Noel Murray @ Sundance 2012: Day 7 

Noel Murray @ Sundance 2012: Day 7 

Shut Up And Play The Hits
Director/Time: Dylan Southern and William Lovelace, 105 min.
Documentary
Headline: LCD Soundsystem is playing at your house
Indie type: Concert film
Report: Look, it’s not like title doesn’t warn us. Shut Up And Play The Hits promises to be a documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s last concert at Madison Square Garden, and for the most part it does what concert films are supposed to do: show the band, playing their songs, in front of screaming fans. And it also shows LCD frontman James Murphy being interviewed by Chuck Klosterman before the show, and Murphy hanging backstage with his bandmates and famous friends, and Murphy dealing with mundane business details the day after LCD Soundsystem has played for the last time. All of that is well and good. Except that at times it feels like directors Dylan Southern and William Lovelace are more interested in the peripheral business of LCD Soundsystem than in what happened with the band onstage that final night. (For example, we get 15 minutes of Murphy puttering around his apartment with his dog before we get the first performed song, which is joined in progress.) After a while—after yet another interlude of Murphy at rest—the audience may be tempted to shout… well, you know.

To be fair though, Shut Up And Play The Hits does this intentionally, because—cueing off some of Klosterman’s questions—it’s largely about what LCD Soundsystem is, and whether Murphy broke up the band so that he could continue to be an ordinary guy, and not a famous rock star. That’s a valuable idea to explore, especially given how devoted and emotional LCD Soundsystem’s fans are. And while I wish Southern and Lovelace were a little more inventive and/or less restless with the way they shot and edited this concert (which is choppy and convenional, aside from some fun, expressive overhead shots), the unbridled energy of an LCD Soundsytem show does come across, whether the band is vamping through the surging “All My Friends” or they’re rocking out to a cover of “Jump Into The Fire.” I hope someday that this documentary will be packaged in a Blu-ray that includes a more straight-ahead and complete document of that final show. But frustrating though it often is, a movie containing as many thrilling performances as this one isn’t to be dismissed. Like Murphy’s music, Shut Up And Play The Hits is an at-times-untenable hodgepodge of humor, irony and sentiment, all redeemed by the power of its beat.
Grade: B

Grabbers
Director/Time: Jon Wright, 92 min.
Cast: Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey
Headline: Alien monsters repelled by booze make the mistake of invading Ireland
Indie type: Horror-comedy
Report: Small-town alcoholic cop Richard Coyle and his ambitious Dublin colleague Ruth Bradley confront alien sea-monsters in Jon Wright’s merely solid shocker Grabbers, a sort of cross between Local Hero and The Host (though nowhere near as good as either). The big hook in Grabbers is that the blood-sucking beasties are poisoned when they consume alcohol, which means that everyone in this tiny seaside village has to get right pissed to gain an edge on their tentacled nemeses. But this hook doesn’t get unsheathed until about halfway through the film, and though it serves the purpose of softening the two heroes’ opinions of each other, it doesn’t add much in the way of riotous humor or unexpected twists. Grabbers is amiable, but its characters aren’t colorful enough and its plot isn’t developed enough. It’s a decent premise, decently delivered. No more. 
Grade: C+

Pursuit Of Loneliness
Director/Time: Laurence Thrush, 96 min.
Cast: Joy Hille, Sandra Escalante, Suzanne Faha
Headline: We die as we dream, alone
Indie type: Slice of life
Report: I see so many indie films set in post-grad apartments or coffee shops or rock band practice spaces that if nothing else, Laurence Thrush’s low-boil drama Pursuit Of Loneliness is refreshing just for its setting: in and around a Los Angeles hospital, where the nurses deal with elderly patients who are just trying to preserve a little dignity in their declining years. Thrush shoots in black-and-white, using non-professional actors, but while Pursuit Of Loneliness has a docu-realistic tinge, it doesn’t look or sound like a doc. There’s no handheld camera, or overlapping, improvisatory dialogue. Instead, Thrush relies a lot on insert shots, and even-toned conversations about DNR orders and personal property. A few characters recur throughout the film, but their story arcs are small, mainly concerned with the hospital’s efforts to locate the next of kin for an old hoarder who died alone in her cluttered house. Pursuit Of Loneliness too comes across as too cluttered, with the individual scenes not always connecting to each other. (The movie could also use a better title; the current one is almost like a parody of an earnest art-film.) But the accumulation of detail is quietly staggering: the incessantly running TVs that keep people company; the jewelry and pets and family photos that have special meaning but no real value; and the contents of a life sorted into mass-produced plastic bags with a printed line for “Patient’s Name.” There’s something powerfully melancholy about Thrush’s vision of all of our lives as a mystery to which we leave behind far too many clues.
Grade: B

Shadow Dancer
Director/Time: James Marsh, 96 min.
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Clive Owen, Aidan Gillen, Gillian Anderson
Headline: Violence in Ireland passes from generation to generation
Indie type: Political thriller
Report: Shadow Dancer is a fine exercise in concision: a classic cat-and-mouse story that director James Marsh and screenwriter Tom Brady tell with as little dialogue or superfluous detail as possible. Andrea Riseborough plays a young Irish single mother in 1993, still seething over the death of her brother twenty years earlier. While attempting to plant a bomb in a London tube station, she’s nicked by MI5 agent Clive Owen, who offers to let her walk if she’ll feed him information on what her IRA superiors are planning. There’s not much in the way of plot to Shadow Dancer; just a few tense action scenes, strung together with scenes of Riseborough and Owen feeling each other out and then returning to organizations in which they really don’t have that much power. But the two leads are terrific, conveying their sense of frustration and fear, with an undertone of real conviction regarding their respective causes. And the real stars her are Marsh and Brady, who with minimal fuss get across the stakes of this game, in large part by staging the action on suburban lawns and in crowded business districts, showing how this war is dangerously personal. 
Grade: B+

V/H/S
Director/Time: Adam Wingard, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Joe Swanberg and Ti West, 104 min.
Cast: Joe Swanberg, Adam Winard, Calvin Reeder
Headline: Be cruel, rewind
Indie type: Found-footage anthology
Report: The problem with found-footage horror films is that they frequently contain only a handful of awesome scenes surrounded by artless padding. The problem with anthology films is much the same: one or two good shorts; the rest filler. The found-footage horror anthology V/H/S finesses the first problem. Because each of the five films (plus the wraparound segment) run under 20 minutes, there’s really no time for any of the gimmicks to get tedious. The directors find some clever ways to use “found footage,” too. David Bruckner’s short begins with a college kid donning a glasses-cam that his buddies want him to use to shoot a homemade porno, which goes awry when the girl they pick up turns out to be some kind of demon; while Joe Swanberg’s contribution consists of one long webcam conversation between a young man and his girlfriend, who’s being haunted by creepy children that show up just behind her. The combination of low-fi tech, on-the-fly staging and special effects are frequently impressive, especially in the short by Radio Silence, in which a group of guys wander through what they think is an all-in-good-fun Halloween “haunted house,” only to find arms reaching out from the floors and walls as they run for their lives. As for the usual anthology film filler problem? V/H/S doesn’t entirely avoid it. Ti West’s short—illustrating an old urban legend about what a honeymooning couple found on their home video—is a disappointment given what West is capable of, and Adam Wingard’s wraparound segments are a little rough, and don’t come to much in the end. But neither of those films are bad; just a little uninspired. For the most part, this is an entertaining, legitimately scary collection, showing a lot of imagination, and a smart sense of how to make the warps and static of videotape integral to the fright. Besides, any horror anthology that can reduce the Friday The 13th “killer in the woods” routine down to ten tight minutes—and do it in first-person, as Glenn McQuaid’s short does here—deserves a nod of appreciation. And perhaps even a shriek.
Grade: B+

Notes, thoughts, things overheard…

That wraps up Sundance 2012, another strong year for the fest. Here, divided by grade and then ranked in rough order of preference, is a list of every Sundance ’12 movie I saw. I’ll also have a more general look back at the fest in my “For Our Consideration” column next Wednesday.

A-
Beasts Of The Southern Wild
The Queen Of Versailles
The First Time
Under African Skies

B+
Twenty-Eight Hotel Rooms
Excision
The Raid
Searching For Sugar Man
V/H/S
Simon Killer
The Impostor
For A Good Time, Call…
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
Shadow Dancer
The House I Live In

B
Pursuit Of Loneliness
Shut Up And Play The Hits
Compliance
Robot & Frank
An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty
West Of Memphis
Kid-Thing
The Law In These Parts
Madrid, 1987
Arbitrage

B-
Wrong
The Perception Of Moving Targets
About The Pink Sky
Your Sister’s Sister

C+
Grabbers
Nobody Walks

C
Wish You Were Here
Red Lights

C-
Celeste And Jesse Forever
Black Rock

W/O
L