Director reviews Sundance highlights

By Richard Chachowski
Correspondent

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The 2019 Sundance Film Festival showcased many releases that have only grown more popular as they have entered theaters. I spoke with Mike Kamison, programming director for the Princeton Garden Theatre and first-time festival attendee, who helped me come up with a list of the films we should watch in 2019.

“Honey Boy”

Release date: Jan. 25

This study of a tumultuous father-son relationship is fueled by the son’s success as a child star and the father’s wild and abusive personality. Written by the movie’s star, Shia LaBeouf, “Honey Boy” is a semi-autobiographical tale of his own experience growing up as a child actor and his turbulent relationship with his father.

Mike’s Thoughts: “‘Honey Boy’ I absolutely loved. It’s an experiment in terms of not only narrative structure but also what an auto-biographical film can look like. I think Shia LaBeouf is one of the best actors around right now and this, as a writing and film exercise, I found incredibly successful.”

“Clemency”

Release date: Jan. 27

Winner of the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for Drama, “Clemency” tells the story of a prison warden (Alfre Woodard) whose commitment to her job, namely her role in preparing and witnessing death row executions, results in an estrangement from her husband. When her next death row inmate (Aldis Hodge) arrives, a bond forms between the two that causes Woodard to question the complexity of human nature and the nuances of state-sanctioned execution.

Mike’s Thoughts: “I was entirely impressed. It really knows when to show the kind of difficult, unsettling imagery of the film and when to hold back and when to not show things. It’s very gripping but in a slow boil kind of way, and the last 10 minutes of the film are utterly enrapturing.”

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”

Release date: June 14

Winner of the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award, in Joe Talbot’s debut film is “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” Jimmie Fails (as himself) attempts to reclaim and rebuild the once-glamorous Victorian house formerly owned by his grandfather. Assisted by his best friend, Montgomery Allen (Jonathan Majors), Jimmie embarks on a journey to rebuild a crucial part of his family history in a neighborhood that seems increasingly foreign to him.

Mike’s Thoughts: “This was far and away my favorite title of the festival. I think it’s dealing with a subject that a lot of new films are dealing with, which is like urban displacement and gentrification, but doing it with a really fresh blend and also in a manner that reflects larger issues of humanity and being a person. It had a incredibly unique visual and comedy style. I was just blown away by it.”

“The Farewell”

Release date: July 12

Lula Wang’s second full-length directorial effort, “The Farewell,” follows a family of Chinese Americans whose matriarch is unfortunately diagnosed with cancer. This incident is kept a secret from her by her family, since her family members believe that telling the truth would only hasten her end that destroy her cheerful attitude.

Mike’’s Thoughts: “‘The Farewell’ is great. It’s a crowd pleaser through and through. It’s one of those dissections of a family but is also kind of a fish-out-of-water sort of story as well. The movie’s tender and a little sad, but it’s consistently funny and the crowd was very much appreciative of it.”

The festival’s releases are already making 2019 a memorable year in film for audiences of every kind.

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