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Entries in film festivals (312)

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 endearing central 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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Sunday
Jan112015

Awards, Recent Miscellania

It's Golden Globes Night.  Until then let's try in vain to catch up a little.

Oscar Nomination Morning (this Thursday) has some news. For the first time they'll be announcing ALL CATEGORIES at that early morning ceremony we so love. Not just the headliners which is all they used to do followed by the press release list of all nominees. The Film Experience heartily approves! 

Palm Springs International Film Festival wraps up tomorrow but the jury prizes are in and four of this season's Oscar submissions won something: Russia's Leviathan won the FIPRESCI for Best Film and Georgia's Corn Island took an award called "Bridging the Borders". Both are still in the running to become America's Next Top Foreign Language Film. The acting prizes went to films that have already been cut from Oscar's Foreign Film Party. Mommy's Anne Dorval took Best Actress and Winter Sleep's Haluk Bilginer won Best Actor. You can see the rest of the prizes here. Audience Awards have yet to be announced.

That bitch to the right does NOT like Glenn Close's hairstyle. Do you?

Makeup And Hair Stylists Guild will hold their awards ceremony on Valentine's Day on the Paramount lot where Rick Baker, of werewolf fame, and Kathryn Blondell (of Leo DiCaprio and Goldie & Kate hairstyling fame) will receieve lifetime achievement awards. They have 5 categories for film as well as 14 other categories which cover tv, commercials, and live theater. Thus they're far more generous than the Academy's corresponding branch which already eliminated several of their nominees. Curiously their website does not contain the nominees just into about attending their awards show (unless I'm just missing it) but you can see a complete list at Deadline. Guardians of the Galaxy and Into the Woods led their nominations with 3 each including a prize specifically for the Witch which I'm sure will delight many of you given what you've been saying in the comments. The most curious category in terms of a collection of nominees is surely Best Contemporary Hairstyling. They went with: Birdman, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar , St. Vincent, and Winter's Tale. Super strange, right? I'd only heard people mocking Winter's Tale... even for the hair! I can't excuse the lack of Tilda's vampire dreadlocks, or Lucy's dye jobs, but I guess there aren't a lot of contemporary films with noticeable hair work this year?

The Casting Guild used to hold the annual Artios Awards in November and their eligibility period was not based on the calendar year. They've shifted it now -- presumably to be more in line with everyone else -- so their eligibility period is fairly long this year which resulted in a curious mix of last year's beloved movies and this year's contenders so you have categories where, say, 12 Years a Slave is going up against Selma (Feature Film Big Budget Drama) and Short Term 12 is going up again Boyhood (Feature Film Low Budget Drama). You can see a complete list at their website. My happiest takeaway from this list is that Short Term 12 was remembered (its casting was effortful and brilliant, if you think about it) and that Pride was honored in the oddly and very broadly titled Feature Film Studio or Independent Comedy category. Pride will be competing with Big Eyes, Chef, The Grand Budapest Hotel, St. Vincent and Top Five. Chef seems like a really weird choice since there was a whole lot of Jon Favreau calling up all his celebrity friends to do him a favor.

Mommy won several prizes from Vancouver critics. But Anne Dorval lost Best Actress!Critics Prizes continue in cities all over the place. We decided we just couldn't cover it all so made firm decisions about how we'd proceed next year -- if you missed that post it's basically that we'll only be covering groups formed before 2000 since there's been an absolute explosion ever since with multiple rounds of press releases  -- some groups have as few as 8 people so they might all be friends in someone's basement, who knows! But since we don't cover them all we'll be just linking up to their awards at other places (though not their nominations) and pointing out areas where they went out on a true limb if there are any. Recent groups that have announced include Iowa which went with all the usual suspects but for Reese for Best Actress,  Vancouver which went for all the usual suspects but for Tilda Swinton for Best Actress for Only Lovers Left Alive and The Overnighters for Documentary (they also have Canadian film awards so it's worth looking at and they were fans of Mommy & Tu dors Nicole) , Oklahoma went with the usual suspects but for Edward Norton in Birdman the world's Official Runner Up for supporting (bad timing for his Oscar dreams I suppose), and they have a fun prize called "not so obviously worst movie" which went to Monuments Men and a prize I don't agree with called "Guilty Pleasure" which went to Edge of Tomorrow but honestly there's nothing to feel guilty about when a movie is really good, which that one is, and you like watching it). Finally, though I probably missed some cities,  Georgia went with the usual suspects but for Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer and the getting less and less unusual Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. They also have a breakthrough award which went to David Oyelowo which is an interesting choice but he's been working too long for me to view him thusly. Still, I get the impulse. He had a big year and he's lesser known.

How prepared are you for the Globes tonight? Make sure to listen to our predictions today if you haven't yet!

Friday
Jan092015

Binoche Has Gone Full Zhivago (65th Berlinale)

Berlinale cometh.

Not until February but Juliette Binoche is starting early since she's arriving by sled. But seriously that's the first image from the Opening Night film Isabel Croixet's Nobody Wants the Night. The film co-stars Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi (Babel) and Gabriel Byrne (as explorer Robert Peary) and takes place in 1908 in the Arctic and Greenland. My Binoche comes in waves and recedes with the tide and such but it's big and full right now after her wonderful work in Clouds of Sils Maria which will open in the US eventually. Promises promises. Binoche is always so wonderful.

Competition films this year include: Andrew Haigh's 45 Years (his first since Weekend!), Andrea Dresen's As We Were Dreaming, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, Peter Greenaway's Eisenstein in Guanajuato, Jayro Bustamante's Ixcanul Volcano, Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups, and Alexey German''s Under Electric Clouds.

50 Shades of Grey will also premiere at the festival. But frankly, it just doesn't seem kinky enough for Berlin. The city, not the festival. 

I can never go to the Berlin International Film Festival because it hits just days after Sundance and concludes just a couple weeks before the Oscar. *sniffle*