Sundance Film Festival

The Best and Worst of Sundance 2015 (Narrative Edition)

Come Sunday, the screens will go dark, the volunteers will turn in their vests, the tents will fall, and the 2015 Sundance Film Festival will come to a close. But as it winds down, we’re taking a look at some of our favorite and not-so-favorite films of this year’s fest. Yesterday, we ran down and ranked this year’s documentaries; now, to the narrative films, spinning fiction while still (hopefully) telling… Read More

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The Best and Worst of Sundance 2015 (Documentary Edition)

The Sundance Film Festival draws to a close this weekend, but your film editor is already headed home from the land of snowy mountains, altitude headaches, crowded shuttles, and indie flicks galore. Because I managed to take in so many Sundance titles this year (34 total), we’re splitting our capsule review roundup into two parts; tomorrow we’ll look at the fest’s narrative films of note, while the focus today is on the documentary premieres and competition entrants. These 19 movies covered everything from sexual exploitation to famous faces to the movies themselves, with intelligence and grace; they (OK, most of them) are worth keeping an eye on in the months to come. … Read More

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Sundance 2015: Joe Swanberg Channels Cassavetes in the Star-Studded ‘Digging for Fire’

PARK CITY, UT: In the Q&A session following Sunday night’s Sundance Film Festival premiere of Joe Swanberg’s new film Digging for Fire, star Rosemarie DeWitt recalled getting a text from co-star Sam Rockwell shortly after production began — a text reading, as she recalled, “What the eff is this movie about?” Many of the responses in the Sundance Twittersphere (the best harbinger of that most valuable of commodities up here, “buzz”) have roughly paraphrased that reaction; word is that it’s a meandering, dull mess. (One critic dubbed it Digging for Dire.) To be sure, it’s not exactly an accessible picture — unlike Swanberg’s last two major, star-heavy productions, Drinking Buddies and Happy Christmas, which share several cast members with his latest. But experimentation is kinda what we’re up here for, right? Right? … Read More

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‘I Smile Back': Why Did Sarah Silverman Need a Serious Drama to Become a “Serious Actor”?

PARK CITY, UTAH: Since its premiere Sunday night, one of the biggest stories of the Sundance Film Festival has been Sarah Silverman’s revelatory performance in the addiction drama I Smile Back. Indiewire called her “completely riveting.” Variety insisted, “rarely has a performer striven so concertedly to shed any trace of his/her comedy roots.” And Hollywood Reporter wrote of her “gutsy performance” “annihilating almost every trace of her comedy persona.” On the ground, the skill of her turn has generated nothing less than surprise — she’s so good, and so dramatic! But it should no longer shock anyone that a comic actor is also skilled at drama, not just because there’s such precedence for it, but because comic actors are too often regarded simply as second-class thespians. … Read More

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Sundance 2015: Tig Notaro’s Charm and Insight Save a Formulaic Documentary

PARK CITY, UT: On August 3, 2012, stand-up comic Tig Notaro stepped onto the stage of Los Angeles’ Largo and gave an instantly legendary performance. It came at the conclusion of a three-month period in which she was diagnosed with a dangerous bacterial infection, lost her mother unexpectedly, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer news came about three days before the performance, and it was a breaking point; suddenly the series of tragedies became funny, it was just so over the top. She greeted the audience with a warm, “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?” And she proceeded to execute one of the most breathtaking high-wire acts in stand-up comedy history. Suddenly, she was dying — and a star. … Read More

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Raekwon and Ghostface Killah Announce Documentary

Hip-hop heads have this August marked on their calendars as the 20th anniversary of Raekwon and Ghostface Killah’s classic 1995… Read More

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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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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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