Back to Movies Home Page
Jonathan's Sundance Report, 2002  
Table of Contents

I saw 18 movies this year and rated them on a scale of 1-5.   The title of each film links to IMDB for full cast and details.

Stolen Summer (5) Human Nature (4.25) Pumpkin (3.75)
Tadpole (5) Personal Velocity (4) The Man from Elysian Fields (3.5)
Cherish (5) The Laramie Project (4) Narc (3.5)
The Last Kiss (4.5) XX / XY (4) Empire (3)
Our America (4.25) September 11th, Special Tribute (4) Rain (3)
Blue Vinyl (4.25) The Inner Tour (4) Biggie and Tupac (2.5)
Stolen Summer (5)
Pete Jones has written a winner, and the execution is flawless. Despite the Project Greenlight hullabaloo, media attention, and the fact that Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris Moore executive produced it, this film just rocks. This was my number one favorite. A truly touching story and fantastic characters, palpable tension, ups and downs, this movie had it all for me. I may be a sap, but I laughed, I cried, and I smiled a lot. I came out of this movie feeling triumphant. No more description - just see it. (OK, it's about kids, family, religion, and growing up). Perfect date movie, perfect with friends and family, or by yourself on a rainy day. Favorite elements - childhood scenes that make certain feats like swimming to an ocean buoy from the beach seem larger than life, and the innocence and completeness of a child's point of view.
Tadpole (5)
One of my top three favorite movies this year for two reasons - characters and dialog. It is classic, hilarious, and endearing, and more plausible than you might originally think. One of those movies that as I'm watching it I don't want it to end. How can a fifteen year old fall in love with women twice his age, and actually make some progress? …Have a perfect french accent, know Voltaire inside and out, and be supremely self-confident. It manages to work. Sigourny Weaver as Tadpole's mother is great, but family friend Bebe Neuwirth as passing fancy steals the show. Kudos to director Gary Winnick, founder of InDigEnt films. Favorite scenes - all the non-verbal communication at the final dinner table scene in the restaurant.
Cherish (5)
Robin Tunney is outstanding. As Zoe Adler, 20-something with a nowhere job, she is obsessed with pop music. And someone else is obsessed with her. Though she can escape reality, she can't escape a murder conviction and ends up on the home-ankle-bracelet program. Her mettle and moxie emerge to rival her music fantasies, and her charisma is contagious. Favorites: straightening her hair with an iron, mistakenly pouring water out the window on a midget below, and the Run Lola Run sequence in downtown San Francisco.
The Last Kiss (L'Ultimo Bacio) (4.5)
Italian with subtitles. I loved this for many reasons - the beautiful Italian language and country, the beautiful cast - (Giovanna Mezzogiorno - I'm melting), and the european-style writing and directing - raw, emotional, lifelike. It is the story of love, competing interests, powerful personalities, passion, a mysterious stranger, and real life. This has won several international awards - 5 David di Donatellos (the italian Oscars), including best director, and was the 2nd best selling film in Italy. See it if you can! Favorite element - the power themes stray from typical american convention.
Our America (4.25)
The Ida B. Wells Housing Projects are Chicago's worst, and local NPR Producer David Isay wants to do a series that documents real life in the ghetto there - from the inside. LeAlan Jones & Lloyd Newman insist that they are his reporters. These two young teens are ambitious, articulate, and trying to stay out of the vicious ghetto cycle of drugs, gangs, and short lives. They get the gig, get outfitted with tape recorders and mics, and for 24 hours a day, 7 days straight, record every aspect of their normal daily lives - walking to school through the ghetto gunfire, friends who are banging and dealing, and interviews with the few family members they have. Their candor, honesty, and unique access to the inside story is embraced by most, except for those who are in denial about the ghetto, or think that the white radio producer Isay has manipulated these kids. A tragedy then moves the story forward. In 1994, a five-year-old boy was dropped from a 14-story building in the Wells projects by two local kids. This shocked the whole nation, but only received superficial media coverage. LeAlan and Lloyd embark on their own investigation for another NPR series, and win the coveted Peabody award from the City of Chicago. A tad bit long and slow at times, this is still a phenomenal piece. Favorite scene - early skeptic school principal and Mark Isay re-assessing each other at the end.
Blue Vinyl (4.25)
Blue Vinyl (housing siding), and all the products that contain vinyl (plumbing pipes, I.V. bags, automobile dashboards) - may seem harmless and friendly, and certainly useful. However, this documentary exposes the deadly toxins emitted in the production and disposal of these materials, debunking their angelic status, and busting the major manufacturers who have knowingly ignored and suppressed studies which clearly indicate the health risks. What makes this film a delight is that it is Director Judith Helfand's personal journey of discovery and education when her own parents in Long Island use Blue Vinyl siding on their own house. Judith quickly becomes an expert in the subject matter, but only slowly convinces her parents to take down the vinyl. And then the search begins - for affordable, appropriate, alternative materials. The story weaves in coverage of the same issue in Venice Italy, where the government offers far less protection to the corporations. The film is full of humor and playful animation that illustrates complicated technical concepts, keeping the tone light and accessible. (Note - animator Emily Hubley did all the animation in Hedwig and the Angry Inch!) I came out of this movie wanting to thank everyone who made it, and feeling like Judith's parents could easily be my own.
Favorite element - that Judith and her parents cut up their own blue vinyl into small squares on necklaces as tchotchkes to give out at the festival, with a warning sticker on each one telling you not to burn it or throw it away.
Tip o' the hat to amazing film crew who I met at Sundance - Producer Julia Parker, Lisa, Leora (a rabbinical production assistant!), Tara, and Cheryl.
Personal Velocity (4.25)
I even loved this and I'm a guy. Three separate stories, three fascinating characters navigating or overcoming different sets of obstacles and handicaps, three touching tales of women taking responsibility for their own momentum in life. Parker Posey, Kyra Sedgewick, and Fairuza Balk are all amazing. Each vignette is so rich with detail and flavor, so effective in such a short time, that you are completely drawn in, and they cut to the next one leaving you wanting more. This is refreshing. Favorite line (Parker Posey) - "I'm going to drop him like a redundant paragraph."
Human Nature (4.25)
Bravo! A truly comical story of animal instincts, romance, sex, and body hair. A man (Rhys Ifans) raised as a gorilla is captured and trained to be human, by an esteemed scientist (Tim Robbins) with some childhood baggage about table manners. A woman with a genetic anomaly is covered with body hair and looks like an ape, though still luscious and attractive (Patricia Arquette), is on a quest for smooth skin and normal life. The final complication is a stunning lab assistant who wears skirts that fall shorter than her french accent. To top it off, the bizarre narrative structure is actually a congressional hearing. Light, fun, and consistently entertaining. Favorite scene - mice eating salad with fork and knife, correctly.
The Laramie Project (4)
(Director - Moises Kaufman, Notable Cast - Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Janeane Garofalo, Laura Linney, Christina Ricci) See this movie! This is the story of Matthew Shepherd, an openly gay boy, brutally attacked in Laramie Wyoming by two local kids, and left to die roped to a fence in the middle of a field. The story is powerful and well-told, and the topic vitally important - examining racism and bigotry right under our noses. Originally a play (and preferred over the movie by theater buffs), I only saw the film and loved it. Memorable scene -friends of Matthew Shepherd stage an "Angel Action", where they dress with huge white wings and silently march into tiny downtown to visually obstruct and neutralize a rally being held by a Preacher and his zealots that are all anti-gay saying that Matthew deserved to die.
XX / XY (4)
Wow. Passion. Infidelity. Partying. Love. Sex. Triangles. And then everyone grows up. And then everyone meets again. A touching story of emotion, history, and the examination of character, integrity and honesty. Mark Ruffalo (You Can Count On Me) is one to watch. Favorite bit - A kid recognizes Ruffalo (grown up as a film maker) and asks for a refund for seeing his movie and hating it. Favorite debate after watching the movie - what did the "hand on the door as it was closing" really mean in the last scene?
September 11th - a Special Tribute (5 short films) (4)

From The Ashes - 10 Artists
Interviews with the bohemian artist community and neighborhood around the WTC.
Voice of the Prophet
This one blew me away. This is 7 minutes worth of excerpts from an Interview with Rick Rescorla, the Head of Security for Morgan Stanley (44th floor of Tower 2), from 1998. The speaker, clad in power suit, calmly sitting behind his skyscraper desk, spends the first few minutes recounting his military experience - he is a decorated Colonel who lead troops in Vietnam, Beirut, and the Persian Gulf. He is clearly the real deal, and you quickly trust, like and respect him. He then goes on to give his personal predictions that the future of our military engagements will revolve around terrorism, where a small handful of radical extremists will bring our conventional troops, equipment, and society to its knees. Eerily prophetic. My jaw was open the whole time in disbelief.
In the Q&A afterward the director told us that this Colonel was the head of Security for Morgan Stanley since the early 90's, and insisted against the objections of senior partners that the whole firm practice evacuations. In the WTC truck bombing in '93 not one life was lost (from his company), and on September 11th, only 6 of his people died, largely because he had trained the company well, and made sure they all stayed out of the building despite conflicting info that it was safe to stay in. As head of security though, he went back in himself to continue doing sweeps for people, and died in the collapse.
The First 24 hours
Beautiful, jarring coverage of the scene for the first day and night.
Film not of the buildings themselves, but of all the faces and expressions of the onlookers caught watching it happen and unfold. As moving as you might imagine.
We Are Family
Producer Nile Rogers organized more than 200 prominent performers, singers, actors, athletes, and musicians, who come together to record the Sister Sledge classic "We Are Family" a la "We Are the World." An attempt to create a message of healing and tolerance in the face of adversity, and a powerful musical success. A great uplifting contrast to the usual imagery associated with 9/11. In the Q&A afterward it came out that this has received less attention and airplay perhaps because the mainstream media are less comfortable with unconditional tolerance and global unity themes in the song, than with the nationalistic sense of unity against a common enemy. Very provocative. (The song is out as a single on CD). In production now and looking awesome is the Kids' version of We Are Family - with everyone from Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Barney, Tele tubbies, Elmo, Miss Piggy, Kermit, you name it - doing the singing and dancing! Can't wait.

The Inner Tour (4)
Ground-breaking documentary of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a new vantage point. 12 Palestinians living in occupied territories embark on a 3-day bus tour of Israel - their first time ever seeing the country, and one of the only ways arabs living outside Israel can enter. The bus driver and tour guide are jewish, all the passengers are palestinian. It is a mixing of the cultures, viewpoints, interpretations of history, and eye-opening experiences. This was captivating and mesmerizing despite being a tad long and slow. Brilliant storytelling when the palestinians (of all ages and backgrounds) are touring various historical sites and towns, and the native jewish museum curators or tour guides are explaining the history of the local landmark, and the two sides get to question each other's competing version of history. Touching scenes include a young man reuniting with his mother and family through a fence at the Lebanese border for the first time in 8 years, and elderly gentlemen finding the small village he was forced to flee in 1948 and praying at his father's grave (now covered with bushes), and my favorite, a middle-aged palestinian taking a cab ride in Tel Aviv to the site of Itzhak Rabin's assassination and memorial, and his conversation with the taxi driver about his chance meeting with with Rabin while in prison during the Intifada (and his respect for Rabin). Favorite unintentionally comic element - young palestinian man meeting a woman traveler at one of the stops and asking for her email address.
Pumpkin (3.75)
Christina Ricci as Carolyn McDuffy is the perfect sorority girl in the perfect college with the perfect challenge - how to be sorority of the year. Their sure-fire tactic begins to backfire and thus begins the brave plot. The sorority chooses to team up as mentors with a group of mentally retarded athletes preparing for the special olympics. Pumpkin is the name of Carolyn's mentee, and though his stride isn't as perfect as Carolyn's chiseled varsity boyfriend, Pumpkin does manage to get under her skin and into her heart. This is a send-up of all the stereotypes in the saccharine life of privilege and convention. Touching, funny, bordering on disturbing, and very typical Christina Ricci. I still liked Legally Blond better though. Favorite - Pumpkin's Bam-Bam-like strength.
The Man from the Elysian Fields (3 ½)
See it just for Mick Jagger's razor sharp one liners in trademark accent. See it just for James Coburn, the quintessential powerhouse. And see it for the gorgeous if icy Olivia Williams. Andy Garcia is a struggling writer who turns to a taboo night job that gives a surprise boost to his career. The love story between our protagonist and his wife (Julianne Marguiles) is just shy of convincing, but the other characters and storylines make up for it with entertainment and emotion.
Favorite scenes - seeing Mick Jagger drink a martini with those huge lips like a suction straw, and comic exchanges between Coburn and Garcia in the bedroom.
Narc (3.5)
An excellent plot-twisting suspense-laden thriller about narcs, a murder case, and getting to the truth. Ray Liotta and Jason Patric are both outstanding, and if you like stories that continue to reveal right up to the very end, you'll love this. A little too violent for me, but strong, raw characters and a very smartly crafted story. Note - this succeeds in treating a violent subject matter artistically, rather than adding gratuitous violence for it's own sake.
Favorite - seeing rap star Busta Rhymes give a very decent performance.
Empire (3)
Much as I love John Leguizamo, who stars as Victor Rosa, the story is a bit predictable and the most gratuitously violent I saw at the festival. Comparing the wheeling and dealing of Wall Street to the drug world of inner city, the plot takes some trite turns and unravels for me. Favorite - talking with John Lequizamo afterward, and asking him about Carlito's Way, in which he plays Benny Blanco from the Bronx, ultimate nemesis of Al Pacino as Carlito Bregante, retired drug lord trying to get out of the game. The parallels are unmistakable with Empire, to which Leguizamo agreed, "Yeah". My advice - see Carlito's Way.
Rain (3)
Didn't do anything for me. Billed as a tale of sex, murder, deception and redemption in a small Iowa farm town, I couldn't get into it. The I felt nothing for the characters. The cinematography was very well done, and others might appreciate it's slow tempo more than I did.
Biggie and Tupac (also called LA Story) (2.5)
A long, drawn out investigation of the murders of Rap stars Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, the pinnacle of the east coast / west coast rivalry in hip hop music. No one has been convicted for these murders yet after more than 6 years, and even the cops seem above the law. Director Nick Broomfield (Kurt and Courtney) showcases his particular style of fearless, in your face, consequences-be-damned journalism, including a brief interview in prison with Suge Knight, the music producer, who broke up the friendship between Biggie and Tupac and is believed to have fueled the rivalry, and ordered the murders. Even the police are incriminated. Shortening this film by 20+ minutes would make a huge difference. Favorite element - Nick Broomfield runs every single red light in L.A. when filming in his car.

© 2002  Jonathan Shambroom.  Feedback