Sundance

Going Clear

There’s nothing especially revelatory contained within Alex Gibney‘s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (or just “the Scientology doc,” if you’re feeling compelled to go clear in your own way) and viewers who have previously read the source material — Lawrence Wright‘s nonfiction book of the same name — won’t be shocked by what the documentary contains, but what Gibney offers instead is a clearly designed crash course in understanding the so-called “prison of belief” that entraps the organization’s devotees. Crisply cobbled together from interviews (many from former Scientology members, including exceedingly high-ranking figures), stock footage, fresh looks at the various Scientology centers, and personal information, the film is a faithful companion to Wright’s book that also stands on its own, mainly because it’s put together so well. Gibney has collected an impressive area of interview subjects for the feature, and their various levels of indoctrination and information neatly layer the material. The most recognizable talking head of all is filmmaker Paul Haggis, who infamously left the Church of Scientology in 2009, and has spoken out about his decision ever since. Haggis is an interesting case study, and his story works on an almost microcosmic level. Gibney’s feature opens with his subjects discussing how they first got into Scientology, and Haggis’ story is the most recognizable: he wanted things, he heard they made things happen, he joined them. The repercussions, of course, could not have been foreseen.

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Mistress America

What’s it like to be too smart for friends? Noah Baumbach‘s films have often addressed that question in one way or another — though Greenberg stands as perhaps the best example of such a query, both Kicking and Screaming and Margot At the Wedding wonder about it, too — but his most recent outing, the thoroughly charming Mistress America does so with a worthy, sweet leading lady (Lola Kirke) who comes to terms with her apparent unfriendability just as the audience also realizes what’s really keeping people at bay. The film is prime Baumbach, a funny and conversational outing about acerbic and intelligent people who are somehow deficient (although relatably so) in one way or another. Starring Kirke and Baumbach’s own muse (and now screenwriting partner) Greta Gerwig, Mistress America amusingly addresses big questions about relationships, passion, and goals with sly wit and an amiable touch of sweetness. It’s good, but it’s still only Baumbach’s second best film of the year (his While We’re Young will hit theaters on March 27, and goddamn is that film a winner) — and that’s a compliment.

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The End of the Tour

It begins with an ending. James Ponsoldt’s deeply felt The End of the Tour opens with a death – an expected one, at least to anyone familiar with the life of lauded author David Foster Wallace, the man at the center of the story, the man who has come to the end of another sort of tour as the opening credits tick by – as author David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) pounds away at a laptop, hard at work on something and oblivious to the thing that has just happened that will change all of the other things. Based on Lipsky’s memoir, Although Of Course You End Up Being Yourself and beautifully translated to the screen by screenwriter Donald Marguiles, The End of the Tour opens with Wallace’s death, announced to Lipsky in the most impersonal ways imaginable: with a phone call, and then a Google search. Twelve years earlier, Lipsky went out on the road with Wallace for a Rolling Stone article that would became his memoir. At the time, Lipsky was a writer with two books (a short story collection and a novel, both of which were critically lauded, neither of which sold particularly well) and a promising gig at the magazine under his belt. Despite his own modest accomplishments, Lipsky couldn’t help but feel inferior to the newly launched star power of David Foster Wallace, whose Infinite Jest riveted the literary world just as Lipsky’s latest all but whimpered through it. Lipsky’s admiration and fear of Wallace were not […]

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True Story

Late in Rupert Goold’s True Story, a character describes James Franco’s character, the convicted murderer Christian Longo, as being “very calm, very remote.” The same could be said of Goold’s debut feature film, which turns a cold, almost clinical eye on a deeply unsettling story of murder and betrayal. Franco and Jonah Hill star in the fact-based tale (did that title tip you off? it should have) as a pair of seemingly different men brought together by something a little bit like fate or luck, if you believe that fate has a sense of humor and luck is kind of a bitch. When the film opens, the pair is in disparate places, with Longo hiding out in Mexico, having fled Oregon after apparently murdering his wife and their three children in horrifying and heinous fashion, while Hill’s Michael Finkel is toiling away on a story about child slaves in Africa, the very same story that will eventually end his career (well, at least for a little bit). The twist of the tale, the kind of thing you couldn’t make up because no one would believe you, is that while laying low in Mexico, Longo used an alias: “Michael Finkel.” And not just any old Michael Finkel, specifically “Michael Finkel from The New York Times.” By the time Longo is caught and shipped back to America to stand trial for his crimes, Finkel has been through his own upheaval, having been booted from his gig at Gray Lady, only to retreat […]

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The Bronze

There’s a kernel of a good idea in Bryan Buckley‘s The Bronze – in fact, scratch that — there’s a whole bunch of kernels of various good ideas in the raunchy comedy, though most of them lay unpopped throughout the bloated, unflinchingly fucked up feature, like a giant bag of particularly bad movie theater popcorn. Buckley’s debut feature tries to tackle far too much for its own good, both in terms of basic narration and its a series of increasingly off-kilter tonal choices. A dark comedy about stunted adulthood and the diminishing returns of success, The Bronze shows promise, though it ultimately limps off the screen, much like its lead character. Melissa Rauch stars in the film (which she co-wrote alongside her husband, Winston Raunch) as former Olympian (bronze medalist, obviously) Hope Annabelle Greggory, the hometown pride of a teensy Ohio burg that doesn’t have much else going for it beyond that one time its best gymnast went to the Games and essentially committed a miracle. Seemingly inspired by real-life gymnast Kerri Strug (remember her?), the film opens with a plucky young Hope ripping her Achilles tendon during a routine, only to power through and deliver a stirring (and inspirational) uneven bars bit. She sticks the landing. The Bronze can’t even effectively complete its first act.

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Sundance 2015

If you’re attending the Sundance Film Festival (or just paying attention to excellent coverage of the festival, much like you would find right here at Film School Rejects, cough cough), you’re most likely looking for new projects, people, and productions to get excited about. Sundance may (somewhat bizarrely, when you really think about it) take place in the dead of winter in a tiny town mostly dedicated to ski tourism, but that early jump on the festival year allows the fest to set the tone for the rest of the year. This is the place you come to when you want to see something new, and this year looks poised to deliver that, in spades. Sundance has often played home to the breakout roles of big stars (hello, Jennifer Lawrence), and although finding the next big talent is mostly a guessing game, fingers-crossing adventure, we’ve got some idea as to who just might emerge from ten days at Park City a bonafide star. Take a look:

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Art by Derek Bacon

For anyone who has never attended, the Sundance Film Festival might live somewhere in the abstract realms of the yearly film calendar. In a calendar year, the average American moviegoer may only see 2-3 movies in a theater. Many of them might not be too concerned with a bunch of critics and bloggers who descend upon a ski town in Utah every January to consume 40+ movies in the span of 9 days, many of which will never make it to the local cineplex. If you’re not part of the film industry or don’t aspire to become part of the industry, why care about what movies are playing at Sundance? You should absolutely care. This list is out to prove that. Not because the most audacious blockbusters premiere at Sundance (they don’t) or because massive stars are all over Sundance (they usually reserve that for the red carpet at Cannes) or because all of the major Oscar bait will play there (that’s what the Toronto Film Festival is for). You should care because Sundance is where the careers of many of your favorite filmmakers were born. In going back over the 37 year history of the festival (which began as the Utah/US Film Festival in 1978), our editorial team couldn’t help but notice that so many great filmmakers have made their name in and around Park City, Utah. Many of them have made our list, which counts down the best that Sundance has delivered in its long and illustrious run […]

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Don’t get caught out in the cold without the proper boots.

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Sundance 2015

There’s nothing quite like the announcement of a fresh batch of Sundance Film Festival titles to help us shake off our awards season malaise and get pumped about a whole new year of film-going. As ever, the fest has done just that — delivering a massive chunk of its slate straight to the internet and our respective inboxes. The festival may not kick off until next month, but we already know some of the films we’re going to see up in snowy, wheeze-inducing (the air! it is so thin!) Park City, including the competition titles for both U.S. and World narrative features and documentaries. The festival threw in their NEXT titles (their more artsy and forward-thinking section, can ya dig) for good measure, ensuring that there is pretty much something for everyone here. And that’s not even all! Sundance is not yet done announcing films, and we can expect to hear more section announcements today and into next week (a little bird told us that Thursday and Monday are the big announcement days, so sit tight). But based entirely on the fest’s first batch of announcements, including all of its competition titles, let’s examine just how strong this lineup is (well, so far).

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I'm a Mitzvah Short Film

Why Watch? Opening with a great sense of dark comedy, this short film from Ben Berman carries that wry sensibility on its shoulder even during the mournful moments. I’m a Mitzvah is a road trip for one — all the frustration of trying to get home from an unfamiliar place is on tap with the added bonus of a dead body in tow. The story focuses on a young man (Ben Schwartz) who is chaperoning his friend’s dead body from Mexico back the U.S. when there’s a flight cancellation. So how many things are there to do in Mexico when you’re dead? There’s a lot to love here, particularly the desert-dry comedy in which one man beyond the sight of other friends and relatives deals with what remains of his friend. But beyond an Overnight At Bernie’s, the short casually plays out like almost any travelogue might — instead of two friends dealing with their issues and joys, one of them is silent and undefined. Fortunately, Berman and his team have found a lot of small, hilarious (terribly, terribly sad) moments in the midnight hours.

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Meryl Streep

Some people have a routine of eating two eggs for breakfast, reading the news and brushing their teeth before heading to work; Meryl Streep has a routine of getting Oscar nominations. She’s earned her 18th with August: Osage County, and to celebrate her cultural dominance we’ll speak with Karina Longworth, author of “Meryl Streep: Anatomy of an Actor,” about Streep’s rich career arc. Plus, Geoff will answer three of your screenwriting questions, we’ll finally reveal who won the Prestige-Off and Rob Hunter will give us the movies from Sundance you need to look out for. You should follow Rob (@fakerobhunter), Karina (@karinalongworth), the show (@brokenprojector), Geoff (@drgmlatulippe) and Scott (@scottmbeggs) on Twitter for more on a daily basis. And, as always, if you like the show (or hate it with seething fervor), please help us out with a review. Download Episode #47 Directly Or subscribe Through iTunes

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The One I Love

Speaking yesterday from his second home at Sundance, Mark Duplass was direct about the catalyst for his success: “Getting yourself into theaters is great. Getting a big VOD pop is great, but my first movie made a grand total of $220,000 in theaters but about 5 million people have seen it on Netflix because they can click on it and they can try it out. And so I really recommend to get your get goddamn movie on Netflix. It made my career.” It’s difficult to see the flaw in Duplass’ logic here, especially since most indie filmmakers would be thrilled to see any kind of distribution online, let alone on a platform that commands 34 million members. However, it could be a boon to the network itself, and Netflix would be wise to piggyback on the comments to tell indie filmmakers, “Get your goddamn movie on us.” Except more eloquently. Maybe less creepy.

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While the Sundance Film Festival has not necessarily buried the logline of Todd Miller’s documentary, Dinosaur 13, early versions of the festival’s film guide promised to deliver the true story of one of the greatest discoveries in human history – the 1990 unearthing of a the world’s largest and most complete T. rex skeleton in an unassuming South Dakota bluff. Despite a more full synopsis of the film now floating around, it’s best to approach Miller’s film with the minimum of previous knowledge. Depending on your age and interest in dino bones, pieces of the story will likely ring a bell, but Miller’s film chronicles a shocking, unnerving, and often very surprising story. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that one of the film’s many talking heads briefly mentions that what sounds like a rousing story about discovery and human interest has “a bad ending,” hinting early on that Dinosaur 13 has a very different story to tell – and it does, it’s just unfortunate that it’s buried underneath whole piles of cinematic refuse.

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laggies

There’s no science when it comes to picking the big winners at a film festival before the first film strip unfurls (or someone hits play on a digital file, as is most often the case these days), no proven method to the madness, no guaranteed formula to finding the best of the best. It’s a gamble every single time, and that’s precisely where much of the joy in attending a film festival comes from. That discovery, maddening as it may seem. This year’s Sundance Film Festival is predictably stuffed with all manner of films and talents – from the star-studded to the utterly up-and-coming – and while it’s certainly easy to pick out pictures that “sound” like they might be good or at least feature “bankable” talent, there are always a few sleepers that sneak in and captivate an unsuspecting audience. That all said, we here at Film School Rejects have attempted to apply our expertise and our personal interests to this year’s festival in order to pick out a handful of films that just might be the best of the fest, but that are at least guaranteed to send us running into a theater to see them once the festival kicks up. It’s time for Sundance! And it’s time for films! It’s even time for anticipation! And now it’s time for some anticipated Sundance films!

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Filmmaker Richard Linklater’s relationship with the Sundance Film Festival has so far proven to be a very fruitful one – Linklater memorably premiered both his Before Sunrise and Before Midnight at the festival (Before Sunset, the middle film in the current trilogy, bowed at Berlin), his Slacker won the Grand Jury Prize at the festival back in 1991, and the festival even honored the film with a special anniversary screening back in 2010 (similarly, this year’s “From the Collection” screening will honor the twentieth anniversary of Hoop Dreams) – so it’s not surprising that the festival will be the one to debut one of Linklater’s most talked about features. It is, however, (pleasantly, to be sure) surprising that it will be his long-promised (and long-filmed) Boyhood. Honestly, we sort of didn’t think it was real.

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Sundance

There’s no shortage of film-related projects stumping for cash on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, but come winter, there’s always a special smattering of films looking for fundage on the site, and for one simple reason – they’ve been accepted into the Sundance Film Festival and they need financial assistance to facilitate that dream. It certainly sounds strange to those who associate Sundance with recognizable stars and gifting suites, but for all the “Hollywood Goes to the Snow” coverage and buzz the festival pulls in, there are still a bevy of struggling filmmakers who genuinely need help to get to Park City to see their film screen. In an ideal situation, crowdfunding exists to help creative minds craft works that they could not afford on their own (or, as is the case with many projects, work that they pointedly do not want to be privately funded by a big studio, business, or bank) thanks to the support of interested consumers (are you likely to donate to a stranger’s project if you don’t want to somehow enjoy it yourself?). Sundance, for all its glitz and glamour and big parties and big names, still ostensibly exists to serve the independent film community. As such, this year’s festival boasts a number of buzzed-about selections that turned (and, in some cases, are still turning) to the good-hearted people of the Internet to gather some scratch. So just who is that going to pay off for?

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Sundance

Every film festival has its own identity, tastes, and most favored talents and – you know what? – the Sundance Film Festival is no different. The Park City, Utah-set film festival kicks off every January in high style (read: lots of flannel), the kind that includes lots of recognizable stars, brand new talents, and more than a handful of films that sound almost perfectly “Sundance-y.” While the overarching themes of each Sundance tend to make themselves crystal clear during the festival itself (we still fondly remember 2011, the year of the cults), we can at least mine each film’s official synopsis for some clues as to what we can expect to experience come 2014. Here’s a safe bet – as always, there will be plenty of “unlikely friendships.” With yesterday’s announcement of the Premiere and Documentary Premiere titles, we’re just about done finding out what we can expect to find in Park City’s various theater come next month (we say “just about,” because there are always a few titles that trickle in over the coming weeks). These glitzy picks join the already-announced in-competition titles (dramatic and doc, U.S. and world), along with Spotlight, Park City at Midnight, Sundance Kids, and Next picks, proving that sometimes a section title is just that, because damn if we can’t already draw some connections in this admirably deep selection.

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Sundance

It happens every year. Smack in the middle of the seemingly never-ending time period of “consideration” and loud arguments known as awards season, the Sundance Film Festival announces their selections for their upcoming spectacle. Such announcements could not come at a better time, really, as they stand to remind us of all the fresh films awaiting our eyes in mere weeks. (It’s okay, we only have to think about the same ten or so awards contenders for another four months, really.) For the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, the fest’s programmers selected 118 feature-length films (from 37 countries and 54 first-time filmmakers) from a boggling 12,218 submissions. In short – there’s a lot of fresh stuff to look forward to here, and we’re just starting to give it the attention it deserves. Despite the depth of field to dive into here (including Dramatic titles in competition, the NEXT category, and the newly launched Sundance Kids section), the festival is not quite done announcing selections – picks from its Premieres and Documentary Premieres will be announced later – but as those are typically the films we already have awareness of far in advance (if your Sundance film has a bunch of star power beside it, you’ll probably bow in the Premiere section), they’ve got enough buzz behind them already. We’re already looking for the unexpected gems, and here’s hoping one of these picks pans out come January.

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king

Any filmmaker who gets their film into Sundance probably has their hopes considerably elevated for their future. By all means, that’s understandable. You get into the festival that help launched some terrific filmmakers, so it’s only natural to dream of the career Steven Soderbergh built for himself. Nobody can fault a dreamer, but speaking with the writer/director behind one of this year’s Sundance favorites, Newlyweeds, it’s clear that Shaka King doesn’t expect millions to start flowing into his bank account at the drop of a festival hit. King discussed that indie filmmaker reality with us for the theatrical release of his dramedy, which follows two potheads and their rocky relationship. It’s definitely a must-see this month, and King is a talent to keep close tabs on. Here’s what the young filmmaker had to say about his debut.

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Keri Russell became a pop cultural fixture in 1998, when she starred as the title character on Felicity, perhaps one of TV’s finest coming-of-age dramas. So much the pop cultural fixture, there was an uproar heard round the world when she got a simple haircut. Though Felicity ended in 2002, and since then, Russell has continued to produce meaningful acting work. 2013 alone is a huge year for her, as she is starring as an undercover KGB operative in the critically revered FX drama The Americans, starred in Jerusha Hess‘ directorial debut Austenland, which just premiered at Sundance, and is starring in Dark Skies, an alien invasion thriller that opens this Friday in theaters. In Dark Skies, directed by Scott Stuart, Russell plays Lacey Barrett, a woman who faces absolute hell as her family is targeted by aliens who control the forces of nature, including three separate flocks of birds that mysteriously fly into their home. Lacey and her husband Daniel (Josh Hamilton) fight with everything they have to protect their two children against the aliens, but are instead thought to be the abusive parties by their narrow-minded suburban community. Russell was kind enough to make time for an interview, and had a lot to say about Dark Skies, her interestingly unsympathetic character on The Americans, the delights of Sundance, and the final episodes of Felicity.

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published: 01.27.2015
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published: 01.27.2015
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published: 01.27.2015
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published: 01.27.2015
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