Monday, August 28, 2017

Crown Heights, Beach Rats, Tales of an Immoral Couple, The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour 2017

Crown Heights

Beach Rats

Tales of an Immoral Couple

Quick capsules:

A great director could make a heartbreaking film from the true story of Colin Warner's wrongful murder conviction and the waste of 20 years of his life rotting in prison, but Matt Ruskin is not that director and "Crown Heights" is not that film. Ruskin undercuts himself by presenting his material in such a fragmented way - just as a scene is about to generate some thrust, he ends it - leaving us with a generic, repetitive and sometimes sleepy innocent-man flick… Eliza Hittman's "Beach Rats" continues the director's study of adolescent sexuality, a theme she first explored in 2014's "It Felt Like Love." Here, she turns to male sexuality, and the drug-using Brooklynite Frankie (Harris Dickinson), who cruises a local gay website for older men because "they don't know anyone I know." Hittman gives the film an old-fashioned look that renders Frankie's closetedness all the more touching in 2017, but after an hour of quiet observation she adds unnecessary plotting to the last third that requires Frankie's meathead bros to accept his explanations far more readily than they would in real life. In the end, her gaze ends up revealing little more than would an A&F catalog… Manolo Caro's Mexican comedy "Tales of an Immoral Couple" reminds us how far Latin America has to go in developing its artistic sense of humor. You need a critical mass of Jews in a country to bring intelligence and wit to its comedy. Until then, you're left with puerile sight gags or, as here, a "Three's Company"-style plot in which two teenage sweethearts who bump into each other 25 years later spend a tortured evening each pretending to have married - until the inevitable reveal that they've been lovesick for each other all along. There are a couple big laughs, as when her fake husband forgets the name of his "daughter," but the whole enterprise is mostly wearying.

The "Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour 2017" contains three standouts. Best of all is Maximilien Van Aertryck's and Axel Danielson's Swedish short doc "Ten Meter Tower," in which cameras and microphones are set up to capture swimmers as they muster the courage to dive from said tower to the pool below. Nobody dives without pause for thought and some say fuck it and descend the stairs defeated. Two friends play Rochambeau to determine who dives first. A woman talks herself into and out of jumping half a dozen times. A tough guy pussies out. A schoolgirl wills herself over. It's a great, sometimes hilarious study of our common humanity, and it's available for viewing here: The other two highlights are Marshall Tyler's "Night Shift" and Anu Valla's "Lucia, Before and After," keenly observed short stories about, respectively, a divorcing African-American bathroom attendant at an L.A. nightclub (Tunde Adebimpe) and a young Texas woman (Sarah Goldberg) straining to fill the mandatory 24-hour waiting period before she can have an abortion. I've seen Peter Huang's clever "5 Films About Technology," about smartphones and pornography, in another compilation. Actress Kristen Stewart makes her directing debut with "Come Swim," an elliptical extended metaphor of a young urbanite drowning in daily life, notable for its oblique sound design. I'd skip the last two: the vulgar Polish animation "Pussy" and the magical-realist Chilean entry "And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow's Eye."

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