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Not really a reference to the state of the films on display in Park City, but rather a comment on the frigid weather we had for the majority of the week we were out there. The temperature never seemed to climb high enough to allow for “packing” snow, and with only powder and frozen snow and ice at my disposal, it’s the first Sundance in memory without being able to make (or nail a co-worker with) an actual snowball. Somehow I’m unfulfilled…

More quick takes on movies:

YEAR OF THE DOG (3-Stars) – Toothy Molly Shannon plays a perky secretary whose life begins to go to hell when her beloved pet beagle suddenly expires. Laura Dern, Peter Sarsgaard, John C. Reilly, and lots of adorable canines co-star in this quirky directorial debut from actor/screenwriter Mike White (CHUCK & BUCK, SCHOOL OF ROCK, THE GOOD GIRL). Perhaps my expectations were a bit high for this one–despite some funny moments (especially about over-cautious parenting) and poignant touches, I wished it had more of an edge. The Eccles crowd seemed to enjoy it plenty though.

JOE STRUMMER: THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (4-Stars) – Another masterful job by Julien Temple (THE FILTH AND THE FURY, GLASTONBURY). Using recordings of his radio show and “campfire” interviews as a framing device to follow the history of the late Clash member’s eventful life, this is a wonderfully constructed doc portrait that bursts with amazing archival footage, great tunes, and tellling insights into the man and artist. The opening B&W footage alone, of Strummer singing accapella in the studio in 1976 (also shot by Temple!), will knock you on your ass.

MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET) (4-Stars) – Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, this is a visually stunning and disturbing look at corruption and violence in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Frog farms, kidnappers, plastic surgeons specializing in ear reconstruction (from violence perpetrated on hostages!), and one of the sleaziest politicians imaginable are explored in a dazzling indictment of a political system set to an ultra-hip musical score.

A VERY BRITISH GANGSTER (4-Stars) – Tony Soprano meets Bob Hoskins in THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY in this intimate and fascinating look at Dominic Noonan, an openly gay, Manchester England crime lord who’s part unofficial mayor and part thug. Along with his teenage henchmen, old-school enforcer brother, and extended family (including the Sinatra wanna-be nephew who sings at weddings, funerals, and acquittals!), Dominic’s personality and standing both inside and outside the law make for juicy entertainment. The voice-over narration is a bit over done, but that’s a small quibble.

ZOO (3-Stars) – Based on the 2005 incident where a man died from a perforated colon suffered after having sex with a horse, this is a surprisingly unsensational look into a world where a secret society of men love their animals a bit more than the rest of us. The film features audio interviews of “zoo people” unwilling to appear on camera, a number of the actual subjects playing themselves, and an assortment of actors recreating the “zoo” scene and sequence of events leading up to and after the 45-year-old husband/father’s death. Though the film’s poetic camerawork, evocative score, and disturbing subject matter has stuck with me, the recreations and staged scenes bothered me to no end even though I understand it couldn’t have been made any other way.

THE LEGACY (3-Stars) – Despite winning a Special Jury Prize from the World Cinema Competition Jury, this simple story of culture clash and a road trip had its charming moments but felt slight to me. Clocking in at a mere 76 minutes, the new work from Temur and Gela Babluani (13 TZAMETI) follows three French friends and their Georgian interpreter as they head out by bus to visit a castle that one of them has inherited. When an old man with an empty casket and his grandson come aboard, the foreigners get involved in a blood feud from generations ago that they should’ve stayed out of. Though never dull, the ending disappoints and this parable of sorts never quite has the impact of last year’s stunner.

JOSHUA (5-Stars) – Wow! Not a false note in this impeccably directed and acted thriller that plays like a cross between THE BAD SEED, ROSEMARY’S BABY, and THE OMEN (hold the Satan or two). Joshua’s already a weird little kid when Mommy and Daddy (the equally excellent Vera Farmiga and Sam Rockwell-again!) bring home their newborn daughter. He doesn’t handle sharing their affection very well. Kudos to documentarian George Ratliff (HELL HOUSE) for a remarkable move into narrative filmmaking–this is the type of intelligent and suspenseful psychological horror that gives the genre a good name. It will be interesting to see the general public’s reaction when this is unleashed theatrically.

More to come…


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