Sundance 2017: 'An Inconvenient Sequel' + 'I Don't Feel at Home in This World'

Al Gore in An Inconvenient Sequel (2017)

The 2017 Sundance Film Festival opens with two films about making the world a better place -- in two very different ways.

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power

Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk
Cast: Al Gore
Rated: NR
Studio: Paramount Vantage
Year: 2017
US Release date: 2017-01-19 (Sundance Film Festival)

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore

Director: Macon Blair
Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Elijah Wood, David Yow
Rated: R
Studio: Netflix
Year: 2017
US Release date: 2017-01-19 (Sundance Film Festival)

Two new films at the Sundance Film Festival look for ways to make the world a better place. The first, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk's An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, reinvigorates the argument made a decade ago in An Inconvenient Truth. In a perverted twist of fate, the sequel made its Sundance debut on the eve of Donald Trump's inauguration.

Now, we contemplate the future with an American President who believes the Earth is flat (or at least filled with molten candy), as the new film offers Al Gore's updated slideshow presentation on climate change. The news is pretty grim, but the messenger is not. Nearly 20 years removed from hanging chads, Gore's frustratingly amateurish delivery looks refreshingly endearing. He still shambles about with an awkward, almost Frankensteinian gate, and his Southern drawl still fluctuates based on his audience. He’s also still sharp as a tack and genuinely passionate about saving the planet.

Here Mr. PowerPoint delves into a new ream of data and graphs to break down humanity’s inexorable march toward self-induced annihilation. Glaciers explode on the Greenland ice shelf as 2016 temperatures skyrocket into the stratosphere. Super-soaking "Rain Bombs" absorb moisture from the baking earth and dump flash floods of Biblical proportions upon the Southwestern United States. With weather anomalies becoming an everyday occurrence, Gore implores skeptical world leaders to “have a conversation about cause and effect.”

Gore serves as the moral and reasonable center of An Inconvenient Sequel. The documentary shows how he's been spending his time: between jam sessions with energy experts and heads of state, he gathers together eager students on his Tennessee farm to teach them the subtleties of his AV presentation, new disciples in the Church of Climate Change.

Gore’s global travels lead to the film’s most effective scene, in which an Indian politician rightly wonders why his poor country should embrace expensive solar technology rather than exploit the cheap fossil fuels that enabled the US to become a superpower. It's a rebuke Gore struggles to counter, and one familiar within current debates that pit declining economies against rising temperatures.

At the same time, Gore’s passion and sincerity remain an inspiration. When India threatens to derail the agreement reached at the historic 2016 Paris Climate Conference, he brokers a deal with a California solar company to provide affordable solar panels to India. It's an audacious bit of deal making that will leave climate change opponents choking on their economic pragmatism.

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The movie makes the case that Gore is as correct as he is pragmatic. Most notably, it reminds us that his "outrageous” claim in An Inconvenient Truth that a storm surge could flood the 9/11 Memorial in New York City was vindicated when Hurricane Sandy did just that in 2012. Even his jokes showcase how right he is. When Gore wonders out loud how Florida's governor, Rick Scott, can ignore the elevated tidal surges flooding Miami Beach, a local bureaucrat observes that “Florida is a challenge,” Gore quips, "I can confirm that."

Of course, Gore is not An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power most important cause. A rousing complement to its predecessor, the film is packed with plenty of new information to bolster the already insurmountable case in favor of climate change. It won't change any skeptical minds in today's charged political climate, but it's a galvanizing sermon for those ready to hear it.

Elijah Wood and Melanie Lynskey in I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

The case made in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, is slightly different. The better world in this case is pursued by Ruth Kimke (Melanie Lynskey), currently stuck in one where, as she puts it, "Everyone is an asshole!"

Ruth has the cold, perceptive detachment that comes when you retreat to your own miserable corner of society. Minor indiscretions, like violating the 15-items-or-less grocery lane edict, send her into existential crisis. It’s no surprise, then, that the burglary of her beloved grandmother's silverware sends Ruth on an ill-advised investigation that leads into a genuinely dangerous criminal world.

Macon Blair's directorial debut is an exhilarating mix of the absurd, the hilarious, and the sleazy. Blair was obviously taking notes during his collaborations with Jeremy Saulnier on Blue Ruin and Green Room, as his own film, like those, explores the consequences of crossing societal boundaries.

Bones break and blood spews as Ruth finds her way into places she can’t possibly comprehend. Her guide on this journey is Tony (Elijah Wood); a rattail-wearing, roundhouse-kicking metal-head who is only slightly less clueless than Ruth. He knows just enough to get both of them nearly killed, as when he unleashes a throwing star assault on a hapless group of drug addicts. After a prolonged effort to remove a stubborn star that’s lodged in the wall, Tony gloats, “Yeah, that’s how hard I threw it.” Wood's weird energy and wiry frame help us understand Tony, a man who exists somewhere between moral discipline and quacking rage.

As Ruth, Lynskey brings another sort of weirdness. Her mousy voice and sunken shoulders belie a beastly thirst for cosmic justice. She wants to save the world from itself, one browbeating at a time. When she finally tracks down the burglars, you want to throw your arms around her to keep her safe. You feel this way because the film deftly follows Ruth’s descent into darkness without ever compromising her innocence. Because I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore establishes the burglars as genuinely creepy, when she encounters them, you feel as though anything can happen.

If Blair's creation of that sort of unease is impressive, his film's tone can also be inconsistent. Ruth and Tony share a dark sarcasm and goofy likability, while the criminals' sensibility is ultra-serious. At times, these differences seem haphazard rather than deliberate. That said, the final 20 minutes of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore produce some of the most riveting cinema you’re likely to see in 2017.

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