Sundance Film Festival

Editor’s note: With Your Sister’s Sister beginning its limited roll-out this week, we thought it best to re-run Robert Levin’s sterling Sundance review of the film, already a Reject favorite. This review was originally published on January 28, 2012. Your Sister’s Sister is perhaps the most high-concept movie I saw at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but it’s also one of the funniest and most heartfelt. Sometimes, a precise, discernible pitch really does have potential. And after this film and Humpday (in which two straight male friends decide to make an amateur porn film together), writer-director Lynn Shelton is fast establishing herself as one of the independent film world’s masters of such fare. Her new picture parallels pensive shots of the pristine, misty splendor of the Pacific Northwest with the story of three lonely, likable locals who are searching for happiness. Mark Duplass stars as the directionless Jack, struggling to cope with the recent death of his brother. Emily Blunt plays Jack’s best friend Iris, who is also his brother’s former girlfriend. To clear his head, she offers him the run of her family’s vacation home on a picturesque island off the Washington coast. Iris’s half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already there, though, looking to escape a trauma of her own: the end of a seven-year relationship. A drunken night with Jack leads to hilariously awkward sex and, eventually, serious consequences when Iris unexpectedly shows up the next day.

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Multi-hyphenate Josh Radnor has had a real nice time at the Sundance Film Festival. His debut film, happythankyoumoreplease, premiered at the festival in 2010, and he just brought his second feature, Liberal Arts, to Park City this past January. Both films star Radnor as a shiftless twentysomething who is, for a variety of reasons, unhappy with his current lot in life. But whereas happythankyoumoreplease tended to feel too twee, too naval-gazey, too unformed, Liberal Arts showed a tremendous progression in Radnor’s talents and execution. And now you can see it, too! IFC will release the film just in time for back to school on September 14 of this year. The film also stars Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, and Zac Efron, and should be the perfect way to ease back into fall drudgery after the fireworks of the summer season.

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There is no question that Benh Zeitlin‘s Beasts of the Southern Wild was the darling of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Before Team Rejects even hit the ground in Park City, the word was out on the film – this was the film to see this year, an absolute can’t-miss. Our own Kevin Kelly crowned it a Sundance stand-out and “utterly amazing” in his review (read it HERE). The film capitalized on all that good buzz with sold out screenings, the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize from the festival, and a swift pick-up from Fox Searchlight. But just when would the studio release this complicated and potentially hard to market independent film? Turns out, soon – very soon. Box Office Mojo reports that the film will have a limited release on June 29 of this year, a date that will pit it next to Take This Waltz, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Magic Mike. So, pretty perfect dating on that one. The film follows young Hushpuppy (the staggeringly talented young Quvenzhané Wallis) and her life in “the Bathtub,” an fictionalized outsider community on the edges of New Orleans. Beyond that, it’s a bit hard to explain – it’s a consuming and very creative film that’s really just kind of magical. Though I didn’t fall as head over heels in love with the film at Sundance as just about everyone else did, I still think it’s a bold and gorgeous production, and I am eager to see how Searchlight markets it and how audiences […]

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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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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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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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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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published: 12.17.2014
B+
published: 12.15.2014
B
published: 12.12.2014
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published: 12.05.2014
C+


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