THE #1 INDEPENDENT MOVIE BLOG IN YOUR HEARTS

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Films saddled with the label “quirky” are often dismissed sight unseen these days as they’ve earned something of a bad rap in recent years. It’s frequently well-deserved as many attempt to take a shortcut into our good graces with oddball supporting characters, manic pixie dream girls and impromptu dance/singalong scenes, but few succeed because they’re usually surface-level efforts. So when a movie comes along that backs up its fun-loving eccentricities with raw honesty, sincere depth and glorious belly laughs you should pay attention.

(That’s your cue to pay attention.)

Greg (Thomas Mann) is an insecure high school senior self-removed from the disputes and dramas of his classmates’ various cliques. He maintains his role of neutral party by existing as a fringe member of every group and a full member of none, and instead spends his free time hanging out with his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) making short film homages (“Senior Citizen Kane,” “Pooping Tom”) to the movies they love. His low profile is shattered when his mom strongly suggests he pay a visit to a classmate named Rachel (Olivia Cooke) who was recently diagnosed with leukemia, and while both he and “the dying girl” initially resent the intrusion into their respective worlds a life-defining friendship is born.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a deliriously fun and affecting film guaranteed to leave your face in disarray as a steady stream of tears do battle with uncontrollable laughter. Think (500) Days of Summer plus 50/50 minus Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and you’ll have an idea what to expect with this sweet, smart and painfully honest look at the trials and tribulations of our teenage years.

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HBO

HBO

Eastbound and Down is one of the few comedic shows to actually stick its landing. That very, very loose autobiography Powers wrote? Spot on. That show has given us plenty of unforgettable lines and moments. The four seasons were consistent with the laughs and, best of all, never softened Kenny Powers. At the end of the final season, Powers is still the same oblivious foul-mouthed doofus, it’s just that he’s finally learned a terribly simple life lesson, which only took him four seasons to get to.

Co-creators Jody Hill and Danny McBride need to keep working together, and thankfully, that’s the plan. After the premiere of McBride’s latest film, Jared Hess‘s (Napoleon Dynamite) Don Verdean, we caught up with the actor at the film’s after party. Time was short and we both had had a few drinks — or maybe just me and I presume he had as well — but we discussed Eastbound and Down, David Gordon Green, some fixxxxxxins, and plenty more.

Here’s what Danny McBride had to tell us us.

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I'll See You In My Dreams

Two Flints

The stakes of Brett Haley‘s I’ll See You In My Dreams may be relatively small, but the charming “hey, love can happen at any age” romantic comedy has such a big heart that it nearly instantaneously engages its lucky audience. Starring Blythe Danner as a seemingly put-together and well-rounded widow, the film follows her Carol as she begins to engage with the world — and it’s people — for the first time in a long time. Mostly comfortable in her nice house with her stylish (but practical) clothes and a tight group of card-playing girlfriends, Carol hasn’t broken out of (her self-imposed) box for quite some time, but when a tragic event pushes her to feel and explore more, everything changes.

Because it’s in the official Sundance synopsis and because it happens within the first minutes of the movie, here’s the tragic event in question: Carol’s dog dies. But it speaks to Haley’s power as a storyteller and the sensitivity of this particular story that such a death is so vividly emotional and honest. The opening five or so minutes of I’ll See You In My Dreams play out a bit like a short film, lulling us into the everyday routine of Carol and her faithful lab Hazel, gently hinting at what’s to come, and respectively removing Hazel into the afterlife with the maximum of care and sweetness. I cried. Admittedly, I cried pretty hard and pretty consistently in those first five minutes, which is why it’s so wonderful that I’ll See You In My Dreams is sweet enough to soothe such over-the-top reactions (well, until it makes you cry again, but that’s another story).

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Bloody Friday

Subkultur

You may have heard about a new Kickstarter project to restore the first feature by Kelly Reichardt, now of Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves fame. It’s definitely a good cause to save an old film that might otherwise become lost or damaged, and it’s a relatively safe venture to help because you may trust that you’re not funding something that could wind up terrible. I mean, you might actually think Reichardt’s 1994 debut, which is titled River of Grass, is awful, but you won’t be able to deny it’s historical significance given what she has become. A lot of your favorite filmmakers made lower quality movies in the beginning, and you’d still like to be able to see them if you wanted to.

River of Grass isn’t the only film currently with a campaign on Kickstarter. There are at least two other restorations seeking funding from the crowds, and while neither of them have the name recognition of Reichardt’s, they appeal to different audiences and might be just as deserving of a rescue. One is a documentary from 1984 titled Los Sures, which showcases the Brooklyn neighborhood of the title, a small hispanic section of South Williamsburg. The great people at Uniondocs have been working on not just a restoration of the film but also updates, supplementary features, interactive material, related short films and more for a bigger project called Living Los Sures.

Finally, there’s the German exploitation film Bloody Friday, which is apparently “infamous,” perhaps because of a gratuitous, borderline-hardcore rape scene (with montage that would make the Soviet masters proud), though from what I’ve read it sounds like it’s pretty bloody and violent overall. Other than it being surprisingly similar to Dog Day Afternoon yet came earlier and both are based on true stories, I don’t know much about this one. The Kickstarter video is entirely in German. Regardless, I’ve included it below with the campaign videos for the rest of these projects.

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welcome to me

Alchemy

Now that Kristen Wiig has figuratively won the lottery with a lead role in the Ghostbusters reboot, it’s about time we heard some release info on the movie where her character literally wins the lottery. That’d be Welcome to Me, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall to a fair amount of praise. Wiig plays a woman with borderline personality disorder who wins millions, starts her own television show and, as far as I can tell from its trailer, becomes quite successful with the latter in spite of her exhibition of strange and impulsive behavior while hosting the program. She also makes out with Wes Bentley and his latest shapely beard.

The rest of the cast of this movie is also impressive. There’s James MarsdenJennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Cusack (Broadcast News callback!) joining Bentley at the TV station, plus Tim Robbins (pretend Network callback!) as Wiig’s therapist and Linda Cardellini. Wiig also produced the movie along with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (which would be more of a positive if they didn’t produce Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, too). McKay’s wife, Shira Piven (who is also Jeremy Piven’s sister), directed from a script by Eliot Laurence, her former improv student. It’s all one big happy family. 

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Storyteller Pictures

Storyteller Pictures

Eight of Sundance 2015’s genre films found a home under the Park City at Midnight category, and they’ve been something of a mixed bag. My reviews of Cop Car and Knock Knock are here, with more on their way (although I reviewed the best of the category — It Followslast September), but I’m pairing the two least effective together below.

Hellions is the long-awaited return to horror for director Bruce McDonald and sees him let loose a horde of pint-sized terrors on a young woman and the poor unfortunates who come by for a visit. Reversal begins with the familiar story of a woman abducted for nasty purposes but spins it when she escapes only to set off on her own quest for justice.

Both films start off strong in narrative and/or visuals, but they also both begin quite quickly to fall apart due almost completely to their scripts.

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Conleth Hill as Varys and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

Conleth Hill as Varys and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

Fresh off about 12 hours of leaked footage from IMAX screenings, HBO has finally released the official version of the Game of Thrones season 5 trailer. It’s an embed from Facebook, so you might want to hit the little full screen button, put on some headphones and crank the volume, because this ride is about to get a little bumpy…

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Sundance Institute

Sundance Institute

It was American humorist Erma Bombeck who is credited is saying that “there is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” In the documentary program of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, this is a topic oft explored. From the quite literal exploration in Kevin Pollak’s Misery Loves Comedy to the less overt themes in Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon, there were many instances of both pain and laughter, especially in the creation of great comedy.

It is through these docs that Sundance explored the minds and eccentricities behind what makes us laugh. Let’s explore.

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James Franco in As I Lay Dying

RabbitBandini Productions

John Steinbeck‘s “In Dubious Battle,” which has never been made into a movie before, is the next classic novel to hit the big screen courtesy of James Franco. The actor-turned-director will star and helm the adaptation, which was scripted by Matt Rager, his collaborator on his two Faulkner features, As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury.

Franco has quite an ensemble joining him in front of the camera this time around, too, including Bryan Cranston, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, Danny McBride and Selena Gomez. McBride is the only one of them he’s directed before (in both Faulkners), and he’s only acted opposite McBride, Gomez and Harris, the last in the upcoming movie The Adderall Diaries.

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Jamie Foxx in Collateral

Dreamworks Productions, LLC

Remember when we told you to see Frédéric Jardin’s exhilarating thriller Sleepless Night, but then you were all disappointed to learn that it’s a subtitled movie and said you’d wait for the remake? That was a few years ago, and to your credit there was actually a Hollywood version announced immediately following its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival. Well, if you’re growing tired of waiting, you will be glad to hear that the English-language remake is back on track after being dropped by Warner Bros. According to Variety, now the rights are at Open Road, which is happy to announce they’re producing the movie with Jamie Foxx and his Due Date costar Michelle Monaghan in lead roles.

Foxx will play the (anti)hero (originally portrayed by Tomer Sisley), a corrupt cop who has to navigate a labyrinthine nightclub where his son is being held hostage by a crime boss. Not that they’d have to keep with same-gender casting, but I assume Monaghan will play the Internal Affairs detective (Lizzie Brocheré in the original) who is trailing and meddling in the dealings of the main character, screwing up a drug exchange that gets the son kidnapped in the first place. Baran bo Odar, who directed another foreign crime thriller we like called The Silence, is taking the helm of the Sleepless Night redo, which was scripted by Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center).

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mia wasikowska in madame bovary

Alchemy

It may not have received tremendous reviews out of the festivals last fall, but Sophie Barthes‘s Madame Bovary has a number of things going for it. On the top of the list is that it stars the wonderful Mia Wasikowska and may just be one of our last chances of watching her in a costume drama that isn’t Alice in Wonderland for a while. Wasikowska has otherwise been on a roll lately with her varied roles since the first Alice movie five years ago. In 2014 alone, we got to see her in Only Lovers Left AliveThe DoubleTracks and Maps to the Stars. If we didn’t also have the opportunity to catch Bovary at Telluride or Toronto, then 2015 is sure to be another good year for us fans of the young actress, between this and Guillermo del Toro’s period-piece horror film Crimson Peak.

In the movie at hand, another (unnecessary, as always?) adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel, Wasikowska plays the title heroine, a newlywed who is terribly bored with her marriage and overall provincial life and therefore winds up having affairs with other men. The husband is played by Henry Lloyd-Hughes (Anna Karenina), the lovers are portrayed by Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin) and Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) and the rest of the cast includes Rhys Ifans, Downton Abbey‘s Laura Carmichael and Paul Giamatti, who starred in Barthes’s previous feature, the Charlie Kaufman-esque Cold Souls.

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Joe Dante's Explorers

Paramount Pictures

Project Almanac is the kind of movie where the characters are fully aware of other movies like it. That’s never been an unusual idea, because if you think about it, you’d be one of those characters, too. “Genre savvy” is what it’s called, and any human character who grew up on movies is going to have it. If a real slasher started killing your friends, you’d think about what happens in slasher movies, at least for a second before you just panicked because someone is murdering your friends. But it’s particularly true for more fantastical scenarios. If your world was suddenly populated by vampires or zombies, you’d consider the rules of movies about vampires or zombies. And if you managed to invent a time machine, you’d wonder which time travel movies got it right — especially regarding what happens to you if you encounter another version of yourself.

There are quite a number of other time travel movies referenced in some form or another in Project Almanac, too many to bother listing in this edition of Movies to Watch. Especially the really famous ones. One character mentions “Terminators one through four,” but I’m not going to recommend any of them. Same goes for Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a clip from which even appears on screen. Then there’s Timeline, which isn’t alluded to except through the way the main actor in Project Almanac, Jonny Weston, really reminds me of a young Paul Walker. But nobody needs to see that movie. So, I’ve been selective, and only one third of the following recommended titles is from the time travel genre.

The rest are the usual variety. There are a few movies that have similar style or tone or plots outside of the primary genre and another few are linked by director and cast. And as always, this list is best avoided before seeing the movie at hand, as their reason for inclusion may have to do with SPOILERS regarding Project Almanac.

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James White

Relic Pictures/BorderLine Films

It takes seven stages to get over grief. Twelve steps to kick booze. An as-yet-undetermined number of steps or stages or whatever to stop being an unsympathetic and unmitigated asshole. Josh Mond’s James White chronicles the eponymous James White (Christopher Abbott), who could stand to benefit from attempting to take a few steps in any direction, as long as those steps are aware from his grief, his alcoholism, and his profound addiction to being an asshole.

Sensitively told and clearly close to Mond’s heart, James White follows James during a terribly gray period in his life, just after the death of his father (who he did not love) and the seemingly inevitable demise of his cancer-stricken mother (who he does). As James fumbles to come to terms with his life, he continually makes not just terrible decisions, but stupid ones, poor ones, idiotic ones, the kind that ensure that the haze and daze of his existence, the stuff he can attribute to a life steeped in guilt, won’t ever lift no matter how things shake out for him.

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published: 02.01.2015
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published: 01.31.2015
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published: 01.30.2015
published: 01.30.2015
B-


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