Sundance Film Festival: Quick Takes

No rating
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: January 23, 2009
Reviewed at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival
Much to admire here

Black Dynamite
Scott Sanders
U.S. 2008, 90 min
Four stars

Moments after Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington before millions of hopeful viewers, a packed house in the Egyptian Theatre sat down for 90 minutes of ‘70s-stylized mayhem where the final result for both events—taking over the White House—was incongruously the same. Proof positive once again that getting there is half the fun

Director Scott Sanders and his co-writers Michael Jai White and Byron Minns unrelentingly lampoon all manner of ghetto life clichés and cultural sacred cows. From Kung Fu films to penis size (look carefully: the payoff close-up is most certainly an anatomically correct send-up of the length, girth and staying power of black genitalia) to dirty works in the CIA. Fortunately, those problems are all things of the past …

Not everything turns out to be as funny as the creative team may have liked (although I’m sure the writing and rehearsals must have been tears-in-your-eyes funny). With the deliciously named White also starring as Black Dynamite (and magnificently leading the film from the twin joys of first-rate eye candy and considerable acting ability) perhaps the writers were too close to their protagonist: “Super Nigger” drew decidedly few yuks, yet the Gilbert & Sullivan orphan set-up was a hoot.

Finally, wrestling Richard M. Nixon drew nary a boo from the delighted audience and the numerous visual memories of TV and films from the era of Jaws and polyester more than make up for any zingers that miss their intended targets. JWR


Johnny checks out Alexa

Dare
Adam Salky
U.S. 2009, 92 min
Three and one-half stars

Adam Salky’s entry into the coming-of-age genre (this time in Philadelphia) tells the well-known story with a few interesting wrinkles. In this instance, three teens become entwined in the trials and tribulations of early love with bed privileges. Alexa (Emmy Rossum) wants to be an actor but is summarily informed after a master class by the arts-focussed school’s only graduate (Alan Cumming) that her only chance of success will come when “you do something you are afraid of and fail.“ Her scene partner is the hell-raising, detention-prone Johnny (Zach Gilford) who fancies himself a rebel with a cause (punishing his parents for fucking up his life), delighting in throwing wild house parties when his minders are away. The third spoke is Ben (Ashley Springer who wins the acting/cutie sweepstakes curls down but would benefit from more discreet stage direction from Salky—the potential for relationship surprise vanishes with too strong a glance from his telling eyes before the exposition has had a chance to get going).

Alexa’s best friend Courtney (Rooney Mara) provides the means to thrust her pal into the somewhat reluctant arms and bed of her “Romeo” after a complete redo brands both babes as willing and easy. She also does duty as compassionate fag hag to Ben after he’s finally managed to attract his first kiss and savour the joy of delivering his inaugural blow job.

Writer David Brind does a commendable job in moving the story forward and developing the struggling-with-themselves characters, but creates moments of unbelievable instant maturity. Johnny’s explosive tirade—innocently ignited by longtime friend Josh (providing a too on-the-nose link to the film’s title; perhaps another, more appropriate one could be found)—comes out of nowhere and once the usual homophobic epithets have been uttered, vanishes from the lonely, spoiled kid as quickly as they arrived. Given the development to that point, Ben’s sudden take-charge attitude in the pool is also a few scenes too soon.

Nonetheless, like all good films of its kind (cross-reference below), not a few who watch it will nod knowingly or, perhaps, have the courage to push for their initial kiss and then be able to sleep soundly for the first time ever. JWR


Salvatore admires Cristiano’s youth

One Day in a Life
Un altro pianeta
Stefano Tummolini
Italy 2008, 82 min
Two and one-half stars

Much like Black Dynamite, the lead actor (in this case Antonio Meerone plays the sultry Salvatore, looking fantastic in and out of his swim suit) teams up with the director (Stefano Tummolini who also casts himself in the bit part of open-relationship-allowing Francesco), gaining control of just how the tale of a day at the beach will unfold but losing a certain degree of objectivity.

Unfortunately, the collaboration ends up looking wonderful but suffers from too many contradictions to make its very personal statements convincingly. A few examples:

  • On his way through the dunes, Salvatore pauses for an anonymous blow job and spurns his willing partner’s kiss, later confessing “I only kiss someone I love,” yet that mantra goes conveniently overboard when the selfish and hot (a deadly combination) Cristiano (Francesco Grifoni) temporarily abandons Francesco and plants a big wet one on the ever-so-willing Salvatore.
  • The huge Italian beach has a nudist area (with an extra-large pride flag flapping in the breeze to mark the spot) yet only Salvatore takes advantage of the opportunity to catch some rays everywhere; once a hilarious sequence of the nude sun god chasing, then tackling a purse-snatching hetero comes to its conclusion, all genitalia from both sexes are put away for the duration.
  • Salvatore is adopted by a group of disparate women: Eva (Tiziana Avarista) fears she’s becoming obese, Stella (Chiara Francini) tries to be the life of the party and get her queer brother rolling in the sand with the buff crime stopper, while Daniela (Lucia Mascino), in just a few hours, falls harder for Salvatore than all of the men combined. Eventually, they have the film’s most intimate (if orgasmically brief, echoing the opening “long overdue” premature ejaculation that satisfied no one) moment, even as a voice from the past gives the entwined, equally abandoned lovers a wave, before once again, running away from it all.

Here’s to a more cohesive result in the next outing. JWR


The brothers row  out to hook the catch of their lives

A’Mare
Martina Amati
U.K. 2008, 15 min
Four and one-half stars

Prior to the screening, the perfect appetizer came from the thoughtful creativity of Martina Amati. When the brothers Puglisi (precocious Andrea and devoted Felice) go fishing, they unexpectedly land their biggest catch ever. In all of the excitement an oar is lost, leaving them towing a near-drowned homo sapien; they can only go around in circles. Whimsy of the highest order. More, please. JWR

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