Sundance Round-Up: Reviews From Guy At The Movies And Math Teacher Movies

Presented virtually, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival wrapped up this week after a few days of diverse films covering all genres. Guy At The Movies and Math Teacher Movies were able to catch a number of said films. The reviews for each are below.

Be sure to follow @guyatthemovies and @mathteachermovies on Instagram!


AT THE READY

Variety

From Math Teacher Movies

What is the most noble aspect of this documentary is that it’s not just a straightforward hit piece. It is complicated as it explores politics, race, and culture and none of them can be explored in a straight line. 

Not many documentaries can show you the inner turmoil of so many of the people involved, but At the Ready is able to make you feel for the people you are watching, no matter their views. 

The film dives into the themes of law enforcement and border patrol and shows the difficulties various cultures can have being a part of such organizations, while also exploring youth culture and how they deal with finding their place in life. The pressure is real when you see parents, culture, and school pull our character toward various goals. 

The documentary doesn’t shy away from politics, but it is put in the background as the decisions of the leaders slowly affect the individuals within the group, making it specific and enlightening. 

Nothing about this documentary is propaganda or over dramatic doom and gloom. It’s simply the events in a high school club and the words of how those students are feeling. 

Rating: A


CAPTAINS OF ZAATARI

Variety

From Math Teacher Movies

At many moments, I had to check to make sure that this was actually a documentary, because it was filmed so beautifully, it felt cinematic in its nature and in its presentation. 

The narrative story felt just like a scripted film, as it features a wonderful hope filled motivating story about following one’s dream and needing your friends to truly make it, no matter what that means. 

The portrait of friendship that is expressed here is jaw dropping in its authenticity. They have a love and devotion for each other without being emotional. It’s the type of relationship that could only be captured in sports, especially youth sports. 

The film doesn’t get too close into the politics of why our protagonists are there, but the effects of it are a foreboding background and it weighs of the characters without it affecting the story. 

Rating: A


COMING HOME IN THE DARK

Slash Film

From Guy At The Movies

Suspenseful and disturbing for much of its runtime, Coming Home in the Dark is a twisted tale of revenge that never lets up.

While on vacation with his family, a school teacher is forced to confront past actions when two drifters commit heinous acts and take him on a journey that will change everything. Director James Ashcroft delivers a tight film that takes a slim script and makes the most of it. Daniel Hillies’ embodies the unnerved killer antagonist with such conviction that it is almost frightening. Though the invigorating plot point that drives much of the film sort of just springs up, it is simple enough to be believable as these forgotten men leave carnage in their wake as they venture to make a point. 

While there isn’t a ton that is original in Coming Home in the Dark, Ashcroft lulls viewers into a sense of comfort moments before a shock-inducing turn throws you off balance. In terms of message, you’re not going to find one here. The film exists purely for the extreme horror-mystery-thriller triad and is certainly not for everyone. But in a festival of films that are all trying to make a grandiose point, Coming Home in the Dark provided an absolutely terrifying journey through the dark side of humanity.

Rating: 4/5


FLEE

Hollywood Reporter

From Guy At The Movies

A multilayered examination of history, culture, loss, and love, Flee is a triumph for its humanity, beauty, and furtherance of documentary filmmaking.

The animated documentary story of one Afghani man’s recounting of an upbringing riddled by war as he grapples with a secret he has kept from all those around him, including his fiancé. Flee is groundbreaking in its use of unique animation, spliced with real images of the times in question, to bring the life Amin, a gay refugee from the Middle East, to the screen. Much of the film is told from Amin’s point of view, as conveyed to a friend who is interviewing him. While we never see Flee’s subject, his being is palpable from the inflections in his voice that carry the varied emotions dictated by his memories. 

The complexity of Amin’s experiences can not be understated with his family on the run, separated, and in constant fear. Filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen smartly allows Amin’s words to carry the film, elevated by the animated scenes for the privacy (and protection) of those involved. The result is Flee, a documentary unlike any you’ve ever seen before that packs a punch made up of all the feels and with a lesson for all to hear.

Rating: 5/5


IN THE SAME BREATH

Flickering Myth

From Guy At The Movies

An unflinching look at the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on China, this timely documentary is intensely frightening and searingly honest when it comes to the early suppression of key information within and from the communist country. Director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation) commands the topic and narrates with precision, all the while taking viewers through the arrival of the virus in the United States and the failures to take appropriate action. 

The use of news footage mixed with first-hand accounts from those who were on the ground is expertly used to advance the chronicled moments that led to where we are today. The limited, though effective use of interviews with survivors and those who have lost loved ones results in an eruption of emotions and empathy made all the more potent by the continued struggles to get a handle on the pandemic.

Wang does not stop with coverage of the virus’ birth, rather she dovetails into a brief, but effective analysis of the political factors at play in China before drawing stark comparison to the disruptive movements underway in the United States. As a cautionary examination of a not-too-distant past, In the Same Breath is a riveting film that will forever be important to understanding this tumultuous time in the world’s history.

Rating: 5/5

From Math Teacher Movies

There have been and will be many documentaries about the coronavirus but not many with such powerful imagery as In the Same Breath with no doubts of this being close to the best. 

This documentary covers the early moments of Covid-19 in Wuhan and how dreadful it was on the ground while being heavily guarded by the government. 

The footage in the documentary is incredible, painting a terrifying picture of something that is tragic and real and showed the many problems of gross negligence.

Director Nanfu Wang has handled complicated feelings in past documentaries and takes it to a new level by covering the American Covid protestors and expressing freedoms of speech through all context. 

While the pandemic has been politicized in many different ways this documentary shares the illicit ways that it has been exploited and weaponized which are guaranteed to infuriate. 

Wang manages to immerse herself in the story while still being a conscience observer for the sake of the facts and the events that occur. 

The film importantly highlights the government response and the media blindly supporting the government. This obviously referencing what would have taken place if other leaders could get their way in other countries. 

The film does not include many documentary tricks. There are no talking heads. sinister music, or animated graphics. All that is needed is the footage and narration of her personal experience held in a close space to all of us.

Rating: A


JOCKEY

Hollywood Reporter

From Math Teacher Movies

This entire film is beautiful from start to finish. There are so many shots that could be framed and sold for millions. The imagery helps realize the story and the fashion at which it’s told. 

Cliffton Collins Jr absolutely knocks you out with a performance that exhibits poise within the role while dealing with emotion in several different expressive deliveries. 

The supporting performances are equally effective. Moises Arias puts in a powerful and beautiful emotion and intensity. Molly Parker is an absolute natural in her role with a performance that is able to fit perfectly within the other characters and the film. 

However this story does seem to be lacking in that it rushes through some pivotal plot points and makes other points seem to lack any obstacle or heft. 

The film has an immersive filming style that puts you right into our main character’s perspective, showing that Clint Bentley is a filmmaker with an incredibly promising future. 

Rating: B


MASS

InSession Film

From Guy At The Movies

Emotionally exhausting in the best way, Mass features one of the best scripts in recent memory brought to life through powerful performances by a committed cast in a film that breaks you down and builds you back up.

Two couples bound together through unspeakable tragedy meet for a discussion filled with anger, grief, and unanswered questions. It is hard to remember a film so raw and unnerving in its exploration of a topic that is sadly so prevalent in our society. Mass brings viewers right into the middle of painful recollections and intense opposition that dives deeper with every line. The film’s four core actors (Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney) each continue to trounce one another as the film rolls on with their continuously eclipsing performances that will leave you in awe. Their ability to convey a wide range of emotions will absolutely tear you apart, taking you on a roller coaster of a ride until arriving at a stop where writer/director Fran Kranz satisfyingly puts you back together.

The simplistic setting and camerawork, along with the lack of a soundtrack, further magnifies the gravity of each word spoken. For me, Mass joins recent films such as Marriage Story and Pieces of a Woman as genuine tales of necessity that, while not for everyone, leaves you better for having watched.

Rating: 5/5

From Math Teacher Movies

This film starts perfectly giving little exposition but setting up something with both an awkward and tense energy. Therefore, by the time the main players arrive you already feel where you are supposed to be. 

Jason Isaacs takes on his role of a devastated character with an energy of a broken figure full of anger and heartbreak while trying to hold back his hurt. 

Ann Dowd shows someone truly drained of hope and spirit who’s trying her best to put herself back together while still suppressing then expressing such complicated emotions. 

Martha Plimpton exercises realistic dispositions with the perfect subtleties necessary to make the character and tension work. Her performance is a time bomb that devastatingly yet somehow politely explodes at the finish. 

Everyone gets their huge showy powerful performance moment throughout the movie except for Reed Birney who is quiet and calm throughout the film and yet you can see his heart continuously break with regret and horror. 

The film may have one setting throughout but it’s filmed brought to help express an anxiety and claustrophobia filming the actors displaying top notch performances and slow pans of the camera that increase drama. 

The story sets up a battle between two sets of parents, both are angry and sad and both are justified in their feelings. As their anger and vitriol toward each other rise, you can’t help but feel for all of them. 

This is truly a heart wrenching movie, wildly well written from start to finish. The story structure is a fast paced and high energy, with dialogue that holds intense amounts of weight. 

This film closes in the best way possible for this type of devastating story with a painful yet satisfying monologue that shows growth and progress for the characters. 

Rating: A


MAYDAY

Variety

From Guy At The Movies

A feminist fantasy that reaches high, but drifts out to sea, Mayday throws dashes of familiarity into an original idea that never quite catches the wave.

Grace Van Patten stars as a young woman transported to a world in which an army of girls fights an ongoing war against male invaders. As she finds her strength and her voice, she trades in the killer that she is becoming for the world she left behind. Equal parts Peter Pan and The Lost Boys, Mayday has a whimsical thread throughout its incoherent plot, consistently delivering style at the expense of sound story. Though the cast of young women each knock their roles out of the park, they’re not given much support as the film never quite rises above initial intrigue. Writer/director Karen Cinorre clearly has vision and an artistic styling that, given a larger budget, could sore. However the need for a stronger script cannot be ignored as any intended messages are lost in the shuffle of repeated encounters between the lost girls and foes.

Strong performances alone aren’t enough to rescue Mayday from a slow trot from beginning to end. What’s more is that none of the characters are very likable, each underdeveloped as individuals as the focus is more on the group as a whole. In the genre of fantasy, everything needs to work in rhythm or you run the risk of floating out there without a destination, such is the case with Mayday.

Rating: 2/5


R#J

Variety

From Guy At The Movies

A modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet aided by social media and personal technology, R#J takes a classic story and offers a refreshing twist for the audiences of today. 

The Capulets and Montagues have a history of familial warfare that threatens to ensnare star-crossed lovers Romeo (Camaron Engels) and Juliet (Francesca Noel), who have here met through Instagram after the former comes across the latter’s artwork. Innocent conversation leads to blossoming love as the two keep their budding relationship a secret… until they don’t. 2018’s Searching perfected the use of technology to tell a story, something that R#J adopts in a limited sense, but with great success. Though the budget is clearly low, the performances are genuine and the core romance ensnaring. 

While the mixture of old vernacular and modern tongue can, at times, be tough to switch back and forth between, the actors bring each character to life through familiar movements and emotions. Director Carey Williams has a firm grasp of the source materials structure and messages, bringing the enthusiasm displayed during his pre-screening interview to every scene. His two young stars, Engels and Noel, greatly embody the complexity of their characters, as did Diego Tinoco as Tybalt.

R#J’s ending is one that elevates your view of the rest of the film, leaving you satisfied and thankful for the experience, though still wanting more. 

Rating: 3/5


SEARCHERS

Flickering Myth

From Math Teacher Movies

When making a documentary about single people using online dating apps, you can go in so many different directions but this focuses on the humanity of people of which is the most important. 

The documentary is filmed in an inventive fashion where we, the viewer, are seeing this from the perspective of the apps and we see the users experience them. 

The documentary is cleverly edited with B-Roll footage that almost tells the story of romance while so many around are looking for that exact thing. The backgrounds balance a hopefulness and frustration. 

The film’s troubles come when it gets repetitive with its format that started to slow and began to become boring while not exactly sticking the landing with a message. 

Each scene effectively captured the humor and the annoyances of being single and trying to find that special someone. It had some thoughtful and bold comedic edits that also help progress the story. 

Through some intensely personal interviews, the film explores problems with online dating and why it might be better to go back to an in person as much as that might be impossible. 

Rating: B


THE WORLD TO COME

Variety

From Guy At The Movies

Vanessa Kirby and Katherine Waterston are outstanding in this period drama that explores the human tendency to seek love and support elsewhere when not receiving it at home. 

Two mid-1800 couples battle their own marital and life woes apart as the two wives grow closer over time. Director Mona Fastvold’s film is a slow bun of a story that takes its time to develop each character. As Waterston’s Abigail beautifully narrates, the frontier setting provides a serene canvas upon which the polished script is performed. As the husbands caught on the fringes of the developing romance, Casey Affleck and Christopher Abbott absolutely deliver without overshadowing their stunning costars who are operating in another realm, enveloping themselves in fluctuating emotion and intensity. 

Period pieces are not for everyone and the same goes for The World to Come. It can feel slow and simple, but the feelings explored between the two women are complex and expertly explored, especially with an LGBT focus for a film set in a time much more restrictive, and role prescriptive, than today. 

The World to Come is simultaneously heartwarming and saddening, yet sophisticated in a way long unseen from an original drama of its kind. Run, don’t walk, to see Kirby and Waterston in action.

Rating: 4/5

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: