Sunday, January 31, 2010

more Sundance

I fell a little behind, so I'm just going to plow through some more Sundance movies.

Son of Babylon

It's 2003, just after the fall of Saddam. In Iraq, many prisoners have been released from Saddam's prisons, and hundreds of mass graves have been found. As the movie starts, a young boy and his grandmother are on the road. They are going to one of the prisons, where they hope to find Ibrahim (the boy's father, the woman's son).

It's a good story but I was bored by it. There just isn't enough going on. There are too many scenes of them traveling in silence, and the scenes at the mass graves, as sad as they are, get repetitious.

The performances were good, especially Yasser Talib as the boy Ahmed. And there are a few laughs. I like the way going to the bathroom is refered to as "going to visit Saddam", and the way one Iraqi says "Ok, thank you sir" in English to the American soldiers, then switches to Arabic to say "Son of a bitch."

The Fence

This is a short film about the fence that the government tried to build along the US / Mexico border. They spent millions of dollars on part of a fence. In some places, the fence just ends, so people wanting to cross just have to go a mile or so to the east or west to get around. In other places, they can easily dig a hole under the fence, the same way my dog used to dig a hole under the fence and escape the yard.

The fence was so badly planned and executed that they destroyed a wildlife refuge. Tons of animals were cut off from their food source. And in one place, the first time there was a big rainstorm the fence caused a flood on the Mexico side that two people drowned and many buildings were destroyed. The US government would have been better off just taking our tax dollars and throwing them on the fire.

High School

Henry Burke is a good student who never does anything wrong, is about to be valedictorian, and has a good scholarship. His friend has just talked him into trying pot for the first time. Unfortunately, the next day the principal decides to drug test the entire school, as part of his zero tolerance against drugs program.

Henry and his friend come up with a great plan: get the entire school stoned so everyone fails. The timing is perfect: the day of the drug test is the big bake-off, so there will be hundreds of brownies that morning. All they have to do is get the drugs, bake the brownies, and make the switch.

It's a good premise, and the script is fine. The problem is with the direction and editing. The movie feels long, and the jokes don't work as well as they should. With better directing and editing, this would have been a great comedy.

The Killer Inside Me

Casey Affleck plays a sherrif's deputy in a small Texas town in the 1950s. He has a girlfriend (Kate Hudson) and is seeing a prostitute (Jessica Alba) on the side. He is also a psychopath. This is a very violent and unsettling movie. I've seen lots of killings on screen, but there are a couple in this movie that really shocked me. I really liked this. It was a great psychological thriller.

Blue Valentine

Imagine (500) Days of Summer without the humor or the happy ending. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a married couple with a 5 year-old daughter. They are no longer in love with each other. Over the course of a couple of days we watch their marriage fall apart.

The movie flashed back and forth between the present and the time when they first met and fell in love. We learn that they probably shouldn't have gotten married in the first place, so it isn't too surprising that it isn't working out. Anyone who has ever been divorced, or ended a really serious relationship will be moved by this movie. It moves slowly but I was never bored. The performances were incredible.

Perfect Host

Set in Los Angeles, John Taylor has just robbed a bank. His face is all over the news, so he needs to hide. He finds a house, looks in the mailbox and discovers the owner is named Warwick (David Hyde Pierce). A postcard in the mailbox tells him that Warwick's friend Diane is in Australia. So John knocks on the door, says he just got in from Australia, and Diane said to look Warwick up. He uses this ruse to get into the house and hide out for a while.

John thinks he is in charge of the situation, but he has no idea what kind of person Warwick is. Pierce is a lot of fun as Warwick, and the story is definintely interesting, but it runs out of steam. It would have been better if it was at least 20 minutes shorter.

Russian Lessons

This is a documentary about the war between Russia and Georgia a couple of years ago. It also gets into North and South Ossetia. It was hard to follow all the details, and it was pretty boring. I walked out after 45 minutes or so, so I could catch another movie.

Animal Kingdom

Probably the best movie I saw at Sundance. Set in Australia, Josh's mother has just died. He goes to live with his grandmother and uncles, who are all criminals. He doesn't want to have much to do with their criminal ways, but he is dragged in before he knows it. He has a girlfriend who seems unaware of what his family does.

I don't want to say anything about the plot because the less you know about it, the better. But trust me on this. When this movie comes out, make sure you see it.

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