Minari Takes The Grand Jury Prize at Sundance

Well, another Sundance Film Festival has come to a close!  Here’s what won at this year’s festival.  If this year is like other years, a few of the films mentioned below will also be players once Oscar season begins later this year.  For instance, just from what I’ve read, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Minari‘s name come up quite a bit between now and next January.

  • U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic: “Minari” Lee Isaac Chung
  • U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: “Boys State,” Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine
  • Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize: “Tesla”
  • Adobe Mentorship Award for Editing: Carla Guttierez and Affonso Gonçalves
  • Producers Award: Huriyyah Muhammad, “Farewell Amor”
  • Short Film Grand Jury Prize: “So What If the Goats Die,” Sofia Alaoui
  • NEXT Audience Award: “I Carry You With Me,” Heidi Ewing
  • NEXT Innovator Award: “I Carry You With Me,” Heidi Ewing
  • World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing: “Softie,” Mila Aung-Thwin, Sam Soko, and Ryan Mullins
  • World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography: “Acasa, My Home,” Mircea Topoleanu and Radu Ciorniciuc
  • World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling: “The Painter and the Thief,” Benjamin Ree
  • Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary: Iryna Tsilyk, “The Earth Is Blue as an Orange”
  • Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic: Radha Blank, “The 40-Year-Old Version”
  • Directing Award: U.S. Documentary: Garrett Bradley, “Time”
  • World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary: Hubert Sauper, “Epicentro”
  • World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting: Ben Whishaw, “Surge”
  • World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Visionary Filmmaking: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, “This is Not a Burial, This is a Resurrection”
  • World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Screenplay: Fernanda Valadez and Astrid Rondero, “Identifying Features”
  • Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic: Maïmouna Doucouré, “Cuties”
  • World Cinema Grand Jury Prize World Dramatic: “Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness,” Massoud Bakhshi
  • Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary: “The Reason I Jump”
  • Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic: “Identifying Features”
  • Audience Award: U.S. Documentary: “Crip Camp”
  • U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker: Arthur Jones, “Feels Good Man”
  • Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic: “Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung
  • U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres, “The Fight”
  • U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling: Kirsten Johnson, “Dick Johnson Is Dead”
  • U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing: Tyler H. Walk, “Welcome to Chechnya”
  • U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast: “Charm City Kids”
  • U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Auteur Filmmaking: Josephine Decker, “Shirley”
  • U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Neorealism: Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
  • Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Edson Oda, “Nine Days”
  • Directing Award: U.S. Documentary: Garrett Bradley, “Time”

Adventures in Cleaning Out The DVR: Buried Secrets (dir by Monika Mitchell)


So,  as you know if you’re one of our regular readers, I am currently in the process of cleaning out my DVR.  That means that I’ve spent this week watching and reviewing a countless number of Lifetime and SyFy films.  It’s been fun and I do love watching Lifetime films but I also have to admit that I’m glad to see that I only have 8 films left to go.

Earlier today, I continued to make progress by watching Buried Secrets.  Buried Secrets originally aired on October 25th, on the Lifetime Movie Network.  I didn’t get to see it when it originally aired because I was busy dancing in my underwear at a Halloween party.  Fortunately, that’s why we have DVRs!

So, how to describe the plot of Buried Secrets?  Seriously, it’s not easy as you might assume.  There is a lot of stuff going on in Buried Secrets.  In fact, it’s probably one of the most convoluted Lifetime films that I’ve ever seen.  But let’s give it a shot:

Sarah Winters (Sarah Clarke) was a police detective who was involved in investigating the mysterious murder of police informant, Derrick Saunders (Fulvio Cecere).  However, before Sarah could solve the crime, she was accused of corruption and kicked off the force.  Sarah, of course, was totally innocent and she feels that she was set up by one of her fellow detectives, Joan Mueller (Veena Sood).  Mueller is now chief-of-police, largely because of the attention she gained by accusing Sarah of being corrupt.

Sarah also has a teenage daughter (Angela de Lieva) and a mother (Gabrielle Rose), who she doesn’t get along with.  This is largely because Sarah was adopted and she is upset because her adoptive mother refuses to give her any information about her biological parents.

Since Sarah is no longer on the force, she writes a novel that becomes a best seller.  The novel is based on the murder of Derrick Saunders and features an incompetent, untrustworthy detective named Meckler.  When Mueller demands to know if Meckler is based on her, Sarah says that she is.  In the real world, this would lead to Sarah being sued for libel and probably being driven to bankruptcy.

However, this is Lifetime world!  Mueller is concerned about much more than the real identity of Detective Meckler.  Mueller thinks that the book contains details of the crime, which prove that Sarah was the murderer.

Meanwhile, Sarah’s boyfriend, Barry (Dan Payne), is working on the security detail of Mayor Harding (Sarah-Jane Redmond).  Harding is running for reelection but it looks like she might be on the verge of losing her office.  So, Harding starts to sleep with Barry to get information about Sarah.  Mayor Harding has decided that if she campaigns on a platform that calls for banning Sarah’s book, she’ll win reelection.

And yes, that makes absolutely no sense but just go with it.

Meanwhile, there’s a mysterious homeless-looking guy (Teach Grant) and he keeps popping up at the strangest times.  He shows up at a book singing.  He follows Sarah’s daughter in the park.  And, of course, he spends a lot of time at the local DNA lab…

Okay, so you might think, after reading all of this, that Buried Secrets doesn’t make much sense.  And it doesn’t!  But that, to be honest, is the film’s main appeal.  Since Buried Secrets refuses to be tied down by logic, that means that literally anything can happen!  At it’s best, Buried Secrets creates its own hyper realized world, where everything is just a bit over-the-top and strange.  It’s a world where a major municipal election hinges on banning a novel, where book signings are fraught with drama and peril, and where one teenager can change an entire city’s mind just by grabbing a microphone and giving an impassioned speech.  It’s all so strange that there’s no way not to enjoy it.


Quickie Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (dir. by Eli Craig)

One thing I like about genre films is the fact that, whether they’re good or bad, they mostly accomplish the part about entertaining it’s audience. For the good to great ones they don’t just entertain but raise the genre to new heights. For the bad ones they seem to entertain in unexpected ways. How often have one watched a bad genre film, realize it’s bad and still just roll with it, laughing at it becoming part of it’s appeal. We wouldn’t have gotten years and years of Rifftrax and MST3K without enjoying the badness of awful genre films. Then there are genre films which takes the very well-worn tropes of the genre. The very things we as an audience groan and snicker at and manages to turn it into a love-letter to the very thing they’re making fun of.

The horror-comedy Tucker & Dale vs. Evil takes the backwoods horror which has been a major staple of the slasher subgenre for over a quarter-century and tips it on it’s head to create a horror comedy that never runs out of laughs and still manages to show cringe-inducing death scenes. It stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine in the roles of Tucker and Dale. We have two well-meaning “hillbillies” from the backwoods of West Virginia on their way to Tucker’s recently bought “fixer-upper” of a vacation home who come across a group of obnoxious college kids looking to spend the weekend on the shore of the very lake our two intrepid heroes’ vacation also sits off of. Through some misunderstanding between the very sweet-natured Dale who tries to befriend one of the pretty college girls in the group we see the beginning of events that will see death and mayhem visited upon both groups throughout the film.

We get the mandatory story telling us about how twenty years ago during Memorial Day a group of similar college kids were massacred by a couple of hillbillies on the very shores of the lake with only one survivor to tell the tale. This tale becomes the reason why the college kids start trying to “defend” themselves from Tucker and Dale who they thought kidnapped one of the girls in their group when in fact they had just rescued her from drowning. One by one each college kid dies in horrible fashion in their attempt to take on the oblivious Tucker and Dale who begin to think the group were on a suicide pact and means to take them down as well.

The film really does a great job of playing on the well-worn conventions of slasher films and making each such scenario play out in a way that if someone caught the scene a few seconds after it had already started they would think Tucker and Dale were trying to kill these kids. Each kill have just enough gore to satisfy horror fans so used to slasher films, but also funny enough every cringe was followed up by laughs.

One thing the film also had going for it was the chemistry between Tudyk and Labine as Tucker and Dale. They play off each other quite naturally that it’s not a stretch to believe these two were truly life-long friends who would brave the rush of misguided college kids to save each other. Even the college girl with the heart of gold, Allie (played by Katrina Bowden), adds to the film’s good-natured fun as she tries to explain to her friends that everything which has been going on (all the death and destruction) was all just a misunderstanding. Another thing which helps make the two leads in the film quite sympathetic has to be how obnoxious the kids really were who look down on the so-called “mountain folk” of the region because of their appearance thus their lack of education.

Eli Craig took three years to make Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, but the end result was all worth the wait. The film follows in the great traditions of horror-comedies of the past by never winking cynically at the audience at how smart it is, but letting the basic premise of the story play out as simply as possible. It helps to have a great duo in Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine in the roles of the Tucker and Dale. This film may not make many critics running to proclaim it as a milestone in the genre but it does succeed in entertaining it’s audience and just ending up being one hilarious 90 minutes of campy horror.

Quickie Horror Review: Ginger Snaps (dir. by John Fawcett)

There hasn’t been as many werewolf horror films as there has been zombie or vampire ones in recent times. Of those that have come out in the last ten or more years one could the number of really good ones in one hand. There was Neil Marshall’s low-budget Dog Soldiers in 2002. Preceding Marshall’s film by two years was an equally low-budget and well-made werewolf and coming-of-age horror film from Canada which has gained quite a cult following since it appeared on horror fans’ radars.

Ginger Snaps took the werewolf tale and combined it with the coming-of-age tale of two sisters growing up in a small Canadian town. Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are the two sisters who are your usual outcasts in school who feel more at home with their goth interests than the jocks and popular in-crowd. It would be during one night when the two are walking home when things would change not just for Ginger but for the two sisters as a team. Ginger gets attacked by some wild animal and it’s how she and her sister Brigitte deal with the sudden changes to Ginger that the film really earns it’s merits.

The film definitely takes some cues from fellow Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg in illustrating and exploring how the curse of lycanthrophy could double as the phase of puberty on two girls entering young womanhood. We see the change happening not just to Ginger’s body but to her personality as well. The more she becomes the wolf (hence embracing her primal side) the more confident and self-assured she becomes leaving her sister behind.

Ginger Snaps wasn’t a film that could’ve succeeded on the film’s direction but the writing (though heavy-handed and lacking some subtlety) was atypically good for a low-budget horror film involving the topic of werewolf, female puberty and sisterhood dynamics. It’s a story that first glance seems like a recipe for disaster, but the performances by the film’s leads in Katharine Isabelle as Ginger and Emily Perkins as her sister Brigitte holds everything together. Even Mimi Rogers as the well-meaning, but oblivious mother to the two sisters does a good job without being too campy in a role that seemed destined to be one.

The film has definitely gained a cult following in the years since it first premiered at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival due more to horror fans discovering it on video. Ginger Snaps is a wonderful werewolf film which combines some dark humor and teenage anxieties to a fresh take on the werewolf legend. It’s a film that really deserves to be seen by those who wonder why there’s not more werewolf horror films.