Archives for January 2015

The Sundance Baker’s Dozen

Here, in no particular order, are the films I will be discussing over the next couple of weeks in my recap of the 2015 edition of the Sundance Film Festival:

  1. Sleeping With Other People
  2. Fresh Dressed
  3. What Happened, Miss Simone?
  4. Brooklyn
  5. Z for Zachariah *
  6. Slow West *
  7. Listen to Me Marlon
  8. The Diary of a Teenage Girl
  9. Mistress America
  10. Aloft
  11. Eden
  12. Homesick
  13. I Am Michael

The titles marked with an asterisk (*) will be guest posts. Information to follow.

Red Hook Summer Q&A at The Eccles Theatre


Image Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

Sundance 2015: A Preview




My goodness me. No sooner are we looking back at the year that was Cinema: 2014 Edition, that we are looking ahead with curiosity of what is on offer in this current, but still very young year.

This of course means that it is time to finish packing up my winter gear and heading out west to Park City, Utah for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

The official activities start tomorrow, so I thought I would spend a moment telling you what I am most looking forward to. That said, I will not pretend to have what should be expert-level knowledge about what’s in store over the next 10 or so days. But in laying out my schedule, here are a few (10) films that have piqued my interest.


What Happened, Miss Simone? A Netflix-produced documentary about the legendary singer and performer.

The film premieres tomorrow night and will be accompanied by a musical performance from John Legend.


The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution: Yup. Another documentary this time about the ‘notorious’ civil rights party and the impact their influence has today.


Homesick (World Premiere): a film from Norwegian director Anne Sewitsky. This is the story of a 20-something woman meeting her sibling for the first time and trying to navigate the dynamics of this newly-found relationship.



Fresh Dressed: A documentary about the fashion of hip-hop, from its humble origins to the present day.


The Diary of a Teenage Girl: feature film debut of Marielle Heller and based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Phoebe Gloecker. Set in 1970’s San Francisco. That sounds intriguing enough 🙂



I Am Michael: Examines the story of a man (played by James Franco), an outspoken gay-rights advocate who publicly renounces his homosexuality and the complexities and impact his statement has on those around him.

i am michael


Most Likely to Succeed: a look at the disconnect between our institutes of higher learning and the demands of the modern workforce. Directed by Greg Whitely (Mitt).



Mistress America: See the thing is I like Greta Gerwig. And I know in the past I have had my issues (feelings of disconnect) with some of Noah Baumbach’s work (check 2014 NYFF posts), but I think I am going to give this one a chance (fingers crossed).

mistress america


Slow West: Very intrigued by Scot John Maclean’s presentation of the American West starring an Irishman (Michael Fassbender).

slow west


Listen to Me Marlon: Last but certainly not least on my list of films is a look at the life and times of screen legend Marlon Brando. Features exclusive footage from Brando’s personal archive. This is should be very interesting, to say the very least.



Follow all of the action taking place in Park City, no matter where you are:


Photo stills credit: The Sundance Institute.

Selma (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay

I guess it would make sense that I FINALLY post my review of Selma as MLK Day 2015 comes to an end here on the East Coast. I have thought quite a lot about this film – things that I really liked about and things that lead to many conversations with family, friends and colleagues concerning my thoughts.


In so many ways, Selma was going to be an ambitious cinematic endeavor. Not only because it is a rare big screen treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr., but it is also dealing with subjects and topics that goes to the very heart of America’s continued struggle to see its way through the problematic aspects of its history. Add to this that in order to make a dynamic, complex story, one must also blend some on-the-ground (read interpersonal) conflict and interaction in the mix, so the audience is not left feeling that they are merely being lectured about the events surrounding the Selma to Montgomery (Alabama) voting rights marches.

Overall, I found Selma a well-executed production, elevated by the central performances, notably that of David Oyelowo as the civil rights icon.

The task at hand for director Ava DuVernay is a tricky one: on one hand, she has to take some of the pivotal events of the Civil Rights movement and intersperse them with the personal narrative of the people involved in these events.

As it related to the prior, maybe because I feel so close to the historical facts, felt a little “Basil Exposition-y” to me.  Maybe I was more intrigued and engaged by the more interpersonal vs. historic because my parents did such a great job (kudos) of telling my siblings and me this part of American history, as they had lived through and experienced it themselves. So not to say that the history was unimportant or uninteresting to me, but rather, it was oft-trodden ground for me.

But as I have discovered for others, the telling of this story was very necessary. Not entirely a forgotten chapter in our collective memories, I have experienced many folks are not completely aware of the specifics, especially the politics of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act, Selma is clearly a story which needs to be told and in this case, seen. All was not entirely lost for me in the respect, however – the insertion of “based on actual persons” in the drama really did a good job of tying the micro (personal) with the macro (social/political/historical events). They may not have been on screen for a significant period of time, their impact was immediately felt and lasted for the duration of the film.

And yes, I know that there has been some targeted dispute over some of the facts as portrayed in the film, but let me say this in this regard – folks, use it as a learning moment. The internet is free and largely open – the information is there for all to digest and take note of.

As for the person-to-person dynamics I mentioned previously, again, I point to the strength of the performances being convincing and not totally apart from the overarching narrative.

All of this could not have been possible with the stewardship of director and (uncredited) writer Ava DuVernay. In addition to creating rounded characters and not merely cardboard cutouts of historical and “based-on” historical figures, DuVernay also adorned the film with some really visually evocative set pieces that show really place her skills as a storyteller on full display.

So my recommendation is, awards recognition or not, this is a film to be experienced and discussed.