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Entries in film festivals (229)

Wednesday
Jan282015

Sundance: Redford and Nolte go on a breezy "Walk in the Woods"

Based on the best seller by Bill BrysonMichael C reporting from Sundance to review a film starring the Sundance Kid himself.

Ken Kwapis's A Walk in the Woods has the misfortune of following not one, but two movies about the restorative spiritual powers of hiking, Tracks and Wild. Taken on its own the story of two estranged buddies hiking the Appalachian trail despite everyone saying they are way too old would probably be taken as a bit too broad, a bit too slight. Following hot on the heels of those high quality titles it feels positively featherweight. A Walk in the Woods is a lark, just an opportunity to take a low stakes tromp through the wilderness in the company of two beloved actors, Redford and Nolte. Some of it is amusing, most of it is agreeable, and if it occasional touches on an undercurrent of loss and regret, it is only in a minor way.

Redford plays semi-retired travel writer Bill Bryson as he has reached the age where every conversation is about ailments and funerals. Despite being semi-retired it all becomes too much for him until he announces out of the blue his intention to hike the Appalachian Trail, a plan his wife takes as tantamount to a suicide attempt. She insists he not go alone, but every friend laughs off the idea of an epic senior citizen trek across the East Coast...

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Tuesday
Jan272015

Sundance Quickies: Dope, Last Days in the Desert, Nasty Baby

Nathaniel reporting from Sundance with three quick takes

DOPE
The biggest sale at Sundance was this no-stars comedy about three geeky high school seniors who are obsessed with 90s hip hops (that's a character detail and joke factory -- not the plot). Malcolm (Shameik Moore joyfully charismatic in the lead role) a Straight A student who dreams of Harvard and his two best friends Jib (Tony Revolori - just as strong as he was in Grand Budapest Hotel) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons from Transparent in her feature debut) live in "The Bottoms" an impoverished crime-ridden neighborhood. Malcolm gets mixed up with Dom (Rakim Mayers aka A$AP Rocky), a local dope dealer, and soon the three friends are on the run from cops, drug dealers, gang members and continually out of frying pans and into other fires. The film it most reminded me of is Go (1999) for its parade of memorable characters, smart fast comedy, and crime plot but this one is lighter.  Dope has inarguably high energy and fresh laughs for the first hour but, like many comedies, it overstays its welcome as it wants to be taken more seriously in the second half (tightening the second hour before release would be of huge benefit). Regardless, those huge laughs, great racial politics jokes and its hugely endearing trio could well make it a sleeper smash. B/B+

Funny Coincidence: I saw this directly after The Diary of a Teenage Girl and both movies feature a shot of a horny teenage girl licking a photograph. In this case it's lesbian drummer Diggy licking the 2 Live Crew album cover. Ha!

LAST DAYS IN THE DESERT
In this film, shot in natural light by that DP without peer Emmanuel Lubezki, Ewan McGregor plays Jesus near the end of his 40 day fast and desert wanderings. McGregor also plays the Devil which gives this film the entertaining kick it needs to survive lots of contemplative moments / scenes of Jesus just staring into and walking around the desert thinking about the shit that Sons of God think about.I liked the film's invention of a troubled family Jesus meets (Ciarin Hinds and Tye Sheridan as father/son -- though thankfully their dramatic parallels to Jesus and his  "Daddy" as Satan hilariously calls God are not so neatly correlative as to be obnoxious.) Satan wears a beautiful dangly gold earring (I guess because vanity is evil? Or because they wanted to make fun of one earring wearers?) but otherwise he looks exactly like Jesus. The film is by Rodrigo Garcia, a director I've always wanted to love given his actressexuality -- though weirdly this film is almost entirely male -- but have never been able to because his films tend to be a bit sleepy. This one is smartly reined in at 98 minutes but it does feel a bit slight, exercize-ish, despite the heavy topic. B-/C+

Ewan McGregor revealed in the Q&A afterwards that he did a lot of studying to play Jesus (scriptures, books, etcetera) and none to play Satan ("the devil came naturally"). Hee!

NASTY BABY
Kristen Wiig just keeps on overachieving, doesn't she? After conquering comedy she keeps on impressing in dramatic roles, too. She's got a beautifully authentic rapport with writer/director/star Sebastian Silva (who is most famous for his Golden Globe nominated terrific Chilean film The Maid). Silva and Wiig play Freddy & Polly, best friends who'e been trying to get pregnant for months but it hasn't been working. They enlist Freddy's hesitant boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe in his first feature since 2008's Rachel Getting Married -- he was the guy Rachel married!) to do the sperm donor duty. Meanwhile a crazy neighbor keeps harassing everyone on the street and Freddy struggles to realize his art project "Nasty Baby" in which he wants to explore how disgusting babies of all kinds are by investigating their "gross cuteness" -- it gets a big laugh in context, trust -- and he plans to explore that by rolling around naked making baby sounds? It's a video installation, just go with it. It's all an ultra specific urban slice of life dramedy -- so ultra-specific in fact that I assume this will be a very hard sell for many. Making it even more difficult for potential audiences is the sharp left turn it takes into uncomfortably suspenseful territory toward the end. But despite what will surely be a hard road to find its natural fanbase, I admired it for being so wholly itself... or maybe its two selves. Or its three selves? The end credits are set to the cast doing roller disco for totally inexplicable but delightful effect. And the cast -- including the little seen Mark Margolis (who you'll recognize from Darren Aronofsky's movies) as a protective old gay in the neighborhood -- just felt wonderfully organic. B

Tuesday
Jan272015

Sundance: "It Follows" is Brilliant High Octane Nightmare Fuel

Michael C here in Sundance to report on a horror film that already feels like a cult classic even though it doesn't even come out until March.

Put into words, the plot of David Robert Mithchell's It Follows sounds almost comical in its simplicity. There is a creature that will follow you until it kills you. If you are unlucky enough to get this creature on your trail there is nothing you can do. You can try to run or to hide, to destroy it or to deflect it towards another victim. These strategies may have some effect, for an hour or a day, but they are all temporary. Sooner or later the creature will get you. It's in no hurry.

One might suspect that such a simple concept would get old fast, or at best amount to an entertaining genre exercise, but that is far from the case. By stripping the horror genre down to its barest essentials Mitchell makes It Follows into the purest possible distillation of a drug. A kick of undiluted fear straight to the subconscious. With its pulsing, foregrounded music the whole thing takes on an unexpected grandness. I am reminded of the subtitle to Murnau's Nosferatu -
"a symphony of horror".

[More]

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Monday
Jan262015

Sundance: "Tangerine" The Best Trans Hooker Christmas Comedy You Might Ever See!

This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad

Indie writer/director Sean Baker (and recently his co-writer Chris Berloch) specialize in portraits of characters on the margins of society. Baker's previous slice-of-life film was the still underappreciated Starlet (2012), which traced an unlikely friendship between a young porn star and an old woman she meets at a garage sale.  Their very worthy follow up is TANGERINE (not to be confused with the Estonian drama currently nominated for Oscar's Foreign Film Category called Tangerines). Again we find Baker looking at places others haven't thought to look — or at least haven't looked at with anything like the same affectionate humor and nuanced humanity.

In this case that place is a Hollywood block filled with ex-con trans hookers who still have their penises, their lonely trade, immigrant cab drivers, and the colorful seedy neighborhood they all share. Tangerine is filled with memorable scenes in busted-ass laundromats, car washes, cheap motels with "party rooms", and of course Donut Time. The movie tells the story of a single event-filled day and night (Christmas Eve) in the lives of Sin-Dee Rella (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez) and her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) who treats her to half a holiday sprinkled donut in the movie's abrasively funny opening scene. 

"Merry Christmas, bitch."

Remember that claim that Wolf of Wall Street used the most "f--ks" ever uttered in a movie? I hope Tangerine makes that claim for "bitch". [More...]

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Sunday
Jan252015

Good Morning! "Teen Girl" & Sales Notes from Sundance

Sundance is keeping me mighty occupied though I promise that more reviews are coming. Yesterday I caught Glassland (reviewed), and two gay films, one of which I loved (Tangerine - not to be confused with the Estonian picture nominated for an Oscar right now) and the other that I'm trying to parse my feelings for still (I Am Michael) but both reviews are in the queue.

 

Inbetween every movie I keep hearing people enthusing about The End of the Tour starring Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel (the latter winning dream reviews). If it wasn't that it was people bitching about being shut out of additional screenings added to keep up with demand for The Witch. The two of those seem to be the fest's buzziest title (thus far) so of course I didn't schedule either! It's always a crapshoot when you work out a schedule... or don't work one out early enough which tends to be my problem. There was no warning on the success of The Witch at all as it's a period piece (set before the Salem witch trials) from a first time director without any stars in the cast. Fresh voices as festival breakouts? Yes please. Sundance always hopes to be about that, actually, but quite often the buzziest titles are less unfamiliar.

My final film yesterday was one of Sundance's other hot titles, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. The film stars a very young looking 22 year old British actress named Bel Powley as a precocious 15 year old who is experimenting with and embracing her burgeoning sexuality in 1970s San Francisco. The film opens with a line that goes something like 'Today I had sex for the first time. Holy shit!' Her bohemian mother (Kristen Wiig, excellent again) is rather oblivious to her daughter's horniness and doesn't realize that her own boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) is sleeping with Minnie. Writer/director Marielle Heller (as well as, presumably, the novelist Phoebe Gloekner who provided the source material) daringly shows Minnie initiating the sex in Lolita-esque fashion....

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Saturday
Jan242015

Sundance Begins: The Bronze, Dark Horse & Nicole Kidman

Sebastian Stan from his InstagramNathaniel, reporting from the snowy mountains of Park City Utah for the annual Sundance Film Festival. Michael, currently en route, will also be covering though we both missed opening night (I was still visiting family in Utah).

From what I gather the opening night talk mostly revolved around Sebastian Stan's muscular performance in a raunchy sex scene in The Bronze. While that event was happening (unbeknownst to me) I was still visiting my mom and brother and they made me* watch muscular Sebastian Stan and his robot arm terrorizing Captain America and The Black Widow.

So, it was unofficially Sebastian Stan Day. Perhaps this is a good omen for the actor's 2015, which he already seems rather happy about (see photo evidence, left). Variety interviewed him at the premiere and he said the script for The Bronze was so funny that before he even got the role he was quoting his own character to friends. It's a supporting role but a showy one, as a former gold medalist Olympic gymnast 

Dark Horse
After picking up my badge, I raced off to my first movie, the only thing I could squeeze in before a Nicole Kidman party I had no intention of missing. [More...]

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