Our first film on day three was an Aussie drama called ‘Strangerland’. ‘Perfect!' I thought,' I will support my home country!’ If only that ended up being the case.
’Strangerland’ stars Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes as a mother and father trying to find their two missing kids. It sounded like ‘Prisoners’ set in the Aussie outback, but unfortunately, the pace is SO slow, all tension is lost. The cast is solid - Nicole puts everything she has into her role, as does Hugo Weaving, who plays the cop trying to solve the case. But there’s not much of an exciting script for those actors to work with, and as an audience member you are waiting for something… anything to happen. Some kind of inciting incident. But it doesn’t.
After missing out on the ‘I Am Michael’ screening, starring James Franco (understandably, the producers let in buyers over press to see the movie) Amirose and I hustled over to the premiere screening of ‘Mississippi Grind’.
Thankfully we got into this one, as the film had been on both of our must-see lists for a while now. Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, the two indie geniuses behind ‘Half Nelson’, this film is sort-of a buddy road movie. Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn stars as a talented (but very addicted) poker player who teams up with a lucky drifter (Ryan Reynolds) to travel down the Mississippi and play in a high-stakes poker game.
It sounds like a conventional plot, but in the hands of Boden and Fleck, it’s definitely not. Just when you think you know where the movie is going, it takes a turn and does something unexpected. The pace is slow, but has moments of great tension, particularly when it comes to the gambling. During one scene, I noticed all the audience squirming uncomfortably in their seats.
Nothing in ‘Mississippi Grind’ is spoon-fed to the audience. The characters slowly reveal themselves throughout the film, so by the end, you finally understand them. That may lead to some frustration, but I like when I have to do a bit of work as an audience member. And after a long career in Australia, I’m so glad Ben Mendelsohn is getting attention in the U.S. He’s too good of an actor to not be a star.
Our third film for the day was the post-apocalyptic ‘Z For Zachariah’. But, we almost didn’t make it. Here’s a pro-tip, and something I should already know: read the ticket to check the venue. Incorrectly assuming it would be at the Eccles Theatre, where most premieres are held, I took Amirose on a long bus ride from our place, to the Eccles, then back past our place to the correct location, the Library theater. A one hour round trip. Thankfully we had some pizza to scoff on our ride. At film festivals, you have to eat whenever and wherever you can. Hashtag bus pizza.
‘Z For Zachariah’ stars a cast of three - Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine. They play survivors of some sort of incident which killed many people in the world and left most places dangerously radioactive. Most places, except for a small valley where Ann (Margot Robbie) lives, an idyllic but lonely place. Until she is joined by two more survivors - John (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Caleb (Chris Pine) - strangers who become rivals for the affection of Ann.
It’s a slow, simple story, which focuses much more on the love triangle than the apocalyptic aspect. And I like that. It’s different. You never find out what happened to the world, and that’s ok. And with this role, Margot Robbie proves she is a star. She can carry a movie and play complicated women. ‘Z For Zachariah’ didn’t blow me away, but I enjoyed the quietness of it.
With day three done, we’ve reached the half-way point of our Sundance experience. On one hand it feels like we’ve been here forever. On the other, I can’t wait for everything we have still to come!
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