Sundance

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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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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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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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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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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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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? In 2002, Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader) screened her short film about an aging lesbian couple on their way to a bridge game and earned an honorable mention at Sundance. It’s easy to see why. With an acerbic, hilarious performance from Jeanette Miller as an elderly nag and a bizarre catalyst that spells doom for more than just the couple, it’s a kind of shock to the system that feels like Erma Bombeck by way of Chuck Palahniuk. And, yes, it’s about the JELLO. What will it cost? Only 7 minutes. Skip Work. Watch More Short Films.

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You Don

Plane tickets to Park City aren’t too terribly expensive, but with the added cost of puffy winter jackets and hangover cures, Sundance can be a bit out of reach for most of us. I mean, that’s why I’m not there right now, and charcoal doesn’t really prevent a post-drinking headache anyway. Fortunately, we’re covering the festival from top to bottom (at least other FSR writers are), and there are websites like Focus Forward Films which has added a few Sundance titles to its roster of movies so you can watch them from home. As of an hour ago, they’re hosting Morgan Spurlock’s You Don’t Know Jack, Albert Maysles’ The Secret of Trees – which are both in the fest’s short film competition — as well as The Cleanest Pig, Techistan, and The Contenders – which are all getting a special premiere screening at the Holiday Village Cinema today. For more information on the films, check after the jump:

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It Felt Like Love

When you are young, summer is supposed to be a fun, laid back time where there are no classes to get up for and no homework to complete, but it can also teeter on boring with long days that can drag when there is little to do. Lila (Gina Piersanti), who we meet staring out at the expanse of the ocean, is spending the summer at the beach with her friend Chiara (Giovanna Salimeni), and Chiara’s boyfriend Patrick (Jesse Cordasco), making Lila the de facto third wheel. At first it seems like Lila does not mind and prefers to simply observe her friend, never giving the impression she is jealous when she is often left sitting on the beach alone while Chiara and Patrick play in the surf. But that all changes when Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) walks by and her focus shifts.

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Escape from Tomorrow

The Disney theme parks are dubbed the “happiest place on earth” for a reason – they bring to life the fantasy of Disney’s movies and the fairy tale characters that populate them. While the parks are clearly geared towards children, they also give adults the chance to “be a kid again” and get lost in the fantasy themselves. Jim (Roy Abramsohn) has taken his wife Emily (Elena Schuber), daughter Sarah (Katelynn Rodriguez), and son Elliot (Jack Dalton) on a family vacation to Disney World, but on the last day of this seemingly idyllic trip, Jim gets a disappointing call from his boss (which he decides to keep secret from his family) and it seems to send him into a bit of a tailspin as the day wears on.

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People will hate Drake Doremus’s Breathe In. They will walk out of the theater and be sad and confused and maybe even (probably, really, more than anything) angry. They will hate it because they will hate the characters that exist inside of the film, and they will hate it because they make them mad, and they will hate it because it is not Like Crazy 2. And that’s okay, because while Breathe In will elicit all these emotions (and, quite likely, more), it is an immensely accomplished and measured film, an assured follow-up to Doremus’s other Sundance hit, 2011’s Like Crazy, and even more assured because it is not like Like Crazy, not at all, and that is something to marvel at. While Doremus and his co-screenwriter, Ben York Jones, turned their eyes on a couple that should be together in Like Crazy, when it comes to Breathe In, they go in the complete opposite direction, to a couple that should, by no means, be together. And while we all know that as every minute of Breathe In steadily ticks by, they don’t know that (or, at least, they refuse to believe that), and the result is car crash cinema done right. You can’t look away. But you can’t cheer for it in the slightest.

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History of the Eagles, Part One starts off with backstage footage of the band before a concert in 1977 as they warm up in perfect harmony, reminding you from the forefront there is a reason this band was as successful as it was, for as long as it was — this group had a distinct and catchy sound. On the heels of one of the Eagles’ founders, Glenn Frey, stating, “We made it, and it ate us,” the film flashes forward to present day as key members of the band, in all its different incarnations, reminisce on their time as members of the Eagles. The origin story of the Eagles is not unlike most band origin stories, with Frey and fellow founding member Don Henley each getting into music with the hopes that it would get them girls (particularly after watching girls’ reactions to The Beatles). With Frey hailing from Detroit and Henley from Texas, the two eventually made their separate ways out to Los Angeles and became part of Linda Rondstadt‘s backing band. The experience of performing every night had Rondstadt’s people hoping to make a “super band” to back their singer, but Frey and Henley had a different idea and decided to start their own band instead, forming what would eventually become the Eagles.

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sundance survival kit

Whenever Sundance begins again and I prepare to head back to Park City, one word comes to my mind: early. Because every time I have headed off to the snowy mountains that surround this festival, I find myself — and I know many others do as well — setting my alarm for the wee hours to get up, get to the airport, and get to the festival with hopes of making the most of those precious few hours left in the day by the time I arrive. This is especially true for me, as I usually get in on the official third day of the festival and screenings are well under way. But the second I’m here, that early wake up call is a distant memory and it feels like I’m back in a home away from home (granted this home is a bit colder and I have to be even more careful not to slip and fall while walking), getting back into the festival swing of things.

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