Now that I've trashed Z, here are the 3 other films that I got to see as part of my summer ushering career...
Sunshine Cleaning only works because Amy Adams is so damned cute that just about anyone can watch her in just about anything. But cute doesn't immediately translate into emotionally compelling. The rewards of Sunshine Cleaning are few and far between and are often clouded by Quirk (a nasty atmospheric condition epidemic at Sundance).
Two sisters starting a career in crime scene cleaning sounds like a great premise for a movie. It is a great premise for a movie. This movie just doesn't follow through in examining the nitty-gritty and instead goes for quick surface gimmicks (a mother's suicide, a CB radio to heaven, a one-armed sales clerk). The only part that rang true was the one-armed guy not getting the girl, but instead used and taken advantage of all along the way. I wish that this angle would have been played up instead of having this supporting character presented as a goofball sidekick that loves the position he's been placed in. But we all know that one-armed guys are suckers. I mean, they only have one arm, right?
The Soloist could have been a much worse film than it is. It has its terrible moments, chiefly Jamie Foxx's character reciting the Lord's Prayer over a crane shot of the city's homeless engaged in their nightly activities. It's manipulative as all Hell and surely deserves a place there.
Besides some other moments like the above, The Soloist plays surprisingly fair and straight considering the subject matter. I've grown to really hate films that treat mental retardation and/or mental illness. It's not too often that anyone gets these things right. I also hate that the only subject that seems to matter is the Idiot Savant. Just Plain Idiot would be too hard to watch. We like our mentally ill to be safe and smart and transformable.
Despite sticking with the viewing-public safe genius story, The Soloist gets things right. There's no tacked-on happy ending. The moral (which is explained a little too forcefully) is one that I can agree with: More often than not, we can't fix broken lives and broken minds. The best we can do is suffer together. And that's enough.
Tokyo! is an anthology film, comprised of three shorts, directed by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Bong Joon-Ho. The Gondry film was quite good despite (or maybe because of) ending in a fairly silly, magical way that is only vaguely hinted at with what comes before. The Carax film is madcap crazy. I now confess to having slept through the majority of Bong's film so I shouldn't really say anything more about it than that I let myself fall asleep. I'll stay awake through almost any movie in the theatre, but I was really tired and rudely gave up on the film. First Z and then this. A bad trend. Oh well.
I do hope that Tokyo! is the beginning of a new wave of short film anthology pictures, something which has a long and rich tradition, but has been neglected for quite a while.