Friday, January 25, 2008

Sundance Reliables Satisfy, but I'm Still Bummed

Two of the best films at Sundance have come from already established names. Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden cemented themselves as first-rate creators of emotionally affecting character studies with their follow-up to 2006's "Half Nelson," "Sugar." And Austrian Michael Haneke, a giant who has established himself over the past few decades as a purveyor of endlessly fascinating cinematic reflection, unveiled his English-language remake of his 1997 film "Funny Games."

"Sugar" follows the coming-of-age of a baseball player for the Dominican Republic who carries with him the dream of his nation. Every major league team from the United States has a farm camp in the country, where they develop talented players who hope to go to the United States and work their way up from the minor leagues. Sugar is the most promising young pitcher of his group, and is confident that he can conquer America. But this isn't a traditional sports movie with a grand big game and a dramatic finish—it's about a young man who still hasn't found himself, who tries to make his way in a foreign land.

Fleck and Boden understand the immigrant experience and the lives of players whose immense talent sadly might not be enough to carry them to a lucrative career. Some men from Sugar's town have already made it to the states, and wound up right back where they are. Unknown actor Algenis Perez Soto provides a remarkable performance, proving that the two knock-out performances from "Half Nelson" were no fluke.

Haneke's new "Funny Games" is just as challenging and disturbing as the original. Haneke turns his thriller of cruel torture into a satirical commentary on the material and the viewer's desires. While some might argue that it's pointless to remake a film in English, Haneke's shocking style and the brilliant cast, particularly Michael Pitt, definitely make it worth while.

While I'm happy to have seen films as good as "Sugar" and "Funny Games," I can't help but be disappointed in the festival as a whole. I already knew Fleck and Boden could make a great film, and in the case of "Funny Games" I even knew the specific brilliance of Haneke's conceit. Two years ago, I had a real Sundance experience when I stumbled into "Half Nelson" expecting nothing. I'm glad "Sugar didn't disappoint, but am sad that so many of the unknown filmmakers' work did. Sundance is supposed to be a festival of discoveries, but for these titles, but I already had a roadmap.

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MrRed2020 said...
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