Sundance 2013

The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman

Editor’s note: Our review of what was then called The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman originally ran during this year’s Sundance film festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release today. A close up of a beaten and bloodied Shia LaBeouf (who plays the title character) hanging upside down is the first image of The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman and brings one question to mind: what did Charlie do? A voice over (from John Hurt) explains simply that “love is pain” as the story takes us “back to the beginning” to a stark hospital room where Charlie’s mother (Melissa Leo) lies dying. As she takes her final breath, something strange happens, and suddenly a healthy looking Leo sits next to Charlie to impart some last words and wisdom. This idea that Charlie can hear from the dead (complete with a tongue-in-cheek joke about The Sixth Sense) is touched upon throughout the film, but unfortunately ends up being more distracting (and sometimes laughable) than a necessary trope to help drive the story along. Charlie’s mom tells him he should go to Bucharest, essentially because she thinks he will “have fun” there. So he does.

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Editor’s note: Our review of Kill Your Darlings originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it as the film opens today in theatrical release. In Kill Your Darlings, Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) is an aspiring writer but one that is trapped under the weight of his successful poet father (portrayed with a reserved performance from the usually comedic David Cross) and his mentally unstable mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh). When Allen gets into Columbia, his father encourages him to go and become the writer he has always longed to be. But in his first poetry class, Allen rubs his professor the wrong way when he questions why poems have to rhyme and follow a certain structure. In doing so, he also catches the eye of one of his fellow students, Lucien “Lu” Carr (Dane DeHaan). Allen makes his way down to his room one night and the two share a drink and begin talking about poetry and writing. It is the first time we see Allen truly light up inside, talking about something he is so passionate about with someone who understands him. Lu takes him downtown to a party at the house of his friend David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), and as Allen enters he proclaims, “Allen in Wonderland.” And it is true, as we watch him suddenly enter a word full of people who think like him but also act on it, writing, drinking, and creating.

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acod

Editor’s note: Allison’s review of A.C.O.D. originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited release. According to Carter (Adam Scott), his parents were “married for nine years, but feels like they have been at war for a hundred.” Growing up in the crossfire of his parent’s epic fights and manipulations, it is surprising to discover Carter is now a well-adjusted adult in a healthy relationship of his own, despite being an A.C.O.D. (Adult Child of Divorce.) But when Carter’s younger brother, Trey (Clark Duke), proposes to his girlfriend after only four months of dating, Carter’s issues with relationships, marriage, and (most importantly) his parents, start to come out.

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Editor’s note: With Muscle Shoals opening in limited release, please enjoy the sweet sounds of our Sundance review, originally published on January 26. Rick Hall grew up in rural Alabama, but despite these simple roots, Hall always wanted to be somebody. Muscle Shoals tells the story of how he did become somebody when he founded FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, and in doing so created a deep Southern sound that permeated the music industry, and still exists today. While many accredit this to the “magic” of the Tennessee River, it was the rhythm section Hall put together, called “The Swampers,” that created this unique sound in this unexpected place. When you think of the locations of famous recording studios, you usually think of Los Angeles, New York City or London, but artists started flocking down south to FAME Studios thanks to The Swampers and Hall’s ability to recognize a hit song. The Swampers were a group of white musicians made up of David Hood (bass), Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), and Jimmy Johnson (guitar), who ended up creating the roots of this “funkier” style of music — which they claim only came about because they didn’t know how to “make it smooth.”

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Don Jon

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during our coverage of Sundance and reruns now as the film hits theaters near you. Don Jon (Joesph Gordon-Levitt) is — as his name suggests — a modern-day “Don Juan.” He’s a ladies man the girls just can’t seem to say no to. Every weekend Jon stands in the middle of the club with his buddies, scans the room, sets his sights on whichever girl is closest to “dime” status, dances up on her, makes out with her, escorts her into a taxi, and then, well, you can imagine what happens next. At the beginning of Don Jon, Jon tells us there are only a handful of things that matter to him: his body, his pad, his car, his family, his boys, and his girls. But there is one thing that trumps them all: his porn. Jon explains that it’s something “all guys do,” and while he likes the real thing (and certainly has no trouble getting it), he always enjoys his porn more. After a while of running through the same routine, Jon finds himself bored and longing for something more. That “something more” seems to come in the dime sized package of Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a curvaceous blonde who fits all of Jon’s stereotypical requirements. Barbara is different, Barbara is special, Barbara is making Jon wait. Barbara wants a real relationship and Jon obliges because Barbara is the “most beautiful thing he has ever seen.” But after finally sealing the deal […]

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BC3

Editor’s Note: Kevin’s review of Blue Caprice originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release. The Beltway Snipers captivated the country’s attention and established a shroud of fear for people living in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia back in October of 2002. Blue Caprice is loosely inspired by that story, keeping some of the key players and events while changing backgrounds and actions significantly. Director Alexandre Moors (Cruel Summer) wanted to focus on the relationship between the elder John Allen Muhammad and the younger Lee Boyd Malvo rather than making the film about the actual murders themselves. Fiction diverges from reality right from the beginning of the film, with Lee (Tequan Richmond) first encountering John (Isaiah Washington) in Antigua after his mother leaves him to fend for himself. In reality, John met and knew Lee’s mother. For those familiar with the backstory of the actual Beltway Sniper attacks, this signifies that the film takes its own path. But for people unfamiliar with the particulars, this might be a case of fiction becoming a false reality. It’s more very loosely based on a true story than it is meant to be historical fiction.

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Editor’s Note: Our review of Hell Baby originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Fest, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens today in limited release. No genre mash-up is more difficult to get right than the horror-comedy. It’s the balance between the two that’s tricky as very few find the sweet spot of being both funny and scary. Most attempts end up lopsided, and more often than not it’s the horror that gets shafted. That broken record gets played again in the new film from writer-directors Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!), but to be fair the focus on laughs is entirely intentional and evident in everything from the cast list to the effects work to the gag-filled script to the intense and time-consuming focus on delicious, lip-smackin’ po’ boys. It’s meant to be a comedy through and through, but unfortunately they treat it like a 15-minute sketch instead of a 90-minute movie. I’m no math wiz, but that 75-minute deficit isn’t going to laugh at itself.

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A Teacher

Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared as part of our Sundance 2013 coverage, and now A Teacher being released into theaters near you. This year’s Sundance Film Festival was rife with films about inappropriate sexual relationships, especially already-shocking May-December dalliances made still more inappropriate by uncomfortable power dynamics. Drake Doremus’ Breathe In tackled the almost-romance between an exchange student and her male guardian (one who was also her teacher), Liz W. Garcia’s The Lifeguard featured a twentysomething female lifeguard who takes up with a teen boy who lives in the condo complex where she works, and Anne Fontaine’s Two Mothers centered on adult female friends who both fall in love with the other’s son, ensuring that Hannah Fidell‘s A Teacher would fit quite neatly in the festival’s most trendy programming. But fortunately for the director/writer/producer, Fidell’s finely tuned feature is a stand-out film in an apparently crowded field. Unlike both Breathe In and The Lifeguard, Fidell’s film doesn’t track those first hesitant steps toward sex and romance between a disastrously (and often criminally) mismatched pair as, when we meet high school teacher Diana (an astonishingly good Lindsay Burdge) and her student Eric (Will Brittain), they’re already in the middle of their sexual relationship. All is not well, of course, and composer Brian McOmber‘s loud and abrasive (and we mean that in the best way possible) score, which queues up the second the film opens, makes sure we know that from the get-go. This is a doomed relationship in every sense.

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Sundance: The Lifeguard

Editor’s Note: Allison’s review of The Lifeguard originally ran during this week’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited release today. Everyone has those moments when they question where their life is going, but hitting the pause button can end up doing more damage than good. When The Lifeguard‘s Leigh (Kristen Bell), a reporter for the Associated Press, covers a story about a tiger who had been kept in a cramped Manhattan apartment, Leigh’s overly emotional reaction to the scratch marks on the windowsill make it clear Leigh is struggling with her own anxieties about being trapped in a life she did not see for herself. Without a second thought, Leigh hops on a train and returns to her parent’s home in Connecticut, the lush landscape a stark difference to the harsh New York metropolis she is looking to escape.

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Ashton Kutcher in jOBS

Editor’s note: Kate’s review originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-running it as the film opens in limited theatrical release this weekend. Apple founder and technology visionary Steve Jobs changed the way the world connects and computes, created one of the world’s most revolutionary companies and recently died, so of course he is now being remembered by way of an unsatisfying biopic that could have been far more creative and inspired than the final product. Director Joshua Michael Stern (best remembered for the completely forgettable Swing Vote) works off a script by newbie scribe Matt Whiteley (a former marketing wonk who was commissioned to write the script by his boss, producer Mark Hulme) that, while well-paced and interesting, also fails to illuminate much about the man and skips over large chunks of his life. As Jobs, Ashton Kutcher does a fine job (sorry, had to do it) with his role, though when Jobs amps up its intensity, he can’t quite keep his character compelling or believable.

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Austenland

Editor’s note: Kate’s review originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-running it as the film opens in limited theatrical release this weekend. Obsession with fictional literary heroes is nothing new, but Austenland’s Jane Hayes (Keri Russell) has taken her love for Jane Austen’s (again, fictional) Mr. Darcy and the Regency-era world he (as written in a fictional novel) inhabited in Austen’s (still fictional, Jane) “Pride & Prejudice” to new lows. While the source material for Jerusha Hess’s film, Shannon Hale’s very popular novel of the same name, found its heroine focusing her attentions on a still more fake Darcy – the one played by Colin Firth in the also very popular but not entirely true to Austen’s work BBC miniseries version of “Pride & Prejudice” – Hess wisely expands Jane’s obsession to apply more thoroughly to the rest of Austen’s work and her Regency Era. It is perhaps one of the few wise choices made in service to the adaptation, as Hess’s film, though frequently funny, is almost disastrously goofy and doofy, headed up by a poorly-drawn leading lady who, had she not been played by someone as lovely as Russell, would be the target of scorn by everyone she meets. We quickly learn that Russell’s Jane has been obsessed with Mr. Darcy for most of her life, with Hess kicking off the film with an amusing sequence of flashbacks that show Jane progressing through her teen years and on into adulthood with a moony-eyed stare […]

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Aint Them Bodies Saints

Editor’s note: Allison’s review originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-running it as the film opens in limited theatrical release this weekend. Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) are hopelessly in love. Even when they fight, they cannot help but fall back into each other’s arms with Bob reminding Ruth he will always follow her, always be with her. But with Bob down on his luck, a bad decision and a few gun shots have him headed off to jail, leaving Ruth without her husband and a baby on the way. Despite this turn of events, Bob and Ruth never give up on each other, a fact made achingly clear from the way they cling to each other even as Bob is being taken away. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints starts where most heist stories end, showing audiences what happens when the dust settles and the “bad guys” are put away. Skipping ahead four years, Ruth’s daughter, Sylvie, is now grown and the two are now living a quiet life on their own. Bob still writes to Ruth, and she keeps every letter, but beyond that Ruth has not seen him since that faithful day, and Sylvie has never laid eyes on her own father. While there are a few men looking out for Ruth and Sylvie, Officer Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster) has clearly taken a particular interest in the two. Ironically, Patrick is the officer who was gunned down, which then lead to Bob’s arrest, but it is […]

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Prince_Avalanche_EmileHirsch_and_Paul_Rudd

Editor’s note: Rob’s review of Prince Avalanche originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release this weekend. There are two David Gordon Greens. But this is news to no one, so I won’t bother breaking down the differences between the Green who directed the bleak, dramatic and emotionally oppressive Snow Angels and the one who made The Sitter, but let’s all just acknowledge the massive rift in quality, character and narrative and move forward from there. His first move away from serious dramas, Pineapple Express, was surprisingly funny and exciting, and Your Highness was a highly inconsistent mix of chuckles and misfires, but by the time The Sitter hit theaters in 2011, even his most ardent and highest supporters were silently slinking away. Hopefully they booked a return trip, though, as Green’s latest film, Prince Avalanche, is one of his best and manages a fantastic blend of big laughs and affecting characters with an honest look at an unlikely friendship between two very different men.

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Lovelace

Editor’s note: Kate’s review of Lovelace originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release this weekend. For whatever reason, the story of adult film legend Linda Lovelace has proven to be particular enticing material as of late, with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Lovelace only the first of two Lovelace biopics to hit screens this year. Epstein and Freidman’s film is the one that stars Amanda Seyfried as Lovelace (or Boreman, or Marchiano, depending on the particular period of her life you are referring to) and Peter Sarsgaard as her bastard husband/Svengali, Chuck Traynor (because, really, who better to play the necessary bastard/Svengali role than Sarsgaard?). A generally straightforward and uninspired biopic (beyond a somewhat interesting storytelling conceit that pops up about midway through the film), Lovelace tracks Lovelace’s unlikely rise from regular girl to America’s most famous porn star, thanks to her starring role in 1972’s seminal hardcore pornographic film, Deep Throat. Like a lot of porn, Lovelace is often aimless, basically boring, and dead unsexy.

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THESPECTACULARNOW_still1

Editor’s note: Allison’s review of The Spectacular Now originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re posting it again as the film opens this week in limited release. There are two kinds of people who go to high school: those who love every second of it, and those who cannot wait to get out. In The Spectacular Now, Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) is a charming screw-up who falls in the first group, but he is also acutely aware that this is the best time of his life. And he is living that life to the fullest, embracing and living in every moment, but unfortunately doing so with a super-size booze-filled slurpee clutched in his grasp at every turn. When he sits down to start writing his college essay (pulling on a PBR as he does), he uses the question about the biggest hardship he has had to overcome to unload about his recent break up. After yet another party and another night getting loaded, Sutter finds himself waking up on the lawn of Aimee (Shailene Woodley), a pretty girl from his school that he has never quite noticed before because she does not have a specific “thing” that defines her from the pack.

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Sundance: Blackfish

Editor’s note: Our review of Blackfish originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-running it now as the movie opens in limited theatrical release. If Orca taught us anything it’s that killer whales enjoy the taste of Republican lady gams. If it taught us anything else though it’s that some animals are best left alone. If we have to cage something (which we don’t) make it something small, manageable and stupid, and exclude creatures that fall outside those parameters. Animals that weigh 12,000 pounds for example… Tilikum is just such a beast, but ever since his capture off the coast of Iceland in 1983 he’s been performing (or being milked for sperm) in parks like SeaLand and Sea World. Want two more facts about Tilikum’s sad life? He’s directly linked to three human deaths. And he’s still performing at Sea World.

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Fruitvale Movie

Editor’s note: This review of Fruitvale Station originally ran during this year’s Sundance film festival where it played under the shorter title Fruitvale. We’re re-running it now as the film sees a limited theatrical release this Friday. Tragedies happen every day throughout the world, but very few of them ever reach the public eye. The overwhelming majority remain private pains in the lives of the families and friends directly involved. One incident that didn’t stay private was the New Year’s Day shooting of Oscar Grant by a police officer in Oakland, CA, in 2009. Various cell phones caught the shooting on video, and an already racially charged city exploded at the sight of a white officer firing on an unarmed black man. But as is often the case there’s far more to the story than those several harrowing minutes of grainy video footage reveal. For better and worse writer/director Ryan Coogler is interested in more than just that incident. Fruitvale focuses on the last, hopeful day in Oscar’s life, but our knowledge of what’s coming hangs heavy over these 24 hours as we know what he can’t. His interactions with family and friends paint a heartbreaking picture of a man trying to atone for past bad behaviors and plan for the future. That should have been more than enough, but like too many people Coogler can’t help but try to turn the man and his story into a symbol and a rallying cry.

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Editor’s note: This review of V/H/S/2 originally ran during this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was going under the title S-VHS. We’re re-running it now as the film hits VOD and a limited theatrical roll-out this Friday. Reactions were understandably mixed to last year’s horror anthology film V/H/S, but there was enough of a positive response to encourage the team to move forward on a new incarnation. No, it’s not time for Laserdisc yet (maybe next year), but in its place we have the forgotten future of video tape…  S-VHS. In addition to changing out most of the writers/directors from the first film (only Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard remain) they’ve also, wisely, shortened the experience by sticking to four shorts (plus wraparound) instead of five. This time the “story” that brings the shorts together involves a pair of inept private eyes investigating the disappearance of a college student. They break into his ratty house and decide their investigation would be best served watching the unlabeled videotapes strewn about the living room. The four stories that follow are a mixed bag quality-wise, but thankfully there are none as bad as the “dumbasses in the woods” segment from the first movie. The concept remains that everything we see was filmed entirely on personal cams to give a POV sensation. If they do share a theme with each other it’s more laughs/fewer scares — which I gotta say is kind of odd for a so-called horror movie.

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THE WAY, WAY BACK

Editor’s Note: My review of The Way, Way Back originally ran during its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens theatrically. You should really make a point of going to see this one. Coming-of-age films are almost as ubiquitous as rom-coms and Resident Evil sequels these days, and it’s not often that one of them manages to stand out in the crowded field. The ones that do succeed usually feature a combination of star power to get their foot in the door, a smart and funny script to keep the audience’s attention and a lead who embodies the joy, frustrations and awkwardness of teen life with equal spirit and veracity. The Way, Way Back succeeds on pretty much all of those counts. Duncan (Liam James) is heading to the East Coast for the summer with his mom Pam (Toni Collette), her boyfriend Trent (Steve Carrell) and Trent’s teen daughter Steph (Zoe Levin). A summer spent at the beach should be any teen boy’s idea of awesome, but Duncan is shy and no fan of the overbearing Trent, so the next three months promise to be hell. But when he crosses paths with an immature and odd water park manager named Owen (Sam Rockwell), he dares to think that the summer may not be so bad after all.

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Before Midnight

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran as a part of our insanely extensive Sundance 2013 coverage. Before Midnight is in theaters as of May 24th. It’s no easy feat to review one of Richard Linklater’s Before films – including Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Sundance premiere Before Midnight – because to attempt to chronicle and summarize films that primarily feature two characters walking and talking would likely prove boring and definitely end up reducing the experience of watching one of the Ethan Hawke- and Julie Delpy-starring films. Here it is straight – do you love Before Sunrise and Before Sunset? You will love Before Midnight. Do you just like the previous two films? You’ll probably still love Before Midnight. Do you hate the film’s predecessors? Well, perhaps you’re best advised to stay away from this one. Have you never even seen one of the Before films? Well, you’ll probably do pretty okay with Before Midnight, thanks to its impressively well-crafted flow, its increasingly more relatable characters, and its less-starry-eyed but much more satisfying approach to what it means to actually love someone.

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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