Offline Connection

BFI Flare

Sweetheart (2021)

The British seaside movie is normally a house of horrors. There are vampires (“Byzantium”), human trafficking (“London to Brighton”), exploitation (“Brighton Rock” in all its guises), drug deals gone awry (“Away”), kidnapping and torture (“The Scouting Book for Boys”), and violence in all its forms (“Quadrophenia” being the granddaddy of them all). “Sweetheart” triumphantly breaks the mold by being about exactly none of these things. It is such a relief to see a movie set on the English coast where the worst thing that happens is a fancy-dress night in the pub.

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Negative Action

Lou Nakasako/Sundance Institute

Try Harder! (2021)

The documentary “Try Harder!” speaks the quiet part out loud: Cards have long been stacked in academia against Asian Americans. Director Debbie Lum presents these inequities as the facts of life that they are, of which non-Asians who benefit must be acutely aware but prefer not to give the game away.

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Lone Wolf

Sean Ellis/Sundance Institute

Eight for Silver (2021)

“Eight for Silver” is a period horror film in more than one sense: It’s a werewolf picture set in the 19th century; and it’s the type of quality midbudget Gothic horror indie distributors used to pick up from Europe and that you never knew existed until happening upon their sun-faded sleeves (complete with Worldvision Enterprises logo) on the shelves of rental stores. Those went near extinct as the Coppola “Dracula” and the Branagh “Frankenstein” jumped the shark in the early 1990s, and with good reason. First came the wave of high concept meta-horror, and then low-budget “Blair Witch” types flooded our streaming-killed-the-video-star present day.

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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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