Pssst! Hey, you there. Yeah, you! We’re gonna let you in on a little secret. We love independent films here at Critical Popcorn. And we love film festivals. So, as you’d expect, we loved our first day attending the press previews for the imminent Sundance Film Festival at Picturehouse Central, checking out a few of the films on offer this year.
Sundance Film Festival: London kicked off in typical fashion yesterday, bringing a fine selection of independent films from a variety of talented filmmakers across the pond for us brits to sample and enjoy. We’ll be publishing full in-depth reviews in the days and weeks to come, but for now we’ve gathered some bite-sized reviews to whet your appetite for the coming festivities.
Generation Wealth: Dir. Lauren Greenfield (2018)
Kicking off Day One proceedings was Generation Wealth, an engrossing documentary on our fascination with greed and gain, fame and fortune. Here, filmmaker and photographer Lauren Greenfield revisits a number of subjects from her previous films and exhibits, exploring the need and greed that prevails so much in modern society, and how values have ben warped by the never-ending quest to better ones self and live a life of luxurious glamour.
Fear not if you’re dreading a mere collection of interviews with over-privelaged snobs – Generation Wealth is far from the billion dollar peepshow the title suggests. Greenfield’s interviewees are insightful, frank and honest, whilst the film portrays moments of real hubris and growth through a number of follow-up conversations. The film also looks at the wider context of material gain, exploring the artificiality of wealth, beauty and status in the social media age, whilst simultaneously examining the psychology behind the gradual pornification and commercialisation of modern life.
It’s by no means perfect – the film occasionally feels overloaded and meanders for long periods. The many autobiographical elements that focus on Greenfield and her family border slightly on the self-indulgent scale, and ultimately fail to serve the film the way the director intends. But that wobble aside, Generation Wealth is still an interesting study on the nature of wealth in the modern age, presenting a sobering glimpse into the empty, self-destructive side of fame and fortune.
Never Goin’ Back: Dir. Augustine Frizzell (2018)
Whilst we remain on the subject of sobering, we come to Augustine Frizzell‘s Never Goin’ Back, a rather lacklustre comic effort that tries and fails to evoke that classic stoner comedy vibe.
Maia Mitchell and Camila Morrone star as besties/high school dropouts Angela and Jessie, who desperately need to make money to afford rent after spending their savings on an ill-advised beach holiday. Unfortunately, calamity after calamity befalls them at every turn, resulting in a trip to jail, beer-soaked waitress uniforms, blackmail and an unfortunate incident involving a bucket in a restaurant broom cupboard. Those with a strong dislike of gross bodily-functions are warned to steer clear.
It must be noted that it’s nice to see some ladies take centre stage in the traditional no-hoper, drug-induced antics usually reserved for male characters, but sadly the script and performances aren’t up to the task – self-absorbed characters coupled with both tin-eared dialogue and no clear comedic direction result in unbearably OTT performances, whilst the general air of repugnance and the obvious gross-out gags leave very little left to love.
Yardie: Dir. Idris Elba (2018)
Next up was Yardie, the directorial debut of one Mister Idris Elba. Based on the 1993 novel by Victor Headley, Yardie follows Dennis from his bloody childhood in Kingston, Jamaica to the streets of Hackney in the 1980’s, as he sets about exacting revenge on the man behind the murder of his older brother.
At first, it’s slightly impenetrable stuff, with no clear direction in terms of the story. However, once Dennis makes it to England, the ante ups considerably, as we settle in to a good,old-fashioned revenge flick (one tinged with real emotion and engaging characters, we hasten to add).
Yardie has all the trappings of a typical London gangster drama, but the blend of Jamaican culture elevates proceedings considerably, exploring a side of London’s notorious history rarely seen in such films until now. The soundtrack and the story’s use of music gives the gritty aspects an exotic feel, whilst the direction from Elba is expertly tense. And as you’d expect from a film by Elba, there are some excellent performances too – leading man Aml Ameen is a surefire success as the cocky but damaged Dennis, whilst Calvin Demba is on fine form throughout as wannabe-DJ and friend Sticks.
A fine debut from Idris Elba, Yardie is a fresh take on the traditional East-End gangster flick, offering unique main characters in-and-among the more recognisable tropes of the genre.
Half the Picture: Dir. Amy Adrion (2018)
Of course, with the central theme of this year’s festival revolving around the fallout of the #MeToo movement, it’s only fitting that the last film of the day should tackle some of these issues head on. Thus we have Amy Adrion‘s sublime documentary debut Half the Picture, a powerful celebration and frank discussion in equal parts, focusing on Hollywood’s dismal track record with hiring female directors.
Interviewing a wide variety of accomplished filmmakers, including Catherine Hardwicke, Brenda Chapman and Penelope Spheres, Adrion‘s film explores the complex issues from multiple angles, focusing on various facets of the central problem and presenting cases for change from a number of highly-respected creators and critics.
Providing countless accounts of shocking behaviour and toxic discrimination from the filmmakers themselves, Half the Picture is incredibly revealing, and certainly leaves no stone unturned in its frank, oft-times uncomfortable discussions. And yet, there is pervading sense of hope across everything here, a positive can-do attitude that sets out the battles still to come and how they can be won.
Above all, it’s an inspiring film that will (at the very least) have you trawling Netflix and Prime Video to check out some of the featured director’s previous output, much of which is glimpsed here. Inspiring stuff and head here to read our interview with Amy this week.
Our Sundance London coverage continues tomorrow – For everything so far just click here. You can also book tickets for the main festival here.
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