Sundance Selects' 2011 "Direct from the Sundance Film Festival" Initiative
These Amazing Shadows (January 19/11)
These Amazing Shadows is a fascinating documentary revolving around the National Film Registry, with its creation in 1988 used as a springboard for an all-encompassing look at various film-related issues (including the restoration of badly-damaged titles and a historical look at the first female directors). Filmmakers Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton initially capture the viewer's interest by allowing famous folks like Rob Reiner, Christopher Nolan, and John Waters to talk about their favorite movies, with the inherently compelling nature of said interviews effectively (and easily) compensating for the fact that the movie feels like an AFI special during such moments. For the most part, however, These Amazing Shadows is concerned with tidbits and anecdotes related to the National Film Registry - as Mariano and Norton effectively take the viewer on a cinematic tour of the many issues related to its mandate. As such, the movie contains a number of eye-opening, downright fascinating stretches - including a look at the censorship (and subsequent restoration) of 1933's now-notorious Barbara Stanwyck vehicle Baby Face. The end result is a briskly-paced and thoroughly captivating documentary that instantly establishes itself as a must-see for film buffs, though it's clear that even casual moviegoers will find plenty here worth embracing.
Uncle Kent (January 22/11)
Filmmaker Joe Swanberg's sixth feature, Uncle Kent follows a 40-year-old cartoonist (Kent Osborne's Kent) as he invites a Chatroullette friend (Jennifer Prediger's Kate) to stay at his house for the weekend - with the movie subsequently (and primarily) detailing the pair's aimless exploits. Swanberg has infused Uncle Kent with a pervasively low-rent feel that prevents the viewer from connecting with the central character's plight on an all-too-frequent basis, which, in turn, ensures that the film's improvisatory atmosphere becomes interminable virtually from the word go. The movie's shot-on-the-cheap sensibilities effectively exacerbate its various problems, as Swanberg's distractingly inept directorial choices are reflected in everything from the shoddy visuals to the lackadaisical pacing to the excessively subdued performances. (Even the soundtrack suffers from Swanberg's penny-pinching modus operandi, with the hollow, tinny sound design, coupled with the actors' tendency to mumble, rendering many of the film's conversations unintelligible.) And although Swanberg has peppered the narrative with a handful of admittedly truthful sequences - ie Kent engages in a frank conversation about the perils of dating at 40 with a friend - Uncle Kent is, for the most part, the latest underwhelming drama from a man who stubbornly refuses to grow as a filmmaker (ie even Kevin Smith followed up Clerks with the comparatively ambitious Mallrats).