Our Sundance 2008 review

I've decided to list the films by the categories they were shown in, starting with Premieres, and ending with World Documentaries.

We went to 33 screenings in 9 days, so forgive us if a review includes something like "slept through some of it"...:-)

For the ones that have been picked up by a distributor already , I have noted the currently scheduled theatrical release date.


1. In Bruges

Director: Martin McDonagh

Main Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes

Scheduled Release Date: February 8 (limited)

We waitlisted this one, a film about two assassins sent to Bruges, Belgium after one of them errs on a hit. We were lucky enough to buy two extra tickets from someone right before the screening. As we waited for the movie to begin, I whispered to Torsten, “I think the director is that playwright that did 'The Pillowman',” a play we’d seen not so long ago at the Steppenwolf. And so it was.

After the film, I overheard two middle-aged women – not together – relate their assessments. “I called my daughter and told her she shouldn’t come see this. If I hadn’t paid for these tickets, I probably would have walked out,” said one. The other, when asked for a review by a stranger, said, “The main characters are three assassins! How can you identify with that? And the language!”

I think they weren’t the target demographic, but I will give you that there was a lot of language. But while I’m typically not one for violence or hitmen, I did like the movie. A streak of dark humor ran through as an undercurrent. I also liked the somewhat ambiguous ending.

Torsten says: Very well done cinematography of Bruges and good acting. He thinks some parts were a little predictable (I agree) and that some aspects strained credulity – there’s only so much damage a body can take (I agree) but it was a very funny film.

Overall ratings: Lisa: B+, Torsten: A-

Over dinner that night, the conversation confirmed exactly why we shouldn't attempt to be professional movie critics. Here’s a snippet of the conversation:

Lisa: What parallels did you see between the themes of In Bruges and [McDonagh’s play] The Pillowman?

Torsten: I don’t really remember what the play was about. Something about a guy and his brother was tortured or something?

Lisa: I thought you liked that play.

Torsten: I liked it a lot. I just don’t remember it.

Lisa: I was the one about that writer, and he wrote plays with murder and death, and then his brother wound up killing people just like in his stories.

Torsten: Oh yeah. Anyway, I didn’t give any thoughts to the themes.

Lisa: Me neither.

In other words, not exactly brilliant critique or insight. . . .

2. The Great Buck Howard

Director: Sean McGinly

Main Cast: John Malkovich, Colin Hanks

Colin Hanks, finding himself after dropping out of law school, becomes the assistant to John Malkovich’s has-been “mentalist,” 'The Great Buck Howard', whose claim to fame was, as he likes to remind people, appearing on The Tonight Show 61 times. Emily Blunt, Tom Hanks, and Steve Zahn also have supporting roles in this comedy. The premise was inspired by the writer/director’s short experience as assistant to a washed up magician some years ago.

Malkovich put on a great performance, morphing into his role; had I not known in advance who the stars were, I wouldn’t have identified him. One character mannerism he chose – an overly vigorous handshake – went from cute to overdone, then transcended back into funny. The movie was full of cameos, unusual for a small indie project. The story was utterly enjoyable, but light; I suspect it will be better received by general audiences than by critics. I was surprised to learn it had not been picked up by a distributor yet.

Torsten says: The movie won’t rock your world or anything, but he liked it a lot. It was a feel-good story, and Buck Howard’s character was saved from being pitiful by the joy he took in his work.

Overall ratings: Lisa: A-, Torsten: B+

3. Smart People

Director: Noam Murro

Main Cast: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ellen Page, Thomas Haden Church

Scheduled Release Date: April 11

An arrogant English literature professor (Dennis Quaid) and his Young Republican teenage daughter (Ellen Page) find their sedate routine disrupted when the professor’s ne’er-do-well brother (Thomas Haden Church) needs a place to stay. When the professor lands himself in the emergency room, a former student (Sarah Jessica Parker) is his physician. The budding romantic relationship between the two causes a reexamination of life and priorities.

All the performances are strong, although it is hard to watch Parker and not constantly have Sex and the City in mind. Also, although Page’s character is the polar opposite of her laid-back character in Juno, her portrayal of the two are strikingly similar. It will be interesting to watch her in future roles to gauge her range. The story doesn’t break any new ground, but is enjoyable nevertheless. It is a movie about normal people who change – not dramatically, true, but enough. And that makes it more realistic.

Torsten says: Overall, he liked the movie. The script was not all that unique, but a good (and unusual) role for Quaid. The relationship with his brother was typical, but very well done. Church was excellent in his role. He, too, thinks that Page simply reprised her Juno role. He found it hard to believe that Parker would have fallen for Quaid, and didn’t see much build-up to the relationship.

Overall ratings: Lisa: B+, Torsten: B

4. The Merry Gentleman

Director: Michael Keaton

Main Cast: Michael Keaton, Kelly Macdonald

A woman (Kelly MacDonald) arrives in Chicago after fleeing an abusive husband. One night, she sees a man (Michael Keaton) apparently about to throw himself off a building, and intervenes from afar. A police officer informs her that the suicide she thwarted was of a man who had just murdered someone. Over time, she develops relationships with both the hitman and the police officer, but it is only a matter of time before these relationships collide.

I nodded off from time to time during a late-night screening – which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the film or that it was boring. However, it does mean I cannot give a trustworthy review, so all I will comment is that I had fun identifying various Chicago buildings and parks.

Torsten says: Macdonald’s performance was the best aspect of the film. Keaton’s role was unusual for him and he looks different here. The story was interesting enough, and engaging, although he didn’t care for the ending.

Overall ratings: Lisa: abstain, Torsten: B

5. Death in Love

Director: Boaz Yakin

Main Cast: Josh Lucas, Jaqueline Bisset, Lucas Haas

By far the most artsy/indie/experimental of the films we’ve seen this year, the movie moves between a Nazi concentration camp and New York in the early 1990s. A Jew survives by seducing a Nazi who does extreme experiments on prisoners (some of which are depicted). Is she doing what is required to survive, or did she really fall in love with a monster? In any event, the psychological impact of her experience ripples through not only to her life as wife and mother (Jacqueline Bisset), but also to the rest of her family. Her older son (Josh Lucas) is a sex addict and scam artist, while her younger son can hardly make it through daily life.

Though artistic and gripping, this film was in serious need of some heavy editing. Most significantly, a subplot in which Lucas’ character gets involved in a shady business deal seemed entirely extraneous to the themes; the movie would have benefited had this been left on the cutting room floor. Also, I was very disturbed by many of the gruesome images – many of which were interspersed with sexual imagery. Overall, I would recommend this film only to those who gravitate towards disturbing and artsy films, and not to a general audience.

Torsten says: He agrees there were a few flaws with the script, including the subplot mentioned above, which he thought didn’t go anywhere, and was left unresolved. A few scenes seemed to be included only for shock value and were unnecessary to the story. The movie includes very disturbing cutting between sexual scenes and violent ones. This film will not appeal to a mass audience. Having said that, Torsten says that the movie sticks with him quite a bit, and he enjoyed it. Torsten also thought that the director was kind of an arrogant jerk :-)

Overall ratings: Lisa: C+, Torsten: A-

6. The Visitor

Director: Thomas McCarthy

Main Cast: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass

Another solid independent film about an economics professor (Richard Jenkins) from Connecticut. He travels to New York to attend a conference, only to find a couple living in his infrequently-used New York apartment. Learning that they believed they were legitimate renters, he allows them to stay for just a few days until they can find a new place, and quickly begins to forge a friendship with them. The balance is upset, however, when the male gets arrested, then thrown into a detention center as an illegal alien.

Obviously, this film puts a human face on the illegal immigration debate, with a touching and realistic story. The performances are nuanced and believable by all the actors. I was captivated from start to finish. The opening scene, with references to music and train tunnels, is mirrored nicely at the end.

Torsten says: He thought the storyline was a little obvious at times, but it was a touching story. He felt the writer went out of his way to portray the system as inhuman (I disagree), but perhaps that is the reality. The performances were great. He liked that the title is open to interpretation.

Overall ratings: Lisa: A, Torsten: B+

7. Towelhead

Director: Alan Ball

Main Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Peter Macdissi, Maria Bello, Toni Collette

Scheduled Release Date: August 15 (limited)

Alan Ball directed this adaptation of the novel of the same name, about a 13 year old half-Lebanese girl living in Houston around the time of the first Gulf War. Jasira is sent to live with her Lebanese father after her mother (Maria Bello) becomes jealous of the attention Bello’s boyfriend pays to Jasira’s developing body. (“This is all your fault,” she comments.) In Houston, Jasira deals with prejudice, her own budding sexuality, a pedophile neighbor (Aaron Eckhart), and another neighbor who just wants to help (Toni Collette).

I understand that the film premiered under another name at the Toronto film festival to poor or lukewarm reviews. I don’t know if anything changed other than the title, but I enjoyed it. The subject matter was difficult at times. Jasira’s parents are cruel to their daughter, each in their own way. And scenes where Jasira is molested by a neighbor are somewhat explicit and thus hard to watch. One complaint, though, is that Jasira’s character ricochets between extreme passivity and action without adequate explanation. Also, the father’s character was too stereotypically narrow-minded. Unfortunately, the showing ran late, and so we missed the last approximately 5 minutes to make it to another movie.

Torsten says: He assumed that the movie would take place in present day, and was surprised it did not. He agrees that the movie was at times a bit disturbing, but there were also moments of humor. The movie portrayed interesting characters. Disagreeing with me, he thought the portrayal of the father was great and his character more believable. Although he was narrow-minded, he at least had the excuse of being brought up in a rigid culture to explain his behavior towards his daughter, unlike the mother. He can’t wait for the ending :-)

Overall ratings: Lisa: B+, Torsten: B+

8. Assassination of a High School President

Director: Brett Simon

Main Cast: Reece Thompson ("Rocket Science"), Mischa Barton, Bruce Willis, Kathryn Morris ("Cold Case")

Scheduled Release Date: August

A humorous not-quite-parody of a pulp detective story, with Reece Daniel Thompson as an enterprising sophomore high school reporter out to solve the mystery of the missing SAT scores. Along the way, a beautiful student (Mischa Barton) befriends him, but does she have an agenda of her own? Bruce Willis (as principal) and Kathryn Morris (as the school nurse) have offbeat roles.

I don’t have much to say about this film except that it was cute and entertaining. The central “mystery” shouldn’t have been a mystery at all, because someone implicated in the theft knows the whole story and could have disclosed the truth from the start. I wouldn’t tell anyone to run out and see it, but if you happen to catch it, you’ll have a lighthearted evening of entertainment.

Torsten says: He was surprised to learn the script was written before the movie Brick came out. There are a lot of similarities between the movies, though this one was lighter and funnier. The scriptwriters put together an elaborate story, though he, too, agrees there was no real mystery. He loved Thompson’s performance, and thought Willis was good.

Overall ratings: Lisa: B-, Torsten: B+

9. Savage Grace

Director: Tom Kalin

Main Cast: Julianne Moore, Eddie Redmayne

Scheduled Release Date: May 30

Coming Soon

10. Incendiary

Director: Sharon Maguire ("Bridget Jones' Diary")

Main Cast: Ewan McGregor, Michelle Williams

Coming Soon

11. The Year of Getting to Know Us

Director: Patrick Sisam

Main Cast: Jimmy Fallon, Sharon Stone, Tom Arnold

Coming Soon

Dramatic Competition

1. Sunshine Cleaning

Director: Christine Jeffs

Main Cast: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Mary Lynn Rajskub

We’d been looking forward to seeing this movie ever since Mary Lynn Rajskub (hereinafter referred to as “Chloe O’Brien” (from "24")) did a standup comedy show in Chicago and mentioned she’d be in a movie at Sundance. We went home, looked it up on IMDB, saw that it also starred Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, and eagerly awaited the day we could buy tickets. But, when the time came to pick our movies, every showing was sold out. So we had to leave our luck to the gamble of the wait list. And we barely made it.

It met the hype and our expectations. This . . . quirky drama? dark comedy? about two sisters who start a biohazard cleaning service on a whim, their father’s get-rich-quick schemes, and the son of one of the sisters entertained from start to finish. Even as they get in over their heads in a business with regulations they don’t understand, they experience the impact of the stories and the deaths behind their jobs. Occasionally the movie forayed into ‘too cute’ or ‘too quirky’ – the son has a habit of licking people and things, for example, and the father’s money-making schemes and tendency to disappoint his family are something I swear I’ve seen countless times before. But overall, I enjoyed it.

Torsten says: It was a little silly at times, but still worked. He expected this to be solely a comedy about the business of crime scene clean-ups, and was surprised at the extent the characters were so well developed.

Overall ratings: Lisa: A-, Torsten: A-

2. Sleep Dealer

Director: Alex Rivera

Country: Mexico

One of the highlights of the festival. I honestly didn’t have very high expectations for this Mexican sci fi film. But I endorse it without reservation.

The director, Alex Rivera, envisions a believable not-too-distant future. Here, water is privatized by corporations and resold to communities forprofit, driving revolutionaries (or, depending on your viewpoint, terrorists) to take action to take back the water. Memories are uploaded to the internet for purchase (not unlike a Podcast or You Tube or a blog). Most importantly, although the U.S. borders are secured, reliance on immigrant labor is achieved through “nodes,” where workers in Mexico plug themselves in, Matrix-style, to computer systems and remotely control robots to toil in factories, pick crops, build buildings. Sleep Dealer follows Memo, a young man from a small town in Mexico in desperate need of water. Circumstances force him to leave his family to become a “node worker” in the city. Luz, a “writer” (she uploads her memories) befriends him. Off in the United States, Rudy, a U.S. military man (who controls his bombers through his nodes) provides security to corporate assets abroad. The ways they connect and interact make this more than a picture of a possible future, but a story that resounds.

The future Rivera portrays is not hard to believe – one could easily see “node workers” being sold to the public as a “win-win” on immigration reform – immigrants can support their families without leaving the country, and those U.S. businesses dependent on cheap labor can still take advantage of it. Also, in the era where corporations do monitor their workers’ productivity, a scene where Memo works an extra late-night shift, and the computer alerts him, “You have been inactive for ten seconds. It is likely you fell asleep. Your pay will be adjusted accordingly,” seems only too possible.

Torsten says: The movie was surprisingly effective visually, especially considering this was a (relatively) low-budget production. The special effects are on par with a more ‘blockbuster’ movie. The sci fi themes were not groundbreaking by any means, but they work with the characters and the story in general. This was a compelling story.

Overall ratings: Lisa: A, Torsten: A-

We saw Sleep Dealer at an 8:30 a.m. showing, and our next film was not until 11:30 p.m. With a full day ahead of us, we were sure we’d make it through the wait list to see something else. Alas, it was not to be. Once more, we tried to see Stranded; this time we didn’t even come close to getting in. Next we tried to wait list a 3:15 showing of Be Kind Rewind, only to find that people had started forming the “unofficial” wait list at 10:00 a.m. With a wait list number of over 200, we gave up and headed home for a nap.

3. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Main Cast: Jon Foster, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, Mena Suvari, Nick Nolte

I chose this movie after learning it was an adaptation of a Michael Chabon novel, even though I was not familiar with this novel. Jon Foster stars as a recent college graduate in the early 1980s, striving for one last summer of freedom before starting in the finance industry in the fall. His mob boss father (Nick Nolte) questions his life choices at monthly dinners – such as his minimum wage job at a book store, where he happens to be having an affair with his loopy boss (Mena Suvari). His summer takes a turn for the interesting when he meets a beautiful but troubled woman (Sienna Miller) and her offbeat boyfriend (Peter Sarsgaard).

When the movie started, I almost sighed out loud – Oh, great, just another coming of age story where a young man’s life is turned around when he falls in love at first sight with a beautiful but troubled woman. But it wasn’t. Or, rather, it was, but it was also more. I’ve read at least one review that hated this film – called it a poor adaptation with unbelievable and boring characters – but I disagree. Peter Sarsgaard was especially amazing in his role. At one point, the energy between him and another character was so intense it was almost tactile.

Torsten says: He liked it a lot. It was not your typical love story, or even your typical love triangle story, and had a surprising twist. He wanted to keep watching these characters even after the movie ended.

Overall ratings: Lisa: A-, Torsten: A-

4. Phoebe in Wonderland

Director: Daniel Barnz

Main Cast: Elle Fanning (Dakota's sister), Felicity Huffman, Patricia Clarkson

A mother (Felicity Huffman) defends the quirks of her young daughter, Phoebe (Elle Fanning), arguing that the world stifles her creativity. Phoebe, meanwhile, is eager to try out for the school play, Alice in Wonderland, put on by the school’s new drama teacher, Mrs. Dodger (Patricia Clarkson). Is Phoebe just imaginative, or is something wrong? And will pretending to be Alice drive her over the edge?

The audience seemed to love this film; I heard several rave reviews. I felt bad commenting to Torsten, “It was okay,” only to find out that various people associated with the movie were sitting right in front of us. It definitely had its strengths: Elle Fanning is an amazing young actress with an impressive acting range for her age. Huffman, too, puts on a brilliant performance. Her character explores and struggles with the meaning of motherhood.

The biggest negative, though, was the treatment of mental illness. Without giving too much away, the ending glosses over a world of potential problems, as if putting a name to a condition will solve all problems, allowing Phoebe to live happily ever after. This does a great disservice to those living with mental illnesses and conditions.

In addition, the post-show discussion impacted my view. I initially thought that even the name of the drama teacher, Mrs. Dodger, was an obvious homage to Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). Not so. Indeed, the inclusion of Alice in Wonderland as a thematic element of the movie was not even part of the initial conception. I’d have liked it more if the parallels had been intentional.

Torsten says: While this wasn’t a “message” movie or a groundbreaking story, it had well-drawn characters and kept him fully engaged while watching. Elle Fanning was amazing in her performance. And, although he was waiting for a bigger payoff at the end, it didn’t diminish his enjoyment.

Overall ratings: Lisa: B, Torsten: B+

5. The Last Word

Director: Geoffrey Haley

Main Cast: Wes Bentley, Winona Ryder, Ray Romano

A would-be writer (Wes Bentley) makes his living writing suicide notes for clients. At one client’s funeral, he meets the deceased’s sister (Winona Ryder), and fibs that he knew the deceased in college. The lie spirals as the two start to date and to fall for each other. In the meantime, he becomes more involved with a new client who seems a little different from his usual suicidal clients (Ray Romano).

This funny and well-acted story had a problematic ending. One pivotal scene could have been cut in a way that left it ambiguous. Specifically, had the scene ended immediately after the characters’ dialogue, the audience would have been left with questions in mind (to be answered before the film’s end). But, instead of ending the scene, the director lets it progress, and both the visuals and the sound very strongly imply that something has definitely happened – with little or no ambiguity – when in fact it has not. In this context, the audience has been deliberately misled, not just left wondering, and this is not fair to the audience.

Torsten says: The elements of the story were familiar, but in many ways was unique. The script was very smart, with jokes that worked. He agrees in retrospect that the ending was a bait-and-switch, but this didn’t bother him during the viewing.

Overall ratings: Lisa: A-, Torsten: A

6. Frozen River

Director: Courtney Hunt

Main Cast; Melissa Leo, Misty Upham

When you think of small-budget, independent films, this is the type of film that comes to mind – a smart story about real people, no big-name stars. A film that stays with you. In upstate New York, near the Canadian border, Ray struggles to make ends meet, at least enough to make the rent-to-own payments on the family television and to feed her children something more than popcorn for dinner. She dreams of being able to make the balloon payment on a double-wide trailer so her teenaged son can stop having to defrost the water pipes of their rundown trailer with a blowtorch. One day she meets Lila, a Mohawk who smuggles illegal immigrants over the Canadian border on reservation land by driving over the frozen river – but Lila needs a car. Ray decides to assist on a few runs. Just to make ends meet.

Everything about this movie was fantastic. The story was involving and defied expectations. There were scenes that seemed to foreshadow things to come, but the movie broke away and went in different directions. The actors were believable and engaging, portraying real characters. The cinematography is beautiful. The story brings the viewer into a world where it is all too understandable the forces and circumstances that compel desperate people into making desperate choices, even choices that hurt others.

Torsten says: He was surprised to learn the truth underpinning the story: there is a indeed reservation where smuggling (in people and goods) over the frozen river in winter actually goes on. He found this to be a compelling story, and the director captured the small-town feel well. There were a few flaws in the story that make it a little less believable, but still very touching.

Torsten also wants you to know that Quentin Tarantino and Sandra Oh were together at this showing (they were two of the judges), and that Tarantino declined to take a photograph with Torsten. (I want you to know that Torsten actually doesn’t know who Sandra Oh is.)

Overall ratings: Lisa: A, Torsten: B+

Edited to add: Frozen River won the Grand Jury Prize in the competition for dramatic films.

7. Downloading Nancy

Director: Johan Renck

Main Cast: Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell

Coming Soon

World Dramatic Competition

1. The Wave


I am not sure how Torsten puts up with seeing German films with me because I tend to whisper, regarding the subtitles, “Is that really what they said?” I tried my best to keep that to a minimum during The Wave, saving it for our post-show discussion. (In case you’re interested, yes, the translation was mostly accurate. A line translated as, “I f*cked up,” was literally, “I built sh!t,” but the meaning of the expressions is the same.)

The Wave was a fictionalization of a true story from 1960s California, moved to a present day Germany. A high school class, bored with studying the dangers of autocracy and totalitarianism again, complains that they get it – the Nazis were bad. In response to their assertion that acquiescence to autocratic rule would be impossible today because they are too well informed and too independent, the teacher develops a sociological experiment. A simulation, in which he is the leader, the class members dress uniformly, and dissenters are asked to drop the class. By the end of the simulation, things have gone terribly wrong.

I did like this movie, but even by the end, I felt like one of the high schoolers at the beginning: Yes, I get it; we’re not so well-informed that this scenario is impossible. And, to some extent, events unfolded just as I expected them to.

My biggest complaint, though – that I found it hard to believe events would spiral out of control in six days – was resolved in the post-show Q&A with the California high school teacher upon whose real life class this story was based. Indeed, his experiment was a week-long event. Listening to him speak, to admit that, yes, being ‘leader’ for a week did inflate his ego, that he liked it, that at least he could see that was the danger, was interesting.

Torsten says: The film reflects contemporary Germany –the portrayal of the attitude that dictatorships couldn’t happen in today’s ‘enlightened’ society is especially relevant. For example, he noted the classroom discussion where students lauded last year’s World Cup hosted in Germany by arguing it allowed Germans to finally be “proud of our country just like any other country.”

Overall ratings: Lisa: B, Torsten: A-

2. Just Another Love Story


This Danish film was the film noir twist on the romantic comedy, "While You Were Sleeping". Jonas, a crime scene photographer, is married with two children. One day, his car is clipped by another car driven by Julia. Julia’s car then careens out of control and crashes spectacularly. When he tries to visit her in the hospital after the crash, Julia’s family mistakes Jonas for Julia’s boyfriend, Sebastian. He plays along, but his innocent deception spirals when Julia awakes from her coma with memory loss. At her side as she recovers, Jonas finds himself falling in love, risking his family in the process. But Sebastian, with a mysterious past, may not be, as Jonas believes, dead.

I didn’t like the movie, but I admired it in terms of artistic merit as a film noir. The stereotype of a noir is “a woman, a gun, in the rain, at night,” and this met those characteristics. Under that surface, the movie did play with notions of consistency of identity, as Jonas becomes Sebastian and identity shifts. But I didn’t enjoy it. Also, it was far too violent for my tastes. I’d recommend it for students of noir, and that’s about it.

Torsten says: While parts were unbelievable, overall this was a compelling story. The movie was very raw, especially the depiction of violence in comparison to typical Hollywood fare. Given that the actress was an unknown even in Denmark, her performance was remarkable.

Overall ratings: Lisa: C+, Torsten: B+

3. Riprendimi


We followed a Danish film with this Italian film. More accurately, we followed a Danish film with a filling dinner complete with cocktails, which left us in a sleepy mood. Needless to say, both of us nodded off from time to time throughout this film. It didn’t capture our attention.

The movie follows a young married couple, both of whom work (when they can) in various aspects of filmmaking, who have agreed to be filmed by friends making a documentary. That documentary gets more interesting when the husband announces he is leaving his family. The documentary filmmakers continue to film as the two navigate their newly-single lives – but the filmmakers have trouble maintaining distance. The movie was funny at times, but neither engrossing nor engaging.

Torsten says: He didn’t particularly care for the movie or think it was all that funny – though he admits his reaction is impacted by missing scenes for brief catnaps.

Overall ratings: Lisa: B-, Torsten: B-

4. Absurdistan


This German-directed, Russian-language film falls into magical realism. The residents of Absurdistan, a small town, have a problem: Their water supply has all but dried up. The women go on a sex strike until the lazy men will repair the pipeline. This is unwelcome news to two young people who have been waiting for years for the fast-approaching day (written in the stars) when they are fated to first have sex. The film is very artsy; it’s not for a mainstream audience, but is good in its own way.

Torsten says: He was skeptical at first that the narrative style and the unusual visual style would work, but was drawn into the story more and more as it progressed, and it worked in the end. He thought it was hilarious at times.

Overall ratings: Lisa: B, Torsten: B+

5. Blue Eyelids


Coming Soon


1. The Linguists

Director: Seth Kramer, Daniel Miller

This documentary explores several world languages on the brink of extinction, and two linguists’ efforts to study and document those languages before they disappear forever. From a native American tongue in Arizona to the remoteness of Siberia to provinces in India to the mountains of Bolivia, we watch the two linguists seek out the last living speakers.

It was utterly fascinating, and I was sad for the movie to end. I wanted to know more! But, still, I felt the movie was lacking. Primarily, I didn’t think the documentary filmmakers, who have followed and filmed these linguists for years, really achieved anything more than the two linguists could have achieved on their own by piecing their own footage into a film. What made this a movie, and not a Discovery channel special? Second, the two linguists themselves were interesting, but the filmmakers all but ignored them as people. There was one moment where one of the linguists mentions he had a wife and family. No follow up. Third, the filmmakers didn’t adequately explain the mission of the linguists. Did they want to save these languages? Just document them? This was answered in the post-film Q&A far better than it was in the movie. In all, the documentary lacked a narrative focus and clarity I’d like to have seen.

Torsten says: He completely agrees with the points I made, especially about the linguists’ goal not adequately explained. Though he liked the movie, he thinks it has a limited audience and may be too boring for most people. He also thought the movie shouldn’t have jumped around geographically, but should have focused on each endangered language seriatim. (I argued that doing so would make it more like a Discovery special, not less.)

Overall ratings: Lisa: B+, Torsten: B

2. Blind Date

Director: Stanley Tucci

Main Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Stanley Tucci

That this was a late-night screening at which both of us nodded off more than once didn’t materially affect our opinions: Neither of us liked this movie much. It starts with a blind date in a bar. Then another blind date in the same bar, but between the same people, acting as if they’ve never before met. The picture develops: this married couple, psychologically stunned by the death of their child, fake a series of blind dates with each other in hopes of repairing their relationship and healing.

An interesting premise, but not well executed. The pace dragged. The setting was always the same, which might have worked if this were a play, but it didn’t work here. The characters remained remote and inaccessible. In short, I didn’t care.

Torsten says: “Save your money. See the play.” He was really disappointed that such good actors, Tucci and Clarkson, delivered such a poor performance.

Overall ratings: Lisa: D+, Torsten: D+

3. August

Director: Austin Chick

Main Cast: Josh Hartnett, Adam Scott

Josh Hartnett stars as a dot-com entrepreneur just before the dot-com market fell through. He and his brother run Landshark, an internet company that seems (as did most internet ventures of the dot-com boom) to do nothing at all. The movie follows the two as the business slides. David Bowie also shows up in a short cameo role towards the end.

I don’t have much to say about this movie. I liked it, but didn’t love it. The story was fairly entertaining, but nothing special.

Torsten says: Hartnett surprised him with his good performance. While the story captured the spirit of the tech boom pre-September 11, there were no new twists or surprises. The character of Hartnett’s brother was perhaps more interesting. He enjoyed the movie, but doesn’t think it will be a breakout hit.

Torsten also wants you to know that Virginia Madsen was in the audience for this showing, and very few people recognized her. She even asked a question of the director, and the director did not recognize her.

Overall ratings: Lisa: B-, Torsten: B

4. Birds of America

Director: Craig Lucas

Main Cast: Matthew Perry, Hilary Swank, Ben Foster

Coming Soon

5. Quid Pro Quo

Director: Carlos Brooks

Main Cast: Nick Stahl, Vera Farmiga

Coming Soon

6. Red

Director: Trygve Allister Diesen, Lucky McKee

Main Cast: Brian Cox

Coming Soon

7. Goliath

Director: David Zellner

Coming Soon