Sundance Film Festival: ‘892’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

There have been moments in everyone’s life where they have reached their breaking point. This one defining break usually happens when there is a string of smaller moments that everyone leaves to build up. Exactly how much injustice can people take until they snap? In the case of Brian Easley (John Boyega) a former U.S. Marine, who has been on disability for a while has not been receiving payments from Veteran Affairs. He has reached his breaking point because no one has been able to fix this issue, thus resulting in a broken system that does not care for the people who fought for their country. Director Abi Damaris Corbin constructs a thriller that has a powerful true story at its centre and it is what keeps you engaged throughout.

892 opens with director Abi Damaris Corbin setting the focus on Easley and the way he goes about his everyday life. There is an instant connection to him once he speaks to his little girl Kiah (London Covington) over the phone. We see that he can’t even stay on the phone with her for too long because he is running out of minutes. As he walks back to the motel that he is currently living in, we understand that he has been struggling for some time. There is a subtlety within Corbin’s direction that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Even the placement of the number 892 on the pavement as Easley walks by gave this story an even more grounded feeling. There were many moving parts in this film; from the bank tellers, to the cops, to the media, they were all incorporated to build the tension.

What is explored through Easley’s character is the PTSD of a marine living in a society that is barely treating him as a human. He gave his life for his country; there was the importance attached to his name in the military, yet when he returned, it’s like the system that he fought for doesn’t even care. So after three attempts to get his money, the soft-spoken and kind Brian Easley decides to rob a bank and hold hostages, Rosa Diaz (Selenis Leyva) and Estel Valerie (Nicole Beharie) with a bomb. Easley’s training as a marine came through at times and his assertiveness when trying to explain his situation to them, the cops and the media was misconstrued and they thought he was crazy. All Easley wanted to do was tell his story, so other veterans wouldn’t have to go through the same thing.

892 has great pacing and a thrilling score composed by Michael Abels. There are some interesting choices in regards to the placement of conversations and the framing for those scenes. This cast all had their time to shine on screen, but John Boyega completely blew me away. He controlled each scene and showed a range of emotions in each conversation he had. Whether it was with Beharie, Levya, Michael K. Williams, or Connie Britton, he was able to build and de-escalate each situation and continuously do that, to show the level of intensity at the right moments. This has Boyega’s best performance to date and it is a thriller worth watching for the story alone.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Fire of Love’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What do love and volcanoes have in common? Katia and Maurice Krafft. If you have never heard about these two lovely souls, director Sara Dosa brings them to the screen through their archive footage. For two decades, the daring French volcanologists were seduced by the thrill and danger of this elemental triangle. Everything that we have learned about volcanoes doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how lethal, yet beneficial they are to our planet. It is a massive piece of rock that lives and breathes with the core of the Earth. Each volcano has different features that can form something new as the plates converge beneath the surface.

Katia and Maurice Krafft became the dream team who travelled to different locations, chasing eruptions and their aftermath. As they documented their discoveries with stunning photographs and breathtaking films they shared that with the public in media appearances and lecture tours. From the very first moment, we meet Katia and Maurice; their love for one another is the driving force of this journey. The documentary dives into their relationship and how their loneliness ultimately lead them to their passion for volcanoes. They were two halves of a whole and discovered so much together.

As we see in this documentary, venturing out to explore these volcanoes isn’t an easy task. There were some fun, lighthearted moments that showed Katia and Maurice’s playful side and their genuine love for each other. Katia was extremely detail-oriented which would keep Maurice grounded, while he focused more on the bigger picture. They complimented each other so well and fully trusted each other in order to complete their studies. The most beautiful moment was watching Maurice walk right beside the lava. The richness of the red tones against the black volcanic rock with Maurice in his white suit walking toward the camera is an image that I will never forget.

We find out later that Katia and Maurice lost their lives during a 1991 volcanic explosion on Japan’s Mount Unzen, but they definitely left a legacy that would forever enrich our knowledge of the natural world. Fire of Love is a very educational look at the importance of volcanoes and their aftermath. The strength of this documentary lies in their relationship because their trust flows through into their work as volcanologist partners. The fact that they stayed together through it all, side-by-side, making new discoveries and exploring what they love just made this a heart-warming documentary.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘After Yang’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

As technology advances, humans grow more attached and forget what life can be like without it. As each year passes, we get more wrapped up in the social aspect of technology and forget to make connections in person. Maybe the connections we make online have more of an emotional depth because they are not physically present in your life, thus causing an illusion of intimacy that has recently developed. Eventually, these advancements will move further into artificial intelligence, fully removing the emotional connectivity to feed the human soul. If our relationships are already so dependent on online validation, then what would happen in the future when AI’s become the replacement of that connectivity to another human?

In Kogonada’s sophmore film, After Yang, we meet a lifelike, artificially intelligent android named Yang (Justin H. Min). Jake (Colin Farrell) and Kyra (Jodie Turner Smith) purchased him as a companion for their adopted daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja). One day, Yang abruptly stops functioning, and Jake just wants him repaired quickly. But having purchased Yang “certified refurbished” from a now-defunct store, he’s led first to a conspiracy theorist technician and then a technology museum curator. Instead of Yang having spyware in his core, they discover that Yang was actually recording memories. As Jake learns more about his companion through his memories, he realizes that he lost a piece of himself and his connection to the world he is currently living in.

Kogonada created such a futuristic atmosphere while grounding the rich colour palette in nature. There are some great framing choices, especially when Kyra and Jake speak to each other; the editing allowed them to speak face to face and have them in the full frame with a change in aspect ratio. This is a technical feat for Kogonada because of how he visually shows Yang’s memories. After Jake put on those glasses, he stepped into Yang’s mind and it felt like it was virtual reality. Imagine being able to step into someone’s memories and pick them out like a file from a cabinet. Then being able to rewind, fast-forward or stop the memory entirely.

The only issue with After Yang is the pacing of the film. We get deep, emotional moments between Yang and every member of the family, but those moments faded into the background when the focus shifts back to Jake trying to fix him. If the film focused more on that human connection with the AI, it would have resonated with me a bit more. There was this feeling of detachment from Jake and Kyra that kind of overpowered the deeper meaning of the film. Perhaps the feeling of detachment from the characters is something Kogonada wanted you to feel, in order to parallel our detachment to our fellow people and nature itself.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘The Princess’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After decades of processing Princess Diana’s untimely death, she continues to evoke mystery, glamour, and the quintessential modern fairy tale gone wrong. As we all know, Diana was the People’s Princess. This documentary directed by Ed Perkins highlights the struggle within the castle and in front of the cameras. She was a woman whose very presence left the monarchy and the media completely shaken. Her every move was documented which was the ultimate invasion of privacy. Whether she was performing her rightful duty to her country, being a mother to her sons, or navigating the media landscape, Princess Diana lost her sense of self and her public persona snowballed into something uncontrollable.

The documentary is crafted entirely from immersive archival footage and Perkins constructs a narrative that many did not see all those years ago. This was a more personal approach to Princess Diana’s story, as every piece of footage that was chosen showed the full spectrum of her emotions and her true story. Even with the media swarming her, she was always gracious and welcoming, but all of that takes a mental toll. We see the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana fall apart right in front of our eyes. The interviews and body language within them, show that there was a clear disconnect and something more was happening behind closed doors. Princess Diana had to deal with so much and still present herself as the person the media created.

Watching the lengths that the paparazzi went to just to snag one photo was sickening. Yes, the monarchy needed to change, but to make them populist ultimately changed the perception of the Crown itself. After everything Princess Diana had to go through publicly; her wedding, the birth of her two boys, the adultery, the suicide attempts, and even her life after Prince Charles, all of it was done to make the monarchy more relevant and it was just self-destructive. Sure, they’ve had scandals, but once you get the media involved, these scandals take on a life of its own. We see how harmful her living situation was to the full extent, leading to her eventual “death”. Perkins structured the story through the eyes of Princess Diana and her spirit came through with the archival footage. We saw her for who she was and how all of this was unfair to her and her children.

The Princess connects the people to Princess Diana once again, but Perkins managed to show her in a different light. Even though the documentary feels a bit by the numbers, Princess Diana’s story will haunt the monarchy forever. The fact that films are still being made today to show the unfair treatment from the Crown and the invasion of privacy from the media, proves that she will forever be an example of an injustice that no one will ever fully understand. The monarchy created a monster through the media that consumed one of their kindest members. The perfect image of their institution will forever be tainted by the stories that surrounded the People’s Princess.

Sundance Film Festival: ‘FRESH’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In the past decade, we’ve seen a shift in the conventions of dating. We all think to ourselves, “Where has the romance gone?” The majority of single people are constantly going through the same cycle on dating apps and it can be so exhausting. It’s not about the connection anymore; it’s about checking all the boxes based on a couple of text messages exchanged back and forth. It’s hard to even consider that this is the new way of meeting someone in the digital age. It’s also interesting to call a red flag if the other person has no presence on social media, considering they are on a dating app. There are always awkward encounters, but nothing is as awkward as a bad date. Women’s intuition is powerful but there can always be that hopefulness that skews their judgement

In Mimi Cave’s directorial debut FRESH, we meet Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) who is frustrated by scrolling dating apps only to end up on lame, tedious dates. After getting yelled at in the street by her last date and getting an unsolicited picture on a dating app, she ends up meeting and giving her number to the awkwardly charming Steve (Sebastian Stan) after a produce-section meet-cute at the grocery store. It goes without saying that Sebastian Stan suited this role perfectly and still managed to surprise us with how talented he is. After they go on their first date at a local bar, sassy banter gives way to a chemistry-laden hook-up, and a smitten Noa dares to hope that she might have actually found a real connection with the dashing cosmetic surgeon. She accepts Steve’s invitation to an impromptu weekend getaway, only to find that her new paramour has been hiding some unusual appetites.

This is truly one of the most interesting concepts that I have seen in years. The social commentary that surrounds dating apps and the many horror stories that have come out of them; only amplifies the feeling in your gut when watching FRESH. Lauryn Kahn’s script blends genre tropes together, from horror to comedy, to romance, and hits all those beats. There are incredible frames and symbolic imagery that Cave presents in order to elevate the sharp-witted script. She deliciously ties everything together with her own style. The combination of Kahn’s script, Cave’s direction, and Alex Somers’ music create a horrific atmosphere that looks so polished on the outside, but can cut deep with the feminist allegory. The way the twists are executed in this film will keep surprising you until the very end.

FRESH has one of the best soundtracks of the year and will have you screaming at the situations that unfold in the film. It’s bold, unique, and a downright treat to witness a directorial feature debut this strong. Cave’s flashy style and extreme close ups capture such intimate moments through the female lens. The warmth that radiates through the lighting to create a safe, comfortable setting, only for it to be stripped away, adds to the theme of things not always being what they seem. Kahn’s script also has little details that you pick up on in order for women to understand how fearful the situation actually is. The film highlights the many ways women are mistreated and how we can be seen as commodities, just to be prepped and served for consumption without any real sense of agency in the eyes of men.