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Entries in Sundance Film Festival (16)

Monday
Feb222016

Jim: The James Foley Story

Jim: The James Foley Story
Directed by: Brian Oakes
Released on: HBO & Sundance Film Festival 2016
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

For most Americans, the introduction to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (AKA ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) came via the video of American journalist James "Jim" Foley. Shaved, dressed in orange clothing and kneeling somewhere in a desert in Syria, Foley was forced to read "Warning to America" before a camera. After he finished reading the forced diatribe against family and country, Foley was beheaded.

The story of how the man met his tragic fate is the subject of director Brian Oakes documentary, Jim: The James Foley Story.

To the documentary's credit it makes it clear from the beginning that this will not be a sensationalized hagiography of the 40-year-old murdered journalist, but about why he did the work and the prices he, and others, paid for it. "The film shows images of war recorded by conflict journalists. It does not show the execution of Jim," the opening credits declare.

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Tuesday
Feb022016

A Good Wife

A Good Wife [Dobra zena]
Directed by: Mirjana Karanovic
Released at: Sundance Film Festival 2016
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Commencing and concluding with a disrupting male gaze that focuses on two circles of sorts, Serbian actor Mirjana Karanovic makes an impressive debut as director and co-writer in A Good 
Wife, a film about personal and political cancer in current Serbia. 

Milena (Karanovic) is 50-year-old mother of three taking care of hubby (Boris Isakovic) and household in a small suburb outside of Belgrade. A woman with little identity of her own, Milena fills her days shopping, gossiping with other equally vacuous (yet not so wealthy) housewives and watching home videos. 

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Tuesday
Feb022016

Pleasure. Love.

Pleasure. Love.
Directed by: Huang Yao
Released on: Sundance Film Festival 2016
Grade: 2 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

In Huang Yao's Pleasure. Love. people in their 30s essentially have love (and career) worked out and it is up to them to impart that wisdom on their younger counterparts so they may in turn bestow such wisdom and assurance on future lovers. 

Two stories with overlapping narratives, the first one, "Pleasure" is the more interesting and developed one. Nan (Daizhen Ying) has moved to Beijing, China, to go to school, but he is soon expelled due to lack of payment. This leads to a job selling books on the street (how novel), which pays so little he is threatened with eviction (a distracting, underdeveloped subplot). One night he meets Yajie (Nan Yu). Gorgeous, middle class, older and more mature, only in cinema land would a painfully awkward guy like Nan get a woman Yajie's caliber.

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Monday
Feb232015

Things of the Aimless Wanderer

Things of the Aimless Wanderer
Director: Kivu Ruhorahoza
Released on: January 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / TBA 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

It does not take long to realize Kivu Ruhorahoza's Things of the Aimless Wanderer is something special. Well, different at least.

Set in North Rwanda, Things of the Aimless Wanderer begins with somewhat of a prologue where an Rwandan warrior (Ramadhan Bizimana) stalks a lonely white dude (Justin Mulliken) wandering the jungle. While wandering the jungle, whitey encounters a young, topless Rwandan woman (Grace Nikuze). There is a gaze off between the three characters.

Cut to early 21st century and "A girl has disappeared."

Told in three different yet related stories Ruhorahoza calls "a working hypothesis," the disappearance of the girl (or, rather, a young woman) offers up three scenarios involving sex, murder and shame. Using the same actors — plus a narrator (Matt Ray Brown) who speaks for the white journalist — the smaller stories are rather about bigger issues about the culture of Rwanda changing and expanding and how Rwandans are adapting to it (an allegory of sorts some may say). Except we are not getting a direct viewpoint from Rwandans but vis-a-vis what Ruhorahoza imagines what an American (or perhaps any white westerner) would see if he or she lived among the anxious Rwandans.

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Monday
Feb232015

Cronies

Cronies
Director: Michael Larnell
Released on: Janury 25th, 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / TBA 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther 

Louis (George Sample III) and Jack (Zurich Bucker) go way back. Childhood friends, these two share the kind of special bond that no two kids should ever have to share. But the years have gone by, and while Louis seems to have matured — at least a little — Jack is as angry and edgy as ever.

Accordingly, Louis currently prefers the company of Andrew (Brian Kowalski), a kid from the other side of the 'hood but no less slothful and youthful than Louis or Jack. "Andy," however, is a lot more mellow than Jack.

Until the day of the (mostly) black and white "Cronies" takes place, Jack had never heard or met Andrew. This is in part due to the fact that if Louis had mentioned Andrew, the mistrustful Jack would have annoyed Louis with questions fueled by insecurity and masked by anger.

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Monday
Feb232015

Chorus

Chorus
Director: François Delisle
Released on: January 23rd, 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / March 2015 [Canada]
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Shot in black and white and mostly during Canadian winter months, the look of Chorus is as dreary as its tale of woe.

A man named Jean-Pierre (Luc Senay) walks into an interrogation room and sits down across from a police official named Hervé (Didier Lucien). He does not want a lawyer. The overweight, slouching (toward Gomorrah) criminal is there to admit to another crime he committed. It happened ten years ago and it involves an 8-year-old boy who was not very good at sports, had lost his bike key and broke the cardinal rule about getting into a car with strangers.

As Jean-Pierre continues his story, a sense of dread seeps in. This is a story which cannot end well. But, before Jean-Pierre is done telling his story, writer-director-cinematographer-editor Francois Delisle's film cuts away to the film's two protagonists, a couple filled with existential dread. Except the couple are no longer together.

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Monday
Feb232015

Dreamcatcher

Dreamcatcher
Director: Kim Longinotto
Released on: January 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / TBA 2015
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Brenda Myers-Powell is not the kind of person you want to meet at night. It is not that she is a bad or dangerous person or that she is straight up annoying or anything like that. If you run into Mrs. Myers-Powell at night it is most likely because you are living a very troubled life.

Born in 1962, Myers-Powell started getting molested before the age of five. Abused and confused, she had two children by the age of fifteen. At that time, she and her daughters were living with her grandmother and grandmother had bills to pay.

To help grandma out, Myers-Powell did what the ladies across the street from her grandmother’s house did: prostitution. Turning tricks at the age of fifteen, Myers-Powell would remain a prostitute on the streets of Westside Chicago for 25 years. Over those years, “Breezy” was beaten, stabbed, addicted to narcotics and not very present for her two daughters. It took a near-death experience shortly before her 40th birthday to get Myers-Powell to reevaluate her life and get off the streets.

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Monday
Feb162015

The Bronze

The Bronze
Directed by: Bryan Buckley
Released on: January 22nd, 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / TBA 2015
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

If you found the comedy of director Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids just a little too quaint and bore-joy-see for your tastes, The Bronze,
directed by Bryan Buckley and co-written by wife and husband Melissa and Winston Raunch, should be right up your golden hole.

Once an inspiration to millions of Americans, Hope Anne Greggory (Melissa Raunch) was an Olympic gymnast who refused to let a major injury stop her from competing for a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Hope fell short and earned the bronze medal. Nonetheless, she became a national star and the little darling of her hometown, Amherst, Ohio. Her fame was short-lived, however, and it wasn't long before nobody in the world cared except the people of Amherst and her father, Stan (Gary Cole).

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Monday
Feb162015

Eden

Eden
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
Released on: January 23rd, 2015 [Sundance Film Festival] / May 2015 [LIMITED]
Grade: 2 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Spanning over two decades, director Mia Hansen-Løve’s Eden chronicles the garage-techno-electronic music scene from 1992 to the near-present through the film’s protagonist, Paul (Felix de Givry).

When we first meet Paul he is studying literature at a local Paris university. He seems to have great promise in writing, but his interests lie in the newfound beats sweeping around America and parts of Western Europe. From Chicago to Berlin to New York to London to Stockholm, DJs were adamant on keeping disco alive (what punk rock?). Since disco had become pop music and youth like to rebel – even if their rebellion is reactionary at times – they no longer called it disco but whatever genre moniker was the tune of the day.

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Thursday
Mar202014

The Double

The Double
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Released date: May 9th, 2014 [LIMITED]
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Poor, somewhat perverted, Simon (Jessie Eisenberg). His mother is dying at a disreputable rest home. People harass him on the train to work. The waitress (Cathy Moriarty) at his favorite restaurant gives him sass. His co-workers at a cold data processing center only recognize him when he makes mistakes. And his love life consists of watching, sometimes spying, on his coworker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Simon, however, is not all bad; he makes a collection out of Hannah's scraps, and he has some good ideas for increasing efficiency at work.

What Simon really needs, or thinks he needs, is to speak to the Colonel (James Fox) via Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn).

Imprisoned by his own inertia, Simon's world becomes more complicated with the arrival of James Simon (Eisenberg). A confident, charming young man, James and Simon begin a partnership where James fights for Simon while Simon does James' work, even taking tests for James at work.

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