Sundance 2022 Day 9 capsules | Buzz Blog

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Sundance 2022 Day 9 capsules

Fresh, Neptune Frost, Happening and more

Posted By and on January 29, 2022, 7:04 AM

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Fresh ***
When a movie attempts to make a thematic point using a stomach-churning, over-the-top premise, it’s worth asking whether the result is worth it. And the answer here is … mostly? Fed up with the results of dating apps, Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) takes a chance on Steve (Sebastian Stan), the guy she meets-cute at the grocery store. When their first official date turns into spending the night together, a weekend getaway doesn’t seem like a terrible idea—except that it is. What follows the credits at the 30-plus-minute mark gets pretty grisly, based on a notion that turns women into literal commodities, in a manner that plenty of other reviews will choose to give away. For my own purposes, suffice it to say that the two central performances are both terrific in distinctive ways—Stan going gleefully bonkers, and Edgar-Jones having perhaps the tougher task in conveying the way that women sometimes learn to perform the role that the abusive men in their lives expect of them. And there’s a surprisingly affecting message in Lauryn Kahn’s script about female unity, and the power that can come from sticking together and not being part of the problem. Director Mimi Cave finds creative ways to present body horror that stays just this side of too off-putting—your mileage may vary, naturally—but kind of runs out of the most interesting material well before the extended climax. Fortunately, Cave and Kahn get their point across despite a cavalcade of bloodletting that feels less potent than the psychological drama, though for some, that catharsis might feel like the necessary cauterizing of a wound. (SR)

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Neptune Frost *1/2
A large part of the reason I loved Something in the Dirt, a veritable vomitorium of ideas and didactic theories that includes a floating mineral object, was that the whole point was that this can’t be taken seriously (so don’t try to make sense or follow). Neptune Frost also had a floating mineral object, but very much takes itself seriously, and wants you to make sense and follow it. But it’s hardly more coherent, and a whole lot less fun as a result. A bald description might make Neptune Frost sound cool—“an Afrofuturist sci-fi musical about miners and Internet hackers in which the picaresque protagonist is varyingly played by a man and a woman” sures does. But after a taut, sharp set up—a Rwandan coltan-mine worker is casually killed on the job, prompting a walkout, a funeral and his memorialization by his brother—the script collapses, waxing between tendentiousness, “poetic” hot-tub mysticism and clumsy expository speeches. The world-building and the multiple-actors-and-sexes protagonist work at cross purposes, leaving us at sea. Lines like “the power of the subconscious is honed through guidance. Sense the connection. What birth has severed, love will reconnect,” had me saying, “If you say so.” We’re told it’s meaningful that circuit boards call certain electronic communication processes “master-slave,” Even the music numbers are pious and hectoring (“Down for Some Ignorance” is one title), though it’s good enough music that I wished I was watching it unsubtitled. (VJM)

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Free Chol Soo Lee **1/2
Julie Ha and Eugene Yi’s documentary is a rollercoaster ride—not just because it follows a tumultuous real-life story, but because it keeps bouncing from fascinating subject to not-so-fascinating subject within that same real-life story. In June 1973, Korean immigrant Chol Soo Lee was arrested for a gangland-style murder in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and was convicted and imprisoned. Lee insisted on his innocence, and much of Free Chol Soo Lee follows his quest for a new trial, particularly after reporter K.W. Lee began to uncover evidence of unreliable witnesses and sloppy police forensics work. The retrial makes up the most riveting part of the film, as Lee’s defense attorneys broke down all the ways he was railroaded. But there’s also a lot of material involving the way Lee became a rallying point for an Asian-American community tired of racist treatment, which never proves particularly interesting. And then the narrative will move on to questions of institutionalization, and what Lee’s unjust imprisonment did to the trajectory of his later life. And then there’s a brief aside to note that yeah, the James Woods movie True Believer was primarily based on this case, much to the consternation of Lee's family and friends. It’s a uneven mix of wronged-man procedural, sociology lesson and human-interest story, never quite able to recognize that while every one of these things happened, not all of them necessarily belong in the same documentary. (SR)

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Happening **1/2
It’s hard sometimes to separate the intensity of the basic subject matter with the execution of that subject matter, or the question of whether it’s adding anything new to the conversation. Co-writer/director Audrey Diwan adapts Annie Ernaux’s 2000 novel set in early-1960s France, where talented college student Anne Duchesne (Anamaria Vartolomei) finds herself pregnant after a brief fling, and becomes determine to end her pregnancy despite France’s strict anti-abortion laws. The ferocity of Vartolomei’s performance drives everything that works about Happening, capturing a woman with a vision for her own future that includes continuing her education, and a growing realization that everyone she reaches out to for help is judging her in some way. Yet the bottom line is that this is the kind of movie that wears its gritty, naturalistic style as a cloak of righteousness, waiting for us to shake our heads at the accumulating indignities to which Anne is subjected, and to cringe at the extended sequences involving makeshift attempts at termination. There are only glimpses of Anne as an actual character, like when she almost angrily has sex with another man because what the hell, it’s not like things could get any worse. Otherwise, it too often feels like she is a case study onto which burdens are laid so that we can be reminded that this is in fact a terrible thing for a woman to endure, and enduring the movie itself becomes an act of commiseration. (SR)

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The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future **1/2
The titular scene—which takes place on a Chilean dairy farm where a family is undergoing some stresses—is pretty great. The rest of the film is a fairly obvious family drama that does not profit by comparison. A woman who drowned herself some decades ago rises from that river at the movie’s start, as fish are now dying en masse from some industrial accident. Her appearance causes her widowed husband to have a heart attack; their adult families reunite at the home, and some issues rise to the surface, from a trans grandchild to a resentful daughter and family finances. Latin American magic realism abounds—cuts get miraculously healed, the undead woman hangs with a bike gang, cows appear in the woods at night—but the overall feel is a live-action Miyazaki film. The not-dead-no-more matriarch, portrayed at the age of her death, is obviously Mother Nature, which is rebelling in other ways—the cows catch a deadly disease (not laryngitis from the song though), and the bee colonies collapse. The spectral suicide (Mia Maestro) interacts with all the family members, individually and almost always wordlessly, and they respond varyingly; the high point is her lengthy scene with gender-curious Tomas and (being spoiler-vague) what that eventually inspires. But this trajectory makes the whole film feel a bit overdetermined and schematic, and the connection between the woes of family and the woes of nature, both miraculously healed by the end, just seems like a convention of magic realism. (VJM)

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