The Trail Not Taken

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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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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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Ship of Fools

Triangle-of-sadness-movie-review-harris-dickinson-charlbi-dean
Fredrik Wenzel

MOVIE REVIEW
Triangle of Sadness (2022)

“Triangle of Sadness” continues writer-director Ruben Östlund’s preoccupation with the upending of hierarchical social constructs – gender, race, wealth, class, chain of command etc. – in the face of disasters natural or manmade. It’s certainly the kind of stuff that plays well at festivals, as evidenced by Cannes twice bestowing on him the Palme d’or. But does anyone honestly remember what happens in “The Square,” which won him his first in 2017, without looking up the plot? “Triangle,” Mr. Ostlund’s second Palme d’or winner, has a wild ending that feeds right into the rush of the festival setting; the problem lies in the uneven two and a half hours it takes to get there.

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True Bromance

Rrr-movie-review-n-t-rama-rao-jr-ram-charan
DVV Entertainment

MOVIE REVIEW
RRR (2022)

Gatekeeping is and has been a serious problem plaguing international film culture. Even those most deeply immersed are often blissfully ignorant of this fact. A tiny, overwhelmingly white group of tastemakers ­­– programmers, critics, editors, distributors – essentially dictate what is fit for Western consumption. For the past year, nary a week has gone by without at least one new Indian release surfacing at multiplexes across the U.S. thanks to the pandemic-related short supply of Hollywood products. Yet major outlets and critics have deemed these films unworthy of any attention. They would of course never do this with a French film, even one without stars or festival credentials. “RRR,” a Telugu-language Indian film which has so far grossed in excess of $10 million in the U.S. – more than four times what “Drive My Car” made in its theatrical run – did not land a review in The New York Times until 12 days after opening, yet that was better than what most films from that country could get.

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When the Saints Go Marching In

Jazz-fest-a-new-orleans-story-movie-review-preservation-hall-jazz-band
The Kennedy/Marshall Company/Sony Pictures Classics

MOVIE REVIEW
Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story (2022)

In a way, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” feels like “Summer of Soul ( . . . Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” with melanin vastly depleted. Directors Ryan Suffern and Frank Marshall seem oblivious at best, ignorant at worst, glossing over glaring questions so as to not hold anyone accountable for apparent inequities on display, making the proceedings as pleasant and inoffensive as possible to make nice with white upper-middle-class boomers who presumably make up their target audience.

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A Laughing Stock

Diamond-hands-the-legend-of-wall-street-bets-movie-review
Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets

MOVIE REVIEW
Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets (2022)

The documentary “Diamond Hands: The Legend of WallStreetBets” recounts how, for one brief moment, unsophisticated investors posting on Reddit beat Wall Street at its own game only to find out that game is indeed rigged in Wall Street’s favor. The entire saga prompted House Financial Services Committee hearings in Washington.

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Game Boy

Sonic-the-hedgehog-2-movie-review-tails
Paramount Pictures and Sega of America

MOVIE REVIEW
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)

It’s easy to get cynical about “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” sequel to a live-action movie based on a Sega video game character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) that travels at supersonic speeds. You may recall the original’s disastrous, universally loathed first trailer, which prompted the studio to postpone the release many months to overhaul the CGI, finally delivering it just before the global pandemic hit in 2020. Yet it’s already getting the sequel treatment, and ahead of 2019’s “Detective Pikachu,” the live-action movie based on a more contemporary Nintendo video game character.

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Final Frontier

The-territory-movie-review-bitate-uru-eu-wau-wau
Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
The Territory (2022)

The Uru-eu-wau-wau people, indigenous to Brazil’s rainforest, have seen their land and their population decimated since the 1980s when miners made first contact in the region. Now farmers brazenly show up with chainsaws and tractors to engage in a free-for-all land grab with no governmental oversight or interference, and they are not above resorting to violence and even murder. Worse, far-right politicians such as President Jair Bolsonaro run on platforms promising a legal path to the encroachment. This fight between the Uru-eu-wau-wau and intruding farmers is the subject of “The Territory,” 2022 Sundance winner of the Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary and Special Jury Award for Documentary Craft.

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Breaking Awaits

When-you-finish-saving-the-world-movie-review-finn-wolfhard-julianne-moore
Beth Garrabrant/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
When You Finish Saving the World (2022)

With “When You Finish Saving the World,” it feels as though actor-turned-filmmaker Jesse Eisenberg has created what seems like an entire universe populated with Mark Zuckerbergs – at least his own take on the tech titan memorialized for posterity in “The Social Network.”

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