Sometimes these festival titles require extensive explanations – summaries of themes, CVs of those involved, situation within the current indie landscape. And sometimes you can sum it up in a line and that’s all you need to know. Little Monsters is about Lupita Nyong’o, Josh Gad, and a bunch of kindergarteners fighting zombies, so yeah, it’s one of the latter.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Nyong’o’s 12 Years a Slave co-star Chiwetel Ejiofor is back at Sundance, and he got ambitious: he not only stars in this Netflix original, but writes and directs as well (it’s his feature debut in those arenas, following two short films). He tells the true story of William Kamkwamba, a brilliant young man from rural Malawi whose academic brilliance could lead to a better future than that of his farmer father (Ejiofor). When the drought and flood cycle of the area puts his schooling on pause and their entire community in danger, William’s mechanical ingenuity could save the day.
Few things on this earth were considered squarer than liking Everybody Loves Raymond, and sorry, guilty as charged; that series excelled in the increasingly rare form of the three-camera family comedy, and in had an invaluable asset in Ray Romano, whose oddball charisma and sprung timing came to full flower over its long run. It’s been a pleasure to watch him stretch in the years since, taking chances with more serious work like Men of a Certain Age, Vinyl, and The Big Sick, forming nuanced characters while maintaining the shaggy likability and crackerjack comic sensibility that makes him unique. And this Netflix original – co-starring Mark Duplass, who co-writes with director Alex Lehmann (Blue Jay) – looks to add some interesting ripples to his persona.
Blinded by the Light
One of the finest movies of Sundance ’16 was Sing Street , director John Carney’s intoxicatingly charming story about pop music-obsessed Irish teens in the mid-1980s. Blinded by the Light sounds, simply put, like the British version of that story, set in Thatcher’s England circa 1987 – but with the added wrinkle of race thrown into the mix (its protagonist is a British Pakistani teen). The comparison isn’t meant to minimize; hell, I’ll take an ‘80s pop teen movie from every country that wants to make one, and this one comes to us from Gurinder Chadha, the skilled director behind Bend It Like Beckham.
Another intriguing follow-up from a promising alum, Ms. Purpleis the work of actor-turned-director Justin Chon, whose Gook premiered two Sundances ago. That film, an intimate character study set on the day of the 1992 L.A. uprising, had some young-filmmaker flaws, but enough energy and intensity to make you wonder what he could do with more resources. We’ll find out with this story of a Koreatown hostess desperately trying to earn enough money to care for her sick father, while attempting to realign her disconnected family.
Watch this space for more from this year’s festival, including a round-up of capsule reviews at its conclusion; follow me on Twitter for reactions from the ground.