Film

Sundance 2015: ‘Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck’ Is a Harrowing, Intimate Portrait

PARK CITY, UT: Buried deep in the private journals, audio diaries, and home movies that comprise the bulk of Brett Morgen’s remarkable documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck are these instructions: “Look through my things and figure me out.” It’s a simple imperative that Morgen clearly took as his mission statement, crafting a bio-doc that eschews the usual conventions in favor of something a good deal more experimental and impressionistic. “This is not Nirvana: Behind the Music,” director Morgen warned the Sundance Film Festival audience Monday morning. “My films are meant to be experiences.” … Read More

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Sundance Docs ‘Going Clear’ and ‘Prophet’s Prey’ Ask: Religion or Cult?

PARK CITY, UT: Late in Prophet’s Prey, Amy Berg’s provocative
and powerful documentary case against FLDS church head Warren Jeffs, author Jon Krakauer says this about the church’s continued dedication to a man who is clearly a monster: “It speaks to something disturbing about human nature. Once you believe something, it’s very, very difficult to give that up completely.” That simple yet undeniable truth lies at the center of not only Prophet’s Prey but Going Clear, Alex Gibney’s already controversial look at the history and methodology of the Church of Scientology. Both films use extensive documentation, buried tapes, and testimony from departed members to paint portraits of organizations that would call themselves one thing (church), while most sensible people would call them another (cult). … Read More

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30 Best Pop Culture Spinsters

The word “spinster” refers to an unmarried woman, and is most often synonymous with the stereotype of the past-her-prime old maid, a woman who hasn’t made a good match and who’s doomed to live an unfulfilling life. Well, that’s just stereotypes talking, because… hey, what’s wrong with that, exactly? The answer is absolutely nothing. Pop culture has given us some pretty great spinsters (although on average they do fall within a specific, homogenous, moneyed, and white demographic). So here are our 30 favorite writers, artists, and fictional characters who show the freedom that comes from living an unmarried life — female characters who are defined by their wants and desires, and not characterized through the simple scrim of their relationships. … Read More

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The Oppressive Softness of ‘The Duke of Burgundy’

I watched The Duke of Burgundy with someone who experiences ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), whereby certain stimuli that brush against the threshold of nonexistence create a tingling sensation in one’s upper body; it’s said to be pleasant. Some typical ASMR triggers — which have become something of a YouTube phenomenon — include running water, the rustling or crunching of leaves, personal attention (like being measured, getting one’s hair cut), and whispering, all of which are used in hypnotically controlling repetition by writer/director Peter Strickland throughout the film. Strickland also adds some new triggers to the mix, such as popping soap bubbles, and, more strangely, the high-frequency sounds certain moths’ genitals make to confuse approaching, echolocating bats. … Read More

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Sponsored Tweets? Scientology Fights Alex Gibney’s Sundance Hit ‘Going Clear’

Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, based on Lawrence Wright’s 2013 expose, premiered on Sunday at Sundance… Read More

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Sundance 2015: Baumbach and Gerwig’s ‘Mistress America’ Looks Behind the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Mask

PARK CITY, UT: “I could only agree with her,” Tracy says of Brooke, in the opening moments of Noah Baumbach’s Mistress America. “It was too much fun to agree with her.” Tracy (Lola Kirke) is a college freshman, failing (and frankly, not trying all that hard) to fit in at Barnard. Brooke (Greta Gerwig) is her older future sister-in-law, a whirling dervish, jazzy and odd and prone to non sequitur. She’s comfortable and confident and all the things that Tracy’s not, so it’s easy to see how Tracy both idolizes and idealizes her. If that were all that was happening in Mistress America, it’d still be worth seeing; it’s got a fast pace and screwball spirit, and is the closest thing Baumbach’s done to pure comedy since his peerless debut picture Kicking and Screaming. But there’s a lot more going on here than just laughs. … Read More

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‘The Hunting Ground’ and ‘Hot Girls Wanted': Sundance Docs Investigate the Sexual Exploitation of Young Women

PARK CITY, UT: Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s The Hunting Ground starts on a note of deceptive hopefulness. To the familiar and triumphant strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” we see YouTube and home video images of hopeful high school seniors finding out that they’ve been accepted to their schools of their dreams. We see addresses and welcoming speeches from university administrators, promising them that these will be the most important and memorable years of their lives. It’s all light and exciting and even funny — and then they drop the hammer. The film’s title comes from an offhand mention by an interview subject, a rape survivor. It seems an apt description for how the rapist sees a college campus, and perhaps even for society at large, as another Sundance documentary called Hot Girls Wanted reiterates that the sexual exploitation of young women is not just an epidemic, but an industry. … Read More

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