By Sean Boelman
The 2021 Sundance Film Festival had the premiere of plenty of great films which remained in the conversation throughout the year, and 2022’s lineup looks to be much of the same. With a slate that includes plenty of high-profile premieres with big directors and stars, as well as plenty of exciting indie films from across the world waiting to be discovered, this year looks to be a strong one.
We at disappointment media are excited to be covering the 2022 virtual edition of the Sundance Film Festival. Here are some of our thoughts on some of the films we have been able to screen! Be sure to check back on this article regularly, as we will be adding more capsule reviews throughout the festival.
Bradley Rust Grey’s romantic drama blood is certainly a very intimate film, even if that feeling of intimacy doesn’t always translate into genuine emotion. Following a widow who travels to Japan and is embraced by an old friend, it’s quite pensive but not in a way that is overly gloomy. This is a film that deals more in mood than anything else, and it doesn’t have the substance to back up its nearly two-hour runtime. That said, Carla Juri’s performance is effectively tender, and those who are satisfied with watching her vibe in Japan for the length of a feature may find this more entertaining.
Premiering in the World Cinema Dramatic competition, Girl Picture is the type of coming-of-age drama that confuses edginess for insight. Although the film is sure to find it’s fair share of fans — it’s stylistically interesting, and its frank look at rebellious youth will connect with many — Alli Haapasalo’s film ends up feeling like an imitation of better films that came before, which is disappointing given the fact that it so desperately wants to stand out amongst the pack. The three lead actresses all give strong performances, but that’s hardly enough to carry a script that is far more standard than its ideas.
Nina Menkes’s film theory documentary Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power has an interesting thesis about the objectification and commoditization of women’s bodies in cinema, but it is argued in such a frustrating way that the film becomes quite angering. Menkes entirely dismisses anything that is presented satirically, and also almost everything that shows women reclaiming their sexuality (even in films directed by women). Yet Menkes gives herself (and a select few others) praise for the same work that she shames others for? Even more embarrassing is the fact that the film makes some genuinely ignorant points that verge on conspiracy theory. This film’s heart is in the right place, but it’s not effective in execution.
James Ponsoldt’s filmography has been a wild ride, with the generally acclaimed The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour being bright spots, and his last film, the (perhaps unfairly) maligned The Circle stalling his work. Well the “kids” movie Summering is a career-killer, a truly atrocious film in a way that is just hilariously misguided. It’s like a modern riff on Stand by Me that doesn’t make any sense, with characters that have no reason to be friends other than their proximity, and a cast with no chemistry whatsoever. And there are some scenes in the film so laughably bad that you will be wheezing.
Ramin Bahrani is a filmmaker known for his propensity for social subtext, but his newest film, the documentary 2nd Chance, is surprisingly and disappointingly flat. Telling the story of the pizzeria owner who became an entrepreneur when he invented the bulletproof vest, this is one of those documentaries that is meant to be a wild but true story, but this isn’t as crazy of a tale as Bahrani seems to think it is. In fact, Bahrani can’t seem to decide what angle to take on his subject: is he a Byronic hero with a tragic rise and fall, or a bad guy representing the worst of capitalism? By the end, the audience won’t really care.
By Sean Boelman
After a virtual edition in 2021 that was one of the most successful and talked about film festivals of the year, Sundance hoped to return in 2022 with a hybrid edition to knock cinephiles’ socks off. And while Omicron did derail those plans, Sundance went ahead with an all-virtual edition on the same dates, with only one film in the selection opting out of the pivot.
As a result, film fans across the United States have the opportunity to watch all of the great films that are part of this year’s Sundance lineup from the comfort of their own home. From high-profile premieres of star-studded projects to new discoveries of independent films from the U.S. and abroad, there are plenty of great films to choose from.
We at disappointment media are excited to be covering the 2022 edition of the Sundance Film Festival, and we have gotten the chance to see some of the films that will be playing at the fest beforehand. Here are some of the films that we think you shouldn’t miss this opportunity to see them now:
The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future
There is always at least one major discovery to be found in the World Cinema Dramatic competition at Sundance, and hopefully this year, it is the Chilean film The Cow Who Sang a Song Into the Future. There are a lot of moving parts in Francisca Alegria’s drama but they all come together in a way that is profound and poetic. Alegria sets out to explore its central themes in the human drama while also offering a timely environmentalist message, and she pulls it off very confidently, especially given that this is her first feature.
One of the highest-profile films to premiere at this year’s festival, Dual is sure to earn some eyes thanks to it’s A-list cast. Director Riley Stearns’s follow-up to cult-favorite dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense, this film yet again uses his deadpan style, albeit this time in the context of a sci-fi premise. Karen Gillan plays a woman with a terminal illness who clones herself, but then must fight her clone in a duel to the death when she miraculously recovered. It’s a wild premise that’s just as wild in execution as it sounds. You won’t want to miss this.
The French abortion drama Happening was one of three films that France was considering to submit for the Academy Award for Best International Feature (a submission which was given to the not-shortlisted Titane), and they made the wrong choice by not selecting it. Audrey Diwan’s film is absolutely harrowing, and while it deals with subject matter that has been explored in several films recently, none of them has had as visceral of an impact as this one does. It’s a bit on the graphic side, so it’s not for the faint-of-heart, but it’s the type of film that will leave the viewer feeling shaken.
The crisis involving Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was a major news event in 2014, and while that is a major plot point in Maryna Er Gorbach’s film Klondike, there is much more to the film than that. It’s really the story of a family torn apart by the uncertainty of war. It’s the type of film that is just building and building and you’re waiting for it to explode, and once it finally does, it just absolutely crushes you. It’s understated, yet impactful in its approach, and something that will linger long after the credits roll.
Sundance documentaries can be a bit hit-or-miss, but Sierra Pettengill’s Riotsville, USA is one of the most successful in recent memory. Composed entirely of archive footage, the film explores a training compound to help the military and law enforcement prepare to respond to the protests and riots happening in the 1960s. There is an eerie parallelism to be drawn between what was happening then and now, especially in regards to how the government saw it, which makes this one of the most angering films to play at this year’s festival.
The 2022 Sundance Film Festival runs virtually from January 20-30.
The Criterion Voyages (Spine #779): MULHOLLAND DRIVE -- A Mindbending Trip Into the Head of David Lynch
By Dan Skip Allen
Mulholland Drive is a famous street above Los Angeles and has a mystique like no other in Hollywood. So go figure one of the most mysterious filmmakers in Hollywood, David Lynch, would make a movie named after this street. The film lives up to the name because it's a weird film, not unlike Lynch's other films and television work like Twin Peaks and Eraserhead.
The film starts with a memorable credits scene with a car driving down Mulholland Drive. The car stops and the men inside tell a woman (Laura Harring) to get out. At that moment, two cars are racing down the street and one of them runs into the limo, sending it careening into a nearby ditch. The woman crawls out of the car and stumbles around, eventually walking down a hill and falling asleep by a bush. She wakes up and goes into another woman's home while she's gone.
That's the beginning of this crazy Hollywood story. It's even wilder than it sounds, though. When the woman's niece (Naomi Watts) comes to stay in the house, she helps the woman who now has amnesia find out what is going on. They work together to uncover this mystery. The film also focuses on a film director (Justin Theroux) and a bunch of shady gangsters and assorted other weirdos in darkened rooms and cowboy figures. This film is one of the weirdest David Lynch has ever done, but it's done very well like all of his movies are except Dune.
Lynch infuses this film with everything including the kitchen sink. It has a noir feel to t even though much of it is set during the daytime. Lynch knows how to add odd moments like when the two women visit a theater with a trumpet player and then the room turns blue or when the director visits a cowboy at a horse ranch. He talks to him in weird language or riddles if you will. All Lynch's trademark tropes are in this film. The 4K version helps all the colors stand out as well.
The technical aspects of the film are very good as well. The score by Angelo Badalamenti is moody and helps set the atmosphere while it has a song sung at the theater that is breathtakingly amazing. The cinematography by Peter Deming and production design are both very good. This film goes to a bunch of locations and they all look gorgeous and have a vibe all their own. Only David Lynch could have made this wild, outside-the-box (pun intended) film. It has so much craziness in it it's hard to describe it and what's going on.
The cast has some amazing cameos full of stars viewers might recognize like Robert Forster as a police detective, Billy Ray Cyrus who's having an affair with Justin Theroux's character's wife, Michael J. Anderson as the man in the darkroom, and Dan Hedaya as a gangster. That's just the tip of the iceberg of all the weird and interesting casting choices. Lynch always picks interesting people for roles in his film. This one is no different.
Mulholland Drive is among a plethora of David Lynch films in the Criterion Collection. Among them, this one might be the most metta considering it's a film about making a film. It has a lot of other aspects as well: a noir, a mystery, and a love letter to Hollywood. Lynch shows in this film how much he loves Hollywood in his weird and offbeat way... the only way he knows how to make a film. Lynch was nominated for the best academy award for his work on the film. It was very deserved.
By Sarah Williams
Cinessance is a new streaming service that intends to be the first US streamer exclusively for French film. As an alternative to arthouse streaming like Mubi or Criterion Channel, what Cinessance programs isn't bound as much by pedigree in critical circles or international precedent, but a subsection of French film that tends to stay within national borders. It is worth a wonder as to who tends to subscribe to specialty streaming services, whether it’s cinephiles committed to finding legal access to rarer classics, or a casual viewer who likes a particular formula. The selection favors a more traditional breed of cinema, steering clear of genre pictures, but that isn’t to say there’s no potential for the best of this populist simplicity to slip through. If you enjoyed Cédric Klapisch’s The Spanish Apartment, some deeper cuts like Russian Dolls and Family Resemblances are now streamable, and recommended. It’s also nice to see a small family section, particularly after recent online discourse as to whether non-English cinema precludes a ‘snobbish’ set of interests. The democratization of non-Anglo culture is of course commendable, especially as a selection of kid-friendly films is incredibly helpful for promoting early language learning, something harder to achieve with other, solely-adult specialty services.
Perhaps it is wrong of me to criticize a service for what is not. There is a solid start for a platform of largely '90s and '00s French film that isn’t easy to find overseas. While major arthouse features, and controversy-drivers, tend to make it across the ocean, the language of French comedy is largely lost on audiences that can access little of it. While it would be nice to see more from the era (I’m particularly partial to a lot of the '80s/'90s films by women that writer Françoise Audé championed), there is a skewed perception of popular French film in the US, and the platform does change that, by providing more of it, though near exclusively this palatable portion. In terms of the addition of more recent releases, Mélanie Laurent-starring Return of the Hero is under the coming soon subheader. It’s a lightly comedic, pleasant historical drama of small scale, and a good sample for the sort of content that Cinessance distributes.
This week, the streaming platform added a hub to watch both the short and feature lineups of My French Film Festival. While the shorts are free in other places (personal highlights I’ve seen in the past from the lineup are Hold Me Tight and Little Bear), the feature film selection is more exclusive, often boasting premieres for films that do not have US distribution, this year, MFFF includes major festival titles of the past year such as Honey Cigar, All Hands On Deck, and Nadia Butterfly, as well as underseen Marguerite Duras adaptation The Lover. These films engage France, and its film culture, in a broader world context, and give a greater perspective than what the initial streaming lineup may show. This partnership shows a lot of potential for what the service can become, with events to connect a past and present of French film beyond Breathless or Amélie.
By Dan Skip Allen
Uncut Gems was like a whirlwind when it came out in 2019. It showed people Adam Sandler was more than the SNL goofy comedy guy. He was now considered a serious actor in a lot of people's minds, enough so that he was being tapped as an Oscar contender. This is with great respect. He wasn't nominated, but the role of Howard Ratner is such a realistic portrayal it's scary.
Adam Sandler plays the owner of a jewelry shop that deals in rare gems, watches, and other rare antiquities. He gets in over his head with a loan shark and it causes him problems with his family, mainly his wife (Idina Menzel), and his other business associates. A long-term deal that he had been working on could be the answer to all his problems.
Adam Sandler has a skittish nature to his character. The slick nature of Howard Ratner plays into Sandler's sensibilities as an actor. Sandler is used to playing the everyman that people can relate to or quirky oddballs in his film career. This is totally different for him in his career. He played into the script perfectly. His style melded with the script like they were meant to be together.
The Saftie Brothers (Good Time) have the reputation of guerilla filmmaking and quick cuts and fast-paced storytelling. This film has that. The story moves very fast and it's hard to keep up with at times. This world of these shady people keeps the film moving and it's not clear where or when it'll end. It is like a merry go round and they create a film like nothing I've seen in my entire life. This is a seminal film.
The cast in this film is amazing besides Sandler and Menzel. Lakeith Stanfield, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Judas and the Black Messiah last year, plays a hustler and business associate of Sandler's character. Boston Celtics champion NBA legend Kevin Garnett plays himself and he is great in the film as an athlete acting even if he's playing himself. The revelation in the film is Julia Fox. She is incredible as a gumar of Sandler's character.
This transfer by Criterion is incredible. The colors pop so well in this version. Various shirts and items in the film shine and jump out in 4K. The framing sequences are gorgeous. Along with that goes the grain of the film. It has a gritty look to it that reminds me of '70s films. The cinematography by Darius Khondji is some of the best of 2019. I can't say enough how incredible this transfer is.
The film has some good music choices as well, from the Weeknd playing himself singing a song to some techno music and various other forms of music from Daniel Lopatin. It has a sound that jumps out while watching the film. The score and music both play into the uneasy nature of the film's storyline and plot. At times it's very frantic, and other times it's very soothing and relaxing, all depending on what's going on in the film.
Sanders's character is his own worst enemy. He does everything wrong until he finally does something right. This film shows how people can be a detriment to society. This entire world of jewelry and rare gems is explored very thoroughly by the Safdie Brothers. The look and feel of the film are so beautiful. This 4K Criterion is a nice addition to anybody's collection for sure.
By Dan Skip Allen
Sidney Poitier is one of the greatest Black actors of all time. His career is varied with great films such as Lilies of the Field, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, and Raisin in the Sun in his credits. His best film, though, is In the Heat of the Night, directed by Norman Jewison.
Philadelphia Detective Virgil Tibbs (Sydney Poitier) has to go down to tiny Sparta, Mississippi to investigate a murder but he gets arrested by hard-nosed police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Stiger). Having to prove his innocence to the police chief, he eventually joins forces with him to try to figure out who actually was the murderer of the victim. They reluctantly get along with each other on this journey.
Jewison creates an atmosphere of racism and prejudice throughout the film. Even though Poitier's character is a respected detective in Philadelphia, he is a third-class citizen in the South. He even has to defend his own name. "They Call Me Mr. Tibbs," is a very famous line from Poitier in the film. The investigation isn't about the murder, it's about how this Black man is daring to ask these southern white-privileged people questions about it. How dare he do this? It's pretty huge deal.
This film crossed so many cultural barriers at the time, even with the Academy Awards. This film won Best Picture in 1968 along with three other awards, but Poitier didn't win anything that year. His co-stars in both In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? were nominated for Best Actor, and while Stiger won the award, Poitier wasn't even nominated. It's a travesty. Although he did win an Oscar for Lilies of the Field in 1963, it would have been great to see him get nominated for this film.
Poitier has to do all the heavy lifting opposite Stiger, even getting slapped in the face by old man Endicott (Larry Gates). Jewison puts Poitier through his paces throughout the film. It's in the script, though, because it's adapted from the book by John Ball. In the era of civil rights, this film touched on so many difficult topics and everybody involved was part of a powder keg. It showed in the end product. Tensions were at an all-time high and Poitier had an uphill battle trying to do his job under these circumstances.
With everything going on around this film, Poitier gives the performance of a lifetime. Having to act opposite Stiger wasn't an easy task. Jewison had to be a soothing influence on this film. He was also the leader of this production that had other great aspects such as a score by Quincy Jones. The music was so good. The cinematography and editing worked very well as well. This film had everything going for it at a difficult time. Poitier was the glue that kept this film together. He was great in it as well.
The Criterion Voyages: CITIZEN KANE (Spine #1104) -- A Film That Deserves the Moniker of Masterpiece
By Dan Skip Allen
Citizen Kane is widely considered by many to be the best movie of all time. It's the magnum opus of legendary filmmaker Orson Welles. It is quite an achievement for Criterion to get this great film. Now it's available as Spine #1104, the first 4K Blu-ray in the Criterion Collection. The format lends itself to this great film quite nicely.
The film is about the life of Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles). Newspaper reporters have found out that the last word from Kane before he died was "Rosebud", so they try to figure out what that word means. They go from person to person trying to get to the bottom of this mystery, from his ex-wives to his best friend, Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotton), with whom he built his newspaper empire. That famous word is part of what made this film an absolute masterpiece in the eyes of so many people.
Welles's filmmaking style is also what helped make this film so great. He has some amazing camera shots in the film. One, in particular, is where he's looking into a stand-up mirror and it seems like it keeps going forever. Other tracking shots and camera movements throughout the film are done impeccably. Fade-ins and so forth are used perfectly to pass time throughout the film. Welles is a master with the camera and framing shots.
Citizen Kane has various forms of music in it, from one of Kane's ex-wives singing opera to the score by Bernard Hermann, one of the greatest composers of all time. The film has amazing moments of music throughout using various forms of strings and the piano to create moments of joy and or depression. Even bands in the background create a sound for the film.
Kane spent a lot of his fortune on his property known as Xanadu in Florida, as well as expensive trinkets which he littered throughout the expansive property grounds. He built it for his second ex-wife Susan (Dorothy Comingore), an opera singer. It turns out it was just a giant place where he ended up all alone in his final days. Millions of dollars worth of property, art, statues, and everything under the sun that couldn't buy him happiness.
Citizen Kane is often claimed to be a film about newspaper magnate William Randolf Hearst. Welles was ruined for years after the film came out in 1941. Hearst considered it an insult and kept Welles from ever becoming the great filmmaker he was destined to be because of Citizen Kane. He was in a few other films and directed a few as well, some of the most notable of which are The Third Man, Touch of Evil, and The Magnificent Ambersons. Even Netflix acquired a lost Wells film, The Other Side of the Wind, that was preserved. People have always devoured anything from Welles. He is such a magnanimous personality and a terrific director.
The Snake Hole
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