Wednesday, January 24, 2018



Part of the Sundance NEXT programming, Skate Kitchen is the feature debut of writer/director Crystal Moselle. This tale of a suburban Long Island teenager's descent into New York City's gritty street skateboarding culture poses a stronger first half than second half, with some important character arcs left either unresolved or unrealistically fulfilled. Boasting evocative cinematography, a bass-busting soundtrack, and strong performances, Skate Kitchen is something of an oddball. As a piece of visual storytelling, it's great. As a feature-length story, it doesn't quite work.


Riding the coattails of Stranger Things and the recent success of the It remake, directors Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (collectively known as "Roadkill Superstar") return to Sundance with a horror-comedy that stands out from its ilk by going all-in on the horror in its final moments. Typically seen in more comedic supporting roles, Rich Sommer (Mad Men, The Devil Wears Prada) emerges with a positively bone-chilling performance that culminates in some of the most genuinely terrifying work this reviewer has ever seen from a horror movie villain. I'm squirming just thinking about it! A cranking synth score from French-Canadian electronic duo Le Matos, assured performances from the young cast, and production design that feels more like a lived-in 1980s than a world focused on chitzy, kitchen-sink pastiche all but solidify Summer of  '84's place as a worthy successor to the cult favorites it so obviously admires. Fans of Turbo Kid are in for another treat! Can't wait to see it again.


American Animals is the dramatic feature debut of documentarian Bart Layton (The Imposter). It follows the true story of four college kids (Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson) who plot to steal some rare books from the private collection in the library at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. The strong performances and production values aren't what make this comedy-drama stand out. American Animals is different because of its approach to the storytelling. The bulk of the film is told via the dramatization starring Peters, Keoghan, etc. But Layton leans into his sensibilities as a documentary filmmaker by interviewing the actual perpetrators and using them to punctuate the acted drama. It works surprisingly well. 

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