1.31.2016

Sundance Review: The Hollars


There's nothing new about The Hollars. The going back home and visiting your family movie has certainly been done before...so the question is if actor and director John Krasinki is able to elevate the overly familiar material. I believe he is, for the most part, successful in his endeavors as he's created a warm and funny movie...yet somehow he winds up with a good film instead of a great one. The reason for this, I 100% believe, is due to the script.



The Hollars tells the story of John Hollar (John Krasinski) a man living in New York City who is about to become a father, but struggles with the commitment of marriage to his girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick.) Suddenly he's summoned back home (wherever that is...) when his mother is diagnosed with a brain tumor and must undergo a life-risking surgery. While home, he realizes the lives of everyone in his past is basically in shambles. His father is constantly a crying mess on the verge of bankruptcy. His brother was laid off and now with is free time exhibits stalkerish tendencies. His former flame might be unhappily married. And his mother now questions all of her life choices. Witnessing everyone else's troubles, John must decide if he wants to stay on the path where his life is going.

Krasinski has assembled himself quite a fine cast, with veteran supporting players. Anna Kendrick, Richard Jenkins, Margo Martindale, Sharlto Copley, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Charlie Day, Josh Groban and Mary Kay Place all do their best with the roles they're given. The problem is, a couple of these roles are painfully underwritten at the expense of the story. In particular, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is reduced to one scene essentially using her as a punchline, when her character could have been far more integral and key to John's character arc. In a large ensemble piece this happens all the time, but in this case, there was definitely material that could have been cut to incorporate a more meaningful arc between Winstead and Krasinski (I'm looking at you Sharlto Copley and all your cringe-worthy stalking scenes.) Truly, this movie was a couple rewrites away from being great.

Still, it's difficult to be too hard on the film when it is a pretty enjoyable watch. John Krasinski, as always is so likable and warm, so as a result the movie feels that way too. As Krasinski himself mentioned in the Q&A afterward, the film often takes sharp hairpin turns between comedy and drama, and I must say it is pretty successful at its attempts. For having heavy material, the film definitely has more than enough humor to lighten everything up. It's basically movie comfort food. And with its easy listening indie music soundtrack, everything goes down smoothly. So when it comes down to it, there are two things really you need to know about The Hollars. Is it original? No. Is it enjoyable? Definitely! EMILY RATING: 7.5/10

Sundance Review: Under the Shadow


The last two of years or so, Sundance has managed to get their hands on some pretty solid horror films. In 2014, they premiered The Babadook and in 2015 came The Witch. So does 2016 have a breakout horror film to make it a solid three years in a row? From all accounts I had heard, it seemed to be the case in the form of an Iranian film called Under the Shadow. As an avid lover of the genre, naturally I had to obtain tickets and see for myself how this film stacked up against its spiritual predecessors.


I'm delighted to report that Under the Shadow is indeed, as critics have called it "the first great horror film of the year." Set in the 1980's during the middle of the Iraq/Iran war, there is a real dread and uneasiness that invades the picture right from the start. The story is basic, and I won't get into it at length. It revolves all around a woman watching her daughter in their apartment during the war...when creepy stuff starts happening.  First-time director Babak Anvari takes his time and opts for a slow burn horror story. As I sat in my seat, I began to feel a little frustrated and wanted the movie to pick up its pace (mostly because I attended such a late screening,) but when the first real scare occurred....I have to admit, it got me good. And I certainly wasn't alone in that either. I heard more than half the audience scream along with me, and breathe a sigh of relief as soon as they could. But little did we know, that was just the beginning and the tension wouldn't truly let up until the credits.


Under the Shadow is an impeccably made film no matter who made it, but it's almost mind-blowing when you discover that this was the director's first feature film. His direction and staging are so self-assured, and the performances he got out of his players somehow manages to be pitch perfect. I have to say, I really hope he continues to make films in this genre. Under the Shadow is a beyond effectively made horror film. Other than my impatience at the slow burn (which again, was more due to the hour than the filmmaking,) my only qualm is that I would have loved a stronger finale. [Vague spoilers highlight to read:] I wanted the film to pack a punch at the end, but the filmmakers took the more subtle route.[ /End Spoiler.] Really when it comes down to it, once the film gets going it's hard not to want more of the goods! EMILY RATING: 8.5/10

1.30.2016

Sundance Review: Sing Street


When watching so many dramas in such a short period of time, coming across something as purely fun and entertaining as Sing Street is a breath of fresh air. The film comes from John Carney whose previous credits include the highly acclaimed musicals Once and Begin Again. It was the latter that really drove me to wanting to see Sing Street, and as lovely as Begin Again was...Sing Street is going to be the film that really wins over audiences. At least, I hope so. After all, everyone in our theater seemed to be overcome with joy at the 80's pop music tribute.


Sing Street is all about a 15-year old boy whose life changes when he falls in love with music...as well as the cool aspiring model (Lucy Boynton, aka a dead ringer for Felicity Jones) who becomes his muse. Our young hero, later nicknamed Cosmo, in an attempt to get closer to his crush, decides to form a band so they can use her modeling services in their music videos. Under the constant advice of his 80's pop music aficionado brother, Cosmo learns how to craft the perfect songs and videos, as well as woo the girl of his dreams. Sing Street is utterly delightful. It's the type of movie that you want to see again the very next day and tell all your friends about.


The soundtrack features odes to all your favorite 80's tunes, but it's the new songs on the soundtrack that you'll be craving to listen to after the film ends. If I have a single complaint about the film, it would be that our protagonist's singing voice changes from awful to amazing a little too abruptly, and in general, the band gets pretty good relatively fast. You have to wonder when he found the time to take singing lessons! Minor nitpicks aside, Sing Street is wonderful in so many ways. It's the type of movie that pays reverence to relationships like your first love, but also the familial ties that bind. To me, the core of the story really is the relationship between the two brothers. And in that regard, the ending couldn't be more perfect. Honestly, I left the theater with a big grin on my face, and I can't wait for the rest of the world to see it too. EMILY RATING: 9/10

1.29.2016

Sundance Review: Little Men


Not every Sundance movie gets a ton of attention. Some debut at the festival with little to no fanfare, even when they're directed by accomplished directors and feature strong actors. Sometimes they'll even get great reviews, and yet they still don't seem to draw much attention to themselves. Such is the case with Ira Sachs's latest feature Little Men, a film so simple and unassuming that it's easily being overlooked and lost in the shuffle of other great films.


Little Men is not a movie designed to blow you away, but rather to simply make you ponder life's little intricacies. The movie focuses on the friendship of two preteen boys: an easy friendship formed by proximity. These two live in their own world, enjoying their time together and are oblivious to the problems of their parents. As such, they are not aware of their parents' feud over a lease that threatens to destroy their respective realities. There's something wonderful about the juxtaposition of the world of the adults with the world of these two preteen boys. The problems and disagreements we face as adults are messy and driven by many different factors (though usually with money being involved, as in the case of his parents.) Meanwhile, the existence we live as kids seems so much more pure. Differences still exist, especially when bullying occurs (as it does in a scene here)...but there's a far more trusting innocence that draws us to certain people that disappears when we're adults.



Little Men is a great portrayal of a friendship that only exists because of proximity. This to me reflects the type of friendships you had as a kid that at the time you valued with all your heart, but when you grew up and became different people, (as well as physically and figuratively went different ways...) the friendship dissipated. You discovered you really had nothing in common and the friendship was only really there to be a part of your life for a short time. I kept waiting for a scene where the two boys' bond was solidified but realized that when there was none...it was actually far closer to real life. When you're a kid, you don't need a reason to be friends with someone. You just spend time with them and that time is all the bonding you need. Whether it's playing video games or rollerblading in the park...just having someone to share your company is enough. It's not until we get older and more insecure with the hurts we've had to experience that we allow those friendships to fade in favor of ones with people who understand the version of ourselves that we've become. Or as Greg Kinnear puts it, when you've reached the point that you can understand that your parents are just people too, trying to make the best decisions they can. There are varying levels of meaning you can derive from Little Men (some heavy-handed, others very simple), but for me, I took it at its core: a story about the relationships we have when we're young, and how life will turn us into the adults we become....the adults who build walls and look out for themselves above others. It's a simple film, but one I enjoyed. EMILY RATING: 7.5/10 

1.28.2016

Sundance Review: Christine


Christine is a story based on true events. We're told this from any synopsis we read about the movie beforehand, as well as in the film itself right after we see the title. If you know anything about the story, you know that Christine follows the events leading up to the death of Christine Chubbuck, a reporter who committed suicide on a live news broadcast in the 1970's. The film takes a look at all of the pressures in Christine's life that led her to making her fateful decision.


For such a film as this and the way it's told, the lead performance is key. Luckily for director Antonio Campos, he's got an always game performer in Rebecca Hall. Hall makes this movie her own and carries it on her back (after all she's in almost every single scene.) Right from her first line, I was mesmerized to see a Rebecca Hall completely different from any performance I had ever seen from her before. This is a woman who is so wound up by all the pressures in her life and always needing to be perfect that you can see she's close to losing it at any second. In fact, after awhile all the pressures she's dealing with start to weigh on the audience as well.


Christine is a solid film that is anchored by an incredibly strong performance from its star. There are fascinating scenes throughout, and the ever-changing tone somehow always feels right. The film switches from personal portrait to inside look at journalism so often, but somehow it works. Another thing the film gets completely right is the look of the 1970's. It looks so authentic, it almost feels like the movie was made in the 70's. Unfortunately, since there's so much setup to the final act we know the movie is based on, it tends to meander a bit toward the end. You get the sense that the filmmakers had so much they wanted to include before the finale, they weren't always willing to cut it...even if it would better serve the story. That said--when we finally do get to that finale, even knowing what I was going to see and how it would end...the film still manages to pack a really powerful punch. A couple movies I've seen at this year's festival seemed like they didn't know exactly how to end their movies, but Christine's final scene is perfect. It really leaves a mark on the viewer and poses the question of how tragedy (whether close to us, or something we experience through voyeruism) affects us. EMILY RATING: 8/10

Sundance Review - Manchester by the Sea


It's never too soon to start talking awards season...even if the awards season you're discussing is a year away. Manchester by the Sea, as well as Casey Affleck's lead performance that the film hinges on, is already getting a ton of buzz at the Sundance Film Festival with talk about the Oscars in 2017. Speculating so early on isn't exactly anything new. After all, everyone is always trying to find the next big thing before everyone else....especially at Sundance. So is the hype justifiable or are people throwing around the word "masterpiece" again? 

Manchester by the Sea centers around Casey Affleck's Lee Chandler, a man who unexpectedly finds himself as the guardian to his nephew after his brother passes way. Chandler returns to his former hometown to settle the affairs of his late brother, but finds that coming back isn't as easy as it seems. Cue mysterious backstory. What drew me to Manchester was a fine cast in addition to Affleck (Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler are both great in supporting roles) and a plot that though the subject matter has been done before (Raising Helen, No Reservations), no one ever seems to get it right. No movie that attempted dealing with the specific theme central to Manchester has really sunk their teeth into the drama. But never fear! Director Kenneth Lonergan knows how to play with all the audience's emotions as we view the different stories unfold within their respective times.



In my head, I pictured a heavy drama...but what I didn't expect to find would be some really nice moments of humor to lighten the proceedings. That said...while I thought it would be heavy, I certainly didn't expect the film to be as utterly heartbreaking as it was. A couple scenes towards the end, (one in particular) really stuck with me in how real they were portrayed. Characters talk in circles, stammer and repeat themselves. Nothing feels rehearsed. Manchester is a movie that feels lived in...and for a movie such as this, that quality is vital. Affleck isn't just experiencing the tragedy that begins the film, but he is constantly trying to battle his inner demons from the past that keep him from living his life in the present. And yet, with all the feelings we know he has as a result of what he's been through, Affleck remains stoic and emotionless...refusing to verbalize the way he's feeling (only occasionally giving us a glimpse with some moments of physical outburst.) And yet--with his performance, we *know* he feels quite a lot, even if he's not showing it or talking about it.

The movie is nearly perfect and among some of the best films I've ever seen at Sundance, but it's not without its flaws. Some of the editing and musical score choices really take you out of the film, and I have to admit, I hope that some of these things are changed for distribution. Also for my own tastes, I felt that the profanity was a little too gratuitous...especially for some of the teenage characters. But then again, this is Boston! Those qualms aside, Manchester by the Sea is a truly wonderful and heartbreaking film. It's definitely set the standard high for the movies I watch the rest of the year. EMILY RATING: 9/10

1.24.2016

Sundance Review: Swiss Army Man


Four days ago when I made my Sundance preview that had Swiss Army Man topping the list as my most anticipated movie of the festival, I must say I envisioned quite a different movie than the one I ended up seeing. The Swiss Army Man I pictured in my head was to be an interesting drama, in the vein of Cast Away, but perhaps a little bit quirkier. And then....the first reviews came from the Friday afternoon showing. Critics who no doubt had a similar vision as myself, were prepared for a serious Sundance drama and got a bizarre comedy with a lot of humor straight out of an Adam Sandler flick...and let's just say they were not happy about it. Having my expectations thrown out the window, and being replaced with the idea that the film centers around farting corpse jokes had to help me have a better experience right???

While having the critics' tempered expectations certainly did help my own, honestly and truly, nothing can really prepare you for the experience of Swiss Army Man. Let's immediately address the elephant in the room here and say that the humor in these proceedings is incredibly low-brow...there's just no denying that. But the fact that it's done so absurdly and creatively, is....dare I say impressive? Still, because of the nature of the humor, the majority of the laughs that came from me were usually guilty ones....and after SO many of them, there came a point where I just couldn't handle anymore. Most of my time in the theater I sat there watching this film feeling incredulous that it could possibly exist. On the one hand, I think it's amazing that someone could have such imagination and make it come alive....while on the other, it's just too bad that that imagination couldn't be a tad more refined.



Swiss Army Man actually has a lot going for it. It features two great performances from its leads Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe, an interesting premise, and a pair of directors with an eye for the whimsical much like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze. You can see "the Daniels" music video influences often in the film, and the movie is definitely the better for it. There are moments that give you glimpses for what this film could have been if it wasn't so content to its potty humor, but unfortunately, every poignant moment usually ends with a fart. I tried to be okay with that and take the movie at its face value, but couldn't help but be frustrated when there were such glimmers of a greater talent beneath the surface. Instead, Swiss Army Man settles so often for stupidity, and you as a viewer have to decide whether to embrace it or be frustrated by it.

There are a lot of interesting, if not juvenile ideas to come out of Swiss Army Man, but towards the end of the movie (pardon the appropriate pun...) it all just runs out of gas. In the last fifteen minutes, you can tell this movie kind of had nowhere to go and you just want it to wrap up already. Swiss Army Man is one of the most truly bizarre movies I've ever seen in my life.  A lot of its creativity and originality I really appreciated, while a good portion of it I found face palming and rolling my eyes constantly, and towards the end, I just needed it to conclude itself. Sometimes a person can only handle so much absurdity all at once. In the end, I can't help but feel like the movie is somewhat of a missed opportunity. The filmmakers were going for so much shock factor humor (that for some audiences open to it, it will totally work for,) that they didn't craft this movie as tightly or as intelligently as they could have. But then... maybe that wasn't really their goal. "The Daniels" wanted a movie to discuss the things we're "not supposed to talk about" and on that front, they definitely succeeded. EMILY RATING: a generous 6/10.


And if you don't believe me the lengths of craziness this movie goes to, I decided to include one of the Q & A answers for you.

Sundance Review: Wiener-Dog

My first movie I got to see at this year's festival couldn't be more Sundancey if it tried. Wiener-Dog is the perfect movie for indie movie loving hipsters, and apparently I'm one of them. The film follows the titular wiener dog through four vignettes: a father buying the dog to be a companion to his young cancer surviving son, a vet rescuing the dog and taking him on an unexpected road trip, the dog's life as a pet to a washed up film professor, and finally living with a crotchety old woman near the end of her life whose granddaughter pays a selfish visit.

Not every storyline is created equal in this dark-humored comedy, and seeing how well the first two stories lead into each other makes the final two transitions a bit jarring (even if we do get a wacky intermission thrown in for the heck of it...which I will admit, did make me chuckle.) The first two vignettes, one featuring Julie Delpy as the cynical mother of the aforementioned boy smitten with his new wiener dog, and the other with an awkward but sweet Greta Gerwig meeting a zoned out Keiran Culkin are strong and have some real tender moments, as well as genuine humor. When we get to Danny DeVito's film professor story though you can't help but feel that it was thrown in just for the Sundance crowd. It's like you  can hear the director say "now let's do a segment all about the art of film and dissect filmmaking, as well as the people who claim to love films." I, of course, find it interesting as someone who loves film, but I can't help but feel that it doesn't really go with the rest of the movie. There's not a ton of humor in this vignette, until the punchline of why the dog was important to this storyline, which humor happens to be so dark, that it will be up to filmgoers whether they'll find it funny, or a little too bizarre. I appreciated the joke, but didn't feel like there was proper enough setup for it.


The last vignette featuring Ellen Burstyn returns to the feel of the first half, with more humor throughout, but again feels somewhat isolated. Like the last storyline, we don't know how the dog came into the old woman's possession, but rather he just shows up to be a silent observer. There's some self-referential humor again about art this go round, but it's less on the nose than in the previous segment. A rather bizarre sequence occurs near the end of the film, that depending on the viewer might take them out of the movie because it threatens to cross the line of being a little "too weird." I still went along with it, but more mainstream audiences probably will not (if they make it that far!) The ending itself was particularly dark and strange, so not getting too attached to the dog would be my advice for anyone going in. In the end, I found wiener-dog to be strange, precocious, funny, quirky, but ultimately uneven. In summation: it is a typical indie film with the desire to show several slice of life scenes, rather than going into anything too profound. EMILY RATING: 7/10   

1.21.2016

Sundance Preview 2016

Sundance is here! Sundance is here!!! The only reason to endure Utah in the winter has finally begun, and as I'm sure you've noticed, I couldn't be happier. This year, as with any other, I've got my eyes set on several movies and I'm pretty excited about each one of them. Looking back on my anticipated lists of years past, I don't ALWAYS make good choices (like say the years  True Story and Cooties were my #1 which both ended up getting really mixed reviews, and The D Train which got really negative reviews all around,) BUT I seem to get at least 50% or so right...so half of these movies that I'm excited for MIGHT just be very good! A few of these films I have confirmed tickets for, while others I'm going to try my luck at standby. Either way, you'll be hearing soon enough whether or not I was right on my predictions. The reviews will be pouring in from me over the next two weeks so make sure to keep an eye out, but first let's look at the movies I'm most interested in seeing.

10. WIENER-DOG
Sundance Summary: Wiener-Dog tells several stories featuring people who find their life inspired or changed by one particular dachshund, who seems to be spreading a certain kind of comfort and joy. Man’s best friend starts out teaching a young boy some contorted life lessons before being taken in by a compassionate vet tech named Dawn Wiener. Dawn reunites with someone from her past and sets off on a road trip picking up some depressed mariachis along the way. Wiener-Dog then encounters a floundering film professor, as well as an embittered elderly woman and her needy granddaughter—all longing for something more.

Twenty years ago, Todd Solondz took the Sundance Film Festival by storm when Welcome to the Dollhouse won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1996 Festival. Since then he has gone on to establish himself as one of the most uncompromising voices working in film. Wiener-Dog is vintage Solondz, brimming with brilliantly caustic and truthful observations about the human condition. He has a unique ability to find humor in the darkest of subject matter, allowing an empathetic light to shine on it."


What caught my interest: There's something silly about seeking out a movie at the Sundance Film Festival that's about a wiener dog of all things right? I embrace this silliness.

9.TALLULAH
Sundance Summary: "Young vagabond Lu lives in a van and is fiercely independent in her hand-to-mouth existence. This daily struggle has become tiresome for her privileged boyfriend, Nico, who unceremoniously leaves her one night. When a chance encounter incites her to impulsively “rescue” a baby from a negligent mother, Lu, at a loss for what to do, turns to the only responsible adult she knows: Nico’s unsmiling academic mother, Margo, who believes she’s the child’s grandmother. Thrown together despite differences in class and worldview, Margo and Lu make a lovable, if tense, odd couple. The two are bound to each other as they tentatively form a haphazard family, though Margo has no idea that the police are hot on Lu’s trail for absconding with a child.

In the winsome lead performances, Ellen Page plays the scrappy, free-spirited Lu while Allison Janney’s Margo is equal parts measured and bemused as their characters wrestle, and often clash, over responsibility, motherhood, and their uncertain futures. Writer/director Sian Heder combines warmth, madcap humor, and a deep understanding of human nature in this delightful dramatic comedy about the serendipitous unpredictability of life."

What caught my attention: Ellen Page, Allison Janney, and a baby plot? This sounds familiar. Well, I was awfully fond of Juno...

8. THE REVISED FUNDAMENTALS OF CARING

Sundance Summary: Having suffered a tragedy, Ben becomes a caregiver to earn money. His first client, Trevor, is a hilarious 18-year-old with muscular dystrophy. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically, Ben and Trevor hit the road on a trip into the western states. The folks they collect along the way will help them test their skills for surviving outside their calculated existence. Together, they come to understand the importance of hope and the necessity of true friendship.

Director/screenwriter Rob Burnett is a clever navigator, steering us around clichés and avoiding nostalgic potholes in this re-imagined road movie. The chemistry of Paul Rudd and Craig Roberts is a delight to witness, and the ensemble cast is funny and insightful as they guide our pair to grow in unexpected ways. As in life, every wrong turn is a surprise and every misadventure a new possibility. In The Fundamentals of Caring, an unlikely gaggle of misfit travelers turns a personal journey into a joyride of a film.

What caught my attention: I LOVE road trip movies. Haha just kidding, but I think the concept behind this one sounds intriguing and Paul Rudd is pretty amiable. PS, I'm not entirely sure what the heck the real title is to this movie. Sundance has it as Fundamentals of Caring, and IMDb has the title I list...but whatever this movie is called, it has my attention!

7. SING STREET
Sundance Summary: "With 1980s Dublin mired in recession, Conor’s parents move him from a comfortable private school to a rough inner-city public school where the scrappy 14-year-old forms a band. Mentored by his older brother, a dropout who’s hip to cool tunes, Conor starts to compose lyrics and the glam-ish band finds its “no covers” groove. Renaming himself Cosmo, he convinces the mysterious, über-cool Raphina to star in their music videos (and tries to win her heart in the process).


John Carney, whose musical passion and DIY vibe refreshed a genre withOnce and Begin Again, spins a loosely autobiographical story in which music again offers a refuge–from school and family strife. He spent over a year collaborating on original music (a throwback to ‘80s vibrancy) that’s catchy but plausible for a youth band, and his talented cast plays it like they mean it. Carney’s nostalgia isn’t only for a bygone Dublin and its soundtrack, but for that moment when you pour your heart into something, and it can mean everything to you. When songs can save your life."

What caught my attention: I really loved Begin Again! I've never seen Once, but I've heard only wonderful things about it...so I'm sure another movie about John Carney's passion with songwriting will be awesome. Plus as evidenced by God Help the Girl, I really dig teen/young adult indie musicals.

6. CHRISTINE
Sundance Summary: Christine (Rebecca Hall) is an ambitious 29-year-old news reporter in Sarasota, Florida, circa 1974. Relentlessly motivated to succeed, she knows she has talent, but being a driven career woman in the 1970s comes with its own challenges, especially when competition for a promotion, unrequited love for a coworker, and a tumultuous home life lead to a dissolution of self. With ratings in the cellar, WZRB’s station manager issues a mandate to deliver juicier and more exploitative stories, a style firmly at odds with Christine’s serious brand of issue-based journalism. To accomplish her goals, she must overcome her self-doubt and give the people what they want. 

As made evident in his previous features, Afterschool and Simon Killer, director Antonio Campos is well-versed in translating the damaged psyche to film. This latest effort elevates his style to the next level; bathed in dread and peppered with sharp humor, Christine is a hypnotic and arresting portrayal of a woman at a crossroads."


What caught my attention: Rebecca Hall is a severely underrated actress and this just screams the type of role that she could hit out of the park.

5. THE HOLLARS
Sundance Summary: "John Krasinski’s big-hearted family comedy takes a touching look at the ties that bind. Krasinski plays John Hollar, a frustrated graphic novelist anxiously awaiting the birth of his baby with girlfriend, Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). When his mother, Sally (Margo Martindale), is diagnosed with a brain tumor, John flies back home, where denial runs deep in the family tree. While his loving but fractured family pulls together to prepare Sally for surgery, John takes a second look at the life he left behind.

Krasinski, last seen at the Sundance Film Festival with his directorial debutBrief Interviews with Hideous Men (2009), takes a gentle approach to the dysfunctional Hollar clan, leavening the heart-tugging drama with inspired character-driven comedy. The large ensemble cast (including Richard Jenkins, Sharlto Copley, Josh Groban, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Mary Kay Place) gives the relationships a lived-in feeling, while Krasinski offers a warm, funny, warts-and-all look at the importance of family."


What caught my attention: John Krasinski!!!! I love this guy. I'm interested to see if he has talent as a director (I never got around to seeing his first feature.) Plus it sounds like he's gotten together a good ensemble cast. I'm very fond of Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

4. LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP

Sundance Summary: "Set in the opulent drawing rooms of eighteenth-century English society, Love & Friendship focuses on the machinations of a beautiful widow, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), who, while waiting for social chatter about a personal indiscretion to pass, takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate. While there, the intelligent, flirtatious, and amusingly egotistical Lady Vernon is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica—and herself too, naturally. She enlists the assistance of her old friend Alicia (Chloë Sevigny), but two particularly handsome suitors (Xavier Samuel and Tom Bennett) complicate her orchestrations.

Adapting Jane Austen’s unpublished early novella Lady Susan, Whit Stillman returns to the Sundance Film Festival (where his Metropolitan premiered in 1990) in top form with his latest comedy of manners. Kate Beckinsale excels in her role as the deliciously devious Lady Vernon and delivers each line with relish. With exquisite period detail and a script teeming with bon mots and witty dialogue, Love & Friendship is a rare—and rarified—treat."

What caught my attention: I'm a huge sucker for anything Jane Austen. I'm just sad this isn't based on her truly hilarious parody that's actually titled Love & Friendship.

3. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Sundance Summary: "Lee Chandler is a brooding, irritable loner who works as a handyman for a Boston apartment block. One damp winter day he gets a call summoning him to his hometown, north of the city. His brother’s heart has given out suddenly, and he’s been named guardian to his 16-year-old nephew. As if losing his only sibling and doubts about raising a teenager weren’t enough, his return to the past re-opens an unspeakable tragedy.

Casey Affleck’s astonishing performance captures all the substance and crumbling complexity of Lee—a guy frozen in anguish and barely holding it together—who must now step beyond self-imposed isolation to connect with his nephew. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count On Me, 2000 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner) masterfully depicts human brokenness and the possibility of transformation through subtle, small moments between characters. There are no quick fixes in the working-class New England town of Manchester-by-the-Sea, just the imperfect struggle to meet loss with integrity and decency, day by day."

What caught my attention: Yes this kinda sounds like a more dramatic version of Raising Helen, but it has a really good cast. Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler are pretty much always terrific so if nothing else, it should have solid acting.

2. CAPTAIN FANTASTIC
Sundance Summary: Ben (Viggo Mortensen) lives with his wife and six young children, isolated from society deep in the forest of the Pacific Northwest. A devoted father, Ben dedicates his life to transforming his kids into extraordinary adults. He immerses them in an academically and physically rigorous environment and instills in them a rare and primal connection to the natural world.

When a tragedy strikes, the family is forced to leave their self-created paradise. Suddenly the children must face the excitement and the perils of an unfamiliar outside world while Ben is compelled to reexamine his idea of what it means to be a parent.

Viggo Mortensen shines as the captain of this tribe in a fearless performance that is alternately playful and emotionally raw. Writer/director Matt Ross (28 Hotel Rooms), an accomplished actor himself, brings those skills to the table as evidenced by the fine ensemble work of his young cast. With Captain Fantastic, Ross returns to the Sundance Film Festival with a fascinating second feature."

What caught my interest: I think the concept sounds really interesting. This has all the ingredients of being deeply touching and poignant, yet with moments of lighthearted sweetness.

1. SWISS ARMY MAN
Sundance Summary: "Alone on a tiny deserted island, Hank has given up all hope of ever making it home again. But one day everything changes when a dead body washes ashore, and he soon realizes it may be his last opportunity to escape certain death. Armed with his new “friend” and an unusual bag of tricks, the duo go on an epic adventure to bring Hank back to the woman of his dreams.

Music video gurus “The Daniels,” a.k.a. Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan, craft a wholly original debut feature bursting with limitless creativity both in content and form. Their consistently surprising script spans a wide range of emotions: from the ridiculously absurd to a touching exploration of what it means to be human. Given what are likely to be some of the most unique roles of their acting careers, co-leads Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe give their all to a movie that celebrates the wonder that cinema offers."

What caught my attention: At this point, you can pretty much sell me on the name Paul Dano alone. This guy consistently turns in some of the best character acting performances right now. But couple that with the bizarre premise and getting the chance to see Daniel Radcliffe play a corpse?? Sign me up! Plus, I tend to really love when music video directors turn into movie directors. They have an eye for the visual and the whimsical, so I'm excited to see what these directors bring to this story.

1.20.2016

My Sundance Watching Career

The Sundance Film Festival starts tomorrow!! Before giving you my preview for this years festival and the movies I'm most looking forward to, I thought it would be fun to go back and take a look at all of the movies I've seen during my four years of attending the festival as a serious movie goer (as opposed to the four years before that as a shameless celebrity gawker....which I never had any luck with anyway. Oh except for THIS GUY.) Since 2012, I've seen a grand total of 15 films at the festival, and this year I'll be making it 20 at the very least. But for now, let's look back on those 15 and rank them from least favorite, to favorite. And hey, if you can't attend the festival this year, have your own and watch the selections below!

15. Celeste & Jesse Forever
I really liked the concept of this movie a lot, but the execution was a little sloppy and all over the place. If this had just been a little tighter, I might have really loved this movie. This was the very first movie I have ever seen at Sundance, so you'd think it would hold a special place in my heart...but alas, I have not revisited it once. Original take on the movie HERE.

14. Don Verdean
Jared Hess has a unique brand of humor that not everyone really digs. Critics tore this movie apart, and audiences weren't too kind either. With its deeply Utah sensibilities I could definitely appreciate this film, even if it is one of the weakest movies I've ever seen at Sundance. But it's certainly not for everyone. Original review HERE.

13. Shaun the Sheep
Okay, I'm gonna level with you right now, I actually saw 16 films total and am now realizing I left Operation Arctic off the list. But let's be honest, 15 is a better number for list purposes. I saw Arctic as a double feature with Sheep, after having won some tickets from the Utah film society. Both films were featured in the Kids section, and were kind of hard, for me, to get super excited about--though both were well made. Arctic was unnecessarily annoying though, while Sheep stayed charming throughout. Review for both HERE.

12. The Double
The Double is a dark, surreal and strange film. It's easy to admire, but hard to embrace. Its surrealism can be off-putting for many, as evidenced by all the people who walked out of the theater! I appreciated it, but have never felt the need to revist it. Original review HERE.

11. What We Do in the Shadows
Okay it's kind of a cheat to include this one as I saw it first at a Sundance summer outdoor screening for free, not truly during the festival.... BUT because of Sundance I still saw it a good year before everyone else got to see it, so it counts. The first time my friends watched it, we found it to be uproariously hilarious. Unfortunately, a lot of the humor relies on the shock factor of things, so its replay value isn't quite as good... but still a pretty fun horror comedy.

10. Brooklyn
Brooklyn is a lovely film in story and looks. It managed to charm just about every movie-goer on earth...even if I wasn't quite as convinced as they were. Every character has depth and manages to be extremely lovable to me...just not the main heroine whose wishy-washy behavior drove me nuts. I get that it's a coming of age, but some of her behavior was a little hard to defend. Still it certainly was one of the most feel-good movies I've seen at the festival, and the crazy lady who befriended me at this screening was sobbing of happiness when she saw it. I was just amused. Original review HERE.

9. God Help the Girl
God Help the Girl is a silly, twee musical directed by the lead singer of Belle & Sebastian. If that doesn't sound hipster enough for you, I don't know what is. Haha, that said, it was one of the most delightful Sundance experiences for me and the movie was just fun! I'm a sucker for a fun musical, and the first couple of songs really hooked me. I was humming the music for weeks afterward. The film could certainly be more focused and trim, but I dig it as is. Original review HERE.

8. Mistress America
Mistress America is so simple. There's really not much to the plot at all, besides two girls who are hot messes in their own ways and how their relationship affects each other. But better than that, it manages to be a screwball comedy in a day where that genre is basically extinct. It's silly, but it's so much fun. Original review HERE.

7. The Wolfpack
Last year's best of fest doc winner really struck a cord with me. The first time I saw it, I felt every emotion humanly possible. The second time, it became pure tragedy. It's a fascinating doc of a group of boys who have led a life that I wouldn't wish on anyone. Original review HERE.

6. The Witch
Last year, seeing The Witch I had no idea what I was in for. I'm glad I got to see it before the hype, as it is one of the most chilling horror movies I've seen. It's not chock full of scares, but rather its the type of movie that at its core is just kinda evil. And really, for a horror movie that's almost the best you can get. Original review HERE.

5. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is kind of the perfect Sundance movie. You can take that statement either positively or negatively as it does kind of have a checklist for what this particular audience will like. It capitolizes off of moviegoers love of cinema more than anything, and it is all too whimsical. But, two scenes toward the end changed it all for me when we've switched from comedy to drama and the film refuses to cut away from the two lead characters faces. From there, the movie is magical. Original review HERE

4. Liberal Arts
Liberal arts was a delight and a surprise. At the point in my life when I saw it (and even still now really,) I was at such an "in-between" that I felt that this movie was speaking to me, that it was made for me. I really love the conversations that take place in this film and I really really wish Josh Radnor would direct more often. Original take on the movie HERE.

3. Before Midnight
Now, if I were to rank my immediate Sundance reactions, this probably wouldn't get the place its ending up. The follow-up to Before Sunset was undeniably well-made, but kinda not what I was expecting at all. I was a little off put with it initially, even though I could appreciate it on a filmmaking level. But in subsequent viewings afterward, I really came to love it...even if it didn't match the movie I had envisioned in my head. The story went a far different place than the previous films went, but it went to a place real life goes. Maybe at the time it just felt a little TOO real. But really, that is the beauty of it isn't it? Original review HERE.

2. The Way Way Back
I straight up adore this movie, and honestly it is one of my very favorite movies of the decade. There's so much heart here and I knew from the very opening scene it was something truly special. I could gush and gush over every single element of its perfection, but instead I'll just link you my original review HERE.

1. Whiplash
Again, if I was going by initial reaction...The Way Way Back would probably have slightly edged this out due to my pure love of it. And while I do probably love that movie more, this one had me in complete and utter awe of the filmmaking at display. Whiplash could honestly be called a perfect film and I LOVED being in on its secret a year before it came out. "Wait until you see Whiplash." THIS kind of movie is what Sundance is for. Original review HERE.

So will there be any Whiplashes or Boyhoods or Way Way Backs this year?? Only time will tell. But come back tomorrow and I'll have my preview for the ten movies debuting at the festival this year that have captured my attention.

1.19.2016

Top 10 of 2015

Okay guys, it's finally here. I've finally settled on my favorite movies from last year. I still haven't been able to see everything I wanted to see, but I feel pretty good about getting behind the following movies as solid, entertaining movies that endeared themselves to me in one way or another. Let's not waste any more time, here's my top ten from 2015.

10. Kingsman: The Secret Service

I saw a screening of this early last year, about a month before it came out and was absolutely blown away in entertainment. It would have been easy for me to put the more sophisticated Spotlight in this spot, but I had to be honest with myself on which movie I really enjoyed more. I came out of Kingsman on an absolute high and couldn't wait to tell everyone I knew to check this movie out. This movie is so much fun and a perfect homage to the spy genre. In a year packed with movies from that genre, nothing ever topped this one.  Original review HERE.

9. TIE: Steve Jobs
My initial reaction to Steve Jobs was that it was the "not as good" version of The Social Network. And while I still agree with my initial assessment, there's still so much to really like about it (and hey, in my mind comparisons to The Social Network are NEVER a bad thing.) I LOVE the format of this film, and as always Aaron Sorkin's script is top notch. Dropping in on a character at three different product launches in his life, was a brilliant approach and was sold beyond convincingly by Michael Fassbender (possibly at his career best.) Fassbender becomes Jobs, and it's fascinating to watch.

9. TIE: Sicario
Right from the beginning of Sicario, you know this movie will have an impact on you. Though I found the film to be unable to keep that constant pace that was set by the beginning there were still quite a few moments that grabbed a hold of me and wouldn't let go. They haunted me. The last twenty minutes is probably the strongest finale of any movie I've seen this year. Emily Blunt is terrific as usual, but it was Benicio Del Toro who really blew me away.

8. The Revenant
The spectacle of The Revenant is certainly enough to get you caught up in it. If you know anything at all about filmmaking, you have to admire the sweep and scope that Inarritu was able to achieve the way he sought to achieve it. I'm a sucker for visual filmmaking, and there's certainly a visual factor to The Revenant that lifts it above other movies made this year. But it's not just a pretty movie to look at (in fact, on many occasions its quite the contrary,) the story itself is quite engrossing too. While some fat could definitely be trimmed, I was honestly never bored in the proceedings. The actors always kept me engaged in what would happen next. There are the classic tales of betrayal, survival, and revenge, but in the end, it is the choices the characters make in the end that interest me the most.

7. The End of the Tour
One of my favorite film series is Richard Linklater's Before movies, which basically are two hour long conversations turned into their own films. The End of the Tour, like those movies, scratched me where I itch in presenting rhetoric that constantly blew me away. This is essentially the bromance version of the Before series, as Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel had a crazy camaraderie type chemistry and all they did was discuss everything they could possibly discuss. When the core of a movie revolves around a simple relationship and its progression (no matter how short a time it existed,) it becomes the best kind of movie for me. 

6. Ex-Machina
Ex-Machina is the type of science fiction I wish more people tried to make. This is the Frankenstein type of sci-fi, where moral dilemmas are everything and human nature is at the root of all. The movie is great in making you think it will go one way, and then turning those expectations on their head. But best of all, its cast (which the story falls pretty much on three characters only) is fantastic. Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac each give their all to this movie and their efforts easily made it one of my favorites of the year.

5. Mad Max: Fury Road

There's really not much more to this movie than an exciting chase in the dessert...but oh what a chase it is, and oh how entertaining it is. I'm not going to pretend there's a ton of hidden depth here (though you're welcome of course to disagree,) but I can't deny how incredibly well made this movie is for what it is. The cinematography is stunning and the way everything is staged is absolutely superb. Plus I must say, Charlize Theron's Furiosa is a heroine that any girl can really root for. She and Tom Hardy are just grand.

4. Love & Mercy
I'll be honest, other than knowing some songs here and there, I didn't know a lot about the Beach Boys, let alone their lives. Love & Mercy specifically follows the tumultuous life of lead singer Brian Wilson during two different periods of his life. Paul Dano plays the younger Wilson, while John Cusack plays him twenty years later. The two look incredibly different physically which threw me off at first, but I loved both of their performances so much I became lost in the film and it didn't matter. This movie stayed with me for a long time after it ended. I found myself often in the mood of listening to their tunes and thinking about how much artists put themselves through for the sake of their work, for the sake of something that will last much longer than them. 

3. Me & Earl & The Dying Girl
This film seems to get a lot of hate from some cinephiles who object to its tweeness and perhaps find it manipulative. The first time I saw the film at Sundance last year, I myself was hypersensitive of whether or not I found the film to be calculated. I couldn't love it immediately, but the more I thought about it, and the next few times I saw it, the more I loved it (sorry not sorry haters.) The main character Greg can be selfish and unlikable, the film abruptly switches in tone from funny to heartbreaking, the filmmaking is far too whimsical....bla bla bla. But guess what? I love it. I love all of it. And I don't care who knows it. And honestly? I think the movie works because of all of those things. For more in-depth thoughts, check out my original review HERE.

2. Bridge of Spies
Bridge of Spies really took me by surprise. I really had no interest in seeing this movie, but saw it because I felt like I should. Honestly and truly, I really wasn't prepared to like it as much as I did. This type of movie is pretty much all but extinct. Characters with this much integrity that are just pure, strong and good rarely exist in cinema. Tom Hanks's James Donovan was as close to an Atticus Finch character I've seen in a very long time. He's not invincible or perfect by any means, but he strives beyond all to do that which is right. This felt like a classic feel good movie that Frank Capra would have made, not something I expected from Steven Spielberg in 2015. It was quite the delightful surprise for me.

1. Room
Room completely and utterly destroyed me. I felt more emotion in just the first half of the movie than almost every other movie I saw in 2015. I felt the highs, I felt the lows, and I felt so much tension in one small sequence that I legitimately had a physical reaction of shaking constantly in my seat. While in film we often end with a triumph, we rarely see the aftermath of what the end of a situation would really bring. I loved how much Room explored of its simple concept and the damaging effects it would have to all involved. Though Room would still be effective if it only examined the tragedy the characters faced, it's the moments of hope that really moved me and resonated with me. Room was a fantastic film for everyone involved filled with Oscar-worthy performances, and while it doesn't have the bravado it takes to be a best picture winner, it was one of the most deeply personal films of 2015, and my favorite.

Honorable mentions: Spotlight, Queen of Earth, Inside Out, The Martian, The Wolfpack, The Final Girls.

Honorable mention because my teenage self would be very upset if I didn't mention the movie I spent the whole year thinking about and looking forward to: Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens. You were a crazy flawed movie that got WAY too much praise. Critics did me no favors in not helping me lower my crazy high expectations, and because of that disappointment, there was no way I could include you in the actual numbering (though for the record, I was saving my #1 spot for it.) In subsequent viewings, I've come to appreciate it a lot more....though am still inclined to agree with my brother's summation that it was "nothing special." So your honorable mention here is basically the mere fact you have Star Wars in your title, and after a couple viewings I learned to like you more.