Sundance movie reviews: Aaron Allen

When I tell people that I spent a week at the Sundance Film Festival, they usually say, “Oooh, that’s so cool! Did you see any celebrities?”

Yes, occasionally I see celebrities. Mostly, though, I just see movies. Lots and lots of movies.

Sundance has grown from the Little Film Festival That Could to the sleek bullet train of the new millennium-and everybody wants a ride. Big name Hollywood actors take a break from Bruckheimer and appear in movies that don’t always revolve around something blowin’ up real good.

So, yes, it is possible that you might see Jennifer Aniston buying a latte at the corner Starbucks or Steve Carrell slipping on a patch of ice while he tries to catch one of the ever-elusive shuttles.

But let’s not forget about the movies. Oh, the movies! Here’s what I saw over the weekend:

“Kinky Boots”Directed by Julian JarroldWritten by Tim Firth and Geoff DeanStarring: Joel Edgerton, Chiwetel Ejiofer, Sarah-Jane Potts and Nick FrostRated PG-13/107 minutesThree-and-a-half out of four stars

Julian Jarrold’s “Kinky Boots” is as safe and cuddly as its titular footwear is daring and provocative.

Joel Edgerton stars as Charlie Price, a young British man who has some big shoes to fill when he inherits his late father’s struggling shoe factory. On a business trip to London, Charlie is saved from a pack of hooligans by Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofer from “Dirty Pretty Things”), a musical drag queen with the arms of Ving Rhames and the personality of Oprah.

This chance encounter inspires Charlie to switch gears at his factory-stiff men’s shoes are out and sexy stilettos are in. Will business boom?

Does a drag queen sing “I Will Survive” in the shower?

Fans of “The Full Monty” will eat up this working-class comedy with its twee sense of humor and charmingly old-fashioned underdog formula. Ejiofer is especially fabulous-just wait until you see him perform “These Boots are Made for Walking” (come on, you knew someone had to sing it).


“Iraq in Fragments”Directed and shot by James Longley94 minutesTwo-and-a-half out of four stars

“Iraq in Fragments” couldn’t have a more appropriate title: The sights and sounds in James Longley’s three-part documentary are scattered vignettes of everyday life in Baghdad and beyond following the American occupation.

We see a boy running errands for his cruel boss while helicopters chop-chop-chop in the skies above. Young Shiite revolutionaries plan an anti-U.S. uprising. Backcountry Kurds applaud the removal of Saddam and journey to the city to vote for a new leader.

All of this is intermittently interesting, but the film is too emotionally fragmented to have a strong pull from beginning to end.


“Off the Black”Written and directed by James PonsoldtStarring: Nick Nolte, Trevor Morgan, Timothy Hutton, Rosemarie DeWitt and Sally Kirkland90 minutesThree out of four stars

When Nick Nolte’s hung-over umpire in “Off the Black” wakes up in his armchair soaked in warm drool and beer, I can’t help but wonder if I’m watching a movie or a documentary. That monstrous mug shot will haunt Nolte forever.

On the bright side, casting directors have found their new go-to-guy for mumbling, incoherent men living quiet lives of desperation. In this film, Nolte plays Ray, an unhappy umpire for high-school baseball who sends video diaries to a son who never writes back.

He finds a surrogate son in David (Trevor Morgan), a teenage vandal whose father (Timothy Hutton) has retreated into numb apathy. David poses as Ray’s son at Ray’s 40th high-school reunion, where both men learn predictable life lessons.

“Off the Black” gently nudges its characters toward better lives?or in Ray’s case, gives him a glimpse of what might have been had alcohol never crossed his plate.


“Eve and the Fire Horse”Written and directed by Julia KwanStarring: Vivian Wu, Phoebe Kut, Hollie Lo and Lester Chit-Man Chan92 minutesFour out of four stars

The wide-eyed innocence of childhood and the baffling structure of religion butt heads in Julia Kwan’s “Eve and the Fire Horse,” a sweet, perfectly observed family drama.

Eve and Karena are two young sisters who are desperately seeking solace after the sudden death of their grandmother. They find an outlet for their grief in Christianity-a system that clashes with their traditional Buddhist beliefs in frustrating and amusing ways. Perhaps Eve has the best approach: Her vivid imagination pictures Jesus and Buddha dancing a waltz in her living room.

“Eve and the Fire Horse” isn’t so much about religion as it is about the fumbling nature of a child’s mind. I’d say it’s the most charming movie so far this year, but when it’s only January and its only competition is “Last Holiday,” I’m probably jumping ahead of myself.

After all, I still have a lot of movies to see this week.


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