Ian Thomas Malone

sundance Archive

Sunday

23

January 2022

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Sundance Review: Dual

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Advances in technology may not necessarily allow humanity to cheat death, but maybe help mitigate the circumstances. Cloning strikes at the heart of the nature vs. nurture debate, a person with identical genetic makeup, begging the question of when DNA stops and when individuality begins. The film Dual sorts of centers its narrative around these kinds of themes, never quite sure of what it wants to say.

Sarah (Karen Gillan) is a young woman with a seemingly terminal illness. Set in a future-lite world where cloning is a relatively affordable mass-market commodity, Sarah is supposed to treat her replacement self as a sort of understudy for her remaining days alive in order to make a relatively seamless transition. The clone (also played by Gillan) is supposed to learn what Sarah likes so that she can provide comfort to her loved ones once she dies.

Trouble is, Sarah’s illness goes into remission. Clone Sarah quickly takes on a personality of her own, becoming the preferred Sarah in the eyes of her mother (Maija Paunio) and partner Peter (Beulah Koale). While clones are supposed to be decommissioned in the event of their source material’s survival, the U.S. government apparently ratified the 28th Amendment giving clones the right to opt to challenge their originals to a trial-by-combat style duel on a football field to remain alive.

Director Riley Stearns’ third feature bears the marking of his previous films, namely drab aesthetics and dry, deadpan dialogue. Gillan is a perfect match for Stearns, able to bring both Sarahs to life in the sort of lifeless fashion that has become his trademark. There’s a novelty aspect to Dual’s worldbuilding that works really well, for a while at least.

Despite Gillan’s best efforts, Dual perpetually feels like a half-baked production, a script that gives its cast little to chew on. Sarah is a painfully underdeveloped character, apathetic to such an extent that you can’t help but wonder why she’d even go through the effort of cloning herself at all. That’s not a question that Stearns necessarily needed to answer, but the characters aren’t interesting enough to cover up the broader questions bound to be on the audience’s mind.

There is some charm in Stearns’ minimalist world-building, an uncommon atheistic for a sci-fi premise. One can forgive an intimate indie film for not wanting to deal with the broader geopolitics of cloning. Suspension of disbelief can certainly get the audience through the absolutely clownish idea that America would ever ratify an amendment sanctioning trial by combat for everyday citizens.

The film largely ignores the subject of the morality of the duel, a dynamic that works until a scene in the third act where Sarah suddenly confronts the brutal nature of taking a life, as if she’s just pondering this concept for the first time. In an America that’s divided on every single political issue under the sun, it’s absolutely outlandish that there’s no group around fighting like hell to stop this barbaric sense of justice. This wouldn’t be a problem if Stearns had simply chosen to leave morality out of the equation entirely, allowing his feature to exist in the alternate-America he crafted. Instead, he just looks sloppy for his brief feint toward an idea bound to be on plenty of his audience’s minds.

Some of the film’s best sequences feature original Sarah training with her dueling coach Trent (Aaron Paul), doing their best to transform her into a killer. Stearns struggles to tie his whole feature together in a way that doesn’t leave Sarah and Trent’s time together feeling like charming filler. The obvious comparisons to work displayed in his last feature The Art of Self-Defense hardly helps the situation either.

Dual is never boring across its 94-minute runtime, but the end result leaves a pretty empty experience. Stearns is clearly more concerned with exploring themes than providing answers, but he doesn’t do a good job showing his work to the audience. It’s hard to walk away from this one not feeling disappointed for what might have been if the script had spent a bit more time on the drawing board.

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Sunday

23

January 2022

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Sundance Review: Call Jane

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Period dramas strive to transport their audiences back in time to bygone eras, often involving issues that our society has thankfully put behind us. Set in 1968, Call Jane focuses on a group of women who worked to provide safe abortion access in the years before Roe W. Wade codified a woman’s fundamental right to choose. More than fifty years later, with the current makeup of the Supreme Court, one can’t help but be reminded of just how close our nation is to repeating the mistakes of the past.

The film centers on Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a happy wife with a cozy suburban life. Joy and her husband Will (Chris Messina) are excited to welcome a new baby into their family, until a medical emergency complicates the pregnancy. The hospital medical board quickly dismisses the idea of an abortion, disregarding Joy’s safety, and the agency she deserves over her own body. A fruitless trip to a shady backroom abortionist leads her to a flier for a group, suggesting they could “call Jane” for help with their unwanted pregnancies.

Led by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), the Janes are doing their best to help women under quite constrained circumstances. Their abortionist Dean (Cory Michael Smith) overcharges for his services, the mob taking a piece of the cut to squelch any potential police interest. The bulk of the narrative focuses on the relationship between Joy and Virginia, two very different women united by a shared devotion to the cause.

Director Phyllis Nagy does a fabulous job balancing Joy’s story with an exploration of the era’s complex politics. The Janes are an imperfect group, initially largely limiting their services to those able to pay Dean’s expensive rates. Privilege plays an undeniable role, an element that Nagy never tries to sweep under the rug, even if a couple of sequences come out a bit heavy-handed. The cinematography handles the anxious intimacy of the actual procedure with immense grace.

The acting is pretty top-notch across the board. Banks delivers a commanding, generous lead performance that really makes Joy feel less like the main character than someone serving a movement bigger than themselves. Her chemistry with Weaver hits at the nuances of grassroots activism, where differing perspectives have to coexist to survive, often casting aside pleasantries in the process.

Nagy has a keen awareness that’s she not really directing a period drama in the truest sense of the word. This isn’t a days-gone-by-type story, but one that remains vitally important in America. The script manages to speak to contemporary issues without sacrificing its late 60s aesthetic. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, but one that Call Jane handles quite well.

The film also deserves a lot of credit for not losing sight of the importance of putting forth an engaging narrative that can entertain its audience while serving its broader objective of bringing attention to the need for safe abortion access. Not all movies need to be enjoyable to move their viewers, but Call Jane repeatedly works its charm. It’s not the easiest film to watch in the world at times, but Nagy’s cast and crew have put forth an effort brimming with obvious love.

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Saturday

22

January 2022

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Sundance Review: Fresh

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The horror genre faces an increasingly uphill battle to shock and disgust their eager audiences in a world that’s becoming quite desensitized to such material. Something as heinous as cannibalism reached a beloved perch in pop culture lore more than thirty years ago. Occupying a similar space Fresh carves a niche amidst well-trodden territory.

Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) has had enough of online dating. Who hasn’t? A chance grocery store encounter leads to some flirting over grapes, the smooth Steve (Sebastian Stan) capable of igniting sparks in the produce section. Steve’s shunning of technology and his pedigree as a doctor are quite alluring for Noa, who takes him up on a romantic getaway early in their relationship. Steve’s house is in the middle of nowhere with bad cell reception, cutting her off from Mollie (Jojo T. Gibbs), her best friend and surrogate family member.

Director Mimi Cave makes a quick impression on her audience, boldly displaying the opening credits about a half-hour into the film, signaling its pivot from rom-com to horror. Not only is Steve not the pleasant grape-loving sweetheart, but he’s an artisanal butcher of human flesh, with a house full of women waiting to be chopped up on behalf of his clients. The whole dynamic is almost enough to make you want to reactivate your Tinder account to roll the dice on obnoxious hipsters named Chad.

While most of the film is told from Noa’s point of view, Steve is really the X factor that sells Fresh. Stan is clearly having the time of his life with Cave’s slick material, powering the narrative through its bloated runtime. Edgar-Jones brings an important sense of intrigue to Noa that keeps the protagonist interesting as she navigates plenty of genre tropes, most vitally doing her best to ensure that the audience doesn’t fall for Steve like they might for Hannibal Lecter.

Fresh does have a bit of trouble keeping things fresh over its 116-runtime, on the longer side for a horror film. There are a few sequences a bit after the hour mark that feel more than a bit unnecessary. Gibbs brings a lot of depth to Mollie, but Cave isn’t particularly interested in moving the spotlight off of Stan or Edgar-Jones for very long, giving the impression that Mollie’s subplot spent some time on the chopping block.

Fitting given its title, Cave does introduce some fascinating perspectives on the allure of human flesh, with luscious cinematography in the styling of intricate food blogs. At times, there’s almost too much beauty to be grossed out, a fitting dynamic for a horror film. The narrative occasionally does fall into formulaic genre traps, but it’s hard not to enjoy spending time in Cave’s world.

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Saturday

22

January 2022

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Sundance Review: After Yang

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture, Reviews

Technology is slowly moving out of the realm of the impersonal. The endless data collection that was welcomed by the dawn of smartphones and social media will gradually produce updates to AI like Siri and Alexa that feel like they understand who we are. The idea of what it means to be human will naturally be affected by the ability to replicate the experience, or produce a convincing facsimile.

In a distant future where cloning and adoption are the predominant methods for making a family, Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) strive to ensure that their daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) remains connected to her Chinese roots. They purchase a lifelike robot Yang (Justin H. Min), part of a line developed to teach Chinese history, in order to give Mika a “big brother” of sorts. The four make for quite the loving family, until malfunctions take Yang out of commission.

Much of director Kogonda’s narrative focuses on the efforts of Jake to repair Yang, fighting an uphill battle against a corporation that wants to replace him instead, allowing them to harvest his memories. While his efforts fall flat, Jake is left with a cube containing the essence of Yang’s experiences and consciousness. As Jake learns more about Yang’s “life,” particularly his secret friendship with Ada (Haley Lu Richardson), he comes to understand just how much more this seemingly household appliance had to offer the world than simple trivia.

The combination of Farrell’s conflicted grief and Kogonda’s carefully crafted aesthetic powers After Yang through familiar genre tropes. There’s much to appreciate in the way that Jake earnestly engages with the world, sometimes out of his own lust to uncover the meaning of life and at other times simply for the love of his daughter. Kogonda doesn’t show too many of his cards with regard to his vision of the future, but it’s neither overly nihilistic nor oblivious of the present’s current trajectory.

There are plenty of scenes where After Yang displays a keen grasp on the pulse of its philosophical intentions, but also several meandering sequences that make the same points about the nature of memory. The film is a beautiful yet somewhat overly simplistic entry in the broader sci-fi genre. As Kyra, Turner-Smith feels a bit wasted in a predictable supporting role.

The 101-minute runtime hardly feels well-utilized, but there’s enough going on in After Yang to justify the experience. Kogonda crafted such a beautiful world, but didn’t supply enough material for his eager cast to work with. Farrell’s predictably solid lead performance isn’t enough to shake the sense that this film should’ve landed with more of a thump than a thud.

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Friday

5

February 2021

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Sundance Review: Playing with Sharks

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The greatest strength of Playing with Sharks is apparent almost instantaneously. Director Sally Aitken knows what an asset she has in her subject. Marine conservationist Valerie Taylor is such a joy to watch on screen that it feels like all the director has to do is sit back and let the magic unfold.

Obviously, a documentary requires extensive work, but it’s a testament to Aitken’s abilities as a director that she can present her narrative that carries such an aura of effortless glee. The passion that Taylor inspires in seemingly everyone around her radiates through the screen. Using extensive archival footage, Playing with Sharks is a fascinating career perspective that also sheds light on the ways that humans have come to care about preserving the ocean.

Taylor and her husband Ron, who died in 2012, were pioneers of underwater filmmaking, particularly with regard to sharks. Aitken shows that part of that was through their love of the animals, but also for economical reasons. Production studios favored footage of “dangerous” sea creatures, an idea that Taylor has railed against for the vast majority of her career. Misconceptions about the dangers posed by sharks and other sea creatures have had a profoundly negative effect on their continued survival.

Aitken’s depiction of Taylor’s vast career demonstrates the many roads that can lead one to an interest in conservation. Originally a competitive spear-fisher, Ron and Valerie grew disenchanted with the practice, committing themselves to only capturing the animals on camera rather than with a weapon. Such a dynamic sets up the most interesting chapter of the narrative with their work on Jaws.

Often considered the first modern blockbuster, Jaws’ effect on shark education and the well-being of their populations in general has been well-documented over the decades. Peter Benchley, author of the novel that Spielberg’s classic was based off of, has said he wouldn’t have written it if he’d known the damage it would cause. Though Taylor is reluctant to outright say it, the film gives the sense that she’s very much in agreement.

Fitting for its subject’s career, Playing with Sharks presents its remarkable footage of sharks without evoking anxiety from its audience. You may not necessarily want to put on a chainmail suit and jump in the ocean, but Taylor is quite effective at easing any tension one might feel toward these wondrous creatures. She even teaches a shark some tricks, an inspiring sense of confidence from a remarkable woman.

Aitken’s film is not super high stakes, a fairly conflict-free narrative that matches the frequency of its warm subject. The third act features several scenes of Taylor talking about her advocacy work to the Australian government, showing the resistance she faced years ago, as well as the progress that’s been made along the way. Playing with Sharks is a breezy documentary, a work that manages to operate on a similar wavelength as its subject. Wildlife aficionados will find much to enjoy in this fascinating depiction of Taylor’s life’s work.

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Friday

5

February 2021

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Sundance Review: Cryptozoo

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The sense of immense frustration that one might feel toward Cryptozoo does seem a bit fitting given the world that Dash Shaw created. Perpetually throwing frame after frame of psychedelic imagery up on the screen, the narrative seems more interested in living in the broader world of animation than the one of its own making. Disney’s presence looms large over all American animation, but plenty of features prefer to ignore that reality.

Cryptozoo never seems interested in shaking its middling fascination with capitalism and Disney, never quite sure what to say about them beyond the rudimentary observation that they are bad. This thesis would pack a hell of a lot more punch if it were the case that Cryptozoo was unmistakable good. The narrative never quite comes together enough for any of that to stick.

The film starts with such promise. Two naked hippies, Matthew (Michael Cera) and Amber (Louisa Krause) are doing drugs and having sex, fascinated by a giant fence that looks part-Jurassic Park, part-Star Trek: The Next Generation’s pilot “Encounter at Farpoint.” The animation alternates between crude and exquisitely beautiful, a sentiment that persists throughout the narrative.

Though the film keeps up its psychedelic visuals over the duration of the 95-minute runtime, the actual plot becomes a lot more mundane. The cold open gives way to Lauren (Lake Bell) and Joan (Grace Zabriskie), who operate a sanctuary/theme park for cryptids to find peace, security, and dining options finely tailored to the Cryptozoo’s individual lands. The Disney parody is abundant, but it’s not particularly funny or insightful.

The plot quickly devolves into what’s essentially Archer on acid. There are a lot of action sequences that aren’t very interesting. The script delivers most of its best moments in the first fifteen minutes. It becomes rather jarring to watch the inventive animation dragged down by such a superficially bland narrative, a film at war with itself.

Animation director Jane Samborski, Shaw’s wife, ensures that there’s always something spectacular on the screen to look at. The animation is superb, pretty much solely justifying the uneven experience that is Cryptozoo. You could basically watch the film on mute and still reap the film’s only worthwhile attributes.

Cryptozoo is easy to hate. As a narrative, it certainly does not deserve any love. Everything here should have enhanced the visuals instead of leaving the animation by itself to carry the film.

Despite all that, the animation is pretty great to watch. Maybe not great enough to transform Cryptozoo into the film it sort of wants to be, but it’s hard to write off the whole experience altogether. Shaw’s narrative is a frustrating mess, but there’s enough good here to justify the experience. A frustrating film that at least found some success in avoiding becoming a regrettable waste.

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Friday

5

February 2021

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Sundance Review: Cusp

Written by , Posted in Blog, Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

The advances in technology can suggest a kind of barrier between the struggles that modern teenagers face and those of us who came of age before TikTok and Instagram ushered in the era of perpetual connectivity. Directors Isabel Bethencourt and Parker Hill quickly dispel that notion as a piece of fiction. Thoroughly set in the present day, Cusp reveals layers upon layers of teenage angst, showcasing a degree of universality with regard to this awkward era of people’s lives.

The film follows a trio of girls, Brittney, Aaloni, and Autumn, over the course of a summer in a small Texas town. There’s nothing to do but hang out aimlessly, drinking, smoking, and snorting coke. Normal 15-year-old activities. Caught in a kind of limbo between adolescence and adulthood, limited freedoms within a world still governed by their parents, these girls make the most of their time simply by spending it in each other’s company.

Referring to a work as remarkably mundane suggests a kind of insult, but the descriptor seems oddly fitting for the directors’ intentions. Bethencourt and Hill perfect a technique where their subjects seem barely aware of the cameras at all, a rare triumph in filmmaking. Likely desensitized by years of smartphone addiction, the teens really do go about their business as if there was no one in the room filming them.

That kind of mastery makes it easy to hop on board with Cusp’s intentionally meandering narrative, where nothing really happens. One can imagine there are reams of footage of even more mundane activity or early days where the teens may be phased by the cameras documenting their every move. Bethencourt and Hill’s deliberate curation works quite well toward its objective of capturing this fleeting era of teenage life.

Much of it is hard to watch. While it’s easy to be amused by a kid smoothly cutting lines of blow, himself obviously charmed by the camera following along as this minor shares his very illegal plunder, other sequences are bound to make anyone feel uncomfortable. A sequence where one of the girls fights with her father over his callous treatment of her sibling on their birthday heightens the sense of powerless that many feel at this age. You’re old enough to drive a car, but your dad can still make you change a top he doesn’t like.

Bethencourt and Hill take great care with regard to some of the film’s heaviest subjects. The effects of PTSD on veterans and their families are presented in a raw and deeply moving manner. One of the subjects almost nonchalantly recounts how she was molested by a close friend of her father’s. The girls possess a keen understanding of consent and the distance between one’s broader perception of the concept, and the reality of the world they live in.

In other instances, mountains are crafted out of molehills. Teenagers cry over broken hearts, failed relationships they’ll probably laugh about in a year’s time. Bethencourt and Hill expertly capture the zeitgeist of teenage existence. Everything feels like the most important thing in the world, at least until the next party comes along.

Cusp finds deep meaning in the act of hanging out. The kids are rarely far apart from their smartphones, but at least they’re doom scrolling together. Through their exceptional work Bethencourt and Hill reveal a kind of universality to teenage life. It’s not an easy time to be alive, spending your days with the knowledge that you’re on the cusp of something bigger.

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Thursday

4

February 2021

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Sundance Review: Passing

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Part of the magic of watching modern period dramas is the way the set design and production values work together to transport the audience back in time. With Passing, director Rebecca Hall seems far more concerned with the feel of the era she depicts rather than simply the look of 1920s New York. Confining her narrative to the old-school 4:3 aspect ratio, shot using black-and-white cinematography that gives off a saturated feel, Hall ensures that her audience engages with the material on her terms.

An adaptation of the 1929 Nella Larsen novel of the same name, Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) is caught between two worlds. Harlem is her home and her community, a part of New York full of excitement for the future and all its possibilities. Downtown possesses all the irresistible glamour, a culture built on exclusivity. Between its fascination with old money and straight-up racism, Irene can visit its streets, but there remains the sense that no matter what, she’ll never fit in.

A chance encounter with a childhood friend, Clare (Ruth Negga), causes a drastic shift in Irene’s perception. Clare “passes” as white. Her racist husband, John (Alexander Skarsgard), has no idea that his children are half-black. The possibilities presented by this hiding-in-plain-sight level of stealth causes Irene to reexamine her own life choices, particularly her place in Harlem working for the Negro Welfare League alongside her husband, Brian (Andre Holland), a doctor.

Hall’s film is a mediative reflection on identity, propelled by superb lead performances and powerful cinematography. As Irene, Thompson shines through her subtle approach to her character’s broader desires. It’s not fully clear what Irene wants out of her life, but you get the sense that she’s trying to figure it all out in real-time.

Negga provides a valuable contrast, a woman firmly in command of her own life circumstances. In an era shamefully defined by limited opportunities for people of color, Clare enjoys luxury and stability. Hall asks no one to agree with this decision, a judgment-free approach to complex themes.

The script is a bit light on conflict. There’s a sense of reservation that fits well with the stakes at hand, but Passing does feel like Hall left quite a bit on the table. The film starts to drag a bit in the third act, repeating some of the same patterns until it’s time to set up the main conflict. Hall sticks the landing, but it’s one of those conclusions where you wish that there had been more time to process it all.

Passing is a strong showing from Hall in her debut effort. The script isn’t exactly a knockout the whole way through, but the acting and cinematography pick up the slack where the narrative lags. Few period dramas wield their own aesthetics in such an effective manner.

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Thursday

4

February 2021

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Sundance Review: Judas and the Black Messiah

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The biopic genre is forever caught between two occasionally conflicting notions. Reality and the dream. Feature film runtimes are hardly the best spaces to thoroughly explore complex history, two hours to depict an era or a movement. Narrative fares much better when it comes to conveying the spirit of the ideas that can change the world.

Director Shaka King crafts Judas and the Black Messiah with a keen sense of the injustice of Fred Hampton’s persecution by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, culminating in a police raid that it would seem more than fair to call an assassination. To the government, the young leader in Chicago’s Black Panther poses an existential threat to the political world, a powerful speaker with the gift to organize the various warring factions of his city, regardless of race.

The Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) we see on screen is hardly deserving of the rage depicted in several Hoover (Martin Sheen) rants, fundamentally racist in nature. At the core of Hampton’s radical plans lie something that actually might reasonably be considered radical to the complacent D.C. politicians, concerned only with their own power. Hampton pioneered the Free Breakfast Program, feeding the hungry among Chicago’s black youth.

In politics, a desire to genuinely serve thy neighbor is considered radical. King continuously grapples with the notion that “politics is war, war is politics,” particularly concerned with the latter. There is something quite radical in watching Hampton grow his organization from the ground up, a politics designed to uplift the many rather than the individual. King’s narrative captures the feel of organizing in action, the day-to-day work that goes into bringing about real change.

William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) is a man caught between two worlds. A true believer in Hampton’s vision, O’Neal is forced into the role of Judas when FBI Special Agent Roy (Jesse Plemons) catches him impersonating an FBI agent, fulfilling Hoover’s mandate to find an informant who could bring Hampton down. Both O’Neal and Roy see the power in Hampton’s ability to unite Chicago based on class struggle, a sentiment overwhelmed by the sheer force of one of America’s most powerful individuals.

Only 21 years old at the time of his assassination, Hampton quickly made a powerful impact on the country. With that in mind, King almost feels like he’s slowing things down through the 126-minute runtime, carefully depicting each figure’s own struggle to understand their place in a movement rapidly growing bigger than any one individual. King not only captures the power of grassroots politics coming alive, but the effect of its weight on those determined to bring about change.

King’s third act delivers the gold standard that all biopics should aspire to live up to, a keen understanding of history and legacy. Rarely does a director so forcefully demonstrate the care with which he crafted his work and the stakes at hand. The conclusion presents King’s findings in such stark terms that he makes you want to simply start the film over once the credits start rolling.

Kaluuya and Stanfield have never been better, intricately depicting the wear and tear that the grind has on their psyches. Through Kaluuya, you see why figures like Hampton are so hard to come by. It’s not enough to capture lightning in a bottle, you have to do it every single day. Nothing happens through fate or destiny, but by the work of people like Hampton to organize the masses.

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Thursday

4

February 2021

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Sundance Review: The Blazing World

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There are plenty of films capable of winning over their audiences through their sheer inventiveness. Director Carlson Young quickly demonstrates her immense talent in the opening scenes of The Blazing World, bold shots that send the message that you’re about to enter a world of her intricate design. A firm command of the camera can only take you so far.

The narrative follows Margaret (Young), returning home to pack up her things as her parents prepare to move away. Her parents (Vinessa Shaw and Dermot Mulroney) hate each other, though apparently not enough to divorce. We quickly learn that Margaret’s twin sister, Elizabeth (Lillie Fink), drowned at a young age in the midst of a parental disagreement, a tragedy that pretty much ended any hope for them to have a happy family.

While Young manages to keep things interesting through a chunk of the first act, the whole experience starts to fall apart when Margaret steps through the rabbit hole, embarking on the film’s reality-bending trip clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Pan’s Labyrinth among others. Just as things are about to get going, the main event, Young starts to muddle the waters beyond any narrative comprehension. Demonstrating immense directorial skill early on, it’s rather tragic to watch how boring The Blazing World quickly becomes.

Not even a competent showing by B-movie icon Udo Kier, playing a creepy man called Lained, can break through all the nonsense. Occupying a space somewhat halfway in between the Red Queen and the Cheshire Cat, Kier is menacing, but never really all that interesting. The script never really gives anyone anything to do.

As an actress, Young dominates most of the early scenes, an energetic personality amidst a sea of depressing figures. Largely left to her own devices throughout the rest of the narrative, Margaret loses a lot of steam. She communicates nothing as a protagonist, exacerbating the diminishing returns from Young’s stunts with her camera angles.

Young clearly has ballet on her mind with The Blazing World. An early scene between Margaret and her father hints at this direction, enhanced by a classical score that includes a beautiful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Pas De Deux. Everything in ballet, from the music, the set design, the corps de ballet, and the male dancers, all works to enhance the principal. A ballet cannot succeed without a strong danseuse étoile to anchor the entire experience. Margaret is far too aloof to carry that burden.

Young’s technical skills as a director can’t overcome the gaping hole at the center of her narrative where there should be a story. An expansion of Young’s earlier short of the same name, The Blazing World never tries to justify why this story should carry a feature-length runtime. Everything is just too jumbled up, a disappointing showing from a talented filmmaker.

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