Arts & Life


The Sundance Film Festival comes to a close this weekend. And on the scene as always is Kenneth Turan, movie reviewer for MORNING EDITION and also the Los Angeles Times. He joins us on the line from the festival in Park City, Utah. Good morning.

KENNETH TURAN: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Let's talk about festival darlings, if you will. Last year, was "Little Miss Sunshine." Of course, now that film is up for best picture in the Academy Awards. Are there any breakthrough movies from Sundance, this year, like that?

TURAN: Well, there's nothing quite on that scale. But there are two films that people are talking about. One is a film called "Grace Is Gone." This is a film starring John Cusack, who plays a husband and father whose wife is in Iraq. And when the film begins, he hears that she's been killed, and the film has him deciding how and when to tell his daughters that their mother is dead, and that's been acquired by Harvey Weinstein. That was the film that was expected to be the darling.

But there's another film here that is really charming people that hasn't been acquired by anyone yet. It's a film called "Once" - it's a small film from Ireland about two street musicians who meet on the streets, make music together. There's a lot and lot of music in the film, and they kind of sort of fall in love in the process of making music.

It really puts a smile on your face. You're just happy that you've seen this film. And there are so many films in Sundance that are glum, People are so delighted to have come across this film that makes them feel good.

MONTAGNE: And there's also controversy this year about a movie called "Hounddog." And in that movie the young actress, Dakota Fanning, appears as a victim in a rape scene - to the consternation of some.

TURAN: Yes, well, unfortunately, with this film the fuss is more interesting than the film itself. There was an enormous fuss here. In fact, when people came out of movie theaters when the film premiered, there were TV crews standing there, literally thrusting microphones in peoples' faces, saying, what was the film like? What did you think? It was some scene out of classic tabloid journalism.

MONTAGNE: Well, onto other movies in the festival. What have you seen that you really like, Ken?

TURAN: Well, there are a couple of dramatic films that I, really, was very fond of. There's one called "Away From Her." It's directed by the actress Sarah Polley. She's a young director and she picked the subject that's very unusual for a young director, what Alzheimer's does to a marriage. And the film's star is Julie Christie. It's a very rare, complete starring role for Julie Christie. She's really remarkable in it, and this is a very, very poignant love story.

MONTAGNE: You know, we talked often in the past about the documentaries at Sundance. What stands out this year?

TURAN: Well, people really feel, and I'm one of them, that the documentaries are the best things at Sundance. And this year, they're really stronger than ever. There's a film called "In the Shadow With the Moon." It's a film about the exploration of the moon, and I'm not a big space person, and I said: well, maybe I'll miss this.

I went, and it really kind of blew me away. Not only do they have NASA footage that is been unseen or hasn't been seen in years. They've interviewed all the men who actually walked on the moon, who are still living. They're at an age where they're very candid and the stories they tell on the drama of the moon exploration just blew me away.

And there's a documentary I want to mention, called "Protagonist," which is probably in some ways the most unusual documentary of the festival. It's directed by Jessica Yu, who's an Oscar-winning documentarian. It intercuts the stories of four men, who went to extreme points in their lives, then felt they've made a mistake and try to change their lives.

And it intercuts these stories, not only with each other, but with hand puppets who act out scenes from Euripides that are read in ancient Greek. And this sounds completely wild. It is completely wild, that when you watched it on screen it works beautifully.

MONTAGNE: Ken, thanks very much.

TURAN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And enjoy Sundance.

TURAN: I'm trying.

MONTAGNE: All right. Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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