Sundance and Ice Cream: Opening Nights

The opening days of coverage of the Sundance Film Festival

Short Term 12 (2009)
dir. Destin Daniel Cretton

Counselors at a group home for troubled adolescents work to keep the kids on the straight and narrow while navigating their own troubles. Cretton would go on to direct a full-length adaptation of this film, which was my personal favorite film from 2013, as well as the springboard to success for Brie Larson, Lakeith Stanfield, Kaitlyn Dever, and Rami Malek.

The 22-minute runtime flies by with solid performances all around, including Stanfield, who is the only holdover from the short to the feature. The film reinforces the idea that the adults running the group home are just as messed up as the kids. It’s no wonder Cretton has his current success (3.5/5.0)

dir. Mimi Cave

Following a meeting at a grocery store and initial hookup, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) goes away for the weekend with her new boyfriend Steve (Sebastian Stan). As the weekend begins, Steve opens up about his unusual appetites while Noa struggles to adapt.

It’s difficult to talk about this film without diving into spoiler territory, but just know that the first 30 minutes and the last 90 minutes are a very large tonal shift. Elements of romance, dark comedy, slasher, and body horror are all on display. Edgar-Jones’ likeability and geniality are at the forefront, but it’s Stan who shines. In a role that requires the depths of darkness, his charm and wit turn what would be a purely villainous role into something much more complex.

Excellent production design and some nifty subversion of the dating and slasher genres prove Cave as a director with a keen eye and immense talent. Lots of fun despite the subject matter. (4.0/5.0)

A Love Song
dir. Max Walker-Silverman

Faye (Dale Dickey) is a widowed woman camping by the lake in Colorado. Faye meets up with her childhood sweetheart and fellow widower Lito (Wes Studi) to reminisce and not be alone.

Simple and unpretentious, Walker-Silverman doesn’t overdo what he has with the setting and story. Shots of sunsets over pristine lakes feel natural, while the action develops leisurely, but with purpose. Dickey and Studi also operate on the same calm level, but their awkward chemistry develops to a gentle warmth. So much is unsaid or built with the years of foundational backstory. The script doesn’t overdo the drama, which the actors and filmmakers are completely in sync with. Dickey is spectacular in the silence of her performance.

The film is a love letter to the burden of surviving. Both characters attempt to cope with loneliness in their own ways, but it doesn’t always come forth in a way you expect. Memorably tiny with a great ending. (3.5/5.0)

After Yang
dir. Kogonada

Jake (Colin Farrell) attempts to repair the family android Yang (Justin H. Min) for companionship to his daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaj). As he scrambles to repair Yang, Jake gains insight into his own family as well as Yang’s life and his connection to a young woman named Ada (Haley Lu Richardson).

The world Kogonada has crafted is futuristic, unique, and quietly elegant. Every character’s volume is in a gentle, controlled tone, giving the film a clean, steady pace as well as casting a heightened need in the viewer’s attention. Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith do a fine job of steering the majority of the action, but it’s Min as the titular Yang that steals the show.

While definitely not for everyone, the atmosphere and a deft ensemble make for a memorable experience. Kogonada continues pushing the boundaries for modern filmmaking. (3.5/5.0)

Fire of Love
dir. Sara Dosa

Katia and Maurice Krafft loved two things: each other and volcanoes. This documentary explores their love of volcanology as well as some of the couple’s own stunning footage.

The Kraffts are both wonderful characters for a documentary, but their footage is the true stars. The close-up volcano eruptions paired with actress Miranda July’s dreamy narration lends itself to a truly captivating film.

A love triangle, where two people are in love with each other and the destructive forces of nature. Beautfully wonderful. (4.0/5.0)

More to come from Sundance later

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