SUNDANCE 2017: Capone looks at Al Gore's AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL and I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE!!!
Published at: Jan. 22, 2017, 8:23 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Park City, Utah at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival—my third in a row. I’ll try to dish out a couple of reviews every day I’m here (weather permitting--fingers crossed) and then get the rest out once I get back to Chicago. So let’s get started without further delay…
AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER
Deliberately so, I’m guessing, Sundance kicked off the festival screenings with a documentary about the continuing impact of global warming and the efforts that have been made and advanced by former Vice President Al Gore since the doc AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH came out 10 years ago. And it turns out Gore has barely taken a break in his efforts to get the nations of the world (including the very stubborn United States) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the near future and beyond.
I say the timing of the screening seemed intentional because it was the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as president (the film also screened publicly a second time on Inauguration Day, pretty much driving home the point), and he has threatened to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement, singed in early 2016, dealing with global greenhouse emissions and set to pick in beginning in 2020. One of AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL’s most humbling moments comes in one of its last moments when Gore is watching the election results in November, and you can see the mild panic in his eyes as he wonders if he’s work for the last 20 years’ work is about to be erased. It’s one of the few moments in the film that doesn’t feel like it overpraises Gore’s work.
Co-directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (AUDRIE & DAISEY, THE RAPE OF EUROPA) do a solid job capturing Gore’s path in the last few years, going from conference to education session in his attempts to give everyone from corporation CEOs to everyday citizens the tools to help heal the environment. This is less the PowerPoint presentation brought to life approach of the previous film, and more of a straight new documentary, but the filmmakers to capture a few rare instances of Gore getting genuinely emotional and passionate (perhaps even a little pissed off and how stubborn certain people can be) about his cause. It’s also admirable that AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL allows us to see Gore’s efforts get outright defeated or overturned due to the influence of corporate greed or shady politics.
As for some of the film’s new science, the outlook is still not good, with some climatologists claiming the best we can do is slow down what is now inevitably in the desperately short future. A quick jaunt to Greenland to see the shocking toll global warming has taken on glaciers, and the once distant possibilities of underwater coastal cities are quickly becoming a reality.
I’ve seen a great number of documentaries about the environment since AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, and aside from getting a revealing and seemingly honest look at Gore’s day-to-day struggle to keep hope alive and educate people on the topic, SEQUEL covers a lot of familiar territory and in a less-than-interesting cinematic way. I still recommend you check it out when it’s released fairly soon, since Gore is a fantastic spokesperson for the cause, but the film is a fairly artless endeavor with an admittedly solid, significant message.
I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE
One of the favorite titles at Sundance so far is actor-turned-writer/director Macon (BLUE RUIN, GREEN ROOM) Blair’s ambitious and Coen-esque I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE, starring Melanie Lynskey as Ruth, a woman who have reached the end of her rope thanks to a series of terrible incidents of varying degrees of awful that, when bundled together in a lovely package, amount to her slowly losing her mind and taking risks most of us wouldn’t dream of.
Ruth is still living in the shadow of recently losing the one person in her life she feels cared about her, her grandmother, and that loss provides the canvas upon which other grievances are painted upon, sometimes in layer after layer, until it all turns black. She comes home day after day from her work as a nursing assistant to find dog shit on her lawn, and when she finally confronts the owner, a nearby neighbor Tony (a wonderfully edgy, slightly twitchy Elijah Wood), he deals with it, apologizes and leaves defeated, so lost in his own thoughts that he never noticed what the dog had done.
The greatest indignity to Ruth occurs when he house is broken into, and her grandmother’s prized silverware is taken, along with her laptop and medication (which seems the most important for this borderline depressed person). She’s able to track down her computer and enlists Tony (who surprises her with he martial arts abilities and weaponry) to help her confront the people she believes are the thieves. It’s at this point that we begin to realize Ruth has stopped being scared about her well being in the face of potential danger. Most right-thinking humans (coward that we are) would enlist the police for such a confrontation, but Ruth just grabs this almost-complete stranger (who is a little too eager to help, like he’s been waiting for her to knock on his door) are charges through the front door, not knowing—or caring—what awaits her on the other side.
Lynskey is the absolute queen of dark-cloud characters (I should add that she also great is lighter fare, but when she gets low, I’m riveted), so seeing her throw herself into a character like this who turns her sad-sack life into a motivating force, however insane, is exciting. She’s a gloomy superhero whose greatest power is barreling through her pain and making trouble for those who have wronged her, no matter how big or small the offense. Her trusted sidekick Tony is there with throwing stars and nunchucks at the ready. The combination is so good that I’m eager to Lynskey and Wood work together again soon.
I DON’T FEEL AT HOME… takes a simultaneously dark and funny turn later in the film, with genuinely graphic violence taking center stage. For the most part, Blair handles his many tonal shifts with a surprising amount of confidence for a first-time filmmaker, but like many such directors, he’s throwing a lot into his story because he’s got a great deal of pent-up artist energy. Sometimes the shifts are jarring, but often they are strategic and impressive.
Rather than introduce the real thieves through Ruth’s investigations, Blair gives them a secondary storyline that eventually merges with hers, which is an interesting approach because we have information about them that she never possesses—making the audience members the smartest ones in every scene. The filmmaker has a great eye for locations, small details in every sequence, and great faces (from largely unknown actors) who color the screen with their wrinkles and other odd, captivating features. One of the standouts of the supporting cast is an almost unrecognizable Jane Levy (DON’T BREATHE, MONSTER TRUCKS) as one of the culprits; she barely speaks, but her wild-eyed performance is terrifying.
I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE is everything I like in a first-time filmmakers work: it’s bold, even in its flaws; the actors are there to help guide us through some of the storytelling moments that could have seemed awkward in lesser hands; and Blair has a clear idea of what he wants this film to be and how he wants it to look. But most importantly to you, you don’t have to wait months and months to see a great festival offering—this one will be on Netflix on February 24.