Sundance 2012

One of the reasons that I love going to the Sundance Film Festival is that amidst the sea of angst-ridden romances, dramas that explore feelings that have long-since been forgotten about, and documentaries, you’ll sometimes find a gem that will change the way you see movies. Beasts of the Southern Wild was that film for me this year. At face value, it’s a difficult film to fully explain. A society that lives off the grid from the mainland of a country ignores the warnings that their lives are in danger should the nearby levee break. They live in ignorant bliss, reveling in their lives and calling their home “The Bathtub” in a light-hearted mocking of the fact that a wall of water could come crashing down and destroy them all.

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We have brought you perspective on the Sundance Film Festival over the past week from critics to producers to the filmmakers themselves, but there is one person that almost everyone who comes to the festival knows (or at least has walked by before) – Franz the Bear. Franz has a prime seat on Main Street and has accumulated years of observations of the goings on that happen on the street that populates most of the party venues during the ‘Dance. I sat down with Franz one snowy night on my way home from a party of my own to find out what Sundance means to him (you know, as a bear.)

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From the film’s opening, it is clear that while LCD Soundsystem may be over, they certainly went out with one hell of a goodbye party. The decision to end the band was more than surprising to their fans and Shut Up and Play the Hits takes viewers behind-the-scenes of the moments leading up to, during, and after the band’s final show. The film takes its cue from the title and focuses on the music while directors Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace also lace in interviews and quiet moments with front man James Murphy off-stage. The film opens asking the question on everyone’s mind – why would a band, at the height of their career, decide to walk away from it all? During an interview with Chuck Klosterman, Murphy explains that he simply wants to lead a normal life and while he is not sure that is a good enough reason to quit, it’s the truth. Murphy sums his experience with LCD up by saying he just wanted to make a record that happened to lead to these different experiences and successes, but that was never his goal, he just wanted to make music that people could dance and have fun listening to. And whether he meant to our not, Murphy did just that, just on a much scale bigger than he could have imagined.

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My first memory from this morning is turning over to find Eric D. Snider mooning at me and asking me what my plan for the day is. Then I checked my email to find a link to this story from my pal, Moviefone’s Mike Ryan (who is becoming a frequent hero of these daily wrap-ups), regarding the true story behind Compliance. When we saw the film together yesterday, he grabbed my notebook halfway through the film to scribble “Nobody is this stupid!!!” He titled his email “okay, I was wrong.” Then I ate muffins in bed. It was the best morning at Sundance yet.

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The critics and movie fans who attend Sundance can take to the web, Twitter, Facebook and any other outlet to report on the various films shown during the festival (and what they think of them), but it is the distributors that come to this snowy mountaintop to decide which of those films will make it to you. Having gone to college in Los Angeles you are bound to spend those years alongside classmates who graduate and become a part of this crazy world of entertainment. Nick Donnermeyer is not only a fellow Loyola Marymount University graduate (and good friend), he is now a producer and distributor for Bleiberg Entertainment who have released such films as Adam Resurrected and Robotropolis. We turned to Nick to get the perspective of someone attending the festival to not only watch new movies, but potentially purchase and distribute them as well. Nick is returning to Park City this year to see what new titles Bleiberg may want to add to their release list while also taking in the unique experience that is Sundance and proves that no matter what your reason for attending the festival there is one thing that unites us all – a love of film.

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It is day four of the festival (although it feels like we’ve been here much longer) and I realized this morning as I sleepily boarded the shuttle that since I have only been going to P&I (press and industry i.e., you don’t need a hard ticket but you do need credentials) screenings, I have only been to the Holiday and none of the other venues. That will change tomorrow morning when I finally hit up Eccles (one of my favorite theaters here), but it was strange to realize I haven’t really been outside the Holiday, Yarrow, Sundance HQ radius the past few days. (This may also explain why things are starting to blend together for me.) Averaging about five hours of sleep a night (better than last year’s two!) and one real meal a day, I try to make that one meal count. Today I (along with almost every other critic and blogger here at the fest) hit up Flippin’ Burgers, which not only has amazing burgers, fries and shakes, but also free WiFi and plays a constant loop of terribly hilarious songs and yes, Enrique Iglesias’ “Baby I Like It” has been stuck in my head all afternoon. Hopefully this place sticks around for another year (although, rumor has it that it’s been around and we just now discovered it) so if you make it to Sundance next year, add it to your list of places to check out. Granted, you have to Frogger your way across the street […]

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A man places an ad in a local paper looking for a partner to go on a journey with him – but this particular man is not looking to make a love connection, he is in need of a companion to travel through time with him. He’s done it once before, but you’ll have to bring to your own weapons because, as he tells it, “safety not guaranteed.” From this seed of an idea, director Colin Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly have crafted Safety Not Guaranteed, a low-fi romance that benefits both from charismatic performances and the intriguing background that the time travel element provides. The film is loosely based on a true story – an ad did appear in a Seattle paper, exactly as it appears in the film, but Connolly and Trevorrow have taken their film in a different direction – stuff mentioned in the ad (payment, that it’s been done before) never comes up after its first read, and no one ever says anything else about it. Instead, the film focuses on a trio of intrepid reporters (really just one mild douchebags and two interns who don’t have a choice in the matter) who decide to craft a piece about the man who has placed the ad. A fluff piece, something silly. Of course, they find much more than they bargained for once their investigation commence.

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Sundance 2012: Under African Skies

I’ve listened to Paul Simon’s Graceland at least a thousand times (no exaggeration), so if you’re looking for an objective analysis of Under African Skies, Joe Berlinger’s documentary about that seminal work, you won’t find it here. Perhaps someone who doesn’t have virtually every lyric of every song on Simon’s masterpiece memorized, someone who doesn’t tear up just thinking of the “Mississippi Delta shining like a national guitar,” could do a better job of telling you what’s what when it comes to this movie.

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Sundance 2012: About Face

Director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ documentary About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now interviews various supermodels who ruled the runways and magazine covers over the past few decades to get an idea of what their lives were like then and what it means now (as they get older) to be beautiful. Many came up during a time when modeling was just becoming a possible career and as Pat Cleveland points out none of them realized they were living history because at the time, “they were just living.” Many of these women got into the world of modeling not just because it seemed glamorous and exciting, but because it was one of the few ways women could become independent. Working in a photo studio was certainly more interesting than being stuck in an office, but it also allowed these women to work with various artists from designers to photographers to make up artists and hair stylists and be creative.

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Sundance 2012: Teddy Bear

Based on the short film Dennis, Teddy Bear  further explores the story of Dennis (Kim Kold), a body builder who, despite a large frame that can make him seem intimidating, is actually quite shy and has trouble making conversation, especially with women. Teddy Bear opens with Dennis with an attractive young woman on a date that is not going very well. Dennis seems incredibly nervous and the conversation keeps stalling out. But Dennis, despite being thirty-eight, does not return home to life as a solitary bachelor, he is greeted by his mother (Elsebeth Steentoft) – who he still lives with.

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Carlos Gutiérrez (John McInerny) is an Elvis impersonator and while he does not completely look the part, the man sure can sing like the King (and goes so far as to ask everyone in his life to call him as such.) Carlos spends the majority of his time watching and listening to Elvis concerts, planning his upcoming shows and eating Elvis’ favorite food (banana and peanut butter sandwiches), giving way to the idea that singing like Elvis isn’t just something Carlos is good at, he may be obsessed with the man himself. This idea is further driven home when Carlos’ ex, Alejandra (Griselda Siciliani) expresses her concerns over his affect on their daughter (named Lisa Marie, naturally) and Alejandra announces she is going to try for sole custody. While Carlos seems sad over this revelation, he also doesn’t do much to stop it, seeming to have his mind on other things.

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We’ll make this brief, dear readers – today has been a strange day. Since that first day (the one where I showed up to the airport without my driver’s license which, PS, is still missing), things have been relatively drama-free. Sure, both sleep levels and real meal levels are low, but most everything else is on the up and up. Except for some movies. Oof.

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New York in the summer is intense enough with the heat and humidity that bears down on the city from June to August, but if you are a kid from an upper middle class Atlanta neighborhood suddenly dropped into the Brooklyn projects, summer gets a lot more than intense, and quick. Flick (Jules Brown) is sent to live with his incredibly religious grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters), who lives in Red Hook, a neighborhood plagued by poverty, gangs and colorful characters (including a well-known pizza delivery boy from another Spike Lee film). Flick is combative towards his grandfather from the start, clearly unhappy about being forced to spend his summer away from home. Bishop Enoch tries to get Flick involved with his church, convinced that if Flick lets Jesus into his life, he will be much happier. Flick resents being made to work during his vacation, but when he meets fellow church member Chazz (Toni Lysaith) his attitude towards helping out and attending Sunday sermons softens a bit.

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One of the many benefits to staying in a condo filled with fellow critics is getting up each morning (and making sure one another get up) and fighting over who gets to be “friends” with who as people match up their screening schedules for the day. Our motley crew headed out early yesterday morning armed with mini pumpkin muffins (thanks, Kate!) and hopes that we got enough sleep the night before to make it through the day. Thanks to the snow Park City was hit with Saturday, the shuttle system has been less than speedy, making jumping from venue to venue a bit of a headache. There are a few venues that are walking distance from one another, but as I learned today (with fellow colleague Rudie Obias) walking may have been the faster option, but it certainly wasn’t the drier one. (Snow is wet! I’m from California!) Either way, I made it to all my screenings and yes, my socks were soaked for most of the day, but luckily our condo has a washer and dryer in house (like I said – it’s the bloggerati condo of dreams) so it was worth it. Well…kind of.

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As we continue to roll out our mini-interview series with the movers and shakers of the Sundance Film Festival, it’s high time we got to know a real-life filmmaker. And not just any filmmaker, a Sundance filmmaker. Ooh! Meet the Internet’s Bobby Miller. His short film, TUB, world premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and has gone on to play SXSW, Cannes, and over thirty other film festivals around the world (and even the very website you’re reading). If you’ve never seen TUB, you should. If you have even a mild aversion to inanimate objects getting knocked up, um, well, still check out TUB! And forget I said anything! The first time I met Bobby was when we stayed together in a tiny (seriously tiny) house with about eight other people for SXSW 2010. Bobby – well, he slept in a crib for that whole week. No, literally, a crib. That’s how dedicated Bobby was to getting to SXSW to represent his film. I don’t know about you, but I like my filmmakers dedicated and I like Bobby a lot. Since TUB, Bobby has moved to Hollywood, had his own movie show (That Movie Show on MTV’s Next Movie, which I was lucky enough to guest star on once), and come back to Park City for the premiere of a new anthology film that features an all-new segment from Bobby and his girlfriend, Daron Nefcy. As a bonafide Sundance alumni, Bobby has some unique insights into Sundance-ing (and Slamdance-ing). As one of […]

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Wrong. The titles serves as both mission statement and admonishment, as Quentin Dupieux‘s latest project exists in a world where the irrational and irregular reign, where clocks tick over from :59 to :60, where the concept of “appropriate” behavior doesn’t seem to exist to anyone, where palm trees turn into pine trees overnight, where typical horror film clangs and bangs ring out at the most odd of moments (giving everything a strange sense of danger). But the world of Wrong is a more focused one than fans of Dupieux might be used to, and the film has more of a standard plot than Dupieux’s previous film (2010′s new classic Rubber), though it’s still unreservedly absurd. The film ostensibly follows Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick, ever-engaging and just plain game), a somewhat reserved young gentleman whose best friend is his dog, Paul. When Paul goes missing one morning, Dolph falls down the sort of cinematic K-hole that only Dupieux could create. Dolph’s already very strange world suddenly becomes populated with a lovestruck pizza girl (Alexis Dziena), an inept French-Mexican gardener (Eric Judor) who is incapable of explaining what happened to that wacky tree, and a private investigator (Steve Little) whose reasons for being terrible at his job might be less his fault than meet the eye.

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When Gene Robinson became a bishop of the Episcopal Church’s New Hampshire diocese in 2003, it was a watershed moment for organized religion, to be sure. Yet to merely deem the election of the first openly gay non-celibate priest in the history of major Christian denominations a “watershed” is to understate the rather extraordinary significance of a single act that overturned a millennia-old tradition of intolerance. Macky Alston’s documentary Love Free or Die is a film worthy of that momentous event. It follows the courageous Bishop Gene as he faces a wealth of hatred and distrust. He is excluded from the Anglican Church’s once-a-decade Lambeth Conference, and he faces death threats, cruel hecklers, and more while fighting for full-fledged equality in his church and a newfound understanding of the Bible’s most controversial elements.

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Rapper Ice-T looks into the origins of the rap game in his first film about the genre that made him a star. At the root of hip-hop are the impressive lyrics, crafted by master wordsmiths, that make up these songs and Ice-T gets to the bottom of what it takes to create these intricate rhymes. The title of the film suggests that rap came from nothing, but the truth is rap began when those without access to instruments turned to what they did have, the record player, and turned that into an instrument. Rap was a reinvention of this music, throwing rhymes and lyrics over the instrumentation rather than completely starting from nothing. As Grandmaster Caz states in the film, “Hip-hop didn’t invent anything, hip-hop reinvented everything” giving new life to these songs and bringing them to a new generation.

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The premise of That’s What She Said sounded like it could be funny enough, with a trio of seemingly oddball women coming together for a day of slightly mad-cap adventures throughout the streets of New York to get Bebe (Marcia DeBonis) ready for her big date that night. Things start out amusing enough with clearly neurotic Bebe constantly calling her probably still drunk from the night before best friend Dede (Anne Heche) to plan their day. Bebe is already primping at 7:30am while Dede (yes – these are their names) barely notices when she falls off her own bed making it clear that the two are polar opposites, but you get the sense that they have been friends long enough to know (and put up with) each other’s less than favorable traits. The day gets off to a bad start with Dede already in a bad mood (although it seems she is always this way) and Bebe having taken a very upset (and constantly crying) Clementine (Alia Shawkat) under her wing. Clementine has just gone through a breakup and is not shy about sharing every (every) intimate detail of her now defunct relationship. Dede is the picture of constant support and symphony while Bebe could care less, until a sudden near run-in with an ex of her own causes the idea of Clementine joining their group the least of Dede’s concerns.

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When it comes to family loyalty it is hard to turn your back on those you can’t help but love unconditionally, even if they disappoint you at every turn. Maria, aka Filly Brown (Gina Rodriguez), has become the matriarch of her house with a mother (Jennie Rivera) in jail who left behind not only, Filly but her younger sister Lupe (Chrissy Fit) and her father (Lou Diamond Phillips) as well. This responsibility has clearly left Filly with a tough exterior, but never bitter, as Rodriguez is able to seamlessly transition from a sharp-tongued fighter to a naïve young girl. It is clear from the onset (and comments from those in Filly’s life) that her mother is bad news, but as her daughter Filly can’t (or won’t) see that and when her mother asks for her help, Filly agrees without question. This promise becomes the catalyst that drives Filly through the rest of the film and effects the decisions that she makes to get the funds her mom seems to so desperately need.

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