Sundance Recap: Days 2 and 3

ON

Today is Day 4 of the Sundance Film Festival and though we have a bunch of reviews we have to spend a little more time finishing up, we wanted to give you a quick look at what we’ve been seeing and doing over the last couple days, essentially having been watching movies back-to-back at various venues, particularly the Eccles Theater.

Our favorite movie of the festival so far is Gareth Evans’ Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid (Sony Pictures Classics), a real kick-ass action movie based around a simple premise that features a lot of talent, particularly martial arts star Iko Uwais, who will inevitably be compared to Thailand’s Tony Jaa. Evans is a visually stylistic filmmaker who makes the most out of every action set piece, but there’s lots of twists and turns to the story making it stronger than many other martial arts imports. We think this could go over well with a mass audience despite being in a foreign language and from a country from which we don’t often see movies.

In Lay the Favorite, the adaptation of Beth Raymer’s memoir, Stephen Frears (The Queen, The Grifters) explores the world of Vegas sports betting through a bubbly and excitable Florida stripper, played by Rebecca Hall, whose life is changed when she gets involved with a professional gambler named Dink, played by Bruce Willis. It’s definitely one of Frears’ lighter comedies, which features a number of very funny character performances by Vince Vaughn and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but Hall’s character is really our in to this world, and you’re either going to love her always-exuberant character and her somewhat screechy voice or not. It’s no Moneyball in terms of exlaining the complicated numbers game, but this is one of the films we’ve seen that we think has the most commercial potential, partially due to the stars but also because it’s handled in such a fun, crowd-friendly way.

Antonio Campos’ Simon Killer is very different from his first movie Afterschool, though it has a similarly dark undertone, and it acts as a vehicle for Brady Corbet as an American in Paris, trying to get over a break-up by getting involved with a prostitute, leading him down an increasingly darker path. The arty film won’t be for everyone–the graphic sex alone might put some people off–but it’s a strong film with a distinctive style and feel that really affects you and keeps you thinking well after seeing it.

The same can be said about Craig Zobel’s Compliance, a much darker film than his previous Great World of Sound, as it shows what happens at the microcosm of a fast food restaurant when someone calls claiming to be a police officer saying that one of the employees stole some money. From there, the film gets darker and darker as it explores what people will get up to when faced with unorthodox requests from a voice of authority. It’s fairly shocking and like Simon Killer, it won’t be for everyone but it’s an impressive follow-up by Zobel, partially due to how much he does with so little and how his cast makes you squirm every step of the way. It may bother you more or less if and when you realize that it’s based on something that really happened.

The romantic comedy Celeste and Jesse Forever is meant as a showcase for the talents of Rashida Jones, who co-wrote the script. It certainly works as that, but the central premise of a couple–her other half is played by Andy Samberg–about to get divorced but trying to remain friends and what happens throughout that process is hindered by an overabundance of clichés, overextending itself with meandering subplots and similar problems that kept us from loving it.

We were even more disappointed by Jake Schreier’s >Robot and Frank, as it’s near future sci-fi premise certainly has potential and Frank Langella is always great at entertaining when playing a cranky old man, but you can only enjoy watching him interact with a robot for so long before you get bored, and it never really gets beyond it’s very simple central premise.

We were only were able to catch half of Rodrigo (Buried) Cortés’ Red Lights, starring Sigourney Weaver, Cillian Murphy, and Robert De Niro, mistakingly thinking we were up for a 9:45 PM screening but our brain was just too fried to absorb all of the information in the dialogue-heavy movie involving paranormal investigators and we had to give up, but we do hope to catch the rest of it when we’re more awake.

We have another busy day full of screenings today, but look for full reviews of all the movies above (except the last one) and a couple interviews in the next couple days.