Sundance 2013

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Editor’s note: Allison’s review originally ran during Sundance earlier this year, but we’re re-posting it as Jeff Nichols’ film hits theaters in limited release this weekend. What would be most exciting to two young boys living a slightly boring life along a river bank in Arkansas? An adventure, of course. And that is exactly what Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) think they have found when they come across a peculiar sight — a boat trapped high up in the tree tops thanks to a recent flood. But what the two boys end up finding in that boat is a much bigger adventure because they are not alone, and are not the only ones looking to get it down. Enter Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a charming drifter living on the boat who, unlike the boys, is not looking for adventure, he is looking for a way off the island that the boat (and Mud himself) is trapped on. Ellis is quickly drawn to Mud with his cross-heeled boots and endless stories, but Neckbone is more wary, especially when Mud asks the boys for a favor. Ellis remains intrigued, and it becomes clear that it is not simply the prospect of adventure that has his attention, it is Mud’s story explaining why he is stranded on that island — the pursuit of true love.

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Upstream Color

Editor’s note: Rob’s review originally ran during Sundance earlier this year, but we’re re-running it now as the film releases on VOD tomorrow. And, not for nothing, but it’s still the best movie of the year so far. Shane Carruth has twice broken an unspoken contract between filmmakers and audiences that says watching movies should never require you to think, work or do any of the heavy lifting. A high percentage of film-goers and way too many filmmakers signed on to this arrangement, but small numbers of each stand strong in their defense of difficult and unconventional films. Those movies aren’t better by default, many of them are flat-out unwatchable in fact, but when they work, when everything falls into place… audiences are rewarded with something truly special. Carruth chose not to dumb down his debut, Primer, and while the dense dialogue left many viewers in its wake, those who remained enjoyed a smart and tightly-wound little time travel tale at the heart of something more personal. His long-awaited follow-up, Upstream Color, sees him breaking the rules again but with a far bigger, bolder and more aggressively challenging film that for better or worse ups the ante in every regard.

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Stoker Movie

Editor’s note: This review originally ran as part of our Sundance 2013 coverage, but we’re re-running it to coincide with its arrival in limited theatrical release on 3/1. Park Chan-wook‘s films are held in deservedly high regard for various reasons. They’re often filled with desperate characters trapped in twisted, madcap situations, and while their worlds are violent and deadly places they’re never less than beautiful. He has an eye for framing and staging intensely attractive scenes of people laid bare emotionally and physically. His first English-language film, Stoker, opens in US theaters next month, and it’s already one of the year’s most visually appealing and strikingly stylish films. Unfortunately that’s pretty much all it is. India Stoker’s (Mia Wasikowska) father has died suddenly, but before she and her emotionally estranged mother (Nicole Kidman) can even begin to grieve, an uncle (Matthew Goode) she was previously unaware of arrives on their doorstep. Soon India’s already fractured world takes an ominous turn as people begin to disappear and Uncle Charlie’s interest in her moves in some inappropriate directions.

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Don Jon

The Sundance Film Festival may be over, but that doesn’t mean that the year’s first major film fest doesn’t live on in our hearts – or our theaters and VOD apparatus. Like any good film festival, Sundance is not just a fun movie-watching playtime, it’s also a market for new films looking for a distribution home, even films that come complete with big stars (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ashton Kutcher, Paul Rudd, the list goes on and on). But just because a film gets picked up at Sundance — and by a major company, to boot — doesn’t mean that it will get a big, fancy theatrical release in a timely fashion (see the Tobey Maguire- and Elizabeth Banks-starring The Details for proof of that), though it’s a damn good start. So, just which of the many films that bowed at the ‘dance will you be able to see at a theater (or couch) near you? If our tally of purchased films is to be believed, at least thirty-eight! After the break, check out our comprehensive list of every film picked up at Sundance (and even a few that hit the festival with their distribution already in place, those lucky, happy few), including who bought them and when we’re likely to see them.

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The Spectacular Now

Forgive us if we may be so bold, but this year’s round of “Ten Best” films from the Sundance Film Festival is really just the ten films we liked the most. We have taste, and we’re not afraid to use it! (Or, alternately, please like all these things that we like, we promise they are really good!) This year, five Rejects attended the festival in the snow (can you believe they let us in?), and while we all have different cinematic soft spots, you’d be surprised over how many films struck all of us, and in different ways. (We cried a lot.) This year’s festival certainly had a few themes that stuck out – lots of sex, nudity, inappropriate relationships, and so much more seemed to be the order of the day – but our list of the ten best films of the festival is far more interested in less lascivious features, much more tuned into films that delivered strong characters and even stronger senses of self. Boldness paid off. Honesty was rewarded. Tears? Well, tears definitely didn’t hurt. Find out which ten films won our hearts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, presented after the break.

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Linsanity_FIlmStill2_JeremyLin

Movies frequently extol the magic of sports, the notion that athletic competition offers a sort of heightened portrait of the best and worst of humanity. The arena is the proving ground where one’s determination, resilience and capacity to achieve greatness are tested against often overwhelming obstacles. This romanticized view seems out-of-touch in an age of aggressive parents forcing their kids into intense, year-round youth competition, when college programs exploit their student-athletes, when the professional leagues are dominated by greedy stabs at corporate dollars and players are no more than mercenaries in search of the next big check. But sometimes real life actually does mirror fiction. Sometimes, a sports story is so great, so inspiring, that your faith is restored. For proof, look no further than Jeremy Lin.

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Vasconcelos Library Doc

This month’s issue of “Wired” magazine features a very lengthy, in-depth article by Stephen Levy in which the author interviews Google’s Larry Page. It covers all of the massive projects the company is undertaking, from a car that drives itself to the Google Books project, which still aims to scan every book in existence and create a repository of human knowledge that is indexed, searchable, and portable. But as benevolent as that may seem on surface value, Ben Lewis’s Google and the World Brain takes a hard look at the Books project itself, the ideas behind it, and the proponents and opponents the company faces in the battle over digitalization of the printed world. The “World Brain” part of the title comes from a collection of essays H.G. Wells wrote in the late 1930s where he described a World Encyclopedia that would be free to everyone and full of all information.

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CharlieVictorRomeo_still3

Sundance generally isn’t the film festival you turn to if you enjoy horror films, but Robert Berger and Karlyn Michelson’s Charlie Victor Romeo is one of the most terrifying movies I’ve seen, inside or outside the festival. It’s a filmed adaptation of a play that was first performed in 1999 utilizing actual transcripts of cockpit recordings from airline incidents as the script, with actors portraying the crew. The name itself comes from the NATO phonetic alphabet designation for cockpit voice recorder, or CVR. The film plays out entirely in the cockpit of six different aircraft from several real accidents, with a very minimal set and actors playing the roles of pilot, co-pilot, and so on. It’s a fascinating and terrifying look at at a world most of us never see. Whenever you board a plane, you might get a fleeting glimpse at the banks of instruments, or perhaps the pilot will say “thank you” as you disembark, but what goes on in the cockpit remains a complete mystery to nearly all air travelers.

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Snow

It is time to say goodbye. Some of us have already left, some of us have a few more days, but the festival is officially winding down as quickly as the brief snowfall from two days ago is melting on the ground. (I’m getting deep, y’all, get ready.) The end of Sundance is always bittersweet; you are ready to get back home, but at the same time the idea of leaving friends, movies, and popcorn (okay, that’s not true — we are all more than sick of the popcorn) is sad. The final few days of the festival are always a bit different since the pack of people you know has whittled down and the majority of the movies have been watched. I started the day actually getting to sleep in (even I don’t understand how I pulled this off) and these extra few hours somehow helped me stay alert enough to take things in as I went through the day, a task I have never been able to attempt before due to exhaustion and the perpetual “end of the fest” daze. I spent the morning working at the Bloggeratti Condo and relishing the fact that I can crack jokes and fact check with colleagues in person instead of over social media (although Eric Snider and William Goss’s jokes are hilarious both in person and on the Internet).

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WrongCops2

The Sundance Film Festival programmers who select the New Frontier and Park City at Midnight films have long relished in the fact that they get to choose some of the most bizarre movies for their venues. These are movies that don’t fit the general Sundance mold and instead go above and beyond the call of Robert Redford. Last year, we had Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie as a tentpole for these types of movies, burning the “Shrim” scene into our brains forever. This year, one of the New Frontier “films” is an episodic series of shorts glued together by director Quentin Dupieux, who previously gave us the Fantastic Fest favorites Rubber and its followup, Wrong. While shooting the latter with actor Mark Burnham, Dupieux had the idea to make Wrong Cops as a project to highlight the music he creates under the name Mr. Olzo. So, they got a camera and shot the thing in three days. The result, which the filmmakers refer to as “Wrong Cops: Part 1,” is a mishmash of sketch and situation comedy that leaves you feeling like you’ve just watched a rehearsal for an unfinished skit.

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Snow in Park City

It was bound to happen. On Day 723 of the Sundance Film Festival (really, just Day 8, but it feels like we’ve been here for years), it snowed. Sundance is, after all, located in a ski town, so frozen precipitation falling from the sky is a thing that is known to happen, but snow during Sundance really does change the landscape of the festival. Everything instantly feels a bit more miserable and, suddenly, trooping through snowdrifts to see yet another film feels like the biggest chore in the world. But it really is the best chore, and when you’re about to troop through snowdrifts to finally (finally) see one of the festival’s instantly-beloved premieres, The Spectacular Now, it really doesn’t feel so bad.

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Toy

Sharp-tongued Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) is frustrated with his life – his overbearing father (Nick Offerman) does not understand him, his older sister Heather (Alison Brie) no longer lives at home, and he cannot seem to get a minute to himself without someone barging in on him. Joe is not alone in his frustration, his best friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is also feeling trapped with two helicopter parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) who are constantly bombarding him with inane questions. The two boys want (need) to get out, and Joe comes up with a plan to let them do just that. After escaping a party that was suddenly broken up, Joe finds himself lost in the woods alongside the very strange (but insanely funny) Biaggio (Moises Arias.) The two happen upon a secluded section of the forrest and as Joe looks around at the lush landscape, inspiration strikes and he rushes home to tell Patrick he has a solution to their problems – they are going to build their own house to live in.

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Sundance 2013 News and Reviews

We’re exploring Sundance’s past all week, so we’ve got the usual batch of stellar short films with a Sundance twist. It’s like being there without the snow boots or Harvey Weinstein ruining screenings on his cell phone. Why Watch? If you’re unfamiliar with the soaring brilliance of Don Hertzfeldt‘s work, or if you’re a fan looking for even the flimsiest of reasons to luxuriate in it, take the time out to enjoy the awkward observations that spring forth from his stickman hero Bill (who hit Sundance in 2007). Wry and often so honest it’s uncomfortable, the idiosyncrasatic and the strangely relatable blend together to make something that will make you laugh so hard you’ll rethink your entire life plan. Truly, we are all Bill. What will it cost? Only 17 minutes. Skip Work. Watch More Short Films.

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Very Good Girls

The first thing we’re supposed to learn about Lilly (Dakota Fanning) and Gerry (Elizabeth Olsen) is that they are best friends – no, like, best friends, sisters, totally bonded, deeply close, passionate friends. This is a fine sentiment – really, one of the best – but it’s a hard one to grasp when Lilly and Gerry, the center of Naomi Foner’s Very Good Girls trashcan their years-long friendship because some dude (and, also, this dude? Of all the dudes? This one?) is temporarily sexually attractive to both girls. Yes, it’s this story again. To be fair, Foner’s film does throw a few wrenches into this now-standard formula – namely that both girls are virgins looking for someone to change that before they head off to college, and that only one of the girls is aware that she’s involved in a love triangle – but it’s otherwise just another destructive addition to a genre of romance films that needs to go away, or at least be handled in a far more mature and compelling manner.

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Ass Backwards Movie

Kate (June Diane Raphael) and Chloe (Casey Wilson) have been best friends their entire lives, finishing each other’s sentences, sleeping in the same waterbed, they even have a catch phrase when introducing themselves to people (“Kate and Chloe! Her Chloe, me Kate. Kate and Chloe.”) It is endearing how the girls support each other unconditionally with positive affirmations and constantly reminding each other they are on the verge of greatness – Kate is the CEO of her own company! (Kate is an egg doner.) Chloe is on the verge of becoming a big star! (Chloe is a go-go dancer.) But unfortunately, Kate and Chloe are co-dependent messes who have no idea how far from greatness (or even acting their age) they truly are. Despite living large in New York City, when the girls receive an invitation to return to their hometown’s beauty pageant circuit, you can tell they both want to go back and compete. Kate and Chloe came in dead last when they competed in the pageant as children and they believe this could be their chance to show everyone they are no longer losers. After getting evicted from their apartment (a minor set back!), the girls hit the open road and the hi-jinx hit the fast lane.

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Manhunt

Zero Dark Thirty may have focused the forty minute raid which successfully captured and killed Osama bin Laden, but Greg Barker’s Manhunt takes you a few decades back when a small group of female C.I.A. analysts (nicknamed “The Sisterhood”) came together and uncovered the, now known, worldwide terrorist group, al-Qaeda. Where Zero Dark Thirty is a fictionalized look at these events, Manhunt features the real life C.I.A. analysts, operatives, and targeters who first discovered the group, and diligently worked to end their reign of terror. Others at the C.I.A. thought those in The Sisterhood were simply obsessed with bin Laden, and had no real reason to be tracking him because back then, bin Laden lived out in the open, claiming he had no ties to terrorism. But The Sisterhood kept discovering he was the thread that tied these various terrorist groups together. The question then became: was bin Laden simply contributing funds to these groups, or was he the founder of the movement?

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In Fear Movie

We can never really know the truth behind another person’s eyes. Even friends and lovers who’ve shared laughs and beds for decades and think they know it all will never be completely aware of each other’s inner thoughts. So where does that leave a new couple still fumbling with the other’s strengths, weaknesses and behaviors? And what happens when that still fresh couple are dropped into an uncertain and terrifying situation? Tom (Iain de Caestecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert) only met two weeks ago, but the two hit it off well enough that when he asks her to join him for a road trip to a music festival she accepts with only the slightest hesitation. The plan is to meet other friends and camp the night before the fest begins, but cheeky bastard Tom surprises her with a hotel reservation in the Irish countryside. As the hours wear on they find themselves driving in circles, befuddled by seemingly contradictory hotel signs and growing more tense by the minute. Soon irrational fears become concrete as they find themselves targeted by one or more menacing but briefly glimpsed strangers. When it comes to loyalty and trust, where does the line between uncertainty and liability start?

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Sundance 2013 News and Reviews

We’re exploring Sundance’s past all week, so we’ve got the usual batch of stellar short films with a Sundance twist. It’s like being there without the snow boots or Harvey Weinstein ruining screenings on his cell phone. Why Watch? Based (pretty loosely) on L. Frank Baum’s “The Tinwoodsman of Oz,” this fantastically clever short blends serial-style filmmaking with a metallic love story. In it, a bold firefighter earns the town’s ire while the preacher’s daughter falls for him. The citizens conspire to end him, but his friend is able to save his life by remaking him in tin. That’s just the start of our hero’s problems in this tale of miraculous intervention, Communism done for love and tongue-in-cheek melodrama. The director, Ray Tintori, made a name for himself with music videos for MGMT and The Killers as well as doing Special Effects for Beats of the Southern Wild. This short won an Honorable Mention at Sundance in 2007 with a DIY look and an electric feel. What will it cost? Only 12 minutes. Skip Work. Watch More Short Films.

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Sound City Movie

There are many legends that surround the music industry, but Sound City was an actual place that embodied a mythology. Located in Van Nuys, California (i.e. the Valley, i.e. this is when you groan), Sound City was an outdated dump that refused to let the digital revolution through its front doors, but bands continued to seek it out because of two reasons: the staff that welcomed you in like you were one of their own, and the Neve console. The beautiful board that lived at Sound City was custom ordered and gave the studio its signature sound – a perfect distribution that made even distortion sound good. But it was not that this board was magical or that the studio was designed to create this effect (it ironically was not designed at all, just lucked out on having such good acoustics), it was thanks to the “magic” of analog recording which provides a warmth that digital is not yet able to duplicate. Dave Grohl‘s documentary Sound City is certainly a story about the studio and all the artists that recorded there, but that story focuses truly on this board and the one-of-a-kind sound it was able deliver.

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Hand stamps

I should have known it was coming on Sunday, when a perfectly attractive young lady who was sitting next to me on a Sundance Film Festival shuttle loudly huffed to a pal sitting behind us, “I haven’t even kissed anyone in a year! I just need to make out with someone tonight. Anyone!” Her sentiments were matched by just about everyone else on Day 5 of the Sundance Film Festival, as I witnessed high school dance-style bump and grind dancing at a swank party at the Grey Goose Lounge, a drunk man on Main St. screaming at a cab driver that he knew that the cab driver won’t pick him because he wanted to have sex with him (surely, sir, it could have nothing to do with the fact that you’re drunk and screaming in the middle of Main St. at two in the morning), and another taxi passenger asking random strangers if they had hookers or blow. Everyone at Sundance has gone mad and sex-obsessed and insane. Me? I was just tired.

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