Saturday, February 14, 2009

Review: W. (2008) [Reviewed By Clifford Kiyabu]

Directed by: Oliver Stone
Written by: Stanley Weiser (written by)
Genre: Biography/ Drama
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images.
Released: 17 October 2008 (USA)
Starring: Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Banks, James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Richard Dreyfuss, Scott Glenn, Ioan Gruffudd, Toby Jones, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright.

Plot: A biopic on the life of George W. Bush, one of the most controversial, secretive, cynical, and ruthless president in USA history, chronicling from 1967 to his wild and carefree days in college, to his military service, to his governorship of Texas and oil businesses, leading to his 2000 candidacy for president, his first turbulent four years to his 2004 re-election campaign.

Review: 8/10

My Thoughts: They say a man’s place in history is depicted by his actions in life, and by what those actions are will decide how history will judge him, whether than who he really was, you could say that one’s entire existence will be remembered not by what was right or what was wrong, but decided upon by those who’ll write it. The office of the President of United Sates of America has been an honorable title and leadership among the world, and it’s brought forth a deal of great men throughout the years, some in time of need and in time of great sacrifice, some so great that till this very day they are as loved and admired by people near and far as much as the day they took the oath of office, however the office of the President has also brought forth men that were deemed by the masses as out of touch, incompetent and generally not made for such a prestigious title. One of these men is George W. Bush. Known around the world as the worst president in U.S. history, people from cost to cost, from world leaders to the common man, all have expressed loudly and proudly just how much they loathe him. But whether you love him or hate him, can you really say that you know him?

W. Directed by acclaimed director Oliver Stone, the man who brought forth such controversial films like; JFK, Nixon, and World Trade Center, now bring us a film that gives an insight into the life of the 43rd United Sates president. The film is split up into two parts being told at the same time going back and forth on each other, the first part deals with the events just after the 9/11 attack and leading up to the coming days of the Iraq invasion, much of it expresses that though Bush was wrong on many of his decision makings not all of the buck was his felt, and that he was not solely responsible for everything within his administration since a good portion of it was based on faulty information handed up the chain of command , The other part is told from Bush’s early years in collage and how he met his wife Laura Bush some time after, this part of the story deals mainly on how he found his faith and how he beat alcoholism, and the tough times he went through while trying to get into politics, but mainly it sort of gives the viewer an insight on some of the actions he made later in life were due to some family issues early in life. He and his father George H. W. Bush was never quite on the same page with each other, and that he was always stuck within his father’s shadow, which lead to his running for governor and later president, much could also be said the same about his decision to invade Iraq was partly based on getting done what his father could not the first time around, and that if he had won the war his father could not maybe he’d step out of his father’s shadow of achievements and step into his own. The film also explores the Bush name and shows that it’s much more than a name, it’s a dynasty. W. is not a film that is pro-Bush nor is it Anti-Bush, it’s a biopic that actually humanizes him as a person to its viewers. Rather you supported him or not, this film shows it’s viewers that he’s a human being just like you and me, And in some way empathizes him, I won’t say you’ll be screaming out in support of the man or his views after watching it, but you’ll feel some form of empathy for the man, because his early years deals with a lot of common problems that most people can relate to in one way or another.

The film also shows that he wanted to do good for this country and though his heart was set in the right place, his mind was not, and because of this his dreams were simply out of reach. One scene in particular in the film does this is a dream sequence where he’s playing baseball in a stadium, he’s trying to catch the ball but the ball never comes down, this symbolizes that he went to achieve a dream that he wasn't capable of doing: to prove to his dad that he can make him proud. But that was just all a dream that he never achieved. Like the ball that never came down, he could not make the ideals he went into office possible, another scene that is most memorable is one where a journalist asked him what was his biggest mistakes, and for a moment he could not answer, and he could not come up with s single word to justify his actions, and for this moment the viewers are looking deep into the soul of a broken man who we called the president and saw that even he realized the mistakes and flaws of his character and could not answer for them. It’s defiantly not a truthful telling of George Bush, some stuff is in fact very fiction based and here say, but what this film does is allows you to take another look at the man many hate so much and allows you to judge him differently this time around. Personally I was never a supporter of his politics even though I’m a conservative, I did not agree with a lot of what he did in office and what he believed in for this country, however I will admit that after watching the film W. I have a new found respect for him as a human being, maybe not as a U.S. president, but as a person he has my respect. The only problem I really had with the film is that a biopic such as this should have not been made this soon, something like this should have been put off a good ten years or so before being made, so for me it was a little unsettling seeing since a lot of this we just lived through. Other than that this film was pretty decent and is worth a view.

The story is about; whether you love him or hate him, there is no question that George W. Bush is one of the most controversial public figures in recent memory. In an unprecedented undertaking, acclaimed director Oliver Stone is bringing the life of our 43rd President to the big screen as only he can. W takes viewers through Bush’s eventful life -- his struggles and triumphs, how he found both his wife and his faith, and of course the critical days leading up to Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

As for the acting; Josh Brolin was fantastic as George W. Bush, he’s done his homework well for this part, Brolin gets so deep into character that there are times in the film where you can easily get fooled into believing he really is Bush. Elizabeth Banks does an outstanding portrayal of Laura Bush, but I must confess that I had a small problem with her in character, noting about her acting in the film but rather the makeup work, for someone who’s supposed to be the first lady she remains extremely hot and young looking, now I’m not saying the real Laura Bush isn’t good looking, but Banks tends to look like Banks in this. James Cromwell gives an fantastic performance as George Bush senior. Ellen Burstyn was spot on as Barbara Bush, Stone made a wise choice in picking her for the part. Richard Dreyfuss was fantastic as Dick Cheney, although I feel he didn’t quite look the part as some other actors who would have made a better visual likeness, but his portrayal on the other hand was just spot on. Scott Glenn is a great actor with a lot of great film under his belt, but I’m going to be honest here, I just wasn’t feeling his portrayal of Donald Rumsfeld, I think he could have done a much better job. Ioan Gruffudd is a wonderful actor, and did a pretty good job portraying Tony Blair, not as spot on as another actor who played the part (Michael Sheen from “The Queen”) but still a nice performance. Toby Jones was not so good, I tried to like his portrayal of Karl Rove but it just wasn’t happening for me, he did a somewhat poor performance in my opinion. Thandie Newton is a magnificent actress, but I really felt that she was holding back on her performance of portraying Condoleezza Rice, she was visually the striking image of Rice with the help of makeup, but in performance, not so much, I think she could have done better. Jeffrey Wright does a very exceptional job portraying Colin Powell; I didn’t think he’d match the part at first, but after seeing his performance I admit he did a spot on job.

Final Say: W. was a very enjoyable film and met my expectations, it’s defiantly not Stone’s best film, in fact nowhere near it, however it’s still a very entertaining film indeed, my only beef with the film is that it shouldn’t have been made this soon, Stone should have waited a few years before making this film. atill though, I recommend it!

Copyright 2009 TCWreviews.com
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Review: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008) [Reviewed By Clifford Kiyabu]

Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon (written by) & Zack Whedon (written by) & Jed Whedon (written by) & Maurissa Tancharoen (written by)
Genre: Comedy / Musical / Sci-Fi
MPAA: Not Rated
Released: 2008
Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Felicia Day, Simon Helberg, Nick Towne, Jed Whedon, Rob Reinis, Otto Michael Penzato, Lance Lanfear.

Plot: An aspiring super villain must balance his career and his pursuit of a beautiful do-gooder.

Review: 9/10

My Thoughts: In every tale of Good Vs Evil the story is usually told from the point of view of the hero, and the hero is almost always presented as this “Knight in Shining Armor” and the villain as, well, the villain.

However this is not the case with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, written by writer/director Joss Whedon, his brothers Zack Whedon and Jed Whedon, and Jed's fiancée, actress Maurissa Tancharoen. The musical was written during the WGA writers' strike. The idea was to create something small and inexpensive, yet done on a professional level on the internet through the form of three webisodes splitting the movie up into three acts, which were titled Act I, Act II and Act III, all three acts run approximately 14 minutes each, and chronicles the life of a low rent super villain known only as, Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) who posts video blogs of himself on the internet of his attempts of being excepted into the prestigious Evil League of Evil led by the legendary Bad Horse, but he’s attempts of impressing the League enough to accept him are always undone by his nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion) who seems to always shows up in the nick of time to stop him at every turn. Aside from having to face off with Captain Hammer almost constantly he also struggles with the fact he is secretly in love with a girl named Penny (Felicia Day) whom he sees at the coin Laundromat once a week, and he tries but always seems to fails at every chance of making a romantic connection with, which ironically Penny starts dating his nemesis. Much in the same theme of Whedon’s other works (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) Dr. Horrible is not your typical Super Hero film, but instead tells us the villain’s side of the story for a change, and the hard struggles that comes with the territory of being the bad guy.

Ultimately the tables have turned in this story and instead of rutting for the hero as must film will have you, you’re rutting for the villain. Dr. Horrible shows the loneliness that comes with being a mad scantest and contains a lovely blend of Sci-Fi and Dark Comedy, topping it off with a nice musical setting making this easily one of the best Whedon experiences I have had in a long time, and this is coming from someone who is a long time fan of his works. It may not be a long film to watch, nor is it big budgeted, but it’s still very enjoyable and a must see film in my opinion, also I’d recommend seeing it twice, because if you have purchased DVD than the second time should be viewed with the audio commentary on because it’s a musical commentary with brand new musical tracks performed by the cast and crew. This is without a doubt a must own for any movie buff in my opinion.

The story is about; Dr. Horrible, an aspiring supervillain with his own video blog, is attempting to join the prestigious Evil League of Evil (led by the legendary "thoroughbred of sin", Bad Horse), but his plans are usually foiled by the egotistical superhero Captain Hammer. Horrible's life is thrown for a loop when he falls in love with Penny, a beautiful and optimistic advocate for the homeless he meets at the Laundromat, a situation which complicates itself even further when Penny begins dating the boorish, oafish Hammer after he apparently saves her life. Faced with the task of impressing the League, can Horrible overcome his own incompetence to ruin the day, kill the hero, and still get the girl?

As for the acting: first off, Neil Patrick Harris is the man when it comes to awesomeness, he’s just one of those actors who gives off an energetic feel that is hard not to like, many may remember him from his early years of starring in "Doogie Howser, M.D." and in the more recent hit CBS T.V. Sitcom "How I Met Your Mother", but it seems that on an overall look at his career, he’s generally an unappreciated actor in the business and isn’t used as much on the big screen as he should. However with that said he was outstanding in this, he steals the show completely as the one and only Dr. Horrible. Not only does he do the role justice with extreme dedication, but he does so with a pretty decent set of vocals. Nathan Fillion was incredible, some might remember him from the short lived T.V. series "Firefly" which also spawned a movie “Serenity”, as an actor Fillion puts a lot hard work into his roles, and does a magnificent job as the narcissistic yet overly cheesy hero. Captain Hammer, which believe me when I say; the word “cheesy” doesn’t quite fully explain just how into himself he really is. Fillion does the role very well with a blend that mirror’s Captain America’s superhuman strength with Superman’s “Boy Scout” morals, but with the intelligence of an Imbecile. As for actress Felicia Day, she does a very enjoyable performance as Penny the Laundromat girl, and the love interest to both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer, Day is best known for her role on the online shorts “The Guild" and does an impeccable job in this. Actor Simon Helberg is known for his dorky personality in T.V.’s "The Big Bang Theory", and lives up to that reputation extremely well as Dr. Horrible’s evil yet dorky moisture buddy. Moist, who is always moist, I’m not sure how that make him a villain [Laughs]. Nick Towne, Jed Whedon and Rob Reinis, who do the “Bad Horse”, chorus was hilarious as heck. Actress Maurissa Tancharoen, who took part in the writing of this film, has a small part as a Captain Hammer groupie and even has a small singing role does a nice job.

Final Say: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog was outstanding, it’s Joss Whedon at his best, it reminded me a lot of the musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Once More, with Feeling”, which as it stands to be one of my all time favorite episodes of the shows entire run, rather you’ve seen the show or not, this is still however a must see and I highly recommend it!

Copyright 2009 TCWreviews.com
All Rights Reserved

Friday, February 6, 2009

Review: The Secret Life of Bees (2008) [Reviewed By Kelsey Zukowski]

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Paul Bettany, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Tristan Wilds
Directed By: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Written By: Sue Monk Kidd (novel), Gina Prince-Blythewood (screenplay)
Grade: B

The Secret Life of Bees is based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd. It is set in 1964 in South Carolina. The film centers on the struggles of the time with lingering tension between blacks and whites as well as telling the story of one young girl’s fear of the horrors of her past and her home life; her present nightmare.

Lily (Fanning) has had a rough childhood. It has been 10 years, since she accidentally murdered her mother (Hilarie Burton). Lily’s father, T. Ray (Bettany), was very abusive towards her and wouldn’t let her leave him. Desperate to fight against him, she tried to threaten him with a gun. When 4 year-old Lily comes across this gun she tries to save her mother, but ends up killing her instead. T. Ray is very cold, showing no affection or concern towards Lily even on her birthday. Lily is much closer to her housekeeper, Rosaleen (Hudson). One day when they go in to town so Rosaleen can register to vote now that the civil rights act has allowed this to blacks, Rosaleen gets harassed and beaten. Regardless of her being the victim she is arrested. Lily can’t stand being treated horribly and the only person that cares about her to be held for doing nothing wrong. So she breaks out Rosaleen and the two travel the road.

While they stop for food, Lily sees jars of honey with a black Mary on them. This is a significant image to her for some reason. She finds August (Latifah), the woman who makes the honey and her sisters, May (Okonedo) and June (Keys). Lily tells her that both of her parents are dead and she is on her way to stay with her aunt, but needs somewhere to stay for awhile. She tells them that they have no money, but that they can work off the board costs. Rosaleen helps with the baking while Lily works with the bees to make the honey. Lily really feels that she is the right place for the first time in her life. She feels a strong connection to these people and thinks that there might be some connection between them and her mother who she is desperate to get answers on. Lily just can’t bear the thought that she had two parents that didn’t love her and is hoping she will find the answers that will assure her ofthis. The truth might catch up with her though and drag her back to her previous life.

The acting was very strong in the film. Dakota Fanning did very well as Lily. She wore pain and guilt through her eyes, holding on to the unknown. She worked really well with all of the actors as well through the relationships she formed with the different characters. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Tristan Wilds and her. It was a little awkward as there does seem to a few years of an age gap and for the most part we aren’t used to Dakota being romantically involved. Their relationship in how they care for each other, the confidence, and inspiration they give is really strong. Also, it is presented as an authentic but awkward first love type of thing, acknowledging it is something new for them. It isn’t overdone and is pretty understated, which I think made their interactions more interesting. Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys did pretty well. Latifah played a much lighter, trusting, and affectionate character while Keys played a more stubborn and suspicious one. Sophie Okonedo did very well as the extremely emotional, May. She broke out crying many times during the film. Still this wasn’t played out and we later understand how all of the sadness was piling up on her. When she was happy though she was completely joyous.

Paul Bettany really surprised me here more than anyone though. He is harsh, emotionless, and cruel. I never would have pictured Bettany in this role, but he definitely delivered. He really brings out this man that you simply hate, yet is also able to portray a more human side to him, even if it is brief and doesn’t quite make up for everything else. He was afraid of losing Lily’s mother. Love fizzled and their fighting brought out his aggression. It is really the thought of losing her and this indeed happening that doesn’t allow him to feel anything but anger. This was a great move for Bettany that really displayed his range as an actor. I also enjoyed Hilarie Burton for the short time she was in the film as Lily’s mother. There is actually a very strong resemblance between her and Fanning.

The Secret Life of Bees doesn’t do anything drastically different with the material than similar films have done in the past. It was following a novel though and as I understand, it followed the original text very closely. It deals with the prejudice against blacks, especially regarding the rights that they had that really weren’t being granted. It also deals with black and white relationships and the difference in how society saw them and tried to break them up and how for Lily it gave her a real family, people who actually cared for her. Also the theme of guilt is displayed here very well. Murdering your mother when you were a child and being stuck with the monster she left behind can drive a kid crazy, especially since it has trapped her. There is this great desperation to know the truth about her mother, but also this immense fear that it might not be what she wants to hear. The Secret Life of Bees shows a difficult time for several people and how they are fighting the things that bring them down in life. It is a pretty good, highly emotional movie that gives us characters we can care about.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Review: Lakeview Terrace (2008) [Reviewed By Clifford Kiyabu]

Directed by: Neil LaBute
Written by: David Loughery (screenplay) and Howard Korder (screenplay)
Genre: Drama / Thriller
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references.
Released: 19 September 2008 (USA)
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Ron Glass, Ajay Mehta, Jay Hernandez, Regine Nehy, Jaishon Fisher.

Plot: A young interracial couple move into their dream home and are increasingly harassed by their next-door neighbor, a tightly wound black LAPD officer. When the couple decides to fight back the feud turns deadly.

Review: 7/10

My Thoughts: Racism has been among us for as long as man has been able to walk the earth, it spans to all race, creeds, religions, and cultures. And though as humans we have come a long way from the type of aggression and oppression that was considered okay, much of us still continue to carry this inner hatred for what we don’t understand, and as you know, we fear what we don’t understand, and fear only causes more hate and pain. The thing is fear and hatred is not bound by the color of one's skin, but rather lives hand in hand with all cultures. Sadly though, even though many have changed with the times, so has racism, to such a point as where it has sup-levels of it carrying over through society’s generations.

Lakeview Terrace shows this very thing in its most profound and straight forward attitude. Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Abel Turner, projects the very kind of hate I talk about; here you have a middle aged African American cop who fathers two children by himself in the suburbs, he has no problem working side by side with cops of other ethnic groups, he will even gladly lay down his life for anyone of them without hesitation if it came down to it. However when a young interracial couple moves next-door to him he has a serious problem, thing is when it comes down to interracial relationships, practically black and white couples is where he draws the line, he cannot and will not accept the ideology of a white man and a black woman having intimate relations with each other, he simply won’t have it, not in his home, and certainly not in his neighborhood. The film starts off slow and quite calm, and like all films dealing with such a topic it introduces the situation of racism lightly with only mere hints here and there for at first. This of course gives us a chance to know the individual characters one by one, which believe me is a nice thing to see, far too many films fail on this subject in a big way, and trust me when I say I have seen a lot of good films go crashing down on the note of poor character development. Which of course brings me back to Jackson’s character again, Abel Turner, who is without debate a downright hatful person at best; because the things he does in this film made me want to hate him, but, as much as I’d love to hate him, I felt a great deal of empathy for him. Don’t get me wrong now; he is after all one racist A** hole, and I do not agree with ideals, but after learning a little of his back story however, I really empathized him because he wasn’t always this way, he did after all start off as a good man, but one very bad event in his life lead him down the path of hatred and self-loathing.

The pace of the film moves very nicely, it doesn’t rush into things like some films unfortunately do, and it certainly doesn’t drag itself too slowly, it had keep me guessing how it all will conclude until the very end. It has a pretty decent plot, nothing to out of the ordinary and certainly not a bore-fest. Does it have problems? The answer is yes! It does have problems, many in fact, but not so much in the way that would ruin the experience of the film. I will say however, that if there was something about the film I could change it would be two things, the first being the rating, with a film such a topic as racism I felt making the movie for an aimed audience (a. al PG-13) I felt that more could have been done and said on film if the film was made as an R-rating and not PG-13. Because of the rating soo much was left out on what could have made this film truly great. The second problem is the ending, though I was satisfied with the overall performance of the film, I was a little dissatisfied with how it ended on two levels, the first being that though the movie runs on a nice pace, the ending is a little rushed, in the sense of it happens all too fast than it should. The secondly; the overall massage the ending brings, which is the lesser of would it should have been, the ultimate massage the film ends on is simply good prevails over evil, rather than hate will be your undoing and only through forgiveness can you be redeemed of past mistakes. But still despite my dislike of how it all came crashing down in the end, I still liked it very much, and so should anyone who enjoys a thriller that keeps them guessing.

The story is about; Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington), a young interracial couple, have just moved into their California dream home when they become the target of their next-door neighbor, who disapproves of their interracial relationship. A stern, widowed-single father of two, LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is the watchdog of the neighborhood. His nightly foot patrols and overly watchful eyes bring comfort to some, but he becomes increasingly harassing to the newlyweds. The persistent intrusions into the lives of Chris and Lisa ultimately take a turn for the worse when the couple decides to fight back.

As for the acting; first off, Samuel L. Jackson does it again by pulling off the role of a bad a**, you love to hate him, and he loves to put people in their place. Jackson is one of those rare actors who have ability to be loved and hated at the same time, and almost always a bad-motherf*****, he pulls of the role of Able Turner extremely well, in fact so well that see him as the actor, but as the character. Patrick Wilson was great here, but I must admit that there are times where I feel as though he is holding back at what he could in the role, which more or less a little dissatisfying, but still I give kudos for a nicely acted performance. Kerry Washington does a wonderful job alongside Patrick Wilson who plays her other half in this; they carry a nice on-screen chemistry together. Ron Glass is a fantastic actor whom I enjoy watching on screen, I’ve seen a great deal of his past work and I must say he’s good; however I was displeased with the fact that he was very much absent in the film overall, very underused if you ask me. Jay Hernandez is very good, not the best, but still did well. I did however like the chemistry he and Jackson had together as partners in the police force, which was the perfect display of brothers in arms. Regine Nehy and Jaishon Fisher did okay performances; they both gave off a strong energy that siblings naturally give off, like constant bickering with each other. Keith Loneker was just not doing it for me, he’s a pretty okay actor, but I wasn’t really feeling his performance in this one.

Final Say: Lakeview Terrace was a very enjoyable film that give a new take on an age old topic, though incredibly flawed and certainly won’t be wining any Oscars anytime soon it is a film however that will entertain movie-buffs all around. I recommend it for a night in with some friends and a couple of cold ones.

Copyright 2009 TCWreviews.com
All Rights Reserved

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.

Grace

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

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

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.

Motherhood

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.