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March 2021

Hot Fuzz

Jake Polonsky/Sundance Institute

The Sparks Brothers (2021)

“The Sparks Brothers” is an Edgar Wright documentary; and fun is the operative word. No stodginess allowed! Unlike the incredibly tedious “Summer of Soul (. . . or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised)” that also premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Mr. Wright seizes every opportunity to make this a lively experience – yes, he is not above IDing talking heads Nick Rhodes and John Taylor as Duran and Duran.

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Burning Question

Getty Images/Sundance Institute

Bring Your Own Brigade (2021)

A documentary on the California wildfires is certainly much needed, but “Bring Your Own Brigade” falls short in its quest to seek cogent answers. There is unsettling cell phone footage of homes and vehicles stuck in traffic enveloped by engulfing flames, with people trapped inside and presumably being burned alive. Those scenes are devastating indeed. While the film recognizes there may be more than one root cause, it unintentionally calls into question the legitimacy of possible culprits it manages to identify.

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Can't See the Forest


In the Earth (2021)

“In the Earth” can be best summarized as the pandemic version of “Annihilation.” Of course there’s more to it, but not much. And by more to it, we mean that the film isn’t entirely committed to one antagonist – it’s the deadly virus, strange things in the woods, a slasher and occult horror all rolled into one. But quantity often isn’t quality.

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Survival of the Unfittest

Kristen Correll

The Fallout (2021)

Revolving around the aftermath of a school shooting, “The Fallout” feels at once remote, thanks to Covid-19-mandated distance learning during the 2020 school year, yet urgent, due to mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo., in early 2021.

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Double Lives

Giulio Biccari

The Lost Sons (2021)

Not every film should be made. There are obvious reasons why Paul Fronczak’s story deserves to be told; and over the course of the film it becomes brutally clear why he needs to tell the story, and yet. Some stories people are just not ready to tell, not now and maybe not ever.

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Try This at Home


Twyla Moves (2021)

What did you do in 2020? While under lockdown, did you attempt to choreograph a new ballet, to be performed over Zoom, with dancers split between New York, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Denmark, and St. Petersburg, Russia? Did that mean some directors were able to take this as a hook to put together your career retrospective, interweaving 60 years of your life and work as one of America’s leading choreographers? Well, if you did, Twyla Tharp’s lawyers will probably be in touch, because she did it first.

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School of Hard Knocked

Well Go USA

Better Days (2019)

Repping Hong Kong in the Best International Feature category at the 2021 Academy Awards, “Better Days” is emblematic of the current state of Chinese filmmaking. Its connection to Hong Kong is peripheral at best: Its Canadian director, Derek Tsang, is the son of Hong Kong entertainer titan Eric Tsang. The Jiu Yuexi novel that serves as the film’s basis has been widely accused by Chinese netizens of plagiarizing works of Japanese mystery writer Keigo Higashino. Starring the immensely popular Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu and Mandopop idol Jackson Yee, “Better Days” does seem unusually polished for a Chinese commercial release – meaning it has that Hong Kong gloss lightyears removed from the Fifth Generation fare that China is mostly known for Stateside.

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Blurred Lines

One Plus One/Sundance Institute

Violation (2021)

This review contains spoilers, so consider this fair warning. Amputation and dismemberment seem to have been a running theme throughout the 2021 Sundance Film Festival selections, and “Violation” certainly has its share. Yet, this rape revenge flick is the only offering (that this reviewer is aware of) at the Sundance virtual screening portal that requires age verification, presumably for prominently featuring a fully erect penis.

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Down and Under


The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson (2021)

Leah Purcell wrote, co-produced, directed and stars in “The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson,” a howl of despair against Australian racism and misogyny. Ms. Purcell adapted the film from a stage play she also wrote based on a short story by Henry Lawson, the deaf writer whose work is some of modern Australia’s foundational art. A woman alone on a farm, who must protect her children against threats of the animal and human variety, is an archetype of suffering. And my god, does the heroine of this movie suffer. But the movie’s strange inability to focus on the most important parts of her suffering weakens its overall impact, which is a crying shame.

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Domino Effect

Steve Price

Lily Topples the World (2021)

In the United States, right now, there are about 15 professional domino artists – that is, people who make a living setting little plastic disks up to knock them down in beautiful, complicated patterns. Only one of them is a woman, Lily Hevesh, who began posting her domino art videos on YouTube age nine. Now she has millions of followers (2 million the time of filming; 3.15 million as of March 23, 2021) and a career with enough momentum that it was worth dropping out of her freshman year of Rensselaer Polytechnic to pursue it. Jeremy Workman, who directed, edited and co-filmed this documentary, spent three years with Ms. Hevesh as she goes to work in her 19th and 20th year. This is a movie about work, and the ways in which work feeds into your virtual identity and vice versa. But on both of these issues, it is strangely guarded, which means the movie sets up a great many questions which it fails to knock down.

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