Sundance

Sundance 2014: Kendrick, Lynskey, Dunham Shine in Swanberg’s ‘Happy Christmas’

PARK CITY, UTAH: As the opening credits roll in Joe Swanberg’s Happy Christmas, the festivalgoer’s eyes have to do a quick adjustment. Here, in a sea of slick, crisp, clean high-def video, Swanberg has gone retro; for the first time, the prolific video filmmaker is shooting on Super 16mm film, with cinematographer Ben Richardson aggressively pushing the grain. It lends the picture a roughness, a homemade quality, recalling the works of John Cassavettes, who encouraged the improvisation of actors and frequently cast his friends and family (as Swanberg does here). Swanberg’s let-the-camera-run aesthetic can go either way — towards self-indulgence, or overheard, naturalistic candor. Thanks in no small part to the considerable gifts of stars Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, and Lena Dunham, Happy Christmas goes the right way. … Read More

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Sundance 2014: Aubrey Plaza Reinvents Herself in ‘Life After Beth’

PARK CITY, UTAH: Aubrey Plaza underplays so adroitly, on Parks & Rec and in films like Safety Not Guaranteed and Funny People, that it’s easy to wonder if she’s working with a limited range — that she’s merely playing the “Aubrey Plaza type” (and it has certainly become a type). If her new film Life After Beth — a dizzy little zombie comedy that premiered at Sundance yesterday — does nothing else, it should put those concerns to rest. She’s magnificent in a role that couldn’t be further from April Ludgate; hell, by the end of the picture, she couldn’t be further from the character she’s playing at the beginning. Her Beth is a brilliantly realized comic creation, and an awe-inspiring testimonial to exactly what she’s capable of. … Read More

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Sundance 2014: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About George Takei

PARK CITY, UTAH: No one, it seems, is happier with the new documentary To Be Takei (which premiered last night at the Sundance Film Festival) than the film’s subject, George Takei. “I can’t tell you all what a heady experience this is,” he said after the premiere, alongside his husband Brad, “to share our lives will all of you, and hear the laughter and the applause and the good feelings that you’re sending our way.” Takei’s unlikely ascension to beloved pop culture icon, via political activism, a series of self-aware television and film appearances, and a witty and well-curated Facebook presence, makes a good story, and To Be Takei tells it well. … Read More

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Sundance 2013: Awards, Deals, and When You Can See Them

Indie producers at Sundance would be wise to steer your film editor away from their screenings, since (for the second year in a row, to say nothing of Tribeca and SXSW) practically none of the films I saw over my six days in Park City managed to grab any prizes at Saturday night’s big award ceremony. I’m all out of theories for why I’m so bad at picking these things — but it’s something we’re all going to have to come to terms with, apparently. Not to worry, though; many of the very good films I did manage to see will be coming your way over the next few months, so let’s take a look at films that won both awards and big-money deals. … Read More

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The Best and Worst of Sundance 2013

This time last year, the out-of-nowhere indie Beasts of the Southern Wild emerged at the Sundance Film Festival, knocked out everyone who saw it, and embarked on a thrilling year-long ride to become a critical fave, indie smash, and multiple Oscar nominee. Of course, when you have a big hit, everyone’s looking for a sequel — and most of the press out of Park City has been eager to buzzkill, assuring us that no, there’s not another Beasts in this year’s bunch. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an incredible… Read More

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Dave Grohl Reveals the Documentary That Inspired His Music Career

At a Sundance event earlier this week promoting his new music documentary Sound City, I had the chance to ask Foo Fighters frontman (and now filmmaker) Dave Grohl about some of his favorite music documentaries. His thoughtful and wide-ranging answer was interesting enough, I thought, to warrant including in its entirety. … Read More

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Sundance 2013: Dave Grohl, on Making Films and Music: “I Fake All of These Things”

PARK CITY, UTAH: Dave Grohl is the first one to tell you that he is not a filmmaker. And yet, here he is at Sundance, chatting up the documentary Sound City, which marks his directorial debut. “I don’t even know what directing means,” he laughed at a press conference Monday. “I’m not a director. I’m not a drummer. I’m not a guitar player. I fake all of these things. I never took lessons to do any of this shit. I don’t know — I can’t read music. I hold my drumsticks backwards. I don’t know what a director is. But I do know, if you sit down with a clear idea of what you want to do, if it’s in your head and you can actualize it or visualize it… well, then, you wind up with something that makes sense.” … Read More

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Sundance 2013: Richard Linklater on ‘Before Midnight’ and the Sequel Nobody Wanted

PARK CITY, UTAH: In Before Midnight, the latest chapter of Richard Linklater’s romantic chronicle, Jesse (the writer played again by Ethan Hawke) is told of his third novel: “It’s a better book! It’s so much more ambitious!” It plays like an in-joke, but an accurate one; Before Midnight has all the best qualities of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (a love of conversational dialogue, long takes that value the joy of performance and interaction, gorgeous European locations), yet it is a grander and more complicated achievement. There are some supporting characters this time, for example, and a fuller sense of the protagonists’ lives outside the narrow timeframe. But it also reflects, beautifully, how romance in your 40s is a very different beast from romance in your 20s, or 30s. … Read More

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Sundance 2013: ‘C.O.G.’ Reminded David Sedaris of “How Pretentious and Horrible I Was”

PARK CITY, UTAH: Before C.O.G., the new comedy/drama from Kyle Patrick Alvarez that premiered last night at the Sundance Film Festival, David Sedaris had never allowed his work to be adapted into a feature film. There were plenty of offers, which Sedaris usually turned down to protect his family. But Alvarez had two feathers in his cap: the story he wanted to adapt (from Sedaris’s essay collection Naked) didn’t include the family, and Sedaris “just loved” Alvarez’s first movie, Easier with Practice. Once he gave the project the go-ahead, however, Sedaris stayed out of the way — so much so that he saw the film for the first time at Sunday night’s Sundance premiere. … Read More

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