Sundance London 2014 – Day One
Well that was a reasonably successful start to this years Sundance London Film Festival, four movies back to back in a little over seven hours of screenings, given that I only managed about three hours of sleep last night I think I should be praised for my endurance – god-damn you to hell accursed insomnia. One comedy was good, another less so, one film could have sprung gleaming from the Sundance ethos mould as if elected by the independent US cinema committee, and finally a debut from the son of Malcolm McDowell which wasn’t quite successful but at least it’s heart was in the right place – an eclectic opening, I don’t think I even got through four films in one day over in Toronto. So let’s take a very quick look at what we’ve caught so far, I’ll cross-post links to the official reviews as they go live, some of this will unfortunately be repeats of previously accursed material but I’m afraid much of this fare doesn’t even have official trailers yet so supporting material is slim – let’s get started;
The strongest picture of the day was the first in a genuinely amusing if not comprehensively successful wacky satire – and I’m sure throwing out that phraseology has got you all pumped up – in the Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd starring They Came Together. It’s not often that I’m prompted enough to laugh out loud before the opening titles have rolled these days, so this broad genre satire in the model of Airplane!, Top Secret or The Naked Gun pictures really got the energy levels up with no fewer than (gasp) three rapid exultations of appreciation from my frown-upside down face. It’s got the lot, sight gags, genre riffs, token cliché characters and plot contrivances which have infected the genre for years, it doesn’t always work but it got we jaded critical grouches rolling the aisles more than a few times and that is quite an achievement for 9.00am after an Easter weekend. A warning though, avoid IMDB or any passing news items, they seem to inevitably revealing an absolutely outstanding movie-star cameo from someone you wouldn’t normally associate with the genre which executes the films biggest laugh. EDIT – OK, my esteemed editors have turned these around pretty fast.
Anyone hoping for any angelic comedy halo from Arrested Development to bless David Cross’s directorial debut – it also features a very short appearance of fellow Bluth buffoon Michael Cera – will ne sorely disappointed in this disastrous hipster bashing, civic situated, politically tepid comedy which prompted tumbleweeds of silence to drift through the screening space. Skewering the most loathed sub-culture of the internet age would be as simple as shooting Kobe carp in a retro-bootlegged barrel, but simply throwing out name checks to Reddit, Boing Boing and The Huffington Post (that great bastion of the revolutionary and chic next generation sophistication on the web) is as convincing as plastering each of this films poorly defined characters with amusing facial hair. It doesn’t help that the film is infested with horrible characters that you wouldn’t want to spend 30 seconds in an elevator let alone a champagne soaked evening at a San Francisco Social Media App hybrid launch, with the vapid, boorish and celebrity obsessed being unleavened of any commitment to silly 20th century elements such as jokes or well honed dialogue. This was a real drag even at a brisk 90 minutes, a film which appears to have been contrived around one solitary final joke which is eminently predictable, and hey isn’t mocking the alleged younger generations thirstless yearning for fame and celebrity just so darn edgy?
A little more welcoming but not thoroughly satisfying was Memphis, an atmospheric mood-piece which was almost laughable in its urge to tick the Sundance checklist – unusual characters and a wilful disregard for mainstream plotting techniques? Check. Poking the geographical camera into a little scene sector of modern mid-country America? Check. An embrace 0f an off-beat, alternative sourced music score? Triple-check. Non-professional actors sourced at location and a distancing choice of lensing compositions, edit lingers and unconventional focus pulls? Quadruple check with bells on. This wasn’t a bad film as it builds quite a pungent atmosphere of the musical city famous for its potent pedigree, but the lack of any tangible narrative at all eventually pushed me out of the location as the mind began to speculate and wonder what the point of this movie was – apparently none. It’s a film which deliberately eschews the explanatory montage of popular Memphis landmarks or tourist attractions in favour of a verite sound-mix (tweeting flora and fauna, distant bellowing train whistles) and images reminiscent of aspiring urban photographers documenting social disintegration – David Simon meets Pasolini which could have hugely benefitted from at least one thread of narrative development.
Finally The One I Love equalled Mumblecore meets The Twilight Zone in this two-hander where current favourite Elisabeth Warren and indie-cred crusader Mark Duplass play a couple in a deteriorating marriage, plunged into a bizarre parallel dimension where they meet themselves as the possible perfect suitors whilst on a therapy enforced isolated weekend getaway. It’s a common complaint of a films ambition exceeding its grasp, with the ideas and the consideration of the premise but that’s the case of this initially curious movie, but the premise soon wears thin due to script meandering so it’s patently obvious metaphors – can you every really know your partner – are appropriately exhumed. Still, the director (step son of Ted Danson and son of Alex) shows a little dexterity, being confined to one location can’t have been easy to muster even if it keeps the budget manageable, so maybe a sign of better things to come o my brother….EDIT – and another one…..