Sundance 2016: Day 2

I hope you enjoyed Day 1 yesterday, I know I certainly did. Saturday was my first day actually watching 4 movies in a 24 hour period, but it was certainly enriching. It was also possibly the best day of the fest, since it contained 2 of my favorite movies that I saw (while Friday only had 1 in Swiss Army Man) Let’s get right to it.

Tallulah

Director: Sian Heder
Writer: Sian Heder
Stars: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, Tammy Blanchard

Ellen Page at her most Ellen Page, and it is glorious. The last movie that was this level of Ellen Page was Juno. Tallulah is about Ellen Page’s character, Lu, and how she deals with her boyfriend, Nico, leaving her. How does she deal with it? Well, she steals a baby for a start. Steals it from a totally inept and almost childlike mother who has no interest in raising a child. And then Lu takes said stolen baby, and takes it with her to visit Nico’s mother Margo, played by Allison Janney, as a women in the middle of a divorce with her recently out as gay husband. I don’t want to get much more into the plot than that, because a lot of the joy of the movie is seeing the surprising choices the different characters make. The movie is about motherhood, doing the right thing, what it means to be a good person, deceit, and responsibility. All in all, it was just super good with really strong performances and an amazing first directorial turn from Sian Heder. And it’s not just Page and Janney who really sell the movie. The story of the mother whose child is stolen is also fascinating as performed by Tammy Blanchard, filled with a complexity that really elevates the movie into something special. It’s these three riveting and complex female performances really make it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ellen Page has another Oscar nomination next year, that’s how strong this movie is. It was the second movie I gave 4 out of 4 stars on my audience ballot while at Sundance.

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Director: Maggie Greenwald
Writers: Maggie Greenwald (screenplay), Augusta Trobaugh (novel)
Stars: Julianne Nicholson, Takashi Yamaguchi, Margo Martindale

Sophie and the Rising Sun is a film based on a novel, which unfortunately I believe was probably better than the film. Sophie and the Rising Sun was the first film at Sundance I didn’t really like, and I feel like a big part of that is the lackluster editing and pacing. It’s a slow and quiet movie, and those aren’t bad things, unless, like in this case, they don’t really add to the movie, and instead make it ponderous. However, there were some top notch performances by Margo Martindale and her fellow actresses. The story involves a Japanese American man ending up in a South Carolinan town on the cusp of the United States entering World War II. And you may remember that the reason the United States entered the war had to do with the Japanese. Thus, the fact that the Japanese American, Grover Ohta, gets mistaken for a “chinaman” at first is a blessing, and he’s allowed to fall in love with local spinster Sophie, while being in the care of Martindale’s widow, Anne. The plot is a bit cumbersome, and it isn’t particularly helped by the pacing. But it is a plot we don’t see very often, and addresses a flavor of racism that we don’t see getting addressed often enough in our country, which in some ways makes it worth it, even if it’s a bit dull at times. Still, good to see strong performances by a whole host of women and their Japanese costar Takashi Yamaguchi. Not great, but pretty far from bad. A solid 2.7 out of 4.

Captain Fantastic

Director: Matt Ross
Writer: Matt Ross
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn

HOLY SHIT. Captain Fantastic is easily my favorite film from Sundance 2016. It’s about so much, so well made, and Viggo Mortensen is a GOD among men. Viggo Mortensen stars as Ben, a father of 6 children who lives and survives in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. He trains and teaches his children to survive and how to think. The enthralling opening scene involves the family hunting a deer, which the eldest sun wrestles to the ground and kills with a knife, thus “becoming a man”. Later, Ben messes up which kind of Marxist his son, Bodevan is (all of the children have names made up by Ben and his wife). These are the kinds of kids Ben is raising. Hyper intelligent, critical thinkers, survivalists. In other words, freaks. It’s only when tragedy strikes and the family is forced to venture out into the world that the entire family is forced to recognize and reconcile just who they are and what their place in the world is. I again won’t give too much away, but I do love the plot of this movie. It’s very rich and is paced in such a way that it all feels very realistic even as it is “fantastic”. What really sells the movie is the amazing child actors who set the fantastic tone for the film. Also contained within are a truly eclectic selection of thoughts and music, which also make for a film that is about a lot. It’s about America and raising kids in America from an educated perspective, but it’s also about sticking to your values and about the value of life. The highest praise I can heap on this film is that it didn’t just make me feel for the family, or just make me think about their values and how I relate to them, it made me do both at the same time. In a lesser movie, you only would have been able to do one, and probably just the thought provoking parts. But it’s the strength of Viggo Mortensen, whose talent cannot be overstated, and his wonderful costars as his children, that allow this movie about big ideas to have a big heart as well. 4 out of 4 stars easily. Do NOT miss this one if and when it becomes available to you.

Love and Friendship

Director: Whit Stillman
Writers: Jane Austen (based on her novella “Lady Susan”), Whit Stillman
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel

Adapted from an unpublished Jane Austen novella called “Lady Susan”, this movie has ton of great one liners, even if that’s unfortunately the best part about it. Like all of Austen’s work it is incredibly funny. It’s a mistake that a lot of people view Jane Austen as prim and proper and romantic when in actual fact she is one of the funniest writers to ever grace the English novel. This adaption is irreverent in the best way, the way that makes it truer to the work and less to the idea of the work. Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan herself truly steals the show as the manipulative, cruel, and seductive lead. But where the film fails is in the drama. The story is funny, but holds almost no real emotional weight behind it, making the comedy less incisive. Any time there could be real drama, allowing for emotions other than chuckles to break through, it is undercut by a dry witted tone and fast editing. It almost feels like Jane Austen by way of Edgar Wright, but Edgar Wright’s films all do have emotional cores that allow their comedy to breath. It was enjoyable while it lasted, but I don’t feel like I’d seek it out again. Love and Friendship is a good film, but definitely not a great film.

Here’s the link to my first post of Sundance reviews: Day 1.

And here we have the next day: Day 3.

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