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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Two-sentence Sundance reviews

It has been a long time since I've regularly written movie reviews (about 14 or 15 years), but I wanted to offer some quick takes (two sentences or less) on the nine movies I saw at Sundance this month... They're listed in order of how much I enjoyed them.

- `Kinky Boots'

    The context for this by-the-numbers comedy -- the hollowed-out industrial north of England -- will bring up memories of `Billy Elliott' and `The Full Monty,' and the wonderful costumes can't help but evoke `Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.' But as much as the narrative feels predictable, with conservative factory workers clashing with Lola, the drag queen whose shoe designs might save a generations-old business, wonderful performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Lola and Joel Edgerton as the shoe factory scion turn it into a real treat.

- `Man Push Cart'

    Director Ramin Bahrani, aided by novice actor Ahmad Razvi, cracks open a door into a world you'd never considered: that of immigrant pushcart vendors in New York City. Their film is moving, acutely observed, and honestly unresolved.

- `All Aboard: Rosie's Family Cruise'

    I was ready to be underwhelmed by this documentary, which seemed like it'd have two points: gay families can be every bit as warm and loving as straight families, and intolerant protesters are bad. Instead, director Shari Cookson's unerring story selection - especially her choice to focus on the ex-NFL player who's now out, and the straight teens of gay parents - make the movie soar (even if Rosie herself seems a bit dour in her post-talk-show incarnation).

- `Steel City'

    Brian Jun is 26; remember that name. His first feature, set in the down-at-the-heels town of Alton, Illinois, offers a non-stop barrage of insights into the male mind.

- `Who Needs Sleep?'

    Haskell Wexler, the legendary cinematographer, plays the role of a less-astringent Michael Moore in this documentary about the problem of sleep deprivation in the motion picture industry, which has caused the deaths of several of his friends. The world needs more cranky old men like Wexler looking into societal ills.

- `Puccini for Beginners'

    There are some charming moments in this romantic comedy, set in Manhattan, but I didn't find myself laughing much. There's great pacing and energy, though, in the farcical climax at an engagement party, where the indecisive main character, Allegra, must confront her boyfriend, her girlfriend (his ex), and her ex-girlfriend (who's engaged to a man).

- `A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints'

    A few scenes between Rosario Dawson and Robert Downey Jr., as grown-ups who once dated as teens, light up the screen. The rest of the movie, about the mean streets of Queens during the 1980s, meanders like a group of aimless adolescents on a summer Saturday.

- `Animation Spotlight'

    Either the Sundance programmers who selected the shorts for this year's animation package are seriously depressed, or there's a fierce Pixar backlash brewing among young animators. The cream: `Gopher Broke,' `The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello,' ` At the Quinte Hotel,' and `Fumi and the Bad Luck Foot.'

- `Madeinusa'

    Incredibly difficult to watch -- though there's some merit, for the anthropoligically-oriented. But among my friends, "at least it was better than a rural Peruvian incest film" is now our favored back-handed compliment.