Sundance ground trooper Benji Carver checks in for the first time from Park City with a very busy day, including reviews of Kevin Spacey’s latest political drama, Alex Gibney’s latest documentary, a potential award winner about being black and gay in America, a movie with a lot of ladies whose names start with M and the highly anticipated film Hobo with a Shotgun…

Margin Call

A large ensemble of actors headlined by Kevin Spacey, Paul Beatty, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci and Jeremy Irons take us into the inside world of the economic meltdown 2008, in this earnest corporate thriller. The film plays like Glengarry Glen Ross lite, as the cast gets to chew up monologue after monologue about corporate greed and capitalism’s failure. Spacey with the recent Casino Jack this past Christmas, seems to be going two for two in the pop political movies. The standouts here are Tucci and Irons; they make the screen crackle with tension as the plot just chugs a long to the inevitable ending. If you liked Inside Job then this might be for you but it ain’t no Micheal Clayton. It may be a hot buy this year at the festival but I think it’s not worth any real attention.

Magic Trip

Super documentary team Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Darkside, Casino Jack) and Alison Ellwood give us another pop-psychedelic documentary on the counterculture with this ramblin’ road story of author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. Taking place during the summer of 1964, Kesey shot footage with the Pranksters as they made a cross-country road trip from his family ranch in Oregon to New York City’s World Fair. Gibney and Ellwood splices all the wild sex, drugs, and day-glow paint into a fun and hip road trip documentary. While some seem to fail at the acid test during the screening, I found this to be a personal treat for being part of a generation that missed out on this happening time. Lost footage of beatniks Neal Cassady aka Sir Speed Man, Jack Kerouac, Timothy Leary, and Allen Ginsberg makes this trip well worth going on.

Pariah

This is a very solid and at-times powerfully different take on what it is to be growing up black and gay in modern America. The story of 17 year-old teenager Alika (played by Adepero Oduye) as she deals with coming out to her conservative middle class family in Brooklyn. This film is pure indie festival bait that is able to give us great performances Writer and Director Dee Rees uses the teenage coming-of-drama trappings and the stern parental roles (played by Charles Parnell and Kim Wayans) to her advantage. Oduye’s key performance and her scenes shared with Parnell and her lesbian best friend Gina (played by Nina Dainels) really make this film tender and original slice of life drama that isn’t smothered in ridiculous scenes like Precious. Look for this film to possibly pick up an award or two at the end of this year’s festival.

Martha Marcy May Marlene

This story sounded quite interesting: a young woman named Martha (played by newcomer Elizabeth Olsen) escapes a violent cult in upstate New York that’s led by Patrick (played by John Hawks, with his great, intense stare). She finds security in her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) but, slowly, her nightmares of the cult come crashing with reality. This is a well acted and beautifully lense film by cinematographer Andrew D. Corkin Jody Lee Lipes , yet you never have time to connected with these emotionally distant characters and the film’s running time of 101 minutes feels like much longer. The ending gets even more frustrating as we are left with too many questions about the state of what was really going on in the mind of Martha or Marcy May.

Hobo with a Shotgun

Iconic film badass Rutger Hauer does not disappoint as the hobo-whose had enough of this shit of murder, drugs, and rape in the streets of Scum City. So what does he do but put his spare changes together and buys himself a .12 gauge shotgun. Nothing is scared to director Jason Eisener and his fearless cast and crew as they pile on the prosthetic limbs, blood, and yes oh burning children! to deliver this blistering and wonderfully shot piece of Canadian homage to all things violently 80s and Tromatasic. You’ll be howling with laughter as your cinephile balls will be smashed against the screen.

Playing with Hobo with a Shotgun:

The Legend of Beaver Dam, a bloody and cute music horror short involving cub scouts and ghost stories, that makes you wish that your Goosebumps books were still cool.

Reject Pick of the Day:

Hobo With A Shotgun because it just goes for broke and then keeps on hammering the pulp in your face. Also Rutger Hauer is just one crazy baddass motherfucker that makes Nick Nolte look like the pope in this movie.

Click here for the latest from Sundance 2011


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