Sundance Film Festival 2022

Today kicks off the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, the largest independent film festival in the United States. The event was founded in 1978 by Sterling Van Wagenen under the name the Utah/US Film Festival. It was originally a festival to showcase and celebrate American cinema. But over the next several years, Sundance grew and evolved into the premiere film festival in the country, expanding its vision to include movies from all over the globe.

Over the next several days I’ll be covering some of my most anticipated films from this year’s program. I have a pretty hefty slate of movies and (barring life’s interruptions) hope to have several Sundance reviews and impressions on the site. I hope you’ll follow along.

Here are JUST SOME of the films I’ll be seeing over the next several days. Let me know what you think.

892” (Director: Abi Damaris Corbin, Starring: Jon Boyega, Michael K. Williams, Nicole Beharie, Connie Britton)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “Living in a cheap motel in Atlanta and separated from his wife and child, former U.S. Marine veteran Brian Easley is desperate. Driven to the brink by forces beyond his control, the soft-spoken, kind man decides to rob a bank and hold hostages with a bomb. As police, media, and family members descend on the bank and Brian, it becomes clear he’s not after money — he wants to tell his story and have what is rightfully his, even if it costs him his life.”

A Love Song” (Director: Max Walker-Silverman, Starring: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “After unhitching her camper at a lakeside in the mountains, Faye finds her rhythm cooking meals, retrieving crawfish from a trap, and scanning her old box radio for a station. She looks expectantly at the approach of a car or the mailman, explaining to neighboring campers that she’s waiting for a childhood sweetheart she hasn’t seen in decades. When he does arrive, Lito and Faye, both widowed, spend an evening reminiscing about their lives, losses, and loneliness.”

After Yang” (Director: Kogonada, Starring: Colin Ferrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Justin H. Min, Haley Lu Richardson, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “When Yang — a lifelike, artificially intelligent android that Jake and Kyra buy as a companion for their adopted daughter — abruptly stops functioning, Jake just wants him repaired quickly and cheaply. But having purchased Yang “certified refurbished” from a now-defunct store, he’s led first to a conspiracy theorist technician and then a technology museum curator, who discovers that Yang was actually recording memories. Jake’s quest eventually becomes one of existential introspection and contemplating his own life, as it passes him by.”

Fresh” (Director: Mimi Cave, Starring: Sebastian Stan, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Jonica T. Gibbs, Charlotte Le Bon, Dayo Okeniyi)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “Frustrated by scrolling dating apps only to end up on lame, tedious dates, Noa takes a chance by giving her number to the awkwardly charming Steve after a produce-section meet-cute at the grocery store. During a subsequent date at a local bar, sassy banter gives way to a chemistry-laden hookup, and a smitten Noa dares to hope that she might have actually found a real connection with the dashing cosmetic surgeon. She accepts Steve’s invitation to an impromptu weekend getaway, only to find that her new paramour has been hiding some unusual appetites.”

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” (Director: Adamma Ebo, Starring: Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Nicole Beharie, Austin Crute)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “As the proud first lady of a Southern Baptist megachurch, Trinitie Childs carries immense responsibility on her shoulders. Her church, Wander To Greater Paths, once served a congregation in the tens of thousands, but after a scandal involving her husband, Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs, forced the church to close temporarily, Trinitie is struggling to manage the aftermath. Now Trinitie and Lee-Curtis must rebuild their congregation and reconcile their faith by all means necessary to make the biggest comeback that commodified religion has ever seen.”

Living” (Director: Oliver Hermanus, Starring: Bill Nighy, Tom Burke, Alex Sharp, Aimee Lou Wood)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “A veteran civil servant and bureaucratic cog in the rebuilding of Britain post-WWII, Williams expertly pushes paperwork around a government office only to reckon with his existence when he’s diagnosed with a fatal illness. A widower, he conceals the condition from his grown son, spends an evening of debauchery with a bohemian writer in Brighton, and uncharacteristically avoids his office. But after a vivacious former co-worker, Margaret, inspires him to find meaning in his remaining days, Williams attempts to salvage a modest building project from bureaucratic purgatory.”

Resurrection” (Director: Andrew Semans, Starring: Rebecca Hall, Tim Roth, Angela Wong Carbone, Josh Drennen, Rosemary Howard)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “Margaret leads a successful and orderly life, perfectly balancing the demands of her busy career and single parenthood to her fiercely independent daughter Abbie. But that careful balance is upended when she glimpses a man she instantly recognizes, an unwelcome shadow from her past. A short time later, she encounters him again. Before long, Margaret starts seeing David everywhere — and their meetings appear to be far from an unlucky coincidence. Battling her rising fear, Margaret must confront the monster she’s evaded for two decades who has come to conclude their unfinished business.”

When You Finish Saving the World” (Director: Jesse Eisenberg, Starring: Julianne Moore, Finn Wolfhard, Alisha Boe, Jay O. Sanders)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “From his bedroom home studio, high school student Ziggy performs original folk-rock songs for an adoring online fan base. This concept mystifies his formal and uptight mother, Evelyn, who runs a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse. While Ziggy is busy trying to impress his socially engaged classmate Lila by making his music less bubblegum and more political, Evelyn meets Angie and her teen son, Kyle, when they seek refuge at her facility. She observes a bond between the two that she’s missing with her own son, and decides to take Kyle under her wing against her better instincts.”

You Won’t Be Alone” (Director: Goran Stolevski, Starring: Noomi Rapace, Alice Englert, Carloto Cotta, and Sara Klimoska)

SUNDANCE SYNOPSIS: “In an isolated mountain village in 19th-century Macedonia, a young girl is taken from her mother and transformed into a witch by an ancient, shape-shifting spirit. Left to wander feral, the young witch beholds the natural world with curiosity and wonder. After inadvertently killing a villager and assuming her body, she continues to inhabit different people, living among the villagers for years, observing and mimicking their behavior until the ancient spirit returns, bringing them full circle.”

I hope you’ll follow along and share your thoughts along the way.

First Glance: “Against the Ice” (2022)

Mark this down as another movie that looks right up my alley. Danish filmmaker Peter Flinth teams with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to give us one of those “based on an unbelievable true story” movies. In addition to its compelling historical bend, the movie also looks to be a gripping and possibly terrifying survival story. The first trailer looks great and gives us plenty to chew one.

Coster-Waldau plays Captain Ejnar Mikkelsen, a polar explorer who is tasked with retrieving the findings of a Danish expedition lost in the frozen tundra of North-Eastern Greenland. Only one man volunteers to accompany Mikkelsen on his treacherous journey – a young mechanic played by Joe Cole. Shot on location in Iceland and Greenland, the movie looks to fully embrace the dangers of its setting. I love the look of this.

“Against the Ice” premieres on Netflix March 2nd. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

First Glance: “Studio 666”

The Foo Fighters, rock-n-roll, a new album, a bloodthirsty demon-possessed David Grohl decapitating someone with a cymbal. What’s unusual about that? All of those things and more are thrown into the new trailer for “Studio 666”, a horror comedy written by Grohl and starring the members of the rock band Foo Fights. Talk about a wacky but undeniably catchy combination!

“Studio 666” sees the Foo Fighters preparing to record their 10th album. “We gotta break the mold with this one.” They pick an old country mansion to start writing and recording. But frustrations grow after each member of the band are hit with writer’s block. Even worse, the creepy old house has some pretty terrifying history. It’s all completely absurd and the movie looks to be borrowing from about ten different horror classics. But I love its self-awareness and I’m anxious to give it a shot.

“Studio 666” hits theaters February 25th. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

Movie Poster Spotlight: “To Live and Die in LA”

When I first started this feature my intent was to highlight classic movie posters just as much as new ones. But end of the year movies and awards season got me off track. What better way to get back on track than this beauty? When released in 1985, William Friedkin’s neo-noir thriller received mixed reviews from critics (one big exception was Roger Ebert who loved it). But since then the film has gained a hearty following. Either way, the movie’s poster is one of my favorites from the 80s. Tell me what you think.

DIRECTOR – William Friedkin

WRITER – William Friedkin, Gerald Petievich

STARRING – William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell, Robert Downey, Sr., Darlanne Fluegel, Steve James

RELEASE – November 1, 1985

First Glance: “Blacklight”

It’s that time of the year again. February is the usual landing ground for new Liam Neeson PG-13 action thrillers. This year the 69-year-old Irishman is giving us “Blacklight”, a shoot-em-up that looks to check every box Neeson fans will be expecting. This is the third film he has made with director Mark Williams, and it doesn’t look like the duo are straying too far away from their previous collaborations. To be honest, I’m kinda ok with that.

This time around Neeson plays a fixer working for the FBI. He’s ready to step away from his “work”, determined to be a better grandfather than he was a father. But wouldn’t you know it, the powers that be have no interest in him hanging up his Beretta. It’s made even worse when he discovers that the people he’s been working for are actually responsible for some pretty horrific crimes. Of course our hero pushes back, his family is put in danger, and Neeson is forced to unleash his “particular set of skills”. I’m game.

“Blacklight” is set to open in theaters February 11th. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

K&M Commentary: Movies, Musicals and Marvel

(CLICK HERE to read my full article/essay in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

I’m not sure the movie business has ever been in a weirder place than it is right now. Watching movies has never been easier than it is today. Streaming services have literally put entire catalogs of feature films right at our finger tips. We can watch them on our big screen televisions, on our tablets, or on our cell phones. We can watch them in the comfort of our living room, on an airplane, or in a hospital waiting room. Streaming has forever changed the way movie lovers consume content.

But what about the way we once watched movies? What about the movie theaters? It goes without saying that streaming has cut into the movie theaters’ business. Just how much is hard to say and it usually swings on a variety of factors (ticket pricing, size of markets, etc.). Yet while many movie houses and theater chains are feeling the impact, they are kept afloat by a select group of movies that fans will flock to no matter what. And while this steady trend helps theaters, it highlights a bigger concern – one that could have a far-reaching impact on the kind of films being made.

A couple weeks back Steven Spielberg’s sparkling and critically acclaimed musical adaptation “West Side Story” opened to a paltry $10 million at the box office. As of now it has only managed $50 million. Considering the lackluster returns on other 2021 movie musicals like “In the Heights” and “Dear Evan Hansen”, no one was expecting record-breaking numbers from “West Side Story”. But for a movie needing an estimated $300 million to break even, it’s safe to say expectations were higher. Within hours after the disappointing numbers went public, articles began springing up citing the reluctance of audiences to go to theaters due to COVID concerns. Sounds reasonable and it’s an explanation that would be easy to digest if not for one thing – “Spider-Man: No Way Home”.

Only one week removed from “West Side Story’s” underwhelming debut, “No Way Home” (the latest installment in the ludicrously lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe) has shattered records bringing in an astonishing $253 million domestically during its opening weekend. To add some context, this is the third Spider-Man movie to star Tom Holland as the beloved webslinger. The first film brought in $117 million on opening weekend back in 2017. The second film raked in $92 million back in 2019. Both were pre-pandemic releases.

Suddenly the pandemic hesitancy excuse being made for “West Side Story” and other films doesn’t hold as much water. Clearly people will still go to the theaters. But they’re not going to see “West Side Story” or Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” or Guillermo del Toro’s terrific “Nightmare Alley” which just opened and could only muster an abyssal $3 million in its first weekend. Without question there are variables at play. For example, there are older moviegoers who would likely go see those films if not for COVID concerns. But differences in numbers this massive seem to indicate something else is going on.

To get a better grip of the situation all you have to do is look at the 2021 box office numbers and see how many of the top grossers of the year were franchise movies. Obviously tentpole blockbusters topping the charts is nothing new and they happen to be an important part of the movie business. But with the infusion of huge crowd-pleasing interconnected moneymakers like the Marvel films (and we get several each year), they seem to have completely taken over. And there’s no sign of that changing any time soon.

What does that mean for movies that aren’t bound to the franchise model? What does that mean for filmmakers willing to take chances and make something fresh and original? What does it mean for them getting funding? How long will companies be willing to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into projects only to take a bath, even if the director is Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, or Guillermo del Toro? Those may sound like questions for the studios to wrestle with, but they very well could effect the kind of movies we get going forward. Could we be heading to a place where original mid-budget movies are too big of a gamble?

So what’s the cause? Are we finally reaching that point where the influx of big-budget star-studded franchises has diluted the tastes of audiences? Deep down I don’t believe it’s a clear this-or-that issue. There are several things that factor into the equation including the pandemic and the increased popularity of streaming platforms. But I also believe something has changed with a fairly large segment of moviegoers.

With the exception of cinephiles who more-or-less watch some of everything, it seems a large number of people simply have little interest in seeing movies that aren’t franchise connected. Sure there are a few exceptions, but the numbers are pretty telling and the potential consequences are concerning, especially for someone like myself who loves small and mid-budget features just as much as I love blockbusters. What will it take to get people to try other movies? I don’t know, but studios have to be feeling it. And at this rate you can’t really blame them if they decide to cut their losses. I hope we never reach that point.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in the comments section below.