FILMS GONE WILD: 2015 SUNDANCE #3

 
SATURDAY, January 24

REVIEWS INCLUDE:
THE OVERNIGHT
BEST OF ENEMIES
HOMESICK
REVERSAL
 

The morning starts with some Film Society of Lincoln Center business: taking care of press ticket requests, sending production stills to people, and clearing out emails before I move on to the first screener of the morning. Fortified by some community bacon apparently made by a kindly Dallas House bacon elf before anyone woke up, I knock out my first Slamdance film this year, 20 YEARS OF MADNESS.

James gave me his ticket to THE OVERNIGHT so that one gets the call over Z FOR ZACHARIAH. I head to the theater and get a text that Ruth and Tanya are holding a seat for me – score. So, I quickly get on a shuttle and I’m on my way.

 

THE OVERNIGHT
Patrick Brice’s THE OVERNIGHT stars Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott as Emily and Alex, a couple that has just moved to L.A. from Seattle with their little boy. While out at the park, their son begins playing with another little boy which inspires an introduction to his father, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and subsequently an invitation to their new acquaintance’s place for a pizza party with the two couples and their sons. Anxious to make new friends, they accept and soon meet Kurt’s wife (Judith Godréche) and begin an evening that quickly moves from charmingly awkward to an increasingly escalating series of strange and inappropriate incidents featuring (among other things) bong hits, butthole paintings, skinny-dipping and naked man dancing as they open up in ways none of them had anticipated as the evening began.

THE OVERNIGHT is a comedy rich with some of the most consistently startlingly funny dialogue I’ve seen in recent memory. As the couples work through various issues and insecurities – most notably Scott’s character’s deficiency below the belt line, the four actors go through the gamut of emotions as they react to the evening’s surprising and revealing events. Scott, Schwartzman, Schilling and Godréche are all more than solid, but Schilling, in particular, shines amongst the quartet as she does her best to manage the growing freedom her husband is feeling when she does not remotely possess a poker face to deal with it all.

Expected Sundance Reaction: The audience I saw the film with was beside themselves and laughed heartily throughout. I’m sure they all passed along word that this one is a crowd pleaser.

Expected Real World Reaction:
Assessing comedies at Sundance is always tricky because the thin air can make things seem hilarious, and then magically not so much when a second viewing happens in the real world. I think this one will survive the journey and hold on to its funny.

 

After a Q&A with a lot of focus on the penis and penis prosthetics, next up is my first press screening of the fest, this one being for BEST OF ENEMIES. I run into New York Magazine’s Bilge Ebiri who tells me he literally decided to come to Sundance at 4PM yesterday. There’s last minute and then there’s “How much did that freakin’ flight cost?!” I mean, seriously.

 

BEST OF ENEMIES
Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville’s BEST OF ENEMIES takes a look at the acrimonious relationship between National Review editor and leading voice of the 60s new conservative movement, William F. Buckley and author, screenwriter and liberal polemicist Gore Vidal which reached its zenith during a series of debates between the two men on ABC News during the 1968 political conventions. The verbal sparring and contentious exchanges were unlike anything that had been seen previously on television ever before and it forever changed the way politics are covered/presented on television news. The two men were forever linked, not simply by the increased fame and notoriety of having elevated the debates into an escalating series of intellectual blood baths focused much more on personal attacks than discussion of issues, but much more so by the mutual obsession and rancor the two men held for each over for ever after the Summer of ’68.

On its face, BEST OF ENEMIES would not seem to be the film to generate a riveting, edge-of-your seat experience. However, the connection between the two men and mutual desire to destroy the other man was so strong between Buckley and Gore that you can’t help but get caught up in the escalating back and forth. Yes, the film succeeds purely on the basis of the information put forth and the context it presents given the state of political discourse on television today. However, speaking as someone that routinely engages in (let’s just say) passionate political debates on Facebook, the documentary almost plays like a video game with the two men that virtually created the art of political punditry replacing the football or basketball players in what for some plays out like sport now – as opposed to the gentlemen’s occupation that is was prior to Buckley/Gore. I don’t think I was alone in the audience of critics I viewed the film with in feeling I would have been fine with another 30 minutes of movie – I was enjoying it so much.

Expected Sundance Reaction: This should be a major buzzed about title here in Park City.

Expected Real World Reaction:
I don’t think you need to be a political junkie to enjoy the film, so I could see multiplex play on this one.

 

I’ve got a break between back-to-back screenings at the Egyptian so back on the shuttle I go so I can get something to eat and do some writing. There is a woman sitting in front of me with impossible cleavage and a parka designed by Russ Meyer to keep the rest of warm while offering her talents for the Sundancers to enjoy. Behind me I hear a girl say the following: “I found a place in Santa Barbara. I mean, it’s called a mansion, but it’s not ostentatious.”

 

Once I get back home I start heating up a frozen lasagna block. Referring to my incessant Facebook political debating, I jokingly wonder aloud if I might be Gore Vidal without the gay part. Eric pipes up from the living room, “Well, you certainly have the ego.” Film Society’s Convergence and Transmedia programs architect, Matt Bolish and DJ/Music Supervisor extraordinaire Wade Hampton have joined us in the Dallas House so the bunk beds are almost all accounted for. After eating half of the now molten lava-zangna, I rush out the door to make my way up Main Street to the Egyptian.

 

HOMESICK
Anne Sewitsky’s HOMESICK begins with a therapist session for Charlotte. Pretty, and equal parts beguiling and delightful, she enjoys a comfortable life teaching kids to dance and having a relationship with her best friend’s musician brother. However, there is a void in her life stemming from a lack of relationship with her mother and her sick, alcoholic father and envy for her best friend’s seemingly full life with a supportive family and a brand new husband. However, she is offered a ray of hope when her estranged half-brother, Henrik moves nearby in Oslo and she tentatively reaches out to him. He is initially resistant, even hostile to the contact, but soon relents and once they break through and connect, they embark on a mutually thrilling relationship releasing long-suppressed emotions that manifest themselves in a sexual attraction – and an increasingly destructive incestuous affair.

HOMESICK tackles a subject and story that easily could lend itself to exploitation. However, Sewitsky thwarts any expectations along those lines by focusing on the character study of Charlotte, and to a lesser extent, Henrik. The passion that erupts between the two and the resulting push pull of their relationship is securely rooted in their insecurities, desire for familial love and fear of abandonment. That emphasis is so well done that the sexual relationship between the two has a clear inevitability about it, as does the resulting fallout. Add a wonderful performance from Ine Marie Wilmann as Charlotte and the combination happily make the film a surprising experience for the viewer, richer and more fulfilling than the expectations one might initially have.

Expected Sundance Reaction: The integrity of the storytelling versus the pitch sizzle will likely make this one play under the radar a bit.

Expected Real World Reaction: Solid art house play as it should be supported by positive reviews for the most part.
After the screening, there’s no real time to do anything AND the line for REVERSAL ticketholders is already trailing out back behind the building and down a country block so I decide to go ahead and take my place and suck it up with the freezing. While standing for the next 40 minutes, I am warmed by the conversation between two screenwriters next to me talking about their deals and what’s on the front burner: “Yeah, he’s having lunch with them to talk about some stuff he’s setting up and he’s getting my name in the mix so that looks really good.”

Yes. That does look really good. I mean, you’re totally “in the mix”, am I right?

 

REVERSAL
J.M Cravioto’s REVERSAL opens with what we are conditioned to expect as the climactic moment in a typical thriller. A young woman, chained in a dank and dingy basement by a sexual predator, turns the tables on him, beating him in the head with a brick she has concealed, allowing her to escape. However, in this case, that is just the beginning as she soon discovers that he has imprisoned more women in various locations. She then makes the decision to take him as her prisoner and guide to lead her to each of the locations to save each girl, learning along the way that her personal nightmare has wider and more horrific implications that she may not have the ability to handle.

REVERSAL could have easily gone by the title “Relentless” as our heroine seems to never run out of perilous and psychologically damaging sights and situations as she seeks to free the other victims. The film cuts back and forth to a home video of a happier time with her boyfriend and sister and all of the action is given a creepy play-by-play by her former captor as he works to get inside her head and undermine her mission. There is a puzzle to solve regarding how she was kidnapped and imprisoned as well as her fate is connected to that of the other women and the film effectively brings the audience along as it doles out the clues piece by piece – even if it isn’t all that difficult to surmise who or what is behind it all. We’ve seen kick-ass women in films like this before, but we haven’t quite seen one fight such a battle to retain her humanity as she seeks vengeance against those that have done her wrong. Genre fans that hunger for this kind of thrill ride will come away very satisfied.

Expected Sundance Reaction: The film knows who its audience is and should get solid word of mouth on the mountain

Expected Real World Reaction: Again, genre fans in theaters and on VOD will likely seek it out and be happy they did so.

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