Sundance Capsule Reviews Jan. 29 | Buzz Blog

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sundance Capsule Reviews Jan. 29

Posted By on January 29, 2015, 10:42 AM

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The Forbidden Room ****
There's a palpable love for the physical medium of film in Guy Maddin's latest, that extends throughout its multiple, dream-like layers of narrative to a celebration of bodies and all their splendor. But it's film itself, and the moving pictures captured on it, that is the star here: the ways in which age and weather distress it, and the wholly new qualities that distress conveys; the ways in which light and tint combine to make beauty; the way images can be manipulated with effects; the things film does to human faces, and the glory of faces on film. One could go on, as Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson do for a robust 130 minutes, but The Forbidden Room is as long as it needs to be and no more. This is admittedly burying the lede rather deeply, but this is a very funny movie, especially in its extensive use of silent-movie intertitles (as well as other creative, fun use of on-screen text), but extending to the wonderful performances of a large ensemble. The whole thing's just an utter delight, a wildly, gleefully erudite ride, one that will no doubt yield ever more exquisite details on multiple revisits. (Danny Bowes)

Ten Thousand Saints **1/2
Eleanor Henderson's terrific novel gets a fitfully effective adaptation by Shari Springer-Berman and Robert Pulcini, observing the circa-1988 world of New York's Alphabet City—including the Straight Edge punk scene—through the eyes of troubled teen Jude (Asa Butterfield); Johnny (Emile Hirsch), the brother of Jude's recently-deceased best friend Teddy; and Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld), who got pregnant by Teddy on the night he died. Springer-Berman and Pulcini do an effective job of streamlining the novel’s sprawling narrative, and get a terrific performance from Ethan Hawke as Jude’s pot-dealer dad; Hawke’s clearly a genius when it comes to absentee, good-time father figures. But there’s a serious lack of energy in plenty of key areas—notably a crucial set piece involving the Tomkins Square Park riot—and a lackluster performance by Butterfield that focuses too much on Jude’s unrequited crush on Eliza while missing the fervor of his “conversion” to Straight Edge. Every time it feels like Ten Thousand Saints is going to find something profound about the many different ways we find family connection, it bumps up against workmanlike storytelling that loses an essential element of passion. (Scott Renshaw)

Christmas, Again ***
Sundance lineups are never lacking for stories built around taciturn-bordering-on-emotionally-crippled protagonists, but there’s something poignant and genuine in writer/director Charles Poekel's character study of Noel (Kentucker Audley), who spends his Decembers living in a trailer on a New York City street while selling Christmas trees. And this year is particularly hard, as it's the first without his long-time girlfriend. At times it feels like Poekel is in danger of drifting into the quagmire of indie-drama quirkiness, like Noel keeping his medication in an Advent calendar, or a score that prominently features theremin music. But there's also a genuineness to Audley's performance as a working-class guy coping poorly with heartbrerak, and the odd connection he establishes with a girl he finds passed out on a park bench; even the episodic interactions with various customers have an oddball charm to them. It's a movie in which seasonal melancholy rarely feels like an affectation, allowing a solid insight into the way that the holiday season can be as deeply sad as it is magical. (SR)

Digging for Fire *1/2
Marriage: It ain't easy, amirite, folks? Writer/director Joe Swanberg is at his most exasperatingly meandering in this dramedy about Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie Dewitt), a married couple with a 3-year-old son, house-sitting for a weekend at a fancy Los Angeles mansion. Lee heads off to visit with her parents and meet with an old friend (Melanie Lynskie); Tim hangs out at the house with his buddies. Tim flirts with a cute party guest (Brie Larson); Lee flirts with a cute restaurateur (Orlando Bloom). And that's more or less it for 80 minutes, as the dialogue circles around the question of how maintaining a spark once you’re a spouse and a parent, re-emphasized periodically by the convenient appearance of a self-help book called Passionate Marriage. A sub-plot involving the discovery of a gun and bones in the back yard of the mansion theoretically provides a metaphor for the need to find something new and exciting, but Swanberg (who co-wrote with Johnson) has nothing new or exciting to say about marital ennui. He merely lets his cast of friends banter—and not very amusingly—until it's time to roll the credits. (SR)

Cloro ***
Lamberto Sanfelice's debut is—especially for a debut—an assured and carefully calibrated story of 17-year-old Jenny (Sara Serraiocco), who is forced to move from her hometown to a cabin near a mountain ski resort to take care of her grieving, nearly catatonic father and younger brother, both of whom are at difficult ages of their own. Taking a job as a maid to make ends meet, she struggles with the responsibilities and clings to the hope that circumstances will allow her to resume her career as a synchronized swimmer. Cloro (“chlorine”) has a bite, a kind of stinging severity much like the title chemical. Working from a deceptively simple yet subtextually intricate script by Elisa Amoruso, Sanfelice blends verité staging with visuals that frequently take flight, particularly in some excellent underwater sequences and wintry mountain landscapes; the former climax with a breathtaking, simple shot that brings to mind Esther Williams classics, and is in a way a microcosm for the film itself. Serraiocco's performance as Jenny wavers in places, but the emotional beats she nails, she nails cold. Neither her performance nor the film itself is terribly warm, but both show great promise, and are well worth watching. (DB)

Take Me to the River **
I’m always willing to grant the benefit of the doubt that an artist doesn’t intend to be condescending in his portrait of a particular demographic, but it’s hard not to feel that writer/director Matt Sobel’s first feature is predicated on a lot of “hick-shaming.” The set-up is, admittedly, terrific: Ryder (Logan Miller), a gay 17-year-old Californian, travels with his parents to a reunion in Nebraska for his mother’s (Robin Weigert) side of the family. When he’s alone for a short time in a barn with his 9-year-old cousin, Molly (Ursula Parker), something happens—and the family’s reaction to that “something” amps up the tension in some genuinely unsettling ways for a huge chunk of the 84-minute running time. But there’s something troubling about the portrayal of Ryder’s uncle/Molly’s dad (Josh Hamilton)—and indeed the way the entire Nebraska family is portrayed—that makes the revelations to come feel more lurid than enlightening, and built around something that plays like a smug insinuation that those judgmental Christian heartland types best get their own houses in order first. Something that could have been discomfiting in its insight instead turns into something discomfiting in its bitterness. (SR)

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