Sundance 2022 Day 7 capsules | Buzz Blog

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Sundance 2022 Day 7 capsules

Hatching, Lucy and Desi, Downfall: The Case Against Boeing, A House Made of Splinters and more

Posted By and on January 27, 2022, 7:32 AM

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Hatching ***1/2
Screw “elevated horror”—like all interesting horror since the term was invented, it has been a way to uncover unsettling truths about human experience, provided you’re paying attention. Director Hanna Bergholm and Ilja Rautsi give us the tale of Tinja (Jani Volanen), an adolescent Finnish girl dealing with the high expectations of her lifestyle-blogger mom (Siiri Solalinna). One night, Tinja discovers a strange egg in the woods, and nurtures it until it hatches into … well, something. The particulars of that something get weirder as the movie progresses, in a way that slowly unfolds its central metaphor while also providing good old horror visceral satisfaction. It’s a story about wanting a mother who will love you even if you’re less than perfect, and trying to manifest that into the world. It’s a story with a canny ability to find a representation of eating disorders with a body-horror kick, and the wisdom to understand that the surest way for a girl to make her dad uncomfortable enough to leave her alone is to let him think you’ve started your period. The character design of Tinja’s hatchling is a terrific piece of practical effects work, and there’s plenty of material that makes this a solid monster movie. And, like so much thoughtful horror that came before it, Hatching takes its time before making it clear who the real monster in its story is. (SR)

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Lucy and Desi ***
Lucille Ball died in 1989 on a Wednesday, and on the subsequent Saturday, my hometown CBS affiliate, which held the local rights to I Love Lucy, dumped the network’s prime-time programming to play those reruns. Despite picking classics I’d seen before, it was still one of the funniest nights I’ve ever had. I had a similar reaction watching Lucy and Desi—the best reaction possible to a documentary about two already-legendary entertainers that plows no new ground historically, and is a functionally made TV-highlight biopic. I laughed repeatedly at the I Love Lucy clips, even abbreviated, and never got hammered with a contemporary message. Ball and husband Desi Arnaz were a team, each of whom needed what the other could bring, and Ball herself didn’t care about “being the first woman ‘anything,’” even though she unquestionably was many such things. Director Amy Poehler also gives us a reasonably comprehensive biography of both stars, often using their own recorded tapes as narration, and I learned a few things about the Cuban-born Arnaz I hadn’t known. He was not simply an immigrant, but a political refugee whose aristocratic family lost everything in a populist revolution decades before anyone had heard of Fidel Castro. Lucy and Desi goes more into their marital tensions and family dynamic than you might expect (I wonder about the huge participation gap between Lucie and Desi Jr.), but his infidelities and her “red scare” episode get their appropriate amount of space. Take that, Aaron Sorkin. (VJM)

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Downfall: The Case Against Boeing ***1/2
On a fundamental level, you have to judge a creative work based on what it’s trying to do—and as a piece of cinematic investigative journalism, meant to give a broad audience an understanding of a complex subject, Rory Kennedy’s movie is very nearly flawless. Her subject covers two fatal crashes, in October 2018 and March 2019, both of which involved the relatively new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Kennedy digs into the new technology behind the catastrophic errors—an automated system intended to correct for high angles of ascent—and the utterly unsurprising attempts by Boeing to blame the crashes on pilot error rather than their failure to inform the pilots that this new system even existed. From there, she moves on to a history of the Boeing company culture, and the impact of the 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas on processes that once prioritized safety, but rapidly started prioritizing maximizing stock price. What’s remarkable about her approach is that it feels built on anticipating every question a viewer might have, and answering it in the clearest language possible, with a kind of relentlessness that emphasizes the sheer weight of evidence rather than appeals to emotionalism. Yes, family members of those who died in these crashes appear on camera, and their stories are not inconsequential. And yes, in theory you could read a book about this story with all of the same basic information. But there’s almost surgical efficiency to Kennedy’s narrative choices that makes it devastating simply by understanding how to present the facts. (SR)

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A House Made of Splinters ****
At the end of Night of the Hunter, Lillian Gish says, “My soul is humble when I see the way little ones accept their lot … they abide and they endure.” A strictly observational verité documentary about a Ukrainian temporary orphanage, A House Made of Splinters bears no resemblance to Charles Laughton’s thriller, and we see little (mostly “hear”) of “Robert Mitchum.” But Gish’s maxim is the heart-wrenching theme, most specifically in exactly how the three or four sharpest-drawn children—who look to be around ages 6 to 8—“endure.” Although it takes place near Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine, and there are lines to the effect of “war makes things tougher,” these are not war orphans. These children have been taken from their parents over abuse and neglect issues, all seemingly alcohol-related, and stay for months until their cases are decided, their parents take them back, or a relative or adoptive family can be found. You pity these childrens’ wisdom, like when Eva can smell grandma dodging her question about mama’s drinking. Patiently observed scenes and sneakily-built trajectories involving the kids and an all-female staff add up to an institution trying, and the kids enduring. Harrowing stories of family violence are swapped among the boys like campfire ghost stories; futures are foretold to a disco ball; Sasha and Paulina become friends until one gets “lucky,” and Kolya is a thief headed for another sort of state institution. But he hardly cares; he endures. (VJM)

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Meet Me in the Bathroom **1/2
I have no idea how Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace’s documentary based on Lizzy Goodman’s book of the same name would play to someone who was “there”—either literally, in the sense of living in turn-of-the-millennium New York City and knowing its underground indie-rock scene, or figuratively, in the sense of being of an age to be hip to these bands when they were, in fact, hip. For one who was neither, it plays like an awfully cumbersome attempt to evoke a time and place by telling several different stories at the same time. The filmmakers employ only contemporaneous footage (sometimes supplemented by voice-over interviews that clearly took place a bit later) to explore the years 1999 – 2003, as bands like The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol and more emerged in local clubs like the Sidewalk Café and Mercury Lounge, before finding the inevitable perils of fame. The wealth of live performance footage is bound to be a draw for fans, while Southern and Lovelace fill in the blanks with kaleidoscopic images of New York and obvious historical touchstones like 9/11 and the August 2003 blackout. There’s interesting material here about why this particular “scene” could only have happened when it did, before gentrification priced out the artists and clubs that had thrived in Brooklyn, but the trajectories of bands from friends just having fun to people dealing with drugs, depression and battles for creative control feel really familiar, and it doesn’t help that they all track side by side here. And it’s confusing to see LCD Soundsystem lumped in, despite being part of a very different timeline and scene, perhaps just because the filmmakers knew the band so well from making 2012’s Shut Up and Play the Hits. For fans of these bands: Your mileage, most likely, will vary. (SR)

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2nd Chance **1/2
It’s not the most damning indictment of a documentary to say, “I wish Errol Morris had made it.” But I really do wish Errol Morris had made 2nd Chance, specifically the Morris of Tabloid and Mr. Death, dealing with eccentrics who enter the public eye and get in over their heads. Richard Davis is a former Marine who made and sold lightweight, flexible body armor during the 1970s. He tells director Ramin Bahrani that, after he got into a gunfight while delivering pizza, his 2nd Chance company built a better mousetrap/bulletproof vest in response. The vests sold well, and numerous cops said it saved their lives from criminals—successes Davis built on in bizarre ways, feeding the outsized and often-cheesy braggadocio that makes the film more than watchable. We see Davis-directed films re-enacting the incidents in which his vests saved lives; they are so cheesy a porn director would’ve turned them down. Yet it’s unclear why his new bulletproof vests were better, and how Davis saw those flaws/improvements, given his experience. Indeed, 2nd Chance is spotty or scattershot on many things like that, most frustratingly Davis’ first conviction. You know a fall is coming, as Bahrani’s narration tells you that immediately—a bluntness absent from his fiction films. But he overpromises at the start, overeggs some claims, and hides a jaw-dropping epilogue that needed to be more than an epilogue. Imagine the second half of Fred Leuchter’s story as the last five minutes of Mr. Death. (VJM)

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To the End **1/2
The existential threat of climate change can be an awfully big idea to get one’s head around, but it shouldn’t necessarily be that hard for documentary filmmakers to get their arms around. Director Rachel Lears uses a big canvas ranging from 2018 to late 2021, following several women committed to action on climate change—from young activists like Varshini Prakash of Sunrise Movement, to then-rookie congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—as they push for legislation in the face of increasingly dire warnings about global tipping points. In theory, this is an almost ideal span of time to be covering, as we watch activists swing from the pessimism of the late Trump presidency, to the high-hopes of a possible Bernie Sanders campaign, to the more measured optimism of Biden’s early legislative goals, to the cringe-inducing obstruction of Joe Manchin. But the problem with To the End is that it’s almost entirely about all of those things—the news items anyone with a social consciousness has already been paying excruciatingly close attention over the past three years, plus the environmental catastrophes that keep underlining the urgency. The activists themselves end up taking a back seat, which is a damned shame, because watching them wrestle with what they actually can accomplish, and how, is the emotional heart we needed to pay attention to. To the End offers some winning profiles in courage, bogged down in too much stuff that feels like a chapter from a progressive U.S. history book. (SR)

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