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Jonathan's Sundance Reviews, 2005 

Table of Contents

10 films this year. Same rating scale of 1-5.   The title of each film links to IMDB for full cast and details.

The Squid and The Whale (5) Harlan County, U.S.A. (4) Forty Shades of Blue (3.5)
Why We Fight (5) The Education of Shelby Knox (4) Kung Fu Hustle (3)
Hustle and Flow (5) This Revolution (4)  
West Bank Story (5) Police Beat (4)  
The Squid and the Whale (5)

Director & Writer: Noah Baumbach

Awesome! Exceptional writing and performances! I didn’t want the movie to end. It moves easily between being hilairous, emotional, arresting, and heart-wrenching. This is a smartly-written story of two brothers, 12 and 16 yrs old, enduring their parents' divorce. The intricacies and impact of family dysfunction are played out brilliantly by Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels as nuanced intellectual parents in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The film deftly avoids predictability and practically smears the screen with original material. Bravo. The soundtrack is also a treat, w/ echoes of Garden State, Good Will Hunting, and Tangerine Dream (think Risky Business train ride).

Why We Fight (5)

Director: Eugene Jarecki

Standing ovation! Favorite film of the festival! I could have listened to Eugene Jarecki in the Q&A session for hours! He is more moderate, more even-handed, and even more articulate than Michael Moore. Perhaps just more evolved. When the facts speak for themselves, best just to present them well and get out of the way. This is no leftie liberalism, but rather an objective history of the growth of the Military industrial Complex since World War II and a seething indictment of the entire system. Hands down a well-deserved winner of the “Best Documentary” audience award in this year’s festival.

Why We Fight begins with Dwight Eisenhower’s exit speech in which he beseeches vigilance against the growing collusion between the government and the nascent military-industrial complex. He warns against a possible future in which a peace-seeking populace is merely “an accessory” to big government, driven not by the will of the people but rather by corporate interests. How prescient indeed.

The film depicts the perilous consequences of a permanently militarized government, and how the Military-Industrial complex now includes Congress and Think Tanks as equal forces. Though the Freedom of Information Act may require Herculean efforts, the filmmakers were clearly up to the task in their tireless research and aggregation of documents, footage, and interviews that form an overwhelmingly powerful message. I was left not only frustrated with the pattern of lies, deception, and ulterior motives, but deeply troubled over the voting public’s ability to ever change this.

The emperor has no clothes on, but we all keep voting for the emperor! To Jarecki’s credit, they deliberately waited until after the 2004 presidential election to release the film so it’s message would not be reduced to a partisan rant. See this film!

The Hustle and Flow (5)

Director and Writer: Craig Brewer

I loved it, and can’t wait for the soundtrack. A better film than the subject matter may suggest. Terrance Howard plays D-Jay, a small time pimp in Memphis chasing his dream to become a rapper. His talent for conning people is matched by his freestyle verse, but it takes support from some unsuspecting characters to really make things cook. With only a modicum of predictability, the film is funny, uplifting, and delivers a few chest-thumping anthems that will be hard to shake. Everybody has to have a dream. You’ll find yourself not just singing along, but cheering. Well worth seeing!

West Bank Story (short) (5)

Director: Ari Sandel
Writers: Ari Sandel and Kim Ray

A family feud between an Israeli Falafel stand and a Palestinian Humus stand. A musical comedy. A love story. 18 minutes of sheer hilarity. (part of Shorts Collection V)

Harlan County, U.S.A. (4)

Director: Barbara Kopple

This is Barbara Kopple’s first documentary begun in 1973, that won an academy award in ’76, and was just restored and remastered with better production values making it more powerful than ever. Kopple spent 18 months in Brookside, Kentucky to chronicle the gritty, violent, and harrowing coal miner strikes and ultimate unionization. The footage is phenomenal. Kopple lived with coal miner families, stood shoulder to shoulder with them in picket lines, was shot at as the local gun thugs escorted scabs through the strike lines. The film humbly presents the coal miners' passion and resolve to stand up to the oppressive coal corporations. You are so close to the action you almost expect to be covered in soot by the end. You will marvel at how the coal miners’ wives band together and turn the tide. Folk music animates these harsh working conditions and indomitable spirits. Haunting tunes like Florence Reese’s “Which Side Are You On” and “We Won’t Be Moved” by Hazel Dickens stick in your head. Sundance Bonus – Hazel Dickens, now in her 70’s, was at the screening and got up on stage for the Q&A afterwards and then performed her famous folk songs with an accompanying guitarist, and the whole audience sang along.

The Education of Shelby Knox (4)

Directors: Marion Lipschutz, Rose Rosenblatt

Lubbock, Texas is a staunchly conservative, republican, Southern Baptist Christian community that preaches abstinence until marriage as the only form of sex education. Enter Shelby Knox, a precocious sophomore in the local high school, who questions this approach when it seems so out of touch with reality: Lubbock has the highest rate of teen pregnancy and STDs in the country, and in the candid words of many different local teens, “there’s nothing to do in Lubbock but drink and screw.”

As Shelby butts heads with the school board and community at large over the next 3 years, the resistance she meets helps to bolster her courage and confidence. She joins the town “Youth Commission” and spearheads efforts to introduce more comprehensive sex education. The triumph of the story is in Shelby’s learning to think for herself, question authority, and continue this uphill battle. Her party-line-towing parents give her just enough support and freedom to do so. Shelby gradually realizes the major differences she has with her local pastor who has a strict interpretation of the bible and preaches that Christianity is totally intolerant. She is on her way to becoming a free thinker, and maybe, one day, Lubbock will equip their teens with something more relevant than just abstinence.

This Revolution (4)

Director and Writer: Stephen Marshall

Fast paced, engaging, entertaining, and provocative. Set in Manhattan during the Republican National Convention, cameraman Jack Cassavetes goes through a classic artist’s integrity struggle when his employer, a large media conglomerate, is discovered to be selling him out in their quest for profit and curried favor with the Homeland Security Department. Jack’s assignment to film the RNC protests sets everything in motion. He penetrates a group of street anarchists, has a relationship epiphany or two, and decides to take the media into his own hands.

Police Beat (4)

Director: Robinson Devor
Writers: Robinson Devor and Charles Mudede

Beautifully shot and poignantly written. Our protagonist, “Z”, a Senegalese-born policeman in Seattle works the local crime beat on his mountain bike. His girlfriend is out of town with another man, and the more time she is away, the more Z becomes detached from his daily life, contemplating their relationship and his growing emotions. He slips into a trance-like state as he pedals from one bizarre and mysterious crime scene to another, days and nights blur together. It is offers a touching cultural insight, and is titillating to anyone who appreciates the crime genre film.

Forty Shades of Blue (3.5)

Director & Writer: Ira Sachs with Michael Rohatyn

Stoic. A strikingly beautiful Russian woman is living in Memphis with a famous music producer, twice her age, the father of her child. There is a measured, emotionless order to her world that is both subservient and defiant at the same time. However, when his son returns home for a visit, a love triangle ensues and family roles are shed. A solid film, but I’m surprised it won the Grand Jury award for best dramatic film.

Kung Fu Hustle (3)

Director & Writer: Stephen Chow

Kung Fu on steroids. From the maker of Shaolin Soccer come more surreal special effects and an endless stream of references. The film pays homage to classic western showdowns, MTV dance videos, the Matrix special effects, and even Roadrunner chase scenes. Unfortunately, I found the effects repetitious and soon boring, and would have been perfectly sated just watching the trailer. But a fan of this genre will be in heaven as the notorious “Axe Gang” in 1940 Shanghai do battle with unsuspecting heroes.

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