Lay the Favorite, based on a memoir written by Beth Raymer, begins with Raymer (played by Rebecca Hall, The Town, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) moving on from her career as a stripper in a small Florida town. She packs up her belongings, including her dog, and heads to Las Vegas where she dreams of a bigger, brighter life as a cocktail waitress. Once in Las Vegas, she mixes company with Dink (Bruce Willis) a seasoned bookie with a hard-nosed, yet charming, personality. He would place a bet on anything, and he has a hunch that Raymer has more to offer than just her good looks. He offers her a job in his bookie business, and Dink quickly realizes that Raymer is a whiz with numbers and has a gifted memory.
Every once in a while, a film pulls away from every comfortable storytelling convention viewers have come to know and expect. Somehow, the story moves like poetry through its world and its events, creating its own rules; as a result, the story becomes more than a film. It becomes a feeling that has the ability to profoundly affect each viewer in its own way. Somehow, that film makes more sense than any tightly-written movie that premiered with it at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. For this year, that film is Beasts of the Southern Wild.
This film tells the story of Majo, a young, aspiring hip-hop artist, played by Gina Rodriguez, who raps under the stage name Filly Brown. When the film opens she is performing regularly at a local radio station where she delivers her rhymes on socio-economic and feminist issues. At first glance, she is a passionate performance poet within the male-dominated Latino hip-hop community.
Indie studio Entertainment One (eOne) picked up Sundance World Dramatic Competition film Wish You Were Here for a probable theatrical release of Fall 2012.
The Australian film follows four friends as they let loose on a vacation in Southeast Asia. Breathtaking sequences shot by cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin and edited by Jason Ballantine expose the culture, the marketplaces, the raves, and the high-octane happiness that the tourists indulge in. The tragedy and mystery of this dramatic thriller is that by the end of the trip, only three of the four friends return home.
Melanie Lynskey, perhaps best known for her roles in Heavenly Creatures, Ever After, and Two and a Half Men, finally takes center stage in this character-driven indie film. Hello I Must Be Going tells the story of Amy, a recently divorced thirty-something, who has found herself disconnected from the artistic young woman she once was, as well as from the buttoned-up lawyer’s wife she became before her divorce. Amy moves into her parents’ house without direction or drive, but when she meets a much younger family friend, her passion reignites in an unexpected, or perhaps quite expected, way. Hello I Must Be Going is a simplistic film that surprises with its sharp wit and charm as it tells the all-too-familiar story of starting over when life takes an unexpected turn.
Arbitrage stars Richard Gere as Robert Miller, a Madoff-esque investor on the precipice of financial ruin. Time is running out for the investment mogul before his family, or the press, uncover his secrets. His daughter, Brooke, played by Brit Marling, who is also his Chief Financial Officer, is unaware of his illegal activity even though his actions could land her in jail. He desperately wants to bury his dirty dealings and fix his problems before his family falls apart. But, his life is about to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better.
In this WonderCon panel, the forensic psychiatrists of Broadcast Thought, H. Eric Bender, M.D., Praveen R. Kambam, M.D., and Vasilis K. Pozios, M.D., joined forces with Mark E. Safarik, M.S., V.S.M., one of the senior (retired) members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, to explain the pathology found in the dark world of Gotham City's serial killers. These panelists compared and contrasted some of the deadliest real-life killers with some of Gotham’s most notorious.
In his prime, Frank lived his life as a conman, a cat burglar, a man who had a high-flying life and paid the price with two stints in jail. During that time, he fell in love and had two children. Now, Frank (played by Frank Langella) is a crotchety old man, set in his ways, who suffers from dementia and lives alone in a modest home. His son Hunter (James Marsden) makes the five-hour drive back and forth each week to visit him, while daughter Madison (Liv Tyler) completes a humanitarian mission halfway across the world. When his son visits, Frank often forgets tasks and cannot remember details from his past, and the burden becomes too great for Hunter to handle alone. In this realistic near-future story, Hunter does not have to place his father in a home. Instead, he buys him a robot, and the unexpected buddy film of 2012 is born.
Leslye Headland wrote and directed Bachelorette, a film adaptation of a play that she also penned. The play of the same name is one part of a series based on the seven deadly sins, with Bachelorette assigned Gluttony. The film unapologetically dives into its characters’ vices: meanness, drug abuse, casual sex, and self-loathing, to name a few. Bachelorette, however, manages to entertain and indulge its audience while presenting characters in crisis. This dark comedy is razor sharp both in wit and pain; although, Headland’s desensitized characters may not feel the full sting of their words or actions, by the end, the audience sure does.
I managed to see 13 screenings during my trip to Sundance this year. Here’s how my list ended up:
Hello I Must Be Going
Wish You Were Here
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Shorts Program 1
Robot and Frank
Lay the Favorite
Save the Date (with screening of the short film Bear)
Safety Not Guaranteed
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Some films failed to make much of an impression; however, a few managed to really stand out. The festival still has a week left, but a couple buzzworthy films have already taken center stage. I can’t wait to write full reviews!
Here is a little bit about two buzzworthy films that I saw but did not have on my original list: