Sundance 2012

Editor’s note: With Indie Game: The Movie opening up in Los Angeles today as it begins its theatrical run, we thought it only appropriate to re-run this Sundance review, originally posted on January 20. They say to truly be happy you should “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” but what does it mean to take something you love doing and try and make it your career? Or at least something you dedicate the majority of your time to? Those who are writers or make films or music usually get into it because they love reading/writing, movies and music, but there is a caveat to this idea that people do not always realize. Even if you are “pursuing your dreams,” at the end of the day, work is work. It may be more exciting and different than your average 9-5 cubicle life, it is still a job with deadlines, pressure, and stress. Indie Game: The Movie follows three sets of video game creators (Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, creators of Super Meat Boy; Phil Fish, creator of FEZ; and Jonathan Blow, creator of Braid) each at different points in their careers (and the games they are working on) to show not only the process of being an independent game creator, but what happens when you pour yourself into something that you eventually have to leave up to other people to determine its success. None of these creators are in it for the money (although there is certainly money to […]

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Spend enough time on the festival circuit and certain films just keep coming back around – but fortunately, they’re usually good ones we’re happy to see again. As the first big film festival of the year, Sundance often features some of the best independent films that people like us Rejects will be jawing about for months to come. SXSW offers the chance for cinephiles to catch a bevy of films that other people have been carrying on about for weeks and weeks, thanks to both their regular programming and their ever-clever Festival Favorites section, which is packed with (you can probably guess) films that have played recently at other festivals that the SXSW crowd will eat right up. After the break, get reacquainted with ten films we saw, reviewed, and (in some cases) loved back in January in snowy Park City, Utah. All ten are playing at this month’s (let’s be real, this week’s) SXSW Film Festival in Austin, our very own hometown film fest. Luckily enough, some of our favorite Sundance films pop on this list, including one I enjoyed so much that I am going to see it again in Austin.

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You may have heard the song “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang (“I said a hip hop, a hippie, a hippie to the hip hop”), but what you might not know is this song helped hip hop break into the mainstream and helped a genre that, up until that point had been brushed off as a fad, start to take root in our musical history. Even though the group was changing the face (and sound) of the music industry, The Sugarhill Gang found themselves on top of the charts with barely a dime to their name. While this is not the first time we have heard stories of talent swindled by shady and greedy record executives, the story of the Sugarhill Gang is not just about losing money, it is about having their name and the true identity of the band member’s themselves stolen from them.

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As mentioned in my interview with Franz the Bear, this year’s Sundance Film Festival not only featured films, documentaries, shorts, and memorable performances from established talent (John Hawkes) to breakout stars (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), it also brought an interactive element to Park City, UT. Bear 71 explored the line between technology and nature by looking to not only show people a documentary, but actually bring them into the experience. This was achieved through an interactive installation at the New Frontier that ran during the festival and not only utilized film and pictures, but also combined the use of webcams and social media to bring viewers into the world of Bear 71. Bridging that gap between the standard practice of being told and shown something through a film, Bear 71 allowed viewers to actually go into the experience. Rather than just watching a documentary about a female grizzly bear (Bear 71) in her natural environment, the installation took things a step further and truly showed viewers how we coexist with wildlife in this day and age as our continued advances in technology actually allow us to distance ourselves from it. For those unable to check it out at Sundance, you can now get a virtual walk-through of the installation and what it was like by checking out the new video after the break.

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If you’re the sort of person who loves conspiracy theories, hidden meanings, codes, ciphers, clues, and other mysteries that bear unraveling, then Room 237 is right up your alley. Director Rodney Ascher has put together a fascinating movie that will most likely change the way you watch Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining forever, or will at least make you search out some of the things that are discussed in this documentary. Ascher, the director of the hilarious (and creepy) short from The S From Hell about the Screen Gems logo that was shown at Sundance 2010, is behind this clever documentary that mostly uses footage from Stanley Kubrick’s films (including The Shining, of course) to tell the stories of several different interview subjects: who each have a different view of the secret meanings of The Shining.

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Here’s all you really need to know – after last night’s Closing Night Party, also known as Nerd Prom, your intrepid Lady Rejects caught three hours of sleep before we had to be up, about, and on a shuttle to the Salt Lake City airport. Ugly? You can’t even imagine how ugly. But, somehow, we made it, despite chatty shuttle drivers, breakfast sandwiches from Quizno’s, yet another tiny plane, and Allison eventually resting her body on the floor of the American Airliness terminal at LAX.

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It is hard enough to be a single father, but when you are trying to juggle those responsibilities along with pursuing your dream of being an actor, things are made all the more complicated. The End of Love opens with Mark (Mark Webber) and his son, Isaac (played by Webber’s real-life son), waking up. The camera focuses in on Isaac and sets up the focus of the film on the little boy in the first few frames. As Mark and Isaac start their day, the absence of a mother (or a partner) in Mark’s life becomes clear, with Mark having to take Isaac with him on a big audition. While the casting director seems understanding about Isaac’s presence in the room, the actress Mark is reading against, Amanda Seyfried (playing herself), seems less than pleased and it quickly becomes clear that Mark’s dreams of becoming an actor may be over. Losing roles no longer just means Mark may not get a good part, it means he is losing money to support himself and Isaac. Although Mark lives with two roommates (who seem more than understanding about living with a two-year-old), he is not pulling his weight in rent, which sends Mark asking one of his friends (yet another “cameo” by Jason Ritter) for help.

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Documentary director Lauren Greenfield (Thin) returned to Sundance with another fascinating slice of American life – the winner of this year’s U.S. Directing Award for Documentary features, The Queen of Versailles is an unexpectedly amusing tale of delusion and disgusting wealth, toplined by a couple of American originals who prove to be wackily riveting. The film chronicles Jackie and David Siegel, incredibly wealthy Floridians best known for their attempt to build the United States’ largest single family residence, one they modeled after equal parts the Palace of Versailles and the top three floors of the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. There is perhaps no other sentence that could so accurately describe what kind of people the Siegels are.

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While a new adaptation of Emily Bronte‘s class English novel might seem to be wholly unnecessary (the book has been adapted in various ways at least thirty times), writer and director Andrea Arnold‘s gorgeous take on Wuthering Heights more than does justice to the look and feel of Bronte’s work, lending a weight and power to the story that should captivate more than just fans of the novel. Centered on the tragic story of Cathy Earnshaw and the orphan Heathcliff, the film is a stunning mediation on love, loss, memory, and pain. An orphan abandoned on the street, Heathcliff is brought as a child to the wild English moor estate known as Wuthering Heights by Cathy’s father, Mr. Earnshaw, a hardcore Christian who is convinced that it’s the right thing to do. But Earnshaw’s beliefs are not rooted in a sense of charity, but as an attempt to secure salvation, which is why the Earnshaws at large treat Heathcliff so poorly. Over time, the nearly-feral Cathy and Heathcliff develop a passion for each other that is all-consuming, though it only serves to make their already physically demanding lives that much harder emotionally.

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It’s often said that believing you will spend forever with the person you fall in love with in high school is a naïve notion and, while the opening montage of Celeste and Jesse Forever seems to prove that the opposite is true, once the film begins we realize that our leads, Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Andy Samberg), are actually separated and looking to get a divorce. The strange thing is, they still spend every second together and are only “separated” by their back yard, with Jesse now living in his studio out back rather than in the main house with Celeste. It is clear from the start that Celeste and Jesse are more than just a couple, they are each other’s best friends, complete with inside jokes and hand signals clearly established over years and years of knowing one another. There is a level of comfort and familiarity between the two that neither seems ready to let go of, which frames the central conflict of both their relationship and the film. Over dinner one night, two of their friends, Tucker (Eric Christian Olsen) and his fiancé (Ari Graynor), call them out on the odd state of their relationship stating that they either need to end things for good or get back together. Neither Celeste or Jesse think their behavior is strange, but the fact that they still say, “I love you,” to each other and can’t seem start their days until acknowledging one another seems to support their friends’ […]

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As Kate said in her wrap up from yesterday, the closer you get to the end of a festival, the more likely you ending up hitting that wall where it seems like you just cannot do anything more. But you do, because it’s Sundance, and yes you’re exhausted, but you’re also almost done. The last day of the festival is also always the most bittersweet since you say goodbye to friends and colleagues you sometimes get to see but once a year while at the same time the promise of your own (warm) bed, sleep and three real meals a day is so close you can almost taste it. Luckily my first (and last) screening of the day wasn’t until noon so I was able to sleep in a bit and eat a real meal (i.e. a delicious breakfast sandwich and a carafe of coffee) before heading to the Eccels theater, one of the biggest venues at the festival, for 2 Days In New York, making my final screening feel as epic as the end of the festival itself.

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Last year’s Sundance Film Festival saw an uptick in films regarding, weirdly enough, cults and cult-like sensibilities. This year’s theme has turned to an appropriate cousin to the dangers of indoctrination – the crumbling of the American dream. Characters that bought into what they thought they could (and should) get out of life have faced copious crises throughout the festival’s films, and Todd Louiso‘s lovely Hello I Must Be Going distills those big ideas and issues down to focus on just one victim of the American nightmare. Perpetual supporting standout Melanie Lynskey leads the film as directionless thirtysomething Amy Minsky. Amy’s happy (in her eyes) marriage to David (Dan Futterman) has recently ended, and she’s left with one place to go – back to her parents’ home in chi-chi suburban Connecticut. Without a job, a finished degree, friends, or most of her belongings, Amy is forced to acclimate to Ruth (Blythe Danner) and Stan (John Rubinstein) as they embark on the next step of their lives. In Louiso and screenwriter Sarah Koskoff‘s spin on a “one last job” film, Stan has one more big fish client to land before retiring – an engagement that could be ruined when Amy takes up with the client’s stepson, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott), who just happens to be only nineteen-years-old.

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It is the last day of the Sundance Film Festival, so let’s send out our interview series not with a bear or a returning critic, but with a Sundance newbie. By now, critic William Goss has acclimated almost entirely to the festival, so let’s have some serious fun looking back at what he was looking forward to at the start of the fest. Critic for a bevy of outlets, currently including MSN Movies, Film.com, and The Playlist, Goss knows his festivals and his movies. A Floridian who recently moved to Austin, most of his festival experiences have been in temperate climes. That is, of course, until the ‘dance.

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No matter how much fun a festival is, there inevitably comes a time when a festival-goer reaches a wall, a point where exhaustion and stress and bad food and frustrations all settle in and refuse to budge. I met my wall this morning, my alarm blaring away at 7:15AM as I lay slack-jawed and stunned in bed. Morning. More. More things. I did the only thing I could do. I got up.

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Collette McVeigh seems to be a fairly normal little girl, creating beaded necklaces and bribing her younger brother into running a quick errand for their father that she does not want to do herself. Unfortunately, this errand ends in tragedy, with her brother getting shot and killed. As her mother weeps over his body and her father fixes in on her with a look that could kill, Collette stands frozen, devastated. Shadow Dancer focuses on the life of a now grown-up Collette (Andrea Riseborough) who has a son of her own and is tied up in the “family business” (the IRA), rooted in taking down the English government which cost their brother his life.

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Sundance 2012: Nobody Walks

The notion that nobody walks places in Los Angeles is one of the biggest L.A. clichés, right up there with the belief that Southern California is populated by beautiful sunglasses-wearing people who spend most of their time doing cocaine when they’re not driving around in their convertibles, loudly yammering about the biz. Still, based on my limited experience there (and City of Angels dwellers, feel free to correct me), the aversion to walking is actually kind of true. At the very least, the idea provides an interesting way into the cross-coastal, gender-driven culture clash at the center of Nobody Walks, a film from New Yorkers Ry Russo-Young (director and co-writer) and Lena Dunham (co-writer), about a New York filmmaker named Martine (Olivia Thirlby) who arrives in L.A. to work on a movie with married sound designer Peter (John Krasinski) and to stay with his family at their home in Silver Lake, in part because she doesn’t drive.

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Sundance 2012: I

Brook (Dominic Bogart) is not a hipster – he may wear deep V-neck t-shirts, plaid and have an overwhelmingly self-deprecating attitude, but a hipster he is not (or so the title of this film claims.) Brook is an aspiring musician and while he is having a good amount of success on the San Diego indie music scene, he seems bitter and angry. Brook hates compliments and recognition, which is slightly ironic considering his best friend, Clarke (Alvaro Orlando), is his biggest fan (a fact he announces daily.) While doing a local radio interview Brook seems incredibly disinterested, almost laughing at himself for even being there, but this feeling quickly devolves into combative when the host (Brad William Henke) asks him about his mother (who passed away two years earlier.) Brook flips out and leaves the studio and it is in this moment that we begin to realize what may be the real root of Brook’s behavior.

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After throwing our annual bloggerati condo party (mainly so we can all watch MacGruber together) last night, my day got switched around a bit so I could get some much needed sleep (Festival Lesson #45: There is no point in getting up early for a screening you will end up just sleeping through) making my first screening of the day, Shadow Dancer. After helping clean up the condo a bit (the place still smells like beer, but we went through about three cases of the stuff last night so what can you do?) Eric D. Snider, William Goss, and I headed out to the screening in Snider’s car, which is truly a luxury when it means you don’t have to run for a shuttle. While I thought Shadow Dancer was a decent enough film, it was just that – decent. Clive Owen and Andrea Riseborough turned in good performances under sharp direction from James Marsh, but it left me lukewarm.

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Multi-hyphenate Katie Aselton returns to Sundance with her second film, a much different outing than her gorgeous and melancholy 2010 entry, The Freebie. This time around, Aselton has ceded writing duties to her husband, Mark Duplass, and the pair have made what will likely be referred to as “Deliverance for girls” for many years to come. But Black Rock is a twisty little horror outing that perhaps shares more with The Freebie than might be obvious from first blush. Both films hinge on interpersonal relationships, the confusion of behavioral signals and perceptions, and mistakes that have far-reaching consequences. Yet, Black Rock is most certainly a thriller and a genre picture, and its wooded island setting, thumping soundtrack (with remarkably sage picks from The Kills), and grim plotline only serve to show how well Aselton can cross genres with style.

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Midnight movies at Sundance can be fun, often offering up bizarre and strange experiences. In the past that has included movies like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (loved it) and Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (wasn’t so fond of it). The real thing to take away is from this section is that you never know what you’re going to get, just like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. With Grabbers, a UK film set in Ireland, you’re getting something very enjoyable, which will hopefully get picked up and distributed somewhere, even if it’s the Syfy channel or BBC America. I’d even love to see the Alamo Drafthouse pick up this movie with their distribution arm and turn it into a midnight event film. Why? Because the premise involves Irishmen fighting monsters while drunk. If there was ever a perfect movie for a theater connected to a bar, this is it.

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published: 12.23.2014
B+
published: 12.22.2014
C-
published: 12.19.2014
A-


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