Piers Marchant at Sundance Day Five

January 28, 2020

Sundance 2020: Day 5


Number of Films: 3
Best Film of the Day: Minari

Palm Springs: A difficult comedy to write about, as it involves a plot twist (revealed early on) that is best no revealed. Let us say, then , that Max Barbakow‘s comedy updates and expands upon a well-regarded previous film’s philosophies in ways that feel sufficiently fresh and soulful. Andy Samberg stars as Niles, a loose, devil-may-care dude stuck at a wedding in the desert, and trying to make the most of his experience. Cristin Milioti is Sarah, the older sister of the bride, who is every bit as cynical and self-loathing as Niles is irresponsible and irascible. Naturally, the two of them find each other and start to hang out, but a lot more is in store for Sarah than she can possibly understand, including the sudden appearance of Roy (J.K. Simmons), a dark-clad commando with a crossbow, who seems to have it totally in against Sarah’s new-found friend.  Samberg’s greatest comedic aspect is his mouth, which can shift instantly from leading man handsome, to hopeless goofball. Meanwhile, Milioti is fantastic in a role that requires her to carry the emotional weight of the film through to the end. Smooth without feeling slick, much as its obvious predecessor, it manages to pack a significant emotional klop without being cloying. 

Minari: Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical film about a South Korean family who move from California to Arkansas in order to start a vegetable farm is a joy to watch. Not just in the sense that its so precise and well-made, but also because it embraces such a wide swath of life, good, bad, indifferent, and doesn’t try to convince us, Hollywood style, that any truths can be simple unto themselves. When Jacob (Stephen Yeun) first moves his clan to the countryside, his wife, Monica (Han Yeri), is deeply unhappy with their predicament, his children, daughter (Noel Cho), and 7-year-old son (Alan S. Kim) are struggling, and his attempt to turn the land into a worthy investment questionable. But through perseverance, hard work, constant negotiation, the arrival of Monica’s mother (Yuh Jung Youn), and, it must be said, the willing support of the locals, the family figures out a way to improve their lot. There aren’t easy answers to any of this, to Chung’s credit, and even the ending, the substance of which you can predict halfway through the film, is handled in a way that feels organic and downplayed. The film is certainly charming, but that’s not to diminish its straightforward approach to its characters’ plight. It doesn’t shy away from the their difficulties, and as a result, it doesn’t cheat towards smarmy emotional closure. 

Assassins: One of those docs where the scraps of knowledge you might remember on a specific subject prove to be laughably off-base. In 2018, Kim Jun-nam, the older brother of North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jun-un, was brazenly murdered in a Malaysian airport by two young women wiping an extremely dangerous nerve agent on his face. Once captured, the women were initially condemned from all sides, facing the death penalty for their alleged crime, and seemed doomed. But gradually, with the help of their lawyers and the diplomatic work of their home countries (one was Indonesian and the other Vietnamese), a very different sort of story began to emerge. Ryan White has made a captivating doc on the rigorous planning of an international murder, the peculiar legal system of Malaysia, and the more-than-disturbing nature of North Korea’s current political climate. 

Tomorrow: I start my day with Robert Machoian’s The Killing of Two Lovers; check out Braden King’s The Evening Hour; run as quickly as possible to take in Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’s doc, The Truffle Hunters; try and make it to Edson Oda’s Nine Days; and finish out a busy schedule with Jeff Baena’s Horse Girl. 

Into the frigid climes and rarefied thin air of the spectacular Utah Mountains, I’ve arrived in order to document some of the sense and senselessness of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Over the next week, armed with little more than a heavy parka and a bevy of blank reporter’s notebooks, I’ll endeavor to watch as many movies as I can and report my findings. 9:50AM  |   URL:  https://tmblr.co/Z52bPy2nRa9LT
(view comments) FILED UNDER: sweet smell of successssospiers marchantfilmsmoviessundance 2020park cityminarilee isaac chungstephen yeunassassinsryan whitepalm springsmax barbakowCristin Miliotiarkansas democrat gazette

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