January 30, 2021
Hi ho, all. I checked off another Sundance pro move today: sleep deprivation. Having not fallen asleep until 3:00AM, I awoke at a brisk 6:45AM to see if “Coda” tickets had come available before its second screening starting at 7:00AM. No such luck, but I then allowed myself another hour of sleep.
8:00 AM — THE SUNDANCE DAILIES
When I awoke for the second time, I spent another morning catching the “Sundance Dailies with Tabitha Jackson. The first of the gues was “Coda” star Eugenio Derbez, who cooked a scrambled egg and avocado dish while discussing the film. The second was the director of “Passing,” Rebecca Hall, who revealed a funny story of her husband’s morning coffee ritual. As I’ve always loved Rebecca Hall, it definitely set the morning off on the right foot.
9:00 AM — FILM #5: “STREET GANG: How We Got To Sesame Street”
My first viewing of the day was the Premiere of the documentary “Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street.” Telling the origin story of “Sesame Street,” the film literally had me weeping one moment and laughing hysterically the next. Its ability to show these larger than life creators basically doing the Lord’s work was so inspirational. These men and women sacrificed their own families to try and better the world around them. And one of the brilliant minds behind the program, John Stone, never got the credit he deserved. But this documentary rectified that. I appreciated this film’s timeliness, being able to capture interviews with most of the living cast members.
Here’s my initial thoughts on the film, which hardly do it any justice:
STREET GANG: HOW WE GOT TO SESAME STREET is hilarious, heart-warming, and at times, a true tearjerker. Built with BTS footage and interviews with Sesame Street’s cast and creators, these people genuinely come off as real-life superheroes.
11:00 AM — LIFE INTERMISSION #1
As my second screening of the day wasn’t until noon, I took the time to run out and grab groceries for my family for the week ahead. While I was out, “Coda” was acquired by Apple for over $25 million. Hopefully, that means I’ll get to see it sooner rather than later since it was still “Sold Out” on the Sundance website.
12:30 PM — FILM #6: “PRIME TIME”
I was excited to see actor Bartosz Bielenia from “Corpus Christi” show up in the film. Still, almost immediately, I started asking, “why are they making this film?” It often felt like no one had any motive for what they were doing. Any opportunity to add any sort of character development was negated for dead space. It also didn’t help that in 2016, a similar film starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts titled “Money Monster” did this exact subject matter with actual stakes.
In sort of a recap of what I just discussed, here’s the excerpt that was posted on my Twitter:
PRIME TIME rises and falls on the performance by Bartosz Bielenia (“Corpus Christi”). However, without motives or character development, you simply can’t care about anyone. There’s a lack of tension, ingenuity, and ultimately, a lack of story.
2:00 PM — FILM #7: “MASS”
Originally I had added “Mass” to my screenings as an afterthought, following the discovery that Fran Kranz was the director. As he introduced the Premiere of his film this morning, he got a little choked up, and from that point further, I knew was I headed into something big. Most of the film takes place in one room. Here, two sets of parents who had sons involved in a school shooting try to come to terms with what happened to them, looking for answers and a way to move forward. Ann Dowd, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, and Reed Birney give some of the best performances you’re ever going to see. And, for the second time today, I was in tears.
Here’s another recap of a review:
MASS is an acting masterclass, setting the audience on a roller coaster of emotions, as two sets of parents look for resolve after a school shooting. When the director gets choked up describing the film, you know you’re in for it. Standing applause!
4:00 PM — LIFE INTERMISSION #2
After emotional wringing from “Street Gang” and “Mass,” both involving children, I found it essential to spend the rest of the afternoon with my kids. We had dinner and watched some episodes of “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous – Season 2.” After bedtime, I jumped back into a few films to finish the night.
9:00 PM — FILM #8: “A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX”
Starting off another “Midnight” double feature was “A Glitch In The Matrix.” The documentary took an unconventional interviewing style by turning its subjects into avatars. The film did its best to elevate the notion of the “simulation theory” made famous by writer Philip K. Dick and “The Matrix” films. I commend director Rodney Ascher for exploring these concepts so profoundly, with highly educated men backing up many of the theories. However, much of it fell on deaf ears. Some bits and pieces stuck out to me, like the part about the young man that took control of an airplane and flew it around before crashing it into an island. Or the extended interview with Virginian High School student Joshua Cooke, who murdered his parents with a shotgun because he thought he was living in “The Matrix.”
One part that did grab me was the mention of Berenstain Bears and the conspiracy theory surrounding the title change of that classic kid’s book series. I, for one, really do recall the titles being Berenstein Bears. Not enough to definitively say, “yes, they absolutely were called that.” There’s enough shadow of doubt in my mind to simply brush it off. We grew up saying it that way and just assumed it was spelled the way we were saying it, without ever really looking closely at it. The conspiracy theorists believe that “sometime between 1986 and 2011, our universe, in which the bears were named BerenstEin, merged with a near-identical parallel universe in which the family is called BerenstAin – which altered our history and left many people perplexed by the change. Further theorists argue that this mess could even have been created by an errant time traveler.”
I’ve got to at least give credit to the people behind this documentary for getting me to think about the world around me. Even if I don’t adhere to their beliefs, I find it important to take in counter-beliefs. Here’s a quick pass of a review for the film:
A GLITCH IN THE MATRIX begs the question, “are we living in a simulation?” Ruminating interviews convey the far-out ideas tangibly, yet none of it sells me. Except maybe the Berenstein/Berenstain Bears theory — we seriously need to discuss that.
11:00 PM — FILM #9: “COMING HOME IN THE DARK”
The second of the “Midnight” double feature was “Coming Home in the Dark.” I knew basically nothing about the film coming in, but when they warned of the film’s graphic nature, I put my guard up. Besides some immediate unexpected turns during the film’s opening, the rest did little to get me excited apart from a couple good performances.
I lay all that out in a little review here:
COMING HOME IN THE DARK turns a New Zealand family trip into a hellish hijacking. Daniel Gillies commands his role as murderous drifter with seasoned prowess. Unfortunately, James Ashcroft’s debut veers out of road and story almost immediately.
2:30AM — DAY THREE WRAP-UP
And just like that, day three is done, with four more days to go. So far, “Street Gang: How We Got To Sesame Street” has to take the top spot as my favorite film this festival. No movie, in general, has evoked so many emotions in me in quite some time. “Mass” and “Censor” round out my top three with nine films down so far. I try not to get jealous of the critics that have seen upwards of twenty films so far. I’d love it if I could be one of them, but it’s just not realistic given my constraints and circumstances.
Tomorrow, however, I have nine films lined up, which is the most for any one day that I’ll have. And even though something tells me there’s no way I’ll get to them all, especially with family plans taking up at least part of my day, I’m still going to give it my best shot.
So now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got five and half hours of sleep to get.
See you in the morning!