10 Sundance films to entertain, spark family discussion

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Jan. 19 2012 1:22 p.m. MST

In the small Idaho town of Preston, Napoleon is a high school geek who is always picked on and doesn’t have many friends, except for Pedro, who wants to run for class president. Napoleon’s eccentric family includes his llama-loving, dune-buggy enthusiast grandmother and Uncle Rico, a sleazy door-to-door salesman who is living too much in ’82. The characters are so brilliantly created that, as legions of fans will attest, it takes multiple viewings to truly savor the magnificence that is “Napoleon Dynamite.”

With a Sundance sale price of $3 million and ticket sales totalling $46 million, “Napoleon Dynamite” easily makes the list of top Sundance purchases.

“There are more belly laughs than 10 studio-produced, star-vehicle comedies.” — Bill Muller, Arizona Republic.

Cautions: Occasional exaggerated animated violence for comedic effect; minor sexuality and language; drinking and smoking.

“Saints and Soldiers” (2003; PG-13)

The only festival entry in the loosely defined “Mormon cinema” genre, “Saints and Soldiers” is perhaps also the only film shot near the Sundance resort, with Alpine, Utah, subbing for Belgium’s forests.

“Saints and Soldiers” has the subtle message of faith under trying circumstances. Inspired by actual events, the film follows four soldiers who survived a World War II massacre as they walk back to allied lines. Known to his pals as “Deacon,” Cpl. Greer had served an LDS mission in Germany and finds it impossible to kill without remorse.

Unlike the characters in modern war movies, they don’t use four-letter words. (The famous quote from the New York Times is “War is heck in the clean-scrubbed world of ‘Saints and Soldiers’….”)

“Well mounted, frequently gripping WWII tale of GIs surviving behind German lines.” — Ken Eisner, Variety

Cautions: War violence throughout film with little to no blood; profanity; smoking.

“Shape of the Moon” (World Cinema Jury Prize Documentary, 2004; NR)

In “Shape of the Moon,” a woman struggles to keep her family together — a Christian family in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. The film resonates deeply of faith and gratitude, despite the tightly woven links between Muslim religion and Indonesian politics, and is a good primer on what life is like in a third-world nation. The filmmaker employs a “single shot cinema” technique, which involves long takes with a constantly moving camera, to reveal quiet moments with three generations of a family amid the bustle of the outskirts of Jakarta.

“The ‘Christian in a Muslim Land’ angle doesn't get the attention it deserves, but the film excels at bringing us graphically into this foreign land.” — Eric D. Snyder, ericsnider.com

Caution: Brief partial nudity.

“Waiting for Superman” (Audience Award Documentary, 2010; PG)

The Superman in question is not cape-wearing. But it will take superhuman abilities to improve our children’s education system.

“Waiting for Superman” aims to win the hearts of its viewers and inspire them to social action as it reveals the dysfunction of our public school system with alarming facts and statistics. It’s a riveting watch for tweens and up, especially those who may not be aware of what’s happening in schools besides theirs.

“As (Davis) Guggenheim’s camera gives us a close-up of the Educational Lotto, the implication is clear: Why gamble on the future of America’s children? Instead of helping some kids beat the odds, how do we change the odds for all kids?” — Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer

Cautions: Mild profanities; some background smoking.

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