On January 18, I journey to Park City, Utah to attend the prestigious Sundance film festival. As a virgin to the scene, I didn’t really know what to expect. Everyone’s heard of the event, but not many have actually been there. It’s like some mysterious and intriguing celebrity driven vehicle where the hottest films of the year are screened for Hollywood and the industry’s elite. With hotels running about $400-500 a night I never thought I’d be able to afford it on a journalist’s salary. I’d even heard rumours that a coffee cost $20 in Park City, but luckily enough my buddy, the up-and-coming filmmaker Corey Asraf (Let Me Make You A Martyr), had an in and invited me to join him.
He hooked me up with a contingent of journalists, actors, filmmakers and movie lovers (known as Team Lee) who rented several houses right down by Main Street (where all the action is) and the theatres which dot the snowy and at times icy landscape. I stayed in the living room area with an English actor, Alex Marx (London Town), who was making power moves on his third Sundance visit. With a credentialed press pass I was getting invites to all the parties and events. So many emails from publicists that it almost got unbearable. I ended up going to a few parties but they didn’t really meet my expectations of what a Sundance party would entail. Finally, as an afterthought, I went to Ethan Hawke’s Blaze party. Blaze was Hawke’s directorial debut, about an outlaw country singer from Texas, Blaze Foley.
Hawke’s party met my expectations, however pretentious or not. Ethan was there, of course, ever-present. But I was more impressed with Charlie Sexton, the music legend and Paul Dano (who had his own film Wildlife there) who hung out in the crowd all night. There were other stars there that I wasn’t on a name basis with, but then I saw a little guy strut by. As in dwarf. As in Tyrion. From the Game of Thrones. Peter Dinklage. You can’t fucking beat that. He was there promoting a new film he was in. I was going to say hi; I’m a big fan. But he was gone just as quick. I also met Pauly Shore in the ski rental shop after I hit the slopes. Surreal moment indeed. But I was there to watch films and these are the films that were buzzing at Sundance.
First-time director Idris Elba produces a visually stunning film that portrays the gangster story from a Jamaican perspective. Based on the cult-classic novel by Victor Headley, the story follows Denis, whose life is plagued by crime and violence. Forced to flee Jamaica, Denis vows revenge when he sees the man who murdered his brother. Reunited with his baby’s mama in London, Denis turns into a one-man wrecking crew. Eventually getting revenge on everyone who wronged him. Kind of cliché, but Elba works the genre well. Like a master, he’s put together a fine film, chronicling a real story the resonates across boundaries. The only thing I would have liked to see was more conflict in Denis. Some of his choices were excruciating. If you like the Jamaica parts in Belly, then you will love Yardie. Destined to go down as a cult classic, if not an outright hit. Definitely worth a see if you like gangster flicks or Jamaican criminal movies. This flick takes you into a world you would otherwise never see. A world of crime, murder, betrayal, love, and lies.
The film represents a massive and over the top indictment against the way the world is at the moment. Four young women, namely Australia’s own Odessa Young, and including in descending screen time- Hari Nef, Abra, and Suki Waterhouse strap on guns and start killing people. But only because the townspeople were trying to kill them for releasing hacked personal details of the citizens causing all kinds of chaos. The film, which sold for $10 million, takes the world’s fascination with social media to the extreme. A pop culture phenomenon which specifically resembles the era we live in now. A definite must see. If only for the lovely Odessa Young.
American Animals is badass. Not sure if I felt that way right after I saw it, but it has grown on me as I have thought about it more for some reason. The heist film is a movie inside a documentary or a documentary inside a movie. I don’t really know, but it’s that new hybrid-documentary style that is taking control of television. And director Bart Layton, whose doc The Imposter played at Sundance also, has seemingly mastered it in the first go. Evan Peters (American Horror Story) kills it, but so does the guy that he’s playing. Real life heist master Warren Lipka. Barry Keoghan, fresh off Dunkirk is phenomenal. The movie was innovative and wildly entertaining. I went to it because I like crime movies. I left a fan of Bart Layton. And wondering did he envision a documentary as a film or vice-versa.
A vivid look into the inner reaches of China from Chinese born American director Cathy Yan. The former Wall Street Journal reporter delivers a quirky dark comedy that centres on the dead pigs floating down the river affecting all in its path, but not necessarily how you’d have thought. With her unique perspective, Yan weaves an intriguing tale that a covers multiple stories from multiple viewpoints. Candy Wang (Vivian Wu) is the last holdout to developers who’ve bought every parcel of property around her house. Yet she refuses to sell. David Rysdahl, in a mesmerizing role, plays Sean, the American architect charged with finalising the deal and getting Candy out of there. The various storylines interweave randomly intersecting where necessary to tie the film together. Providing a look into a world most of us will never experience.
A buddy movie with severe racial and economic undertones, set in Oakland and starring the two men who wrote the film – Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting is a comedy in a world that refuses to be one. Shot in 22 days by cinematographer Robby Baumgartner and directed by Carlos López Estrada, the film explores race relations on the West Coast. With police brutality ever present, Blindspotting focuses on Digg’s character, the ex-con Collin and his fight to finally get off probation and avoid going back to prison. But being an eyewitness to a police shooting leaves him on shaky ground. Class conflict, gentrification, and racism are all explored in this engaging and mesmerising film that will leave viewers wondering about the questions that Diggs and Casal pose in the film. A charming and comedic take on the issues that are plaguing our country today.
Sorry to Bother You
Set in an alternate reality that mimics modern-day Oakland, California, Boots Riley’s directorial debut oozes satire in a confrontational way. Questioning the system in a feature-length film that borrows heavily from the music video genre Boots is more familiar with. With Lakeith Stanfield playing the lead and Tessa Thompson supporting, the movie boasts an incredible cast and the actors don’t disappoint. Daring to resist what he thinks is 21st Century slavery Lakieth’s character, Cassius Green, can’t quite fit into the capitalistic worldview until he lands a job selling encyclopaedias over the phone and is instructed to use his “white voice” for sales. Adopting this style, his sales go through the roof and this leads to all types of mayhem as Cassius just wants to make money but is faced with so much more. From there the satire gets surreal, leaving its cautionary bent and turning into a mockery of modern day celebrity. On an acid trip. A thoroughly engaging and ridiculous movie.