After all, it's just a ride….

Sundance London 2014 – Day Two

frankA slightly less strenuous programme for Day Two, with a mere three films to inflate the haul – tempo and temperance wins the race. Fortunately the line-up was a little stronger with three for three  today, not necessarily any classics but a trio of imperfect but engaging films, but already we can detect a couple of trends across the programme. First of all maybe it’s not a trait restricted to American independent cinema but three pictures so far have relied heavily on social media and internet culture not just as background static but actual plot drivers and narrative goals, with occasional extracts from a characters communication device or their twitter feed scrolling across the screen – curious. Secondly most of these films seem to emerge from a quirky or unusual premise not necessarily attuned to mainstream cinema audiences – par for the course for smaller scale, miniscule budgeted projects across the globe – but there does seem to be some difficulty with taking these unusual ideas and frameworks through to a natural, organic and most importantly satisfying conclusion, with the steam running out at a script and imagination level as the movies shift into their final act. Hopefully I can quantify these traits in more specialised reviews  but lets get going with the capsule overviews, beginning with the most anticipated film of the festival from the Menagerie’s perspective;

Fruitvale Station is the non-fiction inspired story of Oscar Grant, a young African-American guy and his tragic experience at the hands of the brutal San Francisco BART unit, one of the higher profile festival movies making waves across the Atlantic. Whilst I always attempt to evade the dreaded ‘spoilers’ it’s a bit stupid to attempt such irrelevancies given the facts of the case and it’s notoriety across the web, it is much more interesting to talk about how this film is told. It’s a debut from a recent Sundance alumni and a scorching film which doesn’t pull its punches, refusing to hagiograph the guy and his problematic history, and that even-handed approach doesn’t invalidate the injustice pulsing at the films core. I’ll just say that its immediately gripping as it takes into areas devoid in mainstream American cinema – not just from a racial but also a social and class perspective – which despite a few minor metaphoric missteps is overall a scorching piece of work – highly recommended and the best of the festival so far.

This one shot out of the blue, you’d have thought that a sick fuck like moi would be on top of any horror/comic hybrid but here we mischievously are. An unfortunately miscast Ryan Reynolds (Anthony Perkins or Christian Bale he is not) is a post-psychotic weirdo plagued with the barked instructions of his pets to follow his murderous urges, his local dog playing the angelic foil to a satanic tabby urging him to surrender to his blood drenched desires. There’s a few dangerously framed actresses flitting around the downscale toy factory (Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton,) where Reynolds works, while Jacqui Weaver plays his increasingly concerned psychiatrist. Comedy/Horror is a very difficult mixture to embalm and unfortunately the film is unsure just which way and just how far it should go, the jokes don’t quite strike while the gruesome pantomime also has the dexterity of a Shergar stuffed cadaver. It’s a little unfair of me as I really wanted the film to go much darker and edgier territory than the filmmakers were willing to pursue, it needed more of a John Waters edge to the malevolent mix, but I’ll admit that it did hold the attention until the aforementioned one hour plus mark when my attention started to drift. Still, the cat’s voiceover was quite funny (and checking out IMDB I’m surprised to see that Reynolds did the voiceover for both animals, the cat in particular sounded exactly like Peter Mullan) and generated quite a few laughs among the audience, but please people, pay more attention to the climax of your pictures if you really want to make something memorable.

While I’ll be skipping The Trip To Italy having seen the first three half hour episodes on UK terrestrial TV (wasn’t the last one a severe slip in quality? Enough with the same impressions already!) but I couldn’t ‘face myself’ in the mirror if I missed Frank, the other entry of the UK specific strand of the festival. Utilising the idiosyncratic life and career of cult British eccentric Frank Sidebottom the film is less the expected bio-pic of this unique figure than it is a musical muse on the artistic method, framed through the quiet frustration of Jon’s (Dornhnall Glesson) suburban ennui. He’s a frustrated keyboard player press-ganged into Franks eccentric band of musician oddities, most notably Maggie Gyllenhaal ‘s Yoko Ono / Nico from the Velvet Underground hybrid, squirreled away with similar nutcases at a remote Irish holiday cottage to record the worlds greatest rock record. This is much more gentle comedy that anticipated which sidelines Frank in favour of Jon’s artistic odyssey, yet you’ve got to admire Fassbender’s acceptance of performing an entire film behind an immovable paper-Mache mask – now that man’s got a sense of constrained humour. Once again when the film  stumbles into its final stretch the composition loses its nerve and starts to run out of ideas, but it has the good graces to close on a lovely encore which should send the audiences toe-tapping out of the auditorium. But what you really want to know is if like that other masked UK cult figure Judge Dredd you will actually see the man behind the mask – and I’m staying schtum….

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