Sundance Capsule Reviews Jan. 31 | The Daily Feed

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sundance Capsule Reviews Jan. 31

Posted By on January 31, 2015, 12:49 PM

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Finders Keepers ***1/2
It might sound like damning with faint praise—or maybe just plain weird—but this documentary by Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel is about as richly human an experience as one could hope for in a movie about a custody battle over a mummified, amputated human leg. The real-life tabloid story began with a plane crash in 2004 that cost North Carolina resident John Wood his left leg—which he chose to keep—and blows up into a national story when the contents of the unpaid storage unit in which Wood was keeping it went up for auction, and Shannon Whisnant ended up with the leg when he bought the smoker grill in which it was resting. Carberry and Tweel answer all the most obvious questions—Why did Wood keep the leg in the first place? Why wouldn’t Whisnant just give it back?—in sequences that guarantee plenty of incredulous laughter at nearly everyone involved. But they’re even more interested in digging beyond the tabloid headlines to understand the motivations of Wood and Whisnant, both of whom have plenty of issues to work through. The more complex these two men become, the less Finders Keepers is about a custody battle over a mummified, amputated human leg, and the more it’s a reminder that there are always real, flawed people behind any story, no matter how crazy it may seem. (Scott Renshaw)

Results ***1/2
Referring to an artist or their work as an “acquired taste” has an unfortunate stigma, especially in democratic societies where the more people like something, the better. Instead of thinking of it as democracy, though, think of it as coffee: Some people don't like coffee, where others ardently savor its smell, its taste, its narcotic buzz. Think, then, of Results—the newest film by Andrew Bujalski—as a cup of black coffee that hits the spot perfectly. That may be a slight exaggeration, but both coffee and Bujalski inspire superlatives in their respective devotees. It/he may not be everyone's thing, but once the taste is acquired, there's nothing else quite like it. Results details the intertwined lives of three Austin, Tex. residents have: newly-rich and morose divorcé Danny (Kevin Corrigan); gym owner and would-be life coach Trevor (Guy Pearce); and Trevor's erstwhile employee and on-again/off-again girlfriend, Kat (Cobie Smulders). Bujalski's deceptively loose structure allows all three the space to do their thing as characters: Be weird and funny, and not always very nice. Thus is the human condition. And thus is Results a charming auteurist spin on the romantic comedy. And a damn fine cup of coffee. (Danny Bowes)

The Nightmare **
Rodney Ascher’s fascinating 2012 documentary Room 237 approached wild conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with an almost clinical fascination that was perfect for the material—and that approach is exactly the wrong away to approach something that inspires an almost primal terror. That subject is sleep paralysis—a condition afflicting many people with hallucinatory experiences that range from unsettling to utterly horrifying—and Ascher interviews eight people about their personal experiences, some of them beginning when they were just toddlers. And he chooses to literalize those experiences by staging recreations of these visions, while we hear the interviewees describing them. It’s a stunningly ineffective way of conveying the bone-deep dread these people experienced, turning huge chunks of the film into a very long episode of the old Unsolved Mysteries series. There are nods to some of the much more compelling questions raised by this condition—like how it has manifested itself in myth and pop culture over the years, and how these people live their daily lives knowing what might await them when they go to bed—yet Ascher remains stubbornly fixated on the issue of what exactly the menacing black figure looked like. For that information, I could read a book. (SR)

Ivy ***1/2
Writer-director Tolga Karaçelik opens his new film with a joint dedication to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad—a refreshing bit of erudition, regardless of one's feelings on the current film climate. And far from simply name-checking people to sound cool, Karaçelik plays with and alludes to all three writers in endlessly rich and thought-provoking ways, all while making a gripping character drama with all the tension of a thriller. The film is set entirely on a cargo ship; upon arrival at an Egyptian port, the crew members learn that the owner of the ship—who has already gone months without paying the crew—has gone bankrupt, and that the ship is to drop anchor offshore and be manned by a skeleton crew until the bureaucratic mess is untangled. The conflicts that ensue unfold along class and ethnic lines—a book could be written about the significance of the character known only as “Kurd”—as well as for all the other reasons a bunch of people trapped in close proximity might have to get at each other's throats. Ivy is a rich cinematic experience, as well as a fascinating text to unpack, and promises great things to come from Karaçelik. (DB)

Western **1/2
Just a little advice from me to filmmakers: If your documentary that prominently features the menacing threat of Mexican narco cartels has to depend on kids-say-the-darndest-things cuteness from a kindergartener for its most memorable moments, there might be something not quite working. In the border town of Eagle Pass, Tex., directors Bill and Turner Ross follow two men whose lives straddle that border: mayor Chad Foster, who works to maintain relationships with the neighboring Mexican city of Piedras Negras; and Martín Wall, a cattle rancher who often purchases and drives cattle from Piedras Negras. Over the course of the film, cartel-related violence in Mexico escalates, complicating efforts by both men to maintain the idea that there are advantages to a more open border, and there’s potential there for a nuanced exploration of the fears that drive the building of border walls. But the Rosses—who did brilliant observational work in 2012's Tchopitoulas—never seem to figure out how to wrangle their footage into a story beyond all the colorful atmosphere of multi-cultural fiestas, bullfights and ominous approaching thunderstorms. And when nothing else is going on, they just turn the camera on Wall’s young daughter. Yep, she’s adorable—and doesn’t teach me all that much more about life in America’s borderlands. (SR)

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