Sundance Capsule Reviews Jan. 26 | Buzz Blog

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sundance Capsule Reviews Jan. 26

Posted By on January 26, 2015, 2:42 PM

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The D Train **1/2
The crippling need to be liked gets half of a great treatment in this coulda-been-darker comedy from writer/directors Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel. Jack Black stars as Dan Landsman, a married-with-kids suburban schlub working on his high-school's 20th reunion committee. Struggling to get anyone interest in attending, Dan decides he needs star power—and the closest thing to a star among his classmates is Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), who left town for an acting career in Los Angeles. Paul and Mogel choose a perfect milieu for exploring a mid-life desperation to be seen as successful, with Black effectively capturing a high-school loser who can't stand the idea that he's still in some ways the same guy. Yet even as the re-connection between Dan and Oliver takes a surprisingly outrageous turn, the story seems unwilling to really commit to Dan's decisions being built around self-loathing. And there's a completely missed opportunity to give Oliver equal footing as the guy who's revered even though he's not nearly the big shot everyone imagines him to be. There are big laughs in some of the farcical situations here, but the nostalgic vibe built into the soundtrack spills over into a throwback sensibility that aims a little warmer and cuddlier than the material seems to demand. (SR)

Chorus **1/2

It’s risky—and somewhat admirable—that François Delisle took a premise so easily rendered as melodrama and instead aimed for quiet restraint. Yet somewhere along that road, the restraint itself starts to feel like an affectation. The story concerns Irène (Fanny Mallette) and Christophe (Sébastien Ricard), a once-married couple separated for 10 years since the disappearance of their 8-year-old son, Hugo. But when someone finally confesses to Hugo’s murder, Irène and Christophe are reunited in Montreal in their attempt to find closure. Delisle effectively uses black-and-white cinematography to turn the stark Montreal winter almost into an antagonist, and dives into some tricky revelations of character like Christophe responding less violently to the description of Hugo’s death than to the idea that he was sexually assaulted. Yet there’s also something excessively chilly and synthetic to most of the interactions between the two grieving parents, whose emotions over their split are buried throughout. If the brief snippets of internal-monologue narration are meant to fill in the gaps, instead they just make it clear that a movie entirely about muted responses can itself lead to a muted response. (SR)

Tangerine **1/2
There are times when a Sundance feature frustrates you with the much better short film it might have been. Writer/director Sean Baker certainly takes a bold dive into a little-explored subculture by spending Christmas Eve on a Los Angeles block frequented by transsexual prostitutes like Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor), and johns like Armenian immigrant cabbie Razmik (Karren Karagulian). The episodic narrative darts between Sin-Dee's quest to find the girl she's heard has been sleeping with her boyfriend/pimp, Alexandra's attempts to promote a singing performance, and Razmik's down-low life keeping his interests hidden from his wife and mother-in-law, and there are some hilarious bits of business strewn throughout. But Baker often latches on to a single shrill note in the bitchy interactions between his characters, which reaches a headache-inducing pitch during a climactic confrontation in a donut shop. And the entire Armenian family sub-plot—while perhaps intended to capture another side of this world generally kept hidden from others—uses Razmik's hidden life as a punch line more often than it builds genuine compassion for him. Give me 20 minutes of these characters showing both their fiery personalities and their attempts to find some kind reliable human connection, and we'd really have something. (SR)

Dreamcatcher **1/2
There is a dilemma when approaching this documentary (unrelated to the ill-fated 2003 Stephen King adaptation) of being torn between extremely important subject matter and execution that gradually moves from overbearingly heavy-handed to creepily, cynically exploitative. As to the former, Dreamcatcher follows Brenda Myers-Powell, a former sex worker and recovering addict who works with Chicago-area women and girls to inspire them to leave The Life behind and live lives that their circumstances may have convinced them were impossible. Brenda's energy, charisma and empathy make her a compelling cinematic subject, and her devotion to her work is inspiring. But the presentation lacks the confidence (ironic, considering instilling confidence is Brenda's life's work) in itself to make its points without resorting to manipulations and meretricious dramatizations. Instead, what could be a genuinely moving piece of cinema devolves into gross manipulation with all-too-convenient dramatic arcs. The ending is particularly galling, considering the opening passages' relentless (and triggering) exploitation of sexual abuse for emotional involvement. The excuse “that's reality” doesn't work when engaging in fiction, or the molding of truth by filmmakers into convenient dramatic shapes that are indistinguishable from it. (Danny Bowes)

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief **1/2
Alex Gibney's latest documentary is drawn largely from Lawrence Wright's book of almost the same title (in which “Hollywood” follows “Scientology”), and focuses mainly on the experience of ex-Scientologists' eventual disillusionment with the church and its leadership. John Travolta and Tom Cruise are inevitably drawn into the discussion—although neither participated in the documentary—and some of their more salacious tabloid moments are rehashed. Nothing in the film is new news to anyone with more than a cursory interest in the subject, though Gibney puts a glossy, eminently professional-looking sheen on it for the benefit of the previously disinterested. Surfaces are a running theme, with alarmingly totalitarian footage of Scientology events juxtaposed against the testimonials of Scientologists' horror at realizing what their church actually was beneath the outward image. The film does drag slightly, and dwelling to the extent it does on famous Scientologists ends up rendering some parts slightly redundant. While not all is grim—there is some levity, particularly from ex-Scientologist actor Jason Beghe, who seems like a fun person to talk to—Going Clear, as a Serious Informative Documentary, should satisfy Serious People in their pursuit of Seriousness. (DB)

Knock Knock *1/2
For a movie as ultimately bad as it is, the latest from director/co-writer Eli Roth has the potential to be an interesting, original suspense thriller for a surprisingly high percentage of its running time. It presents a vision of upper-class domestic bliss, with architect Keanu Reeves spending Father's Day weekend on his own as his artist wife and two children go to the beach to let him finish a big project. In the middle of the night in a rainstorm, two young women knock on the door—and after a long preface, it abruptly becomes an Eli Roth movie. Even then, there's an odd lack of suspense for a film purporting to be a thriller, and there isn't really much else going on except for contradictory (at best) and delusional (at worst) musings about gender politics. Unless, of course, the point is that men are irrational animals with no restraint and women are all angelic wives or walking pornographic fantasy objects with inscrutable inner lives. Keanu is fun in an atypically unhinged and un-Zen turn, and his unexpected guests (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas) are deft performers, but ultimately they're all wasting their talents on a very dumb movie. (DB)

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