The 10 Nerdiest Movies and Moments of Sundance 2015

JP Bernier
Turbo Kid

People may not think of the Sundance Film Festival as a big one for nerds and geeks, as we all still remember when Cartman described every Sundance movie as “gay cowboys eating pudding.” Well, there are fewer movies about gay cowboys eating pudding since Brokeback Mountain, and let’s not forget that Sundance launched the premieres of Primer, Memento and perhaps the quintessential ode to nerd culture, Clerks.

This year’s Sundance Film Festival wasn’t quite as flashy as the ones that premiered those films. There was no guerrilla film-making Disneyland expose, nor Kevin Smith blacklisting himself from Hollywood, but there were a bunch of sci-fi films, cult celebrities and even some news. So here are the 10 nerdiest movies and moments of Sundance 2015.

10. A Graphic Novelist Gets Dumped.

Let’s start with a movie that’s actually about a comic book artist. People, Places, Things stars Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement as an artist and teacher who catches his longtime girlfriend and mother of his children with another man. When he leaves, he struggles to get time with the kids, and one of his art students (Jessica Williams) wants to hook him up with her mom (Regina Hall).

Sounds like kind of a bummer actually, but trust me, it’s not. Clement is hilarious as he is just so bitter and frustrated by his ex he doesn’t even play nice. He takes a lot of it out in his work, too, which include some hilarious drawings. The best, though, are when he defaces her new fiance’s posters with Hitler mustaches and Osama bin Laden beards. Classic Jemaine.

9. Zzzzzzzzzzzz for Zachariah

Chris Pine, Margot Robbie and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Z for Zachariah

Here was a movie that was supposed to be cool. After the apocalypse, the only survivors are Margot Robbie, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Chris Pine. So you’ve got a love triangle between Harley Quinn, Captain Kirk and the bad guy from Serenity having to repopulate the earth.

Despite the star power on screen there, Z for Zachariah was the most boring movie I saw all week, and I saw 36 movies. There’s a little sexual tension, but they spend most of the time farming and building a wheel to turn the power back on, and I think we see them assemble that wheel in real time.

End of the world survival is usually cool. The Walking Dead, for example, does entire episodes about farming and building. Z for Zachariah is just dull and lifeless, and it’s only 90 minutes. It’s definitely going to get released because a movie with that cast doesn’t just sit on the shelf, but don’t let any Sundance hype fool you. Also no one in it is named Zachariah – so it’s false advertising.

8. Brit Marling in Talks for Marie Curie Movie?

I don’t know if you’re as into Brit Marling as I am, but she’s kind of royalty at Sundance. In 2011, she had two films she wrote and starred in: Another Earth used the discovery of a parallel earth in our orbit to explore a grief drama, and Sound of My Voice starred Marling as a cult leader who claimed to be a time traveler for the future. Another Earth won the Special Jury Prize and the Alfred P. Sloan prize that year. Another Marling movie, I Origins, won the Sloan Award last year.

So this year Marling was on the jury for the Sloan Awards. So was Jonah Nolan, along with scientists Janna Levin and Adam Stelzner, and NOVA producer Paula Apsell. I went to the actual announcement of this year’s Sloan award, given to a film that uses the medium to promote science in some way. (Brit saw me there and waved to me because she knows me and I hang out with her and her smart friends. Be jealous.) The winner was The Stanford Prison Experiment, a drama about the famed psychological experiment in which volunteers posing as guards ended up abusing volunteers playing prisoners.

The juicy tidbit for me was when Sloan Foundation VP Doron Weber was talking about the jurors and he mentioned there is a script for a Marie Curie movie that Brit Marling would be right for. Does that mean she’s in talks, or was he just trying to suck up to her while she was in the room? Marling is a Georgetown valedictorian, so genius wouldn’t even require acting. I don’t think Curie had that luscious blonde hair (for which I wanted Marling cast as Supergirl, but Melissa Benoist is a great choice), but I’ll see Marling in anything, so bring on Mme. Curie.

7. My Dad Met Edgar Wright.

I actually invited my parents to join me at Sundance this year. They live back east, so visiting is expensive and complicated. Plus, I surely got my love of movies from my mom who took me to them as early as I can remember. So, since it’s my favorite place in the world, I figured they should see Sundance at least once. For the second half of the week. I’m not crazy; I need to get some work done.

The first movie I took them to was Don Verdean, and on our way to the restroom, my dad and I ran into Edgar Wright. Wright was on the U.S. Dramatic competition jury, so had to see the screening of Verdean for deliberation. So I made the quick introduction. Luckily, Wright knows me from junkets so he stopped as I told him I showed my dad Hot Fuzz and he loved it, so we had watched Shaun of the Dead, The World’s End and Scott Pilgrim too. Wright was cool and nicely thanked my father and told him it was nice to meet him. Then we peed.

6. The Best ’80s Post-Apocalyptic BMX Movie of 2015

In a year that Back to the Future Part II predicted would have holograms and hoverboards, one movie actually takes us back to the ’80s. Turbo Kid began as an ABCs of Death short, “T is for Turbo” (Ironically, Z for Zachariah did not begin life that way, which might be its major problem). You know the feature film is ’80s because it has Michael Ironside as the bad guy.

The Kid (Munro Chambers) becomes his favorite comic book character, Turbo Rider, in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1997. He meets a weird and crazy but sweet girl named Apple (Laurence Leboeuf and yes, she’s really named Laurence) and they have to fight Zeus (Ironside) and his henchmen to stop his evil plan to turn people into drinking water. Yes, the Kid quotes Soylent Green. It would be irresponsible not to.

Turbo Kid is so much fun. The action scenes feature gratuitously gory deaths, but the kills are all so clever they’re hilarious. The film is so full of love with its own brand of Mad Max characters, but really inventive costumes for such a bastardized genre. If T was for Turbo than the K is for Kewl.

5. Don’t Be Downloading Your Brain.

I saw the short film Advantageous at Fantastic Fest in 2012. That was the year Luke was on the fantastic features jury, right? [I think so but the past few years are honestly a blur – LYT] I was impressed with the short because it introduced such intelligent science fiction concepts and explored them fully in 20 minutes. It eventually aired as an episode of Futurestates. So when I read the description of a feature entitled Advantageous in this year’s Sundance program, I went, “That sounds familiar.”

Advantageous is about a future where women are facing poverty and unemployment at unprecedented rates. So basically, it’s what’ll happen if the Men’s Rights Movement wins. Jacqueline Kim, who co-wrote the script with writer/director Jennifer Phang, plays Gwen, a marketing exec for a tech company that invented a procedure to transfer your consciousness into another body. Basically, they can download your brain into a younger, healthier person.

That’s great if you’re dying, or sick, or lose a limb as the film suggests, but what if people abuse it? And you know they will. The company is going to fire Gwen in favor of a younger face, so she offers to have the procedure herself. There is some cool technology and future cities in Advantageous but it’s a science fiction of ideas mainly. As much as I might like to download myself into The Rock’s body, it’s a slippery slope. If Highlander taught us anything (and it did), it’s “who wants to live forever?” You can’t just keep downloading yourself into younger bodies indefinitely. But go see Advantageous and decide for yourself – you can even watch the whole short online above.

4. Jupiter Ascending Played as Secret Screening.

Midway through the week it was announced that Jupiter Ascending would screen as a surprise. That’s an odd choice for Sundance since the mission statement for Sundance is for independent film, not Warner Bros. special effects movies. Also odd because Jupiter Ascending opens a week later. I didn’t have tickets but I wouldn’t have gone anyway. I didn’t spend $1000 to go to Sundance to see a movie that opens wide in a week.

You know, if they’d just released it last summer like they were supposed to, we wouldn’t have this problem. I’m sure it came to Sundance in hopes of building good buzz, but I don’t think it worked because I didn’t hear anyone talking about it. Look, I have every intention of seeing it, and I even expect to like it. I’m still waiting for the Wachowski Starship to make another Bound, but I’m up for whatever they do.

But, you know, audiences rejected Speed Racer so they don’t deserve nice things anymore.

3. The Crow Is in Good Hands.

Two Comic-Cons ago I met James O’Barr, the author of The Crow, and the director of the new reboot, F. Javier Gutierrez. Well, they took a little too long to make The Crow and Gutierrez and actor Luke Evans had to move on. Now they’ve got Corin Hardy to do The Crow.

Hardy’s first feature film, The Hallow played in Sundance’s Park City at Midnight section, and it gives me a lot of hope for The Crow. It’s a creature feature about a couple who moves to a remote town and pisses off some forest creatures who come after their baby. Hardy called it a fairy tale, which it is if you ever read the original Grimm stuff.

The Hallow combines so many subgenres of horror that it shows he can really balance a lot of elements. There’s a siege when the creatures attack the house. There’s possession when they take over the husband. The creature design is really cool. Given that The Crow is part romance, part tragedy and part revenge, I can’t wait to see what Hardy does with it.

2. Highbrow Art Cinema Parodies in Me & Earl and the Dying Girl

RJ Cyler and Thomas Mann in Me & Earl and the Dying Girl

You might not think a comedy-drama about a teenage girl with leukemia would have any nerdery in it, but this one does. Greg (Thomas Mann) is the Me in Me and Earl and Earl (RJ Cyler) is his filmmaking buddy. They are true film nerds though. They’re not watching Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. They’re watching Werner Herzog films and recreating the making of Fitzcarraldo with video cameras.

The dying girl (Olivia Cooke) is kind of a nerd too. At least, she has a picture of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine on her wall and the Aussie-fied superhero speaks to Greg at one point. There is a Princess Leia hologram in the film, and Greg has a kryptonite-like reaction to his mother’s nagging. And dancing goth kids, but it’s really the spoofs of art films like The Seventh Seal and My Dinner With Andre that make Me & Earl and the Dying Girl a film nerd’s dream. No wonder it won Sundance.

1. Big Bang Theory‘s Melissa Rauch Has a Potty Mouth.

On The Big Bang Theory, Melissa Rauch plays Bernadette, the sweet genius wife of Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg). Six years of primetime network family comedy must have broken her, because she wrote a script for herself that’s so dirty, Sheldon would squirt Purell into his eyes if he saw it, and, you know, if he were a real person.

The Bronze was opening night film at Sundance and starred Rauch as a has-been gymnast who lives off her old endorsements and freebies at the mall food court. She talks dirty to her own father and the film includes masturbation, camel toe and a sex scene between two gymnasts for which it looks like they hired professional gymnast body doubles to do real positions in the buff. Since she wrote the script, I can tell we’d get along because we like the same things.

Also By Fred Topel

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