The Sundance Report: From Benedict Cumberbatch to Bruce Lee and Hillary

February 7, 2020
Our journalist on the ground in Park City, Utah, reports on some of the most exciting films out of Sundance.

DREAM HORSE

Euros Lyn’s comedy-drama should play like The Full Monty. Zurich Film Festival director Christian Jungen said, “I loved it. I think it will be irresistible for audiences”. Toni Collette continues her run of strong performances with her portrayal as Jan Vokes, a regular Welsh woman turned racehorse breeder in a former mining town where the inhabitants need a lift – and they get it by creating a syndicate. The real-life story was already told in Louise Osmond’s 2015 documentary Dark Horse.

“When the screenplay came into my computer inbox, I opened it immediately and devoured it,” Collette recalls. “I knew I had to do it. It was the most beautiful, heart-rending, humble story about simple people living beyond their wildest dreams. I think that’s an important story to see right now.”

 

IRONBARK

As with Collette, Benedict Cumberbatch rises to the challenge of playing a regular real-life hero, salesman Greville Wynne – only here the character gets to save the world. Cumberbatch is charming as always as the bumbling Brit who cannot believe he is asked to spy in Russia, though remarkably he ends up helping to avert calamity during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

PS: Ironbark won’t release in cinemas for a while, but if you’re looking for a Cumberbatch fix, he’s impressive as Thomas Edison in the March 19 release The Current War, even if the much-delayed film (thanks to Harvey Weinstein) is by the numbers.

THE KILLING OF TWO LOVERS

A film that should have been in the Sundance competition, The Killing of Two Lovers is a heart-wrenching marital break-up drama starring Clayne Crawford, memorable as the Mel Gibson character in television’s Lethal Weapon, a highly entertaining action series. Crawford, one of the most riveting actors you can watch on screen – and here the cinematography and square format feature his face in close-up – is a very funny guy and allows his Southern charm to infuse the character. He personally financed the film that was shot over twelve days in Utah, the home state of the film’s director Robert Machoian, whose own kids appear in the film. The state’s snowy peaks provide a stunning backdrop and the highly original sound design by Denmark’s Peter Albrechtsen (Dunkirk, The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo) helps make this film a minor masterpiece.

Actor Chris Coy, director Robert Machoian, actor Speideh Moafi, and actor/producer Clayne Crawford attend the World Premiere of The Killing of Two Lovers by Robert Machoian, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Lauren Wester.

MINARI

During the festival, Jury member Ethan Hawke confidentially told me, “Minari is the best film in the competition. Everyone thinks so.” Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung and produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B, the film went on to win the US Dramatic Jury prize as well as the Audience Award. US-born Korean-American Chung based Minari’s story around his own father who moved his family to rural 1980s Arkansaw. Korean-American actor Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Burning, Okja) plays a version of Chung’s dad in the film.

Producer Dede Gardner, actors Steven Yeun, Noel Cho, Alan Kim, Yuh Jung Youn and Yeri Han, director Lee Isaac Chung and producer Jeremy Kleiner attend the World Premiere of Minari by Lee Isaac Chung, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Miguel Mendoza.

THE DISSIDENT

Academy Award-winning director Bryan Fogel (2017’s Icarus) delivers an impeccably researched documentary on the life and death of Saudi Arabian Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi’s fiancé Hatice Cengiz appears in the film and understandably was too emotional to say too much after watching the astounding events unfold on screen at the Sundance premiere.

The Dissident

BE WATER

Another documentary with huge revelations, Be Water focuses on Bruce Lee’s struggles in the US and how he was a man before his time with his ideas on multiculturalism and fitness. The film marks the most personal perspective we are likely to see of the martial arts star as Vietnamese American director Bao Nguyen had full access to the family’s archives. Lee’s wife Linda Lee Cadwell and daughter Shannon Lee appear in the film.

Sergio

SERGIO (on Netflix April 17)

In Sundance, Wagner Moura was passionate about his latest project Sergio, which the Brazilian actor stars in and produced. The film follows the life and ultimate 2003 death of Brazilian United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, the accomplishments he achieved with totalitarian regimes in Cambodia and East Timor and his love for Carolina Larriera played by Cuban-Spanish actress of the moment and upcoming Bond girl Ana de Armas.

In Sundance and headed for The Berlin Film Festival…

NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS

Beach Rats filmmaker Eliza Hittman “continues to churn out some of contemporary cinema’s most honest teen dramas, featuring fresh new stars like Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder,” writes IndieWire. The film, which won a Special Jury Award, presents an intimate portrayal of a teenage girl from rural Pennsylvania, who, faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, travels to New York with her teenage cousin Skylar to procure an abortion.

Actors Talia Ryder and Sidney Flanigan and director Eliza Hittman attend the World Premiere of Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Becca Haydu.

HILLARY

Hillary Clinton will undoubtedly make her presence felt in the German capital as she presents this four-hour documentary (4 x 60 minute episodes) directed by Nanette Burstein (The Kid Stays in the Picture, On the Ropes). The Hollywood Reporter writes that it is “more insightful about Hillary the phenomenon than Hillary the person”.

SHIRLEY

Directed by Josephine Decker (Madeline’s Madeline), Shirley is a highly fictionalised offbeat film about the celebrated but troubled ‘50s and ‘60s author Shirley Jackson of The Haunting of Hill House fame. Although some events are rearranged, it focuses on a real period of Jackson’s life with fictitious characters.

Here is a synopsis from The Verve: Rose (Australia’s Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman) are a newlywed couple moving to Vermont in the 1960s. Rose has dropped out of college after becoming pregnant, and Fred has taken a university job with professor Stanley Hyman (Michael Stuhlbarg), better known as the husband of author Shirley Jackson (Elisabeth Moss) – whose story The Lottery both thrills and unsettles Rose. But Jackson is in the throes of a deep depression, unable to write or even leave her bed. So, Hyman asks the young couple to move in and makes Rose their housekeeper… Thanks to Shirley’s gothic atmosphere, even Jackson’s very ordinary home looks a bit eerie.

Editor Tyler H. Walk wins the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary for Welcome to Chechnya by David France at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Jovelle Tamayo.

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA

David France’s HBO documentary, which was awarded a Special Jury Award for Editing, is a searing investigation into a group of activists from the Russian LGBT Network risking unimaginable peril to confront the ongoing anti-LGBTQ program raging in the repressive and closed Russian republic. America’s foremost documentarian on LGBTQ issues, France had previously directed 2012’s Oscar-nominated How to Survive a Plague and 2017’s The Death and Life and Marsha P. Johnson.

SURGE

It meant a lot that Ben Whishaw (Q in recent 007 films including the upcoming No Time To Die) won the festival’s only acting prize for Surge, which screened in the World Cinema Dramatic category. The British film follows Whishaw’s character as he goes on a reckless journey of self-liberation through London. After he robs a bank, he releases a wilder version of himself, ultimately experiencing what it feels like to be alive.

CUTIES

In this remarkable French film by Maïmouna Doucouré, who won the directing prize in the World Cinema Drama category, we follow 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant, Amy, who lives in one of the poorest Parisian neighbourhoods and is raised in a pious tradition. When she meets and is fascinated by a group of dancers called “Cuties”, she initiates herself to a sensual dance, hoping to join their band and escape family dysfunction.

Director Maïmouna Doucouré accepts the Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic for Cuties by Maïmouna Doucouré at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. © 2020 Sundance Institute | photo by Caydie McCumber.

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