Xavier Dolan has grown quite the cult following in the cinephile community for his unique brand of arthouse cinema focused heavily on the human aspect. His first television series as a director, The Night Logan Woke Up, shares many of his trademarks, but the first two episodes aren’t enough to fully tell if it delivers.
The series follows a family whose dark past traumas resurface after the family reconvenes following the death of their matriarch. Based on Michel Marc Bouchard’s play La nuit où Laurier Gaudreault s'est réveillé, this plays like a small-town mystery not too dissimilar from something like Mare of Easttown, giving it significant breakout potential.
Dolan tells the story in a nonlinear way, cutting between the present day and the past, and this is the foundation of what makes the show “mysterious.” Although the structure is a bit cheap in how it withholds information from the viewer, the thing that keeps this from feeling gimmicky is that it’s a strong story even if it were told in a more straightforward manner.
That being said, the show lacks a consistent tone. For the most part, the series is dark and gritty, but other parts almost feel like it’s trying to be a dark comedy. Perhaps the show will be able to find its identity more clearly in the remaining three episodes as more of the mystery unfolds.
Like much of Dolan’s work, the part of this show that is most intriguing is the character work. Dolan knows how to take these characters that are somewhat off-kilter and make their drama and relationships feel entirely grounded and realistic. The first two episodes plant the seeds for the remaining three episodes to run with it.
The acting in the series is also strong, but that's no surprise considering that Dolan is considered an actor’s director. Julie LeBreton’s performance is admirably weird, serving as perfect foil to the performances of the actors that play her siblings: Patrick Hivon, Éric Bruneau, and Xavier Dolan.
Of course, the production values of the show are extremely strong. The score, by David Fleming and Hans Zimmer, is among the best music that you’ll find in any project on film or television this year. And the atmosphere that Dolan is able to build keeps the suspense high even when the plot is not firing on all cylinders.
The Night Logan Woke Up shows a ton of potential, but it will need to pick up the steam quickly to resolve the story in only three more hours. Although it’s not among Dolan’s strongest work, it has many of his trademarks that make it compelling.
The Night Logan Woke Up is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online. Two out of five episodes reviewed.
Review by Tatiana Miranda
With the latest rom-com renaissance, it was only a matter of time before a star-studded film in the vein of Love Actually and Valentine's Day would come out. In Maybe I Do, all the classic ensemble rom-com tropes are checked off. Missed connections? Check. Unrealistic coincidences? Check. Infidelity? Check, check, and check. Still, even with all of these typical and sometimes worn-out tropes, Maybe I Do can't help but stand out, most likely due to its unusual approach to the rom-com genre. While the movie is heavily marketed as a rom-com, its themes are more akin to a Noah Baumbach film. Contemplative and heartfelt, Maybe I Do attempts to take itself more seriously than most of its genre contemporaries.
Filled with established stars, such as Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Diane Keaton, and William H. Macy, Maybe I Do also marks the on-screen reunion of Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey, who starred in the Netflix rom-com Holidate three years prior. Although the two appear to play more minor roles compared to the rest of the cast, it's still a clever casting choice that calls back to other iconic rom-com duos, such as Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Maybe I Do opens with the fated meeting of characters Sam and Grace at a movie theater. Both are clearly lacking companionship, although it is revealed later that both characters are in long-term marriages. Through their late-night conversations filled with contemplation on relationships and happiness, the audience watches as the two come close to having an affair. Interspliced with scenes showcasing Sam and Grace's emotional connection are shots of the seductive Monica as she tries to lure Howard into sleeping with her. Even though Howard is clearly uninterested in her in these scenes, the purely sexual nature of their relationship is evident to the viewer.
After an unfortunate incident at a friend's wedding, young couple Allen and Michelle discuss the future of their relationship. Michelle is more optimistic about the prospect of marriage; meanwhile, Allen believes the change will spoil their current relationship. As they separately discuss their predicament with their parents, it becomes clear that their parents' relationships heavily influence their perspectives. In an attempt to salvage their relationship, Allen and Michelle plan to have dinner with their parents, which of course, doesn't go as planned.
Perhaps Maybe I Do's biggest flaw is its attempt to fit into the rom-com genre, as it is infinitely more philosophical than humorous. Although it's filled with comical and sometimes cheesy scenarios, it is ultimately an interesting look at the way parents impact the way their children perceive and sometimes inadvertently ruin their relationships. Throughout the movie, the older characters question whether infidelity makes them inherently bad people and how they set the path for their children's futures. With some tonal changes, Maybe I Do could have given dramatic directors such as Noah Baumbach a run for their money, but instead, it will likely become one of the more forgettable rom-coms to come out of recent years.
Maybe I Do releases in theaters on January 27.
Review by Camden Ferrell
Brandon Cronenberg may be forever attached to the name of his legendary father David Cronenberg, but he has truly forged a unique path in his career. Much like his father, he has found ways to mesmerize audiences with disturbing imagery and body horror, most recently with films like 2020’s Possessor. His newest movie premiering this year at the Sundance Film Festival is no different. Infinity Pool revels in his signature depravity and graphic imagery as it tells a weird yet captivating story.
James and Em are a couple enjoying their luxurious beach vacation in an exotic country. All is well until they wander off the resort’s premises with a seductive and mysterious woman named Gabi. Very quickly, they are taken on a journey that will expose the violence and horror in the world they’re now in. While the set up might not be anything unheard of, this movie knows how to keep audiences guessing with an outlandishly weird story that remains unpredictable from start to finish.
Cronenberg’s writing is just as strong as it was on his previous film. His movies have never been masterclasses in dialogue, but they are still quite engaging and competent in that regard. He has an interesting way of crafting character interactions that feel relatable despite the increasingly disturbing circumstances of the film. His writing is able to briskly progress the story without sacrificing any tricks hidden up his sleeve.
The acting in this movie is superb. Led by Alexander Skarsgard, this movie gives the cast the unique opportunity to lose control and act out utter insanity. Skarsgard is no stranger to the weirder side of cinema, and this movie gave him an impressive opportunity to act within this disturbed and violent world. In addition to him, Mia Goth also gives an engaging and enigmatic performance as Gabi, the young woman who encourages James and Em to venture off the property.
The movie is just as violent, graphic, and disturbing as one could hope for. It perfectly captures the dizzying depravity the world has to offer. There is some utterly immersive imagery in this movie that is jarring and impossible to look away from. This is definitely a story that will alienate many viewers and is far from agreeable for a movie being released on this wide a scale. It has some slow moments and plot progression that could be executed better, but this is still an insane movie that audiences should remain open minded to.
Fans of Cronenberg style body horror are going to find at least one thing to enjoy about Infinity Pool. Even if the unorthodox story and graphic imagery don’t appeal to you, one could still appreciate the organized chaos of this world and the talent of all the actors who are able to bring it to life. This is another unique movie from Brandon Cronenberg that shows him quickly coming out from behind his father’s shadow.
Infinity Pool is in theaters January 27.
Review by Sean Boelman
Harrison Ford is a movie star, so it’s interesting to see that only in recent years has he begun to dip his toes into serialized content (he can also be currently seen leading the Yellowstone spin-off 1923). However, his role in Shrinking gives him an opportunity to show a side of his range that many people had likely forgotten about, as the hysterical co-star of an equally funny comedy series created by Jason Segel alongside Ted Lasso’s Brett Goldstein and Bill Lawrence.
The show follows a grieving therapist who starts an unorthodox new method — telling his patients the complete, unfiltered truth without any regard to the consequences. It’s a premise that seems like a setup for some pretty absurd antics, and while the show does feature some of the protagonist’s ill-advised adventures with his patients, the better parts dive deeper into his own personal life.
As one would expect from a show created by this group, Shrinking is absolutely hilarious. Much of the humor is of the lighthearted yet cringe-inducing variety, capitalizing on the awkward situations in which the characters find themselves to get a quick laugh out of the audience. But even for those who aren’t a fan of that style of humor, there are plenty of quips and one-liners to keep them invested.
However, like Ted Lasso, the thing that really allows this show to soar is how endearing it is. The family drama aspects are surprisingly raw, and while some of the plot points throughout the season begin to feel a tad melodramatic — particularly the various romantic goings on for the characters — the writers know exactly how to pull on the heartstrings in the right way.
The main draw for the series is the cast, led by phenomenal turns from Jason Segel and Harrison Ford. For the most part, Segel is doing his usual schtick — a charming but slightly dopey dude lacking in social tendencies — but it’s a perfect match for what this show is doing. Ford, on the other hand, is doing something rather off-type and absolutely knocks it out of the park.
Yet even though Segel and Ford are the big stars, don’t ignore the strong supporting cast. Jessica Williams is beyond hilarious in her role, and Lukita Maxwell is pretty phenomenal as the emotional backbone of the series, playing Segel’s character’s daughter in a way that is surprisingly light on teenage cliches.
From a technical level, the show isn’t anything special. It’s a pretty standard single-cam sitcom setup that doesn’t do much to deviate from the formula. Still, there is a sort of comfort in the familiarity of the style — a callback to the sitcoms we grew up with and made us laugh on a weekly basis.
Shrinking will go down as one of the best new comedies to debut in the year, not because it reinvents the genre, but because it pulls it off so effectively that it’s hard not to love. Hopefully audiences will fall in love with these characters too so we can see more of their mis(adventures).
Shrinking streams on Apple TV+ beginning January 27. Nine out of ten episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
All it takes for an animated film to break out beyond its seemingly humble origins is a strong voice cast, and The Amazing Maurice has plenty of stars that elevate it above its somewhat subpar material. Too silly for adults, but too dark for younger kids, The Amazing Maurice struggles to effectively balance its tone but is kept afloat by some inspired performances.
The movie follows a talking cat and his horde of surprisingly literate cats as they set off on an adventure that snowballs into something bigger than they ever could have expected. It’s an action-packed childrens’ adventure, but it moves at a pace that is perhaps a bit too rapid for its own good.
What likely earned this film its spot in the Sundance lineup is its superb voice ensemble who, for the most part, disappear into their roles. Hugh Laurie is ineffably charming as the eponymous talking cat, capturing an unexpected level of arrogance. The voices of the rats include David Tennant, Gemma Arterton, and a surprising standout in Joe Sugg, who is the most charming part of the movie by far. The only people who feel underused are Patel and Clarke as the human sidekicks of the animal heroes.
The animation is rather mixed in its quality. While the character design is strong, getting a lot of emotion out of the rats, in particular, the animation of the settings could have used more detail to be immersive. With all of the animated films that have been set in alternate storybook worlds, it’s disappointing that this one feels rather bland.
There is one subplot in the movie — involving Himesh Patel and Emilia Clarke’s character going on a quest to find a seemingly cannibalistic version of the Pied Piper (voiced by a deliriously funny Rob Brydon) — and it’s quite dark for a film that is otherwise seemingly aimed at a pre-school audience. Indeed, the entire third act takes a twisted turn that leads to a feeling of confusion over who this movie is really for.
The film does lose its way several times throughout its runtime, largely due to the decision to split up its characters at several points. Although many of the individual adventures the characters go on are amusing, presenting them in an almost vignette-like manner creates a very disorienting feeling that ends up being rather frustrating.
The characters are lovable enough, but that is likely more due to the work of children’s book author Terry Pratchett, who created the source material on which the movie is based, than the script writers. Still, it’s hard not to get behind this adorable makeshift family formed between the rats and their feline and human companions.
The Amazing Maurice certainly has some cute moments, but it’s so overwhelming and hyperactive that it tends to be more frustrating than it is enjoyable. Still, for younger audiences with shorter attention spans, this could be mindless enough fun — so long as they aren’t scared by the rather macabre finale.
The Amazing Maurice is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.
Review by Sean Boelman
Ever since the Star Wars sequel trilogy concluded, Daisy Ridley has been looking for a film to headline to adequately showcase her talent. The comedy-drama Sometimes I Think About Dying gets a good performance out of her, but it is in spite of a script that strains to find a meaning in its premise.
The movie follows a shy woman working in an office where she feels like she doesn’t belong, as she sparks an interest in the new guy, causing her to rethink her opinion on the mundanity of life. Based on the short film of the same name, the movie really struggles to find enough momentum to sustain even ninety minutes of runtime.
There’s an air of awkwardness to the whole affair — enough to make viewers feel uncomfortable, but not enough to be humorous. The script tries to split the difference between deadpan and realism, and as a result, it ends up feeling rather off-putting. It really needed to either go more exaggerated or more low-key to be effective.
Throughout the movie, there are also brief flashes of existentialism — those alluded to by the title — in the form of daydreams experienced by Ridley’s character. However, these moments don’t really leave much of an impact, nor do they cohere together into a particularly interesting exploration of the themes.
What we are left with instead is a relatively average satire of the mundanity of office life. Given how much media has done this in the past, and much more effectively, it’s disappointing that the movie refuses to add anything new to the conversation. There’s nothing particularly disagreeable about the film, but it also doesn’t feel like anything that needs to be seen.
The romance at the core of the movie is admirably cute, and provides for a few moments that will crack a smile on the face of most viewers. However, the protagonist feels so detached from the life she lives that we, as the audience, will become detached from her. As a result, we often end up siding with her love interest over her, which was clearly not the intention.
Daisy Ridley’s performance is solid, as she manages to capture the adorably weird quality that is necessary to pull the role off. However, given that the role is largely deadpan and emotionless, she doesn’t show much in the way of range. Supporting actor Dave Merheje is arguably more interesting, getting more of the film’s funny moments than its star.
Many viewers will likely seek out Sometimes I Think About Dying exclusively on the account of Daisy Ridley’s performance, and she’s good enough to deserve it. However, the movie does feel like it’s missing something to make the satire truly click.
Sometimes I Think About Dying is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.
Review by Sean Boelman
Sundance’s opening night usually features some of the highest-profile premieres of the event, and this year, The Pod Generation fits that bill. With an A-list cast and a high-concept sci-fi premise that is full of potential, it’s a shame that Sophie Barthes’s romantic comedy isn’t better than it is.
The film is set in a future where couples are able to have biological children without getting pregnant via external “pods” as one couple finds themselves torn between embracing the future and staying with what is “natural.” It’s certainly an intriguing premise, but unfortunately, it is not expanded upon in a way that is particularly compelling.
For a movie that has so much on its mind, it’s disappointing to see it do frustratingly little. Barthes’s script posits several interesting questions about parenthood, including the big one — what does it mean to be a parent? — but her idea of satire seems to be simply commenting on these issues without engaging them in a particularly interesting way.
Barthes also clearly thinks that she has made something hilarious and witty, when in reality, the humor is about as rudimentary as it gets. There are several points in which you can almost feel the gap that was left in the dialogue for a laugh that never comes, such as one scene in which there is a hard cut after a fight to the husband begrudgingly complying with his wife’s wishes.
Still, even with its shallow commentary and unfunny humor, the film could have succeeded had the audience been able to feel any sort of emotional connection with the characters. It’s ironic — tragic even — that a movie poking fun at our disconnection with the world feels so cold and stolid itself. But unfortunately, we don’t really get to know enough about these characters to care about what happens to them.
Even the talented cast is wasted. Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) does much of the heavy lifting, but she feels woefully miscast here, lacking the comedic timing to pull this off. Chiwetel Ejiofor shows more potential, but he struggles to channel his inner Cary Grant to Clarke’s lame attempt at Katherine Hepburn in this dour modernization of screwball comedy.
The one thing that this film does get right is its production design. The world that Clem Price Thomas has built to bring Barthes’s vision to life is wholly immersive, setting up a wonderful satire only for the script to cause it to falter. All of the most interesting ideas in the movie come from the visual elements, such as the pods themselves.
The Pod Generation has the makings of an intriguing sci-fi satire, but the script is so full of itself that it fails to be entertaining or thought-provoking. It’s a film that feels like it was made by someone who envies the off-the-grid lifestyle but doesn’t really understand what it entails.
The Pod Generation is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Sometimes there is that moment when you're watching a film and realize you have no idea what you're watching. Matt Kiel's Unicorn Boy, an animated movie premiering at the Slamdance Film Festival, has plenty of those moments. It's a story about himself and has a pretty good cast of relative newcomers, reality show stars, and established actors, but it's an oddball LGBT story that is a bit out there.
Matty (Mett Kiel) is a struggling artist in Los Angeles. In the bathroom at his local coffee shop, they unceremoniously get sucked into an alternate dimension where everybody is unicorns. They go on an adventure to save the land of Inhorning from the evil dark horse with some of the new friends they meet on the way. Their unicorn friends Prince Purpleton (Sarah Natochenny), King Uniturious (Patten Oswalt), and Queen Junipero (Maria Bamford), are the rulers of the land, and Peanut Butter Sparkle (Cindy Padoala).
Before they get sucked into the unicorn land, Matty has a world with friends such as Sethward, a reality show star, Mark, and Nancy. They go to the local coffee shop and have a normal life with each other. Matty is getting over a relationship that has taken a toll on them. They haven't handled it very well. Matty has a good support system even though they feel helpless in their pursuit. This is what spawns this magical world they imagine in their head. It's not an easy time!
Kiel writes and directs this film which is an analogy of their life in animated form. The film is based on his insecurities about who they are as a person. All the characters in unicorn land represent people in the real world. They create this world to figure out what's going on in their world. This is all in their head. It helps to deal with their life outside of the world. It even has dark and bright elements representing the good and bad in life.
The animation style is a bit amateurish but it is effective in getting the point across of the land. Many odd creatures and characters live and flourish in this magical land with plenty of crazy looks. There are a lot of rainbow colors, along with purples and pinks. They represent who Matty wants to be in real life without knowing it yet. There is also a series of phone calls that connect Matty with their ex-girlfriend, also animated.
This film truthfully tells the story of someone conflicted about their identity. This entire journey of self-discovery is all in their head and fully animated. This type of story is a little out of my wheelhouse, but it was pretty obvious from the animation style and story within it. A lot of people will be able to relate to this coming-out story.
We all have ways to get our frustrations out, and in the case of Matt Kiel, it was making a movie about their life. This magical world represents what's in their head, and the other characters are the real world. Though a little out of the ordinary, the animation effectively shows the two sides of this person's life.
Unicorn Boy is playing as part of the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival, which runs in-person in Park City, UT from January 20-26 and online from January 23-29.
Review by Sean Boelman
Recent years have exposed the fact that law enforcement is almost entirely inept, particularly when it comes to crimes against Indigenous people and people of color. There is no better proof of this broken system than the crimes discussed in the docuseries Murder in Big Horn, an essential expose of how the system has failed those it is meant to protect.
The documentary investigates the disappearance and murders of dozens of Indigenous women and girls in Big Horn County, Montana and other Native communities across the country — and how local law enforcement generally turns a blind eye towards them. It starts like a true crime documentary, but as the story begins to unfold, we realize that this is a much bigger issue.
This show is just a truly devastating, depressing watch. It’s certainly not an easy story to watch, but the discomfort that it will make viewers feel is what will make it so effective. We need to feel uncomfortable about these things that are somehow still happening in our society, because feeling uncomfortable about it is the only way someone will fix it.
One of the most valuable aspects of this series is how it exposes the injustices of the American justice system. It’s truly shocking and disgusting to see the bureaucracy and hoops that must be jumped through in order for these girls’ cases even to be investigated — much less brought to justice. It’s disappointing that people refuse to come together to solve these tragedies — and worse yet — allow them to happen again.
Admittedly, it does feel at times as if Benally and Galkin cast too wide of a net. Although they do an excellent job of showing how frustratingly common these tragedies are, it feels like they feature too many individual subjects. Of course, there is still a fine line to be tread — if too much depth is given, it can feel like the filmmakers are taking advantage of the tragedy — and the series manages to stay entirely respectful.
Still, Benally and Galkin’s execution is sure to elicit a very visceral reaction out of the viewer. It is hard to foresee any viewer watching this show and not feeling absolutely disgusted at the justice system. There are several points in the show in which you may feel tempted to shout at the screen in anger at what has been allowed to happen, but that is the nature of these systemic problems.
As is the case with many documentaries made for cable television, the execution here is very polished. However, Benally and Galkin recognize that the power of this story is the story itself. Yes, the cinematography and score are quite good — but they aren’t so flashy as to distract from the subject matter.
Murder in Big Horn is undoubtedly one of the more angering and difficult-to-watch documentaries you will see this year, but it calls attention to a very real issue that is still in need of a solution. It’s a powerful, well-executed work of cinematic activism that manages to make its point well without feeling insensitive towards the victims of these tragedies or their families.
Murder in Big Horn is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online. All three episodes reviewed.
Review by Sean Boelman
In recent years, the NEXT category at Sundance has been home to some idiosyncratic features, but nothing as truly experimental as Alison O’Daniel’s The Tuba Thieves. While the film does lack a sense of focus that it needed to tie itself together, it is such a fantastic experiment in filmmaking that it is hard not to be fascinated by it.
The film explores the filmmaker’s own experience with hearing loss against the backdrop of a series of robberies in Southern California targeting tubas. As is the case with many experimental films, this is the type of movie that you admire more than you enjoy it, but O’Daniel’s vision is so distinctive that it demands to be seen.
O’Daniel weaves between stories in an almost vignette-like manner, with thematic connections linking the various images we see. For audiences who are not a fan of experimental narratives like this, it’s possible that their patience will wear out quickly. And while the project doesn’t cohere as much as one would like, there are some individual moments that are absolutely brilliant.
The most interesting thing about the film is how it experiments with the cinematic form. O’Daniel uses common techniques in uncommon ways to create a cinematic experience unlike any other. For example, the use of the entire frame’s space as a canvas for captioning really reinforces the captions as a part of the creation rather than an ancillary tool.
Of course, the film also uses sound in unique, impressive ways, creating an interplay between silence and noise that creates a disorienting effect. Audiences will be transfixed by the experimental style of the film and absorbed in the world that O’Daniel creates, even if they don’t entirely understand the story.
Admittedly, the title and premise are a bit misleading, as the storyline of the tubas being stolen is hardly the focus of the film, instead serving as a recurring motif. It seems clear that O’Daniel is trying to create a parallelism between this story and her experience with hearing loss, and while she isn’t always effective at making that connection, the film at least deserves admiration for its ambition.
In a way, it feels almost as if O’Daniel is painting with too large of a stroke. The film is at its most interesting when it explores the relationship between its two main subjects, Nyke and Nature Boy. The other story threads are used to help solidify the themes but are too underdeveloped to work in their own right.
The Tuba Thieves is a movie that many people aren’t going to understand, much less enjoy. However, it is clearly one of the most ambitious, singular works of experimental filmmaking in recent memory, even if it doesn’t always sink all of the shots it makes.
The Tuba Thieves is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.