the highest hopes for. You should be on the lookout for Sin Nombre, Adventureland, and An Education to name a few.

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