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REVIEW: Sundance Film Festival London

The Sundance Film and Music Festival returned to London’s 02 Arena for its second year from 25-28 April, bringing to the UK capital a selection of American Independent cinema from the original Utah based festival.  Along with the films, there are showcases of up and coming musical acts, alongside more established performers such as British Sea Power. The festival had films, music, panel discussions and the even the Sundance Kid himself, Robert Redford, was there to soak up the atmosphere.

The Sundance Film Festival takes place each year in Park City, Utah and has been running since 1984, when it took over the existing U.S/Utah Film and Video Festival, under the instruction of movie star Robert Redford.  Since then, Sundance has gone from strength to strength and now has it’s own film-making institute, cinemas and television channel.

CALM’s Lisa Balderson reviews a selection of its offerings.

Kings of Summer

Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts| Starring Nick Offerman, Moises Arias, Nick Robinson. 93min

Let’s face it, at one point or another in your teenage years, you probably decided that you hated your parents (usually for something trivial) and would be better off living on your own, with your own rules, your own place and total independence (admittedly, most of us don’t take into account the technicalities of things such as money, a place to live, parental guidance, etc. 15-year-old Joe Toy has come to the conclusion that he would be better off living in the woods than with his acerbic, sarcastic and frequently authoritarian single father (deftly played by Nick Offerman).  After the death of Joe’s mother, the relationship between the two has become strained and they struggle to adapt to life in a single parent household. With the help of his best-friend Patrick and the accompaniment of oddball tag-along Biaggio, the three venture into nearby woods and somehow construct themselves a place to live (complete with indoor slide!)  As the trio learns to survive on their own and try and figure out what it’s like to be ‘real’ men, they come up against various obstacles, not least, the feelings of teenage girls and the fear of trapping live animals for dinner (luckily they aren’t far from a chicken shop!) and the growth of facial hair.

The three teenage leads are good, particularly Moises Arias, who plays the quirky Biaggio, and who is apparently just as weird in real life.  But the adults in the film very much steal the show.  Alongside Nick Offerman’s, Frank Toy, Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) puts in a cringe worthy performance as Patrick’s smothering mother.   This debut feature from Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts takes its lead, by the directors own admission, from the movies the filmmaker grew up on. Echoes of Stand by Me, E.T., and director Terence Malik all shine through and give the film a feeling of familiarity.  The script is witty, the locations stunning and the performances worthy.  A good first time effort and hopefully a taste of things to come.

Sleepwalk with Me

Dir. Mike Birbiglia | Starring Mike Birbiglia, Lauren Ambrose.

Based on the real-life experiences of comedian Mike Birbiglia, who turned his sleep disorder into an autobiographical award winning one-man show, Sleepwalk with Me takes an honest look at the male psyche and its resulting physical behavior.

Playing the lead role, Birbiglia, becomes Matt Pandamiglio, an under-achieving comedian, who is bartending in a comedy club while waiting for his big break.  Despite his lack of career and direction, the one stable thing in his life is girlfriend, Abby (Six Feet Under’s, Lauren Ambrose) who encourages Matt from the sidelines to do more with his life and make the ultimate commitment to her. Marriage!  As the pressure for Matt to propose becomes greater, he starts to develop a sleep walking disorder which quickly becomes dangerous; leading him to fight imaginary jackals in the corner of his bedroom, win a gold medal for Olympic dust-busting and throw himself through the window of a motel room, all while fast asleep.

As these are his own stories, Birbiglia knows his material well and delivers it effortlessly to camera when he addresses the audience from time to time.  You can’t help but like this guy and root for him along the way, even when he gets things horribly wrong.

If you’ve ever suffered from a sleeping disorder of any kind, then you might find this film somewhat reassuring, you are not alone, yet you may also find it frightening at the same time!

MUD

Dir. Jeff Nichols | Starring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland.

Having had critical success with 2011’s Take Shelter, writer/director Jeff Nichols returns to his home state of Arkansas with his third feature, Mud.  Mud is a boy’s own adventure in the vein of Huckleberry Finn, whose story follows two teenage boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (newcomer Jacob Lolfland) who spend their time on the Mississippi river, and while sailing to an island in search of a battered up boat to repair, stumble upon the title character Mud. Now, with a name like Mud, you might be expecting someone a little like Swampy (remember him?), but what you get in Matthew McConaughey is an outlaw on the run, who enlists the help of his two new friends, to make contact with his childhood sweetheart and help him fix up their coveted boat, so that he can get off the island and escape jail.   This is very much a coming of age story, where Ellis in particular learns harsh lessons about life and love, as he searches amongst the adults in his life for the answers he craves about how life should be.   The teenage performances are honest and realistic and McConaughey is perfectly cast as Mud.  The Arkansas setting transports you directly into the heart of the American south (you can almost feel the humidity of the air as the boys sail along the Mississippi) and plays as much a part in the film as the actors themselves.  Nichol’s has scored a hat-trick with his first three movies and is certainly someone to watch in the future.

Running from Crazy

Ernest Hemingway is considered to be one of the greatest American writers of all time.  But, despite the writer’s phenomenal success, his family have spent years trying to deal with ongoing problems of mental illness that seem to continue through each generation.  A total of 7 suicides are mentioned in the film, from generations before Ernest, to the writer himself and further down the family tree.

Sadly, part of the film seems to become somewhat of a vanity project for Mariel, and while she certainly does do a great deal to support mental health charities in the States, you can’t help but be left feeling a little like the impetus for her documentary is more about promoting her health business and the burgeoning careers of her artist and actress daughters. Much is said about her family’s ambivalence towards her as a child and her strained relationships with her older sisters and though there are stark moments of bravery, in which she confesses to not having dealt appropriately with her families past and her feelings of failure to support her surviving sister Muffet and her continuing battle with mental health issues.   However, there is much to be gained from the overview of the Hemingway family, archive footage of the family together and excerpts a previous study of the family’s battle with depression by Margaux Hemingway, deftly cut into the present day.  At it’s core, Running from Crazy, is a worthwhile attempt at showing an all-American family, with everything they could ever hope for, battling a debilitating illness that has effected their family for generations.  It leaves you wondering what they would have discovered by digging just a little bit more.

A.C.O.D.

Dir. Stuart Zicherman | Starring Adam Scott, Richard Jenkins, Catherine O’Hara

The opening of this film starts with the statement ‘1 in 2 marriages end in divorce’.  If like me you are an Adult Child of Divorce, you will quickly empathise with the lead character in this film, Carter (Adam Scott).  Carter is in his 30s, owns his own restaurant, has a long-term beautiful girlfriend with whom he is blissfully happy and acts as a father figure to his much younger brother Trey, in the absence of any real sound judgement from their own father.  The only complication in Carter’s life comes from his parents and when Trey decides to get married (to a girl he has known for just four months), Carter decides that he must bring his parents together for the big day and that they, in return, must put 20 years of bitter fighting behind them for the sake of their children.  Of course, like most comedic films dealing with family relationships, nothing quite goes to plan and before Carter knows it, he is back with the therapist (played by Glee’s Jane Lynch) he saw as a teenager, reanalysing the effects of his parents divorce on his current life.

Carter’s parents, played by Richard Jenkins and Catherine O’Hara provide the majority of the laughs in the film; their bitter relationship causes much angst for Carter, who tries to get them to stop behaving like teenagers and more like the parents he has always craved.

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