I love doing these Sundance Film Festival previews because it’s kind of like looking into a crystal ball and anticipating what we’ll be talking about on the show later in the year. The festival usually showcases a wide variety of films that often end up sweeping the general public off their feet as coverage of these relatively unknown gems finally breakthrough into the public eye. Again, like I mentioned in my initial Sundance preview blog back in 2016, this is a festival I one day hope to attend in person and bring you all firsthand reviews of the films on display. But, for now, I’ll just continue to give you guys my three most anticipated films from Sundance that I can’t wait to see in theaters this year.


You Were Never Really Here

  • Directed by: Lynne Ramsey
  • Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, Alessandro Nivola
  • Release Date: April 6, 2018 (Major Release)
  • Synopsis: A tormented but brutal hired gun sets out to rescue a young girl from a sex ring, only to find himself weathering a storm of violent vengeance when matters go awry.

Joaquin Phoenix as a hit man never really registered in my mind as a possibility. He doesn’t strike me as much of a tough guy. To me, he is and forever will be, Commodus from Gladiator. But even then, he had the unbridled intensity and a touch of controlled insanity that, in fact, could allow him to play such a character to great success. And, it appears that is what we have in You Were Never Really There. Brutal, stunning, and formidable are all words used to describe this film. And, based on the trailer, those words all seem to appropriately fit what Phoenix and director Lynne Ramsey have been able to accomplish here. I feel like this will be the next cult classic that many of us will be talking about in the same breath as Drive and Taxi Driver, as both were unabashedly brutal, visually stunning, and thematically formidable films that rocked moviegoers to their cores and remain relevant to this day. This is definitely one I will be looking forward to seeing this year.


Summer of '84

  • Directed by: Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell
  • Starring: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew
  • Release Date: January 22, 2018 (Sundance Release. No Major Release announced yet)
  • Synopsis: After suspecting that their police officer neighbor is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous.

Much like the superhero and zombie genres, the 80’s nostalgia category in recent date, is dangerously close to reaching high levels of viewer fatigue. And, with the major success of Stranger Things and Super 8 before it, 80’s nostalgia shows and movies revolving around children is also becoming quite the cliché. So, Summer of ’84 already has a lot stacked up against it. That is until you realize that this film is made by the people who brought us the post apocalyptic 80’s infused sci-fi adventure: Turbo Kid. All preconceived notions of trend-following-mediocrity from this 80’s inspired thriller just got thrown out the window. If you guys haven’t seen Turbo Kid but you love the rampant madness of 80’s B-Movie action films, the endearing charm, and cinematic enchantment of early Amblin films, then you need to drop everything and watch this on Netflix today. Once you’ve experienced Turbo Kid and you’ve had a moment to process the heartwarming lunacy you’ve just witnessed, consider once again, that Summer of ’84 was made by the same amazing minds behind your new favorite hero. Yeah, this changes everything. Already proven to be masters of infusing their films with the 80’s spellbinding aura that we all enjoy, this film looks to continue in that trend, but places its heart firmly in the actions of these kids, who already look like the second coming of The Monster Squad. All in all, this looks like it’s going to be another great nostalgic adventure that will undoubtedly fill our hearts with a little more rad love for everything 1980’s.


A Futile and Stupid Gesture

  • Directed by: David Wain
  • Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Emmy Rossum, Will Forte, Paul Scheer, Joel McHale
  • Release Date: January 26, 2018 (Major Release via Netflix)
  • Synopsis: In the 1970s and '80s, National Lampoon's success and influence creates a new media empire overseen in part by the brilliant and troubled Doug Kenney.

Playing once again in the period film sandbox is another movie in and around the 80’s. Only, unlike Summer of ’84, where a lot of the madness on screen is fictional. In A Futile and Stupid Gesture, a lot of the stuff we’ll see on screen, actually happened! This biopic follows Doug Kenney and Henry Beard, played by Will Forte and Domhnall Gleeson respectively, during the nascent years of National Lampoon, the magazine. It'll then follow them as they move on to making movies and in effect, propelling comedy legends like Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Ivan Reitman, Gilda Radner, and John Belushi to super stardom. But, funny as it may be, it is going to be interesting to see the hardships they had to overcome and the battles they had to face in society because of their brand of crude and irreverent humor. Little did they know, that what they were actually doing was shaping the comedic landscape for years to come. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS

While there are a lot more movies being premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, I believe the three above are going to be the standouts of the fest. But, there might be a few others worth keeping an eye on. Here are a few honorable mentions:

American Animals 

  • Director and screenwriter: Bart Layton
  • Starring: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, Ann Dowd, Udo Kier
  • Synopsis: The unbelievable but mostly true story of four young men who mistake their lives for a movie and attempt one of the most audacious art heists in U.S. history. 

 Lizzie 

  • Director: Craig William Macneill, Screenwriter: Bryce Kass
  • Cast: Chloë Sevigny, Kristen Stewart, Jamey Sheridan, Fiona Shaw, Kim Dickens, Denis O'Hare
  • Synopsis: Based on the 1892 murder of Lizzie Borden’s family in Fall River, MA, this tense psychological thriller lays bare the legend of Lizzie Borden to reveal the much more complex, poignant and truly terrifying woman within — and her intimate bond with the family’s young Irish housemaid, Bridget Sullivan. 

The Catcher Was a Spy

  • Director: Ben Lewin, Screenwriter: Robert Rodat
  • Cast: Paul Rudd, Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Jeff Daniels, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti, Connie Nielsen.
  • Synopsis: The true story of Moe Berg – professional baseball player, Ivy League graduate, attorney who spoke nine languages – and a top-secret spy for the OSS who helped the U.S. win the race against Germany to build the atomic bomb. 

White Fang 

  • Director: Alexandre Espigares, Screenwriters: Dominique Monfery, Philippe Lioret, Serge Frydman
  • Starring: Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, Eddie Spears, Paul Giamatti. 
  • Synopsis: An updated re-imagining of Jack London's classic novel, this thrilling tale of kindness, survival and the twin majesties of the animal kingdom and mankind traces the loving and magnificent hero White Fang, whose intense curiosity leads him on the adventure of a lifetime. 

Documentaries

Kusama - Infinity 

  • Director and screenwriter: Heather Lenz
  • Synopsis: Now one of the world’s most celebrated artists, Yayoi Kusama broke free of the rigid society in which she was raised, and overcame sexism, racism, and mental illness to bring her artistic vision to the world stage. At 88 she lives in a mental hospital and continues to create art. 

Hal

  • Director: Amy Scott
  • Synopsis: Hal Ashby's obsessive genius led to an unprecedented string of Oscar®-winning classics, including Harold and MaudeShampoo and Being There. But as contemporaries Coppola, Scorsese and Spielberg rose to blockbuster stardom in the 1980s, Ashby's uncompromising nature played out as a cautionary tale of art versus commerce. 

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

  • Director: Morgan Neville
  • Fred Rogers used puppets and play to explore complex social issues: race, disability, equality and tragedy, helping form the American concept of childhood. He spoke directly to children and they responded enthusiastically. Yet today, his impact is unclear. Have we lived up to Fred's ideal of good neighbors? 

Thanks for reading my Sundance 2018 Film Festival preview. Please feel free to read the rest of our blogs and subscribe to our podcast too. 

Later kids,

J.

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