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January 2023

Young Americans

Shortcomings-movie-review
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Shortcomings (2023)

Adrian Tomine bounds up the list of comics creators whose books have been turned into films without disastrous consequences, having inspired two decent ones in succession. "Paris, 13th District" reworked some of his stories through the lens of Jacques Audiard and Céline Sciamma, and moved them a fair distance from the source. But now "Shortcomings," for which Mr. Tomine did the adaptation himself, is a direct translation from one medium to the other. Characters, dialogue, and for the most part droll social commentary all survive the trip from Mr. Tomine's 2004-2007 comics essentially intact.

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Mommie Dearest

Bad-behaviour-movie-review-jennifer-connelly
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Bad Behaviour (2023)

Showbiz mothers, already indicted many times for many crimes, are back in the dock in "Bad Behaviour" before being let out on parole. Alice Englert, writing and directing her feature debut after a couple of short films, plays the younger side of a mother-daughter relationship bent out of shape by the influence of the past, in this case by the parent's acting fame from years before. That the daughter, Dylan (Ms. Englert), has followed her mother Lucy (Jennifer Connelly) into the same industry is just one dimension of a tense codependency. Ms. Englert would know something about this kind of potential disaster, although her own mother, Jane Campion, cameos here offering moral support, and the vibe is comedy-drama compassion not confessional.

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Spousal Support

You-hurt-my-feelings-movie-review-julia-louis-dreyfus
A24

MOVIE REVIEW
You Hurt My Feelings (2023)

Nicole Holofcener is a national treasure who should be protected at all costs. There is hardly anyone in America anymore doing similar work to her, which is to say, making midbudgets about the everyday problems of middle-class people without a lick of special effects; it’s obvious why the Sundance Film Festival loves her. There are filmmakers all over Europe being praised to the skies for making movies about the first-world problems faced by the well-off in Paris or Amsterdam or cosy second homes in the countryside. Why is Ms. Holofcener one of the very few Americans working in this vein? Her movies are not twee and they are certainly aren’t boring; they just might have a little more realism than people care to deal with. It’s the drama of the everyday things, when a disagreement over a rack of tasteful earrings can be as high stakes as an infinity stone.

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Sleeping With the Enemy

Fair-play-movie-review-phoebe-dynevor-alden-ehrenreich
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Fair Play (2023)

Emily (Phoebe Dynevor) is supposed to be smart. She is the only woman analyst on the trading floor of her finance organization (the details of which aren’t really important, though it’s rare for a finance company to be so blind to gender optics these days) but she doesn’t know two things. Firstly, men in finance are the most gossipy and self-serving backstabbers on the planet, capable of making million-dollar gambles based on nothing more than a feeling and a few columns on a spreadsheet, and generally prepared to shank their grandmothers if there is a commission in it. Secondly, while she earned her position by being exceptional at her job, her fellow analyst Luke (Alden Ehrenreich) was a nepo hire, only maintained on payroll because somebody owed his brother a favor, which Emily somehow never realized. “Fair Play” only works if the very smart Emily is inexplicably stupid about these two things. The opening sequence, of a sex scene at a wedding reception which breaks new ground in how menstruation is shown on film, is meant to explain why: Luke and Emily have been in a secret relationship for so long and so seriously that Luke proposes right there on the bathroom floor. Emily accepts, which is the beginning of the worst week of her life, as she learns what every professional woman should already know: No office dick is worth the office drama.

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Baby Talk

The-pod-generation-movie-review-emilia-clarke-chiwetel-ejiofor
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Pod Generation (2023)

Into this moment of tension over reproductive rights lands "The Pod Generation," a gentle sci-fi satire of parental unease that isn't toothless but wants to try mediation and understanding rather than scream at anyone in anger. Whether this is actually a failing, or bad timing, or just a missed opportunity might depend on the eye of the beholder along with their feelings about the set of reproductive organs lower down; but it does produce a film skirting around the full nature of its own topic at a safe distance so as not to get singed.

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Everybody Hurts

Sometimes-i-think-about-dying-movie-review-daisy-ridley
Dustin Lane/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Sometimes I Think About Dying (2023)

The obvious joke that "Sometimes I Think About Dying" could have come from the Sundance Random Title Generator is deflated a bit by the fact that the film already heard this gag, back when the original short of the same name played at the festival in 2019. But the shoe does fit. The new expansion is from the same writers - Stefanie Abel Horowitz who also directed the short, Katy Wright-Mead who also starred in it, and Kevin Armento who wrote the original play that inspired both short and feature - and has the same outline: a meek, introverted Fran (here Daisy Ridley) is lonely and depressed in the overcast Oregon gloom. The short was essentially a two-hander, while this feature, directed by Rachel Lambert, has room for all the co-workers Fran endures at her office job, well-meaning overly upbeat cubicle dwellers that might make anyone consider oblivion, if not freelancing.

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The Trail Not Taken

The-eight-mountains-le-otto-montagne-movie-review-luca-marinelli-alessandro-borghi
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Eight Mountains (2023)

“The Eight Mountains” is an adaptation of an Italian coming-of-age novel by Paolo Cognetti, who himself attended film school but whose only contribution here apart from the source material is a cameo role. Instead, the adaptation and directing duties inexplicably have gone to a pair of Belgians: Felix van Groeningen, best known on these shores as the director of “Beautiful Boy” starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, and Charlotte Vandermeersch, an actress with an extensive resume in Belgian TV. Though la Belgique is nowhere near les Alpes, the filmmakers do a good job of conveying an overall literary aura. Still, it’s hard to argue this should not have been a miniseries instead.

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Double or Quits

Infinity-pool-movie-review-mia-goth-alexander-skarsgård
Neon

MOVIE REVIEW
Infinity Pool (2023)

Brandon Cronenberg's previous film, "Possessor," had moments of gore and violence, while manipulating you mostly through drastic quiet unease about mind and body; a film in which Andrea Riseborough calmly stared at you while you were staring at her. "Infinity Pool" barges in and breaks the window and makes a mess on the floor; a film in which Mia Goth screams at you about your unease until you decide that maybe you don't feel so bad. Emboldened, reasonably enough, by the last film's success, Mr. Cronenberg now attacks on multiple fronts. In "Infinity Pool" there are clones and doubles and sleight of hand about which is which. There are rich white people going off the deep end into drug-fuelled violence in a country offensively poorer than Los Angeles. There's a bag of storytelling tactics, harsh editing and strobe lighting and subliminal glimpses of genitalia, the tool kit that gets called experimental - but really isn't because it isn't chasing a state of mind, just an instant of disorientation, not the same thing. All these flammable items go into the test tube, without catching fire.

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About a Boy

Limmensità-movie-review-penélope-cruz-luana-giuliani
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
L'Immensità (2023)

Andrew (he/him), played by Luana Giuliani, is a perpetually dour teen unpleasant to his younger siblings. Against his wishes, his parents, Clara (Penélope Cruz) and Felice (Vincenzo Amato), continue to misgender him and call him by his dead name, Adri. They seem to think this is a phase he should have outgrown by now. Andrew also begrudgingly attends a girls’ Catholic school where the uniform is of course far from gender-affirming for him. When alone, he asks God to send him a sign – which appears to manifest in black-and-white TV performances of ’60s Italian pop singers, or maybe in the form of a slum off the beaten path beyond the wire-fenced reeds Clara has designated as out of bounds. Having a clean slate there would certainly afford Andrew the chance to romantically pursue Sara (Penélope Nieto Conti).

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Child's Play

Theater-camp-movie-review-molly-gordon-ben-platt
Searchlight Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Theater Camp (2023)

A mockumentary chronicling the 3-week-long AdirondActs summer camp for drama kids, Sundance entry “Theater Camp” immediately brings to mind cult favorites like “Waiting for Guffman” and “Wet Hot American Summer.” Naturally, the film brings the premise up to date: Crypto-bro-esque vlogger Troy (Jimmy Tatro) takes the reins after the founder, his mother, Joan (Amy Sedaris), suffers a seizure from a strobe light during a middle school play and becomes comatose. To make matters worse, AdirondActs is on the brink of bankruptcy; Caroline (Patti Harrison), a venture capitalist type, sees this as an opportunity to help expand a neighboring camp. But in spite of these signs of the Millennial times, the film inexplicably has the look of 1970s archival footage from the documentary “Crip Camp.”

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