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Sundance - The In Review

The winners of the 2003 Sundance Film Festival were announced on the 26th of January. And of course I saw none of the movies that won. American Splendour received top honors for the dramatic feature and Capturing the Friedmans won for the documentary. Sundance gives out tons of honorary mentions and audience awards as well. I figure that since I'm obviously as important as the whole of the festival I should hand out something myself. Of the fifteen movies I saw at the festival, here is a list of those that I felt were quite the awesome gigs.

Should any of these films be released for a wider audience than the festival circuit, I shall write up a more extensive critique of them individually.

Shorts: I saw one selection of seven short films, as well as about four others, which preceded various movies. Of them all I was especially impressed by:
Most, Tromba D'Oro, Earthquake, Fits and Starts, The Occularist and Goodnight Valentino.

These movies all reminded me how cool the short form can be. They were all made with an exquisite mastery of film and an expert eye in regards to timing and use of the form to tell a story which in a longer film would have fallen flat or proven itself too melodramatic. Nearly all of the directors, when interviewed, have plans for working on features, but I hope that at least a couple of them try their hands at shorts a few more times.

A Certain Kind Of Death
This received one of the Special Jury Prizes for documentaries awarded this year. And it is well deserved. Directors, and all-around-nice-people, Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh, present a superbly made documentary about a gristly, unsettling subject. A Certain Kind Of Death details the journey of three unclaimed corpses as their deaths are investigated by the police, their bodies processed by the morgue and their belongings auctioned off. The movie is unsettling without employing too much shock value. The filmmakers offer no overt opinion on the goings-on, rather letting their images, and the morgue workers and the bodies tell their own story, themselves.

The Purified

One of the most inventive documentaries I've seen in years. The Purified is the third installment of a trilogy by Jesper Jargil on the Dogme 95 movement. Dogme is a set of commandment-like rules developed by Lars Von Trier; rules like: shooting must only occur on location-no sound stages, all lighting and sound effects and music must be provided naturally by the location - no special effects, nothing unbelievable can happen - no aliens, no big ass guns, no explosions. Jargil follows the four 'brethren' of the Dogme 95 movement, Lars Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Kristian Levering and Soren Kragh-Jacobsen as they attempt to make their movies while adhering to these strict rules. In addition to some in-depth behind-the-scenes footage, Jargil also films the four directors at a reunion as they watch his footage of them breaking the rules of Dogme. And let me tell you, there's nothing like watching four Danish directors bitch each other out.

Camp
One of the most enjoyable movies at the festival this year. Destined to be a cult classic, Camp tells the story of a summer theatre camp in upstate New York, it's got the kitsch and humor of Wet Hot American Summer tied up into a touching, if a little hammy, story with musical number that are beautifully choreographed and simply too much fun. Camp has an energy to it's writing and a pool of talent in its performers that guarantees the movie will go far and last for a very long time.

In America
A powerful, near perfect movie about Irish immigrants moving to modern day New York. While it doesn't push too many envelopes thematically, In America is a wonderful film, with performances from the entire cast that should garner plenty of praise. Serious props to the two girls, Emma and Sarah Bolger, who, at six and eleven, give two of the most impressive performances by child actors since Paper Moon.

28 Days Later…
I will admit that I was pretty mad at Danny Boyle. First he axes Ewen McGregor from one of his movies, and then he makes The Beach. I felt betrayed, trod upon and downright pissed off that he could waste himself so stupidly. But he's made one hell of a comeback. 28 days later… is one of the most chilling apocalyptic horror movies I've ever seen. Sure there's the hard to swallow pill of a crazy super-virus that wipes out the entirety of England in about two weeks by turning everyone into zombies, but Boyle digs so much deeper than the B-movie premise. In such a situation where would human nature fall? Do we really think that the survivors would band together and try to save the world? Or would we all try to save ourselves at any cost?

Off The Map
Campbell Scott's directorial debut is a simple sweet superbly graceful movie. Off The Map centers around a poor family living off the land of New Mexico. The desert is painted with almost a fantastical quality, and the movie is delivered with adept and very careful strokes from the actors and the cinematographer, and the director, alike. Such a simple story in anyone else's hands would probably have seemed trite, or dramatic, or boring, or just plain stupid; however the care with which Scott handles this movie proves that he is as skilled a director as he is an actor.

Dot The I
The Buzz was abounding with this one. Mathew Parkhill's first movie (both as the screenwriter and director) was being declared the Memento of 2003 as soon as it premiered. Dot the I is cool beyond words, and a real pleasure to watch. A crafty plot, along with some brilliant writing and acting, and fabulous sets provide for a movie that's as much a ride as it is a work of art. This was mine and almost everyone's favorite movie of the entire affair.

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--B.C. Edwards
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[email protected] | February 2003 | Issue 35
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