Live From the 2016 Sundance Film Festival: Wednesday, Jan. 27


Watching Outlaws and Angels in a nearly empty press screening at 8:30 Wednesday morning, I was struck by an analogy:

If the films that are released by Hollywood and the larger film companies each year are the major leagues, then the films that show up at Sundance are AAA and AA prospects, looking for their slot on the roster and a shot at the majors. And Sundance is spring training.

Obviously, there are titles that are immediately ready for the majors -- such as this year's most talked-about acquisitions, Manchester by the Sea and The Birth of a Nation. Then there are films like Outlaws and Angels, from newcomer JT Mollner, which is strictly Single-A ball, if I may stretch this analogy. It's faux Tarantino, a splatter western with brief flashes of both wit and suspense and an overabundance of pretension.

There is the skeleton of a solid western here, about bank robbers on the run holing up with a churchy family in an isolated farmhouse and taking them hostage. But Mollner, writing in Deadwood argot, swings wildly here, as though the film were a piñata from which he only occasionally reaps rewards. Meanwhile, the film is littered with extraneous shots and scenes, including a rape that turns into a seduction. Sorry, no. There's a little too much of everything for the film's own good.

Plus, Mollner is in need of both a better editor and a different makeup artist. The editor would slice a solid 30 minutes out of this film and make it more propulsive and tense, instead of slack and draggy. As for the makeup artist, put it this way: I thought prettyboy badman Chad Michael Murray had a green Gummi worm stuck to his cheek until someone referenced it as a knife scar.

On the other hand , actress Clea Duvall's Big Chill-like The Intervention is engaging and emotionally intelligent, if a little less witty than it might be. Her set-up -- eight friends gather at a summer house to perform an intervention on one couple's failing marriage -- offers smart takes on the nature of commitment, lust, romance and matrimony.

It offers a bright cast, led by Melanie Lynskey as the pushy friend who has organized this bout of buttinsky-ism. She's supported by Duvall herself, Natasha Lyonne, Josh Ritter and Cobie Smulders, among others.

Duvall has a solid sense of both timing and proportion, two key elements in a film as carefully constructed as this one. If it never quite soars, it does glide along nicely and finds its moments without pushing them.

This commentary continues on my website.